Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday–A Partridge in a Pear Tree and other Birds this Holiday Season– Writing Tips & Resources

A Fowl STEM Tuesday Holiday Post

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Johnny Cockerel, Gallus gallus domesticus, and I represent the legal interests of the Avian Enrichment Society (A.V.E.S.). 

Photo credit: William Warby from London, England via creativecommons.org

For centuries, birds have been exploited in the popular holiday song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Humankind has reaped bountiful comfort and joy from my fellow bird species without any compensation. Yet, for some unknown reason to logic or musical sensibility, only half the song includes birds. 

Let us first study the facts. The accepted, modern lyrics to the traditional version of The Twelve Days of Christmas are as follows: 

( Feel free to read, or sing, to the submitted lyrics.)

  • One the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…A partridge in a pear tree.
  • One the second day of Christmas, blah blah blah blah blah blah…Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

(Follow the time-space-holiday song-continuum/neurologically ingrained rhythmic pattern for the remaining verses.)

  • Three french hens,
  • Four calling birds,
  • Five gold rings,
  • Six geese a-laying
  • Seven swans a-swimming,
  • Eight maids a-milking,
  • Nine ladies dancing,
  • Ten lords a-leaping,
  • Eleven pipers piping,
  • Twelve drummers drumming.

Notice the deliberate shift in lyrical theme introduced after the fifth day of Christmas which completely overtakes the song on the seventh day of Christmas? Where did the birds go? The lyrics started down the right road and then some human intervention ruined a perfectly good thing. Sound familiar?

A.V.E.S. has engaged my avian legal services to propose a change to the lyrics of The Twelve Days of Christmas. A new set of lyrics that more accurately reflect the importance of the Aves class. Today, we submit a proposal to right past wrongs and to correct a great lyrical misstep. We present a more promising musical holiday future—one where the avian species can truly be appreciated for their role in the ecosystem, food chain, and general enjoyment level of all who live on our fine planet. 

We present our case to you, the jury of STEM. 

Exhibit A

Bird books.

Look at these fine titles from this month’s STEM Tuesday book list. Birds make great reading! 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Exhibit B

Birders.

Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain]

Look how happy birds make these fine humans. It makes my heart beat at upwards of 300 beats/min to see such joy generated by my fellow Aves.

Exhibit C 

Ornithology. 

Ornithology, my friends, is more than a fancy-schmancy word. It’s a whole field of science! The study of birds! How awesome is that? Is there a field dedicated to the study of Lords-A-Leaping? How about Maids-A-Milking? I hardly think so. #BirdsRule!

Exhibit D

You know that feeling when you walk outside in late winter and hear the birds singing? That sound warms your heart and signals spring has sprung with greater accuracy than all the computer-generated weather models combined. You know what I’m crowing about here, right?

 

As you can see, birds are a slice of awesome on our planet. Not only do we of the Aves class need humans to get their !@#$ together to ensure our well-being and the well-being of our habitat, perhaps you can find it in your hearts to give us the complete reign of a traditional holiday classic. No maids milking or drummers drumming or lords leaping or ladies dancing or even pipers piping. Heck, display the bling with those gold rings on your fingers instead of singing about them. 

Ladies and gentlemen, if the lyric don’t fit, you must change it.

So fly with us and amend what we can be amended. Accept, as submitted, the A.V.E.S. revised version of the classic holiday song:

  • One the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…A partridge in a pear tree.
  • Two turtle doves.
  • Three french hens,
  • Four calling birds,
  • Five goldfinches,
  • Six geese a-laying
  • Seven swans a-swimming,
  • Eight owls-a-hunting (or hooting, depending on your inclination for small woodland rodents.)
  • Nine parrots…parroting?
  • Ten ravens hopping,
  • Eleven woodpeckers pecking,
  • Twelve cardinals singing.

Thank you and from the entire STEM Tuesday team,

Happy Holidays to all!

And to all a good FLIGHT!

 

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files takes wing and goes birding!  

