Climate Change/Earth Science

STEM Tuesday– The Impacts of Our Changing Climate– Interview with Christy Mihaly

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

Today we’re interviewing Christy Mihaly, author of Barefoot Books Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery. It’s a fascinating look at the many ways water forms the basis of life on our planet and how climate change impacts that. Kirkus Reviews said, “Oceanic in scope—but clear and refreshing.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Christy, you write for children but before that change in career you went to law school and spent several years helping to protect the environment as an environmental lawyer. Those are tough issues. How did you develop the passion for that work?

Christy Mihaly: I’ve always loved being in nature. My grandmother was a serious backyard naturalist who shared her love of birds with me—I remember she had a record (vinyl!) with recordings of bird songs and would play it and listen to the calls and tell me which was which bird. She constantly worried about threats to wildlife and the need to protect wild places; she cared deeply about environmental protection.

In school I loved studying biology, ecology, and natural science, and grew to be a committed environmentalist. I remember collecting trash in a local park on the first Earth Day. I was active in the Girl Scouts, which gave me the opportunity to explore some of Earth’s wild places. As a teen one summer I spent ten challenging days paddling along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Maine with a Girl Scout camp. Then, this east coast girl was accepted for a national scout program in Wyoming, and visited Grand Teton National Park. Wow! I was stunned by my first glimpse of the beauty of the west.

My college major was policy studies with a concentration in environmental studies. I remember an ecology course in which we modeled different and related animal populations, demonstrating the interdependence of the species. I learned more about various challenges facing the environmental movement. Then when I took an undergraduate course in environmental law, I was hooked. I was fascinated with the various creative ways that people were using legal theories to defend wilderness and people’s right to a clean and healthy Earth. I realized: This is what I want to do!

CTB: Your family relocated to Spain for a year which was full immersion. What was it like navigating local customs and getting up to speed on the language quickly?

Christy: Yes, that was ten years ago. And oh my gosh, what a pivotal year. It was challenging, stimulating, and inspiring! And exhausting, did I mention exhausting? When we first arrived, I felt like a complete outsider, a bumbling incompetent. I’d taken Spanish in college but I remembered only the basics. So had this horrible sense of being inarticulate. People looked at me as if they thought I wasn’t too bright.

Plus everything – from the traffic circles to the laundry to the supermarket check-outs – was different from what I was used to. I just had to laugh at myself and hope that if I smiled enough, people would be patient with me. I asked questions. I met people. One day as I was riding the metro, a young woman introduced herself to me and we ended up becoming good friends. Slowly, things got better. One day the kind woman at the bakery where I shopped said, as she counted my change, “Your Spanish is getting better.” How exciting was that!

It was a year of bonding for the family as we went through all this together. We leaned on one another as we explored the country. My daughter progressed from knowing basically no Spanish to being the most fluent Spanish speaker in the family. And I loved that she got to live in a new culture, and to realize deeply that just because we do things a certain way in the United States does not mean our way is better.

CTB: While in Spain, you say your head was swimming with ideas for children’s stories and you sold your first story. What was it about?

Christy: I had left my lawyer job with the idea that it was time to get into gear on my long-deferred plans to write for kids. I didn’t know how I would get started, but yes, living in a new place triggered questions about everything. Curiosity is probably one of the most important qualities we bring to our writing – and suddenly I was curious about so many things. And I thought American kids might also find so much of Spain intriguing.

So … that year I published my first piece of writing for kids. It was unpaid and appeared in an online magazine that no longer exists. I was thrilled! It was a short story based on our experiences in Spain. I wrote it as an epistolary tale, in e-mails between a girl in the U.S. and her best friend who moved to Spain.

That year also led to my first paid article. It was in AppleSeeds magazine (also discontinued, is there a pattern here?). I submitted a query, which was accepted, about the Pinzon brothers of southern Spain. As every school child in Spain learns, the Pinzon brothers were a prominent seafaring family in the fifteenth century, and without their expertise and leadership on the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’s explorations wouldn’t have succeeded. I researched the heck out of that 200-word article, traveling to Palos de la Frontera to attend the “Pinzon Days” festival, reading (in Spanish) materials collected in the local library, and studying artifacts in the museum that is the former home of the Pinzon brothers. I also took tons of photos, some of which I submitted for the illustrator’s reference. I was having fun and learning so much.

CTB: Once you returned to Vermont, you kept writing and sending out stories.

Christy: I did. I joined SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I signed up for conferences. I attended workshops. I wasn’t sure I considered myself a writer yet. I still needed to figure out how to make a living at this writing thing. I needed to learn more about the craft and the trade. Gradually, I did.

