Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari

Maria Gianferrari’s Coyote Moon is one of my favorite nature picture books of the past few years. This month, Maria’s newest suburban nature picture book will be released and it’s another great one.  Hawk Rising follows a male red-tail hawk as he hunt prey for his family in a suburban neighborhood.  I am excited to share with you an interview with Maria about her new book. Read about Hawk Rising and learn about how you can win a free copy of the book below.


  • I love that you chose to have the story unfold through the eyes of two young birdwatchers.  Were you a birdwatcher as a child or teen? Did you or do you have a favorite bird species?

Thank you, Sarah! I actually only proposed one girl observer in my art notes—the sibling story was Brian’s brilliant addition! It adds another layer of drama to the story which I love.

I’ve always loved animals, but my bird nerd days did not truly begin until I was introduced to the Great Backyard Bird Count by my 7th grade science teacher, Mr. LeFebvre.

It’s too hard to pick a favorite—I love whistling peter-peter-peter and having tufted titmouses answer back. Here’s a photo, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:


I also love to watch swallows swoop, vultures soar, herons wade …


  • It’s obvious in your picture books that you think people, especially children, need to pay more attention to nature in our suburban and urban neighborhoods.  Why is this important to you?

I love the wild creatures that co-exist and live in close quarters to humans, and to observe how they’ve adapted—it’s so fascinating! I want to celebrate creatures who are seemingly ordinary and common—those that we can see every day. They’re extraordinary and interesting and worthy of observation. I think this helps us to step out of our busy lives—to watch and reflect be mindful of the beauty all around us.

I also love writing about the kinds of creatures that kids can possibly see no matter where they might be living whether it be Minnesota or Maine; Nebraska or New Mexico, Texas or Tennessee—the ones that have widespread ranges, and who live in a variety of habits have captivated my attention.


  • I’d love to hear about how your researched red-tailed hawks for this story.  I am assuming you didn’t adopt a hawk family. 🙂

Not directly! I began the traditional way, by reading books on hawks and raptors, and by watching movies/videos online, and by hawk-watching in my neighborhood. This is a banded red-tailed hawk I used to see nearly every morning while driving my daughter to school when I lived in Massachusetts.


However, the main way I learned about hawks is via Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s amazing bird cam where I observed Cornell Hawks, Big Red, and her then mate, Ezra. Cornell’s All About Birds is the premier site for all things bird—you can conduct field research right from your living room! I spent many hours, year after year, watching Big Red and Ezra raise their clutches of eyasses. I was devastated when I learned last March that Ezra had to be euthanized— he felt like an old friend. He was a wonderful father hawk and Hawk Rising is dedicated in his memory. Here’s a photo of Ezra from the Cornell Chronicle:


This year, Big Red has a new mate named Arthur; together they are raising three chicks. Here are a few photos courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, first of Big Red and Arthur:


And here are a few of the chicks:

They grow so quickly! You can watch them live here!

Scroll back to see Big Red and Arthur readying the nest, laying the eggs, and feeding their very hungry chicks!

  • What other suburban/urban species fascinate you? Are you mulling over any future picture book ideas?

I’m always usually mulling over something or other. My next book with Roaring Brook is on bobcats. I’m delighted to be partnering again with Coyote Moon illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline, on a story called A Home For Bobcat, about a juvenile bobcat searching for his home territory. I can’t wait to see Bagram’s art for the book!

The bobcat’s range extends across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, and from southern Canada into Central Mexico. I live in suburban northern Virginia, and earlier this year we caught footage on our outdoor camera of a bobcat trotting through our front yard! So exciting!!

In 2020 G.P. Putnam’s Sons will be publishing my book on another common raptor species, the great horned owl. Whooo-Ku is written in a series of haiku poems and will be illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss. Here’s a photo of a great horned owl taken by kidlit author, bird-lover and photographer, Jennifer Ward:


Here’s a sketch from Jonathan’s website:


I also have a manuscript on river otters—another wide-ranging creature who has made a great come-back since the 1970s when their population plummeted due to water pollution and over-building. I adore otters! They are so playful and curious. I hope this manuscript will some day be a book!

I am musing about books on black bears, wild turkeys, vultures, groundhogs, squirrels and white-tailed deer—so prevalent here in northern Virginia, but haven’t yet begun working on any. I’m also a fan of tree frogs and toads, and I know so little about them that I think some research is in order!!

Thanks for allowing me to blab about birds and urban ecology here, Sarah!

Roaring Brook Press has generously donated a copy of Hawk Rising for one of Sarah’s US readers—good luck!


If you are interested in winning a copy of Hawk Rising, leave a comment on this post.  Tell us about the species you’d most like to see chronicled in a nature picture book!  (Winners must live in the US.  The winner will receive a copy of the book directly from the publisher.)