    • Man, I love this book. I remember reading it for the first time. I started to read and thought that it was a good book. Everything changed, though, when Doug finds BIRDS OF AMERICA displayed at the library. This part of the book hit me at a visceral level and resonated through my reader’s soul. A kid from whom little is expected, a kid who is drowning in things beyond his control, finds a lifeline in science and art and is transformed to work at being a better human. Perfect.
  • Bird Taxonomy from Thayer Birding Software
    • In addition to great information about bird taxonomy, this page uses one of my favorite birds, Turdus migratorius, to demonstrate the principles. 
  • Ornithology, The Science of Birds
  • All About Birds from The Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology 
  • Disturbing news for grassland birds!

 


 

 

 

STEM Tuesday–A Partridge in a Pear Tree and other Birds this Holiday Season– In the Classroom

I admit it. I have yet to see partridge in a pear tree. I have seen a turkey on a fence, a great blue heron on a play set, and a groundhog in an apple tree. I love watching birds and other wildlife in my backyard. I recently asked my #KidsNeedMentors 4th grade class if they’ve ever watched birds in their yards. Sadly, most of them had not. Perhaps reading some of this month’s great list of bird books will get kids excited to look for birds on their own.

For this week’s post, I was inspired by three books that covered different bird-related topics.

Snowy Owl Invasion!

In this book, author Sandra Markle covers one episode in 2013, when snowy owls showed up in lots of places that were outside their normal range. Sightings by citizen scientists alerted researchers to this phenomenon. They were then able to take a closer look at the situation and determine what drove the owls to wander so far afield.

 

 

Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs

Author Sneed Collard’s photographs illustrate this exploration of different types of woodpeckers. The book explains why woodpeckers do what they do, along with adaptations that allow them to do things that would injure other animals. (Namely banging their heads repeatedly against hard objects.) I especially loved that Collard included photo outtakes, proof that it takes many tries to get that one great photo.

 

 

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird

This book is part of the Scientists in the Field series. It follows Gavin Hunt as he researches New Caledonian crows both in the field and in a research station. This book not only provided amazing information about crows. It raised questions about what sets humans apart from other animals. It looked into the age-old question of nature versus nurture. It also touched on different scientific methods. The book contained a combination of photographs and illustrations. I love that the illustrations were created by a graduate student working with Gavin.

 

These books could springboard into many interesting and fun activities. Here are just a few…

Be a Citizen Scientist

Citizen scientists play a big role in the collection of scientific data. It was citizen scientists who alerted researchers to the snowy owl “invasion” in 2013. There are many citizen science opportunities related to birds. One that my family has repeatedly participated in is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC – https://gbbc.birdcount.org). The next GBBC is slated for February 14-17, 2020. When you sign up, you commit to watching birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the days. The sightings can be in your backyard, at the local park, or wherever you happen to be.

The GBBC website has lots of resources, including instructions for participation, bird guides, and a photo contest. It also explains why scientists need and how they use data collected through citizen science efforts.

This effort started as a joint effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, both of which have lots of great bird resources on their respective websites. The Cornell Lab powers All About Birds (https://www.allaboutbirds.org), an incredible online resource for anyone who is looking to find out more about birds.

GBBC is not the only citizen science opportunity related to birds. Cornell has a list of other projects here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/citizenscience/about-the-projects. There are also lists of projects provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: https://www.fws.gov/birds/get-involved/citizen-science.php.

Keep a Bird Journal

While citizen science efforts mainly focus on counting birds, keeping a bird journal can be scientific, creative, or both. There is an interesting article that looks at the difference between field notes and journals in Bird Watcher’s digest – https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/solve/howto/journal.php.

When keeping field notes, like in Crow Smarts, it is often important to know which individual animal is being observed. This means that it is important to take note of size, coloring, and identifying marks associated with a specific individual. Behaviors and vocalizations may be specific to one particular individual. This may not represent the species as a whole.

In bird journaling, it is up to the individual keeping the journal to determine what is important. This can be an opportunity to practice some artwork or come up with a story inspired by bird activities.

As I was reading Crow Smarts, I loved the names the author and researchers gave to the various birds. Names like Little Feather and Crow We Never Got Around to Naming made me smile. What names would you give to birds you observe and why?

