Books, Cultivating curiosity, Homeschool, Science/Math

Happy birthday STEM Book Giveaway

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WOOD, WIRE, WINGS has been out in the world for nearly three whole months. In celebration, I’m giving away an autographed copy of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, along with a copy of Vicky Fang’s HAPPY PAWS. To enter, sign up for my monthly newsletter here. That’s it! Giveaway ends 5/25 at midnight PDT. Sorry, US entries only.

Books, Homeschool, News

Activities for curious kids, where to read books, and more 😷

Taking action in the time of COVID-19

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Hi friends,

Was it just over a month ago that WOOD, WIRE, WINGS finally took flight? It seems like an eternity after four weeks at home. With many of my book events postponed or canceled over the coming months, I’m focused on what I can do right now, both physically and emotionally.

  • Continuing to create – I’m revising a graphic novel and researching a new STEM picture book. For me, creating is an anchor in turbulent times.
  • Reading books for inspiration (and reviewing them) – I was lucky enough to pick up a stack of print books two hours before my library closed its doors. I’ve read and reviewed most of them already, so I’m also reading ebooks/audiobooks via Amazon Prime Reading and Libby/Overdrive linked to my library account. (I love listening to audiobooks on Libby while working jigsaw puzzles or baking). Audible is another source for free children’s audiobooks, and countless creators are offering readings and book clubs online. I review as many books as I can on Amazon, B&N, and Goodreads. Since book creators can no longer host in-person events, book reviews are more important than ever for helping readers discover new books. If you’ve read WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I would be deeply grateful if you would leave an honest review on the book platform of your choice.
  • Boosting booksellers – Local bookstores are suffering terribly right now, though many remain open for online and phone orders, often with curbside pickup or inexpensive delivery. You can contact your bookseller directly or shop your local indie at Bookshop.org. Don’t need books for yourself? Consider placing an order to stock a local Little Free Library or buying a gift certificate for later use. Audiobook-lovers can support indies by buying through Libro.fm. Finally, if you are an Amazon fan, the good news is physical books have been reclassified as “essential” with faster ship times and deep discounts (WOOD, WIRE, WINGS is currently discounted to $14.34).
  • Connecting with readers online – I’ve created a YouTube version of my engineering design workshop, and have done a few Zoom/Skypes with classes who have read my book. It’s always a delight to connect with young readers, especially when the opportunities are scarce. If you are trying to keep kids busy at home, the number of resources available is overwhelming, but you can find many wonderful ideas from my debut picture book group, The Soaring 20s, on our website.

Here’s hoping you are able to stay safe at home, while your dreams soar in books.



Oh, the places I’ve been (virtually)

It’s been a busy couple of months with lots of podcasts, guest blog posts, and media appearances. Here are a few of the places I’ve been.

Coming soon: appearances on Jedlie’s Reading With Your Kids podcast (4/21), Matthew Winner’s Children’s Book Podcast (week of 4/27), Chris Wood’s STEM Everday Podcast (TBD), and much more. Follow me on Twitter @kirstenwlarson or follow my Facebook page so you don’t miss my upcoming appearances.


Books I’m Over the Moon About












Books, Education, Homeschool

Nonfiction PB Pairings: Reading the stories behind children’s classics

Top 10 Must-See Travel Destinations

I just finished two wonderful nonfiction picture books that reveal how two classic children’s books came to be. And that made me think about what fun it would be to pair these picture book biographies with the children’s classics in the classroom.

First up is FINDING NARNIA by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Roaring Brook, November 2019). In our schools, students read C. S. Lewis’s THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE in fifth grade. A magnificent companion, FINDING NARNIA is the story of (C.S. Lewis) and his brother Warnie, the imaginative world they invented as children, and how those childhood stories grew into the world of Narnia.

Next, MIEP AND THE MOST FAMOUS DIARY by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Jordi Solano (Sleeping Bear Press, August 2019), explains how Miep Gies rescued Anne Frank’s diary when Anne and her family were taken by the Nazis. This book pairs perfectly with Anne Frank’s DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, which our students read in 7th grade.

For younger readers, Melissa Sweet’s SOME WRITER! THE STORY OF E. B. WHITE (HMH, 2016) could be read alongside E. B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB (approximately 3rd grade).

Finally, I’m looking forward to the forthcoming BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST by Lindsay H. Metcalf, illustrated by Junyi Wu forthcoming in September from Albert Whitman. What a great book to read alongside THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT.

The takeaway: if your classroom is reading a classic work of literature with students, check your library to see if a picture book biography is available about the author. PB bios and classic children’s books are always better together.

If you have other great pairings, please share them in the comments. I’ll add them to the Pinterest Board I’ve started.