Maria Gianferrari’s favorite pastime is searching for perching red-tailed hawks while driving down the highway. When she’s not driving, she loves watching birdcams. Her favorite feathered stars are Cornell hawk Big Red and her late mate, Ezra, who together raised fifteen chicks since they began nesting in 2012. Maria is also the author of Hello Goodbye Dogand Coyote Moon, both published by Roaring Brook Press as well as the Penny & Jelly Books (HMH), Officer Katz & Houndini (Aladdin), Terrific Tongues (Boyds Mills Press) and the forthcoming Operation Rescue Dog (Little Bee). She lives in Virginia with her scientist husband, artist daughter, and rescue dog, Becca. Visit her at mariagianferrari.com, on Facebookor Instagram.


Complete Solar Eclipse (8/21) and English Class

On Monday, August 21st, North America will experience a solar eclipse. For the first time since 1918, the eclipse will be visible from the United States. Here in New Jersey, we will only experience a partial eclipse.  We should see 70-75% of the sun covered by the moon beginning around 1pm and peaking a little after 3pm. The path of totality will stretch across 14 states, many of which will be in school on August 21st. You can find out more about the eclipse and your view in this Vox article.

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The NASA-provided map above  shows the zone of totality. The moon’s shadow will enter the United States near Lincoln City, Oregon, around noon EST/9am PDT. Totality will begin in Lincoln City, Oregon, at 10:16 am PDT. The total eclipse will end in Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:48 pm EDT. Many people are planning to travel to cities in the zone of totality, but even if you can’t bring your students to the total eclipse you can bring the eclipse into your classroom.

I’ve put together an annotated list of books and short stories that can be used by English teachers to include the eclipse as part of the curriculum.  There’s a dearth of accessible books that deal with eclipses, but I’ve found a handful of tales that can be used.  I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!  There will also be many newspaper and magazine articles about the eclipse during the next few weeks; these can be great for article of the week or current events activities.

Regardless of how you plan to celebrate the eclipse, I encourage you to bring the event into your class. Read about the event and, if possible, bring your students outside to experience the event!  This is also the perfect opportunity to collaborate with other content area teachers!

Goosechase- An App that Gets Students Outside

This past spring, my friend Colby Sharp shared an article his wife, Alaina Sharp, wrote about an app called Goosechase.  Goosechase is a scavenger hunt platform that uses screenshots, photos, and videos in place of paper and pen. After reading Alaina’s article, I knew I had to try this app in my English class.  When I shared my idea with Mike, my biology colleague, he jumped on board, too.  So at the end of the year we found ourselves designing a biology and English exam review scavenger hunt.

Goosechase allows you to create missions and add them to a game.  They do have an educator platform, which I am a big fan of.  Mike and I looked through the mission bank and ended up editing a few of the missions.  Then we developed our own and added them.  In the end, we came up with 26 missions for students to complete, in teams, during a combined bio/English period (2 hours):

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This is just a portion of our final game.

Guys, it took a bit of advance set-up (the kids need to download the app and sign up for a free account), but the game was amazing.  I think it was one of the best activities we did all year.  The kids absolutely loved it! They were running around, submitting their missions through the app, and Mike and I kept track of everything via the app.  We could see each submission as it came in and determine if the students earned points for their submission.  The students could see their score and they could track their competitors via the leaderboard.  It was great!

Here’s an example of an English-related submission:

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It’s a poem, written by the students on the spot and posted in a public place on campus.  You can use the scavenger hunt to encourage students to write poetry or prose, find examples of vocabulary words, create art, and even draw connections between the natural world and the books they are reading.  I challenged students to find something in nature that could symbolize the theme of a work we read together and was blown away by what they came up with.  Competition breeds creativity, I guess!

I loved that the students were reviewing for our exam, thinking about science and English, and spending time outside.  And it was so easy to set up!  I highly recommend the app and I’d love to hear about your experiences using Goosechase.

Need some help?  I wrote up a lesson plan:

Goosechase: An Online, Outdoors Scavenger Hunt

A New Book from Nancy Castaldo!

Nancy Castaldo is an author to know if you want to bring more nature into your secondary classroom. Castaldo has authored a number of nonfiction picture books perfect for readers of all ages. Her 2016 title THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World is perfect for upper MG/YA readers. The science and politics of agriculture might not sound scintillating, but Castaldo’s book will make readers stop and ponder the fragile nature of our plant-based food supply.

Nancy Castaldo’s books are great for interdisciplinary projects and can serve as mentor texts for nonfiction writing. That’s why I am so excited about her newest book, BACK FROM THE BRINK. Today, Nancy is at The Nerdy Book Club blog to reveal the cover of her newest book.

Click here to read Nancy’s post.

The Science of a Fiction Picture Book (#STEAM) by Leslie Helakoski

I love using picture books with my high school students, so I am always on the lookout for new stories. Reading picture books to high school and middle school students has important implications. The use of picture books can increase student motivation, understanding of concepts, and build background and context for academic learning (Carr, Buchanan, Wentz, Weiss, & Brant, 2001). Plus, picture books are the perfect length for use in lesson plans. The story can be read and shared with students in a single class period with time left for independent practice.

