Tuesday, March 20, 2018

When Children March: Guest Post from Cynthia Levinson

It might seem that the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have taken the lead in organizing nationwide school walkouts in support of gun control, have materialized from nowhere. How could teens galvanize at least three nationwide movements, including the upcoming March for Our Lives on March 24? After all, this was the generation that was said to be coddled by over-protective parents. Children who would fear independence and risk-taking. Students who would grow into apathetic citizens because they were ignorant of American history and civics. In fact, however, their fervor and activism, goaded by the brutal murders of seventeen of their classmates, teachers, and staff, are part of a long tradition of school-aged youths taking charge to change the world.

Some journalists have recognized the link between the students in Florida and those who protested segregation and racial violence across the South fifty-five years ago. Several have cited my book We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March (Peachtree Publishers). One, in Esquire, referred to Audrey Faye Hendricks, a nine-year-old dissident whom I wrote about in the book: “But, before she could be free, there was something important she had to do. ‘I want to go to jail,’ Audrey had told her mother.” Audrey was the littlest marcher in Birmingham—and was the focus of another book I wrote called The Youngest Marcher (Simon & Schuster). But she was not the first child to volunteer to enforce integration peacefully.

Beginning in the 1950s, the civil rights movement inspired youngsters to put their bodies on the line. And they, in turn, inspired others to follow their lead.

In 1954, after the Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education, the first in a series of cases that outlawed school segregation, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, an activist black minister in Birmingham, drove his children to the local public school expecting that they would be admitted. A mob made sure they didn’t even get out of the car without injury, let alone into the building. Then in 1956, knowing their father’s commitment to integration, the children refused to move to the back of an interstate bus when the driver ordered them to do so. They were kicked off and left by the highway in the dark.

That same year, twelve black students became the first to desegregate a state-supported school in the South by entering the formerly all-white Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee. To protect themselves from attacks by white people who were bent on keeping the school segregated, the teens met up every morning and walked together.

Brave and brazen as these children were, their actions remained largely isolated. In 1960, however, youths dramatically propelled the civil rights movement forward. On February 1, four black students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat down at a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro and ordered coffee and doughnuts. Though ignored at first and then doused with coffee and ketchup, they refused to leave. Within days, hundreds of their fellow students joined their efforts at other sites around the South. By the end of March, sit-ins had spread to fifty-five cities in thirteen states.

But college students are practically grown-ups, which is different from school kids, like those from Parkland. The Woolworth’s sit-ins might have sputtered and failed when the A&T students went back home for summer vacation, but at that point, local high schoolers stepped up and took their seats at the counter. They endured the same painful indignities as had their elders. Thanks to them, Woolworth’s finally opened the counter to both blacks and whites in July of that year.

Surely, among the most effective events of the era were the weeks-long series of sit-ins, pickets, and marches in Birmingham, Alabama. More than 3000 elementary and high school students sang and strutted their way to jail, fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy to fill the cells so completely that no one else could be arrested for disobeying the unjust segregation laws. Nine-year-old Audrey was incarcerated for a week. Many youngsters were even washed down the street by powerful water hoses and attacked by German shepherds. One of them, Gwendolyn Sanders, said, “I didn’t know if I was going to survive it or not.”

As a result of their determination, not only did Birmingham rescind its ordinances two months later but also nearly fifteen thousand demonstrators, most of them teenagers, participated in more than 750 protests in 186 cities. Adults helped with logistics but children were at the front.

Though not leaders, young people also participated in marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, as described by Lynda Blackmon Lowery in her memoir, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March (co-written by Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, Dial Books) as well as in Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge (Penguin Random House). Though the particular protest is not named, little children are also seen marching in the book A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster).

The Vietnam War, too, galvanized young people. In 1965, the four Tinker children, ages eight to fifteen, decided to wear black armbands to school to show their opposition. Ordered by their principals to remove them, the kids refused, and the older children were suspended. They carried their case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1968 that this form of protest is symbolic speech allowed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Over the next several years, young people in both high schools and colleges continued vociferously to oppose the war by marching, refusing to be drafted into the military, fleeing the country, and demanding that President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had escalated the fighting, leave the White House. He did so at the end of his elected term in office. Elizabeth Partridge has written about these events in Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam (Penguin Random House).

More recently, teens have organized and carried out a variety of strategies on multiple fronts.
  • In 2012, undocumented people who came to America as children either illegally or with papers that later expired, held sit-ins in legislators’ offices to urge President Obama to stop deportation of these DREAMers. Doing so, they risked arrest and the very consequence that they feared—removal to a “home” country they barely knew. Their efforts helped pressure the administration to grant them a reprieve. 
  • Following the murder of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed, by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, anguished students led protests that helped jump-start the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 
  • Two years later, several Lakota Sioux teens founded the One Mind Youth Movement to counter the Dakota XL Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota. 
This brief history of youth activism in America from the mid-twentieth to the early twenty-first centuries by no means diminishes the accomplishments of those who are confronting gun laws today. On March 14, they rallied thousands of their peers across the country to carry banners, walk out of elementary, middle, and high schools, and kneel and pray, and visit their legislators, even though many faced suspension and detention. Several activists started a movement called Parents Promise to Kids (#PPTK), in which grown-ups pledge to “vote for legislative leaders who support your
children’s safety over guns!” One student put the issue succinctly: “Your right to carry a gun is not greater than my right to live.” Worried parents and teachers debated the minimum age at which
children should get involved. Perhaps Audrey could show them that even third-graders can do their part.

The March for Our Lives on March 24 might spur even more to participate, as might the National School Walkout planned for April 20. Furthermore, it won’t be long before these teens are old enough to vote.

As in the past, their actions are peaceful yet confrontational. Many of us wish that people who are not yet old enough to vote didn’t have to devote themselves to changing society in these ways. But, when the grown-ups won’t do it, youths will. We applaud and support and are grateful to them. (If you have questions or concerns about school-aged children participating in upcoming demonstrations, information is available at Youth In Front.)