CTB: Now you have two books out that include discussions of climate change: Barefoot Books Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery, and Diet for a Changing Climate, which you co-wrote with Sue Heavenrich.

Christy: I’ve found that if I’m writing about environmental topics, I can’t avoid addressing climate change. That was certainly the case in the most recent book, Water. I couldn’t write a comprehensive guide to the planet’s water without touching on both the ocean’s role in climate, and the effects of climate change on the ocean, rainfall patterns, and water supplies.

Sue Heavenrich and I visited STEM Tuesday to talk about DIET with Mary Kay Carson, here: https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/stem-tuesday-sustainable-living-interview-with-author/.

In addition to the two climate-related books you mention, I’ve written about climate change in several books for the educational market. For example, in my series “Shaping the Debate,” one of the titles is “Defining and Discussing Climate Change.” (Rourke Educational Media, 2019.) And in writing series nonfiction about national parks, animals, and renewable energy, I have had to deal with climate change and its impacts.

CTB: Barefoot Books Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery is done in multiple own voices from all over the world. That’s pretty innovative (and much needed perspective). Where did the idea come from? Did you get to travel to any of the places covered in the book?

Christy: The publisher, Barefoot Books, conceived of “Water” and went looking for a qualified author. They publish many multicultural picture books and they’re well known for their beautiful, oversized nonfiction books like Barefoot Books World Atlas and Barefoot Books Solar System. They wanted to add Barefoot Books WATER to this line.

I am so glad that Emma Parkin, the brilliant and delightful editor for the project, got my name. We had a Skype call and immediately hit it off. I was intrigued with her ideas. As Emma explained, although there are many children’s books about the ocean, marine animals, and other water-related topics, Barefoot Books wanted to create something that centered water’s role on Earth.

I shared with Emma my work on water conservation projects from Tahoe to Vermont. My experience meshed well with the notion of a compendium for kids exploring the power and wonder of water. I wanted to write something lyrical and poetic as well as scientifically accurate.

Together we developed a vision for this book to include science and social justice, history and stories. I loved the idea of including tales from global storytellers, traditional stories and legends to highlight the magical, mystical side of water. I also love the “behind the stories” feature included in the book’s back matter, which tells kids the story of each author, their backgrounds, and their thoughts about water.

But no, I couldn’t travel while writing this book. I wrote it entirely during the pandemic, starting in March 2020.

CTB: Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, calling your approach “intriguing.” They particularly loved your use of alliteration citing the passage “Glaciers are “massive, mountainous mounds of ice..”) Water is such an essential part of life on Earth. What surprised you most when researching this book?

Christy: I was surprised how difficult it was to explain some water basics – its molecular structure and why it’s so good at dissolving things, for example – simply, accurately, and clearly for our target audience. Luckily we had expert reviewers, both in child development and science.

Another surprise: I loved learning how some marine animals can drink salt water without getting dehydrated because their kidneys are adapted to handle the salt.

Sometimes, I knew a general fact (e.g., manufacturing uses a lot of water) but was surprised by some of the specifics (1 cotton t-shirt: 660 gallons; 1 smart phone: 3200 gallons).

And I was surprised and saddened to read recent research about the effects of climate change on the ocean … and how changes in ocean currents (the global conveyor belt) are disrupting weather patterns.

CTB: You include activities for readers to try while explaining conservation and the impact of climate change on water sources. What process did you use for your research that might help young readers understand how authors approach writing nonfiction?

Christy: My first step in this project was reading broadly. As I read, I looked for facts and aspects of water that would be most interesting to kids. What would make kids wonder? What would surprise and intrigue them? And what are the concrete details that really bring the story home?

In deciding what to include and how to present it, we gave a great deal of consideration to the book’s design. The artist, Mariona Cabassa, and the entire team at Barefoot Books deserve credit for this. We had extensive discussions about the most engaging ways to present information.

For example, how to show the quantity of water on the globe: 326 million trillion gallons. We looked at illustrations of buckets, swimming pools, and the like, but finally decided that for a figure that large, just showing it with all those zeroes was effective: 326,000,000,000,000,000,000. We went through a similar process for many aspects of the book. And we created the friendly talking-water-drop character to provide quick fun facts throughout the book. This was one way we sought to make the book accessible to younger kids as well as middle grade readers.

As I researched, I flagged topics that kids could explore through hands-on activities. For example, try dissolving different substances in water; or get outside with a magnifying glass and see what life you can find in a pond or a puddle. In one activity, I asked kids to think about the work involved in carrying a family’s water. The activity suggests filling a water bucket to carry and figuring out how many buckets of water their family would need in a day. Here’s an extension of that activity, for a class or other group of kids, building on information in the book which appeared on author Patricia Newman’s LitLinks blog. This gets more deeply into the social justice theme of the book. (And the inequity of the world’s global water supply is of course exacerbated by the climate crisis.)

