STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Reptiles — Interview with Author Sneed B. Collard III

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 award-winning author Sneed B. Collard III, author of One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution. In its starred review, Kirkus declares the book a “fresh and accessible approach to an important scientific concept.”

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about One Iguana, Two Iguanas. How did the book come about?

Sneed B. Collard III: Being a reptile nut, I had been thinking about marine iguanas for a long time, and even devoted a section to them in my book Sneed B. Collard III’s Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards, which has garnered a surprisingly large following over the years. When my family and I got to visit the Galápagos in 2016, seeing these unique animals instantly became one of the highlights of my life. Besides their incredible adaptations, the animals’ fascinating history intrigued me as a beautiful example of how new species arise from accidents and evolution, and I wanted to share that story with both children and adults. Coincidentally, a fairly recent scientific paper had used genetic markers to establish the timeline for when marine iguanas and Galápagos land iguanas split into different species, and I thought it would make a great story for young readers. I sat down to write the story and my editor at Tilbury snapped it up.

MKC: Care to share a favorite research experience?

Sneed: After reading about marine iguanas for so many years—and watching nature shows about them—just seeing these lizards dive into the ocean sent chills up my spine. Another thing that made a deep impression on me is that the Galápagos had recently come out of an El Niño year, in which warmer waters surround the islands and the lizards’ favorite marine algae dies back. This often leads to widespread starvation, and as we walked one island we found dozens of marine iguana skeletons littering the coastline. Since climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of El Niño events, the skeletons were a sobering example of how urgent it is for we humans to cut our global CO2 emissions immediately.

The highlight of my visit down there, however, happened on our last day of snorkeling. My daughter, son, and I had just climbed back into a zodiac boat after swimming with sea turtles when another snorkeler shouted that a marine iguana was feeding underwater right next to him. I quickly pulled on my mask and snorkel and leaped back into the water. I swam over there just in time to see a large iguana grasping a rock about three feet below the surface, using its teeth to scrape algae off of the rock. It is a sight I will never forget!

marine (l.) and land (r.) iguanas

MKC: How would you describe the book’s approach?

Sneed: To me, evolution is one of the most remarkable stories on earth, and so for One Iguana, Two Iguanas, I just wanted to tell the story of how the marine iguana came to be. The recent genetic research made that fairly easy. I just imagined that first pregnant female lizard (scientists think it was a kind of ctenosaur lizard) somehow floating on a raft hundreds of miles when dozens—perhaps hundreds—before her had perished at sea. Somehow, though, she made it to the Galápagos, and turned a brand new species loose. After introducing the lizards, I just launched into the story of how the islands were created, how new life reached them, and then used our best understanding of evolution to recount how that new species established itself on the islands and eventually split into the two species of iguanas we have today. This approach allowed me both to use my best story-telling skills and slip in the science of it all at key moments. Sidebars and other excursions allowed me fill in the rest. It ended up being one of the favorite books I’ve ever written!

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Sneed B. Collard III is an award-winning author of more than 85 children’s books, including his newest titles, Waiting for a Warbler and Beaver and Otter Get Along . . . Sort of. He is a popular speaker and has spoken at schools and conferences in 46 states and four foreign countries. To learn more about him and his books, visit his website www.sneedbcollardiii.com. Also follow the birding adventures of him and his son at fathersonbirding.com.

Sneed: Actually, both of my parents were on my mind while I was writing. Both were biologists who had unfortunately passed away before their time in the years before my visit to the islands. I knew how much they would have loved to visit the Galápagos, but they never did. I could almost feel them smiling over my shoulder as I worked on the story, though. Another huge inspiration was Dr. Jack Grove, a scientist, Galápagos guide, and former graduate student of my dad’s. Jack and I have developed a special friendship over the years and he has shared many Galápagos stories with me. I dedicated the book to him, and he actually provided a number of its outstanding photographs.

MKC: Do you choose to write about STEM books?