Cynthia Levinson holds degrees from Wellesley College and Harvard University and also attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. A former teacher and educational policy consultant and researcher, she is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed author. She has also published articles in Appleseeds, Calliope, Cobblestone, Dig, Faces, and Odyssey. Visit her website at cynthialevinson.com.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Secret Science of Magic: Romance with a Hint of Awkwardness

Sophia—a former child prodigy and 17-year-old math mastermindhas been having panic attacks since she learned that after high school, former prodigies either cure cancer or go crazy. It’s a lot of pressure. So Sophia doesn’t have the patience for games right now. She especially doesn’t have the patience to figure out why all these mysterious playing cards keep turning up inside her textbooks.

Joshua—a highly intelligent and cheerfully unambitious amateur magician—has been Sophia’s classmate and has admired her for as long as he can remember. He thinks the time is perfect to tell Sophia how he feels. He doesn’t know how wrong he is.

A long-awaited follow-up to Life in Outer Space, this heartwarming tale of unconventional romance, perfect timing, and finding your own magic is perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan and anyone who believes in making friends with the freaks.

“The story intricately explores the teenagers’ quirky relationships and the notion of what it takes to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. Sophia’s character is authentically geeky, and readers will empathize with her anxiety.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Neuroatypical characters, nerdiness, social anxiety, intelligence, and magic make this book stand out among other contemporary romances.” —School Library Journal

“Readers struggling with social and personal interaction issues, awkwardness about fitting into their community, and uncertainty about where their future may take them will embrace this novel” 

“Charming and witty… Combining elements of science and magic in a spectacular way, this unconventional love story brings two atypical teens with very typical needs happily together.” 
Foreword Reviews

“This teen rom-com satisfies the sweet tooth for a sophisticated but youthful love story without getting too mushy.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

Calling all nerds, geeks, geniuses, magicians, and lovers of YA lit! We're giving a away a finished copy of The Secret Science of Magic! Just follow us on Instagram and tag a friend in the comments of the giveaway post to be entered to win!

Don't like your chances in the giveaway? Pre-order The Secret Science of Magic today!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Bees in the Schoolyard: Guest Post from the Beekeepers of the Fernbank Science Center

With the launch event of Lester Laminack's The King of Bees last month, we had the amazing opportunity to interact with the Fernbank Science Center's beekeepers. After asking them all our questions and learning so much about the bee population and how people can support bees in the classroom, we wanted to share everything we had discovered. Kyla Van Deusen, instructional specialist and Fernbank Science Center beekeeper, offered to delve into the world of bees and provide her insights into how schools can support the bee population.

Apis mellifera, the European honeybee, was introduced to the Americas in the 17th century by European colonists. Honeybees contribute 15 billion dollars annually to the US economy, mainly through their pollination services, which is critical to fruit and vegetable production. The sharp decline in their population in recent years inspired a federal Pollinator Health Task Force in 2014 that sounded the alarm across the country on the plight of honeybees and other pollinating insects.

Now recognized as a national issue with major economic implications in the agriculture sector, children and teachers have been inspired to do their part to support pollinator health in the schoolyard setting. From planting pollinator gardens to maintaining their own beehives, schools can contribute to both honeybees and native pollinator health in meaningful ways that also teach core content across curricular disciplines.

Plant a garden

Schools have a long, rich history of using gardens as outdoor classrooms. In the garden, students learn life cycles, soil science, water cycling, seasons, habitats, teamwork, nutrition, history, and more. Pollinator gardens can be easy to maintain and provide opportunity not only to learn, but also improve habitat for pollinators. It is important to remember that native bees provide pollination services, sometimes better than the European honeybee. Designing a garden to support needs of native bee species makes for a great hands-on learning experience. The following resources can help schools design and implement a pollinator garden. 
  • Ecoregional planting guides from Pollinator Partnership: Select the best plants for your region. Many states have native plant societies that can help locate plant material. Remember that garden centers often sell plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, which are suspected to be poisonous to bees, so make sure to source neonic-free plants. Not all neonic-treated plants are labelled as such.
  • Pollinator garden planning lesson plan from KidsGardening.org

Start a beehive

Although bee-friendly gardening is the easiest and most sustainable way to support bee populations in the schoolyard, caring for bees can be an incredible experience for students, especially if supported by the skills and wisdom of local beekeepers. However, with the amount of stressors impacting the European honeybee population at this moment in time—increased disease, residential and agricultural pesticides, and habitat destruction—even the most experienced beekeepers are struggling to maintain their hives. In spite of these challenges, schoolyard beekeeping is increasing in popularity and there are several resources available to help schools get started. Remember to check with your school liability officer to ensure that beehives remain in compliance with liability code. Also keep in mind that both Beepods and observation hives tend to be short lived due to the high stress placed on bees in these environments and the tendency to swarm more frequently.

Honeybee resources
Native pollinator resources

Citizen science

Citizen science projects allow citizens to add data to national and international research projects and access data for class projects. The following citizen science project provides meaningful ways for students to participate in tracking pollinator health beyond the school grounds.

Curriculum Connections

With Next Generation Science Standards driving science education to a more inquiry-driven approach, gardening and beekeeping make great projects that align with evolving science standards.

Creating bee-friendly schools

Complex environmental problems like pollinator population decline can feel overwhelming to the point of apathy, but by learning about the problem and implementing local solutions, students can lead the way toward a better outcome both for the bees and their own education. Teachers can support their students’ successful bee projects through connecting to local partners. Look for beekeeping clubs, native plant societies, school garden support organizations, and passionate parents in your community who want to help your students help the bees. All the work will pay off when you see your students light up as they discover how they can have a positive impact on their world. 

