Nonfiction Titles

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– Symbiotic Relationships– Author Interview

STEM Tuesday–Symbiosis– Interview with co-authors Jenn Dlugos and Charlie Hatton

 

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 authors Jenn Dlugos and Charlie Hatton, co-authors of Odd Couples, part of their “Things That Make You Go Yuck” series. Although busy with lots of projects–Jenn writes and illustrates science text books, and Charlie is a computational biologist–they say they collaborate on their books to meet a “fundamental ‘need’ to be creative.” Self-proclaimed science nerds who met through stand-up comedy, they bring humor to their books. In a time when basic biology has revealed its scary side, it’s a relief to be able to laugh a little while enjoying the fascinating tales of interrelationships in this book.

(*I had a lot of questions and Jenn and Charlie had a lot to share. This interview has been edited for brevity.–CCD)

 

Pictuer of the cover of Odd couples.

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano: What’s Odd Couples about—and what was most important to you in deciding to write it?

CH: Odd Couples is part of a series of “Things That Make You Go Yuck!” books, all about interesting and unusual critters and plants. This book explores some of the cooperative – and competitive and completely bonkers – relationships between organisms. With Odd Couples and all the Yuck! Books, we wanted to show young readers that even the “yucky” bits of nature can be fascinating, inspiring and sometimes oddly beautiful.

JD: Every second is life or death in the wild, and sometimes organisms have to work together to survive. Odd Couples covers everything from weird mating habits to strange friendships (and  frenemy-ships). From a crab that waves sea anemones around like pom poms to ward off predators to sloths that have strange friendships moths that lays eggs in sloth poop, Odd Couples covers the oddest of the odd.

CCD: You are two co-authors of a book named Odd Couples, so of course I have to ask: What kind of an odd couple are you? How would you describe your creative partnership?

CH: Oh, we’re odd. We met around fifteen years ago doing amateur standup comedy around the Boston area among a crowd of fellow misfits. We began collaborating on creative projects a few years ago, which has turned out to be much more productive than telling jokes at a coffee shop at midnight on a Tuesday. We’ve taken a “sure, let’s try it” approach to projects, leading to working together on writing books as well as short plays, producing a web series and short films, and various other oddities-in-progress.

JD:  In biological terms, we’re in a parasitic relationship. The parasite is whomever is not paying the tab that week.

CCD: What’s one of your favorite organism relationships from the book? Why is it a favorite?

CH: We researched a number of parasites for Odd Couples, which is a really… interesting way to spend your Saturday afternoons. My favorite is a flatworm called Ribeiroia that infects frogs during one phase of its life cycle. The worms’ next stage of development occurs in birds. To improve their odds of getting there, the worms affect infected frogs’ development, causing them to grow extra, gangly useless legs that hinder their hopping. These frogs are less likely to escape birds trying to eat them, which is good for the worms – though not as much for the Franken-frogs. It’s basically a Bond movie villain strategy for getting ahead.

JD: My favorite animals are spiders. (Yes, really. I had pet tarantulas when I was younger.) So, I have to go with the peacock spider. It’s an adorable little arachnid who basically does the Y.M.C.A. dance to attract a mate. Scientists recently discovered a new species of peacock spider that has markings that resemble a skeleton. You know, because spiders need to double-down on their creepy reputation.

CCD: Can you say a little about how your writing partnership works? For example, who does what when?

CH: On most projects, we discuss an outline and detailed plans for writing. I promptly forget most of it, and Jenn reminds me of the parts she says that we both liked the best. It’s not the most efficient process, but it works. While writing, we generally pass material back and forth – in the case of Odd Couples, we agreed on a format and researched the organisms we wanted to include, then split them up to each write about our favorites. Sort of like a fantasy sports draft, only with more spiders and parasites.

JD: Nothing happens until food and drinks arrive. It’s very possible that our waiter/waitress is our muse. Several hours later, we have something that resembles an outline typed out in Jenn-ese on my phone. I translate it to something that resembles English, and from there it’s a 50/50 split. We’ve been writing together for so long that we’ve developed a joint voice, and we sometimes forget which part each of us wrote. There have been more than a few times we have seen/heard a joke in something we’ve written and wondered which one of us was responsible for that nonsense.

CCD: What’s next for you as authors?

JD: Another infographics book (is) waiting in the wings after Awesome Space Tech.

(Awesome Space Tech, also an infographics project, is Jenn and Charlie’s latest book. –CCD)

CCD: Well, I’d bet that your humor and serious science creds have led to yet another book that will inspire, entertain, and fascinate kids. Your symbiosis certainly benefits others! Thanks so much for your time!

Win a FREE copy of Odd Couples

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below.  (Scroll past the link to the previous post.) 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!

 

 

Snapshot of co-authors Jenn Dlugos and Charlie Hatton in a comic pose.

Boston-based collaborators, Jenn Dlugos and Charlie Hatton are co-authors of Prufrock Press’s series, “Things That Make You Go Yuck!” and, in Charlie’s words, “several other, far more ridiculous projects.”

By day, Jenn writes science textbooks, assessments, and lab manuals for grades K–12. By night, she writes comedy screenplays, stage plays, and other ridiculous things with Charlie Hatton. Her favorite creepy crawlies are spiders.

Charlie is a bioinformatician who slings data for a cancer research hospital–as well as a science fan and humorist. He enjoys working with genetic and other data to support cancer research, learning about new and interesting scientific areas, and referring to himself in the third person in biographical blurbs.

 

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photo of author and STEM Tuesday contribuor Carolyn DeCristofanoCarolyn DeCristofano, a founding team member of STEM Tuesday, is a children’s STEM author and STEM education consultant. She recently co-founded STEM Education Insights, an educational research, program evaluation, and curriculum development firm which complements her independent work as Blue Heron STEM Education. She has authored several acclaimed science books, including Running on Sunshine (HarperCollins Children) and A Black Hole is NOT a Hole (Charlesbridge).

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