Build a Bird House

Specifications for bird nesting boxes vary from species to species. Check out this page from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for information about building and placing bird houses in general, as well as some specific dimensions for different bird species: https://www.fws.gov/birds/bird-enthusiasts/backyard/homes-for-birds.php.

The Cornell Lab has a good resource for bird houses here: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/educators-guide-to-nest-boxes. This points to a page on NestWatch – https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses – that includes plans for a long list of specific birdhouse plans. I love that this gives specific instructions not only for how to build a box, but also how to mount it.

Make a Bird Feeding Station

Just like people, birds have to eat. Making a bird feeding station could be as simple as setting out the right food to attract a certain type of bird or as involved as designing and building a bird feeder. This could be turned into an engineering challenge by providing students with raw materials and specifications for a bird feeder. It could be a research opportunity, where students have to figure out how to attract specific bird species. They would need to figure out where to place the feeder and what to stock it with.

The Cornell Lab has a recipe for bird seed “cookies”: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/make-your-own-feeder. These could be used to decorate a tree with cookies shaped to match whatever holiday a class or family happens to be celebrating.

If you poke around the internet, you can find lots of ideas for different kinds of bird feeders. Here are a few to get you started. (And keep in mind that you can usually substitute sunflower butter for peanut butter if you have a peanut-allergic person to keep safe.)

A pinecone bird feeder: http://goexplorenature.com/2010/02/fun-friday-make-pinecone-birdfeeder.html
Tin can bird feeder: https://www.momtastic.com/diy/crafts-for-kids/175891-tin-can-bird-feeder-craft-diy
Milk carton bird feeder: https://www.allfreecrafts.com/recycling/containers/milk-carton-bird-feeder

I hope these activities got you thinking about ways you can take off with these bird-themed books.


Janet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. She loves looking out the window next to her writing desk and seeing birds doing what birds do. Janet sometimes helps out with conservation projects – at left, she’s helping cut reeds to stock an insect hotel. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com

Interview with Editor Jonah Heller – Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

We are delighted to have with us, Jonah Heller, associate editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Welcome to Mixed-Up Files, Jonah!

Hey, thanks for having me!

 

Could you share your editorial journey at Peachtree with us?

My editorial journey with Peachtree started shortly after I graduated with my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. I was fortunate enough to have a network of peers connected to Peachtree who helped advocate my intern application, and I did my internship with Peachtree in the summer of 2016. Through hard work, careful attention to detail, and routinely showering everyone with baked goods, I left enough of a positive impression that I was hired on as a publisher’s assistant on January 1, 2017.

From there, I was entering orders for sales, organizing mailings, proofing our catalog, and doing just about anything that needed an extra pair of hands while also training into editorial assistant work. As my supervisor left for other horizons—I eventually did take on more editorial work and started dipping into acquisitions by examining imports from Frankfurt and Bologna. It was great exposure to literature abroad and an excellent opportunity to develop my own taste and direction. Of course, the reward for work done well is—more work! So lots of paperbacks and reprints and editorial outreach as an assistant editor. And now I’ve been upgraded to an associate editor, so I’ve been set loose into the wilderness to go find exciting things and build my list. Woo!

 

What are some books you’ve worked on?

Peachtree is very well established in the picture book arena, so plenty of those!

In terms of middle grade: Peachtree is a smaller house, so that means it’s an all-hands-on-deck environment and everyone’s got their hand in the cookie jar at some point. I’ve helped proof various stages of our Charlie Bumpers and Nina Soni series. I’ve also overseen the paperback adaptation process for quite a number of our middle grade titles, which can involve anything from a new cover and revised back matter to substantial text edits and updates with the author.

                                               

Working on imports as an assistant, I adapted The Bookshop Girl from Scholastic UK and oversaw the illustration process from sketches to final art and cover. It’s a fun mystery about a girl who can’t read and has to save her family’s recently acquired bookstore from a shady con man. A good choice if you love whimsy and the idea of a mechanical wonder bookstore with rooms dedicated to rocket ships or pirate treasure aquariums.

What are some subjects you’d like to see authors tackle in middle grade?

