Interview with Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster

Last week I posted a review of ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE here. Today I’m honored to follow up on that post with an interview with both of the book’s creators, author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley, as part of their blog tour. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the rest of the stop in the blog tour, too!  (See below for a complete list.)
LAT: How did you first become interested in doing a book about zoo scientists in general, and about these three in particular?
Patricia headshotPatricia: When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay her teacher assigned. The topic was zoos—are they good or bad? Only the teacher didn’t provide a balanced look—most of the literature she shared with the kids was anti-zoo. As the mother of a zookeeper, I knew my niece—and kids like her—needed the other side of the story. That experience planted the seeds for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.
Patricia: During my initial research, I learned that zoos tackle conservation using three basic approaches: visitor education; captive breeding and reintroduction programs; and in situ study, or studying wildlife in their native habitats. I searched for several months, conducting brief phone interviews with people at various zoos to find the best match. Not all zoos are large enough to have research departments, and the largest zoos often charge an hourly fee to interview their scientists. Some even charge hefty licensing fees to write about their “intellectual property.” But finally, the pieces slid into place only slightly denting my bank account. I found three charismatic species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos) and three scientists willing to speak to me who address the three main ways zoos promote conservation. And this was all before I’d written a word!
Annie headshotAnnie: I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln Park Zoo connected me with nature on a very deep level. It is open 365 days a year and it is free, so for a Mom with four kids that was important. All summer long we would go to the zoo in the morning and North Avenue Beach in the afternoon. We would get to know the animals. In 5th grade I learned that all of our Great Apes needed protecting. I signed up for a special Behind the Scenes program for students. This program had us working with the scientists, keepers, and access to so many wildlife leaders. Zoos had a great impact on my life and the way I choose to live my life. When Patti approached me to work with her on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I was all in. It is vital for kids/teens to connect with nature and conservation and I believe Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire many families to protect our world.
LAT: I so agree. As a zoo lover myself, it was really heartening to read such a thorough, well-researched (and gorgeous!) look at the good work that zoos are doing. Besides me, what kind of reader do you think ZOO SCIENTISTS will appeal to?
Patricia: I write for the kid who asks questions about animals and our world; the kid who wants to protect wildlife; the future scientist; the future writer with a passion for the environment; or the voracious reader. But way at the back of my mind, I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read as a kid.
Annie: Similar to Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this book is targeted to 3-8 grade students. I have had pre-sale copies and shared it with many… and young and old truly love this book. Every time I read it, I am even more inspired into action. It will appeal to nature lovers, zoo enthusiasts, scientific minds, and anyone who wants to learn more about our world. More important, I think anyone who reads Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will want to help our world!
LAT: I think it’s hard to read this book (or Plastic Ahoy!) and not come away with an enhanced passion for science, the environment, and doing what we can to help. What was your favorite part of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I love to get to know the scientists. They always inspire and amaze me, and I hope they will inspire young readers to follow in their footsteps. I keep in touch with the scientists I interview to find out where science takes them and how their research grows and develops.
Annie: Getting kissed by Maku, a black rhino!
Annie: My favorite part of making this book was traveling together with Patricia and being able to be a part of all of the interviews so that I knew the kinds of images (both photo and video) that would be important to tell the story. My favorite trip was of course traveling to Chicago and to document black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Currently I live in Seattle, so to be able to create a book featuring a scientist from a zoo that helped shape who I am, and one where I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my youth was very exciting. We got a tour of the back area of the rhino exhibit and then worked with Maku’s keeper in the exhibit so that I could get some great photos. It’s the shoot we did that the cover of the book came from. During the shoot, the keeper would work with him and feed him snacks. She let me give him one and the next thing I knew Maku kissed my hand.
LAT: That is so cool! It sounds like it really was a treat for both of you to work on this project. What was the hardest part of the making ZOO SCIENTISTS, and how did you deal with that?
Patricia: For me, the hardest part was lining up the three zoos. After the zoos, the animals, and the scientists fell into the place, the rest of the book was a breeze in comparison!
Annie: Time is the hardest part of making any book. Shooting with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was very challenging photographically on many levels. We were given permission to shoot at the breeding facility, but there were many points to consider. Their main goal is to breed black-footed ferrets to reintroduce into the wild. BFFs are nocturnal, solitary animals that do not do well with stress. They also need dim lighting. So not knowing any of this in advance, I had to work very efficiently in low light to capture these charismatic animals.