Start your bee education with the amazing fiction story The King of Bees, coming April 1st! Find it at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The King of Bees: Using Fiction to Introduce Nonfiction

Written by Lester L. Laminack
Illustrated by Jim LaMarche

Henry can't wait to help Aunt Lilla with the bees she keeps at their home near the tidal creeks and marshes in South Carolina's Lowcountry. He watches from a stump as Aunt Lilla tends the bees in her bee suit and talks gently with them. As his aunt goes about her work, Henry learns about sister bees, the queen, and bee dances. When the bees appear to be ready to swarm and leave their hive, Aunt Lilla sets up another box near their tupelo tree, but there is no guarantee the bees will move there. Henry wants to do something to help, but can he find a way to communicate with the sister bees and convince them to stay?

Paired with renowned illustrator Jim LaMarche’s stunning artwork and filled with facts about honeybees, Lester Laminack’s lyrical prose and sweet portrayal of a young boy’s relationship with his aunt and their bees will be a new favorite for both long-time and new fans of Laminack. The book also includes a thorough author’s note with information about bees and bee conservation.

“[A] quiet tale of love and honeybees…. Visually lovely and tonally appealing...” —Kirkus Reviews

“Sweetly nostalgic ink-and-watercolor illustrations could depict the past or the present and offer an atmospheric complement to the gentle, warm, and informative text.” —Booklist

“A gentle tale full of Southern charm…[LaMarche’s] ink-and-watercolor spreads are light and dreamy, with evocative sunrise shades and detailed looks at beekeeping equipment and the bees themselves.” —Publishers Weekly

“Stunning landscapes of South Carolina’s Lowcountry marshlands and expressive portraiture...”
 —Foreword Reviews

The declining honeybee population has been a hot topic in news and current events lately. So understanding these important insects and having the knowledge and tools to make a difference is becoming increasingly important, for both adults and children.

“Did you know that one third of the food you consume is available on the earth only because of the pollination of bees? That if were to lose all of the bees that we have, then one third of our available food source would dissipate in a matter of 10 years," author Lester Laminack declared in a presentation to educators. "Now I know stuff like that because this story, though it’s fiction, is a house of fiction built on a foundation of nonfiction.”

When writing about bees in a fictional story, it is important to make sure the information about bees is actually true. Scattered throughout The King of Bees are tidbits of factual information that Aunt Lilla explains in a way that both Henry and the children reading the story can understand. “I have strived to achieve a lovely balance between story and information that holds the potential to lead the reader toward becoming an advocate and an ambassador for honeybees,” said Laminack.

There are lots of resources to help readers learn even more about bees and to become advocates for these important insects. You can learn more about bee migration with ABC News's Ginger Zee as she follows bees on a cross-country road trip to pollinate crops in this video. And check out the resources below to learn more about how vital honeybees are and what we can do to protect them.

For even more resources and ideas on how to incorporate The King of Bees into your classroom lessons, check out our common core-aligned Teacher's Guide! And hear from instructional specialist and Fernbank Science Center beekeeper Kyla Van Deusen about how schools can contribute to both honeybees and native pollinator health in her guest post here.

Find The King of Bees at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble April 1!

Monday, March 12, 2018

20 Books for STEM and Nature Exploration

As trees, bushes, and flowers begin to bud and bloom in the warm spring weather, all eyes turn to the window, and outdoor play (and learning) becomes a must. Getting children engaged in and excited about science, technology, engineering, and math can begin as simply and easily as providing them the opportunities to learn by reading a good book to two and by getting outside. For this season of exploration, get all the right books to complement what children are seeing around them—from fiction stories about planting trees and building gadgets to nonfiction stories about animal behavior and a famous astronaut.


In the Rain
Ages 26
by Elizabeth Spurr
illustrated by Manelle Oliphant

Simple and evocative language and charming illustrations describe a girl’s experience on a rainy day. In this gently rhyming board book, a young girl makes a paper boat, splashes in puddles, makes mud pies, and has other springtime fun!

Other books in this series include In the Snow and In the Wind.

A Tree for Emmy
Ages 48
by Mary Ann Rodman
illustrated by Tatjana Mai Wyss

Emmy loves trees. She loves oak trees with acorns. She loves pine trees with cones, and willow trees with swishy branches. But best of all, Emmy loves the mimosa tree that grows in her grandmother’s pasture. So when Emmy decides she wants a mimosa tree of her own for her birthday, she is dismayed to find that many garden stores only sell ornamental trees like plum or pear or tulip trees. Emmy is crushed—until she discovers that the answer to her problem is growing right before her eyes!

Izzy Gizmo
Ages 48
by Pip Jones
illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Izzy Gizmo’s inventions are marvelous, magnificent—and they often malfunction. But when she finds a crow with a broken wing, she just has to help! Izzy tries again and again to build a new pair of wings, but nothing is working. And that makes Izzy really cross! Can Izzy overcome her failures? Or is her friend destined to live as a crow who can’t fly?

Planting the Wild Garden
Ages 48
by Kathryn O. Galbraith
illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

In the wild garden, many seeds are planted too, but not by farmers’ hands. Different kinds of animals transport seeds, often without knowing it. Sometimes rain washes seeds away to a new location. And sometimes something extraordinary occurs, like when the pods of Scotch broom burst open explosively in the summer heat, scattering seeds everywhere like popcorn.

Butterfly Tree
Ages 48
by Sandra Markle
illustrated by Leslie Wu

One afternoon in early September, Jilly sees something. Black rain from a clear blue sky. Then the black rain becomes a wispy mist. And then a shimmering orange cloud. What can it be? This imaginative description of monarch butterfly migration reminds us how parents can empower a child to discover the mysteries of the natural world.

Arbor Day Square
Ages 48
by Kathryn O. Galbraith
illustrated by Cyd Moore

Katie and her papa are among a group of settlers building a town in the middle of the dusty, brown prairie. Every week the trains bring more people who build houses, fences, and barns. But one thing is missing: trees. When the townspeople take up a collection to order trees from back east, Katie adds her own pennies and Papa’s silver dollar. When the tiny saplings finally arrive, Katie helps dig holes and fetch water.

