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.

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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

An Interview with Author Eliot Schrefer!

51d01mxnc5l-_sx328_bo1204203200_They grew up together. Now they have to escape together.

Raja has been raised in captivity. Not behind the bars of a zoo, but within the confines of an American home. He was stolen when he was young to be someone’s pet. Now he’s grown up . . . and is about to be sent away again, to a place from which there will be no return.

John grew up with Raja. The orangutan was his friend, his brother — never his pet. But when John’s parents split up and he moved across the country, he left Raja behind. Now Raja is in danger.

There’s one last chance to save Raja — a chance that will force John to confront his fractured family and the captivity he’s imposed on himself all of these years.

Today I am thrilled to be able to chat with Eliot Schrefer, a young adult author making waves with his heart-wrenching, conservation-focused Ape Quartet.  The third book, Rescued, is out on 4/26.

I’m not the only reader who loves Eliot’s books.  Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute, says about Rescued, “This is a book that combines skillful interpretation of orangutan character, the cruelty inherent in keeping apes as pets, and the plight of the wild orangutans. Eliot has created unforgettable characters in Raja, the orphaned ape and his human “brother,” John. Moving, fascinating and eye opening.”

My students also love the ape books.  I’ve been using Endangered alongside Things Fall Apart, The Purple Hibiscus, and the documentary Virunga in my English class for the last three years.  It’s the perfect read-aloud as we study imperialism and its effects on the African continent through economics, politics, health, and conservation.

I’m excited to share with you some of Eliot’s thoughts on science and young adult books.  I highly encourage all English teachers to include Rescued, Threatened, and/or Endangered as part of your curriculum.  They are the perfect interdisciplinary books!

Sarah: Welcome, Eliot!  Thanks for taking the time to chat today. Rescued is the third book in the Ape Quartet.  Many of your readers know that you were first inspired to research the great apes after wondering where the clothing store Bonobos got its name, but what keeps you writing about the great apes?

Eliot: I had the weird experience recently of looking at my bookshelf and realizing that almost all of our stories are about humans. It’s the most obvious thing, but then, when you think about it, is there any reason we homo sapiens should be so overrepresented in our own storytelling? Even the many kids books with animal main characters are, for the most part, about people—in The Three Little Pigs or The One and Only Ivan or Charlotte’s Web, the animals talk and act like humans. We’re a tiny part of the biomass of the planet, and yet it would seem we’re only interested in stories about ourselves. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, and my attempt in the Ape Quartet has been to give a bigger role to non-human characters, to try to get them into view a little bit, too.

Wow! I’ve never looked at my bookshelf from that perspective but it’s true.  Even our animal stories are human stories at the root. I love what you are doing in the Ape Quartet because the primates are not anthropomorphized.  Instead, we get the story of humanity alongside animal life.  And sadly, we (as a whole) tend to be more detrimental than helpful.

Rescued is a little different from Threatened and Endangered in that it mostly takes place in America.  What made you want to write an ape story set a little closer to home?

Partly I wanted to avoid going back to the same well too many times. Endangered and Threatened are both jungle survival stories, and to make the storytelling different enough I wanted the third book to be neither of those things. I also was inspired, strangely enough, by Justin Bieber’s monkey. Pop stars get exotic pets all the time, and teens especially often think it’s cool. But what happens to the monkey once Bieber gets bored with it? I wanted to explore the human-animal relationship—for good and for bad—on the home front.

How do you go about researching animals like bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas?  Do you spend time with the animals you are writing about? Do you reach out to experts? How does this enrich your writing?

For Rescued, I spent a summer in Indonesia, at orangutan rescue centers in Sumatra and Borneo. It didn’t tell me a whole lot about orangutan behavior that I couldn’t have gotten from the excellent books on orangs that are out there, to be honest. But what I gained was a snapshot of the local specifics of how conservation works on the ground. I couldn’t have written the characters of Adhi and Diah, Sumatran conservationists in Rescued, without meeting some of the inspiring Indonesians I got to know who are working tirelessly to save the apes.