LAT: I can certainly understand the difficulty of the research and logistics to line up the three zoos and their projects, Patricia, and I’m so glad it worked out. But I can’t even imagine how you came up with such great photos in that kind of environment, Annie. Hats off to both of you! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I didn’t come across any surprises that made me change course, but I’m always surprised by the coolness of the science and how scientists solve problems. The story of black-footed ferrets being saved from the brink of extinction, not once but twice, is truly astonishing!
Annie: We feature Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. We were able to interview her while Patricia and I were in Washington, D.C., accepting a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic Ahoy! We had a very limited time with the scientist and only were granted permission the day before we arrived. In our allotted one hour, we interviewed her, but had no time to photograph her with the orangutans nor did we have access on a level that we were given at the other zoos with the animals. It was also a very cloudy/rainy day so the orangutans were not very cooperative! Because I knew we needed to get orangutan images for the book from other zoos, I started hanging out at my local zoo in Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo, to capture images. In addition, I was traveling to Australia and made a point to go to the Melbourne Zoo. Their orangutan exhibit is phenomenal and really helps educate people on how farming palm oil can be so destructive to our environment.
LAT: I was astonished by the story of the BFFs, too. And, as a Seattleite myself, I love visiting the orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo. How neat to know that they are pictured in ZOO SCIENTISTS! I’m always curious about other writers’ and illustrators’ (including photographers’!) research processes. Can you tell us about yours? Did you plot the basic outline first, then fill in the blanks with research? Or did you immerse yourself in the research first, then feel your way into the structure? I see you did a lot of email and phone interviews—did you have to go back and forth to complete the stories? Were there any fun facts that got cut that you were sad to see go?
Patricia: When I write for Millbrook Press, I have to submit a formal proposal which provides a basic overview of the idea, describes the chapters, and gives the acquisition committee an idea of where this book would fit in the market. In order to complete the proposal, I conduct short informational interviews with the scientists by phone. During these interviews, I try to find out the broad strokes of their story and whether they are willing to commit the necessary time to lengthy in-person interviews, clarification questions, and vetting the final manuscript. Once I have a scientist’s buy-in, I can craft the proposal and hopefully give my editor some idea what my narrative thread might be.
Patricia: When the acquisitions committee gave me the go-ahead on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, Annie and I made three trips to the three different zoos to interview the scientists and photograph/film them at work. We braved a spring blizzard, backed away from a charging rhino, and laughed when a chattering black-footed ferret told us exactly what he thought of our intrusion on his space!
Patricia: And as for cutting fun facts, never! I re-word and re-imagine before I cut anything fun. The writing was all about the fun. Why wouldn’t I share that with readers at every opportunity?
Annie: Patricia and I traveled together for all of the interviews. She shared with me many of the papers the scientists had written and we dug deep into who they were. Being able to document with photos and videos always takes research because the more you know about your subject, the more knowledge you can bring to your creative approach. Once the first draft was written, I knew I had to document many other animals. At this time, I became a zoo stalker with my camera. I spent weeks at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle getting to know the animals so that I could look for special moments. A photographer also has to wait for light for the subjects. Early morning and later afternoons in the fall gives you a golden light.
LAT: Oh, I love getting that insight into the process. What was your larger goal, i.e. what were you trying to give readers of ZOO SCIENTISTS as a takeaway?
Patricia: A Senegalese forestry engineer by the name of Baba Dioum presented a paper at a 1968 meeting of the IUCN. In his paper he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” When I write books like Zoo Scientists to the Rescue or Sea Otter Heroes or Plastic, Ahoy!, I want readers to come away with a newfound respect for our connection to the natural world. Our habits matter because they create ripples across the globe. So, whether we conserve energy to reduce climate change, learn to appreciate the role an apex predator plays in its ecosystem, reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our lives, or buy products that use sustainably-sourced palm oil, we choose to create positive ripples that help preserve the breathtaking abundance of biodiversity on our planet.
Annie: When photographing/filming I always want to document and help viewers see what a writer/script needs to tell a story. Zoo Scientists to the Rescue captures what people are doing to help save endangered species and their environments. I’m hoping that all of our readers feel inspired into action to help protect our world.
LAT: Well said, and I do think you succeeded. In addition to teaching something to our readers, I believe every book teaches us something new–about the world, about
ourselves, or about the craft of creating. What have you learned as a result of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?