Books, News, school visits

📣 Now booking — Free Skype Visits for World Read Aloud Day 📚 Feb. 5, 2020

 


Teachers and librarians, I’m now booking free 15-minute Skype visits for World Read Aloud Day on Feb. 5, 2020! My schedule, along with those of 50+ other creators, is available on author Kate Messner’s website.

To book, just send me an email at creatingcuriouskids [at] gmail [dot] com with the following information:

1. What’s your name and where do you teach? Please include your school, city, and time zone.

2. What are ALL the time slots that would work for you, based upon my availability on Kate’s site? I will certainly try to meet your first choice, but the more flexible you are, the more likely it is that I’ll be able to accommodate your request. Please note that once your visit is scheduled, I may not be able to reschedule.

3. How many students will I be Skyping with, and what grade(s) will be included? 

4. What book(s) will the students have read before our Skype visit? This is not required for WRAD (which involves reading my books aloud, of course) but students tend to have a better experience if they are familiar with my books in advance and brainstorm questions. You can find a full list of my books on my website.

5. What is your username on Skype? If you do not have a username yet please go to the Skype website, sign up for an account, and get a username before you email me.

6. Please provide a classroom or cell phone number where you can be reached on the day of our scheduled visit in case of technical difficulties.

If Feb. 5 doesn’t work for you, remember I’m offering free,15-minute Skype visits for classrooms and libraries who have read WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE with their students after its release on Feb. 25 (through May 31).

Want to make sure you don’t miss release day? Mark the book “to read” on Goodreads, and you’ll get an email when it releases. Or preorder at your store of choice. Need one more nudge? Below is a picture of a recent Skype I did with fourth-graders in Tulare, California.

ICYMI: Blog Roundup

 

How do authors leave “fingerprints” all over their work? Check out my discussion of author voice and point of view in this #STEMTuesday post.


Books I’m Over the Moon About






#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: Muslim Girls Rise

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book: MUSLIM GIRLS RISE: Inspirational Champions of Our Time

Author: Saira Mir

Illustrator: Aaliya Jaleel

Publication Info.:  Salaam Reads (October 29, 2019, available for preorder wherever books are sold).

Ages/Grades: first grade and up (ages 6 and up)

Categories: collective biography, expository, third person

First lines:

“Rise

verb /’riz

  1. to appear above the horizon
  2. to increase in intensity
  3. to attain a higher level
  4. to come into being
  5. to exert oneself to meet a challenge”

Overview (from the publisher):

Little Leaders meets Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in this gorgeous nonfiction picture book that introduces readers to nineteen powerhouse Muslim women who rose up and made their voices heard.

Discover the true stories of nineteen unstoppable Muslim women of the twenty-first century who have risen above challenges, doubts, and sometimes outright hostility to blaze trails in a wide range of fields. Whether it was the culinary arts, fashion, sports, government, science, entertainment, education, or activism, these women never took “no” for an answer or allowed themselves to be silenced. Instead, they worked to rise above and not only achieve their dreams, but become influential leaders.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

A little backstory: I lived in Dharan, Saudi Arabia for two years growing up, so I have strong feelings about the overwhelmingly negative way the religion of Islam and its people are portrayed in America today. With that in mind, Saira Mir’s inspirational and empowering book about modern-day Muslim women heroes is a breath of fresh air. In this book, kids meet Amanda Saab, an outstanding cook, who feeds her neighbors’ souls and bellies with her Dinner With Your Muslim Neighbor program.

They meet Amani Al-Khatahtbeh who started the website Muslimgirl.com as a place of positivity for Muslim young women.

They meet a fashion designer. A congresswoman. A flight controller. Activists. Athletes. Comic book creators. As Saira Mir reminds us, “Muslim women make history every day. … By refusing to give up they achieved greatness.” This book would be motivational reading for any child.

For writers, collective biographies are less common than single-subject biographies. Yet, they provide wonderful, bite-sized reading. The key to a successful collective biography is a strong theme and takeaway that unites all the subjects. The unifying principle is normally discussed in an initial spead and re-emphasized at the end. Other notable examples include WOMEN WHO DARED, GOOD NIGHT STORIES FOR REBEL GIRLS, and WOMEN IN SCIENCE.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

 

 

#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Book:

Bloom

BLOOM: A STORY OF FASHION DESIGNER ELSA SCHIAPARELLI

Author: Kyo Maclear

Illustrator: Julie Morstad

Publication Info.: HarperCollins, Feb. 6, 2018

Ages/Grades: preschool through 3rd grade (ages 4 and up)

Categories: first-person POV, narrative nonfiction, biography

First lines:

“Every story starts somewhere.

My story begins on September 10, 1890, in a beautiful palazzo in the center of Roma.”

