Arts/Crafts, Homeschool, Science/Math, Education

Constellation Projector

This is a picture of author Kirsten Larson with the finished constellation projector.

Here’s an activity linked to THE FIRE OF STARS (Chronicle Books) perfect for the budding astronomer in your life. This constellation projector is simple to make with common household items. And the results are stellar, which you’ll see at the end!

What you’ll need

You will need: a flashlight, a toilet paper tube, tape, glue, scissors, sharp pencil, popsicle stick for spreading glue (optional) and constellation printable.

You will need:

  • a flashlight (or your phone flashlight)
  • a toilet paper tube
  • tape (washi tape looks really nice if you have it)
  • glue and a popsicle stick for spreading it if you want
  • scissors
  • sharp pencil
  • constellation printable, which you’ll find here at Homeschool 123 Homeschool 4 Me
  • Optional: construction paper or scrapbook paper to cover your toilet paper tube OR markers to color it.

Directions

This is a picture of Kirsten showing the constellations that have been punched and cut out.
  • Print out or copy the constellation printables on your printer, reducing them to 30 to 50% of the full size. You want the constellation to fit within the circle of the toilet paper tube.
  • Using the sharp point of the pencil, punch holes where the stars are on the constellation. Be very careful so you don’t poke yourself!
  • Cut a large circle around the constellation and and make little snips around the circumference so the edges fold more easily over the toilet paper tube.
  • Put glue on the edges where you’ve snipped, and glue the constellation over the toilet paper tube.
  • Cover the paper edges with washi tape or plain old scotch tape if you don’t have it.
  • You can decorate your toilet paper tube with markers or construction paper, and write the name of the constellation on the side.
  • When you are finished, go into a dark room or closet and put your flashlight inside the toilet paper tube to enjoy your constellation.
Kirsten showing how to bend the paper around the tube.

This is an image of the constellation project projecting lyra onto a wall.

For a video of a similar project, see this one from Natskies.

Writing

Creating luminous, lyrical nonfiction voice

THE FIRE OF STARS, written by me, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books) releases in just 18 days, and I’m getting excited. It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 and a half years since I wrote my first draft of this (now) lyrical nonfiction book. It certainly didn’t start out that way.

Here’s the opening of the book, which I’ve transcribed below:

This is the opening spread of THE FIRE OF STARS


Wrapped in a blanket of sparkling space, 
an unformed star waits for its bright future to begin.
Cecilia kicks and cries.
Until her mother
sets her down
so Cecilia can feel with her own tiny toes
the cold and crackly snow,
which isn’t soft and warm like she expected.
It’s the first time Cecilia learns things aren’t always as they seem.

–THE FIRE OF STARS

An earlier draft my agent saw read much differently. Here it is:

“[Cecilia] was full of surprises and driven by a curiosity as wide as the universe. Young Cecilia spent hours outside watching slimy slugs slink through her garden, picking out constellations in the night sky, and counting trees among her best friends.”

What changed? Aside from starting with one, concrete scene, I learned to write lyrically thanks to Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab. That class was transformative for my writing, and today I want to focus on one thing I learned in that class, the use of sound devices. Sound devices add musicality to our writing, helping us set a specific mood.

Sound Devices

Renee discusses sound devices in this video on her Lyrical Language Lab YouTube channel. Some of the elements she covers include:

  • alliteration
  • assonance
  • consonance
  • rhyme

Let’s look at each sound device in turn with examples to see how it adds to the lyrical voice I’ve chosen.

Alliteration

Alliteration is when words that are close together start with the same letter or sound. For example, “Wrapped in a blanket of sparkling space,/ an unformed star waits for its bright future to begin./Cecilia kicks and cries.”

In this passage, I’ve started many word with the soft “s” sound, giving the first couple of lines a hushed sound, like a baby sleeping. Then I pivot to a sharp “k” sound for “kicks and cries” and “cold and crackly snow” mimicking the sharp cries of a baby (and the harsh snow). That’s alliteration, and I’ve used it to create a specific effect.

Assonance

This phrases above also have examples of assonance, including bright/cries and own/toes/snow. You might also notice that I picked a lot of long vowel sounds, which add the overall soft/hushed tone of the opening.

