Birds

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!

 

 

 

 

STEM Tuesday — Birds — Writing Tips & Resources

Feather Fun

If you’re interested in writing and publishing children’s nonfiction, you’re probably researching the market. Ever notice that publishers can’t seem to get enough of certain subjects? Like, BIRDS!

For several reasons this subject is perennial: no matter where they live, kids can experience birds; birds are a great topic for teaching science curriculum standards; and, many book buyers (frequently grandparents and librarians) love sharing their passion for birdwatching with children.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey, approximately 45 million people in the US enjoy birdwatching. Every year, binoculars come out and bird books get bought.

If you want to get published, write a bird book, right? If you’ve tried that, you might have received rejection letters with phrases like “too similar to books already on our list.” Submissions piles are full of competition. So, how do writers do it? How do they write on a common topic in a flooded market and still manage to get published?

Taking Action

Take a tip (or two) from this month’s STEM Tuesday book list:

 

Fun it up! You can’t read Superpower Field Guides – Ostriches by Rachel Poliquin and illustrated by Nicholas John Frith without enjoying the humor. I challenge you to find a single spread that doesn’t make you smile or chuckle.

Follow an Individual: In Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, Phillip Hoose gives readers a case study. Sure he presents technical information on data collection, life history, and conservation, but he does so through the lens of an observer (himself) spying on the life of one bird (B95). This does double duty, sucking readers in and letting them migrate with the birds, further supporting the scientific concepts.

Make it high concept: If listeners “get” your project with a single sentence pitch, it is high concept. Rebecca Hirsch’s Where Have All The Birds Gone? Nature in Crisis presents a problem that readers care about. Couple that with a sensory-filled opening scene, shocking examples, plus tips to empower young readers, and you may just get that acceptance letter.

Tell a Tale to Build to a Big Idea: In The Triumphant Tale of The House Sparrow, Jan Thornhill starts with a shocker: “Behold the most despised bird in human history.” Throughout the book, she uses storytelling devises like a trail of doors open just a crack to lure readers deeper and deeper into complexity: “At first, American was house sparrow heaven. At least for a while.” She builds tension: “A battle cry arose. The house sparrow had to be stopped.” She tells a tale that leads to an idea which will stick with readers: The power of resilience.

Get Personal: Sy Montgomery takes a personal approach when writing Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur. This unique approach appeals to readers who might not appreciate the same information presented in a more traditional expository fashion. Great writers experiment with different approaches to reach more readers.

Get Graphic: Sure Kyla Vanderklugt’s Crows: Genius Birds takes advantage of kids’ love of visual storytelling for the narrative, but it maximizes on that approach by using it to present expository information such as a family tree of corvids. When an author or illustrator can use one device to serve two purposes, that’s gold!

 

Challenge:

Pick another common topic: metamorphosis, or dinosaurs, or one of your choosing and brainstorm options for each of the above tips. It might surprise you just how much fun you can have when a flooded market forces you to get creative!

 

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals (including birds!). An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s TreasuresLearn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

STEM Tuesday — Birds — In the Classroom

 

 

This month’s STEM Tuesday theme is all about birds. One way to get kids interested is to take them outside to see the birds they can find or do some research to learn more about the incredible adaptations of birds. Here are a few activities to try.

 

Be an Urban Birder

Urban birding is a fun and easy way to learn more about the birds that live in the city. First read through the following books from this month’s list about different birds dwelling in cities.

Falcons in the City: The Story of a Peregrine Family by Chris Earley, photographs by Luke Massey

Cities are full of wildlife. Explore these urban residents.

 

 

 

 

 

Crows: Genius Birds by Kyla Vanderklugt

This is a perfect companion title to Crow Smarts. Readers will love the comic format.

 

 

 

 

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins, illustrations by Guido de FeLippo

Let’s talk about bird brains. Turner’s book focuses on the best and the brightest – crows. This is also a Scientists in the Field title that will introduce readers to the scientists at the heart of this brainy bird science.

 

 

Activity

Provide students with a bird identification guide, or make sure they have access to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online bird guide. Map out a route for the group to follow and tell students to look for birds and signs of birds. These signs can include bird nests, feathers, and hearing bird songs or calls. Also, before you head out, create a list of common birds in the area and review them with students. Make sure students have sketchbooks and pencils to draw what they see and note any identifying characteristics of the birds they see. Now it’s time to head out. Have students watch for birds, draw what they see, and make a list of the birds they identify. What is the most common bird found?

 

Finding Bird Superpowers

Birds can do amazing feats due to their unusual adaptations—like flying incredibly long distances while barely using any energy at all or running more than 40 miles per hour! Try this research project with students to learn about some of the shocking superpowers of birds. First read through these books from our list.

Superpower Field Guides – Ostriches by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

This installment of the fun, graphic series focuses on fascinating ostriches that can outrun most horses

 

 

 

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Can a bird fly the distance of the moon? It sure can. This is the story of a red knot that had an outstanding flying career.

 

 

 

 

Activity

Have students pick a bird they would like to research for their superpowers. They can pick one of the birds from the books just read or they can choose another to research, such as: great horned owls, hummingbirds, gannets, and harpy eagles, to name just a few. See what superpowers students can find about their birds and have them create superhero movie posters about them. They can think of a superhero name, draw a picture of the bird on the poster, and provide copy advertising the bird’s amazing abilities. Share these fun posters as a class!

 

Other Resources

Here are a few other resources to try and read in the classroom:

 

Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com