Overview (from the publisher):

“Elsa dared to be different, and her story will not only dazzle, it will inspire the artist and fashionista in everyone who reads it.

By the 1930s Elsa Schiaparelli had captivated the fashion world in Paris, but before that, she was a little girl in Rome who didn’t feel pretty at all. Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli is the enchanting story for young readers of how a young girl used her imagination and emerged from plain to extraordinary.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

What makes something beautiful? For designer Elsa Schiaparelli anything could be beautiful, including a dress made of wool, cellophane, tree bark, and velvet. Or a shoe as a hat. This book could launch a wonderful conversation about what makes something beautiful and how we might broaden that definition. In addition, Schiaparelli takes an inventive approach to her designs, embracing failure much like so many inventors of machines and technologies. This could spark a discussion about the role of trial and error and experimentation in the creation of art.

Authors will note that this book is written in a more experimental point of view — first person. This allows for more introspection than usual in a picture book biography. Kyo Maclear writing as Schiaparelli helps us experience more fully the internal transformation Schiaparelli undergoes as she gains confidence in her designing skills.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • The Philadelphia Museum of Art created an educator’s guide for its 2003 exhibit about Schiaparelli. The discussion guide is fabulous (grades 5 through 12).
  • For younger students, try a mixed media project using recyclables or cast-off objects, turning old things into something beautiful.
#MentorTextMoment, Books, Nature

#MentorTextMoment: You Are Home

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

YOU ARE HOME: An Ode to the National Parks

Author/Illustrator: Evan Turk

Publication Info.: Atheneum, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: apostrophe, lyrical language, list structure, expository, nature, #STEM

First lines:

“To the chipmunk in her burrow, sleeping beneath the leaves to keep warm; to the resilient bison in the steaming oases of an endless winter: you are home.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Award-winning author and illustrator Evan Turk showcases the beauty and importance of the National Parks in this gorgeous picture book that takes readers on an amazing tour across the United States.

Beneath the soaring doorways of stone,
and peaks that pierce the ceiling of clouds,
from every river, star, and stone
comes the eternal refrain:
you are home.

In simple, soaring language and breathtaking art, acclaimed author-illustrator Evan Turk has created a stirring ode to nature and nation. From the rugged coast of Maine to the fiery volcanoes of Hawaii, You Are Home reminds us that every animal, plant, and person helps make this land a brilliant, beautiful sanctuary of life.”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

Why was lyrical voice the perfect choice for a list book exploring the National Parks? Here’s why. Reading YOU ARE HOME literally brings tears to my eyes through its meditation on the majesty of “America’s Best Idea” (the title of Ken Burns’s documentary about the National Parks.)  And that’s the same feeling I get when I visit the National Parks in person. Turk’s lyrical text perfectly captures his awe-inspiring subject. Imagine how the impact of this story would have changed if he’d used a humorous or serious voice.

Also notable: Turk balances his spare, lyrical language with extensive backmatter, providing more facts about the animals that appear in his artwork and a map to the National Parks featured in the book.

Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:

  • Visit a National Park! Every fourth-grader and their family can get in free through Every Kid in a Park.
  • While you are there, check out the National Park Service Junior Ranger Program for kids of all ages. Complete the activity book during your visit and earn your patch or pin. Can’t visit in person? No problem. There are several badges you can earn online.
  • You also can check up on the wildlife through 20 webcams.
  • Evan Turk suggests drawing as a wonderful way to get to know a park. He created the book’s 20 drawings with pastel and black paper while hiking and exploring in person.
  • Turk’s book hints at the natural processes that formed many of these natural wonders, a great jumping off point for lessons about weathering and more.

     

     

#MentorTextMoment, Books, Nature

#MentorTextMoment: When Plants Attack

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

WHEN PLANTS ATTACK

Author: Rebecca E. Hirsch

Publication Info.: Millbrook Press, 2019

Ages/Grades: ages 9 to 14

Category: second-person POV, survey book, description structure, expository, sidebars, STEM, nature, scene building

First lines:

“In 1581 an explorer warned of an island in the South Pacific, known only as the Island of Death. On this island grew the Death Flower.”

Overview (from the author’s website): “In the wild, it’s eat or be eaten. Each living thing is on a mission to survive another day—including plants. And the measures they take can be downright deadly. Get a close-up look at meat-eating plants that trap unsuspecting mammals, African trees that enlist armies of biting ants as bodyguards, and an Australian shrub with prickly, poison-filled leaves that have landed unsuspecting humans in the hospital. But don’t get too close or . . . OUCH!

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

As soon as I brought this book into the house, my 12-year-old asked if it featured a pitcher plant (it does) and promptly took it out of my hands. It was weeks before I could get it back. Normally we think of picture books as a category for the youngest readers, but this book is a perfect example of how picture books can be “everybody books.”

