Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Out of Many, One

Today, a quotation for your consideration.

 "Holding our country to a high standard and searching for ways to better live up to its lofty ideals is not “America-bashing.” It’s good citizenship… By learning from our travels and bringing these ideas home, we can make our nation even stronger. As a nation of immigrants whose very origin is based in the power of diversity (“out of many, one”), this should come naturally to us…and be celebrated."

                                         Rick Steeves in Travel as a Political Act p. viii

And a reminder that the giveaway ends TONIGHT at midnight EST. Don't miss your chance to win April Pulley's Sayre's newest book, Touch a Butterfly.

To learn how, visit last Tuesday's post, "Author Interview: April Pulley Sayre." 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Nature Weavings

Nature weavings are a great project for children of all ages.

Materials needed:
Yarn, string, or fishing line
A container to carry gathered items (bag, basket, bucket, etc).

Also needed: a natural place to walk where you can collect natural items off the ground. This might be a forest, beach, meadow or some combination of places.

(Be careful of local laws/regulations about collecting. For example, many parks do not allow you to take anything out that you didn't bring in with you).


Take a walk in a natural area. Collect small items you find that are beautiful, interesting, or otherwise catch your eye. Examples of items include: pinecones, leaves, driftwood, seed pods, dried grasses, pieces of bark, lichen, small seashells, etc. DO NOT pull plants out by their roots or pull objects off trees, etc. Do not take items that are alive. Make sure shells are no longer occupied.

Caution: As we come into poison ivy season in many regions, be careful not to catch poison ivy. If you have trouble identifying it, I wrote a post about poison ivy identification (with photos) that may be helpful to you.

While you're walking, also look for a Y shaped stick on which to create your weaving. Something the length of an adult arm is a good size for a first weaving. Later, you might experiment with larger or smaller weavings.

When you return, wrap the middle of the Y with yarn like this:

There really is no wrong way to do this, though you may have to double-wrap to prevent the yarn from slipping down the Y. Experiment to see what works best with your stick and yarn.

Then work the items you gathered into the yarn. Long items like grasses can be woven in -over/under/over/under- while shorter, fat items like pine cones will need to be hooked in a way that keeps them secure. I recently found a small nest that had been blown down in a storm. It was banged up and is quite fragile, so I'll need to find a delicate way to secure it.

Here's one our Kindergarten grade friend made:

My kids and I sent one to my sister in California several years ago. She especially loved it because it reminded her of home. (It still hangs on her wall). You might do the same for a far-off relative, or perhaps you could collect items from your next vacation and create a weaving as a souvenir. 

For those of you who collect on the beach- try wrapping fishing line instead of yarn and make yours a beach themed weaving. Sometimes you can find old fishing nets washed up- you can use them too!

Have you ever tried making nature weavings? What are you favorite materials to use?

Related Posts:
Insect Safety
Mystery Rash (Poison Ivy)
Lyme Disease Prevention

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Author Interview: April Pulley Sayre

Today features an interview with with one of my favorite children's authors- April Pulley Sayre.  April is an award-winning children’s book author of over 55 natural history books for children and adults. Her read-aloud nonfiction books, known for their lyricism and scientific precision, have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. She is best known for pioneering literary ways to immerse young readers in natural events via creative storytelling and unusual perspectives.

Today is the official publication date for April's latest book, Touch A Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening with Kids.  Welcome, April, and thank you for participating in this interview.

(Be sure to read all the way to the end to learn about a giveaway and to retrieve a discount code for book purchase).

1.       You’re probably best known for your lyrical, non-fiction books for young children. Two of my personal favorites are Vulture View and Bumblebee Queen. What made you decide to write this book for adults about gardening and exploring nature with children?

APS: My husband Jeff and I have been wildlife gardening for the past twenty or so years. So it's part of our daily life. Years ago, we wrote a natural history of hummingbirds (for adults) and used to present workshops about hummingbirds/attracting hummingbirds at botanical gardens, flower and garden shows, and birding festivals. Jeff is an expert in native plants and was director of one of the Midwest's largest native plant nurseries for five years. So our lives are full of these little daily discoveries about what attracts birds, butterflies, and the like.  I wanted to share our knowledge and personal experiences with wildlife gardening. So I proposed an adult book about the topic to a couple of publishers. Roost Books asked me to shift the book toward gardening for families, including activities that might suit families with children. So that is what I did. Last year, Kenn Kaufman, author of many field guides, asked Jeff to co-author a field guide to nature of the Midwest so we’re really immersed in native plant work and photography now!
2.        In many of your picture books, illustrations by children’s book illustrators help bring your words to life. Two recent titles, Rah, Rah Radishes! and Go, Go, Grapes! include photographs taken by you. How was the creation of these two styles of books different? 