Consonance

Consonance is when words close to each other have the same consonant sound anywhere in the words. A good example of this is in the very first line, which is peppered with “p” sounds: “Wrapped in a blanket of sparkling space…” Again, these are soft consonant sounds adding to quiet mood of snow-covered stillness and of wonder.

Rhyme

In prose picture books, we don’t usually use end rhyme, but we can use internal rhyme. Internal rhyme is when words in the middle of a line rhyme. Later in the book, I have a line that reads :”Cecilia is forced to say hello to city streets full of strangers/ and good-bye to the company of trees and bees.” Trees rhymes with bees, a good example of internal rhyme.

Your Turn

Ready to apply some of these sound devices to your own work?

Think about your draft and the mood you are trying to create. Is it quiet and soothing filled with soft consonants and long vowel sounds? Or is it active and playful, with hard consonants and short vowels?

Once you’ve decided your approach, you can use tools like Thesaurus.com (for help with alliteration and consonance) and Rhymezone.com (for assonance and internal rhyme). How could you transform a sentence like “The kite flies through the air?” using the thesaurus and Rhymezone?

You could try, “The kite glides through the sky” for extra assonance. Or “The kite swoops through the sky” for alliteration. What else can you come up with? Do any of these alter the mood?

Adding musicality isn’t hard. The key with sound devices is not to overdo them. Too much alliteration, for example, can cause the reader to stumble over the words. Always read your work out loud to make sure it’s both clear and musical.

To read THE FIRE OF STARS, ask your library to order a copy or order your own. THE FIRE OF STARS is still available for preorder wherever books are sold! You can buy signed copies (with a preorder bonus postcard) through Once Upon a Time (scroll down my FIRE OF STARS page for the link.)

Education, History, Homeschool, Writing

Real Life Wonders Activity

Each month, I’ll spotlight a book-based educational activity teachers and homeschooling parents can use with their students. These activities are pulled from the educators’ guides developed for my books by author and former educator Marcie Colleen. You can download the full A TRUE WONDER educator’s guide here.

This is an image of a female volunteer

Every day we are surrounded by people who quietly fight for the common good or stand up for what they believe is right. These outstanding individuals show what the power one person has to impact our neighborhoods and communities.

Who are the superheroes in your community? Interview and write a report or make a presentation about someone in your own community who you think makes a positive impact. This can be done as a whole class, in groups, or as individuals. Here are some things you can discuss:

  • Why you believe this person to be a hero to the neighborhood and community.
  • Describe the person activity/activities that significantly benefitted their neighborhood.
  • How long has the hero contributed to the neighborhood? What was their most recent activity?
  • Describe the creative and innovative methods used by the hero to benefit their neighborhood.
  • Include any other interesting information relevant to the hero’s activities.
  • What is this hero’s impact to the neighborhood and/or community at large? Include documentation such as pamphlets, articles, presentations, photographs, newsclippings, letters of support, etc. if applicable.

Present these reports to the class. Invite the heroes for a “Real Life Wonder” celebration.

Writing

The Plot Power of “Because of That”

For me, one of the most difficult parts of writing nonfiction (or any narrative, really) is choosing what fascinating parts of the story to include and what to delete because it doesn’t fit the focus of the book. One of my most valuable tools for figuring out what belongs is three simple words: “because of that.”

The story spine

I first learned about linking plot points with the phrase “because of that” in this Pixar/Khan Academy video about story spines, pictured below. Once the main character sets off to pursue her big goal in Act 2, her choices should drive the action. “Because of that” ensures that each action and each choice in the second act leads directly to the next. If you can fit “because of that” between your plot points, then your main character has agency.

But what if “because of that” doesn’t fit? What if your plot is more like, “This happened, and then that happened, and then that happened.” If you are using “and then” to link your plot points, that’s a strong indicator that your plot is a random collection of events happening to your protagonist. You need to reevaluate. Who is driving the action? Does each scene have a connection to the protagonist’s big goal?

An example

Let’s look at THE FIRE OF STARS as an example. Cecilia Payne was such a fascinating woman, and there was so much I wanted to include in the book. At one time, the book included all kinds of tidbits, including the fact that when Cecilia won a prize at school and could pick any book she wanted, she selected a textbook about fungi. Though this fact was interesting, it didn’t have real bearing on the Cecilia’s lifelong quest to discover something new, so I ultimately discarded it. In a novel, I might have had the space to keep the scene to illuminate Cecilia’s character, but in a picture book I had to be ruthless.

