Posts tagged ‘stem’

Author Jill Esbaum Weaves Facts into Nonfiction Magic

Picture books engage curiosity and set the stage for adventure and exploration. They allow children to think like scientists, asking questions and searching for answers. The best books teach the love of reading, but they also challenge us to connect with the world. National Geographic knows a thing or two about that, and so does Jill Esbaum.

You’ve likely seen Jill’s books in libraries, schools, and stores. She’s an award-winning Iowa author who has published 13 fiction and 22 nonfiction books, including Tom’s Tweet, which was named the Iowa Goldfinch Award and I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo, which earned a Chrystal Kite Award. While being well-known for her gift of creating colorful characters, lively language, and perfect rhyme, Jill has turned her talents toward weaving facts into magical prose for National Geographic children’s books.

Jill recently stopped by the blog to talk about her work with National Geographic, including her book: Little Kids First Big Book of Why 2. She was kind enough to answer a few questions.

 

Q: What makes the Little Kids First Big Book of Why 2 unique?

A: The goal of National Geographic’s Little Kids Big Book series is to help kids aged 4-7 understand the world, which is why there are titles covering everything from ANIMALS to OCEANS, from BUGS to SPACE. The first WHY book (written by Amy Shields) was such a hit that NG wanted another to continue providing answers to some of kids’s most often-asked questions. WHY 2 has 4 chapters, including ME, MYSELF, & I; FUN AND GAMES; AWESOME ANIMALS; and NATURE ALL AROUND.

The toughest thing about writing one of these books is coming up with brand new questions! There are 56 of them here, with many more facts sprinkled across each page, as well as call-out questions intended to get kids thinking.

Q: What are some ways teachers and parents could use this book? 

A: Each title in the Little Kids Big Book series has a wealth of back matter, including a spread that suggests to parents ways they might extend the fun beyond the book. For example, WHY 2 has a spread titled “Why do I yawn?” At the back of the book is a fun activity that encourages kids to experiment with whether or not yawning is contagious.

Another spread in the book is “Why are dinosaur names so long?” and a corresponding activity encourages kids to pretend they’ve discovered a new dinosaur in their backyard and come up with a name for it. Within each chapter are also easy, small experiments called “Try This!” 

Q: How many hours go into the research and creation of a book like this?

A: Researching and writing one of these books takes hundreds and hundreds of hours. The research is especially important, of course, as National Geographic has a long-standing reputation for quality and accuracy. Fortunately, I love researching, tracking down the hows and whens and whys on any given subject.

One research tip I often share with kids at school visits:  When researching something, look beyond the facts people already know. Dig for juicy facts that make you say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” 

Q: What’s your favorite part of this book?

A: I’m always happy when a book has a chapter about animals, because I learn so much! In this book, I enjoyed learning about things like the miraculous abilities of a dog’s nose. Did you know each nostril smells independently? That while human noses have 6 million “smelling cells” that send signals to our brains, a dog’s has 300 million of them? Sniffing another dog can tell them the age of the other dog, whether it’s male or female, what it has been eating, and even the dog’s mood. Amazing!

But this book has pages and pages filled with facts like this. That makes them so fun to write. I love becoming an expert on dozens of topics….Too bad I can’t retain every single thing I learn. But I am pretty good at trivia events. 😉

 

Besides writing (and trivia), Jill is an incredible writing teacher, hosting weekend retreats, workshops, and conference sessions. She hosts a blog called Picture Book Builders, featuring the best new books, introducing readers to authors and illustrators, and reflecting on the best of craft. Jill also welcomes author visit invitations, where she talks to kids about writing, research, revision, and more!

Want to learn more about Jill?

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SCI Book Recommendation–Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code


SCI Scale-Ups

     The Science Center of Iowa (SCI) set out to do ground-breaking work all across Iowa. If all students couldn’t get to the SCI, then the SCI would try to reach all students.
     To accomplish this, they created STEM curriculum for PreK-12 students: Pint-Size Science and Making STEM Connections. Both programs are part of the Iowa STEM Initiative’s Scale-Up Program, and both feature incredible books.
      We caught up with Jolie Pelds (pictured right), SCI’s Director of Innovative STEM Teaching. Pelds introduced us to the books featured in this year’s kits and her new favorite read–Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code written by Laurie Wallmark and illustrated by Katy Wu. When I asked Pelds why she liked it so much, she said “just look at the first page” (see it below).

