STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– Writing Tips and Resources

 

Squeezing It In

When you spend several years researching a topic, you end up with reams and reams of phenomenal facts. How are you ever supposed to cram it all in to one short book? Well, for starters, you don’t. Instead, you get choosy about what info you use, only opting for facts that support the main point of your book, but also, you get creative with ways to squeeze information in.

Let’s take a look at how writers, illustrators, and design teams use the edges to educate. By edges, I mean all of that extra information frequently found in a nonfiction book. Information in the epitext: backmatter, front matter, cover, footnotes, sidebars. captions, etc. We nonfiction nerds have awesome options that fiction folks don’t often play with. Now, an author or an illustrator is not always in charge (many of those decisions are made on the publisher’s end), but we can be strategic in our use of epitext.

For today, let’s set the front matter and backmatter aside and focus exclusively on matter placed on the main pages of the book.

I whipped out a few books from this month’s STEMTuesday list and will share features that jumped out at me and questions I immediately had. You probably might not have all these books at your disposal, but consider doing the same with a pile of books near you.

MAPS

Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance, by Tod Olson, page 80. Black and white; the title uses the word “fate” which gives an ominous connotation; the legend allows the map to convey a narrative. Questions: What information on the map is also included in the text? What information is left out of the text? Did the inclusion of the map allow the author to trim content from the text? What content is important to include in both the text and the epitext?

Ice Scientist: Careers in the Frozen Antarctic, by Sara L. Latta, page 15. Color illustration; the lack of color within the photo makes it stand out; minimal information provided on the map. Questions: Why does the caption repeat the key information with only minor additions? Does comprehension of the text rely on support from this image?

Polar Explorers for Kids: Historic Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic with 21 Activities, by Maxine Snowden, page 76. A two-color image; many geographical locations identified; no legend or title; use of bold and italics; located at the beginning of Part II of the book. Questions: Why is there no title or legend? Is this map being used differently than the others which support text on a single page? Do the marked locations match the timeline as follows and/or the content from upcoming chapters ?

DIAGRAMS

The Polar Bear Scientist, Peter Lourie, page 22. Colored regions overlaying a photograph; a long caption; diagram overlays another photograph. Questions: Does the content in the extra long caption offer an aside to the main text or does it directly support the main text? If browsers stop to engage with the diagram, would they be drawn into the main text, and if so, where would they start reading? The top of that page, jumping in mid-story, or would they flip back to the beginning of the section or chapter? How can I use diagrams strategically to suck readers in? Should that be a goal? When writing the text for a caption, should I aim it at the browser or the person reading the full text? What are some strategies I can find for these different approaches?

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, Sally M. Walker, page 20. An infographic; caption is integrated into the graphic; labels clarify the components of the graphic; seems to be connected to text which is actually an extended sidebar. Question: Did the author developed the concept for that infographic or find a related image elsewhere and use it for reference? If this infographic were not included, would readers understand the text?

Polar Explorers for Kids: Historic Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic with 21 Activities, by Maxine Snowden, page 19. Four separate images included; black-and-white; on a page with numbered instructions. Questions: Are these illustrations sequential? If they support the instructions, why aren’t they numbered? When writing a how-to piece, how critical is it to include text to support sequential illustrations?

SIDEBARS

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, Sally M. Walker, pages 60-61. An extended sidebar that covers a full spread; encapsulates an entire story; because it does not fall between sections of the main text, it creates a fissure in the reading experience (one paragraph is orphaned on the following page). Questions: Are there tricks a writer can use to avoid a sidebar splitting up the main text?

Where Is Antarctica? By Sarah Fabiny, pages 88-89. An extended sidebar; expository timeline; alliteration used in the title. Questions: How frequently does the writing style and or voice of the sidebar differ from that of the main text? In a single book, are the sidebars all expository, all narrative, or a mix? Does this list provide a summary of the main text, provide information not in the main text, or provide something else?

Ice Scientist: Careers in the Frozen Antarctic, by Sara L. Latta, pages 30, 58, 71. Repeated sidebars with similar content; different word lengths; each of these includes parallel information such as definition, education required, and standard income. Questions: Are standardized sidebars more frequently used in certain series? By certain publishers? How frequently is this kind of feature used in trade publications? What impact would it have if this information were provided in chart or list form instead?

Being Intentional with Info

Analyzing the features of these informational texts helps me consider how to strategically use epitext in my manuscripts. My response as a reader to different styles, lengths, and approaches gives me insight into the impact these features have. It helps me understand their effect on reader comprehension and/or enjoyment of STEM books.
What impacts do specific types and styles of these nonfiction features have on you?

 

Heather L. Montgomery finds crafty ways to cram info into captions, sidebars, and footnotes. To read riotous footnotes full of fun, facts, and fecal forensics, check out her most recent middle grade STEM book Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other.

Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com 

Smashing the Single Story Narrative: A New Middle-Grade Series by Kate Messner

Paul Revere’s famous cry “The British are coming!” warned residents of Lexington and Concord of the imminent danger of British invasion. Right?