Patricia: Every time I write a book about an aspect of the environment, I’m reminded that scientists find new connections all the time between humans and the plants and animals that share our planet. I guess that’s job security for me, but it’s also a wake-up call for young readers. Without a clean ocean will there be enough food to eat or oxygen to breathe? Without predators like black-footed ferrets or sea otters, how will their respective ecosystems thrive? And without large animals like orangutans and black rhinos, will the smaller animals also disappear? Despite what our current administration seems to think, humans are not “entitled” to use and abuse the world’s natural resources without giving back. We have to conserve for the future.
Annie: Zoos are really important places in our world for conservation, education, inspiration and so much more. If the habitat of the orangutan disappears because of our need for palm oil, the orangutans disappear. If black rhinos are killed to extinction because of poachers, then the human population has failed to protect the animals in need of our protection. There is so much destruction happening all around needing to be documented, shared, and reversed. I’ve learned we all need to raise our voices together and do everything possible to protect our world.
Annie: Climate change is real and our ocean is the great regulator of our planet. The weather affects all the regions of the world. People always look at our planet from a people point of view… and I have always looked out for the animals. We told the stories of these three animals and their environment through the lens of people helping them… while other people are trying to destroy the very same animals.
Annie: This is the second title Patricia and I co-created with editor Carol Hinz and entire Lerner Publishing design/marketing crew. It reinforced how much I truly appreciate the team effort to take a book from your imagination into one you can hold in your hands and share with others. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” With this book, we are hoping to inspire people into action to protect our world!
LAT: Thank you for sharing those important lessons with us. What are you both working on next?
Patricia: Annie and I have are mulling over a few possibilities for our next book, but you can bet we’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I have two books coming out in 2018: a picture book called Neema’s Reason to Smile (illustrated by the talented Mehrdokht Amini) which tells the story of a Kenyan girl who yearns to be more, and another middle-grade nonfiction science book called Eavesdropping on Elephants which follows scientists who study forest elephants simply by listening to them. I’m extremely excited about both of these titles because they held kids become global citizens in very different ways.
Annie: Although Zoo Scientists to the Rescue officially launches in October, we still have so much to do! We just finished our trailer and are hoping schools and organizations will welcome us to come inspire and speak. We are planning a 30-Day Challenge for everyone to do one thing every day that will help #ProtectOurWorld
Annie: My Uncle Al always said, “Annie, have your fingers in 12 different project ideas…” As I’m writing this, I am on my way to film whales in Tonga. Three days ago, I was in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Bellingham, WA, documenting the environmental disaster of the Cooke Salmon Farm net catastrophe which released 300,000 farmed Atlantic Salmon into the Puget Sound/Salish Sea. In June I was in the Arctic Circle. And I’m also laying the groundwork on a larger project I’d like to work on with Patricia.
LAT: These projects all sound so exciting! I’m looking forward to hearing more about them all when the time comes. Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t? 
Patricia and Annie: You were very thorough, Laurie, and asked us great questions! Thank you so much for participating in the blog tour. We are very grateful to you for wanting to write about us and share our story with your readers. Perhaps we can close with a statement:

We truly hope our story and reading the book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire others to act. The orangutans, black rhinos, and black-footed ferrets would not be with us today if it were not for people giving them a voice. Yet, they are endangered because of people. We all need to raise our voices together, take an action every day, and share with your friends, family, and colleagues what you are doing and why. We need to work together to #ProtectOurWorld.