The King of Bees
Ages 48
by Lester L. Laminack
illustrated by Jim LaMarche

Henry can’t wait until he can have a bee-suit of his own so he can help his Aunt Lilla with the sister bees. When he learns that the bees are getting ready to look for a new place to live, he tries to find a way to communicate with the sister bees to convince them to stay.

Night of the Spadefoot Toads
Ages 812
by Bill Harley

When his father takes a new job in Massachusetts, Ben Moroney must leave behind the Arizona desert home he has loved and explored. Ben’s adjustment to his new environment is not going well until he unexpectedly finds a kindred spirit in his eccentric fifth-grade science teacher, Mrs Tibbets. She introduces him to the rare and elusive Eastern spadefoot toads that make their home on her rural property. When Ben discovers that Mrs. Tibbets’s land may be sold to developers, he knows he has to do something.

Uncharted Waters
Ages 812
by Leslie Bulion

Most teenage boys would love to spend a summer with a bachelor uncle in a seaside cabin, but not Jonah. He has secrets—lots of them—and they weigh heavily on his mind. One deception leads to another, and he lies to his Uncle Nate about joining the local swim team, not wanting to explain his fear of the dark salt water. Then Jonah gets a job at a local marina where he hopes to do what he enjoys—working with his hands and fixing motors. But when Sumi, a budding marine biologist, asks him to be her research assistant, he jumps at the chance to make some more money. But he gets into a lot more than he bargained for. Soon he will have to face his greatest fears and give up his secrets forever.

Bravo Zulu, Samantha!
Ages 812
By Kathleen Benner Duble

Twelve-year-old Sam likes to memorize fun and weird facts, but does not like the fact that she has to spend a month of her summer vacation at her grandparents’ place while her parents are away. Sam's relationship with her prickly grandfather, a Colonel, is shaky at best, and now has had to retire from his career as a military pilot, he is harder than ever to get along with. When she finds that her grandfather keeps disappearing into the woods for long stretches of time and won’t let Sam go into the old barn, she tries to solve the mystery with a classmate. Together they discover that the Colonel is building an airplane. Will the Colonel let Sam help him finish the plane so he can fly it in an amateur air competition?

Flash Point
Ages 1216
by Sneed B. Collard III

Luther used play football and party every chance he got, like all his friends. But now he spends his time helping Kay, the local veterinarian, rehabilitating injured raptors and learning the art of falconry. Against the backdrop of Montana’s worst wildfire season in years, Luther begins to question many of the community’s basic precepts, and in doing so faces alienation not only from his friends, but also from his own family. When someone starts shooting Kay’s birds and suspicious fires start breaking out, Luther is drawn into a situation far more dangerous than he could ever have imagined.

Ages 1216
by S. L. Rottman

When their parents are killed in a car accident, Scott and his brother Gregg are sent to live with an uncle they never knew they had. Hurt, angry, and confused, they leave a comfortable life in the California suburbs and head to the remote Colorado Rockies, where their uncle runs a white-water rafting company. As they become acquainted with the power and unpredictability of the river and begin to learn the skills of maneuvering the rapids, the brothers discover that it is harder than they ever dreamed to master the art of survival—both on and off the water.

The Secret Science of Magic
Ages 1216
By Melissa Keil

Sophia, a former child prodigy and 17-year-old math mastermind, has been having panic attacks since she learned that after high school, former prodigies either cure cancer or go crazy. It’s a lot of pressure. So Sophia doesn’t have the patience for games right now and especially doesn’t have the patience to figure out why all these mysterious playing cards keep turning up inside her textbooks. Joshua, a highly intelligent and cheerfully unambitious amateur magician, has admired Sophia for as long as he can remember and thins now He thinks now is the perfect time to tell Sophia how he feels. He doesn’t know how wrong he is. This newest book from Melissa Keil is perfect for anyone who believes in making friends with the geeks.


Ages 26
by Susan Stockdale

With engaging rhymes and bright, bold images, award-winning author and illustrator Susan Stockdale introduces young readers to a wide range of unusual flowers. Can you imagine a flower that looks like a ballerina? A baboon? A napping baby? Back matter tells a little bit more about each flower (including color photographs) and describes the pollination process. Check out some of Susan Stockdale's other fun nonfiction reads, including Spectacular Spots and Bring on the Birds!

Ages 37
by Cathryn Sill
illustrated by John Sill

This beginner’s guide explores the major attributes of the grassland biome and showcases its striking beauty and remarkable diversity using examples from around the globe. Award-winning author Cathryn Sill uses simple, easy-to-understand language to teach children what grasslands are and what kinds of animals and plants live there. John Sill’s detailed, full-color illustrations reflect the diversity of grasslands and the wide variety of the plants and animals that live in grassland habitats.

Browse all the books in the About Habitats series here

Ages 48
illustrated by Constance R. Bergum

We go inside when the rain comes down, but where do animals go? This new book for young readers offers a first glimpse at how different animals in different habitats behave during a thunderstorm.

Other books in this series include Under the Snow and Beneath the Sun.

Ages 610
illustrated by Higgins Bond

In this simple introduction to fish and ecology, Melissa Stewart shares with young readers the behavior and beauty of fish. Pointers describe specific ways that youngsters can help in their own communities to protect fish and their natural habitats.

Rocket Man
Ages 710
By Ruth Ashby
Illustrated by

This dramatic biography of John Glenn, one of the the early pioneers of manned space flight, inlcudes  his extraordinary experiences as a fighter pilot in two wars, his near-disastrous mission in Friendship 7, and his life as an astronaut in the prestigious and dangerous Mercury 7 program. The book concludes with Glenn’s successful career as a U.S. senator and his triumphant return to space in 1998 at the age of 77. 

Ages 812
illustrated by Beverly Doyle

Batten introduces readers to the serious and ongoing environmental problems caused by invasive plant and animal species. Describing various examples—from the accidental release of the gypsy moth into the United States to the deliberate introduction of rabbits to Australia—the text shows how these foreign intrusions have disturbed the delicate balance of local ecosystems.