APS: The word work is the same as with other books. But doing the photos has added a whole new aspect to my work. I've always been a passionate photographer but I've never done it with an eye to an entire book, with a deadline staring me in the face. My recent book photography has involved a lot of experiments. You learn by trying, and often by failing, before you find the right setups, angles, and light.  It's enthralling; I get these brainstorms about new photos and dart around, finding ways to capture them. I just completed Let's Go Nuts: Seeds We Eat. It will be released on August 27th, 2013 by Beach Lane Books, the same publisher that did Rah, Rah, Radishes and Go, Go, Grapes. 

3.        When you submitted your manuscript Touch a Butterfly to your publisher, you provided a variety of photos from which they could choose. Did you follow the same process with Rah, Rah and Go, Go? Or did you select the photos and submit them with your manuscript?

APS: For all three books I gave the publisher sample photographs with my proposal or, in the case of the children’s books, with a full manuscript.  Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening With Kids is illustrated in full color with my wildlife photography, supplemented by some photos contributed by colleagues, families, and schools who had photos of kids enjoying/studying nature. In fact, several photos were generously donated by the writer of this blog, Michelle Cusolito! Thanks, Michelle!  The publisher chose the final ones for the book from among hundreds I submitted.

4.        How do you approach research for your books? Do you go out into the field? Read books? Search the internet? Other?

APS: I pursue all avenues of research. I read adult science books. I read scientific papers. I do a lot of interviews with scientists. But a lot of the nature books just flow naturally from our goofy, exploratory daily lives. So I spend time studying squirrels or investigating bees. Then, it becomes a picture book. That said, I do a lot of study and word play that never comes to anything. Or, you could say, perhaps not yet . . .

5.        To continue with that idea…What advice do you have for students who need to complete research projects for school? How might they begin? How might they organize their research?

APS: Kids need to pause and dig in deeper to what they wonder about the topic—not just what they think are the content “slots” that need to be filled in with “the facts.” They need to connect the topic to the reader.

I love teaching kids about research and writing through school visits and week-long author-in-residence programs. Kids really are hungry to do good work and they embrace nonfiction research once they understand that you’re really asking them to think, to connect with their readers through specific facts, comparisons, and connections with readers’ lives. Someday I’d love to teach kids a workshop just focused on interviews; that work is so crucial to nonfiction research and the skills of asking questions and respecting an interviewee are worth teaching. That work can cross over into many areas of life.
6. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

APS: Work is going well right now. I’m looking forward to doing more books illustrated with my photography. But I’ll always have some books, especially those with narrative feel, that are more suited to pen, ink, pastel, or cut paper illustrations created by others. I still remember when I first saw Jamie Hogan’s sketches for Here Come the Humpbacks! (It came out in Feb of this year.)  In September 2013, Henry Holt is releasing my new book with Steve Jenkins: Eat Like a Bear. I’m so happy with our partnership. I pushed each word to make it juicy and delicious. Steve, in turn, created these incredible bears...all fuzzy and brown, shaped from Amate,Mexican art paper
handmade from fig tree bark. Seeing the art an illustrator creates, at least in part sparked by my words, is one of the great joys of being a picture book author.

Thanks for stopping by, April.

In honor of the official publication date, April's publisher, Roost Books, provided  a copy of Touch a Butterfly for a giveaway.  To enter, leave a comment on this post by midnight, EST on Tuesday, April 30th. I'll announce the winner on May 1st. If you Tweet it, share it on your blog, or share it on Facebook, you'll earn more chances. (Let me know you did so in the comments).  I'll use the very modern system of putting your names in a hat and having my daughter pull out the winning name.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of Touch a Butterfly, visit Roost Books. To receive a 30% discount, enter the code TBPC12. (Expires 12/31/2014)

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Nature Observations With Young Children

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Spread More Light

As I reflect on the events of the last week here in Massachusetts, I feel heavy. Just heavy and sad. I feel the weight of the sadness so many victims and their families now face. The immense and unbearable grief. The beautiful lives lost. The shattered dreams. The long road back to a life that will never be the same. A life faced missing a limb, a loved one, or faith in humanity.

