Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Interview with WHY ARE ANIMALS BLUE author, Melissa Stewart

KN: How did you come up with the idea for the series RAINBOW OF ANIMALS?

MS: This series started with a question from my editor: Did I think we could do an interesting group of books about animal colors? I did some research and discovered that an animal’s color is often critical to its survival.

Golden monkeys live in dense mountain forests. If they didn’t have blue faces, they’d have trouble spotting one another. A monarch butterfly’s bright orange wings warn enemies that they are poisonous. I couldn’t believe all the interesting color-related stories I found. I knew we could create some great books for kids.

At first, we were calling the series Colors in Nature. I was researching all kinds of colors, including black, white, pink, and brown. Then, during a brainstorming phone call, either my editor or I (we can’t remember who) blurted out “Animals of the Rainbow.” We both liked it, but the idea of writing a whole book about purple animals made me nervous. Were there enough good examples? Could we find photos? I did some research and found out that there are more purple animals than you might think—especially in the ocean. So we settled on six books, one for each color of the rainbow. Over time, the series name switched to Rainbow of Animals.

I was originally thinking of writing books for grades 2-4, but my editor wanted to go younger. So we did. To make books that would appeal to early readers, I knew the text would need to be simple and fascinating.

I decided to start off by inviting readers to look at the colors of animals in their immediate surroundings. Then I shared fascinating animal stories from around the world. The book ends with a game in which children use what they have just learned to guess how two animals depend on their coloring. Finally, a page maps of shows where each of the animals discussed in the book lives. This structure took a while to work out and involved a lot of collaborative discussions with my editor.

Once we both felt great about the concept, she took my proposal to the acquisitions committee, and it was approved. Then it was time to really get to work.

KN: Describe your research process for this set of books.

MS: For most of the books I write, I submit the text and the publisher takes care of the photos. But for this series, the photos had to be the starting point. So I did the photo research myself, looking for images that were beautiful, fit the books’ format, and showed animals with interesting color-related stories.

I did the photo research and the informational research simultaneously, back and forth, back and forth. I gathered some great stories. Then I looked for images. Sometimes I found great images, and then looked to see how the animal depended on its coloring. I needed both—a great image and a great story. Sometimes I found matches, and sometimes I didn’t. I kept up this process until I had enough examples for each book.

KN: Which book in the series did you write first, and how long did it take you to write it? After completing the first book, was it easier to write the rest of the book in the series?

MS: I may sound crazy, but I wrote all the books at the same time. I often write several books simultaneously when I’m trying to maintain a particular voice and style and reading level. Around this time, I was also working on a series called Gross & Goofy Body. It has a very different voice and it’s for older kids, so I had to immerse myself in one project or the other for chunks of time.

Because I’m usually working on several projects at once and I have to juggle writing and researching with things like marketing and preparing for school visits and developing new ideas, I can never really say how long it takes to write a particular book. (People ask me that question all the time.) I work on things a little at a time over a period of months or even years.

I think I finished Why Are Animals Red? first. Thanks to Kodachrome 64 film (a popular professional-quality film that tends to bring out reds), there were lots of great images to choose from. I know I finished Why Are Animals Purple? last because I really wanted to include the purple heron, but I just couldn’t find a good image in a horizontal format. In the end, the clever designer saved the day. He found a way to make a vertical image work in the layout. Making books really is a very collaborative process.

KN: You've spent lots of time outside, and you've traveled to many different places. Have you seen any of the animals in these books in person? If so, please tell us about your encounters.

MS: Wow, that’s a great question. I knew before I even started Why Are Animals Blue? that I wanted to include the blue darner dragonfly, an insect that’s very common in New England and that fascinated me when I was a child. My grandfather told me s story about it sewing together the mouths of children who talked too much or told lies. Of course, I knew the story wasn’t true, but their long, needle-like abdomens intrigued me nonetheless.

I also knew I had to include the blue-footed boobie, an adorable bird I saw when I was in the Galapagos Islands. At mating time, the males woo the ladies with their fancy footwork. Imagine two bright blue feet as they strut, stomp, shuffle, and slide over the rocky ground. Those birds really put on quite a show!

KN: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

MS: If anyone would like to learn more about me or my books, I hope they will take a look at my website: www.melissa-stewart.com. I also started a blog recently. Celebrate Science http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/ includes all kinds of fun activities that you can do with kids as well as tips for writing nonfiction.

Thanks so much for interviewing me, Kate. It’s been a lot of fun.

You’re welcome, Melissa. It’s been fun for me, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why Are Animals Blue?

