GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

Guest post by Jennifer Ward

Nature offers an infinite source of wonder. Big wonders: just how big is the universe? Little wonders: I wonder what made that tiny burrow in the ground? Wonders that ignite the imagination and facilitate deeper questioning, discovery and understanding. Each time I embark on a writing project, it begins with a simple concept from nature based on personal curiosity. As I become enlightened during my research and inquiry, it always brings me joy to learn more about how the planet works – and I am often left feeling a bit humbled and in awe.

Learning about animal homes helps scientists and conservationists ensure the safety of species whose numbers are threatened and declining.

Mama Dug a Little Den” is a book seemingly simple in concept. It portrays a variety of animal species and their homes in the wild. But if we choose to take time to wonder deeper about wild animals and their homes – how was the home created? Why was it created? Do species use the same home, season after season, year after year? Did it take a long time to make each home? And then wonder even more – how do wild animals survive the elements they face? Extreme weather? Predation? Habitat decline? How do parent animals ensure the safety of their offspring? How are we all connected?

These are the bits and pieces – little nuggets of curiosity – that spring from nature, wind up as words on the pages of a book, then serve as a springboard to science, discovery, understanding and, perhaps most importantly, empathy for all living things among book readers.

When sharing Mama Dug a Little Den with students, there are many layers and levels of learning that may be explored that align with Life Sciences curriculum standards in the area of Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems, as well as with Structure, Function and Information Processing.

  • Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of wild animal parents and offspring that help offspring survive.
  • (LS1.A.1): How do animals use external parts to help them survive, grow and meet their needs? [check!]
  • (LS1.B): Growth and Development – adult plants and animals can have young. In many kinds of animals, parents and offspring both engage in behaviors that help the offspring survive. [check!]
  • Observations (LS1.C.1): How do wild animals survive? What do they need to survive? [check!]
  • Observe/Compare/Contrast (2-LS4-1): Students may make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. [check!]

One den in the author’s backyard, de-mystified!

Cross curricular activities make learning even more meaningful and authentic.

  • Mathematics, (2.MD. D. 10) – Draw a picture graph or bar graph to represent bio-diversity among various explored ecosystems to represent documented data.
  • Literacy, (RI.1.1)  Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • (RI.1.2) Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
  • (W.1.7) – Participate in shared research and writing projects, i.e. “How does a polar bear make a den?”  Write a “how to” sequence of instructions for specific animal homes and how each may be made.

Of course, it’s just as important to read for the sheer joy of reading, and walk in nature for the sheer joy of walking in nature. Who knows what that book or walk may lead you to wonder about? And what may be discovered?

I hope to discover you at the Linking Literacy event at the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis on April 12 – 13! This special event is going to be rich with people who value books, education, literacy, science and STEM. If I don’t see you there, you can find me on Facebook, where I share bits and news about writing, nature, STEM and birds.

Jennifer Ward is a naturalist and the award-winning author of more than 24 books for children, including Mama Built a Little Nest, an ALA Notable book, and Mama Dug a Little Den, a 2019 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, both illustrated by Caldecott honoree Steve Jenkins. Her work also includes Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear, a 2018 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, and What Will Grow? which received 3, starred reviews and won the Growing Good Kid Book Award by the American Horticultural Society. Jennifer’s forthcoming science/nature books include, How to Find a Bird,illustrated by Diana Sudyka (Beach Lane Books, 2020); Round, illustrated by Lisa Congdon (Beach Lane Books, 2020), and Me with You, about symbiotic relationships in the wild, illustrated by Alexander Vidal (Beach Lane Books, 2021)Visit her on the web at

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