Posts Tagged children’s books

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– Writing Tips and Resources

 

Squeezing It In

When you spend several years researching a topic, you end up with reams and reams of phenomenal facts. How are you ever supposed to cram it all in to one short book? Well, for starters, you don’t. Instead, you get choosy about what info you use, only opting for facts that support the main point of your book, but also, you get creative with ways to squeeze information in.

Let’s take a look at how writers, illustrators, and design teams use the edges to educate. By edges, I mean all of that extra information frequently found in a nonfiction book. Information in the epitext: backmatter, front matter, cover, footnotes, sidebars. captions, etc. We nonfiction nerds have awesome options that fiction folks don’t often play with. Now, an author or an illustrator is not always in charge (many of those decisions are made on the publisher’s end), but we can be strategic in our use of epitext.

For today, let’s set the front matter and backmatter aside and focus exclusively on matter placed on the main pages of the book.

I whipped out a few books from this month’s STEMTuesday list and will share features that jumped out at me and questions I immediately had. You probably might not have all these books at your disposal, but consider doing the same with a pile of books near you.

MAPS

Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance, by Tod Olson, page 80. Black and white; the title uses the word “fate” which gives an ominous connotation; the legend allows the map to convey a narrative. Questions: What information on the map is also included in the text? What information is left out of the text? Did the inclusion of the map allow the author to trim content from the text? What content is important to include in both the text and the epitext?

Ice Scientist: Careers in the Frozen Antarctic, by Sara L. Latta, page 15. Color illustration; the lack of color within the photo makes it stand out; minimal information provided on the map. Questions: Why does the caption repeat the key information with only minor additions? Does comprehension of the text rely on support from this image?

Polar Explorers for Kids: Historic Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic with 21 Activities, by Maxine Snowden, page 76. A two-color image; many geographical locations identified; no legend or title; use of bold and italics; located at the beginning of Part II of the book. Questions: Why is there no title or legend? Is this map being used differently than the others which support text on a single page? Do the marked locations match the timeline as follows and/or the content from upcoming chapters ?

DIAGRAMS

The Polar Bear Scientist, Peter Lourie, page 22. Colored regions overlaying a photograph; a long caption; diagram overlays another photograph. Questions: Does the content in the extra long caption offer an aside to the main text or does it directly support the main text? If browsers stop to engage with the diagram, would they be drawn into the main text, and if so, where would they start reading? The top of that page, jumping in mid-story, or would they flip back to the beginning of the section or chapter? How can I use diagrams strategically to suck readers in? Should that be a goal? When writing the text for a caption, should I aim it at the browser or the person reading the full text? What are some strategies I can find for these different approaches?

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, Sally M. Walker, page 20. An infographic; caption is integrated into the graphic; labels clarify the components of the graphic; seems to be connected to text which is actually an extended sidebar. Question: Did the author developed the concept for that infographic or find a related image elsewhere and use it for reference? If this infographic were not included, would readers understand the text?

Polar Explorers for Kids: Historic Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic with 21 Activities, by Maxine Snowden, page 19. Four separate images included; black-and-white; on a page with numbered instructions. Questions: Are these illustrations sequential? If they support the instructions, why aren’t they numbered? When writing a how-to piece, how critical is it to include text to support sequential illustrations?

SIDEBARS

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, Sally M. Walker, pages 60-61. An extended sidebar that covers a full spread; encapsulates an entire story; because it does not fall between sections of the main text, it creates a fissure in the reading experience (one paragraph is orphaned on the following page). Questions: Are there tricks a writer can use to avoid a sidebar splitting up the main text?

Where Is Antarctica? By Sarah Fabiny, pages 88-89. An extended sidebar; expository timeline; alliteration used in the title. Questions: How frequently does the writing style and or voice of the sidebar differ from that of the main text? In a single book, are the sidebars all expository, all narrative, or a mix? Does this list provide a summary of the main text, provide information not in the main text, or provide something else?

