Slice of Life #2- Field Guide to NJ Species

Yesterday I shared an assignment that my students just completed that I think could be adapted to English classes at any grade level. Feel free to steal!

The Reading Zone

Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing.  Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey.  Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.

It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze.  I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor…

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Long list for the 2017 Green Earth Book Award

The Green Earth Book Award is one of my favorite lists each year.  Awarded to children’s and young adult books that promote a message of environmental stewardship, the Green Earth Book Award is much-needed today.  As an English teacher who knows that books can be a gateway to the environment for many students, I love to peruse the award’s long list each year.  While I can sometimes predict that certain books will make it on the list I love learning about new books when they are nominated.

This year’s qualifying list is no exception.  I just added a number of books from the list to my TBR pile and I hope a few of them will be appropriate for my 9th grade curriculum.

PICTURE BOOK

CHILDREN’S FICTION

  • Ace, King of My Heart, by Lea Herrick and illustrated by Nora Howell, Krystal Colon, and David Herrick (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
  • Maybe a Fox, by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee (Atheneum Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)
  • Pax, by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon Klassen  (HarperCollins Children’s Books)
  • Saving Wonder, by Mary Knight (Scholastic Press)
  • The Wolf Keepers, by Elise Broach and illustrated by Alice Ratterree (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt Books for Young Readers/Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group)

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

  • Broken Wing, by David Budbill (Green Writers Press)
  • Dig Too Deep, by Amy Allgeyer (Albert Whitman & Co)
  • KABOOM!, by Brian Adams (Green Writers Press)
  • Keep Her, by Leora Krygier (She Writes Press)
  • Rescued, by Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic Press)
  • Up from the Sea, by Leza Lowitz (Crown BFYR, Random House Children’s Books)

CHILDREN’S NONFICTION

YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION

Kudos to the small presses (and sometimes self-published authors, too!) doing the work to get these stories out there to kids and teenagers.  Take note, major publishers:  we want and need books about environmental stewardship!

Authors for Earth Day- Conservation and Books

How was I not already aware of Authors for Earth Day?  What an amazing concept!

Authors for Earth Day (A4ED) is a grassroots coalition of award-winning children’s authors and illustrators who directly mentor young readers by giving them “an authentic research project with real-world impact.”

Wow! The list of authors is available on their website and it’s a great list.  Visits are available year-round and visits costs the same as a regular author visit.  The difference is that in this case the author donates at least 30% of their fee to a non-profit conservation organization as chosen by the students. Their website has lots of information and all genres are represented.  I’d love to see some more YA authors on the list, but right now there are over 100 participating authors and they’ve done visits all over the world.

This would be a great way to encourage collaboration between different subject areas and to build enthusiasm for literacy and conservation.  It’s a win-win situation!

Voices from the Middle Podcast

I’m very excited to share the latest episode of the Voices from the Middle podcast.  I was lucky enough to be a guest on this episode.

 

The NCTE Voices from the Middle Podcast is a radio show featuring middle level ELA teachers from across the United States, practitioner-leaders in our field, YA and middle grades authors, and other surprise guests. Some podcasts tie to specific issues of the print publication Voices from the Middle, published by the National Council of Teachers of English. Music by Lee Rosevere.

Access the episode by clicking on the audio player below. You can also subscribe to the free podcast in the iTunes Store.

For more information, follow Voices from the Middle @VoicesNCTE

In this episode,  young adult author Eliot Schrefer shares his experiences with school visits.  I was happy to join Eliot to talk about how my students and I prepared for Eliot’s visits to our school (he’s visited twice) and the impact he has had on my students.  Readers of this blog might remember that I interviewed

Eliot a few months ago about his ape quartet books, which are perfect for interdisciplinary work between science and English class.

 

 

Get Those Kids Out of the Room:  Books to Get Your Students Outside and Immersed in Nature by Sarah Gross

Check out my post on The Nerdy Book Club today!