LAT: I think that’s a great way to close. Thank you so much, Patricia and Annie, for answering my questions and for your dedication to bringing great books like ZOO SCIENTISTS into the world. I am sure YOUR actions will have many ripple effects around the world. 
Catch up and follow along with the rest of the blog tour here:

To download posters with information about the 30-day #ProtectOurWorld journal challenge, click here.

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster #ProtectOurWorld challenge journal

Thanks for visiting!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE

Zoo Scientists cover

Zoo Scientists cover

ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE
by Patricia Newman, photographs by Annie Crawley
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2017
Grades 4-8, 64 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Zoos take care of animals and welcome visitors of all ages, but that’s not all zoos do. Author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley bring readers behind the scenes at three zoos to meet scientists working to save endangered animals.
Meredith Bastian’s experiences studying wild orangutans help educate both zoo visitors and the zoo workers who care for captive orangutans. Jeff Baughman breeds black-footed ferrets and reintroduces them into the wild. And Rachel Santymire examines poop from black rhinoceroses at the zoo and in their natural habitat to benefit all black rhinos. Find out how zoo scientists are helping us learn more about these remarkable, at-risk species before it’s too late!
Features: Author Biography, Bibliography, Full-Color Photographs, Further Reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Primary Source Quotations, Websites

The professional reviewers liked it:

“Many kids are familiar with zoos, but there’s much more to these attractions than an opportunity to see animals up close. Newman shines a light on the important work zoo scientists do to aid conservation and contribute important research, both at zoo labs and in the wild. This engagingly written book focuses on three scientists and their work protecting and researching orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinoceroses, respectively. Each scientist describes his or her background, research in the wild, challenges to conservation efforts, and how zoo labs help them do their work. Photos of the scientists in the field, as well as their animal research subjects, enlivens the already fascinating material. Newman clearly describes the conditions that led to each species becoming endangered and encourages readers to think carefully about their own actions in light of threats to wildlife. Though the book appears slim, the content is fairly dense, so this will likely appeal more to middle-grade readers. Hand this to kids who can’t get enough of the Scientists in the Field series.” —Booklist

“In this incredibly informative book, readers learn about three zoo scientists who are working to save three species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and wild black rhinos) using a variety of methods, from conservation education to breeding programs. Newman also includes ideas on how students can contribute to conservation efforts, such as reducing palm oil usage. Various zoos and organizations that focus on conservation are also mentioned; for example, biobanks, where scientists freeze the sperm and eggs of various species in order to protect it from a catastrophic loss. The photographs show the animals as well as the scientists and effectively enhance the information presented. Several charts, including one comparing apes and monkeys, add a deeper level of understanding. Maps of the original and current habitats of the creatures are helpful in visualizing how the earth has changed over the years. A great book for research or for students interested in conservation. School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. As the Booklist review above says, the book is quite slim, so I was not expecting to learn as much as I did once I cracked the cover! On the one hand, I didn’t want to put the book down, because I was so engrossed in the stories and information. On the other, it was nicely broken up into the three separate stories following three separate scientists and their efforts to help three specific species, so it was easy to pick up where I’d left off when I was forced to walk away for a bit. The science is fascinating, the human stories are compelling, and the gorgeous photography brings it all to life right before your eyes. I’ve been ambivalent about zoos my whole life. I love animals, so I love being able to see them… but I also want them to live as happily and naturally as possible. This book helped me see a different side of zoos that I have heard about but never really had a chance to explore in much detail or depth, the conservation aspect. I admire the scientists profiled in this book and the work that they’re doing, and I am grateful to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley for sharing their stories with us.
Finally, watch the trailer to see some of the people and animals from the book!