Ice Scientist: Careers in the Frozen Antarctic, by Sara L. Latta, pages 30, 58, 71. Repeated sidebars with similar content; different word lengths; each of these includes parallel information such as definition, education required, and standard income. Questions: Are standardized sidebars more frequently used in certain series? By certain publishers? How frequently is this kind of feature used in trade publications? What impact would it have if this information were provided in chart or list form instead?

Being Intentional with Info

Analyzing the features of these informational texts helps me consider how to strategically use epitext in my manuscripts. My response as a reader to different styles, lengths, and approaches gives me insight into the impact these features have. It helps me understand their effect on reader comprehension and/or enjoyment of STEM books.
What impacts do specific types and styles of these nonfiction features have on you?

 

Heather L. Montgomery finds crafty ways to cram info into captions, sidebars, and footnotes. To read riotous footnotes full of fun, facts, and fecal forensics, check out her most recent middle grade STEM book Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other.

Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com 

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– In the Classroom

This STEM Tuesday’s theme is on the ecology of polar regions—from animals and plants that find ways to survive in their extreme environment to deep sea creatures and melting polar ice to the scientists that study these frozen parts of the world. From the Arctic to Antarctica, life may be difficult, but it still thrives and clearly reflects our rapidly changing environment. Here are some books and activities you can use in the classroom to help students learn about this unique environment and why it is so important.

Ice: Chilling Stories From a Disappearing World,  by Laura Buller, Andrea Mills, and John Woodward

A browsable book that ranges from the prehistoric to present. Meet polar plants, frozen frogs, and other wonders of the icy world. Plenty of climate change alerts sprinkled throughout the pages

 

Classroom activity: Prehistoric animals (like wooly mammoths, wool rhinos, and cave bears) have all been found preserved for thousands of years in polar ice and on cave walls. Show students ice age cave art paintings (such as those in Chauvet–Pont d’Arc) and ask them to make their own cave art images of prehistoric animals using flat rocks and red or black paint. Students should research the animals and depict them doing an activity. Students can then try guessing which prehistoric animal in each person’s piece of cave art.

 

Climate Change and the Polar Regions, by Michael Burgan.

An introduction shows how scientists study climate. Following chapters focus on the impacts of climate change to the Arctic and Antarctic, from melting ice to changing ocean currents to wildlife.

Classroom activity: Have students do an experiment to understand the greenhouse effect using two thermometers, a jar with a cover, and sunlight. Place one thermometer inside the jar and seal it. Put the jar and the second thermometer in a sunny spot and have students record their temperatures every ten minutes.   Discuss what happened and why the jar affected the temperature. Explain how greenhouse gases act in a similar way to raise Earth’s temperature.

 

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors by Elaine Scott

After exploring the fossil evidence of Pangea, this book offers a look at the unique physical and climactic differences of each pole, the people and animals that reside in each, and the lessons gained from explorers and scientists. It includes a good resource list of books and websites.

Classroom activity: Have students research two other creatures that live at opposite poles and have them create comparison charts listing qualities that make them similar and different. Are they both mammals? Do they both hunt? Do they have thick layers of blubber to keep them warm? Students should find images or create drawings to illustrate their findings and share them with the class.

 

Further Polar Resources

Here are some websites that students can use to learn more about the polar regions:

  • Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists
    Find out about the varied work scientists are doing in the Arctic and Antarctic.
    http://icestories.exploratorium.edu/dispatches/
  • PBS Learning Media, Polar Sciences
    Media resources show the importance of studying different kinds of polar sciences, including the atmosphere, ice, land, oceans, and people.
    https://tpt.pbslearningmedia.org/collection/ipy07-ex/#.X_0yTS2ZOjQ

Mourning the Middle Grade Years and Finding Them Again

It struck me recently that I couldn’t remember the very last time I read a goodnight book to my son, Joshua. I asked him if he knew. As a teenager now, he couldn’t remember either.

“There was probably a night where you couldn’t read to me, Mom, because you were busy,” he said. “And then the next night we forgot about it. And the next.”

“So, it just faded away?”