Leaf Litter Critters
Ages 812
Robert Meganck

Have fun on this poetic tour through the thin layer of decaying leaves, plant parts, and soil beneath our feet and dig into the fascinating facts about the tiny critters who live there. Nineteen poems in a variety of verse forms with accompanying science notes take readers on a decomposer safari through the “brown food web,” from bacteria through tardigrades and on to rove beetle predators. Glossary, hands-on investigations, and resources are included in the back matter. 

For more fun with science and poetry, check out Leslie Bulion's At the Sea Floor Cafe and Random Body Parts.

Find these books and more at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Author Interview: Donna Janell Bowman

Abraham Lincoln was known for his sense of humor. But in 1842, early in his adult life, it nearly got him into trouble. When Lincoln became frustrated with the actions of political rival James Shields, he came up with a plan that was silly, clever, and a great big mistake! Lincoln, his future wife, and a friend of hers wrote a series of fictional letters to the editor, complaining about Shields. But when Shields took offense, he challenged Lincoln to a duel.

We asked author Donna Janell Bowman some questions to help provide insight into her research for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words and explain the importance of telling this little-known story.

Q: How did you come across the story of Abraham Lincoln’s almost-duel? What inspired you tell the story in a picture book?

A: In late 2011 or early 2012, I was working on my book Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness (Lee and Low, 2016) which spans the Civil War and Reconstruction. During that research, I couldn’t help but bump into Lincoln references. A lot. At one point, I read something in a magazine or online that read something like “as ridiculous as Lincoln’s duel.” I was so intrigued I had to know more. I was immediately hooked!

I always envisioned the story as a picture book, in part because the entire event lasted only a few weeks. It also seemed a perfect story to tie in with character education in schools. And, let’s face it, the visual opportunities were terrific, as we see in S. D. Schindler’s beautiful art.

Q: What is your research process like?

A: The process is different for every book I work on. To be honest, it starts out a bit scattered as I read widely and absorb various details. Once I refine my angle, I get organized and focus my research with more efficiency. For Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, my research was quite broad. I read a bunch of Lincoln and Shields biographies, books about dueling and 19th century etiquette, and terrific sources about the political and financial climate in Illinois and the U.S. So many of the concepts were foreign to me. I was most excited to find the issues of the Sangamo Journal where the Rebecca letters were published and where the two “seconds” (duel assistants) published their accounts. I think it’s important to examine both primary and scholarly secondary sources during research because that’s how we find truth beyond a single perspective.

I’m grateful that so much Lincoln material is digitized and available online through the Library of Congress, Project Gutenberg, Archive.org, newspaper archives, universities, and a number of museums and historical societies. But there is no substitute for on-site research and input from scholars. Dr. James Cornelius, Curator of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library was very helpful to me. And walking the streets of Springfield, the recreated town of New Salem, and the Lincoln-Shields Recreation Area (formerly Bloody Island) were invaluable.

Q: When researching for the book, what were some of the most surprising or interesting facts you came across?

From Abraham Lincoln’s
Political Career through 1860
A: I was fascinated by so much of what I learned! I suppose the most profound revelation for me was that Lincoln was a flawed human being. Like most people, I always thought of him as the perfect American—a polished, monumentalized defender of justice. The great emancipator. He is arguably the most revered president in U.S. history and is often the standard we measure every presidential candidate against—for good reason. But, the truth is, Lincoln made his share of bad (even politically malicious) decisions and mistakes as a young man. In fact, he later referred to the Rebecca letter and his scrape with Shields as “the meanest thing” he had ever done. He was so ashamed of it, he refused to discuss it. I emerged from research with a new understanding of Abraham Lincoln as a flawed human, like the rest of us.

Learning about dueling practices was also fascinating and I found out a lot about deportment and etiquette of 19th century America. There was a reason for all that bowing, hat-tipping, and formal note-writing. Before my research, I didn’t understand how important honor was to men of Lincoln’s day. To be a gentleman, one was expected to behave a certain way. Having the respect and esteem of others was a man’s greatest asset. Sometimes, I think we need a smidgeon more of those concerns these days.

Q: What makes this book different from the many other books out there about Abraham Lincoln?

A: You know, I read that there are more than 16,000 biographies about Abraham Lincoln. He is likely the most written-about American figure in U.S. history. Though many adult biographies explore the foibles, character flaws, and missteps of famous Americans like Lincoln, biographies for young readers most often keep the spotlight on noteworthy achievements, positive traits, and uplifting themes. Before I began writing my book, I struggled to find a single mentor picture book biography about a less-than-stellar side of any famous person. That worried me for a time, but I think there is tremendous value in acknowledging the flawed, human side of our subjects. Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words shines a light on a darker episode of Lincoln’s life and how it inspired him to be a better man.

Q: What is your writing process like?

A: Once I’ve absorbed the research and organized it all into binders and files, I step away from it to let the information swirl and settle. I usually work on other projects during this time, but I am often found staring out the window, walking the dogs in a daze, doodling, scribbling, and generally appearing to daydream for days or weeks. That’s my pre-writing time, when the various story pieces find their way into a logical order. Every writer is different, but I like to know how my story will end before I begin—whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. That was the case with Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words. I knew the ending and the beginning right away. Even the narrator’s voice became clear during that pre-writing time. One of the biggest challenges was deciding what information was crucial to the story and what had to be left out to fit the confined space of the picture book.

After a bazillion revisions and a long, long wait, it is immensely rewarding to see my words and the illustrator’s art morph into an actual book.

Q: Why do you think that this story isn’t more widely known?