Review: POISON by Sarah Albee

POISON interior

POISON cover

POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES
by Sarah Albee
Penguin Random House/September 05, 2017
Middle Grade (8-12), 192 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Science geeks and armchair detectives will soak up this non-lethal, humorous account of the role poisons have played in human history. Perfect for STEM enthusiasts!
For centuries, people have been poisoning one another—changing personal lives and the course of empires alike.
From spurned spouses and rivals, to condemned prisoners like Socrates, to endangered emperors like Alexander the Great, to modern-day leaders like Joseph Stalin and Yasser Arafat, poison has played a starring role in the demise of countless individuals. And those are just the deliberate poisonings. Medical mishaps, greedy “snake oil” salesmen and food contaminants, poisonous Prohibition, and industrial toxins also impacted millions.
Part history, part chemistry, part whodunit, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines traces the role poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present and shines a ghoulish light on the deadly intersection of human nature . . . and Mother Nature.

The professional reviewers have weighed in favorably:

“[Albee’s] light tone makes this morbid, well-researched study a sinister indulgence.“—Booklist starred review

A compelling, entertaining, and informative introduction to a sinister aspect of human history.” Kirkus Reviews
“There’s plenty of material here to delight fans of [Georgia] Bragg’s popular How They Croaked.” —The Bulletin
Ideal for readers, including reluctant ones, who delight in the science and scare factor of poisons or grotesque medicine.” —School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
This book is deliciously dark fun! Sarah Albee’s POISON is the perfect mix of science, history, mystery, and entertainment, and readers of many different genres will be thoroughly engaged by this book. I know I was! From ancient times to today (and beyond!), Albee shows us how poisons–both natural and man-made–have affected humans lives and culture. The facts are shocking and fascinating, but broken down in a way that makes them accessible. There’s also a ton of humor to balance the heavy subject matter, with puns and sarcasm galore, especially in the titles and captions. And all of it is tied together with a compelling design featuring sidebars, pullouts, photos, and illustrations. There are also some serious nonfiction features, including a table of contents, author’s note, acknowledgements, notes, selected bibliography, research guide, index, and more. A highly recommended middle-grade nonfiction!
Here are some interior views to give you a better sense of what you can expect:
POISON interiorPOISON interior 2 POISON interior 3 POISON interior 4POISON interior 5POISON interior 6
And yes, if you’re wondering, this review is perfect for Labor Day! One of my favorite features of the book was the “Nice Work if You Can Survive It” sidebars, which told of various professions throughout the ages where people were actually poisoned by their jobs (did you know mad hatters were mad because of the chemicals used for felting?). Sobering, to say the least. And it made me even more grateful for regulations that protect workers from unscrupulous business owners!
Be sure to check out Sarah’s other great books, too!
Why'd They Wear That? cover BUGGED cover POOP HAPPENED cover

Let's celebrate with a giveaway (or four)!

MY DOG IS THE BEST cover

I’m so happy about the recent accolades my books have received that I’ve decided to host not just one giveaway–but FOUR!
To celebrate the fact that BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS was a finalist for the Cybils awards, I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the paperback edition on Goodreads, here:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Be a Changemaker by Laurie Ann Thompson

Be a Changemaker

by Laurie Ann Thompson

Giveaway ends April 02, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


To celebrate the starred review from School Library Journal for EMMANUEL’S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH, I’ll be giving away a signed copy on Goodreads, here:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Emmanuel's Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson

Emmanuel’s Dream

by Laurie Ann Thompson

Giveaway ends April 02, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


AND, I’ll give away a signed copy of either one (winners get to choose!) to two random subscribers to my mailing list. If you’re not a subscriber yet, just sign up below. (I only send a short newsletter once/month.)