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code

“If you’ve got a good idea, and you know it’s going to work, go ahead and do it.”
–Grace Hopper
     Who was Grace Hopper? Even the end sheets tell the story: “Rule breaker. Chance taker. Troublemaker. AMAZING GRACE.” Beginning as an young girl interested in how everyday things worked, Hopper took things a part to learn more about them. Her parents encouraged her curiosity.
     At age seven, Hopper dismantled several clocks in her house to find out what made them tick. She finished high school two years early and then attended Vassar College. Dedicated to making a difference in the World War II effort, Hopper enlisted in the U.S. Navy and embarked on a lifelong military career writing computer programs.
    The book is full of delightful anecdotes. For example, after finding a moth trapped inside a navy computer, she coined the phrase computer bug.
“She didn’t wait for someone else to figure it out–she came up with solutions herself!”
–Jolie Pelds
     “It’s an awesome book,” said Pelds, “because she’s a rebel and a hacker in the way she thinks. She had the ability to take something difficult and make it easier. She didn’t wait for someone else to figure it out–she came up with solutions herself!”
     Hopper’s legacy lives on today. She revolutionized how we use computers, creating what would become COBOL, a common programming language that is still used around the world. Hopper served as a trailblazer for others, especially women, who wanted the challenge of solving difficult problems while defying expectations of the era.

Enter to WIN a CODE/STEM prize extravaganza! 

From Rosie Revere, Engineer to How to Code a Sand Castle to On a Beam of Light: the Story of Albert Einstein, do you have a favorite STEM picture book? If so, please send us an email with the 1.) title, 2.) author, and 3.) why you like it so much. All emails received will go into a drawing for a Code.org/STEM prize extravaganza!
  • Open: August 1, 2018
  • Deadline: all emails must be received on or before August 10, 2018
  • Email: lisa.morlock@drake.edu
  • Announcements: all prize recipients will be notified via email by August 12, 2018

Humans Helping Nature: If Sharks Disappeared + Me and Moto

“Modern day storytellers carry the message of environmental stewardship to future generations,” states the Nature Generation website. I’d go a step further and say that the readers of these books will also become our environmental stewards. Recently, this group started a book award, and the 2018 Green Earth Book Award List was just released. It has something on it for everyone! Introducing a child to nature books is the first step to creating an environmentally conscious and scientifically literate adult. 

This week, we have a guest blogger for you. Emma, a fourth grader, is helping us out with a post. She loves animals, nature photography, and books. Her favorite food combination is chips and queso. And her favorite place to go in nature is the beach. Emma, at left, is waiting for the perfect shot. “You have to be patient to get a good picture,” she says.

In her own words:

Hi, my name is Emma. This past week, I read lots of books. I think you should read these two: If Sharks Disappeared and Moto And Me. They all talk about how humans can help save animals.

  1. If Sharks Disappeared
    Written and illustrated by Lily Williams

In this book, the main character is a little girl who talked about what would happen if sharks disappeared. Sharks are very helpful! Most sharks typically eat slow, weak prey. If sharks don’t eat them, pinnipeds would take over the ocean. Pinnipeds are animals like seals and walruses. They eat lots of fish. Soon the fish would be gone, then the pinnipeds would die out. Plankton would take over the ocean, and it would become a thick sludge of pink mess. Yuck!

Sharks have been around for 450 million years. Currently, over 400 different species exist. We need sharks in the world, so don’t buy anything with shark in it, like jaws, oil, fins, soup, etc.). It’s the least we can do.

  1. Moto and Me
    Written by Suzi Eszterhas

In Moto and Me, Suzi Eszterhas, a wildlife photographer, went to Masai Mara, a wildlife reserve in Kenya to photograph animals. One day, a park ranger was taking a jeep with people in it on a safari. Moto’s mom was taking Moto to safety, when she heard the sound of a vehicle approaching them. She quickly dropped Moto off on the side of the road, and then skidded away.

When the safari jeep went past, the ranger saw Moto and thought the mom would come back and get him, but after a long while, Moto’s mom didn’t come back. So, the park ranger, who was still sitting there with the safari jeep, picked Moto up (he was only 2 weeks old) and took him back to the ranger station. This trip took hours. When Moto arrived, the rangers knew Suzi Eszterhas, the author, had been studying wildcats. They called Suzi, and asked if she wanted to be a foster mom. Suzi said YES!, and took him in.