Finally, I find that when kids see a problem, often their instinct is to act, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what water-steward steps we could suggest for kids to take. Those are sprinkled throughout the book.

CTB: What do you want readers to come away with after reading this book?

Christy: An appreciation for the magic of water! This ordinary everyday substance is in fact so extraordinary. And how vital it is to all living things. And I hope kids will feel a desire to protect this treasure for everyone. My approach was to focus on how wondrous water is, but without glossing over all the water-related challenges.

This is similar to what Sue Heavenrich and I did in our Diet for a Changing Climate book. We wanted to help young readers think actively about the climate crisis but without overwhelming them. Our approach was to encourage kids to think creatively and notice how their choices about what foods were on their plates could help make real change in the world.

CTB: What’s next on your horizon? Any new books coming out we should watch for?

Christy: Yes! Thank you for this question – I’m expecting three books in 2022. (And one of them relates to climate change.)

The Supreme Court and Us, coming March 1, is a kid-friendly introduction to the U.S. Supreme Court, its history and role. (Illustrated by Neely Daggett, pub. Albert Whitman.)

Patience, Patches shows up in April. This fictional tale, narrated by Patches the dog, follows the disruption (and rewards) when a baby joins the family. (Illustrated by Sheryl Murray, pub. Dial/PRH.)

Ultimate Food Atlas: Maps, Games, Recipes, and More for Hours of Delicious Fun. A Nat Geo Kids book that the talented science writer Nancy Castaldo and I co-wrote, it’s due to release in September. It’s stuffed with fun facts about food, geography, and agriculture … and we talk about climate change, too.

CTB: I want to thank Christy Mihaly for being such a passionate advocate for the environment and for young readers. Enjoy!

Win a FREE copy of Barefoot Books Water:

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!

Christy Mihaly is a nature lover, former lawyer, and poet. She has written more than 25 children’s nonfiction titles on topics from hayfields to free speech to food. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of California, Berkeley, Christy is passionate about environmental education, has chaired the board of the Vermont River Conservancy, and is a regular volunteer in local elementary schools as an environmental educator and reading mentor. She writes for kids because she believes that our best hope for the future is raising young people who love to read, and giving them the knowledge and skills to lead.

Christy’s books have been included on the Green Earth Book Award shortlist, Bank Street Children’s Best Books, and Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections. She lives in Vermont, where she enjoys walking her dog in the woods and playing cello (though not simultaneously).

To learn more about Christy and her books, please visit www.ChristyMihaly.com. You can follow her on Twitter @CMwriter4kids 

Christine Taylor-Butler

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of more than 90 books for children including Save The Tigers part of a new animal conservation series by Chelsea Clinton. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi/fantasy series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

STEM Tuesday– The Impacts of Our Changing Climate– Writing Tips & Resources

Our Changing Climate: A Personal Narrative Prompt

In the eye of the storm book cover

In her acknowledgements, Amy Cherrix, author of IN THE EYE OF THE STORM, shares what motivated her to write her book about hurricanes. As she notes: “I undertook this journey to understand hurricanes because I am no stranger to these storms.” In her author bio she writes that she and her family have lived through “six hurricanes, two floods, a desert sandstorm, and more blizzards than she cares to count.” Reflecting on Amy’s comments, and reading through this month’s book list made me realize that all of us have a story to tell when it comes to the impacts of our changing climate.

Like Amy, my family has been affected by climate change. Southern California, where I live, is facing intense wildfires and extreme drought. In the past few years, we’ve seen one of our Scouts’ favorite backpacking trails destroyed, the nature center at a favorite hiking spot burned down, and we were forced to stay inside many days because of wildfire smoke and poor air quality. Not to mention, we have been asked to conserve water because of our ongoing drought.

From  floods to blizzards, and increasingly hot summers, climate change is affecting all of us. This shared experience could be a powerful prompt for a personal narrative assignment. Let’s dive in.

The Personal Narrative Process

There are so many wonderful resources and free lesson plans for crafting personal narratives, and I’ve included links to many of these below. Here are some key steps in the process.