Nerdy Book Club

The onslaught of testing required by the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in schools pressuring teachers to prepare students for tests, and time spent outdoors has suffered as a result. Nature-deficit disorder is a term used to describe the loss that children and teens experience when they are not given opportunities to have direct contact with nature.  Richard Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn.  Unfortunately, one way that schools have found more time for academics is by cutting recess and physical education, according to the National PTA survey.  Packed schedules after school, rigorous homework, and extracurricular activities too often keep my students inside, bound to their computers and cellphones, rarely giving them the time to be outside.

I am passionate about the need to do more interdisciplinary work in the classroom as a…

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Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature by Roland Kays

51bikpgaswl-_sx404_bo1204203200_Candid Creatures: How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature by Roland Kays is one of my favorite book purchases of the past few months.  I’ve been obsessed with camera traps for a while and last year my biology colleague and I worked with a group of students who set up their own camera trap project on our school campus.  Kays was one of my inspirations for getting  involved so I was thrilled when he published a book focused on camera traps.

For those who don’t know, camera traps are remotely activated cameras (usually trail cameras) that take unobtrusive pictures when wildlife walks through an area.  They are used to measure biodiversity, population, and habitat use (among other things).  While some camera traps are expensive, it’s relatively easy to set up your own and can be a great way to help students learn more about the world around them.  I think it’s so important for students to be aware of local biodiversity and camera traps can help them with this.

Kays’ book is full of photos from camera traps all over the world.  Presented in accessible language, the book can introduce students (and teachers) to camera traps and the various ways they are used all over the world.  In English class I could imagine using some of the full-color photographs for picture prompts or journal entries.  The book could also inspire citizen science projects or research projects in English and science class.  The book is worth the price for the photos alone but the text is also a great example of easily-accessible science communication.  A win-win for teachers looking to do some collaborating between English and science class!

Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari – Interview and Giveaway!

A few months ago I saw someone on Twitter mention an upcoming picture book about coyotes.  Now, anyone who’s heard me talk about my grad school program knows that the intersection of humans and animals (especially apex predators) is a special passion of mine.  I am particularly interested in coyotes because they’ve adapted so well to humans, especially in urban areas.  Last year I was able to hear Dr. Mark Weckel of the Gotham Coyote Project speak and it only further stoked the fires of my interest.  I’ve been lucky enough to see coyotes in my town and last year a few of my students worked with me and my biology colleague to set camera traps on school property in order to see if coyotes were living there. We haven’t seen any coyotes (yet!) but we know there is a good chance they are in the area.  We did get to watch a litter of fox kits, though.  In fact, I was able to watch a litter of kits at home and at work this spring!

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The litter near my home was in a county park that’s home to coyotes, too.  I’ve seen their tracks in the snow and heard them in the distance, so I know they are there!

Obviously, any book about coyotes intrigues me but a picture book?  That I could share with my students?  I butted in to the Twitter conversation to say I was adding the book, Coyote Moon, to my to-be-read list; a few days later author Maria Gianferrari reached out to be via email and asked if I’d like to take a look at the book.  I immediately said yes.  When the book arrived I sat down to read it and upon reaching the last page I promptly added it to my “best books of 2016” list.  It’s lyrical, gorgeous, and scientifically accurate.  I can not wait to share it with my high school students as a mentor text for nature writing!

Want to win your own copy of Coyote Moon?  Leave a comment below!  Tell me about your favorite interaction with a wild animal in your hometown to be entered. 

(Winner will be chosen from the comments (using a random integer generator) on 7/30. Winners must live in the US.  Book will be sent directly from the publisher.)

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After I read Coyote Moon I reached out to Maria to see if she’d be interested in answering a few questions for me and my readers.  I’m always interested in learning how authors compose creative nonfiction, especially nature writing, and Coyote Moon is particularly inspiring.  Luckily, Maria agreed.  I’m happy to welcome her to the blog today!