A: It is interesting that most scholarly Lincoln biographies don’t mention the duel. I think there are a number of reasons for its obscurity. Unlike the Hamilton-Burr duel, the Lincoln-Shields duel occurred long before either man was nationally known. And nobody was killed or wounded, so it is easy to overlook the event as a trivial anecdote—until you consider what might have happened in our country if Lincoln had been arrested or killed as a young man. And, short of that, consider how much the event changed Lincoln’s character. Documentation-wise, the duel is like a missing chapter in the Collected Works because Lincoln was so ashamed of the event he refused to write or talk about it. Thankfully, primary sources survive.
The Code of Honor

This book not only provides details about Lincoln, but also about dueling. Was your approach to researching about dueling different from researching about Lincoln?

A: Researching Lincoln was about considering him as an individual, warts and all. Researching the dueling practice required a broader, global perspective. Dueling is such a foreign concept to me it was both thrilling and nerve-racking. Thankfully, I didn’t have to dig too deeply to uncover the Irish Code Duello, the 1838 Code of Honor, and various articles about the topic.

Q: What are some of the challenges in writing a nonfiction book for younger readers?

A: There are multiple challenges, beginning with the fact that authors of books for young readers are not writing for their own peers. It is easier for adults to write for other adults. To write for kids, we have to be pragmatic professionals AND storytellers who can tap into our own inner child. Unlike, say journalists or adult biographers, we must be able to distill facts and concepts for the interests and developmental levels of today’s kids. And we have to present it in an entertaining way. That is no small feat! Kudos to the countless gifted children’s authors who continue to inspire me as a writer!

Often, people don’t realize that writing a 32-page picture book biography often requires the same research as an adult biography. One of the challenges is letting go of very cool information that doesn’t fit the story or the form.

Q: Your writing style is very witty and fun to read aloud; how do you balance writing about the seriousness of a topic like dueling with a fun narrative voice?

A: I try to allow each subject to dictate my narrative style. On the one hand, the Lincoln-Shields duel was a serious event with the potential for a fatal outcome, so I could have approached it with similar dark intensity. But, there were slight hints of Lincoln’s comic flare in how he handled the event—the
southern colloquialism he wove into his Rebecca letter, his stubbornness, and his unusual terms of the
sword, the plank, and the confined box for the dueling ground. I wanted to bring some of the ridiculousness forward. I chose to use a narrator with a southern dialect to make the story more palatable for younger kids while winking at Lincoln’s style. The light-hearted tone doesn’t lessen the truthfulness of the story, but I hope it adds an extra appeal for kids.

Q: What do you hope readers will learn from this book?

A: By learning about Lincoln’s great big mistake, I hope readers begin to see him more three-dimensionally—beyond the face on the penny, the five-dollar bill, the monuments, etc. I hope he becomes more relatable. And, by pondering the timing of his mistake—early in his adult life—I hope readers will see how Lincoln had a choice to make, following the duel; he could allow his mistake to define him, or he could learn from it. I also hope readers will see themselves and their own human flaws in Lincoln’s great big mistake. I hope they become curious about the real people behind the most famous faces in the world. And I hope they find comfort in knowing that nobody is perfect and, sometimes, that imperfection can spark greatness.

Find Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble April 1!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words: A President with a Past

Illustrated by S. D. Schindler

We all know Abraham Lincoln as our 16th president, the great emancipator, an iconic American hero. But we often forget that Abraham Lincoln was also a human being. Long before he became the man we know him to be, he made a great big mistake that almost cost him his life!

When Abe became frustrated at political rival James Shields, he came up with a silly and clever plan, and found himself in a heap of trouble! Using his smarts and knee-slapping humor, Abe, his future wife, and a friend of hers wrote pseudonymous letters to the editor of a newspaper, taking a swipe at Shields. But when Shields read the letters and took offense, he blamed Lincoln for damaging his character and reputationand challenged him to a duel. How would our future president get himself out of this one?

Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words, an engaging nonfiction picture book perfect for reading aloud, written by award-winning author Donna Janell Bowman and illustrated by S. D. Schindler, offers a rare look at the more human side of Abraham Lincoln and how the lessons he learned made him a better man.

“Lively, engaging… Bowman’s conversational, folksy reader-directed paragraphs incorporate droll, dramatic, and suspenseful touches that will likely hold readers’ interest…Schindler’s intricate, expressive watercolor-and-ink illustrations lend further vibrancy.” —Booklist

“Bowman’s upbeat telling is infused with folksy humor, and Schindler’s superb watercolor-and-ink illustrations effectively capture the time period...” —Kirkus Reviews

“A rollicking story, well told with all the original color.” —James M. Cornelius, PhD, Curator, Lincoln Collection and Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum

From Abraham Lincoln’s Political
Career (Morrill, A.G., 1917)
In addition to the wealth of information provided in the extensive back matter, including details about the Aunt Rebecca Letters and political mudslinging, Bowman also offers even more material about the book's historical context on her website. Find information on the history of Bloody Island (where the duel took place), 19th-century dueling terms, the gentleman's code of conduct, Lincoln and Shields's working relationship, a timeline of events, and more!

And check out our Q&A with author Donna Janell Bowman about what makes this little-known chapter in Lincoln's life so significant.

Get your copy of Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble starting April 1!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Author Interview: Fred Bowen

Fred Bowen is the author of the popular Sports Story series, a collection of middle grade novels that features exciting team play-by-play action, snappy dialogue, realistic conflicts, and engaging plots, and offers glimpses into sports history. A lifelong sports fanatic, Bowen has coached youth league baseball, basketball, and soccer. His kids’ sports column “The Score” appears each week in the KidsPost section of The Washington Post.

In addition to providing more information about his newest book in the Sports Story series, Lucky Enough, Fred Bowen answered some questions to explain the importance of youth sports for children and the life lessons and character skills that can be learned through both playing sports and reading sports fiction.

Q: You’ve dedicated over twenty years to kids’ sports—both as a coach and as a Washington Post sports writer for kids. Why do you think sports are important to children?

