Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Original Earth Day

2Tomorrow (March 21) is the original Earth Day. So how did April end up becoming Earth Month? I asked an expert on the environment, middle-grade author Bonnie J. Doerr, to tell us the story. Along the way, she highlights great books about the environment, so you may want to pick up copies now for your April Earth Day celebrations. And don’t forget to add Bonnie’s titles, Island Sting and Stakeout, two eco-mysteries about endangered animals.

Island StingStakeout

Read Green. Bee green.

By Bonnie J. Doerr

The origin of Earth Day is both interesting and surprising. The man who inspired Earth Day’s first official day of recognition built a plastic production factory. Seriously—plastics. But John McConnell (March 22, 1915 – October 20, 2012), was also a man with vision. In 1939, his laboratory work aroused his interest in ecology and conservation. He recognized, to protect the earth, humans would need to find ways to use the waste products from manufacturing. McConnell ultimately inspired the United Nations to proclaim March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, as a day to honor the Earth.

One month after this day, a different day spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson (June 4, 1916 – July 3, 2005), was celebrated. The first Earth Day teach-ins were held on April 22, 1970. Programs were held at schools, universities, and in communities all across the United States. For his work, Senator Nelson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In 1990, Denis Hayes (August 29, 1944–), who helped Senator Nelson establish the Earth Day celebrations in the United States, was tasked with launching a worldwide movement. More than 190 countries now organize Earth Day events to encourage people to help protect the environment.

last childAlthough Earth Day celebrations have expanded around the world, some believe the need to make children aware of environmental problems is greater than ever. With our fast-growing cities and technology, there is a greater separation between children and nature than ever before—a separation Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods defines as “nature deficit disorder.” Louv argues that “this separation produces adults who don’t personally interact with nature, don’t understand the importance of our connection with it, and therefore are unlikely to care much about it.” It’s up to us as authors, parents, and educators to find ways to encourage that appreciation.

We can initiate this encouragement through books. One of the best things about reading is that it’s not weather dependent! The list of entertaining and/or meaty titles is endless, but let’s look at some I’ve found to be tasty appetizers, beginning with reference titles.

sharing natureEven if there’s no time to read the entire book, I highly recommend Last Child in the Woods. This enlightening adult title includes ways to reconnect to nature no matter your age or location. Skim through it and see if you agree.
Two classics by Joseph Cornell that parents and other educators find valuable are Sharing Nature with Children and Sharing Nature with Children II. These titles provide ideas on how to increase enjoyment and appreciation of nature in children and adults.

Green TeenTo suggest fun and creative ways for youth to live a more green life all year, try The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet by Jenn Savedge and Generation Green by Linda and Tosh Sivertsen.
I have a tendency to get wrapped up in shiny book covers. So before that happens to you, here are three terrific links to help you find environmentally focused books, both fiction, and nonfiction.Generation Green

If you’re not yet familiar with the Authors for Earth Day organization, now is the perfect time to get to know this amazing group. Everything you need to know about them can be found at their website.They have a recommended list of middle grade and teen fiction on the environment.

The Children and Nature Network suggests books for adults and children.
Each year, the Green Earth Book Awards are presented to books that best use the power of story to teach children about our natural environment and the responsibility we all have to protect it. (Just a note: Bonnie’s book Stakeout was Green Earth Book Award finalist in 2012.)
Milkweed GuidesIt would be a disservice if I did not mention a series of unique literary field guides published by Milkweed Editions. These books travel the United States by region combining social studies and literature through stories, poetry, and essays that tell what makes each area distinct.
Adventure novels with tweens and young teens as environmental heroes are good reads any time. A virtual experience with nature may initiate interest in a real outdoor encounter.
talking earthThe late Jean Craighead George remains a favorite author who provided such experiences. She said it well in her preface to My Side of the Mountain, “Be you writer or reader, it is very pleasant to run away in a book.” A lesser known of her titles about a Seminole girl’s solo journey into the Everglades is The Talking Earth. ALA Booklist says of it, “…the story’s message that the earth is precious and we are all part of it will be well taken.”
SkinkAny young reader novel by Carl Hiaasen is a winner, though his latest, Skink No Surrender, is one of my favorites, perhaps because he’s finally put the ex-governor of Florida— Clinton Tyree (Skink) who is a fierce environmentalist—in one of his children’s titles.