Sneed: When I write, I don’t think, “I am writing a STEM book.” STEAM and STEM, after all, are just artificial constructs that, I think, sometimes mask the fact that this is a really great book or this is an amazing story. I simply set out to write about things that interest me and that I think will help get other people excited about this incredible planet we live on. I don’t want only a science teacher to pick up my book. If I’ve done my job well, I want everyone to read it without partitioning their interests according to the academic categories we’ve been taught. I’ve worked with and mentored a lot of young people, and whenever I can I tell them, “Take an interest in everything. We only get one life. The more you learn, the more you will appreciate what a remarkable journey we are on.”

Win a FREE copy of One Iguana, Two Iguanas!

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!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Reptiles — Writing Tips & Resources

GREAT REPTILES IN HISTORY

Opening movie scene.

Fade in.

Cue the David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman narrator voice:

GREAT REPTILES IN HISTORY… 

For some reason, the title was the first thing that popped into my head when I sat down to draft this post. I have no reason why. But, what the heck? I felt obligated to the STEM creative muse to run with it.

Great reptiles in history!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Green_turtle_in_Kona_2008-1024x823.jpg

Brocken Inaglory, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Man alive, there sure are a lot of reptiles. How do you even start to make a list of the greatest ones when they’re all pretty dang awesome?

You start by making a fully-loaded, everything-you-can-think-of list. Just as in writing the first draft of a manuscript, the thing you wish to make won’t be a real thing, a thing full of possibility, until you put it to paper first. 

Nothing can be finished until it is started.

So make your list. Write that first word. And follow it with another. And another. And another. Make it real by making it a real thing.

Make that !@#$% first draft. (That has to be in Morgan Freeman’s narrator voice because David Attenborough’s narrator voice doesn’t seem appropriate saying, “!@#$%”)

Writing and Great Reptile Lists. Great Reptile Lists and writing.

Gadow, Hans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The important bit in creating something is to first make it happen. Once you make something happen, it exists. If it exists, you can make it better. You can eliminate all the really, really good reptiles from the list to make a better, more meaningful list for someone interested in discovering Great Reptiles in History. With writing, you can cut everything from the !@#$% first draft that doesn’t belong in the story thread to make a more meaningful narrative for the reader.

Once the work exists, it can also be shared with others to mine the expertise and skill of a trusted network. With my now pared-down list of great reptiles, I can share it with other herpetology fans/experts to get their revision ideas, criticism, and advice on which reptiles belong on the list and which don’t. The writer can benefit from critique partners, writing groups, and beta readers to identify what works and what doesn’t. By sharing your work, your work can improve your writing. 

Creating better work. Isn’t that our ultimate goal?

Whether it’s the ultimate list of great reptiles in history, your first manuscript, or your 20th manuscript, get the words down.

Make them real.

Make them better.

Make them available.

Make them shine.

Cue the David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman narrator voice:

GREAT REPTILES IN HISTORY!

APPRECIATE THEM.

TAKE CARE OF THEM.

GIVE THEM THEIR SPACE ON THIS PLANET.

Fade to black.

THE END

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiast, 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  www.coachhays.com 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 slither into the glorious world of reptiles. By land, by sea, and by air, here are some links to make the herpetologist in all of us a tad bit happier.


STEM Tuesday — Reptiles — In the Classroom

I learned quite a bit about reptiles this month by reading the following books from the book list.

World’s Biggest Reptiles by Tom Jackson, illustrated by Vladimir Jevtic Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
Many different reptiles are represented in this book, representing the biggest of the species. It includes lots of information and fun facts, represented in fun, accessible ways. Each reptile featured has a graphic novel style page and a page with a large photograph and general information. Each also includes an infographic showing the animal’s size relative to an adult human. (One nitpick on the infographic is it’s not clear what size the human is.)

