Tag Archives: conservation

STEM Tuesday: Science in Fiction Books – Author Interview with Mary Knight and Giveaway

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math! 

Your host this week is Dr. Amber J. Keyser, evolutionary biologist and author of many books for young readers. Today, she’s interviewing Mary Knight, the author of Saving Wonder.

About the book: Having lost most of his family to coal mining accidents as a little boy, Curley Hines lives with his grandfather in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. Ever since Curley can remember, Papaw has been giving him a word each week to learn and live. Papaw says words are Curley’s way out of the holler, even though Curley has no intention of ever leaving.

When a new coal boss takes over the local mining company, life as Curley knows it is turned upside down. Suddenly, his best friend, Jules, has a crush on the coal boss’s son, and worse, the mining company threatens to destroy Curley and Papaw’s mountain. Now Curley faces a difficult choice. Does he use his words to speak out against Big Coal and save his mountain, or does he remain silent and save his way of life? With everything changing, Curley doesn’t even know if there will be anything left to save.

About the author: Mary’s debut novel, SAVING WONDER (Scholastic), won the 2017 Green Earth Book Award, a Parents’ Choice award, a Sigurd Olsen honorable mention for nature writing from Northland University, and was named a Notable Book for Social Studies by the Children’s Book Council. In addition to author visits and working on her next novel, Mary is a mentor for the Carnegie Center’s Author Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. She is also co-authoring a professional development book for teachers called CoreEmpathy: Transforming the Literacy Classroom. More about Mary and her work at www.maryknightbooks.com

Praise for SAVING WONDER from School Library Journal: Descriptions of the setting’s fragile beauty are so subtly interwoven with dialogue and action, they’re not only powerful visual images but ever-present reminders of what’s at stake in Curley’s fight…Characters are fully developed and endearing, their dialogue direct and sincere…Curley and Pawpaw’s word-a-week ritual crystallizes their relationship for the readers and gives Curley the confidence to take on an adversary that seems more powerful than he is. VERDICT A remarkable debut novel from an author to watch.

Also check out great reviews from Bookpage and Publisher’s Weekly.

Mary’s ideas for how to use SAVING WONDER to introduce STEM topics in the classroom: Generally, teachers who want to use the story of Saving Wonder as a “jumping off point” for further exploration of STEM topics have found it to be very versatile. Fiction has a unique function in engaging student interest in STEM topics by showing how an individual life is being personally affected by that topic or issue.

For instance, my novel offers a very personal, heartfelt betrayal of how one family (and community) is affected by a coal company’s decision to mine a mountain. A fictional story can show readers WHY we study and explore these topics, WHY they matter to people in their everyday lives. The story inspires interest and then, the student has their own personal stake in what they are researching and exploring…because they’ve “walked in a character’s shoes” and seen that topic from that character’s point of view. In short, a story can inspire them to care…and that caring makes all the difference in their learning.

Math topics:

First paragraph of the book, Curley says that learning a word a week from his grandfather and going through the alphabet twice a year is “a perfect system.” I love asking readers “why” this is. What’s the math? A teacher could ask: What are some examples of perfect systems? “Is an equation a ‘perfect system.’ What makes a system “perfect?’

Researching statistics / surveys on the effects of mountaintop removal on the Appalachian region. Exploring the economics involved in the issue, i.e. jobs versus effects on environment and public health.

Science topics:

Extinct species in the Appalachian Mountains: What made the Appalachians a perfect habitat for animals during the ice age? What made species go extinct? The considerations / consequences of introducing a new species into a region. (The introduction of western elk into the Appalachian region is explored in the novel.)

The long-term effects of extractive mining processes, specifically mountaintop removal mining, on environment and health. 

(Science and engineering) Designing experiments on run-off and water quality on nearby streams. One fifth-grade teacher in South Charleston, West Virginia created a classroom experiment showing how toxic minerals leech into the soil and then, streams and rivers. Contact Knight through her website for a copy of this lesson. 