The Titanic was touted as “unsinkable” before its ill-fated maiden journey. Right?

Well, not exactly. The stories we’ve been told about historical events have been skewed by the fact that most were written from a single perspective. And no event has EVER had only one perspective.  That’s why I’m so excited that author Kate Messner is writing a new series for middle-grade readers called History Smashers.

History Smashers: The Titanic by Kate Messner

Before we talk about the books, though, let’s talk a bit more about this notion of  the “single story narrative.” Last fall, while walking my daily two-mile neighborhood loop, I listened to author Linda Sue Park discuss her book PRAIRIE LOTUS with Matthew Winner on The Children’s Book Podcast. In the podcast, she talked about the “single story narrative” and about how she introduces the idea of a single story to young readers.  The analogy she uses is very clever. You should click the link above and listen to the podcast.

Since then, I’ve thought about how much of our history has been learned from a single perspective, and I’ve pondered the challenges teachers, parents, librarians, and those of us who write, edit, and publish for young readers, face.  Digging deeper, I listened to the TED Talk titled The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that Linda Sue mentions in the podcast. The talk is more than ten years old, but never has it been more important that we ask ourselves “Who else was there?” and “What if we start the story from a different perspective?”

History Smashers: The American Revolution

In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Messner says she wants “to tell stories in a way that’s respectful of kids. Kids can handle more than we think they can. And I feel like being honest with kids is really important. Sometimes our teaching of history has not fared so well in that area, particularly when it comes to our failings as a country, our mistakes. We like to teach little kids nice stories about history. I think we can start to have those conversations earlier.”

Out of that vision, the History Smashers series was born. With five titles complete and more on the way, the reviews are fantastic!

“Critical, respectful, engaging: exemplary history for children.” —Kirkus Reviews, The Mayflower, starred review
”The book’s format may be a good match for those with shorter attention spans, and permits it to be gratifyingly capacious in what it covers.” —New York Times Book Review

“Kate Messner serves up fun, fast history for kids who want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Absolutely smashing!” —Candace Fleming, award-wining author

I also love that these books are fact-packed and visually enticing, with sidebars, graphic panels, and lots of illustration. They’ll be a welcome addition to classroom, public, and home libraries. I have no doubt they’ll be conversation-starters for years to come. Keep the conversations going, friends!

History Smashers: Pearl Harbor.   History Smashers: Women's Right to Vote  History Smashers: The Mayflower

 

 

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– In the Classroom

This STEM Tuesday’s theme is on the ecology of polar regions—from animals and plants that find ways to survive in their extreme environment to deep sea creatures and melting polar ice to the scientists that study these frozen parts of the world. From the Arctic to Antarctica, life may be difficult, but it still thrives and clearly reflects our rapidly changing environment. Here are some books and activities you can use in the classroom to help students learn about this unique environment and why it is so important.

Ice: Chilling Stories From a Disappearing World,  by Laura Buller, Andrea Mills, and John Woodward

A browsable book that ranges from the prehistoric to present. Meet polar plants, frozen frogs, and other wonders of the icy world. Plenty of climate change alerts sprinkled throughout the pages

 

Classroom activity: Prehistoric animals (like wooly mammoths, wool rhinos, and cave bears) have all been found preserved for thousands of years in polar ice and on cave walls. Show students ice age cave art paintings (such as those in Chauvet–Pont d’Arc) and ask them to make their own cave art images of prehistoric animals using flat rocks and red or black paint. Students should research the animals and depict them doing an activity. Students can then try guessing which prehistoric animal in each person’s piece of cave art.

 

Climate Change and the Polar Regions, by Michael Burgan.

An introduction shows how scientists study climate. Following chapters focus on the impacts of climate change to the Arctic and Antarctic, from melting ice to changing ocean currents to wildlife.

Classroom activity: Have students do an experiment to understand the greenhouse effect using two thermometers, a jar with a cover, and sunlight. Place one thermometer inside the jar and seal it. Put the jar and the second thermometer in a sunny spot and have students record their temperatures every ten minutes.   Discuss what happened and why the jar affected the temperature. Explain how greenhouse gases act in a similar way to raise Earth’s temperature.

 

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors by Elaine Scott

After exploring the fossil evidence of Pangea, this book offers a look at the unique physical and climactic differences of each pole, the people and animals that reside in each, and the lessons gained from explorers and scientists. It includes a good resource list of books and websites.

Classroom activity: Have students research two other creatures that live at opposite poles and have them create comparison charts listing qualities that make them similar and different. Are they both mammals? Do they both hunt? Do they have thick layers of blubber to keep them warm? Students should find images or create drawings to illustrate their findings and share them with the class.

 

Further Polar Resources

Here are some websites that students can use to learn more about the polar regions:

  • Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists
    Find out about the varied work scientists are doing in the Arctic and Antarctic.
    http://icestories.exploratorium.edu/dispatches/
  • PBS Learning Media, Polar Sciences
    Media resources show the importance of studying different kinds of polar sciences, including the atmosphere, ice, land, oceans, and people.
    https://tpt.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/ipy07-ex/#.X_0yTS2ZOjQ