  1. Read and study personal narratives. All good writing starts with mentor texts. The New York Times offers a free personal narrative writing unit for students, which includes links to personal narratives written by Times columnists. Study them to discover the elements of good narrative writing, like the role of setting or using dialog. Or better yet, read some of the personal accounts captures in our books this month, like IN THE EYE OF THE STORM.
  2. Brainstorm your topics. How have you experienced climate change? Read some of the books on this month’s book list to learn about climate change and its various impacts. You might look closely at a book like HOW TO CHANGE EVERYTHING, which includes first-hand interviews with many young activists, who talk about how changing climate is affecting their communities. In the classroom, you can brainstorm impacts of climate change in small groups or with the whole class. Once you have a list, pick a topic that’s affected you personally.
  3. Write down everything you can recall about your specific experience. What happened on that day it was too hot to play soccer outside or that day you had to evacuate for a hurricane? Remember, for a personal narrative, you are your own best source. For your chosen event, think about where you were (setting). Who were you with (characters)? What happened (conflict)? How did it feel? Think about details that speak to all five senses, not just what you saw, but what you heard, felt, smelled, tasted.
  4. Shape your narrative arc, making sure to include:
    • Exposition – the setup where your setting and characters are introduced
    • Rising action – where the action starts happening and events escalate
    • Climax – the final showdown, the moment of greatest conflict
    • Falling action – the events after the climax where tension is falling and the plot events are being wrapped up.
    • Resolution (or dénouement) – that final, satisfying moment, like “they all lived happily ever after.”
  5. After you’ve finished your first draft, revise. After you’ve revised on your own, share with a writing partner (or two) for feedback. I often like to ask my writing partners specific questions, especially about areas I might be struggling with. For example, I might ask “What did you think of the opening? Did it grab your attention?” or “Was the ending satisfying?”

I found some wonderful resources for narrative writing and personal narratives (including mini lesson plans), which I’ll include below. Happy drafting!

O.O.L.F.

Kirsten Williams Larson author

Kirsten W. Larson

Websitekirsten-w-larson.com

Biography

Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of  WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), an NSTA Best STEM BOOK, A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), which earned two starred reviews, and the forthcoming, THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), and the middle grade graphic novel, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Roaring Brook, 2023), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter and Instagram @KirstenWLarson.

STEM Tuesday– The Impacts of Our Changing Climate– In the Classroom

 

What is climate change? And how does it affect you and me? There are a lot of great books to help students learn about climate change, how it impacts our lives, and what we can do about it, and they are an excellent starting point for activities and discussion in the classroom. Are you ready to explore our changing climate?

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWhen the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water Crisis by Nancy F. Castaldo
What would you do if you turned on the faucet and the water was toxic, or no water flowed at all? Readers will explore worldwide water issues and learn from those impacted and making a difference.

Classroom activity: Hold a classroom discussion about water and water shortages. Do you live in an area that has experienced water shortages? What happened? How did you deal with it? In small groups, have students investigate the water supply in their communities. Where does their water originate? How is this water source affected by climate change? What impact has that had on the local community? On families? Students can brainstorm ways to conserve water in their communities. Have each group present their conservation plan to the class.

 

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgEye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code by Amy Cherrix
Hurricanes and severe storms leave millions of people in danger. Explore how scientists are studying hurricanes in this Scientists in the Field title.

Classroom activity: Extreme weather can be one of the earliest signs of climate change that you will experience. Weather becomes “extreme” when it is far outside what is typical weather for a specific place at a particular time of year. Hurricanes are one type of extreme weather. Have students select a different kind of extreme weather to research. Have them answer the following questions: What areas of the world are most affected by this weather? How does climate change impact this type of extreme weather? What can we do to protect people and property from this type of extreme weather? Have students prepare a disaster plan for their chosen weather event. What should they do to prepare before the weather event? What should they do during and after to stay safe? Share and discuss the disaster plans with the class.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWhere Have All The Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis by Rebecca E. Hirsch
Hirsch explores bee population decline in her latest STEM title. Readers will explore bee natural history along with ways to slow their decline.

Classroom activity: Bees are just one species threatened by climate change and habitat loss. Every living thing on Earth feels the effects of climate change, including those in the backyard or local park. Have students take a walk outside in their backyard or nearby park. Have them identify the organisms that live there, their habitats, and the typical climate of the area. Research and discuss how climate change will affect the plant and animal habitats? Will the species that live there be able to survive? Have students predict what will happen to the backyard ecosystem in the next 20 years and explain their reasoning.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHow To Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other by Naomi Klein with Rebecca Stefoff
Klein explores a trove of things we can all do to help the planet in this age of climate change. It also includes powerful stories of young readers making a difference.

Classroom activity: Have students choose one of the young people profiled in this book or another book to study. How has their chosen activist made a difference to protect the planet and everything that lives on it? Have students work together in small groups to create a short presentation of their chosen activist and their achievements.

 

 

Want some more climate activities? Here are a few resources to try:
• NASA Climate Kids, https://climatekids.nasa.gov/menu/make/
• UCAR Center for Science Education, https://scied.ucar.edu/activity
• National Ocean Service, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/discoverclimate/

Hopefully, these activities and resources will get your students excited to learn more about climate change!

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.