Tag Archives: environment

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.

Environmental Issues: What Would Harry Potter Do?

Teachers: with Earth Day approaching (April 22), you might be spending time going over the [now] 4 R’s with your class. Maybe you’re discussing environmental issues. With the pressure of addressing common core standards, it can be hard to fit in a unit on the environment. But I say, let’s take the topic and repurpose it (the latest R!): instead of the focus being solely on the environment, hide it in the literacy curriculum. Everyone has a cause that’s close to his or her heart…even fictional characters.

EARTH DAY LESSON PLAN

OBJECTIVE: Analyze main characters at a deeper level based on character traits in the book.

MATERIALS NEEDED:

  • a book recently read (either read individually, within a guided reading group, or as a whole class)
  • [optional] picture books addressing environmental issues (list at bottom of post)

PREPARATION: [Optional]

  • Discuss ways we protect the environment. As a class, create and display a list of these environmental issues. (See the list at the bottom of the post.)
  • Research/read about local environmental issues as well as ones in other areas of the world.
  • Add to the list any new issues you’ve discovered.

LESSON: Discuss how fictional characters would protect the environment.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION (click here for the pdf):

1. Based on what you know about the main character from details in the book, what environmental issue or issues would he or she support?

2. What details from the book make you draw this conclusion?

3. What would he or she do for this cause (what action might be taken)?

4. What obstacles might he or she face?

5. Think about the antagonist. Would he or she support the same cause? If not, what would his or her cause be?

6. How about any secondary characters? Would they support the same cause as the main character?

POSSIBLE PROJECT: Have students create a piece (short story, comic, essay, etc.) addressing the main character and his or her environmental cause.


SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS: Here are great picture books about people protecting the environment.

  • One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul (Millbrook Press)
  • The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (Beach Lane Books)
  • Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor (Holiday House)
  • Planting the Trees of Kenya by Claire A. Nivola (Frances Foster Books)
  • I am Jane Goodall by Brad Melter (Dial Books)
  • The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter (Schwartz & Wade)
  • Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade (Sleeping Bear Press)
  • Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J. H. Shapiro (Charlesbridge)
  • The Soda Bottle School: A True Story of Recycling, Teamwork, and One Crazy Idea by Seno Laura Kutner and Suzanne Slade (Tilbury House Publishers)

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: Here are some issues to consider.

deforestation
global warming
land degradation
pollution (air, water, soil)
loss of biodiversity/endangered plant and animal species
habitat destruction
natural resource depletion
waste disposal
urban sprawl

STANDARDS ADDRESSED:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.6
Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.5.1
Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

 

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.