One day, Suzi didn’t see Moto, and she knew that a leopard had been prowling around, and she thought: “Oh no he’s dead!” Then, one day she went on safari, and saw Moto. It was such a happy reunion. About a year and a half later, when Suzi returned to the US, rangers where still watching Moto. One day Suzi heard that Moto was now a father, and had kittens of his own! He is all grown up and safe in Africa.

 

 

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We are seeking READERS! If you’d like to read a book on the 2018 Green Earth Book Award Shortlist (or any STEMie-type book), we want to hear from you! Email lisa.morlock@drake.edu and share your thoughts on the story. You can answer a few simple questions or even create your own post. Happy reading!

 

Book Review: The Triumph of Seeds

“I have great faith in a seed,” writes Henry David Thoreau.
“Convince that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”  

Growing up during the Great Depression, Mary Alice Drossel saw first-hand how America depended upon seeds. (Pictured in center with her brothers) From dust storms to grasshoppers to harsh winters, somehow the heartiest seeds survived. As a teenager, she began teaching in a country school. Planting and harvesting impacted the entire community—everything depended on the success of those seeds.

At 92, she’s spent her entire life teaching and farming. “All living things are dependent upon seeds for their existence,” said Drossel. She recently read Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds and stopped by the Hub to share her thoughts about the book with us.

Q: What message is the author sharing through this book?

A: The author is sharing the importance of seeds. We are alive because of grains, fruits and vegetables. We depend upon seeds for nourishment.

Q: What’s one interesting thing that you learning?

A: I learned that seeds can lay dormant for many years in the ground, until conditions are right for them to grow.

Q: What stuck with you after you finished the book?

A: Here’s a few things she found of most interest:

  • I was surprised to learn that, during the war, Hitler gave instructions to save Russian scientist Vavilov’s seed bank during the siege of Leningrad. And that, even today, people risk their lives to protect seeds and their stories. Pages 104-105
  • The Stealth Bomber, also known as the Northrup Grumman B2 Spirit, took inspiration from the wing design of Javan cucumber seeds. Page 208: “Like the seed that inspired it, the B-2’s high-life, no-drag shape is extremely efficient, making it possible for the plane to fly nearly 7,000 miles without refueling…still considered a cornerstone of the US arsenal.”
  • As a coffee lover, Drossel was happy to learn of the bean’s benefits. Page 152: “Coffee beans contain at least 800 other compounds, in addition to caffeine. Making that daily cup, by some accounts, the most chemically complex food in the human diet…coffee drinkers enjoy reduced risk of type II diabetes, liver cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Nobody has any clear idea of why.”

Q: Who should read this book?

A: Everyone. Because our existence is dependent on seeds.

So go pour yourself a cup of coffee and find a copy of this book.

Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees


“Walkers who visit one of the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage always report that their heart feels lighter and they feel right at home,” writes Peter Wohlleben about his favorite place. And this sense of peace is why people are drawn to the woods.

Once you read Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, you’ll never look at a forest in the same way. At least that’s what 14-year-old Will discovered. When not reading, Will enjoys being outside, running, and science.

Wohlleben, a forest ranger in Germany, spent his career studying trees. He then found a way to communicate that research in a way that every reader could relate to–within the metaphor of a family. Will stopped by the blog to share his insights about the book.

Q: What message is the author trying to share through this book?
A: Trees have a complex social system in which they provide each other nutrients, warn each other of danger, and share knowledge with each other.

Q: What’s one interesting thing you learning?
A: Trees have distinct personalities that affect how they grow. While some prefer to use more energy in order to grow faster, others save energy in case of danger, such as insects.

Q: Did anything surprise you about the research?
A: In commercial forests, trees are not as healthy and do not share the bonds that natural forests do. This is detrimental to the trees as well as the wood produced by them.

Q: Who should read this book?
A: Anyone who needs Oxygen to live should read this book because it helps us better understand trees and what we can do to help forests grow.

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This book is applicable to STEM because it focuses on Peter Wohlleben’s observations and studies as a forester in Europe. His findings lead him to several interesting conclusions that might change how people view the woods.

Learn more about Peter Wohlleben in this New York Times article or listen to this National Public Radio feature.

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