Dinosaurs/Paleontology

STEM Tuesday–Dinosaurs/Paleontology– Writing Tips & Resources

 

Backmatter Matters

Imagine you wake up in a strange place. Although the place does not feel threatening, just being there is jarring because you don’t know why you are there, or how you got there. You don’t know what to do or how to interact. That’s what reading a nonfiction book might be like, if it weren’t for the mighty powers of peritext.

Peritext? What’s that? All of the elements in a book that are not in the main body of text. In STEM nonfiction books, peritext can be paramount.

Pick up a nonfiction book from this month’s list and search out those elements. There’s the cover (front and back) and maybe some flap or cover copy; these introduce you to the book and give you a preview of the author’s “take” on the topic. There’s a copyright page and, most likely, other standard elements such as a table of contents, glossary, and index; these give you context, a map to guide your journey, and help when needed. But there may be more—much, much more.

Consider how different the book would be without all of that. What would the reader miss? What do each of those elements actually do for the book? 

Before I began writing professionally, I essentially ignored peritext. I rarely read any portion of the backmatter (everything after the main body of text). One day, a writer friend told me she reads every word of the endnotes—I was astounded. Who would do that?

Then I tried it with a book I loved and realized just how much I had been missing. These elements are designed for the inquiring mind! As a reader and writer, it is worth studying the peritext and pondering its value. Peritext invites us into the reading experience and launches us into the next one.

Try this:

1. Ask a friend to select a nonfiction book that you have never seen. Have them binder clip together the pages that contain the main text. (Note: peritext includes illustrations and chapter titles, etc, but let’s focus on the frontmatter and backmatter for now.)

2. Study the peritext (no peeking at the main text). Jot down a list of what’s there.

      • Is there a table contents? An index? What about a timeline? Anything interesting about the endpapers?
      • Ask yourself: Who uses each of these elements? Who creates them? Do any serve multiple purposes?
      • Now, read the material. From the peritext, what impression do you get about the book?
      • What questions are sparked in your mind?
      • If these elements are illustrated, jot down notes about them as well.

3. Skim the glossary or index.

      • Do some entries surprise you?
      • What questions do you now have? Are you now more, or less, eager to read the book? To read other material on the topic?
      • Search for clues to the core of the book. Not the topics covered, but the theme, the big ideas, the conclusions. (Don’t forget the covers.)

4. Finally, read the entire book.

      • Consider how well the elements in the peritext support the main text.
      • If you were the author, illustrator, editor, etc. would you have done things differently?
      • What factors might impact what’s included in the backmatter? (FYI, typically the author creates most of the backmatter and other publishing professionals create most of the frontmatter and covers.)

As an author, this is how I look at books. I want to know what is there, why it is there, and how it is used. To help me inquire, I started a running list of the elements in various books. Just off the top of your head, you might remember books with recipes, timelines, acknowledgments, bibliographies, or an author’s note, but you would be amazed at the variety. And think how much each of those elements can vary, not only in content, but also in presentation. In some books, the backmatter was even more interesting to me than the main text. 

Backmatter isn’t limited to nonfiction; however, it seems to be more common and extensive in nonfiction. Why? What types of fiction include extensive backmatter? What if more fiction included backmatter?

Try this:

1. Read a book that has limited backmatter.

2. List at least 3 elements which could have been included.

3. Create 1 of those elements for the book. (You might have to make something up for the sake of the exercise.)

4. Share it with a friend and ask if the added element is valuable.

If you’re not careful, you will now find yourself picking up books and flipping to the backmatter before you read the frontmatter. You’ll be noticing how cool it is that the glossary of Dining With Dinosaurs only includes words not already defined in the main text. (So smart—those are the only ones a reader should need in the glossary!) You might start wishing every historical text included a visual timeline like Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers (Science Comic Series). And when you begin to write your next piece, you might start thinking about the backmatter before the front matter. This is what reading like a writer will do to you!

 

Heather L. Montgomery can’t resist writing backmatter–the ulimate playground for a nonfiction writer. She almost let it take over her upcoming book, Who Gives a Poop? The Surprising Science Behind Scat (Bloomsbury, September 2020). Aren’t you eager to dive into that? For now, you’ll have to be satisfied with the perimatter in her 15 other STEM titles. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com 


The O.O.L.F Files

Just a few more dino books because you can never have too many…

The First Dinosaur: How Science Solved the Greatest Mystery on Earth, written by Ian Lendler, illustrated by C. M. Butzer. In this 220-pager, Lendler carefully lays out how the idea of dinosaurs came to be. Beginning with a bone discovered before the concept of dinosaurs—or even fossils—existed, Lendler walks readers through a wealth of scientific studies to share a story you want to know. This book is likely to blow young minds (and yours).

