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.

Writing

10 ways the writer’s journey resembles a Save the Cat beat sheet

Blake Snyder's STC beat sheet chart
Image from Reedsy.com

If you’ve ever written a screenplay, novel, or picture book with a narrative arc, chances are, you’ve run across Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet from his book, SAVE THE CAT. It’s my go-to book for plotting.

A couple of weeks ago, I hit a moment of real despair on a picture book manuscript I’d been working on for at least two years. Some critique group feedback had me feeling like a total hack. (Note: This was not my critique partners’ fault. They are lovely. This was my own frustration with myself and my inability to get what was in my head on the page.) In that moment, I questioned whether I was a “real writer.” I pounded my fists and wondered why it never gets easier. In short, I felt like giving up. It felt a lot like the “all is lost/dark night of the soul” moment of every hero’s journey in a book or movie.

And then it hit me, I’ve been here before. Many times. In fact, I always have a dark night of the soul with every manuscript. And it’s normally before I get some kind of big breakthrough. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I opened a blank page, and wrote something very different from what I had, much shorter and more visually driven. And now it feels “right.”

So what’s the takeaway? Writing a book is a series of ups and downs, trials and failures, moments of triumph and despair, just like those we put our characters through. If we can recognize where we are on the journey, we can find the courage to keep going until we hit “the end.”

Let’s look at some of the key writer’s journey beats using Blake Snyder’s beat sheet as our guide.

  1. Opening Image – Fade in, an ordinary day, a writer (me) going about her everyday business (probably chauffeuring children, walking the dog, etc.)
  2. Catalyst – I overhear something, read something, watch something on TV, and lightning strikes. A story spark!
  3. Debate – Is this MY story to tell? How strongly do I feel about this story idea? Do I think it’s marketable? Can I get my hands on the research materials I need to write it?
  4. Break Into 2/ B Story – I commit to the journey. One of the first steps is to find some mentor texts. For those who know Save the Cat, the B story (or “love story”) is where mentors are found.
  5. Fun and Games – What’s the most fun part of writing nonfiction? Research, of course! Lots of reading, watching documentaries, interviews. Plus early drafting, those moments of writing before expectations set in, can be fun too.
  6. Midpoint – This is where it gets real, and the stakes are raised. Normally, this means I show the manuscript to critique partners and get feedback. Or discuss it with my agent. Now there are expectations. It feels like the manuscript has to be something. And then I have to revise over and over again based on the feedback I’m getting. This is where the journey starts to get difficult.
  7. Bad Guys Close In – Self doubt is the real “bad guy” here, as expectations grow for the manuscript. When what I want to say isn’t coming across on the page, self doubt rears its ugly head until…
  8. All Is Lost/Dark Night of the Soul – This is the lowest moment of any book journey, aka the pit of despair. Something sends me over the edge, and I feel like I’ve totally forgotten how to do this. I’ll never sell a book again. My career as an author is over. (Blake Snyder talks about the “whiff of death” during this beat. I’ll tell you what’s dying here — my career.)
  9. Break Into Three – Normally, after I’ve given up all expectations and attachments to the manuscript, I get some kind of breakthrough. This normally requires opening a clean sheet of paper and being willing to throw out everything I’ve written to date.
  10. Final Image – The now-ecstatic writer (ME!) sends the manuscript to her agent, feeling like she’s finally told the story she wanted to tell. And there’s a chance this one could sell! The writer toasts her success with coffee. Fade to black.

Does your writing journey have these kinds of ups and downs? How do you find the courage and confidence to push through at those “all is lost” moments and make it to “the end?”

Books

9 Books Celebrating Comic Creators for #NationalComicBookDay

It’s National Comic Book Day! Today we celebrate comic books and all the writers and artists, who create them.

According to the National Day Calendar, the first hardcover comic book was The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, which was published in 1842. The first modern-day comic book didn’t appear until 1933, Famous Funnies, a reprint of several comic strips. Of course, comic books really came into their own during World War II, with superheroes like Superman, Batman, and my favorite, Wonder Woman. To learn more about the history of comic books, check out this post from Book Riot.

Today, I’m celebrating National Comic Book Day with a nine books highlighting the accomplishments of comic book creators.

