Author Guest Post: “Why I Write Science Books for Children” by Mary Batten, Author of Life in Hot Water: Wildlife at the Bottom of the Ocean

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“Why I Write Science Books for Children”

One day some years ago when I was writing scripts for the Children’s Television Workshop science series 3-2-1 Contact, I took my four-year-old daughter to my office and introduced her to the show’s actors. Afterwards, she looked at me and said, “I didn’t know they were real.” I was astounded. She had learned from watching Sesame Street and the show I was working on–the only TV shows we allowed her to watch–that what you see on TV is pretend. Big Bird, Cookie Monster and the other muppets were imaginary characters. Sesame Street was an imaginary street. My little daughter had learned the difference between fact and fiction.

From toddler age, children are fascinated by the real world. I consider them budding field biologists. They pick up the tiniest pieces of their environment–a pebble, a shell, a feather, a blade of grass–and excitedly present it to their parent or caretaker. As soon as they can, they repeatedly ask “Why?” About everything! These questions are the beginning of scientific curiosity. And it is my hope that my books tap into and nourish that curiosity.

By third grade, most children have learned about the two literary genres, fiction and nonfiction. The books I write are nonfiction–science, nature. When people ask me why I write nonfiction, I have two answers: First, I am fascinated and excited by the complex interrelationships among animals, plants, microbes, soil, sun and water that hold ecosystems together. Secondly, what goes on in nature is more fantastic, more bizarre than anything science fiction writers have imagined. Sex-changing fishes, flowers that use trickery to attract pollinators, insects that look like leaves and sticks, symbiotic partnerships between totally different species, and creatures that live in water hot enough to melt lead–these and many more are all real!

My newest book, Life in Hot Water: Wildlife at the Bottom of the Ocean, is about animals that live in the hottest, most extreme environment on Earth–hydrothermal vents. It is the second book in a series I created called “Life in the Extreme,” about the incredible ability of living things to evolve and take up residence in nooks and crannies of the most extreme environments. Discovery of hydrothermal vents in 1977 is one of the greatest adventures in science. 

Hydrothermal vents are underwater hot springs that form along the mid-ocean ridge, the longest mountain range on Earth. You can’t see it because it’s at the bottom of the sea. There it snakes more than 40,000 miles (65,000 kilometers) around the planet. When scientists first descended into this world, nobody expected to find any living thing. But the porthole of their tiny submarine revealed fish, clams, shrimp, crabs, and giant red-tipped tube worms never seen before. How could anything live amidst plumes of superhot, toxic liquid gushing from strange chimney-like structures?

Like toddlers who develop by asking questions, scientists also gather knowledge by asking questions and searching for answers. Questions open doors to discovery and the mind-blowing discovery of hydrothermal vents raised many questions. One of the most important was, “What are these creatures eating?”

Until vents were discovered, scientists thought that green plants and the sun were the base of all food chains–a process called photosynthesis. But no sunlight reaches the total darkness of the vent world miles below the ocean’s surface. And no green plants grow in this world. What then?

Following up these and other questions, scientists discovered an entirely new food chain–one that depends on energy from the Earth instead of energy from the sun. Amazingly, vent animals eat bacteria that feed on toxic chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, spewed from Earth’s interior by undersea volcanoes that create the vents. Scientists called this process chemosynthesis. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who discovered where the sunken ship Titanic lay, called it “Probably one of the biggest biological discoveries ever made on Earth.”*

Textbooks had to be rewritten to include chemosynthesis as well as photosynthesis. Today research to learn more about hydrothermal vents is going on all over the world.

For me, one of the joys of writing nonfiction is reaching out to scientists who are doing the real work and interviewing them. One of the scientists whom I consulted for this book, Dr. Janet Voight, Associate Curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, said, “There’s so much about the deep sea that we haven’t even begun to explore. It’s all discovery, and that makes it exciting.”

Children are natural born explorers. Tapping into their questions is one of the most exciting and productive ways to foster children’s developmental curiosity, engage them in the basic scientific process, and encourage them to write their own nonfiction. Children’s science books, such as Life in Hot Water, can be used to create multi-disciplinary units engaging biology, geography, art, and creative writing. 

*Bill Nye discusses discovery of hydrothermal vents with Robert Ballard: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D69hGvCsWgA

Published June 21, 2022 by Peachtree

About the Book: .A dramatic overview of the deep-sea extremophiles that thrive in scalding water and permanent darkness at the bottom of the ocean

The scalding-hot water gushing from vents at the bottom of the ocean is one of the most extreme environments on Earth. Yet over millions of years, many organisms—from chemical-eating bacteria to eyeless crabs and iron-shelled snails—have evolved in amazing ways that enable them to thrive in this unlikely habitat. Scientists are hard at work to learn more about the complex ecosystems of the ocean depths.

Award-winning science writer Mary Batten and NYT best-selling illustrator Thomas Gonzalez, the masterful duo that created Life in a Frozen World, team up again in this impressive overview of hydrothermal ocean vents. Her clear, informative text coupled with his unique and eerily realistic paintings of sights never seen on land—gushing “black smokers,” ghostly blind shrimp, red-plumed tube worms—will entice readers to learn more about this once-hidden world at the bottom of the sea.

