Posts Tagged Dinosaurs

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–Dinosaurs/Paleontology– Writing Tips & Resources

 

Backmatter Matters

Imagine you wake up in a strange place. Although the place does not feel threatening, just being there is jarring because you don’t know why you are there, or how you got there. You don’t know what to do or how to interact. That’s what reading a nonfiction book might be like, if it weren’t for the mighty powers of peritext.

Peritext? What’s that? All of the elements in a book that are not in the main body of text. In STEM nonfiction books, peritext can be paramount.

Pick up a nonfiction book from this month’s list and search out those elements. There’s the cover (front and back) and maybe some flap or cover copy; these introduce you to the book and give you a preview of the author’s “take” on the topic. There’s a copyright page and, most likely, other standard elements such as a table of contents, glossary, and index; these give you context, a map to guide your journey, and help when needed. But there may be more—much, much more.

Consider how different the book would be without all of that. What would the reader miss? What do each of those elements actually do for the book? 

Before I began writing professionally, I essentially ignored peritext. I rarely read any portion of the backmatter (everything after the main body of text). One day, a writer friend told me she reads every word of the endnotes—I was astounded. Who would do that?

Then I tried it with a book I loved and realized just how much I had been missing. These elements are designed for the inquiring mind! As a reader and writer, it is worth studying the peritext and pondering its value. Peritext invites us into the reading experience and launches us into the next one.

Try this:

1. Ask a friend to select a nonfiction book that you have never seen. Have them binder clip together the pages that contain the main text. (Note: peritext includes illustrations and chapter titles, etc, but let’s focus on the frontmatter and backmatter for now.)

2. Study the peritext (no peeking at the main text). Jot down a list of what’s there.

      • Is there a table contents? An index? What about a timeline? Anything interesting about the endpapers?
      • Ask yourself: Who uses each of these elements? Who creates them? Do any serve multiple purposes?
      • Now, read the material. From the peritext, what impression do you get about the book?
      • What questions are sparked in your mind?
      • If these elements are illustrated, jot down notes about them as well.

3. Skim the glossary or index.

      • Do some entries surprise you?
      • What questions do you now have? Are you now more, or less, eager to read the book? To read other material on the topic?
      • Search for clues to the core of the book. Not the topics covered, but the theme, the big ideas, the conclusions. (Don’t forget the covers.)

4. Finally, read the entire book.

      • Consider how well the elements in the peritext support the main text.
      • If you were the author, illustrator, editor, etc. would you have done things differently?
      • What factors might impact what’s included in the backmatter? (FYI, typically the author creates most of the backmatter and other publishing professionals create most of the frontmatter and covers.)

As an author, this is how I look at books. I want to know what is there, why it is there, and how it is used. To help me inquire, I started a running list of the elements in various books. Just off the top of your head, you might remember books with recipes, timelines, acknowledgments, bibliographies, or an author’s note, but you would be amazed at the variety. And think how much each of those elements can vary, not only in content, but also in presentation. In some books, the backmatter was even more interesting to me than the main text. 

Backmatter isn’t limited to nonfiction; however, it seems to be more common and extensive in nonfiction. Why? What types of fiction include extensive backmatter? What if more fiction included backmatter?

Try this:

1. Read a book that has limited backmatter.

2. List at least 3 elements which could have been included.

3. Create 1 of those elements for the book. (You might have to make something up for the sake of the exercise.)

4. Share it with a friend and ask if the added element is valuable.

If you’re not careful, you will now find yourself picking up books and flipping to the backmatter before you read the frontmatter. You’ll be noticing how cool it is that the glossary of Dining With Dinosaurs only includes words not already defined in the main text. (So smart—those are the only ones a reader should need in the glossary!) You might start wishing every historical text included a visual timeline like Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers (Science Comic Series). And when you begin to write your next piece, you might start thinking about the backmatter before the front matter. This is what reading like a writer will do to you!

 

Heather L. Montgomery can’t resist writing backmatter–the ulimate playground for a nonfiction writer. She almost let it take over her upcoming book, Who Gives a Poop? The Surprising Science Behind Scat (Bloomsbury, September 2020). Aren’t you eager to dive into that? For now, you’ll have to be satisfied with the perimatter in her 15 other STEM titles. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com 


The O.O.L.F Files

Just a few more dino books because you can never have too many…

The First Dinosaur: How Science Solved the Greatest Mystery on Earth, written by Ian Lendler, illustrated by C. M. Butzer. In this 220-pager, Lendler carefully lays out how the idea of dinosaurs came to be. Beginning with a bone discovered before the concept of dinosaurs—or even fossils—existed, Lendler walks readers through a wealth of scientific studies to share a story you want to know. This book is likely to blow young minds (and yours).

Dinosaurs By the Numbers (A Book of Infographics), written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins. In classic Jenkins style, this fact-packed book is sure to please dino lovers. Maps, graphs, size-comparisons, all formatted on clean white space do an excellent job of accentuating dinosaur facts and extremes. And, there’s an illustrated table of contents–such tantalizing peritext!

When Sue Found Sue: Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex, written by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Diana Sudyka. This picture book tells how a curious girl grew to be an inquisitive scientist who discovered the most complete (and likely the most famous) Tyrannasoarus rex fossil ever found (so far). Perfect for kids who are collectors and those who yearn to make their own discoveries.

November New Releases

Looking for great new titles you can fall back on this November? Here are some books that we’re looking forward to reading at MUF:

November 3rd:

RUBY REINVENTED by Ronni Arno (Aladdin) Ruby Miller has it made. As the only child of model-turned-TV-host Celestine Cruz and pro-baseball star Zack Miller, she has everythinRubyReinventedg a twelve-year-old girl could want. Well, except for real friends.

After a disastrous birthday party where she discovers her supposed BFFs are only friends with her because her parents are uber-famous, she finds a place as far from fake and phony Hollywood as she can get: a boarding school in Camden, Maine. In her desperation to distance herself from her star-studded parents and the paparazzi who trail them, Ruby tells her new friends that she’s an orphan. She feels awful about lying, but once she starts, it’s hard to come clean. Plus, now that nobody’s comparing her to her perfect parents, Ruby can finally let her own talents as a dress designer take center stage.

When Ruby finds herself connecting with a cute boy who really did lose his parents, she’s torn between who she is and who she’s pretending to be. And with Parents’ Weekend approaching, she must find a way to keep her secret—without losing her new best friend, the trust of her first crush, and the chance to shine as the designer of her very own fashion show.

MY DIARY FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Jodi Lynn Anderson (Aladdin)MyDiaryFromTheEdgeOfTheWorld Spirited, restless Gracie Lockwood has lived in Cliffden, Maine, her whole life. She’s a typical girl in an atypical world: one where sasquatches helped to win the Civil War, where dragons glide over Route 1 on their way south for the winter (sometimes burning down a T.J. Maxx or an Applebee’s along the way), where giants hide in caves near LA and mermaids hunt along the beaches, and where Dark Clouds come for people when they die.

To Gracie it’s all pretty ho-hum…until a Cloud comes looking for her little brother Sam, turning her small-town life upside down. Determined to protect Sam against all odds, her parents pack the family into a used Winnebago and set out on an epic search for a safe place that most people say doesn’t exist: The Extraordinary World. It’s rumored to lie at the ends of the earth, and no one has ever made it there and lived to tell the tale. To reach it, the Lockwoods will have to learn to believe in each other—and to trust that the world holds more possibilities than they’ve ever imagined.

DEAD POSSUMS ARE FAIR GAME by Taryn Souders (Sky Pony) DeadPossumsAreFairGame As the end of the school year approaches, the fifth-grade teachers at Victor Waldo Elementary conclude there’s not enough time to complete a new math unit before summer break. Great news for math-phobic Ella, right?

Wrong! The teachers decide instead to have their students host the first-ever Math Fair. And the fair project is worth two major math grades.

Add in one dead possum plus two horrible roommates who come to stay while their house is being renovated, and you have an equation for disaster. Ella is headed for summer school and math tutoring for sure. Can she stop her troubles from multiplying before it’s too late?

FAST BREAK by Mike Lupica (Philomel) FastBreakForced to live on his own after his mom dies and her boyfriend abandons him, 12-year-old Jayson does whatever it takes to get by. He will do anything to avoid the foster care system. Besides, his real home has always been the beat-up basketball court behind the projects in the North Carolina hills, and his family has always been his friends and teammates. He manages to get away with his deception until the day he gets caught stealing a new pair of basketball sneakers. Game over. Within a day a social worker places him with a family from the other side of town, the Lawtons. New home, new school, new teammates.

Jayson, at first, is combatative, testing the Lawtons’ patience at every turn. He wants out, yet the Lawtons refuse to take the bait. But not everyone in Jayson’s new life is so ready to trust him–and even Jayson’s old friends give him a hard time now that he’s attending a school full of rich kids. It’s on Jayson to believe that he deserves a better life than the one he once had. The ultimate prize if he can? A trip to play in the state finals at Cameron Indoor Stadium–home to the Duke Blue Devils and launching pad to his dream of playing bigtime college ball. Getting there will be a journey that reaches far beyond the basketball court.

PRESIDENT OF THE WHOLE SIXTH GRADE by Sherri Winston (Little, Brown) In this sequel to PRESIDENT OF THE WHOLE FIFTH GRADE, Brianna navigates her toughest challenge yet: middle school.

PresidentOfTheWholeSixthGradeBrianna Justice is determined to raise enough money for the big class trip to Washington, D.C., but she’s up against a lot: classmates who all pretend to be something they’re not, a new nemesis determined to run her out of office, and the sinking feeling she’s about to lose her two best friends. But just when she begins to lose hope, she comes to realize that sometimes surprises can turn out even better than the best-laid plans.

 

November 10:

A BITTER MAGIC by Roderick Townley (Knopf) Everything is in place: the packed theater, the Amazing Thummel, and, center stage, the magician’s mysterious assistant. Some have called her the most beautiful woman in EuroABitterMagicpe.

Then, in a swirl of light, she vanishes!

An astounding illusion, but she never reappears. All that remains are a bloodstained white scarf and her daughter, Cisley, who lives in a glass castle and walks her pet lobster each morning by the sea.

Enter Cole, a rambunctious boy from town and Cisley’s first true friend. Together they hunt for clues to her mother’s disappearance. They puzzle over broken mirrors, ever-shifting labyrinths, a closet full of whispering ball gowns, and a fatal quest for a pure black rose.

Roderic Townley spins a deliciously spooky tale of one girl’s journey to discover what’s real and what is simply an illusion.

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE by Joseph Marshall, illus. by Jim Yellowhawk (Amulet) Jimmy McClean is a Lakota boy—though you would not InTheFootstepsOfCrazyhawkguess it by his name: his father is a white man and his mother is Lakota. When he embarks on a journey with his grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, he learns more and more about his Lakota heritage—in particular, the story of Crazy Horse, one of the most important figures in Lakota history. Drawing inspiration from the oral stories of the Lakota tradition and the Lakota cultural mechanism of the “hero story,” Joseph Marshall provides readers with an insider’s perspective on the life of Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse. Through his grandfather’s tales about the famous warrior, Jimmy learns more about his Lakota heritage and, ultimately, himself.

FINDING FORTUNE by Delia Ray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Running away from home isn’t as easy as Ren thinks it will be. At least she isn’t running very far-just a few miles to the ghost town of Fortune . . . or Mis-Fortune as everyone else calls it. Mis-Fortune on the Mississippi. Supposedly, there’s an abandoned school on tFindingFortunehe outskirts with cheap rooms for rent. Ren knows her plan sounds crazy. But with only a few more weeks until Dad comes home from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, she also knows she has to do something drastic so Mom will come to her senses and stop seeing that creep Rick Littleton for good.

From the moment she enters the school’s shadowy halls, Ren finds herself drawn into its secrets. Every night old Mrs. Baxter, the landlady, wanders the building on a mysterious quest. What could she be up to? And can Mrs. Baxter’s outlandish plan to transform the gym into a pearl-button museum ever succeed? With a quirky new friend named Hugh at her side, Ren sets out to solve the mystery that could save Fortune from fading away. But what about her family’s future? Can that be saved too?

NINJA TIMMY by Henrik Tamm (Delacorte) NinjaTimmyTimmy the cat, his pal Simon the mink, and the pig brothers Jasper and Casper are inventors, and they’re hoping to sell their fabulous new contraption to a local merchant. With high hopes, they haul their machine through the crowded streets of Elyzandrium—and are promptly robbed by a gang of bullies. With the help of two new friends, Alfred, a kindly old toymaker, and Flores, a skilled cat pilot, Timmy and his pals set out to get back what is rightfully theirs. As it turns out, they’re not the only victims of these dastardly criminals. But what can this band of misfits do?

In this action-packed adventure, the intrepid Timmy and his wily friends transform themselves into crime-fighting ninjas—and quite possibly heroes!

BORROWED TIME by Greg Leitich Smith (Clarion) BorrowedTimeIn this time-travel dinosaur adventure, Max Pierson-Takahashi and his friend Petra return to the days of the dinosaurs, where they must survive attacks from mosasaurs, tyrannosaurs, and other deadly creatures, including a vengeful, pistol-toting girl from the 1920s. The fast pace, mind-bending time twists, and Greg Leitich Smith’s light, humorous touch make this an exciting, fun choice for readers looking for adventure and nonstop action.

 

November 17:

ABRACADABRA: THE STORY OF MAGIC THROUGH THE AGES by H.P. Newquist, illus. by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov Abracadabra(Henry Holt) Magic is a word we use to describe something amazing, awe-inspiring, or spectacular. Truly great magic makes us believe in things we know can’t be real. In the hands of the greatest magicians, even a simple card trick can become truly wondrous.

Now, in this nonfiction narrative of magic through the ages, HP Newquist explains how the world’s most famous tricks were created. From the oracles of ancient Egypt and the wizards of medieval Europe on to the exploits of Houdini and modern practitioners like Criss Angel, this book unlocks the secrets behind centuries of magic and illusion.

Fully illustrated and including step-by-step instructions for eight classic magic tricks, this book will have middle-grade readers spellbound.

ON THE RUN by Tristan Bancks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Ben has always wanted to be a cop, so he’s intrigued when police officers show up at the door, asking for his parents.OnTheRun Then his parents arrive after the police leave and rush him and his sister into the car, insisting they are going on a vacation. Ben’s a little skeptical–his family doesn’t go on vacations. After they lose the police in a high-speed car chase and end up in a remote cabin deep in the woods, Ben discovers his parents’ secret: millions of dollars were deposited into their bank account by accident, and they took the money and ran off. Ben isn’t sure what to think. Are his parents criminals? And because he ran off with them, is he a criminal, too?

THE HUMAN BODY: THE STORY OF HOW WE PROTECT, REPAIR, AND MAKE OURSELVES STRONGER by H.P. Newquist (Viking) TheHumanBodyDid you know the first blood transfusions were between people and lambs? Or that the first prosthetic hand with a hook was created so a French soldier could hold the reins of his horse in battle? Or that scientists recently grew a nose?

Invention & Impact, an exciting new series from PYRG-Smithsonian, introduces young readers to experiments, discoveries, and breakthroughs such as these, which have huge impacts on our world.  Designed with exciting  images from the Smithsonian’s vast collections, each highly visual book in the series starts with a big idea and then explores that concept through specific objects that give kids the micro and meta picture on how inventions and ideas connect over time.

The debut book in the series looks at one of the most complex systems on planet Earth: the human body. From artificial eyeballs to aspirin to 3-D printed body parts, The Human Body profiles the objects that scientists and tinkerers throughout history have invented (or cobbled together) to protect, repair, or improve our physical selves. And there are plenty of fascinating stories behind these objects!

Which of these or other middle-grade titles are you looking forward to reading? Let us know in the comments!