Subscribe to my mailing list

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MY DOG IS THE BEST coverFinally, School Library Journal recently called my upcoming release “well-executed and charming.” I can’t give this one away just yet (it will release on June 9, 2015), but feel free to share the MY DOG IS THE BEST love by adding it to your Goodreads shelf and/or pre-ordering it at one of the following links:
My Dog Is the Best


The BE A CHANGEMAKER Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker cover

Be a Changemaker coverI’ve been surprised and honored to be included on a plethora of fantastic blogs as part of a blog tour to help launch Be a Changemaker into the world. There are guest posts written by me on a variety of topics related to the book, as well as interviews, reviews, quotes, and, yes–book giveaways! Be sure to check out all of the tour stops, and please give these lovely bloggers some love, won’t you?
Here’s what has already been posted:

9/8/2014
Review, author interview, giveaway
9/9/2014
Review, guest post, giveaway
9/10/2014
Reviews, teaching tools, guest post, giveaway
9/11/2014
Review, resources lists
9/12/2014
Review
9/12/2014
Guest post
9/13/2014
Review, giveaway

 
And here’s what is still to come:

9/15/2014
Review, giveaway
9/16/2014
Review, giveaway
9/17/2014
Author interview, giveaway
9/18/2014
Guest post, giveaway
9/19/2014
Author interview, giveaway
9/20/2014
Guest post, giveaway

Blue Slip Media logo
 
This incredible lineup has been assembled and managed by the lovely ladies at Blue Slip Media. Thank you, Sarah and Barbara!

2012 Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book report #1

Phew! Now that I got my revision done and sent in, I can get back to reading Cybils nominees in the nonfiction picture book category that I am judging. Last year I wrote up longer reviews of only a few of the Cybils nominees. This year I’m going to try to write many more, but shorter, reviews. Rather than offer comprehensive reviews, the goal will be to capture my initial impressions and thoughts. So, here comes the first batch!
 

BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin)
This is a wonderful book that should appeal to all kinds of kids, across a wide age range, and with many different interests. The artwork is stunning. The story of Tony Sarg and the beginnings of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade puppets is one that needed to be told, and this book tells it artfully, illustrating the man’s creativity as well as hard work and dedication. Entertaining, inspiring, and educational—all rolled into one beautiful package.
 

BROTHERS AT BAT by Audrey Vernick (Clarion)
This is the true story of the Acerra family and their 12-member all-brother baseball team. Baseball fans especially will love this heartfelt telling of the family’s travails and triumphs, both on the field and off, but the expertly told family story offers something for everyone. The text and art work together beautifully to bring the historical period to life.
 

A PLACE FOR BATS by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree)
Okay, I have to admit that I have a bit of a bat phobia. On a rational level, I know they’re helpful and I’m glad they’re out there, but I really don’t like having to think about them. Stewart does an excellent job of raising awareness about the importance of bats as well as offering ways people can help them thrive. The fascinating illustrations are realistic and not “cute-ified,” which did make me squirm a little, but Stewart’s text compensates by creating sympathy for the creatures. Even as an adult reader, I learned a lot about bats. This book would make a good science read-aloud for preschool and early elementary grades. And maybe those kids won’t develop an irrational bat phobia like mine!
 

ANNIE AND HELEN by Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz and Wade)
I love Deborah Hopkinson’s work, and the story of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan, has always fascinated me, so I was excited to see this one in the nomination list. It didn’t disappoint. Told sparingly and through primary sources, it focuses on the early relationship between the two women and on Sullivan’s struggles to break through Keller’s barriers. The art adds a beautiful, historical feel to the text, and the book ends on a triumphant note with Keller’s first written letter home.
 

BON APPETIT! by Jessie Hartland (Schwartz and Wade)
This is a delicious biography of Julia Child! Although a tad overwhelming and busy at first glance, the art and text quickly draw readers in and hook them, and reading it becomes a rewarding adventure. Hartland uses energy, humor, and compassion to follow Child’s life story from childhood on in a style that mimics her personality and how she lived her life. Jam-packed with facts and entertaining details, this longer picture book with fascinate older picture-book readers.

