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Engaging Readers by Exploring the Natural World of Book Settings

The pandemic has placed stressors upon students, parents and educators alike. What if we could engage students more deeply in the books that they are reading while helping them reduce stress?  Research overwhelmingly shows that spending time in nature and exposure to natural elements reduces stress and promotes mental and physical health. Exploring the natural world in which books are set can help students achieve some of the benefits of exposure to nature. It also helps readers make cross-curricular connections and allows students’ natural curiosity to drive them to seek out non-fiction resources.

Below are six easy ways for you and the students in your life to get started.

  • Begin by collecting several books in which a significant part of the action takes place outdoors. Research shows that students are more engaged when they have a choice in their reading. Allowing them to select a book with a setting that they’d like to explore also sets the groundwork for their natural curiosity to drive their inquiry.

 

  • Ask students to read with nature in mind. As students read, invite them to take note of details of the natural world of the book’s setting. What do the characters see, hear, smell, taste and touch from the natural world in that setting? How do these interactions affect character development, story arc, plot, pacing, and other elements of the story?

 

  • Take nature journaling to the next level. Begin by providing students with a notebook and challenge them to create a day-by-day or week-by-week nature journal from the point of view of a fictional character in the book they have selected. Students can make notes about what would most likely be of interest to the character at each point in the story action. Students can use non-fiction resources to answer questions about plants, animals, geography, weather and other elements of the fictional character’s world at that time of year in that location. They can add drawings and notes about those elements to their journals. You also might challenge students to consider how these elements affect the main character’s ability to achieve their goal. For example, does the weather present an obstacle? If the character is surviving on their own in the natural world, what plants or animals present opportunities or contain threats? If the setting of the book is similar to the natural world found in your community, you might invite students to go on a field to a local park to explore that environment and add to their nature journals.

 

  • Invite students to create a diorama of their favorite part of the natural world of the book’s characters. As students read, you might invite them to select their favorite part of the natural world described in the story. You can challenge students to create a diorama of that setting, with footnotes about how each element in the setting affected character development, plot, pacing, and the overall story arc. This provides additional motivation to access non-fiction resources and to expand student knowledge.

 

  • Create a guided outdoor scavenger hunt featuring natural elements mentioned in the book. Many items are common across ecosystems. You might select several items mentioned in the book your students are studying and create a scavenger hunt of those items. For example, in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, the main character created whistles out of willow, made salt from hickory limbs, and ate parts of wild violets. You might challenge students to see if they can find those things at a local park or other natural area where they have permission to take small samples of natural materials. You can find an example of a book-inspired scavenger hunt list here.

 

  • Create a discovery center and a tradition of a nature wonder hour. Once students have found items from their scavenger hunt, they can create a discovery center to house them. You can make a discovery center out of an old printer’s tray, a box, a basket, or another item that you have on hand. Invite students to consider the questions they have about those items. They can then explore answers in non-fiction resources during a regular Nature Wonder Hour. That time can be as long or as short as you’d like. The key is to let student curiosity guide their research. You can find a sample set of questions here.

Whatever activities you do, I hope that you and the students in your life enjoy diving even more deeply into the world of book settings. You can learn more about new releases at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/mixed-up-files-book-lists/ and find a list of books by Mixed Up Files contributors at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/about/contributor-books/. I’m wishing you and the students in your life lots of reading and outdoor adventures.

WNDMG Wednesday — The Walter Awards 2022

We Need Diverse MG Logo hands holding reading globe with stars and spirals floating around
We Need Diverse MG Logo

Illustration by: Aixa Perez-Prado

The Walter Award 2022 Winners and Honorees

Congratulations to this year’s Walter Award winners and honorees.

graphic with photos of winners and honorees and the WNDB logo

THE WALTER AWARD, YOUNGER READERS CATEGORY

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (Quill Tree Books)

THE WALTER HONOR BOOKS, YOUNGER READERS CATEGORY

Borders by Thomas King and illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Root Magic by Eden Royce (Walden Pond Press)

An Integral Part of the Mosaic

The We Need Diverse Books Walter Award, also sometimes referred to as The Walter, is named after prolific author Walter Dean Myers (1937-2014), who was a prominent and early voice in the push for more diverse children’s publishing. According to We Need Diverse Books, the award’s founding organization,  “The​ ​Walter​ ​Awards​ commemorate ​Myers’​ ​memory​ ​and​ ​his​ literary legacy,​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​celebrate​ ​diversity​ ​in​ ​children’s​ ​literature.”