A: I think kids love sports because they own the experience. When a kid scores a goal or makes a basket, it is their accomplishment. A parent or some other adult did not arrange that for them. That is why I think so many parents are nervous at their kids’ games. They are not in control. Their child is in control. It’s the kid’s game and that is why they love it.

You’ve mentioned before that youth sports should be more about character education than mastering specific sports skills. What are some important character lessons that children can learn through playing sports?

A: There are so many important lessons kids learn from sports that it is hard to list them all. But some of the most important include giving your best effort at all times, being a good teammate, and dealing with the inevitable disappointments of the game. If a child can learn these lessons from sports they may be able to apply them to their schoolwork and the rest of their life.

Some of the lessons are really hard. For example, lots of times in sports you try your hardest and things do not come out the way you had hoped. That’s a tough one.

All the lessons listed above are in my books along with many more. All of them are important for kids to learn.

Q: You said in a past interview, “So many kids are passionate about sports, and I like tapping into that passion to show them how much fun reading can be.” What did you mean by that? 

A: Kids love sports. I have spoken at hundreds of schools and I always ask, “Who plays sports?” Almost every hand flies into the air. My goal through my books is to turn that passion for sports into a passion for reading. Kids will read more if they are allowed to read books that are about subjects they like.

How do you think reading fictional stories about sports can supplement the character development and learning that happens in playing sports? 

The kids love the books. And that is because my books, like all good fiction, have characters that the reader can care about. I try to make the main character in my stories a “regular” kid so most of my young readers can readily identify with the problems the character is facing. In that way, the books always have an emotional center that captures the reader.

Q: How did you get interested in writing about sports and sports history for children?

A: When my son Liam was around 6 years old I read him some kids sports books. I didn’t think the books were very good. I thought I could write better sports books than the ones I was reading. So I gave it a try.

My first attempt was not very good and was never published. But I was learning and getting better. Then I wrote T.J.’s Secret Pitch. That was published in 1996. Since then I have had 22 more books published with more to come.

The history part of the books was a natural fit. I have always loved reading history and studied history at the University of Pennsylvania (PENN). I am lucky there is so much interesting history in sports.

Q: Your series includes books about many different sports. Did you play sports growing up? Do you have a favorite sport? 

A: I played lots of different sports as I was growing up even though I wasn’t a great athlete. I just loved playing games and being active. I played baseball, basketball, football, tennis, street hockey and I also rode my bike a lot and did some sailing. In high school, I played soccer and golf. In fact, I still play golf.

Q: What inspired the story in your newest book, Lucky Enough

A: My brother Pete and his wife Sandy live in a house maybe 100 yards from the ocean in my hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts. They have a sign in their kitchen above a window that overlooks the water that reads: “If you are lucky enough to live near the sea, you are lucky enough.”

I noticed the sign one day and started thinking about the connection between luck and gratitude. We sometimes think of luck as a way to get the things we want. But as the sign implies, there is also a part of luck that can make you feel grateful for what you have.

Q: Your books always include a "Real Story" chapter about sports history. How did you choose what information to include in your “Real Story” chapter for this new book?

A: The real sports history chapter is always related to the story in the book. For example, Lucky Enough is a story about a young player who believes a piece of blue sea glass he found with his grandmother is lucky and will make him a better hitter, fielder and even student.

So the sports history in Lucky Enough is about famous baseball players and their superstitions. But, as I point out, these players did not count on their “lucky” bats or hats. They also worked very hard to become top players.

What can children who read Lucky Enough learn from Trey’s experiences and struggles with superstition in baseball?

All games are a combination of luck and skill. In baseball, for example, a lazy popup may fall in for a hit while a scorched line drive may find a fielder’s glove.

It is easy for kids such as Trey to believe they need a lucky charm or a certain bat to be good at the game. In the long run, however, any player needs to work and practice to become their best. That is another important lesson that playing sports teaches. 

Find Lucky Enough and the rest of the books in the Sports Story series at your local library, indie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. For more information about Lucky Enough, check out our blog post and the Discussion Guide!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

In the Rain: New Board Book for Rainy Day Fun

Written by Elizabeth Spurr
Illustrated by Manelle Oliphant

As adults, being outside in the rain is not often an enjoyable experience. But imagine a child experiencing this weather phenomenon for the first timethe awe, excitement, and joy that emerges. With In the Rain, Elizabeth Spurr and Manelle Oliphant's third and final board book in the In the Weather series, readers can revisit all of the emotions and fun that comes with a rainy day.

In this gently rhyming board book full of simple, evocative language and charming illustrations, a girl makes a paper boat, splashes in puddles, makes mud pies, and has other springtime fun with her pet dog by her side. While encouraging outdoor exploration and play for young children, the protagonist's fun adventures will introduce the earliest readers to all of the sensory experiences and emotions that come with the wet weather of spring.  In the Rain also makes for a perfect sit-in-your-lap reading experience for toddlers, regardless of the conditions outside.

Looking for more board books about outdoor fun in all kinds of weather? Check out the other two books in the In the Weather series: In the Wind and In the Snow!

Look for In the Rain at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble on March 1!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Author Interview: Pip Jones

Izzy Gizmo’s inventions are marvelous, magnificent—and they often malfunction. But when she finds a crow with a broken wing, she just has to help! Izzy tries again and again to build a new pair of wings, but nothing is working. And that makes Izzy really cross! Can Izzy overcome her failures? Or is her friend destined to live as a crow who can’t fly? We asked Izzy Gizmo author Pip Jones about what sparked this feisty tale of determination, ingenuity, and friendship, and why Izzy Gizmo will resonate with aspiring young inventors.

Q: Where did your inspiration for Izzy Gizmo come from?

A: I often procrastinate and allow my mind to wander, and I’m always having silly ideas for (really BRILLIANT) machines. One morning I wrote a lengthy post about one of my ideas on Facebook (the Egg Tap—it would have required serious commitment from the government, if I’m completely honest, to install a nationwide network of underground pipes). I think I wrote about 850 words, going into all the details of how it would work and replying to various responses from friends. But then I read a comment from my friend Sarah (also an author, and she knows her stuff), who wrote something like: “OMG, Pip?! You’ve just written practically a day’s word count about an Egg Tap! DO. SOME. WORK.” So I laughed, logged out of Facebook… and wrote the first draft of Izzy Gizmo.