By Melissa Stewart

Publisher: Enslow

ISBN-13: 978-0-7660-3251-4

FROM THE BACK COVER: “Discover a rainbow of animals. Animals come in all colors of the rainbow. Learn the fascinating reasons why animals are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple in the RAINBOW OF ANIMALS easy-to-read Science books. Find out about animals with blue faces, blue feet, and blue tongues in this fascinating book. Kids will be mesmerized by the quality color photos and intriguing facts in this easy-to-read title.”

A Rainbow of Animals Habitat Walk (Naturalist)

Take students to a local habitat and ask them to search for a “Rainbow of Animals.” Have them draw pictures of the animals they see. Back in the class, determine whether or not students were able to find a complete “Rainbow of Animals.

Animal Movement (Bodily Kinesthetic)

Lead the students through the various actions of the animals in the book: swimming, hopping, flying, dancing, snapping and flicking. Ask students to correlate each movement with the appropriate animal.

Attraction, Camouflage, or Warning Graph (Logical-Mathematical)

Stewart teaches students that animals are blue for three different reasons: 1) To blend in, 2) To attract a mate; and, 3) To scare away predators. As a class, go through each animal in the book and determine if the animal uses blue to attract a mate, scare away a predator, or to hide. Make a bar graph of the results. Are there more animals in one category? Why?

Guess Who? (Verbal-Linguistic)

Brainstorm a list of animals from the book. Ask a student to pick an animal from the book. Then, the other students can ask questions to try and guess which animal the student chose. Students should ask questions about habitat, how the animal uses its color for its benefit, and what animals are the prey and predator of the chosen animal.

Wax Resist Watercolors (Visual-Spatial)

The blue shark’s color helps it stay hidden from its predators in the water. Have students draw a picture of a blue shark using crayon. Then ask students to use blue watercolors and paint over their drawing. Since wax resist the watercolors, students do not need to worry about painting over their work.

Book Buddies:

-Animal Camouflage in the Ocean by Martha Rustad

-Predators and Prey by Marcia Freeman

-Swimmy by Leo Lionni

-What Color is Camouflage by Carolyn Otto

-Why Are Animals Orange? by Melissa Stewart

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interview with FINEST KIND Author, Lea Wait

KN: You did a tremendous amount of research to create a historically accurate novel. Did you know Jake's story before you began researching, or did the concept for FINEST KIND develop as a result of 19th century research?

LW: Writing a book is like putting together a large puzzle. The challenge is to invent all the pieces (time, place, personalities, weather, events) -- and then fit them together. A lot of my research ends up on the floor! In writing Finest Kind I started with an historical event: in 1838 the Wiscasset Jail burned, and students saved the prisoners. I added a theme: a family with a secret. Many of the characters in the book (everyone at the jail, Dr. Theobold, etc) are actual people, so their stories are factual. The stories of the fictional characters I wove into the world of Wiscasset, Maine in 1838. I do 95% of my research, and perhaps 85% of my planning, before I start writing.

KN: Describe how you created genuine 19th century voices for your characters.

LW: Because my research is based in primary sources, I'm comfortable with reading and reflecting the voices of my 19th century characters. I also check every noun and verb I use in a dictionary published in the region and time of the book I'm writing to make sure I'm using words accurately for the period. For example, in Maine in 1838 people would have used a "privy" -- not an "outhouse" (that word would be used later in the 19th century) or a "necessary" (a word used in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

KN: What is a primary source and which ones did you use to write FINEST KIND?

LW: Primary sources (research sources that were written at the time you're studying) I used in writing Finest Kind included diaries, newspapers from 1837 and 1838, prisoner records kept by the Lincoln County jailer, letters, court records, genealogical notes, and then local church and town histories written later in the 19th century. I've now developed my own library of materials (I have whole shelves of books on farm implements, clothing, names, laws, educational practices, etc.) I also work in local town archives, and at the Maine Historical Society. By the way, when I do school visits -- whether in Maine or in, say, Missouri, where Finest Kind was on their Mark Twain Award list last year and I visited 12 schools -- I take some of those materials with me, including text books from the period for the students to look at, and I talk about how Noah Webster changed the American language, and what it was like to go to school in the 19th century. A lot of children today have never seen, much less touched, a book from 1820, so that gives them a very special experience.

KN: How long did it take you to write the first draft of FINEST KIND?

LW: Because of a tough juxtaposition of personal issues and publishing deadlines, I wrote Finest Kind faster than any other book I've written -- before or since! I'd finished the research, but went from writing the synopsis Thankgiving week (we ate dinner out!) to submitting the manuscript the first week in February. I don't even remember Christmas that year! Of course, there was more editing after that!

KN: Describe your revision process.

LW: I revise as I write; every day I revise what I've written the day before and then write whatever number of new pages I've assigned myself -- usually about 10. If I write something that changes an earlier event, I go back and fix that immediately. So my final editing is more tweaking than anything else: eliminating unnecessary words or scenes; using stronger words; ensuring transitions work. I edit the manuscript at least once in hard copy and read it out loud at least once. I'm always trying to improve the language and flow.

KN: Tell us about other books you have written that FINEST KIND readers might enjoy.

LW: I've had three other historicals published also set in Wiscasset. STOPPING TO HOME, set in 1806, stars 11-year-old Abbie and her 4-year-old brother Seth, orphaned by smallpox and the sea, who go to work for 18-year-old Widow Chase. Together, they must find a way to support themselves in the small seaport village.

SEAWARD BORN begins in Charleston, South Carolina, where 12-year-old Michael Lautrec is a slave who works in Charleston Harbor. But after his mistress dies, his world changes, and he makes the dangerous decision to try to reach freedom in the north via sea. Eventually he does -- and meets Abbie and Seth in Wiscasset. SEAWARD BORN takes place in 1804-1807.

And Dr. Theobold, who is in FINEST KIND, is also in WINTERING WELL, set in 1819-1820. Perhaps my most popular book so far, WINTERING WELL is told from the perspectives of both a brother who loses his leg in a farm accident and the sister who vows to take care of him. Of course, brothers and sisters don't see the world in the same way! In the year Maine became a state, both Will and Cassie also gain new perspectives on their lives, and new goals for their futures.

KN: Is there anything else you would like to share?

LW: I also write contemporary mysteries for adults, starring Maggie Summer, an antique print dealer and community college professor who solves crimes. The Shadows Antique Print Mystery series has been fun to write as a break from my historicals for children! Anyone interested in more information about my books, or in teachers' guides for my books for children, should check out my website, http://www.leawait.com. I'm also newly on Facebook, where I post about books, writing, and living in Maine, and would be happy to have anyone interested join me there!

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Publisher: Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 978-1-4169-0952-1

FROM THE FLAP: It’s 1838. Jake’s father has lost his job and his savings. Hearing of work in Maine, the family leaves their large home in Boston and heads north, taking with them a few furnishings and a deep family secret. In Maine they find only a dirty, isolated farmhouse, and a job for Father that takes him away from home.

“I’ll have to depend on you,” Jake’s mother tells him. But how can Jake find food? How can he prepare for the dangerous cold of a Maine winter? How can he protect his mother and his family’s secret?

Slowly, Jake learns the ways to survive, catching game and storing food for the long winter months. Nabby McCord, whose family also has a secret, helps him. So does Granny McPherson, who may be a witch. But when it comes to earning the money they need, Jake knows he’s on his own. He shows his determination as the winter approaches, but does he have what it takes to bring his family together to face their future and their past?

Finest Kind is the powerful story of a boy who is forced to become a man and to learn the truth about courage, friendship, and secrets.

Family Secrets (Linguistic)

Jake’s family’s secret is that his little brother has cerebral palsy. Choose a specific disability and compare and contrast the current medical treatment and understanding of that disability versus them past medical treatment and understanding of that disability. Or write about a friend or family member who is differently abled and describe your relationship with him or her.

Plant Classification (Naturalist)

Jake had to learn about the different plants in his area to survive. Take a walk outside and collect species of plants or draw pictures of them. Classify the plants into categories such as flowering or non-flowering, herbaceous or woody stems, and whether or not they use the wind, water or animals for seed dispersal.

Relay Races (Bodily/Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

Jake is surprised when Tom is not a good sport after their race. As a class, brainstorm a list of supportive comments before, during and after a race. During the race, require that each teammate shout a supportive comment during each team-member’s turn. If anyone demonstrates bad sportsmanship, that member has to run an extra leg of the race or if it is after the race, that team is automatically disqualified.

Songs from the 19th Century (Musical)

Jake and his mother sing to soothe Frankie. What songs did they sing? In cooperative groups have students pick one song written in the 19th century and perform it in class. Encourage students to play instruments as well as sing.

Wax Museum (Linguistic/Interpersonal)

Have students research 18th and 19th century presidents. After each student picks a specific president, have them write a short biography of that president. Ask students to dress up as that president, read their bio, and ask their classmates to guess who they are.

Book Buddies:

-A Small White Scar by K.A. Nuzum

-Bigger by Patricia Calvert

-Rules by Cynthia Lord

-Wintering Well by Lea Wait

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interview with WHEELS Author, April Jones Prince

Q: Many teachers do Writers Workshop with their students and ask students to pre-plan their writing. What did you do to plan WHEELS before you started writing?

