Zoology

EXTINCT! Facts & Fiction for Middle-Grade Readers

Many kids in this age group can rattle off more dinosaur names and the details about more species than most other twelve people put together. And they have learned much of this on their own, through eager reading! What could be more exciting during this pandemic, when schools are closed and normal summer activities are limited, than for young readers to find books that hold their avid interest for hours and days?

More books on the ever-hot topic of dinosaurs come out every year. I’ve been writing a book about extinct American animals and have been looking at just about everything available for middle-grade readers on the subject. I recommend the following page-turners:

Stephen Brusatte is a leading young paleontologist, but also an engaging author of books for children and adults. In his Day of the Dinosaurs: Step Into a Spectacular Prehistoric World (Wide-Eyed Editions, 2016), readers witness over 100 prehistoric creatures of the land, sea and air through 2nd-person narrative. Older middle graders might also enjoy his best-selling adult book, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs (William Morrow, 2019)

Kelroy Pim and Jack Horner both fell in love with dinosaurs as kids and now have become leading scientists in the field. In their book, Dinosaurs—The Grand Tour: Everything Worth Knowing About Dinosaurs from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops (The Experiment, 2nd Ed., 2019), readers will find many of the mind-changing latest discoveries. The book also includes Jack Horner’s working field notes and suggestions for how and where readers might go to make their own prehistoric finds.

Extraordinary animals lived and went extinct millions of years before and after those great dinosaur beasts. This may be a whole new area for dino-fans to explore. Fortunately there are a number of wonderful books to help them get a sense of our vast natural history. One is Matt Sewall’s Forgotten Beasts: Amazing Creatures That Once Roamed the Earth ( Pavilion Children’s , 2019). The well-known and little-known creatures featured in this stunningly illustrated book span half a billion years, ending with the extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger in the 1930s.

In their well-researched, humorous, and visually compelling book, Prehistoric Ancestors of Modern Animals: If Extinct Beasts Came to Life, (Hungry Tomato, 2017), Mathew Rake and Simon Mendez use digital photography to show what modern animals might be like if they still had the attributes of their prehistoric ancestors. See also their Prehistoric Giants, Prehistoric Sea Beasts, and Prehistoric Predators, all published in 2017.

 For comprehensive, visually appealing reference books for this age group, you can’t miss with anything published by the Smithsonian or by DK Eyewitness books. Some examples: William Lindsay, Prehistoric Life: Discover the Origins of Life on Earth from the First Bacteria to the Coming of Humans (DK Eyewitness Books, Reprint ed., 2012). Or Paul Taylor, A History of Life in 100 Fossils (Smithsonian Books, 2014).

Would readers like to dig up some fossils of their own? Thousands of prehistoric animal and plant remains lie underfoot waiting to be found all over this country (except maybe in Rhode Island where, because of glaciation, fossil hunters may only come up with a trilobite or two and some Carboniferous cockroaches).  Amateur fossil hunters, (including children!),  have made many scientifically important finds

Mathew Rake and Dan R. Lynch’s Fossils for Kids: Finding, Identifying and Collecting (Adventure Publications, 2020) covers all those topics, but also explains how to collect responsibly so that you preserve the scientific record. Albert Dickas‘s 101 American Fossil Sites You’ve Gotta See (Mountain Press Publishing, 2018) shows state-by-state where to see prehistoric animals on display, or observe expert digs in progress, or dig on your own.

Would they like to read fiction about fossils? Try Monica

Kulling’s Mary Anning’s Curiosity (Groundwood Books, 2017), a fictionalized account of the childhood of the 19th century shell-collector who revolutionized paleontology 
with her discoveries. Or read Roger Reid’s Time: A Jason Caldwell Mystery (NewSouth Books, 2011) set in a world-famous Paleozoic Footprint site in northern Alabama.

At a moment when there is much uncertainty in the present and about the future, it may be refreshing for readers to focus on the long time of Earth’s natural past. At the very least, they can have fun reading about some fascinating ages and creatures. Please pass this list of books along to any middle-graders you know. There are many more titles that I could have included, but they will find them. I wish there were a reading equivalent of “Bon appétit!”

 

 

STEM TUESDAY: Zoology – Interview with Author Patricia Newman and Giveaway

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math! 