Q: Were you a little inventor as a child? If so, what were your favorite tools? 

A: I was more a writer as a child. I’d decided by the age of seven that I wanted to be an author for a living. I spent all of my weekends hand-writing stories and poems. Possibly one of my best ever gifts was a typewriter, so I guess you could say that was my favorite ‘tool’. That said, my Grandad Bill was a bit of an inventor—he was always making funny little machines and gadgets in his garage and my sister and I loved being in there with him.

Q: STEM and STEAM are critical components of today's education curriculum, as is the growing makerspace movement. Were you thinking about those trends when you wrote Izzy Gizmo

A: Oh yes, it was part of it, of course—I have children who are experiencing more STEM/STEAM in school, and in life. But it was also Izzy’s personality that drove it. I don’t like to write saccharine girls. I loved the image I had in my mind of Izzy: a kid with her very own tool bag. Not the clich├ęd geeky inventor girl, and not a tomboy either—simply a girl who’s feisty and bold and real. It’s not at all unusual for little girls (as well as boys) to like hitting things with sticks, climbing trees, making Lego airplanes, and playing with tool kits—whether or not they wear skirts. I have two of those girls myself! It does seem crazy that side of all these normal little girls’ personalities has been under-represented. Not any more though, I think—and STEM/STEAM and the makerspace movement are already helping with that hugely. 

Q: The theme of trial and error and failure runs throughout Izzy Gizmo. Did that theme come first or did it develop naturally while writing the story? 

A: That theme was there from the outset, yes—for comedy value as much as anything else! I love that Izzy gets all enthused for making her crazy inventions, and then they go hilariously wrong, making her absolutely furious. Again, that’s just real life; it’s frustrating when things go wrong. Sara Ogilvie’s art is just incredible for capturing all that. I couldn’t possibly have imagined Izzy’s life better than Sara drew it.

Q: How important do you think the concept of failure (and trying again) is in children’s books? 

A: Oh, very. You know, one of the most fascinating things I discovered when I had my own children is how very base tiny human beings are at the outset. You know how babies and toddlers HATE to share? Sharing is learned behavior, it’s not instinctive behavior. Part of our job as parents (apart from the obvious feeding them, clothing them, and keeping them safe) is to socialize children, and to encourage them to fulfill their potential. Unless we are faced with, say, starvation or danger, and our life depends on us pushing ourselves to the limit, it’s ever so natural to take the easy option and decide: “Nah. Tried it, can’t do it, too hard!” But of course, to actually fulfill our potential, we have to learn to push ourselves, which in some ways is challenging when you’re tiny and learning. So, yes, I think it’s an important message for little people! 

Q: Izzy's inventions are certainly wild! If you could invent anything beyond your wildest dreams, what would it be? 

A: I’ve already invented it, I just haven’t made it yet: the Blink-Tastic. So, you stick a pinhead-sized miracle to your eyelid, and then you can just blink yourself anywhere in the world, at any moment (without crashing into anything, including other Blinkers). It’d be so handy—I’d never be late ever again. And I’d be able to just go and spend my lunch hour in the Maldives for some relaxation, or the edge of the Grand Canyon for some exhilaration, and then be back in plenty of time to pick the kids up from school. I mean, how great would that be?! 

Q: Which is your favorite of Izzy's failed creations? Why?

A: Izzy has lots of inventions, some of which don’t appear in the book—but from this story, it has to be the Swirly-Spagsonic. I find it funny that a little kid would spend so much time building an absolutely colossal machine… just to eat spaghetti with!

Q: Izzy's grandpa is a key figure in the book. Did your grandparents have any influence on your writing and creativity?

A: I’ve been very lucky—I knew all my grandparents into my adulthood and every one of them was wonderful and inspiring. In fact, I still have my paternal grandfather—Grandad Bill is 104! Certainly both of my grandfathers were creative people and I must have inherited all sorts of genes, as we all do. Grandad Bill is not published, but he loves to write, and he always encouraged me. A few years ago he handed me an envelope of everything of mine he’d he kept since I was about six! That was lovely.

Q: The crow is another character we immediately fell in love with at Peachtree, but crows can often carry a bad rap in the animal world. Did you choose a crow for a reason? 

A: Crows are so clever! I love them. They talk to you, and they look at you right in the eye. The crow wasn’t featured in the first draft of Izzy Gizmo—but he actually existed before she did. I imagined him a few years ago, when I’d been commissioned to write some books under a pen name. The stories—set in a magic school for animals—had been mapped out by the editors, and my job was to simply write the chapters. I never put him in those stories, but he was a very strong character for me—a crow, called Fixer, living in a ramshackle shed, mending old bits of machinery with his beak. In the second draft of Izzy Gizmo, I decided Izzy’s inventions weren’t the whole story, and she would like very much to have a friend, a sidekick. Then of course, who fluttered out of the depths of my memory? I’m so glad I’d squirreled Fixer away, because he and Izzy were just the perfect fit. I love them so much together.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from Izzy Gizmo?

A: The obvious message is one of perseverance and as I said, that’s really important. But I’d also like readers to feel warmed by Izzy’s relationship with her Grandpa, and to feel the strength of her friendship with Fixer. Grandpa gently pushes Izzy, but in the end it’s also the emotion she feels for the heartbroken bird that drives her to keep trying. I mean, just look at the pictures. I’m totally in awe of how Sara injected so much sadness/frustration/determination/joy into a beaked creature! Of course Izzy was driven by that, who wouldn’t be? So yes, what I really hope readers also take away from the book is what I put (albeit less obviously) at the heart of the story: love.

Get your copy of Izzy Gizmo at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble starting March 1!