How can student writers emulate your writing process?  If a student wanted to write about animals or plants a little closer to home, what advice would you give them?

I think writing about the environment means a lot of peeling back of our human expectations. As a child, Jane Goodall once sat in her family’s barn for hours, waiting for a chicken to lay an egg so she could observe how it worked. Though she wound up in Tanzania studying a very different sort of animal, watching that chick lay an egg was also the essence of her life’s work. I think a great exercise would be to observe an animal in the everyday world and write a narration of its actions and a description of its person, without mapping a whole host of human feelings on top. I’ve felt invigorated the few times I’ve been able to drop that deep into observation. It’s an almost zen exercise of loss-of-self.

All of the Ape Quartet books include lots of science and ecology information.  Were you interested in science when you were in school? 

Yes! I applied to college as an Evolutionary Biology major. Somehow I got sidetracked into Literature instead, though. (I think I was intimidated by all the pre-med students in the Bio Intro courses, to be honest.) I regret not studying science in college, actually. I wish I’d had a better conception of science and scientists, going in—I think I believed the white-lab-coat stereotype. Also, I could have read literature all the rest of my life, but a lot of science work is nearly impossible without the support of institutions.

Wow!  I had no idea.  So it makes sense that you’ve managed to find the sweet spot between English and science class in your books. Have you met any interdisciplinary teams that share your books with students?  

Yep. My favorite school visits are ones where I talk to a bio class, then a history class, then an English class, going from conversations about bonobos, say, to Congo, to how to write a book. I enjoy touching on all those different subjects, as it prevents the conversation from ever feeling stale. It’s also an easier pitch for librarians or teachers who want me to visit, I think, because it’s not like bringing me in involves only one department. I visited one school that had an Endangered-themed day where all classes stopped and all conversation was about the book. It was very moving. Even the PE classes got involved, by having the students run an obstacle course with a big of flour on their backs decorated like a bonobo!

It’s not easy to write middle grade or young adult books that include science without straying into science fiction territory.  I am always looking for great YA science books but sometimes it’s a struggle!  What other science books do you enjoy?  

You’re right, it’s a hard search! Picture books have science all over them, but it largely drops out by middle grade and YA. I’d love to hear your response to this question, as you’ve been questing for these books long and hard, I know. One of my favorite reads last year was Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Bartoletti. Fascinating use of population science to track down the origin of an epidemic. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin did a wonderful job of subtly incorporating facts about the jellyfish into the narrative, too. I love Kathi Appelt’s work, as well, for its strong engagement with the natural world. You tell me! What should I be reading?

Hopefully, that’s what I can do here on the blog.  Slowly, but surely, I’ll be reviewing and sharing books and stories that English teachers and science teachers can use together.  

Thanks so much for having me, Sarah, and for your great questions! It’s been a pleasure.

Thank you, Eliot!


 

Contest!

What should Eliot (and all of our students) be reading?  Comment with the title of your favorite environmentally-focused book and you will be entered to win a copy of Rescued! If you win, you will be contacted via email so please be sure to leave your email address!  Winner will be chosen on 5/3/16

(USA addresses only, please).

 

If you are looking for a way to bring your science and English classes together, an author visit with Eliot Schrefer is the way to go.  Eliot visited my high school a few years ago and his talk enthralled my 9th and 10th graders.  They loved his passion and humor (and of course, the apes).  From an administrative end, it was an easier sell because it involved the English department, social studies department, and biology department.  For information about booking an author visit with Eliot you can check out his website.

 

 

If you are in the NYC-area, you can celebrate the launch of Rescued on 5/4.  Eliot Schrefer will be in conversation with the acclaimed author Patricia McCormick at Books of Wonder. 

Wednesday, May 4th, at 6pm
Books of Wonder
18 W 18th St.
New York, NY 10024 

Eliot’s books are also available from an independent bookstore near you.