Poetry/Verse

STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Interview with Author Leslie Bulion

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 Leslie Bulion about her new book Superlative Birds. This fascinating and brilliantly-illustrated book of fun and friendly bird poems is layered with facts and humor. It’s already garnered multiple starred reviews, including Kirkus who says, “With characteristic humor and carefully crafted language, poet Bulion offers readers amazing facts about birds of our world…. These engaging poems read aloud beautifully…. Excellent resources for further bird study complete this delightful offering.” There’s a terrific downloadable free Teaching Guide for the book, too.

Mary Kay Carson: How did this book come about? 

Leslie Bulion: I read about the turkey vulture’s remarkable sense of smell and wrote a poem about it that was included in Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong’s terrific Poetry Friday Anthology series. The turkey vulture’s superlative ability made me wonder about other bird-world “bests.” Each of my collections is organized around a theme and that’s how the theme for this collection hatched, complete with its ready-made, rhythmic, rhyming title: Su-per-la-tive Birds!

Superlative Birds celebrates bird “world record-holders”  through poems written in different poetic forms accompanied by short, narrative notes. While introducing these remarkable birds, readers explore all of the special attributes that help define birds: wings, eggs, nests, and beaks, as well as migration, song, and other important characteristics of birdness. A chickadee “spokesbird” challenges readers to find those attributes belonging only to birds (hint: not those I just mentioned!).

MKC: Why use poetry in a book about birds?

Leslie: In 2003 I attended a summer class at Cornell Adult University called “The Way Bugs Work.” We looked under rocks, swept nets through the field, and examined critters in the lab. I kept a science journal, scribbling notes and sketching bugs. I began to imagine insects as cool little adaptation stories. I’d written poems since elementary school and wondered if writing in the spare, elegantly small space of a poem could be a creative way to tell a cool science story. Those adaptation-themed stories metamorphosed into my first science poetry collection, Hey There, Stink Bug! (Charlesbridge 2006). My fourth collection, Leaf Litter Critters (Peachtree 2018) hatched from a bunch of sketches in that same summer science journal! Leaf Litter Critters takes an ecosystems approach, moving readers through trophic levels from primary decomposer to top predator in a “who-eats-who” of the decomposer food web.

MKC: To whom do you write–what imagined audience–while drafting?

Leslie: In creating my science poetry collections I hope the music and imagination space of poetry, the accompanying short narrative notes, and the addition of visual, narrative and resource-rich backmatter make these explorations of science and nature appealing and accessible to readers with a variety of learning styles. There’s a back-and-forth interplay between the poems, the illustrations, and narrative notes that can work for readers of many ages. At heart I’m still a fourth-grade kid who looks under rocks, sifts through sand, scans the trees and the sky, writes poems, reads and imagines. I would love for readers to find joy and wonder in these ideas and activities, too.

Leslie Bulion has been playing with the music of poetry since the fourth grade and has been a hands-on observer of the natural world from the moment she could peer under a rock. Leslie’s graduate studies in oceanography and years as a school social worker inform her science poetry collections: Superlative Birds, Leaf Litter Critters, At the Sea Floor Café, Random Body Parts, and Hey There, Stink Bug. www.lesliebulion.com.

MKC: Do you have a STEM background?

Leslie: I have graduate degrees in biological oceanography and social work, and worked as a medical social worker and a school social worker. I like to think my somewhat circuitous route has led me to my current work as a science communicator for young readers.

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process? Do you write the poems first?

Leslie: When I was ready to explore the wild world of birds, I started by reading widely—nonfiction books and articles about birds, as well as fiction and memoir. This was the full-immersion, beginning stage of my research. There are a gazillion bird books. I didn’t read them all! I always include an element of hands-on learning when researching a book. For Superlative Birds I took a week-long class at the fascinating Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had been interested in birds for a long time, but that week hooked me on birding—a fully sensory, mind and soul-expanding, moving meditation I do on my own and with friends. I love to record and share my citizen scientist observations in the ebird.org app on my phone.

I have a habit of tucking articles and notes into idea files for future projects—my super-fun “to-do” list. Those files give me a bit of a head start when I’m ready to work on a new project. Since I had decided to use superlatives to highlight the attributes we associate with birds, some amazing birds I’d read about did not make the cut. I read more specifically about the birds I did select. I took lots of notes, both for science concept and with an ear to language. After I finished most of my research (there’s always more!) I tackled the poems one-by-one. I considered how the form of each poem might enhance its subject. I worked on a poem (with many, many revisions, and more research), then the accompanying science note (ditto), then the poetry note. After those were finished, I created a rough plan for potential back matter. I worked very closely and joyfully with Robert Meganck on both Leaf Litter Critters and Superlative Birds, and we’re having a blast working on our upcoming Amphibian Acrobats (Peachtree 2020).

Win a FREE copy of Superlative Birds

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 Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Writing Tips and Resources

There’s an old baseball saying that states, “The ball will find you.”