How mountains are formed. If the Appalachians are among the oldest mountains in the world, why are they so short? 

How coal and other energy materials are formed. How and why they burn (chemistry).

Sustainable vs non-sustainable energy systems. (Cost analysis / diagrams could also be a math topic.)

One of Curley’s words is “tipping point.” What does “tipping point” mean in science? What are some examples of a tipping point? Scientific demonstrations of “tipping point,” say when water becomes a solid and/or a gas. Relating the scientific to social or cultural tipping points may enhance understanding of both.

Curley and his friends use the power of technology to spread the news about the mining threat to their mountain and to inspire other people to care through the power of their words. Where are all the places where technology comes into play in the novel–for good or ill? How does their use of technology have to do with “tipping point?” What is the definition of “going viral” these days and how may it differ from the past?

How might you use technology to spread the word regarding something you care about? Projects could revolve around this. One middle school teacher, after reading Saving Wonder with her class, invited her students to answer the question: “What makes something worth fighting for?” And then they created projects in which they took action to make a difference in their community. This same invitation could be made, inviting students to incorporate technology in their design / response.

On a more social note . . . 

In Saving Wonder, my protagonist Curley Hines has a conversation with the new coal boss, Mr. Tiverton, concerning the mountaintop removal mining planned for Curley’s mountain. Both characters have their say, offering what the mountain and the proposed mining means to them. I think this scene offers a great example of how to have a civil conversation where both parties are able to speak and be heard–something I believe we need more of in today’s divisive culture. I created the following lesson based on this scene to help students create and practice civil conversation. This is not STEM oriented, specifically, but anyone in a STEM field will one day need this skill! This was a guest blog for Jacqueline Jules’ blog, “Pencil Tips Writing Workshop.”

These are just a few ideas for integrating the “A” of language arts into “S-T-E-M” to increase the vibrancy of learning! 

A Q & A with Amber J. Keyser and Mary Knight:

When you began to work on Saving Wonder, which came first, the environmental issues or the characters?  

Chronologically speaking, my experience and impassioned response to the environmental destruction of mountaintop removal coal mining came first, but it wasn’t until I was “introduced” to my main character, Curley Hines, that the story began to unfold.

When my husband and I moved to Kentucky from the Pacific Northwest eight years ago, we were missing our mountains, so when we heard that a state park was offering elk tours in eastern Kentucky, we jumped at the chance to explore our new landscape. Little did we know that that tour would land us on an active mountaintop removal (MTR) site. We were absolutely flabbergasted at the sight of so much devastation—hundreds of acres absolutely stripped of all life. The experience led me to conduct research on the mining practice for the next two years, while also participating in some environmental activism.

Two years after that initial experience, I was researching the setting of another novel I was writing when I came upon a historic gazebo in a public park in Cincinnati. People through the decades had carved their initials on its stone wall. As I was running my hands over the engravings, I came upon one that read: “I love Curley Hines” and in that moment, I knew that boy. I tell my readers that “he came to me whole.” I knew that he was tall and thin with curly hair, of course, that he was really smart and lived in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky with his grandfather. And I began hearing his voice. He wanted to tell me his story! It was then that I knew MTR would provide the central conflict. I had finally found a story big enough to explore the topic.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this book?

As part of my research, my assistant interviewed a contact she had in the mining permit field to answer my story-specific questions. When he was asked, “What stops mountaintop removal?” he answered, “Very little.”

Although I knew how challenged environmentalists are regarding MTR in Kentucky where many say, “Coal is King,” this answer was still very sobering. We followed up later by asking, “We’re not looking for what is probable, but rather, what might be possible to stop MTR.” He said, “Well, I suppose if an ancient Native American burial site were found, maybe some petroglyphs…” and then he said, “But none of that would matter UNLESS (caps, mine) there was also a large public outcry.” This was when I understood the power of numbers in getting what you want…or stopping what you don’t want. These answers figured prominently in the choices I made with my plot. Specifically, this was when the Native American element entered my story—an element I love. As I talked with Cherokee elders now living in the commonwealth, I discovered that the state government doesn’t even recognize that they exist nor that they ever lived here. Historians claim Native Americans were just passing through!