“Yup.” *Mom choke-up*

Since then, I’ve been bothered by the fact that:
1. I desperately want to remember when and what that last goodnight book was.
2. If I’d known it was the last time, I would have cherished it.
3. Bedtime reading to my son is forever gone and I’m just realizing the significance of this now.

I mourn something now long disappeared that I had not even known was gone.

Along with bedtime reading gone of current children’s books with my son, so has the reading of books to him that I received as a child over 40 years ago. My mother wrote my name in mine, the year I received it, and who gave me the book. The Tooth Fairy brought me books from Beatrix Potter to Laura Ingalls Wilder to Roald Dahl. These books have now long been collecting dust on my son’s shelves.

“Mom, can we pack these books up now?” he asked, pointing to his bookshelf of old and new.

“Never!” I protested and gently dusted of books, taking them to my office where children’s books will never die.

These included my son’s best-loved books like Wonder, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Warriors, Flat Stanley, Goosebumps, Genius Files, Joshua Dread, Captain Underpants (the lunch signs are the BEST!), and Charlie Bone (Mom, this is THE best series EVER! You have to read it). And I’ll never forget my son’s excitement when he found out that the Charlie Bone series author, Jenny Nimmo, was blurbing my first middle grade book, Joshua and the Lightning Road.

All too soon for me, my son left the middle grade world. He moved on to reading dark, dystopian young adult novels.

And I realized, sadly, he also moved on from all of our kid shows: iCarly, Big Time Rush, Good Luck Charlie, Pair of Kings, Drake and Josh, Sponge Bob Square Pants. Watching them with him made me nostalgic for my own shows I grew up with like Little House on the Prairie, The Love Boat, Benson, Greatest American Hero, and re-runs of The Carol Burnett Show and Leave it to Beaver.

Occasionally, I bring up our shared favorite episodes to him of middle grade shows buried in tv-land dust.

“Can’t we just watch a Sponge Bob episode tonight? How about the Frankendoodle one or Pizza Delivery or Best Day Ever?” I asked.

“No, Mom,” he laughed. “That’s kid stuff.”

“What about iCarly where Spencer pranks everyone and does the prank song?” I started bopping around.

“No, Mom.” He gave me an eye roll.

“Okay,” I said with a sigh.

It’s true that I’ve grown with my son as he’s grown, but in doing so I’ve also relived many of my own childhood paths through his middle grade books and shows – and I don’t want them to end. I’ve returned home to a place where I will always be young, laughing myself silly, on magical adventures, and experiencing so many wondrous ‘firsts’.

As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 1980s there weren’t books categorized “middle grade” and so I downed Sidney Sheldon, Stephen King, Jack London, Paul Zindel, and V.C. Andrews (all soooo not kid-friendly). They were my “middle grade” then, but now I have my son’s books, too (and age-appropriate!). And someday, I hope he’ll come back around to them just like I did. Maybe with his own children. He doesn’t need to relive his childhood now. He’s living it. And I realized, my son and his book world set me on my own journey as a middle grade author. What a wonderful legacy he gave me, even though he’s moved on.

He also doesn’t need me to be home anymore after school. He has his own business and drives to his restaurant job. He doesn’t need me to read him bedtime stories or cut up his meat. He doesn’t need me to do his laundry. He can do that simply fine (good!).

Don’t misunderstand me; I am enjoying the new phase of things. Watching him go to work, open a bank account, clean his room because he wants to (faint!), and calm his frazzled mom down when writing deadlines loom.

“It’ll be okay Mom,” he now says. “You’ll get it done. You always do.” He even helped me years ago in writing my first book when I got stuck on plot and character.

He may have said goodbye to middle grade for now, but I love sharing in the continued new wonders with him. I just won’t ever stop loving middle grade, not since I fell in love with it again through my son. I’ll keep writing it and reading it—and waiting for the day he comes back to it. *fingers crossed*

Have you ever mourned moving on from a phase in your child’s middle grade life? What were some of your favorite books as a child? What are some new favorite children’s books now?