Review: We've Got a Job


 
We’ve Got a Job
by Cynthia Levinson
Peachtree Publishers, February 1, 2012
176 pages
Ages: 10 and up
Oscar Wilde supposedly said, “Any fool can make history, but it takes genius to write it.” While I don’t necessarily agree with the first part, the second part absolutely rings true. After all, how do you make a story compelling when everyone already knows how it ends? Cynthia Levinson has proven her genius here, because she accomplishes that and so much more in WE’VE GOT A JOB.
By anchoring the events surrounding the 1963 Birmingham Children’s March in the personal narratives of four of its direct participants, Levinson puts readers on the ground in Birmingham. We may know the final outcome, but we have no idea how we’re ever going to get there, and this day-by-day account of the incremental progress—and setbacks—will keep readers turning the pages to find out what happened next. This is a nonfiction book with as much drama and pacing as THE HUNGER GAMES. I literally couldn’t put it down, except for when I became too teary-eyed to continue reading, which happened often.
There is so much to love about this book, but I think my favorite thing about it is how Levinson humanizes everyone involved. It’s not as much a movement or an event as it is individuals, each with his or her own motivations, working with or against each other. I loved reading that even the revered leaders (for both sides of the issue) were hardly ever in agreement. Everyone involved was taking a chance, a risk, a guess as to what was going to work—or not. They were all fighting for what they believed in, each in his or her own unique way. Nothing was simple. Nothing was clear.
I wholeheartedly think this book should be in every library, in every classroom, and in every home in America for its history as well as for its message for the future. Buy it, read it, recommend it, share it.
The book also includes a table of contents, author’s note, timeline, map, acknowledgements, extensive source notes, bibliography (recommended resources), photo credits, and a detailed index. Levinson also has additional info, lesson plans, discussion questions, curriculum guides, and more on her website.

 
To check out the rest of today’s roundup of nonfiction books for kids, head on over to this week’s Nonfiction Monday host, Wendie’s Wanderings!
(Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy (ARC) of this book from Peachtree Publishers in exchange for my honest review, and it was so good I pre-ordered my own published hardcover. I received no monetary compensation. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.)

STEM Friday roundup is here!


I’m thrilled to be hosting STEM Friday today! If you reviewed a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) book for kids on your blog today, please leave your link in the comments or on Twitter (@lauriethompson), and I will add you to the round-up throughout the day. Thanks!


My contribution to this week’s STEM Friday, a review of IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH by Kelly Milner Halls, is posted here.

cover1Jeff Barger reviews A Leaf Can Be… by Laura Purdie Salas over at NC Teacher Stuff. Read all about this poetry book about leaves here.

cover2On her blog, SimplyScience, Shirley Duke talks about her new book, Gases, and shares activities.


Over at Archimedes Notebook, Sue Heavenrich reviews Star of the Sea by Janet Halfmann, with some insight on writing from the author herself.

Anastasia Suen from Booktalking joins the fun with her review of Bones: Dead People Do Tell Tales
by Sara L. Latta.

Next week’s STEM Friday host will be Roberta Gibson at Wrapped in Foil.

Review: Amazing Kitchen Chemistry

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover
Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Make Yourself
by Cynthia Light Brown (Author)
Nomad Press (May 1, 2008)
122 pages
Ages: 9-12
From the publisher’s web page:

“In Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself, kids ages 9 and up will experiment with kitchen materials to discover chemistry. Readers will learn about atoms, molecules, solids, liquids, gases, polymers, the periodic table, the important history of science, and much more. Along the way, they’ll make goop, cause chemical reactions, and create delicious treats, and all of it will illustrate important chemistry concepts. Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects is a fun and exciting way for young readers to learn all about chemistry and become scientists right in the kitchen.”