It’s based on this odd predisposition for a baseball to be hit right at you if:

  • You just entered the game cold (The closer and more intense the game, the more likely a screaming line drive will be soon be headed directly at your head.)
  • You’ve just made an error.
  • You have an injury but keep playing at less than 100%.
  • You’re playing a defensive position you don’t normally play.

“The ball will find you.” is a commentary on how a flaw or weakness in a system always seems to be exposed at a critical juncture. In baseball, we often attribute such a phenomenon to the wrath of the baseball gods.

The ball will find you.

I tell you this because there must also be a Mixed-up Files version of “The ball will find you.” that the middle grade, kidlit gods apparently have decided to haunt me with.

“Poetry will find you!”

Several months ago, after the STEM Tuesday leader supreme, Jen Swanson, emailed the group to announce she had posted the upcoming monthly STEM Tuesday themes. I rushed my mouse to the MUF bookmark, logged in, and scrolled to my assigned month of April.

Topic?

STEM Tuesday–  Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse.

I LOL’d

I rolled out of my desk chair to the office floor, laughing maniacally like the Joker after he’d just pulled one over on Batman. From the next room, my adult children expressed concern to my wife, who nonchalantly waved them off, “Just another of your father’s poetry fits. No worries.”

No worries. Here I am. Fully recovered. Poetry fit behind me? Well, let’s just say I’m ready to accept the sentence placed upon me by the MUF “Poetry will find you” curse.

Poetry will find me.

And you know what?

That’s not a bad thing.

I think I’ll give this poetry/science thing a go…

Roses are red

Violets are blue

When working with elephants

Don’t step in the doo-doo

 

Muses and Poets via Wikimedia Commons

Obviously, my poetry skills are lacking. I do, however, possess adequate mental faculties to observe poetry and STEM have quite a few similarities. We can even, for argument’s sake, go as far as to classify STEM and poetry as close relatives who manage to stay civil even outside of major holidays.

“What in the whiskers is he talking about this time?” you ask.

Poetry and STEM on level intellectual ground? Is this coming from a 30-year microbiologist? You must think this guy took way too many of those screaming baseball line drives to the head. (The answer is “No”. The majority of those screaming line drives went through my legs or off my kneecap, chest, shin, or various other body parts. Very few went off my noggin and even fewer went into my ball glove.)

Give me a chance to shine some light on this poetry/STEM connection with the following five points.

Both STEM and Poetry rely on elements that are quantifiable and measurable.

  • One can measure the beats in a couplet, a quatrain, or a septet just as one can measure the excitation and emission wavelength spectra of a fluorophore.
  • There are a definable rhythm and cadence to a poem just as there are for a parasite’s life cycle, embryo development, building a bridge, programming a robot, or quantum theory.

Both STEM and Poetry follow rules and formulas.

  • Just as we have theorems and equations to help define the physical world, poems have form, patterns of sound, meaning, and meter.

Both STEM and Poetry extract meaning from observation.

  • Poetry attempts to describe observations through words and form.
  • STEM attempts to describe observations with hypotheses, theories, laws, code, and blueprints to name a few.

Both STEM and Poetry are ways to look at the world around us in order to gain a greater understanding.

  • A poem has a thematic weight and uses figurative and connotative devices to deliver meaning.
  • STEM uses a device called the scientific method to better understand the natural phenomenon.

Both STEM and Poetry are organized by classifications according to certain properties and traits.

  • There are many types of poems.
    • Lyric poems, narrative poems, descriptive poems.
    • Odes, elegy, epic, sonnet, ballad, haiku, limerick, etc.
  • Mammals, bacteria, viruses, plants, insects, atoms, orbitals, planets, electrical systems, aeronautics, etc. are all STEM groups that we classify according to properties and traits.

 

Next time someone (especially your favorite STEM-crazed middle grader) poo-poo’s the poetry, remind them,

POETRY WILL FIND YOU!

When it does, show them the STEM Tuesday Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse book list and tell them to give it a chance. Even the most STEM-centric mind can benefit from the beauty of a poem.

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, 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

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month take a look at a connection between poetry and STEM.

Elements of Poetry

  • A nice overview of the nuts and bolts of poetry from Lexiconic Education Resources. Even I was able to understand and learn the fundamentals.

Science and Poetry: A View from the Divide

  • “What science-bashers fail to appreciate is that scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don’t know.  It guides and motivates their work; it keeps them up late at night; and it makes that work poetic.”  – from a beautiful 1998 essay by poet Alison Hawthorne Deming on the intersection of science and art.

‘Technimeric’ = Poetry + STEM

  • How about a STEM-focused Technimetric Poetry Slam? YES!!!

Poetry for Science, STEM & STEAM by Pomelo Books

  • A Pinterest page LOADED with STEM poems for kids. My kind of poetry!

Engineering the Perfect Poem by Using the Vocabulary of STEM

  • Lesson plans from ReadWriteThink all about how to engineer a poem about…engineering!