Picture Books

A True Wonder Book Cover

A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Katy Wu

With Great Power Book

WITH GREAT POWER: The Marvelous Stan Lee by Annie Hunter Eriksen, illustrated by Lee Gatlin

Boys of Steel Book Cover

BOYS OF STEEL: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross Macdonald

Bill: The Boy Wonder cover

BILL: The Boy Wonder by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ty Templeton

Jack Kirby book cover

JACK KIRBY: Creator & Artist by Sue Hamilton

Independent Readers

The Story of Stan Lee cover

THE STORY OF STAN LEE: A Biography for New Readers by Frank J. Berrios

Who Was Stan Lee? cover

WHO WAS STAN LEE? by Geoff Edgers

What Is the Story of Batman? cover

WHAT IS THE STORY OF BATMAN? by Michael Burgan

What is the Story of Wonder Woman? cover

WHAT IS THE STORY OF WONDER WOMAN? by Steve Korte

Books

12 Books to Celebrate #NationalAviationDay

Happy #NationalAviationDay. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned the anniversary of Orville Wright’s birthday into this U.S. National Holiday.

This year, I’m celebrating this annual event with a book list for young readers.

Inspiring True Stories in Aeronautics

Aviation Pioneer book covers

Airplane Books

Airplane book covers

Books, Education, Homeschool, Nature, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: FROM SEED TO PLANT

Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays are back. I missed the boat last week, but I wrote my post early this week so I wouldn’t forget.

TITLE: From Seed to Plant

AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Gail Gibbons

PUBLICATION INFO: Holiday House, 1991

ISBN: 978-0823410255

SOURCE:  library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 and up

GENRE: nonfiction

OPENING and SYNOPSIS:

“Most plants make seeds. A seed contains the beginning of a new plant.”

Gibbons moves through a plant’s life cycle, showing children how seeds are formed through pollination, how they are dispersed, and how they grow into new plants.

THEMES/TOPICS: nonfiction, educational, nature, science

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Cooper was working on a plant life cycle project for school this week, and we checked this book out from the library. Gail Gibbons is a nonfiction favorite in our house. She uses beautiful drawings and simple writing to explain science concepts in a way young children can understand.

RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES:

  • The book has a “Seed to Plant” activity in the back using bean seeds. It’s a different take on the classic bean sprout in a baggie activity used in many preschool classrooms.
  • We’ve also done seed collections before to spark discussion about the different types of seeds and how they are scattered. You’ll find that activity…here.
  • Finally, for older students, you can try the plant life cycle project that Cooper’s class did. Students had to collect five different types of seeds and draw or collect pictures that showed the seedling, mature plant, flower and fruit. They had to label each stage, and I had Cooper draw arrows so he could see that the whole cycle is a circle. I’ll blog about our project next week.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Writing

Magazines: Just Starting Out

Antique Writer's Friends

I’ve been feeling really blessed lately. Today I received an assignment from a new (to me) magazine market, meaning I’ll have at least six articles coming out between December 2013 and March 2014 in three different children’s magazines, provided all goes well. Wahoowa!

I’ve received so much help along the way in my burgeoning writing career, and I finally feel like I have something I can offer to other writers. I’ve been inspired by Nancy Sanders’ recent series about her efforts to break into HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN with a nonfiction article, as well as some questions I’ve received from a fellow writer. So, I’ve decided it’s time to share some tips and tricks for breaking into children’s magazines with nonfiction articles.

I’ll admit, I floundered around for a year before my freelance career got off the ground. I wrote a pretty terrible article about capybaras and sent it to a number of children’s publications. I came up with recipes and crafts and flung them far and wide. I tried to submit to nonpaying markets and parenting magazines, which people advised were easier to break into. I amassed more than a dozen rejections before I figured out what worked for me.

What works. The first thing I would suggest is to play to your strengths. Are you a master gardener? A former teacher? Were you a lawyer in your past life? If you are trying to break into children’s nonfiction, you have a better chance if you write about something that you’re an expert in.

I spent six years doing public relations for NASA. Aviation and space are my areas of expertise. My interests, however,  are pretty wide-ranging. The first articles I wrote were NOT about aviation and space. And those articles were roundly rejected. I’m sure it had a lot to do with my writing and my knowledge of the magazine markets, but I also didn’t have the credibility to back up the articles.

The bottom line is that having some knowledge of a subject makes it more likely your article will be picked up, especially if you are submitting a query instead of a full article. Your expertise doesn’t have to be work experience. If you’ve quilted for 20 years, you’re an expert. If you’ve taken courses in a subject or had a volunteer position in a field, that qualifies you as someone who knows what they are talking about.

I would encourage you to write about something you know for your first submission. Once you’ve had one success, you can build upon it and write about other subjects. As a mini homework assignment, make a list of your hobbies, education and work experience. What kinds of related articles might you write?