STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Birds — Writing Tips & Resources

Feather Fun

If you’re interested in writing and publishing children’s nonfiction, you’re probably researching the market. Ever notice that publishers can’t seem to get enough of certain subjects? Like, BIRDS!

For several reasons this subject is perennial: no matter where they live, kids can experience birds; birds are a great topic for teaching science curriculum standards; and, many book buyers (frequently grandparents and librarians) love sharing their passion for birdwatching with children.

According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey, approximately 45 million people in the US enjoy birdwatching. Every year, binoculars come out and bird books get bought.

If you want to get published, write a bird book, right? If you’ve tried that, you might have received rejection letters with phrases like “too similar to books already on our list.” Submissions piles are full of competition. So, how do writers do it? How do they write on a common topic in a flooded market and still manage to get published?

Taking Action

Take a tip (or two) from this month’s STEM Tuesday book list:

 

Fun it up! You can’t read Superpower Field Guides – Ostriches by Rachel Poliquin and illustrated by Nicholas John Frith without enjoying the humor. I challenge you to find a single spread that doesn’t make you smile or chuckle.

Follow an Individual: In Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, Phillip Hoose gives readers a case study. Sure he presents technical information on data collection, life history, and conservation, but he does so through the lens of an observer (himself) spying on the life of one bird (B95). This does double duty, sucking readers in and letting them migrate with the birds, further supporting the scientific concepts.

Make it high concept: If listeners “get” your project with a single sentence pitch, it is high concept. Rebecca Hirsch’s Where Have All The Birds Gone? Nature in Crisis presents a problem that readers care about. Couple that with a sensory-filled opening scene, shocking examples, plus tips to empower young readers, and you may just get that acceptance letter.

Tell a Tale to Build to a Big Idea: In The Triumphant Tale of The House Sparrow, Jan Thornhill starts with a shocker: “Behold the most despised bird in human history.” Throughout the book, she uses storytelling devises like a trail of doors open just a crack to lure readers deeper and deeper into complexity: “At first, American was house sparrow heaven. At least for a while.” She builds tension: “A battle cry arose. The house sparrow had to be stopped.” She tells a tale that leads to an idea which will stick with readers: The power of resilience.

Get Personal: Sy Montgomery takes a personal approach when writing Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur. This unique approach appeals to readers who might not appreciate the same information presented in a more traditional expository fashion. Great writers experiment with different approaches to reach more readers.

Get Graphic: Sure Kyla Vanderklugt’s Crows: Genius Birds takes advantage of kids’ love of visual storytelling for the narrative, but it maximizes on that approach by using it to present expository information such as a family tree of corvids. When an author or illustrator can use one device to serve two purposes, that’s gold!

 

Challenge:

Pick another common topic: metamorphosis, or dinosaurs, or one of your choosing and brainstorm options for each of the above tips. It might surprise you just how much fun you can have when a flooded market forces you to get creative!

 

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals (including birds!). An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s TreasuresLearn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

STEM Tuesday — Birds — In the Classroom

 

 

This month’s STEM Tuesday theme is all about birds. One way to get kids interested is to take them outside to see the birds they can find or do some research to learn more about the incredible adaptations of birds. Here are a few activities to try.

 

Be an Urban Birder

Urban birding is a fun and easy way to learn more about the birds that live in the city. First read through the following books from this month’s list about different birds dwelling in cities.

Falcons in the City: The Story of a Peregrine Family by Chris Earley, photographs by Luke Massey

Cities are full of wildlife. Explore these urban residents.

 

 

 

 

 

Crows: Genius Birds by Kyla Vanderklugt

This is a perfect companion title to Crow Smarts. Readers will love the comic format.

 

 

 

 

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins, illustrations by Guido de FeLippo

Let’s talk about bird brains. Turner’s book focuses on the best and the brightest – crows. This is also a Scientists in the Field title that will introduce readers to the scientists at the heart of this brainy bird science.