Ultimately, I’d like to see them tackle whatever interests them. That’s the best place to start. But as far as my wish list for this group…

Themes: adventure, animal points of view, comedy, coming of age, contemporary, magical realism, mystery, wilderness survival,

Craft: character driven; compelling voice; page-turning digestible plot; 3-dimensional protagonist & antagonist

It’s one of those things, where I’ll know it when I see it and get into the first ten pages. So I try to keep a wide net cast. I would, however, especially LOVE ownvoices LGBTQ+ stories.

Could you share with us your ideas and goals when it comes to the representation of diversity in the books you publish?

Everyone should be able to reach out to literature and see themselves. That’s critical not only to a sense of belonging but also to establishing empathy for other walks of life outside of our own experience. I strive to be mindful and thoughtful in my acquisitions, because I don’t want a one-note list. I’d be very bored and disappointed with that and, ultimately, so would my publisher and our readers.

Putting that into practice: I don’t ever actively look to check off a box and then move on to something else. I don’t think that’s a good approach, nor a sincere one. My goal is to ultimately acquire talent from all walks of life, who can deliver an excellently crafted story while also offering authentic mirrors and varied experiences. I don’t want to just acquire you and your one book and then be done with it:  I want to build a long-lasting relationship with you and work on lots of cool things for years to come.

What are some common reasons for a manuscript to make it to acquisitions at Peachtree Publishing?

For middle grade fiction, it’s usually character- or voice-driven. You can really latch onto someone’s journey and empathize with their trials and triumphs if the writing lets you step close enough. It’s not really theme or topic that drives fiction for us; it’s a fully satisfying story and arc of growth. You walk away from the book, having had some sort of raw emotional experience that sticks to you and you carry around for a while.

Nonfiction: it’s not my area of expertise, admittedly. But this can be topic or theme driven at first and then develop into something that will ultimately be more for the institutional market. So, we’ll ask: how can this be used in the classroom? What makes it different and specialized from everything else already out there? How can we grow it further from this one book? Etc.

What advice do you have for writers who want to query you?

So if you’re unagented, I’m on snail mail at the moment. It’s not everyone’s favorite method, but it’s mine and it keeps me organized! You can find Peachtree’s address and submissions guidelines on our website, and if you were dutiful enough to read this then you’ll now discover that if you don’t put my name on the envelope, it won’t ever come to my desk.

My general wish list is above, but it’s always a good idea to check out a publisher’s catalog and see what kind of stuff they’ve done. That’s always step one. Ask yourself: does it feel like they’re a good fit for my work, or am I going to be an odd duck out here? Or, if they’ve done something similar: how is my work going to stand out?

As I’ve said, nonfiction isn’t generally my cup of tea. But maybe I’ll surprise myself one day.

I’m also probably not the right editor for a divorce or abuse story, unless it culminates in healing and/or some type of cathartic and triumphant resolution. Additionally, fantasy and science fiction haven’t been as prominent at Peachtree, so the pacing, world building, and character work has to be top-of-the-line.

Other tips:

  • Spelling the editor’s name right is cool
  • Showing up at their office in-person is not cool
  • Neither are frequent phone calls
  • Explore resources on writing query letters

What’s going on in Middle Grade at Peachtree right now?

I’ve been Americanizing an illustrated adventure from the UK, called Mr. Penguin. It’s Indiana Jones meets Sherlock, but with a penguin and a kung fu spider. So basically loads of fun.

                                         

 

Our Nina Soni series continues, and upcoming for 2020: we’ve bought the US text rights to Lavie Tidhar’s Candy from Scholastic UK. It’s an awesome film noir-like mystery following young detective Nelle Faulkner as she uncovers the shady underworld of candy smuggling in a town that’s outlawed sugar. We will be re-illustrating, so expect a fun story and a fresh American package!

Domestically, I’m on the verge of some exciting things I can’t share just yet. So stay tuned and be on the lookout for Peachtree’s middle grade!

 

Jonah Heller is an Associate Editor at Peachtree Publishing Company Inc. in Atlanta, GA. He graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and earned his BFA in Dramatic Writing for Film and TV at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His editorial focus ranges from board book to young adult. Say hello on Twitter @jrheller87