Sneed B Collard III’s Most Fun Book Ever About Lizards by Sneed B. Collard III Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
This book focuses on (surprise!) lizards. It highlights a few specific species, but is written to give more general information about lizards. It has chapters with titles like “Eating Like a Lizard” and “Lizard Troubles.” The tone is very conversational and fun to read, although some of the references may be a little dated.

Sea Turtles are Awesome by Mirella S. Miller Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org
Since turtles are my favorite reptile, I had to read this book! Like all 12-Story Library books, this one has 12 chapters that can be read in any order. There are lots of great photos and fun facts about sea turtles throughout the book.

 

So what can you do with these books? Here are a few ideas I had…

Check Out the Locals

Research what reptiles you might see in your backyard or local park. Most states have websites with information about the reptiles (and other animals) that can be found there.

This can be a great exercise for entering search parameters into an internet search and evaluating the sources it recommends.

When I enter “New Jersey reptiles” into my search engine, the first four recommended sites are provided by the state of New Jersey, which includes the Division of Fish & Wildlife. Of these, one of my favorite sites is the “Online Field Guide for Reptiles and Amphibians.” Each NJ herp (reptile or amphibian) has a printable fact sheet.

To take this a step further, visit a local park where you might be able to view some of the local reptiles.

Bigger Than…

Each of the books I read talked about the size and speed of different reptiles. This could become a fun and informative activity.

Pick a reptile to do some comparisons on. How long is it? How heavy? How fast does it move? This could come from the books on this month’s list or from research done on local (or other) reptiles.

Once you have the information on your reptile, you need to find things for comparison. Here are some to try:

Bigger than a _____________________.

Smaller than a ____________________.

Faster than a _____________________.

Slower than a _____________________.

These will be based on a number that came from somewhere. That means it should include a source citation. Explore what makes a source credible and see if you can find multiple sources for each fact. You can also practice how to create a bibliography and/or source notes. 

Lots of zoos and aquariums have great resources for researching the animals they have there. Another great resource for animal information is the Animal Diversity Web, produced by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

To explore representing information, create infographics that show the relative size and speed of the all the things used in the comparisons.

Participate in the Tour de Turtles

Since 2008, the Sea Turtle Conservancy has been running the Tour de Turtles. Through it, they hope to educate people about sea turtles, how they migrate, and what dangers they face. There is a page dedicated to Teacher Resources, and another for Activities. I love exploring the different turtles and where their travels have been taking them.

In addition to exploring the resources on this web site, you could hold your own Tour de Turtles or Tour de Reptiles. Organize a charity walk/run to raise money for a sea turtle organization like the Sea Turtle Conservancy or other organization that supports turtles and/or reptiles. (This could include organizations that protect lots of different wildlife, like the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ.) To add more education into this exercise, have each participant pick a type of turtle or reptile to research and represent.

Explore Turtle Symbolism

Years ago, we met Native American artist Eli Thomas and bought a print about Turtle Island. It still hangs on our wall, and I still think about the symbolism embedded in it. (You can see the print and read about the symbolism here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/483429848/turtle-art-native-american-art-wolf-art

Explore how indigenous people view turtles. Here are a few interesting resources.

The Native American Box Turtle Connection – https://www.stlzoo.org/about/blog/2016/10/13/native-american-box-turtle-connection

From Voices of Indian Country: https://blog.nativehope.org/native-american-animals-turtle-keya

Read and explore Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back by Joseph Buchac and Jonathan London, illustrated by Thomas Locker Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Then check out these additional resources:
https://teachingsofourelders.org/thirteen-moons-on-turtles-back
https://www.earthhaven.ca/blog/13-moons-on-turtles-back/208

 

 

I hope these ideas have inspired you to incorporate these books (and the subject of reptiles) into your plans.


Author Janet Slingerland on the London Eye.Janet Slingerland has written more than 20 nonfiction books for children. She even got to write about sea turtles in 12 Epic Animal Adventures. When she’s not writing, Janet can often be found exploring the world in her own backyard (which sometimes includes turtles!). For more information about Janet, check out her website at http://janetsbooks.com.