Can you tell us a fascinating research tidbit that you weren’t able to work into the book?

There is a very important tree that is a central element to the story—a tree that my young characters call “Ol’ Charley.” It was initially a Native American marker tree, a tree that some theorize was bent as a sapling to indicate the direction of trails or to sacred sites. An anthropologist who was a member of the Cherokee tribe and who vetted the Native American elements in the book strongly disagreed with this theory, however. To include his name in the credits, we decided to change the tree to a sycamore. The sycamore plays an important role in the Cherokee creation story and sometimes Native Americans hid in its hollowed trunks to escape “removal,” otherwise known as The Trail of Tears. I felt good about making Ol’ Charley a sycamore…but I still miss the marker tree!

Why are STEM topics important to you? 

Honestly, the most important mission I have as a fiction writer is to engage my readers in a really good story. STEM topics offer great material that can capture a reader’s attention and inspire their curiosity—which in turn keeps them turning those pages! But I have a confession to make—I didn’t really set out to introduce STEM topics in my novel. That just happened. Now, however, I’m the one who’s hooked! My next novel intentionally explores issues around endangered species and global warming on the beautiful of island of Hawaii…and yes, I had to go there to conduct my research!

I hope all you STEM folks check out SAVING WONDER and find lots of ways to use it in your classrooms! As you do, I hope you will also send me your lesson ideas. I love sharing these with other teachers. Feel free to contact me at maryknight314 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Happy STE(A)Ming! Don’t forget the wonder of ‘A’!

Buy a copy of SAVING WONDER! 

Win a copy of Saving Wonder! 

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

About Amber J. Keyser: Evolutionary biologist Amber J. Keyser has an MS in zoology and a PhD in genetics. She writes both fiction and non-fiction for tweens and teens. More information at www.amberjkeyser.com.

STEM TUESDAY: Zoology – In the Classroom

 

Welcome to the Second STEM Tuesday of the Month!
This inaugural post offers some really wild ideas for connecting zoology books, activities, and kids. With this month’s selections and ideas, your students can spy on animals, find connections to scientists (and each other), and spread enthusiasm for zoology as they model a disease outbreak.

Cover of Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and FeelHelp kids channel their inner Jane Goodall. Budding zoologists will soon be organizing and interpreting their observations like the pros when they read Nancy Castaldo’s Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel and hit the schoolyard to conduct scientific observations of animal behavior.

This book provides a comprehensive synopsis of science’s attempt to answer some fascinating questions, such as: What types of feelings, if any, do non-human animals have? Do they plan, anticipate, and think about themselves? How can we know? With the help of the Beastly Brains teacher guide (pages 16-19), segue into some serious fun: watching animals, the zoological way, and try to answer some of those questions. The guide includes instructions and a downloadable template for an observation record (ethogram).

After you cover the basics, practice with your students in the schoolyard or classroom animal center. Then set them loose on self-selected observations (AKA homework)—at a local park, home-based bird-feeder, or even the grocery store. (After all, humans are animals, too!).

Ask critical questions about the experience, such as:

  • Is there anything about this situation that might interfere with the animals’ typical behavior? (For example, captivity or the presence of an observer can influence animals’ behavior.)
  • What do students think might be going on inside the observed animals’ heads?
  • How sure can students be about their inferences?

Drawing from the book’s content, consider the challenges zoologists face as they try to make sure their own interpretations are correct. For another perspective and a simplified version of an ethogram activity, check out Pages 93-94 of the next book in this week’s feature…

IMage of cover of Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals, with 21 ActivitiesPlay out a musical chairs-style model of habitat loss. A simplified ethogram activity is one of 21 experiences in Zoology for Kids: Understanding and Working with Animals by Josh and Bethany Hestermann. Providing a broader introduction to zoology than Beastly Brains, this book also offers a wide range of activities, including ecology-based crafts and games.