Dinosaurs By the Numbers (A Book of Infographics), written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. In classic Jenkins style, this fact-packed book is sure to please dino lovers. Maps, graphs, size-comparisons, all formatted on clean white space do an excellent job of accentuating dinosaur facts and extremes. And, there’s an illustrated table of contents–such tantalizing peritext!

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, written by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. This picture book tells how a curious girl grew to be an inquisitive scientist who discovered the most complete (and likely the most famous) Tyrannasoarus rex fossil ever found (so far). Perfect for kids who are collectors and those who yearn to make their own discoveries.

STEM Tuesday– Dinosaurs/Paleontology — In the Classroom

This month on STEM Tuesday, we’re celebrating all things dinosaur—from fossils to their biology to the scientists who study (and sometimes fight over) them. Here are a few activities to try in the classroom to go along with this great selection of books.

Dinosaur bones: And What They Tell Us, by Rob Colson\

Opening this book is like opening a field sketchbook. It’s filled with watercolor drawings, complete with labels and descriptive notes. Annotated skeleton sketches allow readers to compare their own bones to those of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. A fun way to browse dino facts.

 

 

        • Use clay to model some miniature dinosaur bones. Have students find a bone from a skeleton sketch in the book and then create their model from the drawing.
        • How do skeletons tell us what dinosaurs really looked like? Artists use the skeletons to build bodies in illustrations. First they add a body shape over the skeleton, then they shade the drawing, and finally they add details, like feathers and eyes. Provide students withe fossil drawings and ask them to build out their bodies in illustrations.

Dining with Dinosaurs: A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching, by Hannah Bonner
If you are starving for dinosaur knowledge, this book serves up a full-course meal of mouthwatering Mesozoic food facts. Starting with who ate who. Along the way, we meet scientists who explain tough questions about dinosaur poop, teeth, and more.

 

 

 

        • Have students pick some dinosaurs from the book and create food chains for them along with illustrations.
        • Ask students to pick a dinosaur and then draw a dinner plate filled with that dinosaur’s favorite foods, with labels.
        • Have students imagine what future scientists might guess about their diets by looking at their poop, teeth, and other fossils. Ask them to write a short description of the scientist’s findings.

 

Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Paleontologists, by Karen Bush Gibson; illus. by Hui Li

The first chapter introduces the science of paleontology, along with tips for how to pack your field kit. Then we examine the work and challenges of scientists Mary Anning, Mignon Talbot, Tilly Edinger, Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, and Mary Leakey. There are plenty of “Field Assignments” (hands-on STEM projects) ranging from modeling an excavation to finding clues in teeth, and informative sidebars are sprinkled through the chapters.

 

      • Students can pick a female scientists to research more. Have them write a mini-comic book biography of the scientist, showing some important moments in their lives and research.
      • Discuss with students why the author chose the paleontologists that she did. What does each paleontologist bring to the book? How is their research different?
      • Try one of the many STEM projects in the book!

 

Tooth & Claw: The Dinosaur Wars, by Deborah Noyes.

This is a tale of the epic rivalry that exploded into a personal – and professional – war between two early fossil hunters. Edward Drinker Cope wanted to find the biggest, best bones of the newly discovered dinosaurs. So did Othniel Charles Marsh. Their race to uncover bones played out across the American West and they discovered dozens of dinosaur species. But their animosity ruined their lives. Includes a list of museums where modern dino-hunters can find bones.

 

        • Create compare and contrast charts with the contributions of both Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope to the field of paleontology.
        • Have students imagine an alternate world where people did not believe that dinosaurs once existed on Earth. They should think about what might have happened if these two scientists could not have convinced the public that dinosaurs did exist. Have students write a short story about this imagined reality.

 

STEM Tuesday classroom ideas prepared by:

Karen Latchana Kenney 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. Her award-winning and star-reviewed books have been named a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, a 2015 Book of Note from the TriState Review Committee, a 2011 Editor’s Choice for School Library Connection, and Junior Library Guild selections. https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com

STEM Tuesday– Dinosaurs/Paleontology — Book List

If you’ve got a budding paleontologist in your home, you know there can never be too many books about dinosaurs! Who doesn’t love the mystery of ancient bones and tales of mighty lizards that roamed the Earth. These books run the gamut from detailed sketchbook to biography to comics to hands-on paleontology activities.

ALL ABOUT DINOSAURS:

Dinosaur! Dinosaurs and Other Amazing Prehistoric Creatures As You’ve Never Seen Them Before, by John Woodward
Highly illustrated, in depth, evaluation of dinosaurs from their definition through the Cenozoic era. Created by DK and the Smithsonian Institution, it is full of facts on fossils, amphibians, sea creatures, woolly mammoths, Neanderthals, insects, and more.

 

Dinosaur bones: And What They Tell Us, by Rob Colson
Opening this book is like opening a field sketchbook. It’s filled with watercolor drawings, complete with labels and descriptive notes. Annotated skeleton sketches allow readers to compare their own bones to those of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. A fun way to browse dino facts.