And this is where I experience the most heaviness. As a 19-year-old teenager was captured, my Facebook feed filled up with cries to make him suffer. To tear off his limbs, help him heal, and then kill him. To hang him from the highest post.

These comments frighten me. Of course I understand the anger. My sister, brother-in-law, and baby niece lived just blocks from the suspects. My Alma mater was evacuated because the suspect was a student there. Campus is still closed today. Meanwhile three others were brought in for questioning just 20 minutes from my home.

But what has become of us if we meet anger and violence with more anger and violence? What happens if we don't stop to consider why a 19 year old teenager-a United States citizen-would commit such a heinous act? What have we taught our children when we spew horrible, hateful things into the world in response to horrible, hateful actions?

Of course I want justice. Of course everyone responsible should be punished. But what will be left of us when the criminals are convicted and punished?

What will become of us? Who will we be? 

Please stop the hateful rhetoric. Redirect your energy.
Be kind to your neighbors.
Hug your children and tell them you love them everyday.
Practice random acts of kindness.
Stop texting and smile at strangers on the street.
Make art.
Get off Facebook and meet a friend for coffee in person.
Take a walk in nature.
Deliver a hot meal to a shut-in.
Do whatever positive act feels right to you.

Stop the violence.
Stop the hating.
Spread more light.

Our world needs you.
From Peter H. Reynolds

If you agree, please help spread the word by sharing this post. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Please Find Some Quiet Today and This Weekend

As we all struggle to process the news unfolding in my home state right now, I strongly encourage all of you who are able to get outside. If possible, get out in nature. Take your kids. Take a break from the scariness, the constant noise about these horrible events.

Run free. Let the wind hit your face. Forget about the horribleness for a while.

I just returned from a walk in the woods. I even got rained on. I had to disconnect from the constant news stream. I'm still reeling like everyone else, but I feel better equipped to manage my emotions.

Friends in the Boston area, we are thinking of you and hoping that you, too, will be able to find some peace this weekend.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon

Once again, I find myself not wanting to stick to my regular schedule and post  a "Travel Tuesday." Once again, we face an unthinkable, violent tragedy.

Instead, I offer this image from Peter H. Reynolds:

Hug your children. Thank a first responder. Tell your friends and family you love them.  Go forth and make more light in the world.

If you need resources, try Why Did it Happen, a list of books to help children cope with tragedy (from School Library Journal) and "A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope" (from the National Association of School Psychologists).


Friday, April 12, 2013

April is National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I've been posting some of my favorite poetry books on my Facebook page. Not all of my blog readers have "Liked" my FB page, so I thought I'd share 5 of my favorite books of nature poetry here.

If you haven't liked my page, I invite you to do so now- Michelle Cusolito, Writer.

Here are 5 of my favorites, in no particular order. I love these as much for the art as for the poems.

Song of the Water Boatman Poems by Joyce Sidman, illustrations by Beckie Prange
Joyful Noise Poems by Paul Fleischman, illustrations by Eric Beddows

Hey There, Stink Bug Poems by Leslie Bulion, illustrations by Leslie Evans
Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski

Step Gently Out by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder

What are your favorite books of nature poems for children?

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Writing Retreat, Part 3

Lat fall I wrote a post called Travel Tuesdays: Writing and Reflecting. Today, I find myself circling back around to the same topic as I continue reflecting on my experiences on a writing retreat at When Words Count Retreat in Rochester, VT.

As I mentioned in my post last fall, when I reflect on my travel days, months, or even years later, I see things in a new way and learn new things about myself or the trip. While I was on the retreat, I pieced together old memories and learned new things about myself when I was a sixteen year old living in the Philippines. (My new project is set in the Philippines during the People Power Revolution of 1986).

Now that I'm back from my retreat, I've also learned more about my process as a writer. Even if you're not a writer, I hope you'll keep reading. This post will focus on my growth as a writer, but I hope there are lessons here for you, too. Maybe your next trip will lead to your growth as a painter or yogi, or you'll come to a deeper understanding of yourself.

