STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Earth Day 50th Anniversary Celebration– Writing Tips & Resources

Tackling a Planet – Sized Topic

Earth Day. Earth Week. Earth Month. It’s time to celebrate all that exists around us. But, how do you do that in words? When you’re interested writing about in the entire earth, where do you even start?

As writers, we are often given the advice to narrow our focus; yet, at the same time, we are expected to provide a grand, universal truth. That feels so contradictory. How do can we provide specific details to bring a planet sized-topic to life?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgReading Jack Hart’s Story Craft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, I stumbled across the concept of the Ladder of Abstraction and have found this an excellent way to visualize writing.

Imagine a ladder where each rung represents a different level of abstraction. Let’s apply this concept to a tree. On the lowest rung we would have: the sycamore tree in my backyard.  The would be a bit more abstract: all sycamore trees, and the next would be trees. Higher rungs could be plants, living things, everything. Thus, climbing the rungs, we move from the concrete to the abstract.

The lowest rungs of the ladder put you in a scene; the highest rungs of the ladder provide you with perspective. Imagine yourself standing on the first rung; you are as close as you can be to the ground without actually being there. You can see the details of the dirt. Then imagine standing on the top rungs; you have a view that lets you comprehend how those details fit into the larger picture. As Hart notes, “Emotion originates on the ladder’s lowest rungs.” He goes on to explain, “… greater meaning resides on the ladder’s upper rungs.”

In order to bring out both emotion and meaning, writers can move up and down this ladder strategically to provide both concrete details (yielding personal connections) and generalizations (yielding universal truths) for their readers. Most writers struggle with providing those concrete details. Here’s a fun way to practice working your way down to the bottom rung to generate dozens of specific details.

Set Up

Select an item from nature that will fit in your hand. Something with a variety in textures (like a stick covered in lichen, an interesting stone or a large flower) works well. Position your non-dominant hand in front of you, holding the item. Position your paper and dominant hand behind you, where you can’t see them.

Pretend an ant is crawling on your item. Your job will be to trace (on paper) the ant’s path as it explores the item. I know this sounds odd, but it works, so try it.

Blind Drawing

Begin by putting your pencil down in the middle of your paper; after that, do not look at your paper. You will be creating a wandering scribble — not a drawing of the item. Resist the temptation to look at your paper! As you watch your imaginary ant explore, trace his trail on the paper, basically creating a map of his route. Keep your ant going. Keep your dominant hand tracing. Make your ant go around the corner, over the edge, into the hole.

For a minimum of five minutes (set a timer if you need it), keep tracing your ant’s journey. If he retraces his steps, that’s fine. If you need to turn your item over, that’s fine. If he goes in a hole where you can’t see, make it up. When you think you’re done, keep going. Keep him exploring! Keep mapping his path.

Getting the Details Down

When you’re done, you may look at your drawing. Then, look at your item and retrace the trip. Along the way, describe his experiences aloud, jotting every detail down. Think of the texture under the ant’s feet, the shapes he encounters, the amount of light, the shade of color, the springiness of the surface, what each area reminds him of, etc.. The goal here is to overflow your page with details.

If your ant was a good explore, you should have quite a list. Sure, these descriptions are from an ant’s perspective, but they are concrete details. Unless you first record details with this level of specificity, you won’t have enough fodder for the bottom rung of the ladder.

Selecting the Specific

Now, let’s take this exercise a bit further. We won’t try to find a universal truth here (although you might try that too), but instead practice with a simpler task, creating mood. Skim your list for descriptors that convey a common mood. In my list, several feel kind of ominous. Using a highlighter, crayon or symbol, mark the details that match the mood. I’ve chosen yellow for ominous ones. Next, search your list for a different mood and mark that with a different color. Can you find a third?

Put that in Writing

Your final challenge is to use the selected descriptors to convey that mood in a sentence or short paragraph. I started with my green descriptors and tried to convey playfulness. Then I used the descriptors flagged with yellow to create a more ominous sentence, and finally the ones marked in red to convey a comforting mood.

When tackling a planet – sized topic, specific details matter. They carry the reader down to the bottom rung on the Ladder of Abstraction. Immersed in a scene filled with specificity, readers feel grounded, emotionally connected, and ready to move up the rungs and discover a universal truth.

 

 

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Heather L. Montgomery loves to climb ladders — abstract and otherwise. See how she applies these writing techniques in Who Gives a Poop? The Surprising Science Behind Scat (Bloomsbury, September 2020). Pre-orders available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781547603473.

 

STEM Tuesday — Earth Day 50th Anniversary Celebration– In the Classroom

 

It’s interesting that we’re celebrating Earth Day’s 50th anniversary in the midst of a pandemic that has much of the world shut down. As I write this post, my state is under a Stay-At-Home order, and has been for a while. While COVID-19 has been devastating for people, in a way, it’s been a gift to the Earth. With people taking a step back from their daily hustle and bustle, the Earth has breathed easier, and animals have felt safe to come out of hiding. Before the world restarts, it’s a good time to step back and take a look at our relationship with the Earth.