 

 

Activity

Provide students with a bird identification guide, or make sure they have access to Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online bird guide. Map out a route for the group to follow and tell students to look for birds and signs of birds. These signs can include bird nests, feathers, and hearing bird songs or calls. Also, before you head out, create a list of common birds in the area and review them with students. Make sure students have sketchbooks and pencils to draw what they see and note any identifying characteristics of the birds they see. Now it’s time to head out. Have students watch for birds, draw what they see, and make a list of the birds they identify. What is the most common bird found?

 

Finding Bird Superpowers

Birds can do amazing feats due to their unusual adaptations—like flying incredibly long distances while barely using any energy at all or running more than 40 miles per hour! Try this research project with students to learn about some of the shocking superpowers of birds. First read through these books from our list.

Superpower Field Guides – Ostriches by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

This installment of the fun, graphic series focuses on fascinating ostriches that can outrun most horses

 

 

 

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Can a bird fly the distance of the moon? It sure can. This is the story of a red knot that had an outstanding flying career.

 

 

 

 

Activity

Have students pick a bird they would like to research for their superpowers. They can pick one of the birds from the books just read or they can choose another to research, such as: great horned owls, hummingbirds, gannets, and harpy eagles, to name just a few. See what superpowers students can find about their birds and have them create superhero movie posters about them. They can think of a superhero name, draw a picture of the bird on the poster, and provide copy advertising the bird’s amazing abilities. Share these fun posters as a class!

 

Other Resources

Here are a few other resources to try and read in the classroom:

 

Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She 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. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com

STEM Tuesday — On the Wing with Birds — Book List

It’s spring. Birds are on the wing and creating nests. Discover these amazing creatures in our April booklist. You’ll probably notice that some authors have written multiple books about birds. Explore them all and, perhaps, they will inspire a passion for birdwatching in your students.

Where Have All The Birds Gone? Nature in Crisis by Rebecca Hirsch

The author of Where Have All The Bees Gone? returns with this well-researched book about the world’s disappearing birds.

Superpower Field Guides – Ostriches by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

This installment of the fun, graphic series focuses on fascinating ostriches that can outrun most horses.

Condor Comeback by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Tianne Strombeck

The population of California condors once reached the brink of extinction. This Scientists in the Field book details the recovery story of these highly endangered birds.

Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur by Sy Montgomery

This is another bird-focused title from Sy Montgomery that shouldn’t be missed. Readers will explore many species in this title for older readers.

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins, illustrations by Guido de FeLippo

Let’s talk about bird brains. Turner’s book focuses on the best and the brightest – crows. This is also a Scientists in the Field title that will introduce readers to the scientists at the heart of this brainy bird science.

Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3d-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp

Animal rehabilitation is fascinating, but when it depends on cutting edge technology it is a leap ahead. This story involves a magnificent bald eagle and beak reconstruction.

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk by Jan Thornhill 

This 2016 book about the extinction of the great northern penguin known as the auk is worth searching for in your library. Readers will learn how their demise played a part in our modern conservation movement.

The Triumphant Tale of The House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill

Thornhill’s recent title explores the natural history of the perky little house sparrow that will be familiar to most readers.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose

Can a bird fly the distance of the moon? It sure can. This is the story of a red knot that had an outstanding flying career.

The Race to Save Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose 

Many birds are endangered and many have become extinct. The story of the race to save the ivory-billed woodpecker from extinction is as huge as the bird itself. It’s extinction has been as momentous as the dodo.

Crows: Genius Birds by Kyla Vanderklugt

This is a perfect companion title to Crow Smarts. Readers will love the comic format.

Falcons in the City: The Story of a Peregrine Family by Chris Earley, photographs by Luke Massey

Cities are full of wildlife. Explore these urban residents.


Photo of DESERTS author Nancy Castaldo

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 served as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2022 titles are When the World Runs Dry (Jr Library Guild Selection), The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale (Scientists in the Field) and Buildings That Breathe. 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. Academy Award winner and environmentalist Jeff Bridges calls Planet Ocean a “must read.” Newman, a Sibert Honor author of Sea Otter Heroes, 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.