 

Our inaugural interview is with author Patricia Newman who wrote this month’s featured book, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of the Green Earth Book Award and a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films Award, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue is photo-illustrated by Annie Crawley. Newman (center) and Crawley (left) traveled to the zoos featured in the book, including Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo where Maku the black rhino (right) resides.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Zoo Scientists to the Rescue and how you came to write it.

Patricia Newman: Zoo Scientists to the Rescue began as a comment from my niece, Mia, whose fifth-grade class was tasked with writing a persuasive essay about zoos, either for or against. The trouble was the teacher gave her students almost all anti-zoo material, so guess which way their essays leaned? I’ve been involved with zoos most of my adult life and I raised a zookeeper, so I knew there was more to the story than the material my niece had received. In Zoo Scientists to the Rescue I had several goals:  share some of the ground-breaking research that zoo scientists are doing to save endangered species, inspire kids to help them, and excite kids about a possible career in science.

MKC: It sounds like you spent some quality time behind-the-scenes at zoos with the featured scientists. Do you have a favorite moment or happening you’d like to share?

PN: Photographer Annie Crawley and I visited the three zoos in the book’s pages—Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. We spent some fabulous time behind-the-scenes with both the scientists and the animals. We got up close and personal with Maku the rhino—close enough that he charged Annie while shooting his portrait for the cover. We also drove through a blizzard to meet with the black-footed ferret scientists. At the zoo, we donned booties and surgical caps to visit the BFF breeding area. And we waded through drifts several feet deep to observe BFFs at boot camp–a training facility to get them ready for release into the wild. Through it all, my audio recorder whirred and Annie’s shutter clicked. Annie is also a brilliant filmmaker, and had the presence of mind to shoot video while we conducted our research. In addition to our trailer, videos featuring our interviews with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s BFF breeding center and Rachel Santymire’s lab at the Lincoln Park Zoo are now available on YouTube. Annie and I love the way these resources broaden the reading experience.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books? 

PN: When I was a kid, my best learning happened when I could make connections to the world. I graduated with a B.S. from Cornell University in the social sciences, but my writing focuses more on environmental nonfiction. I think the thing that attracts me to science is the process of discovery. The scientists I interview have fascinating stories that I hope will inspire kids to think science is cool or encourage their parents to buy deforestation-free palm oil products to protect orangutans or instigate a Ditch the Straw Campaign in their community to reduce single-use plastic. While every author wants to tell a great story, I also want to empower kids to make a difference.

MKC: For readers who loved Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, what other middle-grade books would you suggest—nonfiction and/or fiction?

PN: For fiction, I love Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Eliot Schrefer’s ape quartet (of which three have been published) Endangered, Threatened, and Rescued. For nonfiction, I love Sandra Markle’s The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins and Cindy Trumbore and Susan Roth’s Parrots Over Puerto Rico.

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project and how you’re tackling it?

PN: My newest STEM title will release in the fall of 2018. Called Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, the book follows scientists from Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project as they listen to the forest elephants of central Africa. Forest elephants are different from the more familiar African savanna elephants and Asian elephants and the dense vegetation of their rainforest home makes them nearly impossible to follow. But these scientists have opened a whole new world on the study—and conservation—of this endangered species. My editor and I have just finished the first revision pass—I call it the reorganization phase. We move entire paragraphs from the end to the beginning, we check to be sure concepts are developed throughout the manuscript and don’t just pop up in isolated places, and we clarify some complex scientific concepts for young readers. In this book, it’s the physics of sound. The next pass will involve more line edits and polishing. And there’s a multi-media surprise in store for readers of this book. But I won’t say more than that!

More about Zoo Scientists to the Rescue:

Win a copy of Zoo Scientists to the Rescue! 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 this week is Mary Kay Carson, author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids.

 

STEM TUESDAY: Zoology – Craft & Resources

Reading Like a Writer

I am a student of nonfiction. If you hope to write nonfiction well, you have to be. When studying a book, I prefer to read it three times:

That first read is for pure enjoyment: letting the writing wash right through me and learning cool facts – did you know that venom is used to control diabetes!?!

On the second read I focus on the craft and writing techniques I can learn from.