Thanks for agreeing to chat today, Maria!  I absolutely love Coyote Moon so I’m thrilled to talk with you a bit about how you came to write the book. What drew you to coyotes?  Have you seen them in your neighborhood or experienced their habitat expansion?

Indeed, I have! I haven’t seen many since moving to Virginia, but I saw them multiple times (or evidence of their presence) while living in the suburbs of Boston. I had a close encounter with a coyote on a cold winter’s night in January 2007, and therein began my coyote obsession.

How did you do research for the book?  Most books about coyotes are full of dense informational text and aimed at older readers- how did you focus your research for younger readers?

I read all kinds of books on canines as well as coyotes—picture books, longer works of nonfiction, photobooks and did online research to supplement the books. Then I read eastern coyote researcher Dr. Jonathan Way’s Suburban Howls as well as many of his scientific papers. I even interviewed him. Through reading his work I learned that eastern coyotes are essentially coywolves (coyote-wolf hybrids). I also read nature picture books as mentor texts by writers like Nicola Davies to try and gauge the right voice and tone for younger readers.

Ooh, Suburban Howls is on my to-be-read pile and I think you just convinced me to move it up.  Lots of the books you described are pretty straightforward nonfiction books.  Coyote Moon is filled with gorgeous descriptions of coyote behavior.  Was it hard to translate scientific descriptions of animal behavior into poetic prose?

Thank you! I love poetry and words—their rhythm and sound. When I observe nature and write about it, a poetic voice is the one I hear in my head. It was more of a challenge to find the right story arc and focus rather than the voice itself.

I was also so impressed with the illustrations that Bagram Ibatoulline created for the book.  They are evocative and accurate.  Did you work with your illustrator at all?  Did you share notes about coyotes or did you two work separately?

No, we worked separately, which is usually the case for picture book author-illustrator collaborations. It was so magical to see Bagram’s first sketches.

Wow!  I was blown away by the illustrations to I imagine it was a wonderful moment when you first saw them.  

I love showing my students the connection between nature and language arts, and often that is through nature walks and books.  Do you have any favorite books about nature?

Your students are very lucky!! Nature books are among my very favorite reads: classics like Walden, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and The Snow Leopard, all of which I haven’t read in quite a long time. Last year I read Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk and fell in love with its stunning poetic and heartfelt prose. I also love Sy Montgomery’s work, both for adults and kids. As a self-proclaimed bird nerd her Birdology is among my very favorites. Her Scientist in the Field books are excellent too. I loved both Chasing Cheetahs and The Octopus Scientist, and am looking forward to reading The Great White Shark Scientist. Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers was wonderful, and I’ve bought, but haven’t yet read The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman. I also gravitate toward nature-oriented picture books on all kinds of creatures and habitats, especially birds. Some of my favorite authors are Nicola Davies, April Pulley Sayre, Melissa Stewart and Stephen Swinburne.

What is your favorite way to spend time in nature?

I love just observing the birds and creatures in my neighborhood while walking my dog, Becca. I don’t get to do it often enough, but I also love visiting national parks—we are so lucky to have them! We drove cross-country from Massachusetts to California and back, and visited many national parks along the way. My favorites were the Badlands, Redwood, Crater Lake and Joshua Tree. I also love deserts—they’re such amazing ecosystems! We visited Bryce and Zion in 2008, and I was overcome by their stark beauty. Death Valley is pretty incredible too.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!  I’m excited to share Coyote Moon with my high schoolers and I plan to use it as a mentor text for writing our own picture books about local wildlife.  I’m sure they will be inspired by your work!

 

gianferrari$maria_hresMaria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, was released in mid-June. Her debut nonfiction book,Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. In October, Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish another fiction title, Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam’s Sons. To learn more about Maria, visit her at mariagianferrari.com on Facebook or Instagram.

 

 Follow the rest of the blog tour by visiting the links below!

  • FRI 7/15:                   Pragmatic Mom (+ 3 book giveaway)

 

 

 

 

 

  • FRI 7/22:                   Kidlit411