 

So You Think You Know About … Dinosaurs (series), by Ben Garrod
Scientist Ben Garrod reminds readers that we can be a scientist at any age. His books may be pocket-sized, but they are filled with dinosaur discoveries, battles, adventures, fascinating facts, quizzes, cartoon illustrations and paleo art. And lots and lots of passion for dinos. Each book focuses on one kind of dinosaur: Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, and Triceratops.

Dining with Dinosaurs: A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching, by Hannah Bonner
If you are starving for dinosaur knowledge, this book serves up a full-course meal of mouthwatering Mesozoic food facts. Starting with who ate who. Along the way, we meet scientists who explain tough questions about dinosaur poop, teeth, and more.

 

SCIENCE OF PALEONTOLOGY:

The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries: Amazing Fossils and The People Who Found Them, by Donald Prothero

Exploring paleontology from the eighteenth-century to the present, twenty-five individual chapters describe the stories behind the most important fossil discoveries and the researchers who found them. The book explores the escapades, rivalries, and scientific debates that have occurred around dinosaur bones.

Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers, by M. K. Reed (“Science Comic”)

This is a fun, graphic introduction to dinosaurs in their natural habitats. Follow paleontologists through history as they try to piece together the mystery of the giant bones uncovered in cliffs and deserts. Learn how our ideas about dinosaurs have changed and continue to change. Endnotes clarify ongoing scientific debates, and a glossary will have you speaking like a paleontologist in no time.

WORKING IN THE FIELD:

Gutsy Girls Go for Science: Paleontologists, by Karen Bush Gibson; illus. by Hui Li

The first chapter introduces the science of paleontology, along with tips for how to pack your field kit. Then we examine the work and challenges of scientists Mary Anning, Mignon Talbot, Tilly Edinger, Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, and Mary Leakey. There are plenty of “Field Assignments” (hands-on STEM projects) ranging from modeling an excavation to finding clues in teeth, and informative sidebars are sprinkled through the chapters.

BIOGRAPHIES:

Battle of the Dinosaur Bones: Othniel Charles Marsh VS Edward Drinker Cope, by Rebecca L. Johnson
Explores the struggle and legacy of two scientists, Othaniel Marsh (Yale) and Edward Cope (Philadelphia), determined to become world-famous paleontologists. This book details the confusion and mistakes created by their haste and rivalry that took years to sort out.

 

Curious Bones: Mary Anning and the Birth of Paleontology, by Thomas W. Goodhue

Biography of Mary Anning and her life’s work of collecting fossils. Details the important discoveries she made and her contribution to the emerging science of paleontology, even though women weren’t allowed to attend colleges. It includes a discussion of societal and religious changes which occurred because of her discoveries.

 

History VIPs: Mary Anning, by Kay Barnham

This biography explores the life of Mary Anning, from her first fossil finds at the age of ten to her sales of important discoveries to wealthy scientists. Mary’s fossil finds made a great contribution to what scientist understood about pre-historic life. Sidebars and text boxes give context to help readers understand the society and events of the wider world in which she lived, as well as quotes and fun facts that touch on the humorous side of history.

Tooth & Claw: The Dinosaur Wars, by Deborah Noyes.

This is a tale of the epic rivalry that exploded into a personal – and professional – war between two early fossil hunters. Edward Drinker Cope wanted to find the biggest, best bones of the newly discovered dinosaurs. So did Othniel Charles Marsh. Their race to uncover bones played out across the American West and they discovered dozens of dinosaur species. But their animosity ruined their lives. Includes a list of museums where modern dino-hunters can find bones.

Pre-HISTORICAL FICTION:

Dinosaur Empire! (Earth Before Us series) by Abby Howard

Ronnie is just a normal fifth grader, who is having a bit of trouble passing her science class quiz on dinosaurs. Until… her neighbor, a retired paleontologist, lends a helping hand. With a bit of time travel and science “magic”, Ronnie and Ms. Lernin find themselves in the Mesozoic era.
Other books in the series: Mammal Takeover! and Ocean Renegades!

 

The Dino Files Trilogy: A Mysterious Egg; Too Big to Hide; It’s Not a Dinosaur! By Stacy McAnulty

Nine-year-old Frank loves visiting his grandparents in the summer. His grandmother is a famous paleontologist and, along with his grandfather, owns the Dinosaur Education Center of Wyoming. Frank calls it DECoW and loves that it’s got labs and dig sites where people – including him – can dig for fossils. But what happens when fossils aren’t so … extinct?

STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. A long line of ants marching across the kitchen counter generated one of her first articles for kids. When not writing, you can find her committing acts of science from counting native pollinators to monitoring water quality of the local watershed. Her most recent book is Diet for a Changing Climate (2018).

Maria is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. And a judge for the #50PreciousWords competition since its inception. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at www.mariacmarshall.com