By the third read I’m looking for specific examples of a technique that caught my eye on the second read, like how the author used sidebars to include material that is supportive but not critical to the main text.

This approach is not much different from my scientific approach to observation. When I recently came across two beetles wrestling, I first watched from above, impressed by their phenomenal horns and robotic legs; then I knelt to get a closer view and wondered why the smaller one was winning; finally, I held each one in my hand to use a magnifier. When I felt the little one’s extra spiky legs grip my finger, my questions were answered.

Want to read like a writer?

Focus on one element at a time. Reading the STEM books the first time, I noticed that many included dialog.

I wondered: Why does an author use dialog in a nonfiction book?

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

 

To get a closer view, I focused in on Sy Montgomery’s Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot.

 

  • Chapter 4, page 21, starts with a direct quote, “Codfish Base from Lisa’s nest.”

That quote caught my eye and had me asking questions: What is “Codfish Base?” Who who is Lisa? Why does she have a nest? It’s a fantastic hook and has me diving into the chapter.

  • Chapter 5 includes dialog at the beginning as well, from page 29:

    “There’s a penguin in the freezer,” she announces.”

    “Really?” asks a volunteer. “What kind?”

I wondered: Who says that? Where is it “normal” to have a penguin in the fridge? If that doesn’t have you wanting to get to know these characters, I don’t know what will!

  • The dialog on pages 44-45 is entirely different. It is a tragic scene – the death of a kakapo chick.

I wondered: Why did the author choose to use dialog to show this particular scene? For me, the words of the characters played out the scene so well that I was reacting emotionally right along with the characters.

Compare how other authors use dialog. Just like with the beetles, my next step was to put texts from two different authors under my magnifying glass.

I asked myself: What are the most effective ways to use and frame quotes?

  • Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgFirst I read the “Wild Rhinos” section on page 8 of Emi and the Rhino Scientist which uses snippets of quotations embedded within a paragraph:

How do you describe a rhino?

You’d probably start with size. “Rhinos are really big animals,” says Terri. Only elephants are bigger land animals. Their wide bodies are propped up on short, thick legs that end in three-toed hooves. Rhinos have thick necks with giant heads and one or two horns. A rhinon may look like a slow-moving tank as it lunmbers around, but don’t be fooled. “Rhinos can move quickly,” says Terri. They can whip around in an instant and run as fast as deer. Rhinos share speed with their close relative the horse.

I noticed how Mary Kay Carson has used dialog but the paragraph is also chock full of other information. What impact do the quotes impart? Why did Carson use quotes here instead of pure expository?

  • Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI compared Carson’s technique to other texts which make use of quotes in a similar manner. An example is the passage about bearded lizard venom on page 92 of Caitlin O’Connell’s Bridge to the Wild.

I listed ways in which O’Connell’s and Carson’s use of quotes were similar.

  • Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI contrasted those texts with a different framing, a full scene played out using primarily dialog. An example can be found on page 55 of Pamela Turner’s Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes.

I asked myself: How did the framing of the dialog change the impact? In what ways were the techniques similar? Different?

What did I learn? When an author uses direct quotes from an expert, the quote often provides information and lends authority to the text, but quotes can also work to generate curiosity, create rounded characters, add humor, etc. and, how an author frames those quotes can dramatically change their impact.

Try it Yourself!

After reading and analyzing other writers’ use of dialog, try it yourself.

  1. Audio record a conversation.
  2. Write a text using quotes from that conversation.
  3. Write a different text using the quotes in a different manner.
  4. Compare the impact of the two texts. Compare to a friend’s draft.

Many people don’t think about the craft of nonfiction, but I learn heaps when I study works of gifted writers who carefully craft their text. Happy reading! Happy Writing!

What other STEM texts have great examples of dialog techniques? Share in the comments below!

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. She reads and writes while high in a tree, standing in a stream, or perched on a mountaintop boulder. Visit her at: www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

 

 


The O.O.L.F. Files

One way to really understand STEM is to illustrate the subject of interest. Our Out of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) STEM Tuesday topic this month is science illustration. Visual science allows accurate interpretation of an object by combining knowledge of the subject, visual and tactile study of the subject, and artistic skill. Learn more about science illustration and careers, see some cool examples, and even explore a free online course at the links below.

Links: