Posts Tagged nature

Engaging Readers by Exploring the Natural World of Book Settings

The pandemic has placed stressors upon students, parents and educators alike. What if we could engage students more deeply in the books that they are reading while helping them reduce stress?  Research overwhelmingly shows that spending time in nature and exposure to natural elements reduces stress and promotes mental and physical health. Exploring the natural world in which books are set can help students achieve some of the benefits of exposure to nature. It also helps readers make cross-curricular connections and allows students’ natural curiosity to drive them to seek out non-fiction resources.

Below are six easy ways for you and the students in your life to get started.

  • Begin by collecting several books in which a significant part of the action takes place outdoors. Research shows that students are more engaged when they have a choice in their reading. Allowing them to select a book with a setting that they’d like to explore also sets the groundwork for their natural curiosity to drive their inquiry.

 

  • Ask students to read with nature in mind. As students read, invite them to take note of details of the natural world of the book’s setting. What do the characters see, hear, smell, taste and touch from the natural world in that setting? How do these interactions affect character development, story arc, plot, pacing, and other elements of the story?

 

  • Take nature journaling to the next level. Begin by providing students with a notebook and challenge them to create a day-by-day or week-by-week nature journal from the point of view of a fictional character in the book they have selected. Students can make notes about what would most likely be of interest to the character at each point in the story action. Students can use non-fiction resources to answer questions about plants, animals, geography, weather and other elements of the fictional character’s world at that time of year in that location. They can add drawings and notes about those elements to their journals. You also might challenge students to consider how these elements affect the main character’s ability to achieve their goal. For example, does the weather present an obstacle? If the character is surviving on their own in the natural world, what plants or animals present opportunities or contain threats? If the setting of the book is similar to the natural world found in your community, you might invite students to go on a field to a local park to explore that environment and add to their nature journals.

 

  • Invite students to create a diorama of their favorite part of the natural world of the book’s characters. As students read, you might invite them to select their favorite part of the natural world described in the story. You can challenge students to create a diorama of that setting, with footnotes about how each element in the setting affected character development, plot, pacing, and the overall story arc. This provides additional motivation to access non-fiction resources and to expand student knowledge.

 

  • Create a guided outdoor scavenger hunt featuring natural elements mentioned in the book. Many items are common across ecosystems. You might select several items mentioned in the book your students are studying and create a scavenger hunt of those items. For example, in My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, the main character created whistles out of willow, made salt from hickory limbs, and ate parts of wild violets. You might challenge students to see if they can find those things at a local park or other natural area where they have permission to take small samples of natural materials. You can find an example of a book-inspired scavenger hunt list here.

 

  • Create a discovery center and a tradition of a nature wonder hour. Once students have found items from their scavenger hunt, they can create a discovery center to house them. You can make a discovery center out of an old printer’s tray, a box, a basket, or another item that you have on hand. Invite students to consider the questions they have about those items. They can then explore answers in non-fiction resources during a regular Nature Wonder Hour. That time can be as long or as short as you’d like. The key is to let student curiosity guide their research. You can find a sample set of questions here.

Whatever activities you do, I hope that you and the students in your life enjoy diving even more deeply into the world of book settings. You can learn more about new releases at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/mixed-up-files-book-lists/ and find a list of books by Mixed Up Files contributors at https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/about/contributor-books/. I’m wishing you and the students in your life lots of reading and outdoor adventures.

The Most Perfect Interview with Author Tricia Springstubb

Author Tricia Springstubb

I’m very excited today to welcome author Tricia Springstubb to The Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors! We’re here to talk about her newest middle-grade novel The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe.

Before we get started, let’s take a look at the book.

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother, a noted ornithologist, works to save the endangered birds of the shrinking Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously counts the days till her return home. But then, to Loah’s surprise and dismay, Dr. Londonderry decides to set off on a perilous solo quest to find the Loah bird, long believed extinct. Does her mother care more deeply about Loah the bird than Loah her daughter?

Things get worse yet when Loah’s elderly caretakers fall ill and she finds herself all alone except for her friend Ellis. Ellis has big problems of her own, but she believes in Loah. She’s certain Loah has strengths that are hidden yet wonderful, like the golden feather tucked away on her namesake bird’s wing. When Dr. Londonderry’s expedition goes terribly wrong, Loah needs to discover for herself whether she has the courage and heart to find help for her mother, lost at the top of the world. 

 

The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe is available for preorder now and releases June 1, 2021.

MH:  When and where did you get the idea for The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe?

TS:  A writer’s mind is a wild, unpredictable place. Ideas lurk about. You glimpse one from the corner of your eye but before you can catch it, it has slipped back into the shadows. Maybe you get another chance–this time it lingers long enough to walk beside you for a while before it disappears again, leaving you to puzzle out what to make of it…

…which is my devious way of saying, I don’t exactly know where I got the idea for Loah!  If I look at my files, I can see I first tried to write about her back in 2017. The files have names like Loah After Retreat and Loah After Mary Jane’s House(two of many places I worked on the book) and Loah Yet Again. I set out to write a historical novel, something I’d never done. I did research, which I loved, and began a story about a timid, turn of the century girl who lived in an ambiguous European country in a spooky house with her ancient caretakers. Her beloved older sister vanishes; an orphan seeks refuge. But my world-building was shaky–I kept making things up rather than sticking to established historical facts. After many tries and lots of frustration, I had to admit I lacked the discipline to stay within set bounds of time and place.

But by then I was too in love with Loah to let her go. She became a timid contemporary girl who lives in a spooky house with ancient caretakers. It’s her beloved mother who vanishes, her new friend Ellis who hides out with her. The birds came winging in on their own. Birds have flitted through so many of my books–a sparrow even gets its own little arc in Every Single Second–and here they settled in and became central to the story.

MH: Was there a time you thought you might give up on this book? What did you do to get through that?

TS: More than one time! I especially remember one gray January afternoon. I’d been working all morning, and had just introduced a brand new character, a snarky woman wearing a hat made of faux-giraffe-skin. What in the world was she doing there? I went for a long, desolate walk. Getting away from the desk helped me realize that I was writing loony scenes in an effort to distract readers (and myself!)  from the fact that I’d lost my story’s thread. I needed to think more deeply about who Loah was, what she needed and wanted. What was my story about, and what was it reallyabout? The woman in the giraffe hat got the axe (though who knows–she may yet turn up in a different story, where she actually belongs).

I do endless revisions for all my books, but usually one thing remains constant the–the setting, the situation, the conflict. For The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, it was Loah. She may be my favorite of all the young heroes I’ve written.

MH: What do you like about writing for MG readers?

TS: Pretty much everything! Kids this age brim with curiosity. They love to laugh. They are vulnerable and brave and they will commit to a story like nobody’s business. Middle grade readers demand strong plots, but they’re also sophisticated enough to appreciate nuance. Their sense of justice and their hopes for the world make me want to be a better person as well as a better writer. Their eyes are so wide and their hearts so big!

MH: Was this your original title?

TS: Yes, except for all those working titles I mentioned when Loah’s story was a different book. The title was a gift that came to me during my research. It’s drawn from a quote from the nineteenth-century naturalist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who wrote, “I think that, if required on pain of death to instantly name the most perfect thing in the universe, I should risk my fate on….”

Well, I am not going to give the rest away!

Wouldn’t filling in that blank be a fun classroom writing prompt?

MH: Tell us something fascinating you discovered while researching this book.

TS: Each year Arctic terns make a round trip migration of up to 25,000 miles, the longest recorded migration of any animal on the planet. Much of their route is over water–how do they do it without the GPS lady? Sadly, due to climate change, Arctic terns, like far too many species of animals and plants, face increasing challenges to their habitat and survival. Research made me even more aware than I’d been of Earth’s precious, fragile inter-connections. We can all help protect and preserve. The Audubon Society has wonderful suggestions for how we can become nature’s advocates, starting in our own neighborhoods.

MH: Now time for a Quick-Answer Finish-This-Sentence Round. Ready?

          TS: Sure!

MH: Recently, I’ve been very interested in learning about…

          TS:   … dogs, for my new novel.

MH: The best thing that happened to me yesterday was …

           TS:  … helping my neighbor get a vaccine appointment.

MH: I can’t help but laugh out loud when …. 

            TS: … my tiny granddaughter imitates Elsa.

MH: I’m looking forward to ….

           TS: … visiting schools and young readers for real.

MH: I really like the smell of …. 

           TS: … licorice.

MH: If I weren’t a writer, I might like to be a …

           TS: … person who delivers flowers.

Well, if Tricia Springstubb showed up on my doorstep with flowers, I would welcome her smiling face! But I am very, very happy she’s writing thoughtful, engaging, entertaining middle-grade fiction for all of us.  Thank you, Tricia!

Tell us about your favorite Tricia Springstubb book! Leave a comment below.

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Spring with Outdoor and Reading Activities

Spring is officially here, the days are getting longer, and there’s no better time than now to start spending more time outdoors. The Child Mind Institute has compiled a list of benefits to children of getting outside. These include an increase in confidence and creativity and a decrease in stress. Below are five easy ways for you and the students in your life to get in more sunshine time. In addition, below you can find some books to explore while you’re outdoors.

 

 

Five Easy Ways to Spend More Time Outdoors

  • Create an outdoor reading space. This can be as simple or elaborate as you’d like. You can use anything from a quilt or pillow laid out on the grass to a vine-covered arbor with a comfortable bench.
  • Invite students to take homework outdoors. Outdoorosity.org has five easy steps to start studying outdoors. Leaving electronic devices indoors while working on homework outdoors also helps to increase focus.
  • Jot observations in a nature journal. Writing in a nature journal during a break from reading or schoolwork helps students to tune into the details around them. What animals and plants do they notice?  What questions do they have? Students can use some of the books below to help find answers.
  • Take up birdwatching. As students read, study or explore outdoors, they will most likely see and hear plenty of birds. Why not learn more about them? Students can track sightings in their nature journal. At Audubon.org, you and the students in your life can learn more about birds in your area and connect with local birders. In addition, you can find a field guide specific to your region to help identify the birds you find.
  • Plan a visit to a park. Visit a local, state or national park. There you can explore how the history of your area has been shaped by the availability of water, dirt for growing crops, and other natural resources.

Books to Help Explore Your Natural World

The students in your life and you can use the books below to learn more about your natural world:

Book Beastly Bionics

 

Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature Paperback by Jennifer Swanson. This book takes readers on a journey to explore how the natural world inspires innovation in science and technology. The inspiration for the next great discovery just might be in your own backyard.

 

 

 

Cover of Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel

 

Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk and Feel by Nancy Castaldo. This book provides insight into animal intelligence. Readers can explore how animals communicate, show empathy, use tools, and interact in social societies.

 

 

 

 

Insects and Spiders

 

Insects and Spiders by Christine Taylor-Butler. This book provides readers with an up-close look at insects and spiders including their habitats and unique abilities. In addition, the book provides insight into dangers facing these creatures and how humans can help keep these species alive.

 

 

 

 

butterfly guide

 

National Audubon Society Pocket Guide: Familiar Butterflies of North America by the National Audubon Society. This guide is small enough to carry almost everywhere, but it is packed full of information to help readers identify 80 of the most common butterflies .

 

 

 

are ants like plants

 

 

Super Science: Are Ants Like Plants?  by Sue Heavenrich. This book takes readers deeper into the world of ants and plants and introduces students to fascinating facts about how these living things access food, grow, and communicate with their friends.

 

 

 

 

kid's Guide to Exploring nature

 

The Kid’s Guide to Exploring Nature (BBG Guides for a Greener Planet) by Brooklyn Botanic Garden Educators (Author) and László Veres (Illustrator). This guide provides readers with information on how to observe their natural world as a naturalist does. In addition, it leads them on 24 adventures to explore the complex ecosystems of plants and animals in the woods, at the beach, and in a city park.

 

 

 

 

Rocking Book of Rocks

 

 

The Rocking Book of Rocks: An Illustrated Guide to Everything Rocks, Gems, and Minerals by Florence Bullough (Author), Amy Ball (Author) and Anna Alanko (Illustrator). This book helps students explore the diverse world of rocks, gems and minerals. As a result, they just might become budding geologists.

 

 

 

 

trees leaves flowers and seeds

 

 

Trees, Leaves, Flowers and Seeds: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Plant Kingdom by DK with contribution by the Smithsonian Institution. This book helps readers explore the diverse and intriguing world of plants. It features more than 1,000 images and interesting facts to take readers into the botanical world, from tiny seeds to giant trees.

 

 

 

ultimate bug-opedia

 

 

Ultimate Bugopedia: The Most Complete Bug Reference Ever by Nancy Honovich and Darlyne A. Murawski. This book invites readers to explore the hidden world of the most popular bugs on the planet.

 

 

 

 

who gives a poop

 

 

Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather L. Montgomery (Author) and Iris Gottlieb (Illustrator). This book  invites readers to explore the interesting science behind poop and to discover how poop has a purpose. In addition, readers will learn about the role that poop has played in history.

 

 

 

 

wildlife ranger action guide

 

 

Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home by Mary Kay Carson. This book helps students become citizen-scientists with dozens of hands-on activities and habitat-creation projects.

 

 

 

 

For more information to help explore the natural world of the students in your life and you, please check out our STEM Tuesday section.