About the Author: Mary Batten is an award-winning writer for television, film and publishing. Her many writing projects have taken her into tropical rainforests, astronomical observatories, and scientific laboratories. She scripted some 50 television documentaries, was nominated for an Emmy, and is the author of many children’s science books, including Aliens From Earth, and Life in a Frozen World: Wildlife of Antarctica. Her most recent book is Life in Hot Water: Wildlife at the Bottom of the Ocean.

Thank you, Sara at Holiday House, for connecting us with Mary!

Author Guest Post: “Unforgotten” by Kerry L. Malawista, Author of Meet the Moon

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“Unforgotten”

In my thirties, newly pregnant, I returned to my hometown library in search of my mother.

Once inside that maroon brick building, I was transported back in time. The thrill of possibilities lining the shelves, the card catalog with its array of seemingly endless wooden drawers, and the metal water fountain—where I struggled with how to simultaneously hold down the foot pedal and rise up on tiptoes to take a sip of water.

A gray-haired woman approached me. “Can I help you?” she whispered into the hush.

“Yes, I am trying to find the Bergen Record—from 1970.”

“Any newspapers over a year old are kept on microfiche. Follow me.” She drifted toward a side room full of machines that had clearly seen better days. A mysterious room, where grown-ups had unspooled reels and loaded slides into carousels, forgotten ways of recording the world. She demonstrated how to load the microfiche into the viewer and how to move the film around to find past articles, then she left me to my task.

“Good luck!” she said as she walked out of the room.

My eyes blurred as the years flew by. I slowed down as I reached 1970. Even more slowly I scrolled. January…March… April. I noticed the headline for the Apollo 13 launch on April 17 of that year, and stopped. I remembered that day at Shaler Elementary School in Ridgefield, New Jersey. It was a Friday, and my teacher, Mrs. McCurry, had marched us single file down the hall to the all-purpose room to watch the splash down with the entire school. Two large televisions were set up on the stage at the front of the room.

I overheard talk among the teachers that something might have gone wrong with the space shuttle and that the astronauts were at risk of burning up as they re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. A tense chatter filled the room until we saw the first sight of the parachutes opening, and like purple butterflies the astronauts floated down to safety. Everyone cheered. But for me, the thought of those men floating around in a capsule, out in space, away from their families, left a sad and lonely sensation in the pit of my stomach.

I never understood why that feeling about Apollo 13 stayed with me so long. The astronauts had made it back to earth. They hadn’t blown up.

Sitting beside the industrial metal bulk of the microfiche viewer, carefully sliding the brittle plastic film forward, I was launched back to my childhood bedroom. Running along the wall next to my bed, right where my eyes landed was a line of white trim that extended out from the center windows. On the wood was a tiny indentation with some chipped paint, shaped just like a rocket ship, with what I thought at the time looked like fire, blasting it off into outer space. As I settled into sleep each night I would check to see that my rocket ship, my Apollo 13, was still there.

Scrolling down to May, I realized that the desolation lingering from that long-ago Apollo landing was actually from three weeks later, when my mother’s capsule didn’t protect her. Till that moment I hadn’t realized how close these two events were in real time. My memory had fused them together, overlaying the later dread with the earlier Apollo 13 landing.

Now I wondered if had it always been a rocket I saw there, or did it only become one after our lives exploded?

Increasing the magnification, I zoomed in to the top of the front page—May 8, 1970. At first all I saw was the large faded photograph of the demolished Ford Country Squire station wagon, smashed in, glass shattered.

I read the caption below, “A woman was killed and her small son critically injured in Palisades Park.” I didn’t want to imagine a “woman,” my mother, pressed inside what looked like an enormous accordion with all the air pressed out of it.

The story below unfolded: “Police say Mrs. Leddy, 32, of 389 Mayer Court, Ridgefield, was driving south on Grand Avenue when her car swerved into the northbound lane and crashed head on into a truck driven by Edward Martini, 45, of Staten Island. According to police, Martini was sitting in his van reading a road map when the accident occurred.”

When I paused the flat black and white microfiche, I thought how little of the story those spare words told. I knew the facts: My mother, with my baby brother in the back seat, was on her way to pick up my little sister from nursery school. An eyewitness saw my mother slump to her side, that it appeared she had fainted, resulting in her foot pressing down on the accelerator. The autopsy stated, with high certainty, that an aneurysm exploded in her brain.

Yet, in that moment, staring at the picture, the intoxicating smell of the burgundy leather seats returned—just months before the accident we had celebrated the arrival of our very first new car—and the reel of that long-ago day unfurled through my brain.

My nine-year-old self, along with my four siblings, staring at my father sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Girls, there’s been…”

My knees weak, I glanced away, trying to land my eyes anywhere but on my father’s face. Not wanting to see his tears.

“There has been a terrible accident,” he said. I was like one of my lightening bug trapped in a jar, looking for a way out.

Slowly he choked out the rest of the words. “Mom’s gone.”

“What do you mean she’s gone?” I understood, but I didn’t want to.

Barely audible, he said, “She died.”

One of us asked, “What happened?”

“We aren’t sure yet, but she was in a car accident.” He might have said more. I couldn’t take in his words—a wall had gone up between my ears and my mind.

After I left the library, eager for more memories of that day I called the Palisades Police Department. While I realized it was unlikely, I wanted to see if there might be a small chance someone there remembered the accident. Something they could tell me. A desk officer answered the phone.

“Palisades Police Department. Is this an emergency?”

“No. I just have a question. I’m wondering if there might be someone working in the police department that was here in 1970.” Adding, “There was a car accident…I was hoping to ask about.”

He said, “Well our Captain was here then. Maybe he’d remember. Hold on a moment. What was your name?”

“It was Kerry Leddy back then.”

As I waited, my self-consciousness grew. Should I hang up? This guy has better things to do. Who calls the cops twenty years later, expecting someone to remember a car accident?

“I can’t believe I’m hearing from you,” a voice said, nearly as whispery as the librarian. He sounded as if he had been sitting by the phone, awaiting my call. “How is your brother?” His voice choked.

“He’s fine.” I said, doing my best to keep my own voice steady. “Really well. He’s in the army.”

“I’m so glad. . . . He was so . . . badly hurt. . . . I had gone to the hospital to check on him.” I could hear him struggling to find the words.

I said, “I’m shocked you remember.”

“How could I forget? It’s like it was yesterday. . . I was a new officer, just there a couple of months, and going to that scene and seeing the accident and your Mom. . . five kids. . . Well. . . Man. . . jeez. . . .” His voice once again caught in his throat. “I think about your family all the time. . . it was so awful. . . you kids…your brother like that. . . your mom. I never could get her out of my head. My wife had just had a baby. I never forgot it. I’m so glad to hear you all did so well.”

Captain Stanton had nothing new to tell me about the accident. Nothing new to tell me about my mother.

Yet he gave me just what I was needed, what truly mattered: Captain Stanton remembered. Remembered my mother. Remembered our family. All these years he had carried her and us with him, linking the past to the present. That’s what I was searching for, to not forget.

I found my mother in the newspaper that day in the library, and I discovered that I’d merged our family history with that of the space program. Then I found an eye witness to the devastation our family faced—a man who’d just started a family of his own when my mother died—and he’d spent time inventing a future for our family. That factual and emotional confirmation, together on the same day, launched me to write my novel, Meet the Moon. I remembered, embellished, and invented a family grappling with grief in hopes of reaching readers the way I reached the policeman, who gratefully said to me, “I can’t believe I’m hearing from you.”

Expected Publication: September 15th, 2022 by Fitzroy Books/Regal House Publishing

About the Book: In 1970, 13-year-old Jody Moran wants pierced ears, a kiss from a boy, and more attention from her mother. It’s not fair. Seems like her mother is more worked up about the Apollo 13 astronauts, who may not make it back to earth safely. As it happens, the astronauts are spared a crash landing, but Jody is not, for three days after splashdown, her mother dies in a car accident. Now, Jody will never know if her mother really loved her. Jody’s father has taught them to believe in the “Power of Intention.” Announce what you want to the world to make it happen. But could the power of Jody’s jealousy and anger have caused Mom’s accident? To relieve her guilt and sadness, she devotes herself to mothering her three younger siblings and helping Dad, which quickly proves too much for her, just as persuading quirky Grandma Cupcakes to live with them proves too much for Grandma. That’s when Jody decides to find someone to marry her father, a new mom who will love her best. Jody reads high and low to learn about love, marriage and death. For her adolescent firsts—kiss, bra, and boyfriend—she has the help of her popular older sister, her supportive father, and comical Grandma. But each first, which makes her miss her mother, teaches her that death doesn’t happen just once.

About the Author: Kerry L. Malawista, PhD is a writer and psychoanalyst in Potomac, MD. She is co-chair of New Directions in Writing and founder of the recent project The Things They Carry – offering virtual writing workshops for healthcare and frontline workers. Her essays have appeared nationally in newspapers, magazines and literary journals including The New York Times, The Washington PostThe Baltimore SunThe Boston GlobeZone 3Washingtonian MagazineThe Huffington PostBethesda MagazineArlington MagazineThe Account Magazine, and Delmarva Review, which nominated her for a Pushcart Prize. She is the co-author of Wearing my Tutu to Analysis and Other Stories (2011), The Therapist in Mourning: From the Faraway Nearby (2013), both published by Columbia University Press, and Who’s Behind the Couch (2017) published by Routledge Press. When the Garden Isn’t Eden: More Psychoanalytic Concepts from Life will be published by Columbia University Press spring 2022 and her novel, Meet the Moon will be released September 2022 by Regal House Publishing. Her website is KerryMalawista.com.

Thank you, Kerry, for this beautifully written post!

Interview with Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Authors of And Tango Makes Three

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I am happy to start Pride Month with this interview as books with representations of all families need to be shared with all students as “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” (Sims-Bishop, 1990). As an educator in Florida, we are being challenged as are the books we love and students need. Sharing diverse representation, of race, culture, sexual & gender identity, and more, will only lead to empathy and a safer more happy world.

And Tango Makes Three
Authors: Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Published: June 1st, 2005 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: In the zoo there are all kinds of animal families. But Tango’s family is not like any of the others. This illustrated children’s book fictionalizes the true story of two male penguins who became partners and raised a penguin chick in the Central Park Zoo.

Introduction from Simon & Schuster: Florida’s new law, to take effect in July, prohibits classroom “discussion” and “instruction” about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in grades K-3, as well as any discussion or instruction about these topics that would be considered not age appropriate in the eyes of the State in grades 4-12. And Tango Makes Three, a multiple award-winning picture book, tells the simple and true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who pair-bonded, built a nest, and with the help of a kind zoo-keeper, together hatched an egg.

The book is written for children ages 4 to 8, but the new Florida law may prevent their teachers from sharing or discussing it with them. Teachers use And Tango Makes Three and books like it to help children with same-sex parents feel welcome in their school and to help their classmates understand the different family structure of their classmates. Lessons like these are invaluable to children of same-sex parents. Censorship of facts about gay families and lives, like that required by the new law, threatens the mental health of children with same-sex parents as well as that of LGBTQIA+ children themselves.

Since its initial publication, And Tango Makes Three has been challenged and banned countless times. The American Library Association has reported that it was the most frequently challenged book between 2006-2010, and the second most frequently challenged in 2009. It was also the fourth-most banned book between 2000 and 2009, and the sixth-most banned book between 2010 and 2019.

Interview: 

Kellee: How did you first learn about Tango and her family? And why did you choose to tell their story? 

Peter Parnell & Justin Richardson: We first read about the penguins over breakfast one Saturday in a New York Times article by Dinitia Smith entitled “Love That Dare Not Squeak Its Name.”  Justin said, “Peter, you have to listen to this,” and there was just something about hearing the story read aloud that made us think of a children’s book.

As prospective parents ourselves, we knew that there was an unmet need among the children of gay parents for stories involving families like ours.  And we knew that while many parents who are not gay might wish to introduce their children to the subject of gay families, many felt unsure as to how to approach the topic, what language to use, how specific to get, and so on.  This story seemed to us a perfect way for them to open a discussion of about queer families with the confidence of knowing that they were doing it in an age-appropriate way.

K: What was your hope in sharing Tango’s story?

PP & JR: Like any author, we hoped the book would find an audience. We wanted kids to be moved by the story, and to expand their understanding and awareness of different kinds of families. We are most gratified when we hear the book has been a part of a child’s bedtime routine or a family’s life for years.

K: When you first heard about And Tango Makes Three being challenged, what were your first emotions? Reaction? 

PP & JR: We did anticipate that there would be some resistance to the book when we wrote it. But we could never have imagined then the extent of the challenges it would face or the strength of the support it would get around the world.

I think you never forget the first challenge. For us, that was in Missouri, when a library director who had received complaints moved our book from the fiction to the (less browsed) nonfiction section in order not to ‘blindside’ parents. The story got picked up by the AP (much thanks to a local news reporter who read library’s log looking for stories). We heard about it on a Saturday night, and were like, “Okay, this is happening…”  The story literally travelled around the world. Stephen Colbert held up the book on “The Colbert Report,” and proclaimed it the Number Two Threat to the American Way of Life (the number one threat was people who are not blond).

We have a coffee mug at home that we stumbled across in a toy store with our daughter a few years ago. On it are displayed a dozen or so banned book titles. There’s Animal Farm, 1984, and The Origin of Species. And our title is snuggled in there amongst the rest of them. We thought the juxtaposition of our book with these great works was kind of hilarioius. But we’d by lying if we said we weren’t also proud. In the years that we read TANGO aloud at the ALA’s Banned Books Week Readout in Chicago, we did so alongside folks like Steven Chbosky, Robie Harris, and Judy Blume. It’s an honor to be in such great company. But in truth, being banned is painful and infuriating. Any pleasure one can squeeze out of it is worth holding onto, if it softens the blow.

K: The “Don’t Say Gay” bill does not allow any sexual orientation or gender identity instruction in grades K-3. I would argue that And Tango Makes Three is not INSTRUCTION of either listed things; do you agree?

PP & JR: The law is purposely written to be vague, leaving terms like “instruction” and “sexual orientation” undefined. We recently lampooned that aspect of the law in the Washington Post, showing that banning discussion or instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity means there can be no talk about men and women marrying or indeed any book that depicts characters as having a gender.

We wouldn’t recommend going down the rabbit hole of arguing what does or doesn’t qualify as instruction. The law should be attacked for its discriminatory intent, it’s manipulation of parent fears to stoke the political careers of its authors, and the damage it will do to children and families in Florida.

K: If someone tried to state that And Tango Makes Three is not age appropriate for K-3, what would your counterargument be? 

PP & JR: The book actually grew out of Justin’s experience as co-author of a book about the very real challenges parents face when trying to address sexual topics with their children–Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know about Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask). It’s hard to imagine that anyone who actually read Tango could consider it as not age appropriate; however, we would place the burden on anyone who made such a claim to explain it. Parents who hold negative views about gay families may object to the book, because it presents one such family in a positive light. But that’s quite a different matter than describing it as inappropriate for all children based on their age. Explaining that sometimes two people of the same sex form a couple and make a family is appropriate at any age.

Kellee Signature

Author Guest Post: “How to Create a Think Tank in Your Classroom” by Lowey Bundy Sichol, Author of Idea Makers: 15 Female Entrepreneurs

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“How to Create a Think Tank in Your Classroom”

It happens every Spring – ideas come to life in elementary and middle schools across the country. The end of the school year is in sight, curriculums are on track, and teachers are given the freedom to incorporate projects that interweave creativity, inventions, and out of the box thinking.

This is also the time of year when my inbox explodes with requests for author visits to help inspire these young minds to consider the world of entrepreneurship. I’ve spoken at “Invention Conventions,” listened to “Inventor Reports,” helped kids “Launch a Business,” and inspired students at “Career Days” – all wonderful ways to young minds thinking about the real world and how their ideas can change the world.

So how can you create a Think Tank in your classroom?

First, read how other people built their businesses.

Reading how others did it is one of the most important teaching strategies in business school so why shouldn’t it work for elementary and middle schools? Called Case Studies, they are the foundation for teaching MBA programs at Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, and Northwestern’s business schools. After graduating business school, I created a writing company that composed MBA case studies for some of the top business schools in the world. And it was those case studies that inspired my nonfiction children’s book series, From an Idea to… (LEGO, Nike, Google, Disney) as well as my new book entitled Idea Makers: 15 Fearless Female Entrepreneurs.

Lessons of perseverance, bravery, resilience, and creativity run deep throughout all my children’s books. They help inspire kids to think about their own ideas and teach them the steps it takes to turn an idea into reality.

Next, hold a Brainstorming Session

Most great ideas come from a person’s passion. Think Steve Jobs with computers, Walt Disney with animation, and Milton Hershey with candy. Each of these founders knew their industry inside and out and loved spending every waking minute working on it. Entrepreneurs need to have passion for their idea. So, it’s important that kids really understand who they are and where their passions lie. Here is one of my favorite brainstorming session exercises:

  • Have each student write their name in the middle of a piece of paper and circle it.
  • Next, have them write 4-10 things that is important to them and helps define them. I’ll call these Circles of Passion. This could be a sport, an instrument, a relative, a food they like to cook, a friend, a pet, a toy, a language… you get the point. Now circle each of those words.
  • From those 4-10 circles comes the real idea generation. Each student should think about those words. I mean really think about them. If it’s a sport, for example, what do you love about it, what do you hate about it, what problems are there with the equipment or the field, the uniform or the shoes or their hair when they play it, etc. If the child wrote down a sibling or cousin or grandma, what’s special about them, what do you admire about them, what do they struggle with or what do you help them with? There could be 20 branches coming from one passion and zero coming from another.
  • Looking down at the child’s paper, he or she should tons of words and phrases on their paper. Now have the student ask themselves: Is there a problem in here? Could they solve that problem?

Keep these business concepts in mind

A few ideas should start to pop out now. Hooray! Now it’s time for your students consider some business concepts to see if their idea has legs. We call these the 4 P’s in business school.

  • PRODUCT: What does your product do? What will it look like? What will the packaging look like? Take water, for example. You can find water bottles in plastic, aluminum, and glass. You can find small bottles, tall bottles, skinny bottles, fat bottles. Some water is from spring water, some from Fiji or Iceland, some are just purified tap water.
  • PRICE: How much it would cost to create the product? How much could it sell for? This is a great time to incorporate math into discussions about profit margins.
  • PLACE: Place is another way to say distribution. Where will the product be sold? Some examples include online, Amazon, Walmart, boutique stores, farmer’s market, door-to-door, etc. What are the steps to get the product into each of these options?
  • PROMOTION: How do people find out about the product or service? Examples include : social media, flyers, PR, etc.

Now it’s time to show off these ideas!

Consider holding a pitch day in your classroom or a Shark Tank competition with parent volunteer judges. Another idea is to hold a town fair where all the kids display their idea and parents are invited to visit each business and listen to their pitches.

Good luck and be sure to tag me if you post it online! @LoweySichol

Published March 1st, 2022 by Chicago Review Press

About the Book: Entrepreneurship can change your life—and even the world.

Idea Makers shares the incredible stories of 15 women who changed the world through their entrepreneurship. Author Lowey Bundy Sichol presents five industries that women are leading in recent years: food, fashion and clothing, health and beauty, science and technology, and education.

Jenn Hyman brought couture fashion to everyday women with her idea to Rent the Runway. Morgan DeBaun supports Black journalists through Blavity. And Sandra Oh Lin is inspiring kids everywhere with KiwiCo activity boxes.

Readers learn about how the women featured risked their early careers, gave up their salaries, and sometimes even went against the approval of their families to follow their passions and start their own businesses. Today, these women are modern leaders worth billions of dollars and employing tens of thousands of individuals.

Young women today are embracing innovation and idea making, and the women profiled in Idea Makers will show them how that can change the world.

Praise: 

Idea Makers: 15 Fearless Female Entrepreneurs leads with the notion that in growing the entrepreneurs of the future, representation matters.” —Suzanne Schaefer, Vice President, Bain & Company

“Lowey’s book is written with kids in mind—curious, creative, and ambitious kids.” —Rebecca Burstein, Founder and Principal, Burst Marketing Strategy

“It’s rare to find books that capture the attention of older and young readers alike, but Lowey Sichol has done it again.” —Karen Loggia, Director of Marketing and Communications, Tension Corporation

“A must read for every kid (and adult) who has a crazy idea and big dreams! In Idea Makers, Lowey Sichol tells the inspirational stories of 15 female entrepreneurs who had the vision, passion, and determination to build iconic companies.” —Alexis McLaughlin, CEO, 2020 On-Site

“This book is amazing! It is full of empowering stories that are sure to inspire a new generation of creative thinkers and future entrepreneurs. Readers are going to love it!” —Todd Burleson, School Library Journal 2016 Librarian of the Year

“Informative and inspiring, Idea Makers tells the transformational stories of 15 amazing women entrepreneurs. Lowey Sichol skillfully brings each of those stories to life with lessons of creativity, perseverance and passion.” —Kevin Lane Keller, E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

About the Author: Lowey Bundy Sichol (her last name rhymes with pickle) is an award-winning children’s author with an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. She is a leading expert in teaching business and entrepreneurship to kids. Lowey’s nonfiction series, From an Idea to… is the world’s first business and entrepreneurship book series for kids, and has received a 2020 Best STEM Book, a Junior Library Guild Gold Selection, and a 2020 ILA-CBC Children’s Choices Book, among others. She is also the founder of Kids Idea Tank, the nation’s biggest entrepreneurship competition for kids age 13 and younger. She lives near Chicago, Illinois. Visit her online at www.loweybundysichol.com, https://twitter.com/LoweySichol, and https://www.instagram.com/loweysichol/.

Thank you so much for this amazing post about pushing our students to the next level!

Author Guest Post: “Bring Songwriting into your Classroom” by Chari Smith, Author of The Piano

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Bring songwriting into your classroom

Songs are memorable. Lyrics just stick to use, don’t they? Think about the abc song, much easier to remember the order of letters when it’s put to a song. When I taught music and theater grades K-6, I collaborated with teachers on their curriculum to incorporate what they were teaching into my classroom.

Teaching about the solar system? Let’s make a song about it.

Going through the multiplication table? Let’s put that into a tune.

The students sang these songs in the classroom, hallways, waiting for pick up, and more. Songs are memorable, and fun!

There are four ways you can bring this into your classroom:

  1. You create the song, by writing lyrics to a familiar tune or writing the music and lyrics yourself. Then, teach it to your class.
  2. Students write new lyrics to a familiar tune – individually or in groups
  3. Students write the song – music and lyrics
  4. Collaborate with the music teacher, or a local music school to do ongoing songwriting workshops

Let’s focus on option 2, having the students write new lyrics to a familiar tune. If you choose to have students work in groups, it’s an excellent opportunity to build their teamwork skills. You can start with basic songs they probably learned in pre-school to warm up.

The first step is to create a list of possible songs they can choose from. You can even create this list with students. When starting out, it’s best to start with simple songs. As they write more and more, moving on to longer songs such as pop tunes is fine. Starting with these short easy songs first helps them learn the process.

Some easy songs to start with include:

  • If You’re Happy and You Know It. If you’re happy and you know it. …
  • The Wheels on the Bus. What is this? …
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, …
  • Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. …
  • The Ants Go Marching.
  • Itsy Bitsy Spider

The second step is to create a list of possible topics they can create a song about. You can do this for them or with them. For example, second grade science may include the following topics:

  • Properties of Matter(classifying matter, changing states, reversible and irreversible changes in matter, structures)
  • Living Things (needs of living things, seed dispersal and pollination, animal survival, migration, hibernation, dormancy, life cycles, inherited traits, fossils)
  • Habitats(desert, forests, grassland, marine, freshwater, polar, tundra, microhabitats
  • Earth’s Systems(landforms, wind, water, erosion)

(source: https://mrsjonessclass.com/2020/08/little-2nd-grade-science-thinkers.html)

Here’s an example of using the Itsy Bitsy Spider to sing about the stages of the butterfly:

Song: Itsy Bitsy Spider

Subject: Life stages of a butterfly

The butterfly starts as just an egg

Then grows into a caterpillar friend

Onto the chrysalis stage where it stays in a cocoon

Then at last the butterfly emerges and fly, fly’s away.

Did you try and sing it? I hope so. (Hear it HERE!)

Once students are in groups, have chosen the song as well as the topic, they are ready to get to the songwriting fun. Students should write lyrics in pencil. One approach may be to have each student write their own ideas for the song first, then share with each other to make decisions on what to include.

Once done, students can perform their songs. This songwriter’s showcase can be for each other, parents, or the whole school. It’s a great way for students to engage with your curriculum, build teamwork skills, encourage, and ultimately – have fun!

Published February 3rd, 2022 by Black Rose Writing

About the Book:The friendly piano is thrilled when a young musician named Katie first presses its keys. As Katie and the piano become daily companions, her musical skills grow and grow. Together they play beautiful music to match her every mood. But when Katie moves away for college, the piano is left behind, untouched and silent. What happens next helps the piano—and young readers—see learning as a never-ending cycle and music as a life-long source of joy.

“….a charming picture book about the experience of learning how to play an instrument from the perspective of a piano and its journey through one young musician’s life. The illustrations by Elle Smith, the author’s daughter, add warmth and depth to the story.” Amy Wang, The Oregonian, February 4, 2022

Full story: Catch up with these 10 picture books from Oregon authors and illustrators

“Together, Chari and Elle created a literary masterpiece, a children’s picture book called “The Piano”.  In it, children will be able to experience a beautiful combination of words that describes music in ways only a true musician could present. Phrases like “Bouncy beats” and “sounds that soared, and sank” helps the reader immerse in a musical moment even when there is no sound.”

The Reading Behaviorist, March 10, 2022 Full review here.

About the Author: Chari studied at Berklee College of Music and has been a writer/composer/pianist most of her life. In Boulder, Colorado, she wrote and produced two musicals with the Boulder Arts Academy. Chari also taught jazz piano to children as well as adults.

She is a published playwright — Extraordinary Women from U.S. History: Readers Theatre for Grades 4-8 (Teacher Ideas Press/ Libraries Unlimited, 2003) and Little Plays for Little People (Teacher Ideas Press/Libraries Unlimited, 1996). Her mini-musical Book Club was a part of the Portland Mini Musical Festival 2020. She is currently writing a full-length musical “Freedom: The Untold Story of Moses.”

Stay connected:
www.charismith.com
Instagram: charismusicaladventures
Facebook: @charismithwriter

Thank you, Chari, for this catchy author guest post!

Author Guest Post: “Why Isn’t There More Science Fiction for Young Children?” by Emily Midkiff, Author of Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children

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Why Isn’t There More Science Fiction for Young Children?

Science fiction shapes how we respond to our technology-infused world. Research has shown that the more science fiction you’re exposed to, the more you are likely to critically think through the benefits and consequences of science. Many scientists and engineers have reported that reading science fiction as a child influenced the way they thought about science as a young person, potentially leading to their careers! Science fiction is also great practice for developing higher-order reading skills like inferencing, since futuristic worlds often have their own rules that the reader must figure out through clues and background knowledge.

However, very little attention is given to science fiction books for young readers, or what I call “primary science fiction.” It’s not included in most reading lists or school curriculum until high school. In Encountering Enchantment: A Guide to Speculative Fiction for Teens, Susan Fichtelberg recommends 12 years old as the best time to introduce science fiction. This age is a popular choice. The science fiction entries in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature and Keywords for Children’s Literature both cite age 12 as the time when most kids will discover and enjoy science fiction.

Why 12-year-olds, specifically? Back in 1762, a philosopher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau theorized that children really only reached “the age of reason,” as he called it, at age 12. Before then, he thought, they just didn’t have the capacity to really understand anything. He even advised that reading could wait until age 12! We’ve dismissed most of his theories, but some of it still sticks around, like the “age of reason” being 12. Even when we’re not consciously thinking about the “the age of reason,” that sentiment lives on when we assume that science fiction—and all of its complex thinking about science—is better for older readers.

Adults perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy about what children want, and this results in a low supply of primary science fiction books. Jon Scieszka once told me that his editors tried to convince him that children would be put off by the science in his science fiction series, Frank Einstein. An indie publisher told me that children’s science fiction doesn’t sell well, so they don’t acquire it often.

In order to test the idea that science fiction is less suitable for younger readers, I conducted a large study of primary science fiction and those results are published in my new book Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children. I counted over 120,000 books in elementary school libraries in almost every region of the US and found that science fiction books only make up around 3% of each library collection. I surveyed teachers and librarians and learned that they recommend science fiction to the occasional individual reader, but don’t pick it for lessons or storytime because they feel it is too scarce and too hard.

However, real children and books tell a different story! Even though only 3% of those library collections were science fiction books, I found that science fiction had more average check-outs per book than any other genre. When I read science fiction picturebooks with elementary students, I listened to them cleverly apply their reading skills to comprehend and engage with the genre’s questions about science. I read 357 primary science fiction books and found that the best ones included features to help even the youngest readers figure out the genre. It turns out that readers are well-suited for science fiction long before they turn twelve.

Now all that’s left is for us adults to begin to break the cycle of assumptions about science fiction. Buy it! Teach it! Share it!

Published April, 2022 by University Press of Mississippi

About the Book: Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children argues for the benefits and potential of “primary science fiction,” or science fiction for children under twelve years old. Science fiction for children is often disregarded due to common misconceptions of childhood. When children are culturally portrayed as natural and simple, they seem like a poor audience for the complex scientific questions brought up by the best science fiction. The books and the children who read them tell another story.

Using three empirical studies and over 350 children’s books including If I Had a Robot DogBugs in Space, and Commander Toad in SpaceEquipping Space Cadets presents interdisciplinary evidence that science fiction and children are compatible after all. Primary science fiction literature includes many high-quality books that cleverly utilize the features of children’s literature formats in order to fit large science fiction questions into small packages. In the best of these books, authors make science fiction questions accessible and relevant to children of various reading levels and from diverse backgrounds and identities.