Sammy KeyesSammy Keyes and the Wild Things pits Wendelin Van Draanen’s wonderful Sammy against a poacher of the endangered California Condors. What could go wrong combining a group of lost kids, limited supplies, an injured condor, and a dangerous poacher?
operation redwoodReaders more interested in plants than animals will enjoy S. Terrell French’s Operation Redwood, “a funny, fast-paced adventure that shows the power of determined individuals, no matter their age, to change the world.”
For those who’d rather be eco-minded without tackling the outdoors (we all know at least one, right?), I recommend Lisa Greenwald’s My Life in Pink & Green. Twelve-year-old Lucy, a whiz with makeup, finds a way to save her family’s business and help the environment, too.My Life in Pink

Before I go, I would like to share with you part of a personal message I received from Jean Craighead George when she was 90 years young and still writing: “That you were teaching ecology to youngsters will make all the difference in how we handle this ‘sixth mass extinction’ since the Ordovician Period—which we are causing, not lava flows or meteors. Since we are the cause, we can solve it with the help of people like you raising the awareness of the next generation… Bonnie, may you sell millions of copies.”

Let’s all “sell” reading to children, and let’s work together to raise the ecological awareness of millions of children!

Thank you, Bonnie, for this history of Earth Day and all your wonderful book recommendations. We can head into Earth Month prepared with lots of great reads. Oh, and don’t forget to add Bonnie’s titles to the reading list. They feature thirteen-year-old Kenzie Ryan, who starts Keys Teens Care (KTC) to protect the environment. KTC also serves as her cover as she and her friends track down poachers of endangered animals.

Island Sting

“An exciting adventure, highly recommended.” ~ Midwest Book Review

“Stakeout is a riveting read for younger readers and nature lovers.” ~ Midwest Book Reviews

“Stakeout is a riveting read for younger readers and nature lovers.” ~ Midwest Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GIVEAWAY

To help you celebrate Earth Day, we’re giving away an autographed copy of each book. To enter for the drawing, tweet or post a link on social media and post the link in the comments &/or leave a comment. One entry for each social media mention and comment.

**WINNERS will be announced on Friday, April 3, 2015.**

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR WINNER: BROOKE

About Bonnie J. Doerr

A love of nature, travel, and working with children are the building blocks of Bonnie J. Doerr’s life. These passions inspire her books about teen guardians of the environment. You can find out more about Bonnie and her books at her website and on Facebook.

About Laurie J. Edwards

A former teacher and children’s librarian, Laurie J. Edwards is the author of more than 2200 magazine and educational articles as well as 20 books. Two recent titles include Cyber Self-Defense, which includes tips on combatting cyberbullying, and Grace & the Guiltless, the first in a YA series set in the Wild West. She is also an illustrator whose work appears in Stakeout and Island Sting, and in the picture book The Teeny Tiny Woman. Find out more about her and her books on her website, blog, and Facebook.

Leaping Into Literature: How Books on Dance Fueled My Passion for Reading and Writing (Book Giveaway)

I’ve had two artistic passions in my life: dancing and writing. After spending more than twenty-five years in dance studios, studying and then teaching ballet, tap, and jazz, I realized my stronger passion was for prose rather than pirouettes. Yet, I’ve always loved to read books on dance. In fact, I can still recall the excitement I felt back in elementary school when I first discovered Noel Streatfeild’s novels Ballet Shoes and Dancing Shoes. I tore through them and went on to read more of Streatfeild’s books: Skating Shoes, Theater Shoes, and others. Back then, my interest in dance brought me to Streatfeild’s books on the library shelves. But once I found them, that passion led to another–the love of reading and writing.

Just as one artistic pursuit influenced another in my life, perhaps these books on dance will have the same effect on you, your child, or your student. And, for those who prefer sitting in the audience: these books will give you a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes of all those jetés, jives, and jazz hands.

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Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

This novel was originally published in 1937 and is still going strong. It’s about three British orphans, Pauline, Petrova, and Posie, who turn to the performing arts to support their new family. The story relates their successes and failures as they come to find their true passions. It was made into a movie with Emma Watson in 2007.

51jB6c7gSaLDancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Twenty years after Ballet Shoes, Streatfeild published this novel about orphans, Rachel and Hilary, who join their Aunt Cora’s dance troupe, Wintle’s Little Wonders. Misunderstandings, high drama, and a spoiled cousin named Dulcie, who is anything but the sweetness her name implies, infuse this story with humor and heart.

81xUxysTEYL._SL1500_To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel (illustrator)

This graphic novel is a memoir of the author’s desire to be a professional ballerina. It portrays the journey from her childhood in Puerto Rico, where she dreamed of becoming a dancer, to her eventual debut with the New York City Ballet.

91t2npP8+9L._SL1500_Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Thirteen-year-old Nate dreams of starring in a Broadway show. When he learns about an open casting call for E.T.: The Musical, he shuffles out of Jankburg, Pennsylvania and hops on a bus bound for Broadway. With a little help from a long lost aunt and his friend Libby at home, his journey to the Great White Way is eventually a rousing success.

81-i-FyC5ZL._SL1500_Five, Six, Seven Nate by Tim Federle

This companion novel to Better Nate Than Ever finds Nate on Broadway, rehearsing for E.T.: The Musical. But as the second understudy for E.T., Nate finds the road to stardom littered with struggles as well as successes. From Nate’s determination to make his one spoken word (“Blurb”) a showstopper to his eventual performance, his hilarious narration doesn’t miss a beat.

51rBYphzWHLBallerina Dreams: From Orphan to Dancer by Michaela and Elaine DePrince, illustrated by Frank Morrison

This Step into Reading book is the true story of Michaela DePrince’s journey from war-torn Sierra Leone to the United States, where she was adopted by an American family and began her ballet training. The story depicts how her strength and perseverance resulted in the fulfillment of her dream of being a ballerina. Michaela was also featured in the film documentary First Position.

51yDdgkZmzLAlicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Raul Colón.

This beautifully illustrated biography of Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso tells her story of overcoming partial blindness and reaching stardom in both Cuba and the United States.

 

51MSasopx9LIsabelle by Lawrence Yep

One of the popular American Girl series, this book features Isabelle, who starts her first year at Anna Hart School of the Arts. Along the way, she learns not to compete with others, but to find her own personal best if she wants to succeed as a dancer.

51QQXkhcrQLSugar Plum Ballerinas by Whoopi Goldberg

When Alexandrea Petrakova Johnson moves from her small town in Georgia to Harlem, her mother forces her into ballet lessons. After several bouts with rivalries, clumsiness, and stage fright, Alexandrea eventually finds success on the stage. This is the first in a series, written by actress Whoopi Goldberg.

51xnyvk59yLBallet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca.

In this award-winning book, the authors tell the behind-the-scenes story of Martha Graham’s 1944 dance composition, Appalachian Spring. The story describes how the collaboration between Graham, composer Aaron Copland, and set designer Isamu Noguchi led to this iconic work.

If you have a favorite book about dance, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section. Two lucky winners, drawn from comments made from now until March 18 at midnight, Eastern Standard Time, will receive a signed copy of either Better Nate Than Ever or Five, Six, Seven, Nate.

Dorian Cirrone is the author of several books, including the young adult ballet novel, Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You, as well as the forthcoming middle-grade novel Saving Summer (S&S/Aladdin, summer 2016). Subscribe to her blog for writing tips and giveaways at: doriancirrone.com/welcome/blog

Interview with Award-winning Author Sarah Albee and a Giveaway!

Please welcome award-winning author Sarah Albee!

Sarah Albsarah-albee1ee is the author of more than 100 children’s books. She has had three of her books appear on the New York Times children’s bestseller list.  She currently has an upper-middle-grade, nonfiction book published in May, 2010 about the history of toilets and sanitation entitled POOP HAPPENED! A History of the World from the Bottom Up, and a follow-up title under contract due out in 2013 about how insects have affected human history. She blogs daily on a variety of science and social history topics geared toward middle-grade readers (sarahalbeebooks.com/blog). She spent nine years as an editor at Children’s Television Workshop, working primarily for Sesame Street and attending both the Bologna and Frankfurt Book Fairs.

 

Here’s her new release!

Why’d They Wear That?  from National Geographic Kids (Feb 2015)
Move over Project Runway. Get ready to chuckle your way through centuries of fashion dos and don’ts! In this humorous and approachable narrative, kids will learn about outrageous, politically-perilous, funky, disgusting, regrettable, and life-threatening creations people have worn throughout the course of human history, all the way up to the present day. From spats and togas to hoop skirts and hair shirts, why people wore what they did is an illuminating way to look at the social, economic, political, and moral climates throughout history.

Fanatastic reviews for her new book:

“Now see, the reason I like National Geographic Kids is that they’re reliable.  Take Why’d They Wear That?, for example.  You know what you’re getting here, even if you don’t know the details.  Mind you, the details are where all the good stuff is.” - School Library Journal

“Full of period images that show off every bustle, frill, and rivet, this wide-ranging guide to clothing throughout time will fascinate history and fashion buffs alike.”Publisher’s Weekly 

 

Thanks for joining us Sarah! Here are some questions we have for you: 

You write both fiction and nonfiction- Do you like one genre better?

I love that I get to do both. And I do think writing for different genres is a great opportunity. My fiction editors appreciate that I like to do research. And my nonfiction editors appreciate that I know how to tell a story. At present, though, my passion is nonfiction.

  What was it like working at Sesame Street?

It was a fantastic place to work. I landed a job there soon after I graduated from college. I loved the humor, the music, the travel, the creativity—and just being surrounded by so many talented people. It was a dream job.

                       

Your nonfiction books are so much fun! How did you get interested in writing nonfiction?

Thanks for that! I’ve always been interested in nonfiction. As a kid, I read the World Book Encyclopedia for fun. It’s only been in the last 6-7 years, though, that I’ve been able to devote larger chunks of time to researching and writing longer, middle-grade books. For years, when my kids were young, I wrote a lot of work-for-hire and younger fiction and nonfiction. It was fun, and rewarding, and I learned how to meet tight deadlines and never get writer’s block. But now that my kids are older and don’t need me around as much, I feel like I’m in a new phase and I’m loving the flexibility to choose a topic I’m passionate about and plunge into it.

 Three of your nonfiction books, including your newest, take a specific topic from the beginning of civilization to the present time. Why so broad a category?


I often ask myself that very question—why do I keep writing the same book over and over–the history of the whole world from ancient times to the present? But what I love to do is to trace one theme chronologically through human history, ideally a theme that kids will find interesting. First sanitation (okay, poop), then insects, and now, with my new book, crazy fashions. Chronology is really important to me. Some might call a broad sweep through history superficial, but often kids don’t get enough context when they study historical units in school. They might study ancient Egypt, or the American Revolution, but they may not have a good sense where and when these events fall on the historical continuum. And the beauty of tracing a theme through history is that I am not limited to one time or place—I can take a snapshot of the world from multiple places and perspectives, as long as I can relate them all to my theme. For instance, in Why’d They Wear That? in the chapter on the seventeenth century, I was able to include the Pilgrims in America, Oliver Cromwell in England, Louis XIV in France, sedan chairs, tanning leather, and the weird trend of wearing face patches—because I could tie everything together with fashion.

 How much time does it take you to research one of these books? Where do you start?

                                                

I spend about a year doing research—but it’s not all I’m doing, of course. I usually have various book projects in different phases at the same time. For instance, I just finished two new book proposals, and am working on a first draft for my 2017 book, but am beginning research on a new idea. And my new book, Why’d They Wear That? (National Geographic), launched on February 10th so I’ve been super busy with publicity for that.

For research, I have the greatest library nearby—my husband is a high school teacher, and we live close to his school. His school’s library has fantastic subscriptions to various academic search engines, and the librarians are awesome and helpful. I make frequent trips to DC to research at the Library of Congress and the National Archives, and then, depending on my topic, to more specialized academic libraries. I also interview experts, in person if possible, but also via Skype.

  Do you travel to places to research your books or do it from your house?

A little of both. Every place I go—whether it’s a school visit in another state, a family vacation, or a museum trip—I see as a research opportunity. And whenever I can, I visit a place I want to write about, to get a feel for the sights, sounds, and smells. I’ve been to the Paris sewers, and Lyon, France where they still make silk, and a cotton mill museum in Lowell, Massachusetts so I could hear for myself how deafening the sound of the looms are. And last fall, I visited the poison plants garden at Cornell University to research a future book project.

 Can you tell us three fun and unexpected facts you discovered when researching your latest book?

Early versions of men’s athletic trunks—the kinds acrobats and boxers wore in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century—were the same in front and back, which must have resulted in a terrible wedgie.

Shoes, even for the wealthy, who could afford custom-made shoes, did not come in right and left until the latter part of the nineteenth century.

old-shoes

As late as the nineteenth and even early twentieth century, most young boys in Europe and America from well-to-do families wore petticoats up until the age of six or seven, when they’d be “breeched,” and dressed in pants. Once you start looking for them in portrait paintings, you start to see boys in dresses everywhere.

Okay, one more: 4. In seventeenth century Venice, most men, women, and children wore masks for a huge part of the year, and not just during Carnival season. It made it hard to tell the identity, or social class—or even the gender, sometimes—of most people, and allowed them to participate in some serious debauchery incognito. It was quite a bizarre phenomenon.

 What tips can you give people if they want to write nonfiction? 

Find a topic you feel passionate about, and don’t worry about whether it will “sell.” It’s a really exciting time for nonfiction right now—there’s so much great nonfiction being published, and writers can really develop their own voice and style, more than ever before.

Thanks for joining us Sarah!!

Giveaway!

Sarah has generously donated an autographed copy of her new book,

Why’d They Wear That?  

To win this prize, tell us the craziest outfit you ever wore below.  

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Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 20 nonfiction books for kids.  Like any good scientist and author, Jennifer is rarely without a notebook and she writes down her observations throughout the day. It is a practice she encourages many young readers and writers. You can visit Jennifer at  www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com,  her special place to explore the world.