 


 

 

 

STEM Tuesday– Mixing Science and Poetry/Verse — Special NSTA Conference Edition

Yes. It’s April–National Poetry Month. Yes. It’s STEM Tuesday, and our theme this month is STEM in verse. Yes, our book list for the month includes books with poetry in them that are devoted to STEM themes.

But April is also the time when the National Science Teachers Association holds its annual conference, and the usual STEM Tuesday post in line for this week is all about connecting STEM books to the classroom. This year NSTA did something bold and exciting that is begging for recognition on this particular post, so that’s what this week is all about.

With J. Carrie Launius coordinating, NSTA invited a slew of nonfiction authors who write on STEM themes to participate in a 5-hour Linking Literacy event over two days–including 5 panel discussions, an opportunity for science educators and authors to mingle, and a book signing. Wow! As you can imagine, it was an opportunity to revel in creativity, caring, and collegiality. After a kick-off panel discussion featuring Steve Light, Melissa Stewart, Jennifer Swanson, Tracy Nelson Maurer, Shanda McCloskey and presiders Jacqueline Barber and E. Wendy Saul, four break-out panels delved into various themes.

There was a lot happening, often simultaneously. As I was a panelist and mixing-and-mingling author, I’m quite sure I missed a bunch, but still, I hope to share some of the take-aways from the conversations that took place informally and in some of the panels. I’ve tried to stick to the topics that most directly connect to bringing STEM books into the classroom.

STEM-themed biographies and scientist stories are for everyone. Laurie Wallmark, biographer of women in STEM, reminded us that while it is great to share books about women, people of color, or other underrepresented groups in STEM with girls or kids of color only, it’s even better—and vitally important—that we share these stories with all children (and adults). It’s also key to break out of biographies and include stories for middle grade readers of scientists doing science. Need some examples? How about Patricia Newman’s Eavesdropping on Elephants or Mary Kay Carson’s The Tornado Scientist?

Cross-disciplinary content is a natural part of many STEM books, especially those that feature topics that lure children in. Cheryl Bardoe, who writes picture bookCheryl Bardoe speaking with mic in hand biographies, pointed out that individual STEM thinkers are specific to their place, time, and social contexts. Meanwhile, books about technology, including, for example, my Running on Sunshine or Jennifer Swanson’s Super Gear, root conceptual information in strong, motivating contexts. (It was wonderful to chat with teachers who appreciate the connections between their curriculum about “the sun” and solar energy technologies. This is just the type of connection-making that the NGSS emphasizes.)

 

The rich visual imagery in STEM books can help readers connect to content and spark their interest and imagination. Of course, this is true of the illustrations in picture books, such as Steve Light’s Swap! But there’s more to look for. Keep your eyes peeled for  primary source materials in picture books, such as photographs related to a remarkable discovery in Darcy Pattison’s Pollen. Keep in mind–as Jen Swanson pointed out–there’s also powerful imagery in books for middle grade readers.

 

It’s important to consider the whole range of roles that various STEM books can play in education.

E. Wendy Saul and Jacqueline Barber’s thoughtful questions and insightful reflections helped us consider some of these roles. Some books are great at fostering curiosity before a classroom unit on a given topic, while others are perfect resources to bring in after children have had a chance to try to make sense of their first-hand experiences and are looking for factual resources. STEM reading can inspire children to see themselves as competent STEM learners and future STEM professionals. Putting the right book in the  hands of a particular child may be a pivotal moment in that child’s life, honoring and responding to  his or her curiosity, interest, or moment of need.

 

Books and experience go hand-in-hand.

Educators check out simulated canine vision with Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (center). They hold blue viewmasters to their eyes and peer at slides that are mounted on wheels and inserted into the viewmaster.

Educators check out simulated canine vision with Jodi Wheeler-Toppen (center).

Weaving my way through the tables during Linking Literacy’s informal time, I was struck by the many ways we authors link our books to opportunities for readers to experience the world. Of course, we generally provide teachers’ guides, but we also offer dynamic activities and interesting artifacts. I saw evidence of the added value of visiting with an author. For example, I showed visitors how I simulate stars orbiting mystery objects and how that relates to finding black holes. In addition, to extend the content of Dog Science Unleashed, Jodi Wheeler-Toppen provides customized Viewmasters that offer comparisons of human and canine vision. Meanwhile, Heather Montgomery shows off a fox pelt (among other artifacts) that she prepared as part of her research for Something Rotten. Truly, STEM authors can bring their own brand of multi-dimensional learning experiences and inspiration to the NGSS’s emphasis on 3D learning.

 

The STEM stories we share are a powerful aspect of creating a culture that honors STEM literacy. Do you have a story to share—some way in which you have used a STEM book in a middle grade classroom or out-of school setting? Let us know; leave a comment below. And keep your eyes open for NSTA ’20 (in Boston). Hopefully, Linking Literacy will be a recurring and integral component of future conferences!

Six of the STEM Tuesday crew at NSTA19!