First, is the subject matter. Hirsch knows how to hook older readers. Vampire vines? Tree-shrew toilets (pitcher plant). What kid wouldn’t be entranced?

Once the reader’s interest is piqued, Hirsch uses top-notch scene building to keep the reader turning the pages. Each chapter starts with a scene packed with sensory details, transporting the reader to far-off locations with its minute-by-minute action. Her writing allows you to “see” a mini-movie in your head. Hirsch also periodically uses second-person narration (“you”) to further connect with the reader.

Finally, Hirsch seamlessly weaves experts and their research into each chapter. I felt like each chapter was a mini “Scientist in the Field” book, giving readers a glimpse into the scientific method and the real work of both lab and field research.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • The books’ backmatter provides links to several videos of these plants in action. Here’s a favorite from The Atlantic.
  • The North Carolina Arboretum Society created has a fun-filled (and standards-aligned) educator guide for its Wicked Plants exhibit. A discussion of defenses begins on page 41.
  • For younger readers, Danielle’s Place has some really fun venus flytrap crafts and activities.
#MentorTextMoment, Books

#MentorTextMoment: John Deere, That’s Who

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

9781627791298

The Book:

JOHN DEERE, THAT’S WHO

Author: Tracy Nelson Maurer, illustrations by Tim Zeltner

Publication Info.: Henry Holt, 2017

Ages/Grades: ages 4 to 8

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, history, third-person POV, narrative

First lines:

Back in John Deere’s day, long before tractors and other newfangled contraptions, Americans dug the land with the same kind of plow that farmers had used as long as anyone could remember.”

Overview (from the publisher): “Back in the 1830s, who was a young blacksmith from Vermont, about to make his mark on American history? John Deere, that’s who!

Who moved to Illinois, where farmers were struggling to plow through the thick, rich soil they called gumbo? Who tinkered and tweaked and tested until he invented a steel plow that sliced into the prairie easy as you please?

Long before the first tractor, who changed farming forever? John Deere, that’s who!”

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

You know what stands out about this book? Diction, that’s what! Tracy Nelson Maurer sprinkles her story with a few select words, giving us the flavor of the period and hinting at the country setting. Phrases like “newfangled contraptions,” “buckets of praise,” and “tuckered out.” Words like ” ‘course” instead of “of course.” Used too frequently, this type of language could be distracting, but Maurer uses these colloquialisms sparingly. Such fun!

When it comes to research, I’m always curious how authors deal with unsubstantiated facts or sources that conflict with each other. It happens more than you might think. In JOHN DEERE, Maurer had to make some guesses about whether John knew about plows made of steel instead of heavy iron. She lets the reader know right in the text instead of saving it for backmatter: “It’s a fair guess that John already knew of other plow designs…” Seamless!

Finally, I love Maurer’s ending where she tells us why we should care about John Deere. He didn’t invent a tractor. Just a plow. But that plow allowed farmers to work faster than ever, turning the prairie into America’s breadbasket. And that’s why we should care about John Deere. Do you?

Additional resources for authors and educators:

  • Tracy Maurer has a wonderful list of activities on her website, including coloring pages, a teachers’ guide, and other links.
#MentorTextMoment, Books, Science/Math

#MentorTextMoment: SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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The Book:

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

Author/Illustrator: Vivian Kirkfield, illustrations by Chris Ewald

Publication Info.: Creston Books, 2019

Ages/Grades: grades 2 to 5

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, third-person POV

First lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up.

Eyes down.

Don’t speak.

Overview (from the publisher): “Sarah E. Goode was one of the first African-American women to get a US patent. Working in her furniture store, she recognized a need for a multi-use bed and through hard work, ingenuity, and determination, invented her unique cupboard bed. She built more than a piece of furniture. She built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

One of the most transformational moments in my own writing was when I started to think about the craft of writing picture books as poetry, not prose. As a beginner, I often equated writing nonfiction picture books with writing an essay, which resulted in long, plodding paragraphs. Yikes! In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Vivian Kirkfield, shows us the magic of occasionally using short sentences, more like poetry, to keep the story moving. (Her opening is a perfect example.)

Also notable is how she shifts between a traditional third-person narrator and Sarah’s own experience. The opening lines above provide a perfect example. “Hurry up. Eyes down. Don’t speak.” are clearly words that Sarah hears as she works, though we aren’t told this directly. Overall, Kirkfield’s third-person narration stays very close to Sarah, the main character, giving us glimpses into her thoughts.

A final favorite is this book’s topic: invention! I find biographies about inventors to be so useful for students, in terms of teaching them persistence and the value of a growth mindset. What was it that Edison supposedly said? “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That seems to be the path of all inventors (and creators like writers too), and Sarah is no exception.

Additional resources for authors and educators: