STEM Tuesday — Birds — Interview with Author Leslie Bulion

We are delighted to have the aweome Leslie Bulion with us today to talk about her book:

Superlative Birds book

Get to know all about the best and brightest―and smelliest!―birds in Leslie Bulion’s award-winning collection of avian science poetry. You won’t even need binoculars!

★ “Fascinating.”―Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

★ “In works such as Superlative Birds, the collaboration of poetry and science invites children of varying reading preferences, learning styles, and worldviews to enter nature study through their own chosen door.” ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, STARRED REVIEW

★ “Entertaining and educational, a superlative package.” ―Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW


Leslie, thanks for joining us today. please tell us about your book, Superlative Birds

Thanks for inviting me to STEM Tuesday, Jen! SUPERLATIVE BIRDS (Peachtree 2019) takes readers on a funny, poetic tour of the important characteristics of “birdness,” such as feathers, eggs, nests, wings, and bills, plus behaviors like courtship and bird parenting using a “best of the bird world” representative for each trait. A chatty chickadee appears in each spread to help readers meet a challenge offered in the introductory poem: which of these traits belong only to birds? This is the second of four critter poetry collection collaborations with illustrator Robert Meganck, whose work is superlatively funny and accurate!


You wrote this book and many of your others in verse, which is so amazing. Why do you choose to write in this format?

I love the challenge of communicating one cool science story in a succinct way using the music and wordplay of poetry. I am a lifelong learner; writing science poetry allows me to learn about a subject of interest, and to learn more about poetry as I explore and choose different forms for each of the poems.

spread inside Superlative Birds

In my poems, I’m not sharing everything there is to know about birds (or amphibians, or spiders, or human body parts, or…). I also don’t share everything about any particular bird—that wouldn’t make for a fun or interesting poem. I try to hone the science story I’ll tell to one elegant nugget. For example, in my poem about the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird, I talk about its size, mention what it eats, and describe the pattern its wingbeats make (figure-eight). That’s it! I try to keep the poems’ accompanying expository notes fairly concise as well, which is much harder!


There are so many different birds in this book. What kind of research did you do? 

I always start with two approaches: reading widely and some kind of hands-on experience. For SUPERLATIVE BIRDS, I read general books and articles about birds and bird behavior and pored over field guides. I took a week-long summer course at Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology where I met Leslie Bulion researching birds ornithologists and expert birders who became my expert readers. I asked a LOT of questions, including “which bird do YOU think is the best, and why?” Once I figured out the structure and organization of the book, and the “world record-holders” hook, I researched animal world records and unusual birds, and continued to read recent articles in science magazines and journals to see which birds scientists were studying and why. I also contacted researchers for further information. There’s always something new in science! While reading recent research on emperor penguins (deepest diver) I learned they had the most feathers of any bird, something researchers had discovered while taking an unexpected opportunity to look at feather density. I had read many references to the tundra swan being the world record-holder for most feathers but it had just been dethroned!


Why do you choose to write STEM/STEAM books? Is it in your background?

I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. I wrote a poem back in fourth grade encouraging readers to take a closer look at critters living “under the grass,” something I did myself 50 years later in LEAF LITTER CRITTERS (Peachtree 2018)! I did a semester at sea in during my undergraduate studies, and earned a Master’s degree in Biological Oceanography after that. I was inspired to start writing science poetry on the heels of taking a summer course (just for fun) called “The Way Bugs Work.”


Do you have any tips for writers who might want to write science poetry?

I think we all do our best work when we’re writing about something we find fascinating. I read current science every day. There’s always a note I’ll squirrel away in an idea file or follow on a happy hunt into the weeds. I collect all of the information I can, and then I whittle. For me, science poetry involves whittling a stick until you make a whistle (or a flute) that calls the read over—Hey! Check this out!


What is your newest book? 

Thanks for asking! SERENGETI: PLAINS OF GRASS (Peachtree, March 1, 2022) follows the greatSerengeti Plains of Grass book migration of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles and others into and out of Tanzania’s Serengeti short-grass plain as the first rains bring new grass growth to feed the herd. Migrating animals interact with resident animals in this moving ecosystem. Unlike my other science poetry books, SERENGETI is all the same form of poetry throughout, one stanza connecting to the next as readers follow energy though the food web from herbivores to insectivores, carnivores, and recyclers before the herd moves on, following the rains west. The form is an adaptation of a Swahili stanza called the utendi.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today, Leslie.  You can learn more about Leslie and her other amazing books HERE

Leave us a comment about your favorite book about birds!  Go STEM/STEAM!





Twenty years of celebrating young readers!