The Resource Game (p. 106) is worth a special look. Like many of the books on this month’s STEM Tuesday list, Zoology for Kids tackles habitat loss and the need for conservation to support the diversity of animal life on our planet. The Resource Game brings this issue to a concrete level for readers and helps students focus on animals’ needs for water, food, and space. The game may remind you of musical chairs—with a twist—as “animal” players seek out new resources when their own habitats are disrupted.

 

Image of cover of Zoology: Cool Women Who Work with AnimalsBreak the ice before kids “meet” zoologists. While several of this STEM Tuesday’s books introduce readers to animal scientists, Zoology: Cool Women Who Work With Animals, written by STEM Tuesday founder Jennifer Swanson, focuses on several female zoologists. Readers follow these scientists’ varied journeys to this field. With targeted questions, the book also encourages readers to identify with each scientist.

A fun activity called  That’s Me!  is a social ice-breaker often used to foster an inclusive classroom environment. With a tweak or two, it can support Cool Women’s connection-building between readers and featured scientists.
During the game, a leader makes a statement. Listeners decide if the statement describes themselves. Everyone who thinks so pops out of his or her chair and calls, “That’s me!”

Tweak the game for this book with statements that are true of the featured scientists. Aim to select facts that will be true of many of your students. You might start with the following ideas: “If I could, I’d have tons of pets.” “I’m not really sure what I want as my future career.” “I’ve taken care of a particular animal for most of my life.” “I sometimes have a lot of questions.” You can also turn some of the book’s highlighted Essential Questions into That’s Me statements.

Image of cover of Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great ApesCatch the zoology bug! Model a disease outbreak. Author Pamela S. Turner’s vivid storytelling about a mountain gorilla veterinarian who pays “nest” calls is sure to make Gorilla Doctors a hit with students. Among other topics, readers will learn about threats to gorillas’ survival, including the fact that well-meaning humans–who might not be ill–can pass potentially fatal germs on to our genetic cousins. This is a perfect opportunity to try an infectious disease modeling activity, described by a teacher in a 7-minute Teaching Channel video.

Carrying cups of a white liquid (milk), students “harmlessly” interact—only to find out later that  “germs” have spread from one individual to many. (You have spiked one of the cups with an additive that will change colors with the addition of a readily available solution.)

Want to take this further? Challenge students to consider this experience specifically as a model for the spread of disease between humans and gorillas. What is well represented and not so well represented in this activity? What specific changes could we make in order to improve the model of what is described in the book?

Wolf HowlingPlease join the pack! (It’s your turn to howl.)
Humans are social animals, right? We need each other and we share resources. So, please: Contribute to this blog community! We hope this will be a dynamic space for all of us as adult learners exploring this exciting territory–connecting middle grade readers with STEM books and their important themes.

  • Which ideas seem most intriguing to you?
  • What follow-up suggestions do you have?
  • What works really well with your readers and STEM learners?
  • What else is on your mind?

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano is often spotted in her semi-wild habitat of Southeastern Massachusettts writing science/STEM books for kids, arranging her author visits, and working as a STEM curriculum and professional development consultant for authors, schools, museums, and anyone else who gives a hoot about science ed. Follow her on Facebook or contact her through her website http://carolyndecristofano.com.

 

 

 

 

Avian Flights of Fancy: MG Books That Feature Birds and Birdwatchers

I am a self-confessed bird brain. My Mom got me hooked as a bird watcher in the 4th grade. Something about watching birds go about their daily lives outside my window, and in the larger world, has always inspired me and made me want to know more about this amazing array of cretures.

They jockey for position in a hierarchy I can’t quite understand, persist against all odds, strut and preen and relax and fight, and it’s all before my eyes if only I will slow down and look. They’re beautiful and funny and puzzling.