Let’s look at a plot outline for THE FIRE OF STARS, and you’ll see what I mean.

  1. Once upon a time there was a young girl, Cecilia Payne, who was captivated by the natural world.
  2. Everyday she studied trees and flowers.
  3. Until one day, she discovered on her own why a bee orchid looked like a bee, and her whole body hummed with that discovery. In that moment, she decided she wanted to feel like that her whole life.
  4. But Cecilia’s family moved to London to find a better school for her brother, and because of that, Cecilia went to a new school with no space for a curious girl like her.
  5. Because of that, she hid out in a secret place — a dusty science lab for older girls.
  6. Because of that, she taught herself about science, and soon required a science tutor who gave Cecilia her first book on astronomy.
  7. Because of that, Cecilia was accepted to Cambridge University to study botany (because girls couldn’t study astronomy).
  8. Because of that, she took science classes where teachers wanted her to learn facts, not learn anything new.
  9. Because of that, she jumped at the chance to hear astronomer Arthur Eddington talk about his new discoveries at a lecture.
  10. Because of that, she switched her studies to physics where she was the only woman and teased by the men.
  11. Because of that, when she graduated and learned there was no place for women in astronomy at Cambridge, she moved to America to work at Harvard College Observatory.
  12. Because of that, she was surrounded by glass plates capturing the essence of stars and women who cataloged them.
  13. Because of that, Cecilia studied the star ingredients for her thesis, but grew frustrated when she couldn’t make out their meaning. But she stuck with it.
  14. Until finally, she made her groundbreaking discovery about what makes the stars — and our universe.
  15. And ever since that day, other astrophysicists have used Cecilia’s discovery to ask new questions and make more amazing discoveries about our universe.
  16. And the moral of the story is that what makes a scientist is curiosity, passion, hard work, and belief in oneself.

By using “because of that” I’ve made sure Cecilia is driving her own story and that every action has a consequence that forces Cecilia to make another choice in a smooth chain of cause and effect.

Your turn

Grab a narrative draft (nonfiction or fiction) and outline your plot using the story spine. Are you able to use the words “because of that” between your plot points? Or is it a bunch of “and then this?” What adjustments do you need to make to your plot a series of causes and effects?

One more thing

If you want to study THE FIRE OF STARS, illus. Katherine Roy, more closely, the book will release Feb. 7, 2023 from Chronicle Books. It’s a lyrical, double read aloud with Cecilia’s story told alongside the story of star formation. You can preorder it now wherever books are sold. You’ll find all the buy links here. Or ask your local library to purchase a copy.

Books, News

THE FIRE OF STARS strikes gold

This is a graphic showing that THE FIRE OF STARS is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection

Big news…THE FIRE OF STARS, illustrated by the amazing Katherine Roy, is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. I am so grateful to the JLG editorial team for this honor. Each year, the JLG editorial team reads thousands of books before they are published, and selects only the best for their member librarians. 95% of the books they select go on to get starred reviews, win awards, and appear on “best of” lists. Hooray!

THE FIRE OF STARS is now being released three weeks earlier on 2/7/23. You can preorder now wherever books are sold. All the buy links are on my book page here. For signed copies and preorder goodies, order via Once Upon a Time.

Books, Education, Homeschool

Dear Olivia Sage: Writing a Persuasive Essay

Each month, I’ll spotlight a book-based educational activity teachers and homeschooling parents can use with their students. These activities are pulled from the educators’ guides developed for my books by author and former educator Marcie Colleen. You can download the complete WOOD, WIRE, WINGS educator’s guide here.

Dear Olivia Sage: Writing a Persuasive Essay

As her dream outgrew her apartment and her wallet, Lilian needed to turn to others for help. One such person she turned to was Olivia Sage, one of the richest women in the world. But often people don’t just hand money to anyone who asks. Lilian needed to ask Olivia Sage while providing enough details to inform Olivia what her money would be used for. She needed to persuade Olivia Sage to help her.

Ask your students if they know what “persuade” means. If not, can they make any guesses?

Discuss:

  • What it means to persuade
  • Times you might want to persuade someone (e.g., persuade your parents to letyou stay up late, persuade your teacher to not give a test)Writing to persuade tells the reader what you believe, gives the reader at least three reasons why you believe it, and has a good ending sentence. You want to try and convince the reader to agree with you.
  • Pretending to be Lilian Todd, have students write a persuasive essay to Olivia Sage stating why they need money and why she should give it to you.

