STEM Tuesday–A Partridge in a Pear Tree and other Birds this Holiday Season– Interview with Author Jennifer Ward

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Jennifer Ward, author of I LOVE BIRDS! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander & Explore Birds with Kids. It’s part journal and part field guide full of amazing activities for readers to explore. The St. Louis Audobon Society said “It’s a perfect fit for parents and teachers looking for ways to engage children in STEM activities.

Christine Taylor-Butler: Jennifer, you began your career as an elementary educator and now have more than 20 widely acclaimed books for children. How hard was it to make the switch to writing full-time?

Jennifer Ward: It was both scary (financially) and bittersweet to resign from teaching to pursue writing full-time – giving up a job I was passionate about in addition to a regular paycheck/benefits. I definitely took a leap of faith!

CTB: What a leap! Do you miss teaching?

Jennifer: I do miss teaching, having my own classroom/students and school- community camaraderie. However, as an author, I’m a “nomadic-educator”, traveling and speaking in schools and at conferences. It also brings me great joy to know educators use my books with their curriculum.

CTB: In the book, you talk about the magical moment when, as a young child, you first heard a bird call pierce the quiet. Have there been other magical moments that inform your work?

Jennifer: Each book I’ve written has had that magical “aha” moment- a trigger, an experience that surfaces with story potential. I bank on those moments, wondering when the next one will present itself. Having been writing professionally for more than 20 years now, I’ve learned to trust the process and know that science and nature will never cease to fuel my creativity.

CTB: You write about a nature deficit, especially for families living in a city with busy lives. How hard was it to come up with 52 unique sensory explorations a parent and child could accomplish together.

Jennifer: Sadly, nature deficit is a real thing today. It wasn’t difficult to create sensory experiences in urban spaces because I drew from personal experiences. “I Love Birds!” focuses on birds and many species of birds have adapted well to living in cities. Sensory explorations take little time, are free of cost, great for the soul and rely on simply being “present”, even if it’s just for a few seconds. We, kids and adults alike, need to practice putting down the screen and connecting to the environment around us. It’s so easy to not be present today.

CTB: Although I LOVE BIRDS is about observing and appreciating birds and their behavior, you incorporate other elements in these tasks. For example, going outside and taking the time to feel the air on your skin and the ground beneath your feet. It made me want to try them all myself. Are the book’s activities also a form of meditation for families with busy lives?

Jennifer: I hope you do go out and try them yourself! Indeed, “I Love Birds!” encourages families to meditate in nature – even if it’s indoors and spending a moment to enjoy the warmth of sun seeping through a window or making time to observe what is going on outside of a window. It’s the art of slowing down for just a few seconds and re-connecting with this amazing planet of ours.


Jennifer Ward is the author of more than 25 nonfiction, fiction and nature-activity books. Recent books include Mamma Dug A Little Den, and Feathers and Hair: What Animals Wear. She’s received numerous awards including New York Public Library’s Best Informational Book of the Year, ALA Notable recognition, the International Literacy Association/Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice Award, the Giverny Award for Best Nonfiction Picture Book and more. To learn more visit Jennifer on Twitter at @jenwardbooks or her website:

CTB: Now I’m curious. What has been your most unusual experience when observing birds?

Jennifer: Oooh. Good question! Hmmm…this could be another book, lol. One experience this year – there’s a knot in a tree in my backyard – one of many knots among many trees. But THIS knot is a hot spot for some reason? There’s something within it that draws every species of bird to it. Sap? Pooled water? Cached nuts and seeds? I’m not sure. But I am sure all the birds love this one, particular knot.

CTB: If you could choose one quick STEM based activity for readers to try, what would it be?

Jennifer: I challenge readers to engineer a bird nest using materials found in nature. Then, experiment to see if the nest is sturdy enough to protect a fragile egg. The experimental egg could be a mini-marshmallow, or if the nest is large enough, an actual chicken egg. Can the nest support the egg, protect the egg from elements such as wind, and offer adequate protection/shelter for the egg? Consider the nests you can see in “naked” trees during the winter months when trees are bare. Those nests often withstand season after season of weather extremes. Pretty amazing considering birds build without the use of opposable thumbs!

CTB: You call yourself a “bird nerd.” So I was wondering, beyond science and nature, do you have other hobbies or passions you would love to write about?

Jennifer: I am such a bird nerd, my life orbits around the lives of birds every single day. BUT, I do have other hobbies and passions: my family, my dogs, photography (primarily birds), painting, drawing, camping and gardening.

CTB: So what’s up next? Are there any new books coming out that we should keep our eyes out for?

Jennifer: Thank you for asking! I do, three to be exact! Fall 2020 – a picture book called, “How to Find a Bird” (S&S/Beach Lane Books) illustrated by Diana Sudyka. It is gorgeous! And I love that Diana implemented the two main characters (kids) as POC. Birding has often been characterized as a hobby for retired Caucasian people. That needs to change; the future of our planet and birds depends on it – Jason Ward @JasonWardNY is making great strides with this. 
Also next fall – a picture book called, “Round” (S&S/Beach Lane Books) illustrated by Lisa Congdon. It’s premise is everything round in nature, from objects to elements to seasons and beyond.
And 2021 or ’22 – a picture book called, “Just You and Me” (S&S/Beach Lane), with illustrations by Alexander Vidal. Alexander also illustrated “I Love Birds!”

Win a FREE copy of I LOVE BIRDS! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander & Explore Birds with Kids

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!


Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. @ChristineTB


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

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 Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

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


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

Exhibit B


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, 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 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 – 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 (, 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: There are also lists of projects provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

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 –

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:

The Cornell Lab has a good resource for bird houses here: This points to a page on NestWatch – – 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”: 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:
Tin can bird feeder:
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: