Happy Summer! What a great time to get outdoors and immerse yourself in nature. But if you can’t do that right now, you can always use books to investigate the world. For teachers and parents who are looking at ways to engage their kids in science and STEM possibly virtually this fall, these books are the best way to get your kids some hands-on pollinator experience!
Many schools raise butterflies as part of their science curriculum. And why not? It’s fun and also a great way to see science in action. But you could raise butterflies in your house, too. This book tells you just how to do it.
Why would you do this? First of all, it’s COOL! But also because it is a great way to learn about life cycles of organisms. The best part is at the end, you will have some amazing new butterflies to release into the world.
If you want to introduce your students/kids to all kinds of pollinators, check out this awesome book :
It has activities to explore beetles, butterflies, spiders, and other arthropods. WOW! The book starts out by introducing the reader to the different bugs that are out there and then goes through ways to observe them safely. You can even create a bug net, and set up a a bug trap. like the one outlined below:
Image from the book Bug Lab for Kids by John Guyton (Quarry Books)
Be sure that when you capture the bugs, you observe them for a short time. Maybe keep a journal of what the bug does while you have it. How does it move? What does it eat? Does it interact with other bugs (assuming you’ve caught a few at a time). Consider drawing the bug in your journal, too.
Consider coming up with your own experiment. For example, if you introduce a bit of material that isn’t in their environment, like a piece of paper or a strip of cloth, watch how they react to it. Do you think they will ignore it completely or perhaps they will appear to inspect it. Make a hypothesis and then observe the bug. Gather data by making notes and drawing pictures. Then come up with a conclusion. Was your hypothesis correct? Why or why not?
It gives kids a peek inside the real life of a beehive, by explaining the individual bees and their jobs within the colony. How they all interact, and even explains how bees move about and make the buzzing sound. This book is TONS of fun. You could have kids do a few of these projects and then write up their observations. Or even, if you are doing a virtual science class, have them present the buzzers they made to the class.
image from Turn the Book Into a Beehive by Lynn Brunelle (Workman Publishing)
Perhaps assign every kid a certain bee in the colony and have them write a few sentences or a short paragraph about what they did that day. You know, a day in the life of a forager bee or a court bee… well you get the idea!
Whatever you do, have FUN with it! Kids will enjoy the hands-on aspect of these books and they will also be learning a ton of great facts along the way. Happy Sciencing!
Jennifer Swanson is the founder of STEMTuesday and the award-winning author of over 40 book for kids, mostly about STEM. A huge science geek, Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the Science all around them! You can learn more about her and book her for speaking engagements and school visits at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com
Pollinator populations are declining. For those of us who like to eat, this is a problem because bees pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States. In addition, bees, butterflies, bats, and other animals pollinate plants and fruit trees which provide food for birds and other wildlife.
Where Have all the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis, by Rebecca E. Hirsch
Beginning with a field trip to find the once-common Franklin’s bumble bee, this book highlights what can happen when wild bees disappear. It concludes on a hopeful note, with two chapters devoted to bee conservation and positive actions that kids – and their families – can take.
Bugs in Danger, by Mark Kurlansky
This book opens with an overview of how insects fit into the ecosystem and the biggest threats they face: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and climate change. There’s a good section on what pollination is and the co-evolution of insects with plants. Remaining sections focus on individual groups of pollinators: bees (big emphasis on honey bees), beetles, and butterflies and moths. Fortunately, there are things everyone can do to keep the world a safe place for bugs.
Turn this Book into a Beehive, by Lynn Brunelle
This book provides an introduction to honey bees, bumble bees, and native bees. Bee-lovers of all ages will appreciate the novelty of turning the book cover into a home for mason bees. Plus there are hands-on activities and recipes for organic pest control, with plenty of tips on how we can keep our landscapes bee-friendly.
Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide, Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies, by The Xerces Society
Though written for adults, we feel this is a valuable reference for curious young naturalists. The first section introduces pollinators (bees, butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies). Another section focuses on strategies to help pollinators (including school gardens). There’s a photo guide to bees of North America, garden suggestions, and a photo guide to pollinator plants.
How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids (How It Works) by Carol Pasternak
This book offers instructions on how to feed and care for monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. It explains varieties of milkweed and how to propagate plants, and offers suggestions for starting a butterfly garden. It also includes information about threats to Monarchs and actions people can take to conserve the butterflies.
Pollinators: Animals Helping Plants Thrive by Martha London
Opening with an in depth look at pollination, this book examines the insects, birds, and bats responsible for the majority of plant pollination. Sidebars extend the discussion to topics like prehistoric pollination, mammals, and artificial pollination. It includes large color photographs, a “fast facts” section, and a glossary, as well as cross-curricular extension activities throughout the book.
Know Your Pollinators: 40 Common Pollinating Insects including Bees, Wasps, Flower Flies, Butterflies, Moths, & Beetles, with Appearance, Behavior, & How to Attract Them to Your Garden by Tim Harris
With a focus on 40 insects from around the world responsible for plant pollination, this book offers full page color images opposite brief discussions of the habits, nests, and life-cycles of many well-known insects (honeybees, monarch butterflies, and ladybugs) and some more unusual ones (blueberry digger, sandpit mining bee, and snowberry clearwing). It also contains succinct sidebar information on the insects, including size, season, nectar sources, and habitat.
National Geographic Birds, Bees, and Butterflies: Bringing Nature Into Your Yard and Garden by Nancy J. Hajeski
This book examines the basic physical and life-cycle information and habitat necessities for these three pollinator groups. Along with gorgeous photos, the text and sidebars help identify common backyard birds, butterflies, bees, and moths. Additional “focus on” sections provide more information on topics like monarch butterfly migrations and creating a moon garden for moths. It also shows how to create a garden plan for each group and offers a list of plants and a growing guide.
The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening; Attract and Support Bees, Beetles, Butterflies, Bats, and Other Pollinators by Kim Eierman
Although also having a more adult feel, this book expanded the evaluation of pollinators beyond insects and birds. The large color images and charts examine the many insects, birds, mammals, and lizards responsible for plant pollination. After exploring their required habitats and foods, the book shows how to create different pollinator gardens. Additional resources include garden tips, a checklist, and plant lists for specific pollinators.
Bug Lab for Kids: Family-Friendly Activities for Exploring the Amazing World of Beetles, Butterflies, Spiders, and Other Arthropods (Lab Series), by John W. Guyton
Bug Lab brings together more than 40 activities for exploring the world of arthropods: spiders, centipedes, butterflies, bees, ants, and many other insects. Activities include making a collecting net, caring for live arthropods, and best ways to photograph bugs. One section focuses on bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, inviting kids to conduct a local survey and make a pollinator habitat.
STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:
Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. A long line of ants marching across the kitchen counter inspired her first article for kids. When not writing, she’s committing acts of citizen science in the garden. She blogs about science for kids and families at archimedesnotebook.blogspot.com.
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.
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 Lisa Bullard, author of We Need Sharks (The Animals Files). It’s a fascinating look into the mysterious life of sharks, the important role they play in Earth’s ecosystem and the conservation efforts underway to prevent their extinction.
Christine Taylor-Butler: Lisa, you are the prolific author of more than 100 books for children. In your bio, you suggest you found your calling when, as a 5th grade student, you sent a letter to the local newspaper about the plight of baby seals. What concerned you about the seals and how did it feel to see your name in print for the first time?
Lisa Bullard: Thanks so much for asking me to share my “origin story” as a published writer! The day that letter was published really was a life-changing day for me. Looking back, I don’t remember any of the details about why I wrote it—maybe it was a school assignment, or a suggestion from my mom, who was a huge animal lover? But what I do clearly remember is the huge feeling of pride that came with seeing my name in print and knowing that people all over town would read the words I’d written. I decided that day that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I’d been writing since I could first sort the letters of the alphabet into actual words—I wrote stories, poems, songs, comic strips; I even attempted a mystery novel. But what changed for me with that 5th-grade publication was the understanding that writing isn’t just something we do to entertain ourselves. Writers also have readers! And writing as a career choice means we get to use words to persuade people to take action, or to learn something new, or to enjoy a good story.
As soon as I got home from school that day, I decided to practice being a “real” writer. In my 5th-grade brain, that translated to me deciding I needed a glorious signature full of swoops and swirls and curlicues. I was sure that when I became famous, I’d need a very distinct autograph. But as I now tell kids during my school visits, if your plan is to someday sign your name over and over, don’t make it complicated: instead, make it as simple as possible! It always takes me longer than it should to sign my books at events because my signature is way too fancy. Of course, as a grownup writer of very modest name recognition, I also find it funny that rather than practicing my story-writing to prepare for my writing career, my 5th-grade self instead decided to practice “being famous.”
CTB: You started your career as Marketing Director in publishing. Was it a tough transition to switch to the other side of the aisle and become a full-time author?
Lisa: A lot of what happens during the publishing process is mysterious to authors. I’ve also discovered that many writers are daunted by having to market their books. So I feel really fortunate to have an insider’s perspective on those things from my publishing career. There was an adjustment period, however. I was still working in publishing while my first couple of books were going through the publishing process (at a different publisher). Some authors are very demanding (just like there are demanding people in every profession, I’m sure). So when I first shared the news that I was going to have a book published, some of my coworkers looked a bit horrified, warning me not to become a “diva.” Hopefully I succeeded in avoiding that when I transitioned over to writing full-time.
CTB: So let’s talk sharks! My first introduction to them was in the movie, Jaws. After that I was scared to go back into the ocean. But your book, We Need Sharks, shows their importance to Earth’s ecosystem. What lead you to write about them?
Lisa: My books have come about in different ways. In some cases, I’ve dreamed up a concept, written a manuscript based on that, and been fortunate enough to sell it to a publisher. As an example, that’s how my mystery novel Turn Left at the Cow came about. But in the case of many of my nonfiction books, including We Need Sharks, the process has been different: they were work-for-hire projects assigned by educational publishers. That means that I have a working relationship as a freelance writer with publishers or packagers who focus on the kinds of books that are especially popular in school libraries. They identify a need in their marketplace, and then approach writers with a concept for a book or series based on that need. If I agree to take on the project, then my job is to write the book based on their guidelines, which specify details such as the key idea, reading level, word count, back matter, and kind of research expected. The process is different than when I come up with the concept myself, but I’ve discovered it can be really satisfying. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together, having to figure out how to meet all the guideline demands while still creating a book I hope kids will love to read.
The good news is that this process feeds my personally inspired book projects as well. I always learn so many fascinating things about the subjects I write about, and those facts often lead to new writing projects! In fact, a big inspiration for Turn Left at the Cow was an animal called the walking catfish. I stumbled across it while researching a nonfiction series. This strange creature manages to survive out of water, and it provided a fantastic metaphor for my fictional character, a kid who feels very much like a “fish out of water.”
CTB: Was there anything that surprised you while researching your book?
Lisa: Probably the biggest surprise for me in writing We Need Sharks was something I hadn’t thought about prior to writing this book, and that’s how tough it is for scientists to research ocean animals. They’re difficult to study for reasons that are now obvious to me. That’s why oceans remain a frontier of science.
CTB: You suggest that some shark species are “top predators” which means other animals don’t hunt them. The exception is human beings, is that right?
Lisa: Even great white sharks, the fearsome creature that epitomizes sharks for many people, are sometimes preyed upon by orcas. But generally, yes, sharks are much more likely to be the predator than the prey—with the notable exception of their interactions with humans, when sharks are much more often the prey.
CTB: Now the United Nations is working with countries to create shark sanctuaries to protect them from extinction. Are those measures working?
Lisa: Shark sanctuaries are just one of the measures people are taking to protect sharks. For example, there has also been important progress in educating people about and regulating against the practice of shark finning. But as I mentioned above, ocean animals are difficult to study in the wild, and that makes it hard for scientists to measure current shark populations—which means we don’t know the whole story about whether preservation measures are working.
CTB: Were you able to consult with experts when researching the book?
Lisa: Talking to subject experts has provided some of my most interesting research moments over the years. For example, I was able to talk with a crane operator when I was researching a book about construction cranes, and he gave me the best quote ever: he said that the crane operator is known to the rest of the construction workers as the “king of the sandbox.”
But as was the case with We Need Sharks, work-for-hire deadlines are often very tight, and there’s simply not enough time built into the process to track down interview subjects and conduct interviews. In those cases I make sure that the research materials I use are sources created by experts, such as museums, universities, and research institutions. Fortunately in some cases, editors have subject experts review my manuscripts to make sure that I’ve gotten the facts right. I’m always grateful when that’s the case, as it was for We Need Sharks.
CTB: I often tell students that our jobs as writers are very similar to their work on homework assignments. You open the book with such a powerful paragraph to pull the reader in. What would you like children/students to know about writing engaging nonfiction?
Lisa: Because the books I write are often for very young readers, many of them are also very short. That means that there just isn’t room for me to fit in all of the facts I learn through my research about the topic. So I’ve come up with two basic rules to determine what information to include. First, I figure out what I think a reader must know to gain a true basic understanding of the topic. Then I decide on a couple of “fun facts” to include—the kind of things that aren’t the most critical pieces of information, but that are real attention-grabbers. These high-interest facts move readers into “discovery mode,” where they’re excited to learn. I hope that combination helps readers absorb all the information I’m presenting and be motivated to learn even more. So for all the student authors out there, I believe our job as writers is to inspire readers to actively wonder about the world!
This also means that my friends and family are used to me testing random facts in the middle of dinner to see if those facts are, indeed, attention-grabbing; like “Did you know stock car drivers have to climb in through the window because there are no doors?” Or, “Did you know that scorpions glow a neon-aqua color under ultraviolet light?”
CTB: What’s up next for you? Any books on the horizon we should be looking out for?
CTB: Lisa, thanks for being such a great guest on STEM Tuesday and for providing pearls of wisdom for writers of all ages wanting to peek behind the curtain of our industry.
Thanks for talking with me, Christine, and thanks, everyone, for sharing today’s Writing Road Trip with me! I hope that you’ll be inspired to keep reading, keep writing, and keep wondering!
Win a FREE copy of We Need Sharks
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!
Lisa Bullard is the author of more than 100 books for children including nonfiction, fiction, and writing guides. Recent books include We Need Bees, Tides, and the Go Green series. Her book Turn Left at the Cowwas nominated for a number of state reader awards and was chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection. To learn more visit Lisa at https://www.lisabullard.com and follow her on Facebook.
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.
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