May be an image of person and child

On July 5, 2000, I gave my 10 year-0ld daughter, Claire, “just one last hug,” before she skipped off with newfound friends at camp.

Little did I realize it would be my last hug from Claire, ever.

Claire died of a combination of a misdiagnosed heart condition and lack of care at the camp.

Our little reader was gone.

My husband, Brad, and I felt compelled to not only honor Claire in a way that was true to her, but to honor our relationships with each other and our daughter, Kyle, and son Ian.

I’m happy to share that we’ve accomplished both goals, and then some.

We established Claire’s Day, a children’s book festival, in Claire’s honor.

At the 2nd annual Claire’s Day, May 2003.

On Saturday, May 7, and Saturday, May 21, the 2oth annual Claire’s Day festivities will take place at the Main Library, Toledo, and the Maumee Branch, Maumee, respectively.

Yes, you read that right. Claire’s Day isn’t just a day anymore. We impact over 25,000 children and their families through our programs, including our school visit outreach program. In the past, over 40 schools have partnered with us, hosting our guest authors and illustrators as they share their magic with their students.

One of the highlights of the festivities is our C.A.R.E. Awards program. Teachers from throughout the greater Toledo area nominate children from their classes who are the most improved readers. Each child selected receives a personalized certificate and a coupon to choose their very own book at the festival, and then have it personally signed by our guest writers and artists.

We have recognized over 10,000 children over the years. 10,000 children who typically do not receive academic accolades have been lifted through the experience.

A proud family of one of our C.A.R.E. Award recipients!

Claire’s Day features prolific, traditionally published children’s book authors and illustrators from throughout the Midwest.

Our 20th year features some fantastic authors and illustrators in our lineup. For the full listing for each festival, click here.

Several of our contributors to the blog will be with us, including Michelle Houts and Tricia Springstubb!

Other middle-grade authors and illustrators joining us include Beth Kephart, Mary Winn Heider, Mary Kay Carson,

and Louise Borden.

When I gave that last hug to Claire, I could not have even imagined what my life looked like moving forward. We have been incredibly blessed to have our family, friends, an entire community lift us up through our grief journey. We are blessed by amazing relationships as a family, a tribute to Claire as well.

At the Jefferson Awards in Washington, D.C., being honored for our work through Claire’s Day.

We hope that you can join us for this significant celebration of our little reader gone too soon. We hope you can join us as we celebrate young readers. We hope you can join us as we Celebrate Life, Authors, Illustrators, and Reading Excellence.

We hope you can join us for Claire’s Day.




Real Stories of Hawai‘i for Middle-Graders

So many children’s books about Hawai‘i simply tell readers what they expect to hear, confirming general impressions they already have. But Hawai‘i is a unique and diverse place, and it’s rich in stories and storytellers. In these islands, people from many traditions grow up hearing and sharing each others’ experiences and stories. Here are some of those real stories of Hawai’i for middle-grade readers to enjoy.

Hero Stories

I’ll begin with a book about Hawaii’s all-time superhero, Duke Kahanamoku. SURFER OF THE CENTURY by Ellie Crowe tells the story of this legendary three-time winner of Olympic Gold. Although he was considered the fastest swimmer in the world, he also became known as the father of modern surfing, his true passion. It was “The Duke” who introduced the ancient Hawaiian sport to Australia and to the west and east coasts of the U.S. Despite his outstanding skills and accomplishments, Duke Kahanamoku had to deal with serious racial discrimination wherever he went. He responded to these challenges, too, with heroic humor, grace, and patience. Thus he became an example of character and aloha in Hawai‘i and the world. 

SAKAMOTO’S SWIM CLUB: How a Teacher Led and Unlikely Team to Victory by Julie Abery and Chris Sasaki.
THE THREE YEAR SWIM CLUB: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest by Julie Checkoway.
These two books  tell a much less well known but equally inspiring story of Olympic swimming heroes from Hawai‘i. An elementary science teacher in rural Maui in the 1930s saw his students playing in the sugar plantation‘s irrigation ditch one day and decided to organize them into a swim team. Soichi Sakamoto was not a coach or even swimmer himself. But he made a scientific study of the techniques and training methods of the world’s best swimmers The club’s dream was to participate in the 1940 Olympics.

They still had to train in the irrigation ditch. There were many excellent swimming pools and facilities in Hawaii, but in those days, only Caucasians were allowed to use them. Duke Kahanamoku’s example of aloha inspired  the team to overcome the racial barriers and bigotry they encountered at home and across the country.Soon they began winning every meet they entered, and took the national title. They were even set to fill most of the slots on the U.S. Olympic Team in 1940, realizing their dream.