Here are some Middle Grade reads that have something to do with birds. Some feature people as the main characters. Some feature birds as the main characters, or perhaps birds are important in some way for helping the characters to make connections. Some feature bird brains like me, kids obsessed with their binoculars or bird guides.  One nonfiction book and one picture book round out the collection, providing the reader with a broad look at the ways birds are shared in story, and the ways our actions affect their eistence on the planet.

All synopses from IndieBound.

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

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A book for young readers. It involves new kids, bullies, alligators, eco-warriors, pancakes, and pint-sized owls. A hilarious
Floridian adventure!

Nest, by Esther Ehrlich

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For fans of Jennifer Holm (“Penny from Heaven, Turtle in Paradise”), a heartfelt and unforgettable middle-grade novel about an irresistible girl and her family, tragic change, and the healing power of love and friendship. In 1972 home is a cozy nest on Cape Cod for eleven-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein, her older sister, Rachel; her psychiatrist father; and her dancer mother. But then Chirp’s mom develops symptoms of a serious disease, and everything changes.
Chirp finds comfort in watching her beloved wild birds. She also finds a true friend in Joey, the mysterious boy who lives across the street. Together they create their own private world and come up with the perfect plan: Escape. Adventure. Discovery.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp, by Kathi Appelt

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Meet Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp in this rollicking tale and National Book Award Finalist from Newbery Honoree Kathi Appelt.
Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’miah are the newest recruits of the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. The opportunity to serve the Sugar Man–the massive creature who delights in delicious sugar cane and magnanimously rules over the swamp–is an honor, and also a big responsibility, since the rest of the swamp critters rely heavily on the intel of these hardworking Scouts.
Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn is not a member of any such organization. But he loves the swamp something fierce, and he’ll do anything to help protect it.
And help is surely needed, because world-class alligator wrestler Jaeger Stitch wants to turn Sugar Man swamp into an Alligator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park, and the troubles don’t end there. There is also a gang of wild feral hogs on the march, headed straight toward them all.
The Scouts are ready. All they have to do is wake up the Sugar Man. Problem is, no one’s been able to wake that fellow up in a decade or four…

The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, by Jane Kelley

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An orphaned African grey parrot who can speak 127 words. A girl so sick she has forgotten what it means to try. Fate and a banana nut muffin bring them together. Will their shared encounter help them journey through storms inside and out? Will they lose their way, or will they find what really matters?

Here is a story that will remind readers how navigating so many of life’s desperate adventures requires friendship and, above all, hope.

Wild Wings, by Gill Lewis

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When Callum spots crazy Iona McNair on his family’s sprawling property, she’s catching a fish with her bare hands. She won’t share the fish, but does share something else: a secret.

She’s discovered a rare endangered bird, an Osprey, and it’s clear to both her and Callum that if anyone finds out about the bird, it, and its species, is likely doomed. Poachers, egg thieves, and wild weather are just some of the threats, so Iona and Callum vow to keep track of the bird and check her migratory progress using the code a preservationist tagged on her ankle, no matter what.

But when one of them can no longer keep the promise, it’s up to the other to do it for them both. No matter what. Set against the dramatic landscapes of Scotland and West Africa, this is a story of unlikely friendships, the wonders of the wild—and the everyday leaps of faith that set our souls to flight.

Sparrow Girl, by Sara Pennypacker

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Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.
As the people of her village gathered with firecrackers and gongs to scatter the sparrows, Ming-Li held her ears and watched in dismay. The birds were falling from the trees, frightened to death! Ming-Li knew she had to do something–even if she couldn’t stop the noise. Quietly, she vowed to save as many sparrows as she could, one by one…

Blue Birds, by Caroline Starr Rose

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It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.

One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake

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A Newbery Honor Book
An ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book
Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Novel

In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, in 1871, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly.
But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn’t, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of “pigeoners” trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body wearing Agatha’s blue-green ball gown everyone assumes the worst.Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.

Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli

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Palmer LaRue is running out of birthdays. For as long as he can remember, he’s dreaded the day he turns ten — the day he’ll take his place beside all the other ten-year-old boys in town, the day he’ll be a wringer. But Palmer doesn’t want to be a wringer. It’s one of the first things he learned about himself and it’s one of the biggest things he has to hide. In Palmer’s town being a wringer is an honor, a tradition passed down from father to son. Palmer can’t stop himself from being a wringer just like he can’t stop himself from growing one year older, just like he can’t stand up to a whole town — right? Newbery Medal winner Jerry Spinelli’s most powerful novel yet is a gripping tale of how one boy learns how not to be afraid.

Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

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For fans of The Chronicles of Narnia comes the first book in the Wildwood Chronicles, the New York Times bestselling fantasy adventure series by Colin Meloy, lead singer of the Decemberists, and Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of The Mysterious Benedict Society.

In Wildwood, Prue and her friend Curtis uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Wildwood captivates readers with the wonder and thrill of a secret world within the landscape of a modern city. It feels at once firmly steeped in the classics of children’s literature and completely fresh at the same time. The story is told from multiple points of view, and the book features more than eighty illustrations, including six full-color plates, making this an absolutely gorgeous object.

Supports the Common Core State Standards.

The Guardians of Ga’hoole, by Kathryn Lasky

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Ga’Hoole is a classic hero mythology about the fight between good and evil. This new version of The Capture will feature art from the movie, due out in September 2010!

After Soren, a young owlet, is pushed from his family’s nest by his older brother, he’s plucked from the forest floor by agents from a mysterious school, the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls. When Soren arrives at St. Aggie’s, he suspects there is more to the school than meets the eye. He and his new friend, the clever and scrappy Gylfie, find out that St. Aggie’s is actually a training camp where the school’s leader can groom young owls to help achieve her goal–to rule the entire owl kingdom.

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, by Phillip Hoose

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The tragedy of extinction is explained through the dramatic story of a legendary bird, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and of those who tried to possess it, paint it, shoot it, sell it, and, in a last-ditch effort, save it. A powerful saga that sweeps through two hundred years of history, it introduces artists like John James Audubon, bird collectors like William Brewster, and finally a new breed of scientist in Cornell’s Arthur A. “Doc” Allen and his young ornithology student, James Tanner, whose quest to save the Ivory-bill culminates in one of the first great conservation showdowns in U.S. history, an early round in what is now a worldwide effort to save species. As hope for the Ivory-bill fades in the United States, the bird is last spotted in Cuba in 1987, and Cuban scientists join in the race to save it….

“The Race to Save the Lord God Bird” is the winner of the 2005 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2005 Bank Street – Flora Stieglitz Award.

If all these these books about birds and birdwatchers sparked your curiosity, maybe you’d be interested, as I have been, in participating in citizen science that involves watching birds. There are great opportunities to be a part of real science through your binoculars.

The Great Backyard Bird Count , coming February 12-15, 2016, is a great way to get out and see some of your  own neighborhood birds. Cornell University’s Project Feederwatch, through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is another good way to become a bird brain yourself! It’s great for just about anyone who has a window; everyone can participate, kids and adults alike. It’s not too late to join in this year’s watch season, either. Still hungry for more? Check out the Cornell Lab’s Education page for a wide range of information and activities.

Whatever you do, the world of birds is right outside your window, AND btween the pages of a book. Check it out!

In fourth grade, Valerie Stein touched an ancient artifact from an archaeological dig. Though she never got to travel the world in search of buried treasure, she ended up journeying to new and exciting places between the pages of books. Now she spends her time researching history, in museums and libraries, which is like archaeology but without the dirt. Valerie’s book, The Best of It: A Journal of Life, Love and Dying, was published in 2009.  Both her current work and an upcoming middle grade series are historical fiction set in Washington State. Valerie is Publisher at Homeostasis Press and blogs at Gatherings, the blog of Gather Here: History for Young People