My son has always loved science, so we’ve gone through many books like this over the years. As a parent, I have to say this is my favorite one so far. Why? First, all the supplies and ingredients are already in my house or readily available. Yay! He can pick a project and we can DO it, rather than make a shopping list and get back to it when I’ve collected all the hard-to-find necessities. Second, the science concepts behind the projects and any specialized vocabulary words are explained in a clear, accessible way. Finally, the projects themselves as well as the layout, fun facts, sidebars, and illustrations, are just plain FUN!
Topics include atoms and molecules, mixtures, reactions, acids and bases, solids, liquids, gases, state changes, polymers, and water. Some of things you can make are a buckyball, a chroma-color bookmark, an Alka-Seltzer rocket, invisible messages, crystals, rock candy, a wave tank, a Mentos explosion, taffy, ice cream, oobleck, meringue cookies, paper, bubble solution, and more!
I think this is a book that young scientists, as well as their parents and teachers, will appreciate.
In the interests of “keeping it real,” though, I have to share my son’s one and only complaint: “It’s not even in color!” With so much great stuff happening on every page, I honestly hadn’t even noticed. He’s very visual, so it was a big drawback for him. I don’t know if other kids would be as sensitive, and I’m sure most adults will appreciate the cost savings.
This book also includes a table of contents, an introduction, a glossary, recommended resources, and index.
FAVORITE FUN FACT: On page 18, I learned that Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a real event! In 1961, birds started crashing into houses in the middle of the night in a coastal California town. People went out with flashlights to investigate, and the birds flew toward the lights and pecked at the people, who ran back inside for cover. The next day, they found the streets full of dead and confused birds. 26 years later, scientists finally discovered it was caused by a neurotoxin that can build up in sea creatures that eat a dangerous type of phytoplankton, and the birds–or people–that in turn eat those sea creatures! Who knew? 
To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday host, Wrapped in Foil!
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(Disclaimer: I received this copy for free directly from the publisher for review.)
 

STEM Friday Book Review: The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs


The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery
(Exceptional Science Titles for Intermediate Grades series)
by Sandra Markle (Author)
Millbook Press (Lerner), October 2011
48 pages
Ages: 9-12
From the publisher’s web page:

Panamanian golden frogs aren’t just cute, little, and yellow. They’re also the national symbol of Panama. But they started to disappear about fifteen years ago. What’s killing them? Could it be a change in their habitat? What about pollution? Might it be a result of climate change? Follow a team of scientists working to save these frogs and protect frog populations worldwide in this real-life science mystery.

Sandra Markle is one of my favorite authors, and frogs are high on my list of favorite animals, so I was thrilled to have a chance to preview this title. And I wasn’t disappointed. The text is informative and easy to understand, but also tells a fascinating and compelling story.
Markle does a great job of capturing both the importance and the fun of science. First, she explains why the disappearance of these tiny creatures matters. Then, she lays out how the mystery unfolded: what questions different scientists asked, and how the answers led to the next piece of the puzzle–and more questions, for other scientists, etc.
In fact, that’s one of the things I appreciated most about this book: it doesn’t follow just one scientist and his or her unique work. It demonstrates how one person’s findings sparked others to advance the science, and how each used his or her own expertise and knowledge to contribute the next vital step in the ongoing process. To me, that makes science feel more accessible to kids by showing that successful scientists don’t need to solve a whole big problem, they just need to learn something new and tell others.
Aside from the masterful text, the stunning layout and design and big, bold photographs on every page make the book visually engaging throughout and are more than enough to keep young readers turning the pages to see what’s next.
In the author’s note, Markle adds this:

No tale of finding a serial killer could be more exciting than this true story. . . . But the story isn’t over yet. The amphibian killer is still at large. Perhaps, one day, one of you will become the science detective who finally stops this killer.

The book also includes a table of contents, “how to help” section,  glossary, age-appropriate recommended resources, index, and photo credits.

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday host, Rasco From RIF!

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