My primary accomplishment during the retreat was the creation of a timeline for my story written on large white paper and hung on the window in my room. As I sifted through old photographs, newspaper articles and letters from my year abroad, I placed important events on the timeline. For example, the rainy season, Sinulog (a city-wide celebration in Cebu, Philippines) the election, and ultimately the downfall of the Marcos regime. I also added events that happened to sixteen-year-old me, such as the first time I ate squid, or learned a Cebuano word, or made a friend. Some came from my memory, some from letters I had written home, some from photographs I dug out.

And then I started to get worried. I'm not writing a memoir. I don't want to tell my personal story. I want to use my story to inform a fictional story about a fictional teen-aged girl. Was this timeline chaining me to the "facts" of my experience?

By the time I left the retreat, I hadn't figured it out. I was excited about how much work I had accomplished but worried I was stuck. And like many writers, self-doubt was hovering around the edges. But I decided to trust my process. (For no good reason really... I've never attempted a novel, but this method just felt right to me).

When I got home, I took a bit of a leap and shared my timeline with my husband and another writer I trust. Both of them understand what I want to accomplish. They're also both good at giving input without taking over. While sharing my timeline and plot graphs, I came to realize more of what this story is about and who my character is. While my writer friend and I discussed the characters, he rather spontaneously suggested a plot change that instantly felt right to me. And then one idea flowed from another until I had a much clearer picture of how to structure this fictional story. My husband asked me clarifying questions about my plans which helped me further refine my ideas.

So now I see exactly how I can move from memoir to fiction. I have a fictional character and fictional host families set against the very real events of that year of revolution.

And what did I learn about myself? Well, first, I need to trust my instincts and just do what feels right to me as a writer regardless of how other writers work. Second, I can share my early work with a few trusted people and I'll survive. And third- this is a big one for me-I can share my plans with people before I've worked them out.

I've been working my experiences around in my mind for years, wanting to write about them. I've been thinking of using my experiences to craft a young adult novel since last summer but hadn't told most people in my life about it until recently. Even my critique (writing) group has only heard vague references to the fact that I'm trying to work on something. Quite frankly, I've been afraid I can't pull this off, so I haven't told people what I'm working on.

But now, here's the biggest thing I learned about myself while on retreat. I CAN tell the world what I'm working on. I may or may not accomplish my goal, but now that I've told all of you, I'm even more likely to keep trying. But even if I don't reach it, I will survive. And that's what I'm going to tell my kids over dinner. I can model that for my kids.

So... what might you learn if you take a retreat? How will it impact you as a person? As a parent or teacher?

You Might Also Like:
TT: Writing Retreat
TT: Writing Retreat, Part 2
TT: Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Go On a Retreat
TT: Writing and Reflecting

Friday, April 5, 2013

Seed Investigation

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of facilitating a science lesson about seeds in my daughter's first grade class. Spring is the perfect time to teach about plants and their growth since children can literally watch plants spring forth from the ground or leaves unfurl from tree's branches.

In case you want to investigate seeds with your little ones, I thought I'd share the basics of our lesson yesterday and a couple of wonderful books to support it.

For each small group of children:

  • a baggie with an assortment of seeds, such as sunflower, corn, etc. (I just scooped a bit out of our bag of birdseed, so it also had millet)
  • 1 or 2 large dry bean seeds (e.g kidney bean, lima bean)
  • 1 or 2 large bean seeds that have been soaked in water overnight (Use the same kind as the dried one).
  • colored pencils (optional)
For each child
  • hand lens/magnifying glass for each child (optional)
  • pencil
  • science notebook or paper
Nice Additions:
Plant Secrets by Emily Goodman and Phyllis Tildes