Leslie Helakoski wrote a fantastic post for The Nerdy Book Club about her new picture book, Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Sleep. In the post linked below, she explains how the book can be used in classrooms. She includes ideas for covering English standards using the science topics in this fictional story.

Carr, K.S., Buchanan, D.L., Wentz, J.B., Weiss, M.L., Brant, K.J. (2001). Not Just for the Primary Grades: A Bibliography of Picture Books for Secondary Content Teachers. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, (2), 146.

Nerdy Book Club

Even a fictional picture book can engage young minds in scientific thought. Comparing and contrasting are great tools for learning and what better way to explore this concept than a fun story?


HOOT & HONK Just Can’t Sleep began as an exploration of a nocturnal owlet, sleeping during the day and active at night, and a diurnal gosling, with the opposite schedule. But as the story developed, the chicks ended up in each other’s nest and I took comparing and contrasting to a new level. Beyond physical characteristics and sleep patterns, the story delves into the two birds’ activities and showcases the side-by-side patterns of the chicks’ days and nights.

This set-up allows for comparing several concepts: sunrise/sunset, nocturnal/diurnal, dark/light, sleep/wake, open/close, up/down, moon/sun and herbivore/carnivore all inside the lyrical story of two displaced chicks finding their way home.

The illustrations make the compare/contrast structure stronger. The reader sees…

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Time in Nature = Happier, Better Students


Sometimes I’m asked why non-science teachers should bother trying to work nature into their curriculum.  Thanks to the Children & Nature Network I can share this handy infographic with those folks! The graphic focuses on younger students but there is no reason we can’t apply the same ideas to older students.  What teacher doesn’t want to see their students more focused?  Not to mention, studies show that spending time outside  boosts performance in reading and writing and enhances creativity and critical thinking.  As an English teacher, these are things I strive to help my students with every day.  How wonderful is it that we can help students achieve many of these things just by providing them with time outside?

And you don’t even have to get outside! Studies have shown that students who are able to view nature through school windows also receive a boost in academic performance.  Too often, our classroom windows are covered by blinds.  If they aren’t covered with blinds, teachers often end up scolding students for staring out the windows and daydreaming.  But what if we could harness students’ interest in what’s outside the window?

I am thinking about getting one of these window bird feeders for my classroom windows this fall.  I’m in the basement, so I don’t have large windows.  However, the windows I do have are under a tree that many species of birds use throughout the school year.  We also have resident squirrels and a groundhog.  My students can’t see much out of the windows, so I hope that adding something like this feeder might help bring a little bit more of nature into our classroom.

If your classroom is not in the basement you might be interested in some of the window birdhouses that are available.  They won’t work for me because no bird wants to nest that close to the ground.  However, they are great for classrooms on the 1st floor or higher.  The birdhouses use suction cups to stick to the glass and have a window on the inside allowing viewers to watch the birds build their nest and hatch their young.  It’s like a class pet, without the clean up!

These are just a few ways that we can bring the outdoors in.  How do you bring nature into your classroom?

Happy 200th Birthday, Thoreau!

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817.  Today we celebrate his 200th birthday! Walden Pond, the inspiration for one of his greatest works, will hold celebrations all week. You can find our more out the bicentennial celebrations here.   However, celebrating Thoreau shouldn’t be limited to one location or one day in 2017.  We can celebrate Thoreau in English class all year and follow in his footsteps by bringing our students outside.

In “Walking“, published in The Atlantic in May 1862, Thoreau established the importance of spending time outside.   He reminded readers that, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” That wildness can be found anywhere that we find nature.  Wildness might be the soccer field next to the school or it could be the forest.  Regardless of how large the area is, it can be wild for your students!

Many American literature classes include Walden as part of the curriculum.  Personally, though, I think that Thoreau is more relatable when students read his essays.  “Walking” is accessible to most students and can be studied in a few class periods.  Why not read Thoreau’s essays, including “Walking“, outside with students this year?  There are many ways to approach this essay. I designed a lesson for the NYTimes Learning Network for the essay; it can be found here.

Bill Schecter, a teacher who created an elective called “Meet Mr. Thoreau”, reminds us that the leaves, trees, sky, rain, and dirt that Thoreau surrounded himself with at Walden can also be found in our school yards (2009). Thoreau said, “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: What would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” What happens to our students when we keep them inside all day?  Instead of tying students to desks, why not bring them outside and challenge them to write about the grass?  The clouds?  The birds?

If you want to let your students have their own Walden Pond experience- take them outside.  Let them see, feel, hear, and taste nature! In the meantime, peruse Thoreau’s writings and pull out essays or excerpts that fit in your curriculum.  Celebrate Thoreau to the fullest!




Schecter, B. (2009). On Teaching Thoreau. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (265), 1.

Moellering, K. (2013). Metaphysical Dirt: Teaching Thoreau Outside. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (282), 5.








Bill, S. (2009). On Teaching Thoreau. The Thoreau Society Bulletin, (265), 1.