In 2014 before he passed away, Myers wrote in an op ed in the New York Times, ” I didn’t want to become the ‘black’ representative, or some shining example of diversity.  What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.” (New York Times, Opinion Section, “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”, by Walter Dean Myers, March 15, 2014)

((Read More About We Need Diverse Books Here))

Red, White, and Whole

Today, because of Myers and We Need Diverse Books, and other committed voices pushing for better representation, that mosaic is more vibrant and visible than ever. This is evidenced by the fact that this year’s winners include middle-grade and picture book writer Rajani LaRocca, who is also a 2022 Newbery honoree. It’s an exciting intersection; she appears to be the first to receive both Walter and Newbery distinction in the same year.

Dr. LaRocca told MUF: “RED, WHITE, AND WHOLE is a story of my heart into which I poured so many emotions from my own childhood, and I’m thrilled and humbled to see it recognised in this way. When I was a kid, I never saw myself in the pages of a book — not in the U.S., and not in India — but I loved the characters I read about, and learned more about the world through them. I hope my book allows readers to see themselves in its pages, whether or not they share the characters’ experience or background. I hope that by reading about my characters’ lives, they learn something about their own.”

But even as more established literary awards (Newbery turns 100 this year!) do better at amplifying and honoring diverse voices, vaulting them into the canon of prized literature, awards like the Walter will still be important because of their singular focus on diversity. Myers himself would probably look forward to a time when that becomes an outdated need, but we’re not there yet.

STEM Tuesday– The Impacts of Our Changing Climate– In the Classroom

 

What is climate change? And how does it affect you and me? There are a lot of great books to help students learn about climate change, how it impacts our lives, and what we can do about it, and they are an excellent starting point for activities and discussion in the classroom. Are you ready to explore our changing climate?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWhen the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water Crisis by Nancy F. Castaldo
What would you do if you turned on the faucet and the water was toxic, or no water flowed at all? Readers will explore worldwide water issues and learn from those impacted and making a difference.

Classroom activity: Hold a classroom discussion about water and water shortages. Do you live in an area that has experienced water shortages? What happened? How did you deal with it? In small groups, have students investigate the water supply in their communities. Where does their water originate? How is this water source affected by climate change? What impact has that had on the local community? On families? Students can brainstorm ways to conserve water in their communities. Have each group present their conservation plan to the class.

 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgEye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code by Amy Cherrix
Hurricanes and severe storms leave millions of people in danger. Explore how scientists are studying hurricanes in this Scientists in the Field title.

Classroom activity: Extreme weather can be one of the earliest signs of climate change that you will experience. Weather becomes “extreme” when it is far outside what is typical weather for a specific place at a particular time of year. Hurricanes are one type of extreme weather. Have students select a different kind of extreme weather to research. Have them answer the following questions: What areas of the world are most affected by this weather? How does climate change impact this type of extreme weather? What can we do to protect people and property from this type of extreme weather? Have students prepare a disaster plan for their chosen weather event. What should they do to prepare before the weather event? What should they do during and after to stay safe? Share and discuss the disaster plans with the class.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWhere Have All The Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis by Rebecca E. Hirsch
Hirsch explores bee population decline in her latest STEM title. Readers will explore bee natural history along with ways to slow their decline.

Classroom activity: Bees are just one species threatened by climate change and habitat loss. Every living thing on Earth feels the effects of climate change, including those in the backyard or local park. Have students take a walk outside in their backyard or nearby park. Have them identify the organisms that live there, their habitats, and the typical climate of the area. Research and discuss how climate change will affect the plant and animal habitats? Will the species that live there be able to survive? Have students predict what will happen to the backyard ecosystem in the next 20 years and explain their reasoning.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHow To Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other by Naomi Klein with Rebecca Stefoff
Klein explores a trove of things we can all do to help the planet in this age of climate change. It also includes powerful stories of young readers making a difference.

Classroom activity: Have students choose one of the young people profiled in this book or another book to study. How has their chosen activist made a difference to protect the planet and everything that lives on it? Have students work together in small groups to create a short presentation of their chosen activist and their achievements.

 

 

Want some more climate activities? Here are a few resources to try:
• NASA Climate Kids, https://climatekids.nasa.gov/menu/make/
• UCAR Center for Science Education, https://scied.ucar.edu/activity
• National Ocean Service, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/discoverclimate/

Hopefully, these activities and resources will get your students excited to learn more about climate change!

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.