Then the outbreak of World War II cancelled that event. At the 1948 Olympics, the first held in 12 years, the team’s goal finally became a reality. The star of that event was captain of the US swim team, native Hawaiian Bill Smith Jr., who had trained with Mr. Sakamoto. He was first of many boys and girls from the club to distinguish themselves in the sport and in other leadership roles.

The Many Stories of Graham Salisbury

Graham Salisbury has mined his “magical” childhood growing up on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i islands to become one of Hawai‘i’s most engaging storytellers. Readers on the younger side of middle grade will enjoy sharing the adventures and humorous predicaments of delightfully clueless Calvin Coconut. This series is based on Salisbury’s own elementary years on the windward side of O‘ahu. For older readers, there are BLUE SKIN OF THE SEA and ISLAND BOYZ, collections of short  stories about growing up in Hawai‘i and the things that experience teaches you.

But Salisbury is best known for his novels. The most famous, UNDER THE BLOOD-RED SUN, draws on the World War II experiences of his father’s family. The story centers on the challenges faced by two best friends in Kona— Tomi, a Japanese-American boy and Billy, a Caucasian– When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Suddenly the Japanese are the enemy. This is the first of several award-winning novels in his Prisoners of Empire series, focusing on the World War II experiences of Japanese-Americans from Hawai‘i. The veterans he has interviewed for these stories have thanked him for telling their story by making him an honorary member of the famous 442nd “Go For Broke” regiment.

Salisbury has published 20 books set in Hawai‘i. In any of them , you can count on great writing, compelling characters, suspense, and surprising, humorous turns.

Hawai‘i Fantasy

Real stories can be told not just in nonfiction accounts and in realistic fiction, such as Salisbury’s, but also in fantasy and magical realism. Unless fantasy is  based in a believable, knowable world, it won’t engage readers. Hawai‘i, with all its myths and legends, was long overdue for some good middle grade fantasy that rings true. Then Lehua Parker delivered with her page-turning ONE BOY, NO WATER. In this first book of the Niuhi Shark Saga, Zadar is found on the reef as a baby.  A family of surfers and fishermen adopts him. Yet the boy is mysteriously allergic to water. Who is he really, and where did he come from? Someone must know, but they’re certainly not telling Zader. And he keeps having such frightening dreams.

“Auntie” Lehua Parker is thoroughly familiar both with Hawaiian myths and legends and with daily life and relationships in the islands. So she is able to weave the extraordinary and supernatural into an ordinary contemporary scene in ways that are sometimes startling and often humorous. Her characters are flawed, amusing, down-home, and unforgettable. As is her storytelling. Who is Zadar?   You may have to read the whole trilogy to find out.

 Some Illustrated Stories

The last three stories I recommend are told in picture books. The language and information level of these books, and particularly their themes, make them age-suitable for middle grade readers.

By Lois Ann Yamanaka and Ashley Lukashevsky

What does it mean to say that Hawaii is a special place? Like many children growing up in the islands, Claire wishes she could see a winter wonderland of snow. Her dad takes her to the top of Mauna Kea where there is plenty of the stuff. But it is not like she imagined. This is crusty old snow she can’t make anything out of. Later they go to the beach where they build a “snowman” out of sand and make sand angels. Claire begins to see that she can enjoy her own kind of winter surrounded by the sand, ocean and the beautiful mountains of her island. Back matter features the flora and fauna of the islands and shows the importance of the environment in Hawaiian culture.

by Heather Gale and Mika Song

Ancient Hawaiians recognized and respected a third gender.  They called it mahu (“in the middle”). Hawaiians believed that the mahu had spritual powers and a special role to play in the culture, But in modern times mahu has become a term of ridicule for gays, lesbians, and transgender people, HO‘ONANI, HULA WARRIOR, is based on the true story of a girl in a Hawaiian immersion school who saw herself as both boy and girl.  Ho‘onani wants to perform a male-style hula chant at a school event.  This meets with disapproval and resistance. Drawing strngth from the old ways, she persists. Ho‘onani becomes a strong leader who learns to accept herself and inspires others to be inclusive.

by Lee Cataluna and Cheyne Gallarde

The Hawaiian word Ohana means family, but family in a much broader sense than the usual use of that world. Your ohana can include your extended family and also people not related to you. Neighbors, friends, people of all backgrounds, anyone you welcome with mutual love and support can be your ohana. Playwright Lee Cataluna’s warm and humorous all-ages book celebrates this ohana and its underlying spirit of aloha in down-to earth detail.


Aloha, Everyone.  I hope readers of these books will enjoy getting to know Hawai‘i where people of many different backgrounds have learned over time to live together with respect and acceptance.