A Seed is Sleepy by Diana Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
  1. Share the baggies of seeds with students. Ask them to predict what they'll be learning about today. Activate their prior knowledge by encouraging children to share what they know about seeds. Record that information on a chart paper (or board, etc) and save it for the end of the lesson or unit, if you're completing a plants unit.  (Children often come to an investigation with inaccurate ideas. Once you've completed your lesson/unit, work as a class  to review their earlier ideas. Adjust the chart to reflect new learning. Revise statements as needed or cross out incorrect statements and and new ones). 
  2. Read the opening pages of Plant Secrets. Ask children if they know what a seed's secret is. (It holds the beginnings of a tiny plant inside). If they'd don't know, don't tell them, yet. Let them discover it in the next section.
  3. Distribute the large, dry beans. Let children investigate them in their groups. Encourage them to talk to each other about what they notice. 
  4. Have students draw a picture of their beans, being sure to record any important details. Encourage each child to write some describing words about their beans, as well. Depending upon the age of your students, you may want to introduce the terms "characteristics" or "traits" as you describe the beans. (You may also wish to introduce the use of magnifying glasses here. For tips on developing students' observation skills and using magnifying lenses, check out the "Related Posts" listed below).
  5. Share observations as a class. If they haven't done so, yet, encourage students to tap the beans on the desk and describe the seeds again.
  6. Ask students to predict what would happen if they soaked the beans in water.
  7. Distribute the soaked beans and repeat the observations. How have the seeds changed?
  8. Gently break the seeds open (the side with a small light colored spot is the "hinge" side. Use toothpicks or your fingernails to split the seed open from the opposite side).
  9. Ask students to look closely at the two halves. What do they notice? Have them make detailed drawings. 
  10. Draw their attention to the side that holds the embryo- the beginnings of a new plant. (It will only be on one half of the seed). Have them look closely and draw it if they haven't already. Teach them the word embryo and have them label it. (Young children LOVE to learn big science words. Think about how many can rattle off the name of every dinosaur many grown-ups still can't manage to pronounce).
  11. Show Sylvia Long's rendition of this view from A Seed is Sleepy. Ask students to compare the drawing to their seeds and drawings. Do they need to add more details?
  12. If time allows, read A Seed Is Sleepy as a wrap-up. If not, read it as a follow-up/reinforcement on another day. (NOTE: Both of the books mentioned here dig into more than just seeds- they cover plant life cycles-so they can be used in many place during a plants unit).
Are you investigating plants or gardening with your children/students this spring? What have you done? Or, what will you be doing? Please share any tips you have.

Related Posts:
Top 10 Ways to Promote Science Inquiry
Seashell Investigation

On Gardening:
Planting Time
Gardening Without a Yard

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: American Woodcock

I can't go entirely wordless today- I want to give a little background. Every night at about 7:30 for the past couple of weeks, we've been hearing an interesting bird in our yard. It comes and lands just alongside our driveway and starts making an intermittent beeping sound. Since it comes at "late dusk" and stays until dark, seeing it camouflaged among the grass and leaves in the shadow of a tree is almost impossible.

On Sunday, using the amazing online resource, "The Cornell Lab of Ornithology- All About Birds," I thought I had identified it as a nighthawk by it's sound. But then, on Monday, I managed to get this photo and learned it's real identity: an American Woodcock.

Photo taken 1 April 2013

I know the photo isn't great- I had a hard time in the dim light. I set my camera on a slow shutter speed, pointed where I thought the bird was sitting and shot. I only took three photos before the light was too dim to focus any more.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Writing Retreat, Part 2

Arriving at When Words Count Retreat
Last month, I was fortunate to win a three night writing retreat from When Words Count Retreat. I admit, had I not won it, I probably wouldn't have taken such a retreat. Taking time away from my family to pursue a writing project is not something that comes easily to me. I'm also fortunate to be married to a man who supports me and basically told me I should go, and I should go alone so I could focus on my work (According to the sweepstakes rules, I was allowed to bring a guest).

So last Wednesday, I made the four hour drive to Rochester, Vermont. Away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, "When Words Count" was the perfect place to dig into my project. I didn't write as many words as I had hoped, but I accomplished more than I thought I would. I know that sounds weird, so I'll try to explain.

I often hear of other writers going on a retreat and coming out with 5,000 words (Or in the case of one very prolific writer who was there with me- at least 3800 each day!). Wow, I thought, that would be amazing. But I'm not that kind of a writer. My work tends to come out in random bits and pieces- images and phrases that I need to lasso into a cohesive narrative. As I mentioned in last Tuesday's post, I also wondered if I would be able to hunker down and do the work when faced with large chunks of open time.  In essence, did I have the chops to focus and dig deep? And that's one thing I learned about myself. I did, in fact, manage to focus on my work- to avoid the pitfalls of socializing with other writers more than working on my writing. So while I did not come home with 5,000 words written, I was able to do lots of big picture planning and draft some opening pages that set the stage for the rest of my book. I got my mind into the setting and spent time digging around in my character's mind.

I still have lots to do. And I'm still not certain where this project will take me, but I'm happy I had the time and space to live with my idea, get to know my characters, and plan for their future.

Related Posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Writing Retreat
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Reasons Why You (Yes, YOU) Should Go On a Retreat