The books on this month’s list cover a wide range of topics, from inspiring environmental activists…

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One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet
by Anuradha Rao
With stars from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, this book profiles twenty environmental activists of color from around the world. Their individual stories show how they went from kids who cared about the environment to leaders in their communities.

 

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Friends of The Earth: A History of American Environmentalism with 21 Activities
by Pat McCarthy
A collection of inspiring stories about the women and men who had the foresight to preserve Yosemite, Mt. Ranier, the Grand Canyon, and the Florida Everglades. Through these stories, young readers form a picture of American environmentalism and conservation. McCarthy helps kids act with 21 eco-activities.

 

…to understanding the complexities surrounding environmental policy…

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Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines
by Paul Fleischman
This Green Earth Book Award title offers a wake-up call for middle-grade and young adult readers as they try to make sense of the flood of environmental news. Readers discover there is more at work than merely wanting to help — money, politics, history, and psychology are all connected.

 

…to things you can do in your everyday life to help the Earth.

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Human Footprint: Everything you will Eat, Use, Wear, Buy, and Throw Out in Your Lifetime
by Ellen Kirk 
A powerful visual tool from Ellen Kirk and NatGeo that helps kids visualize the extent of their consumption. Did you know we each consume 13,056 pints of milk; take 28,433 showers; and eat 12,888 oranges, 14,518 candy bars and buy $52k,972 of clothes in our lifetime?

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Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living An Eco-Friendly Life
by Linda Sivertsen
Sure, we want to be eco-friendly, but how do we accomplish that? Siversten offers dozens of tips on how to shop, dress, eat, and travel with a lighter carbon footprint.

 

Even if you are quarantined and don’t have easy access to these books, you can still dig in to some activities that celebrate Earth Day.

Research How COVID-19 is Helping and Hurting the Environment

Practice your internet searching skills to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the environment. (Be sure to look for reliable sources of information.) In some ways, it seems to be helping. Air quality has improved dramatically in many areas due to the lack of cars on the road. In other ways, it may be hurting. A lot of recycling has been suspended because of the Stay-At-Home orders. How else is the pandemic helping or hurting the environment?

On a more personal note, think about how you are living right now. What things are you doing (or not) that are beneficial to the environment? Are you doing anything that is more harmful?

Take Action In Your Own Life

Very few of us live a life that doesn’t impact the environment in negative ways. Often times, we don’t even think about how what we’re doing affects the Earth. One of the best gifts we can give to celebrate Earth Day is to make changes in our own lives to be more environmentally friendly.

To start, you need to be aware of how you impact the Earth. Take a look at how you use resources. You can make it simple or you can track your usage over a period of time – a week or two or even a whole month. Resources to look at include food, water, fuel (including gas for your car and energy for your house), clothing and other items.

Here are some questions to help you think about how you live.

  • How many resources do you use? How much of each?
  • Where do your resources come from?
  • How much do you waste?
  • What do you do with resources when you are done with them?

Once you’ve taken a look at how you use resources, think about things you can change to live a more environmentally friendly life. Here are some examples.

If you notice a lot of your food is being transported from across the country or world, commit to getting more of your food from local farms. Look into participating in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).

How much of the food you buy gets thrown away? Think of ways to reduce your food waste. In our family, that often includes planning meals for a week and having leftover nights to eat food that didn’t get eaten the day it was cooked. You can also look into composting. Instead of throwing out potato peels and apple cores, throw them in a compost bin. Use the resulting compost to improve the quality of soil in your gardens.

Do you throw out clothes when you are done with them? If so, look into alternatives. You can pass them along to a friend or relative. There are also lots of opportunities to donate them to charities. You can even hold a clothing drive where you can help people recycle their clothing and earn money for a school or service organization.

There are lots of resources that can help you find ways to live a more Earth-friendly life. This includes several of the books on this month’s list.

Help Your Favorite Animal

Perhaps you’d like to do something further afield. What’s your favorite wild animal? Do some research. Where does it live? What environmental issues does it face? Are there charitable organizations that are working to help these animals? Once you know what issues there are, you can come up with some ways to help.

Perhaps that means donating to an organization dedicated to helping that animal. To help even more, ask for people to donate to that organization rather than giving you birthday presents. Or run a fundraiser to collect money to donate.

Maybe you can participate in a citizen science project that will help the animal. Enlist your friends and family, too. Here are a few resources that can help you investigate what citizen science activities are out there:

https://www.citizenscience.gov
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/idea/citizen-science-projects 
https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Understanding-Conservation/Citizen-Science

No matter what you’re doing these days, I hope you’ll take some time to celebrate the Earth. Wishing you, your family, and the Earth peace and good health.

*************************************

Janet sometimes helps out with conservation projects – here she’s helping cut reeds to stock an insect hotel.