Use the following TREE structure:

T = Topic sentences

R = Reasons

E = Ending

E = Examine
Share your essays with the class. Which is the most persuasive? Why do you think so?

Speaking and Listening Extension: Create a TV commercial or PowerPoint presentation to encourage people to read Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane. Be sure to incorporate the TREE structure!

Holidays

2022 Wonder Woman Gift Guide for Kids

Previously, I shared a “girlfriends” Wonder Woman gift guide aimed at teens and adult fans. While some of those gift ideas might work for little fans too, in this post, I want to focus on gifts perfect for the younger set. So without further ado…

A few holiday gift ideas to pair with the book A TRUE WONDER

If you are looking for other ideas, stickers and pens make great stocking stuffers. You can find them at many places, including Amazon.

Holidays

WOOD, WIRE, WINGS Gift Guide for Women with Wings

Is there a lady in your life with her head in the clouds? I’ve got a few great gifts for women and girls who were born to fly.

  • WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek: 2020). This is the true story of self-taught engineer Lilian Todd, the first woman to design her own airplane in 1910. Buy it wherever books are sold.
  • Women in Aviation International Pioneer tote. I have the tshirt version of this, and I love the nod to all the female in aviation who have come before us. Buy it from Women in Aviation International.
  • I own these paper airplane dangly earrings in silver. Love them so much! Now you can get them in silver, gold, or rose gold. (I may need more). Buy them on Etsy.
  • This is so close to my favorite NASA rhinestone shirt. I may need to order another, since I wear it for school visits and appearances all the time. From LA Pop Art.
  • Fly water bottle from One Plane Jane. There is a lot of super cute stuff on this site.
  • I love the smell of jet fuel in the morning! Now you can enjoy this scent at home thanks to this candle. have no idea what this really smells like, but the idea is hilarious. Buy on Etsy.
Books, Holidays

2022 Gift Guide for Kids Who Soar

Looking for some great gifts for that airplane-loving kids in your life? Here’s an update to the 2020 list I created for our Soaring ’20s group guide.

This is a graphic showing holiday gift ideas for airplane loving kids.
Writing

Writing Tips: Writing More With NaNoWriMo

If you’re a writer or a writing teacher, you’ve probably heard of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. Every November, writers around the world attempt the big, audacious goal of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month. These drafts are not meant to be New York Times best sellers, but rather messy drafts full of plot holes and gaps that will be filled in and shaped later. In other words, these drafts are a starting point.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never “won” NaNoWriMo by hitting 50K words. But when I commit to to the process (as I am this year in an attempt to finish a middle grade historical fantasy), I always write more than I would otherwise. A lot of writing is overcoming resistance and excuses that keep us from getting started. For me, those excuses are things like “but I haven’t done all the research,” or “I haven’t finished my plot outline.” Honestly, I could ALWAYS spend more time researching or outlining and never put a single word on the page. Who’s with me there?

Yet once I overcome my internal resistance and start writing, I know it’s easier to keep writing. For me, that’s what NaNoWriMo is about — finding that inertia (a writer in motion stays in motion). Maybe it’s just for a month, but sometimes that inertia carries me into December or at least until I run into a big fat editorial deadline.

Bottom line, NaNo is about finding the motivation and the time to get the words down on the page so you have something to work with later. And it can be incredibly useful even if you aren’t writing a novel.

So here’s your challenge…Find a length of time — a month or even just a week — grab a few writing friends, and commit to writing something every day. Here are some ideas to get you started.:

  • Set a timer and write something (anything) for 15 minutes a day. Put an x on your calendar each day you do.
  • If you’re a picture book writer or illustrator, work on one two-page spread each day.
  • Write a poem every day, just to flex your writing muscles.
  • If you’re at the revision stage, why not commit to revising a chapter a day for a month?
  • OR hit whatever your daily word count goal is (for me, it’s 1,000 a day each weekday).

Anything you do is progress.

The NaNoWriMo website has some wonderful resources for preparing to write a novel, which you can use all year long. You’ll find them here.

And if you are a teacher working with young writers, NaNo has a Young Writers Program with writing challenges throughout the year. Learn more and sign your class up here.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, please let me know. I’ll be cheering you on!