Equipping Space Cadets does not stop with literary analysis, but also presents the voices of real children and practitioners. The book features three studies: a survey of teachers and librarians, quantitative analysis of lending records from school libraries across the United States, and coded read-aloud sessions with elementary school students. The results reveal how children are interested in and capable of reading science fiction, but it is the adults, including the most well-intentioned librarians and teachers, who hinder children’s engagement with the genre due to their own preconceptions about the genre and children.

Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Readers is available from all major retailers.

About the Author: Emily Midkiff teaches children’s literature and literacy at the University of North Dakota. She spent nine years performing fantasy stories alongside children for an improv children’s theater group, and she now studies children’s fantasy and science fiction stories with attention to what the children themselves have to say. Find out more about her at https://emidkiff.wordpress.com/

Thank you, Emily, for this wonderful post! This is a question we’ve often asked, so loved hearing your thoughts.

Author Guest Post: “There’s No Wrong Way” by Adam Lehrhaupt, Author of There Was a Hole

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“There’s No Wrong Way”

At it’s heart, There Was a Hole is a book about loss and helping readers learn a way to manage the complex emotions that come with it. These emotions can be BIG, scary, uncontrollable, and even unwanted. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And it definitely doesn’t mean they should be ignored.

Everyone experiences loss in their lives. Even children’s book authors. Several years ago, I went through my own time of loss. As an author, my natural inclination in times like that is to look for books that deal with what I’m experiencing. Unfortunately, sometimes you just can’t find a book that lines up. When that happens, a good author takes matters in their own hands. They ask themselves; can I write a story that acknowledges the feelings I have. That shows they are valid, normal feelings everyone has? And most importantly, that there are things you can do to help yourself feel better?

It turns out that you don’t have to be a children’s book author to do this. Anyone can write a story for themselves. And the cool thing about writing for yourself, is that YOU get to choose what you write about. My path to writing this book is a long and winding one, but I’m going to lay out a few things that should help you write your own. Hopefully, writing your own story about loss, or fear, or whatever, helps you better understand how you are feeling and might even start you down the path of recovery.

First, and most important, there’s NO WRONG WAY to write a story for yourself. Writing the story doesn’t commit you to letting anyone read it. Remember, this exercise is for you and you alone. When, and to whom, you show your work is completely at your discretion. That said, here’s the steps I take when writing for myself.

  1. Come up with a great character name.
    We’re going to put this character through the ringer. It’s probably best not to give them your name. you don’t want to run yourself through the events we’re going to plan below. Pick a different name. Something cool. Something unique. Something fun to write about. Maybe Cleo, or Duke, or Ephemeralia. Any name you want.
  2. Decide what the big event should be.
    The main plot of our story will hinge on what this event is. It should be something extremely important to our main character. The bigger the event is to them the better. Maybe Cleo is a skiing champion who moves to a town with no snow. Or Duke’s pet gerbil passes away. Perhaps Ephemeralia has to start at a new school…with none of her best friends. These might not be huge issues to me, or even you, but they are MASSIVE for Cleo, Duke and Ephemeralia.
  3. Pick three bad things that our main character can do in response to this event.
    This is where the fun begins. What terrible, horrible actions can our main character take because of what happened to them? Do they yell? Do they scream? Are they scared to meet new people? Can they break something accidentally? Pick something you think might be scary, or would get you into A LOT of trouble. Once you have three, or more, put them in order from least bad, to most horrible.
  4. Think of something our character can do to atone for their actions.
    Sure, we’re talking about causing all kinds of trouble, but that doesn’t mean our character can get away with their behavior. In fact, until they acknowledge their actions, they will never be able to recover from the effects of the original event. So, how do they overcome, or at least address, the mess they’ve become making? They don’t need to make everything better, but it would help if they start down the path.
  5. Find a good place to sit and start writing.
    Now’s the moment we’ve been waiting for…writing. Don’t worry about making it perfect, or even good. Just get words down on paper. There’s plenty of time to revise and edit later. If that’s what you want. Remember, this is a story just for us. The key thing is to get it out. To write it. Once that’s done, you’ll already be on the path to recovery. The next steps are up to you.

Published March 15th, 2022 by Sleeping Bear Press

About the Book: Lily has a hole. It eats her joy, makes her angry, and–no matter what Daddy does to try to help–it just keeps growing. So Lily retreats. But a friend lets her in on a secret (he has a hole too!) and shows her the best way to repair holes: spend time on friends, family, the things you love, yourself, and kindness. Those patches don’t make the hole go away, but they help. A lyrical and age-appropriate story for learning to cope with grief and loss.

About the Author: Adam Lehrhaupt is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children, including Warning: Do Not Open This Book!Chicken in SpaceI Will Not Eat YouWordplayThis is a Good Story, and Sloth Went. He has traveled to six continents, performed on Broadway, and lived on a communal farm. He currently lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, with his wife and two sons. Follow Adam on Twitter and Instagram @Lehrhaupt, Facebook @adamlehrhaupt, and at adamlehrhaupt.com

Thank you, Adam, for this great guidance for writers!