 

Janet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. She has spent many hours helping out on environmental projects, including transforming her yard into a native plant oasis (a work in progress). To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website: janetsbooks.com

STEM Tuesday — Earth Day 50th Anniversary Celebration– Book List

We are avid Earth Day proponents. If you’ve ever heard us speak, you’ve probably heard us say that every day is Earth Day. This month we feature a number of new environmental titles for children, many with activities that young readers can do while sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a March 18, 2020 article  in Scientific American, “a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise—with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.”

Now, more than ever, it’s time to show our children how to become better stewards of our planet and appreciate the beauty around us. 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet by Anuradha Rao With stars from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, this book profiles twenty environmental activists of color from around the world. Their individual stories show how they went from kids who cared about the environment to leaders in their communities.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home by Mary Kay Carson Dive into citizen science with a new book from a respected STEM author. This book is all about showing young readers how to make the world a better place for honey bees, monarch butterflies, frogs, lizards, and more. We love books that encourage children to take an active role in protecting wildlife.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Garbage: Follow the Path of Your Trash with Environmental Science Activities for Kids by Donna Latham; illustrated by Tom Casteel When we say, “Throw it away,” where is away? This book helps children track what happens to their garbage. Where does it go? Does it break down? How? Can we decrease the amount we’re throwing away? The authors include a number of hands-on STEM activities to get kids doing…and thinking!

 

  Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems by Rachel Ignotofsky In this illustrated tour of Earth’s ecosystems, Ignotofsky makes conservation science accessible and entertaining using art, maps, and infographics. Young readers will discover how our planet works and how to become better stewards of its life-giving processes.

 

 

  Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org The Organic Artist for Kids: A DIY Guide to Making Your Own Eco-Friendly Art Supplies from Nature by Nick Neddo Did you know the natural world can provide art supplies? This title connects kids to their wilderness roots and reminds them that art used to be made with all-natural materials. Through a number of different art projects, such as creating your own paintbrushes and paint, Neddo shows young readers how to practice awareness and perception, two skills necessary to the creative process. A great antidote to Nature Deficit Disorder!

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman This Green Earth Book Award title offers a wake-up call for middle-grade and young adult readers as they try to make sense of the flood of environmental news. Readers discover there is more at work than merely wanting to help — money, politics, history, and psychology are all connected.

 

 

  Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living An Eco-Friendly Life by Linda Sivertsen Sure, we want to be eco-friendly, but how do we accomplish that? Siversten offers dozens of tips on how to shop, dress, eat, and travel with a lighter carbon footprint.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Human Footprint: Everything you will Eat, Use, Wear, Buy, and Throw Out in Your Lifetime by Ellen Kirk A powerful visual tool from Ellen Kirk and NatGeo that helps kids visualize the extent of their consumption. Did you know we each consume 13,056 pints of milk; take 28,433 showers; and eat 12,888 oranges, 14,518 candy bars and buy $52k,972 of clothes in our lifetime?

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Recycle This Book: 100 Top Children’s Book Authors Tell You How to Go Green edited by Dan Gutman Dan Gutman assembles essays from a number of noted children’s authors to show young readers what’s happening to our planet and how they can take action to save our world.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Friends of The Earth: A History of American Environmentalism with 21 Activities by Pat McCarthy A collection of inspiring stories about the women and men who had the foresight to preserve Yosemite, Mt. Ranier, the Grand Canyon, and the Florida Everglades. Through these stories, young readers form a picture of American environmentalism and conservation. McCarthy helps kids act with 21 eco-activities.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Rachel Carson and Ecology for Kids: Her Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Experiments by Rowena Rae Rachel Carson’s life and work were rooted in the study of nature. She’s best remembered for her book, Silent Spring, which exposed the harmful effects of chemical pesticides in the US. In addition to Rachel Carson’s biography, this title includes a timeline, resources, sidebars, and 21 hands-on activities to inspire our next generation of environmental thinkers.

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky and Frank Stockton An urgent look at overfishing in our world ocean. A world without fish affects ocean ecosystems, our economy, biology, politics, history, culture, food, and nutrition. Stockton’s graphic images offer a unique representation to the frightening possibility of a world without fish.

 

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org No One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg  Greta Thunberg is the Swedish teen that has rocked the climate change argument. She began with once-a-week protests, which sparked a global movement among millions of tweens and teens. This title features a collection of her inspiring speeches at climate summits around the world. Greta has been nominated for  a Nobel Peace Prize and was Time’s 2019 Person of the Year.  

 

Looking for more Earth Day titles? Check out the annual Green Earth Book Award lists. And don’t forget the following classics that might already be part of your collection:

  • The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest by Lynne Cherry
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

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STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com. 

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that empowers young readers to act on behalf of the environment and their communities. The Sibert Honor author of Sea Otter Heroes, Newman has also received an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award for Eavesdropping on Elephants, a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, and a Eureka! Gold Medal from the California Reading Association for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can use writing to be the voice of change. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com. Stay tuned for her upcoming Planet Ocean – fall 2020.