AJP: A lot of brainstorming! I’m a history lover, so my first instinct was to write a book about the evolution of wheels, which some have called Man’s greatest invention. But I also knew I wanted to write for a young age group, and I wanted the book to be upbeat and fun. The more research I did about the history of wheels, the more I realized it was going to be difficult to roll all those things into one. I began to brainstorm lists and lists of wheel-related things: types of wheels, what sound they make, what purpose they serve, what would life be like without them, etc. I really tried to let my brain go wild; I tried not to censor any ideas, knowing I could go back later and filter out the less promising ones. When I was done, I knew I wanted to celebrate the many types of wheels young readers see every day—and in the process, help readers see wheels in a fun, new way.

: Describe how you wrote WHEELS. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

AJP: Using the lists I had brainstormed, I began to play with sounds and phrases, turning them around in my mind and moving them around on paper. I didn’t intend for the book to rhyme, but in hindsight, perhaps it was inevitable. A few unrelated rhymes popped up in my wordplay, and after that I couldn’t go back—the sound and rhythm of those phrases seemed to mimic the rhythm and movement of the vehicles I was describing. From there it became a sort of puzzle, to see how I could say the things I wanted to say within a compelling rhyme scheme. I also tried to think visually about what images might appear on each page or spread.

Q: After you wrote the first draft, how did you revise the manuscript?

AJP: The first draft had 2-3 times as many words as the final draft, and as a result it lollygagged instead of clipping along. I pruned, shorted, and, most importantly, focused on the verbs. I replaced the weak verbs with stronger ones, and was especially drawn to those with onomatopoeia, and those with plenty of visual opportunities for the illustrator. Indeed, Giles Laroche’s amazing paper relief artwork brings so much depth and interest to the book—it’s the star of the show!

Q: Tell us about other books that you have written that readers of WHEELS might enjoy.

AJP: One is VALENTINE FRIENDS, which has a short, rhyming text that focuses on alliteration. Teachers might also find MEET OUR FLAG, OLD GLORY helpful in the classroom. OLD GLORY celebrates our flag with a young, accessible text and images, and includes informational backmatter about the flag for teachers and parents.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to tell the teachers and students about yourself or your writing?

AJP: When I visit schools, the students love to see copies of my lists and brainstorming notes (some of which are written on napkins and scraps of paper), and the many drafts of my manuscripts. I like to tell the students that even though I’m a professional and writing is my job, I still need to work hard to get a story just right. Writing is rewriting!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What Do WHEELS Do All Day?

By April Jones Prince
Illustrated by Giles Laroche
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN-13: 978-0-618-56307-4

FROM THE FLAP: Yeah, what do WHEELS do all day? Well they push, race, stroll, fly, whiz, and spin all day long!

Hoop Action (Bodily-Kinesthetic)

April Jones Prince uses twenty-nine different verbs in WHEELS. Explain that verbs are action words. Read through the story and list all of the verbs. Then, take students outside and give each student a hula-hoop. Call out a verb from the story and have children act out the verbs with their hoops.

Parking Garage Math (Logical-Mathematical)

Ask a group of students to use blocks to build parking garages for Matchbox cars. Give each student ten cars. Tell the children various addition and subtraction stories, and have the students visually demonstrate each story with their cars. For example, there were seven cars on the road. Three drove into the garage. How many cars are on the road now? There were two cars on the road, five more cars pulled out of the garage onto the road. How many cars are on the road now?

Shape Art (Visual-Spatial, Intrapersonal)

Giles Laroche used paper collage to create the art for WHEELS. Give students various shapes of various sizes, an 11x18 piece of paper, and glue. Ask them to make a collage out of the various shapes, and have them share about their art afterward.

Transportation Sharing Circle (Intrapersonal)

There are twenty-two modes of transportation in WHEELS. Ask students to bring in a photo or a drawing of them using a mode of transportation. In an opening or closing circle, ask students to explain their picture.

What Do Kids Do In School All Day Classroom Book (Verbal-Linguistic)

Take photos of individual students throughout the day doing various activities: reading, drawing, writing, painting, playing etc. Give each child an 8x11 sheet of paper with the question “What do kids do in school all day?” written on top of the page. Underneath the photo, have a line for the student to write his or her name and another line for the accompanying verb. One sample page might be “Alicia reads.” Collate the pages into a classroom book and send it home for students to read to their families on a rotating basis.

Book Buddies:

-Car Wash by Susan and Sandra Steen
-I Stink! By Kate and Jim McMullan
-Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
-Short Cut by Donald Crews
-The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom

Sunday, September 6, 2009

THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies

Houghton Mifflin Company
ISBN-13: 978-0-618-75043-6

From the Flap: Evan Treski is people-smart. He is good at talking with people, even grownups. His younger sister, Jessie, on the other hand, is math-smart, but not especially good at understanding people. She knows that feelings are her weakest subject. So when their lemonade war begins, there really is no telling who will win, or if their fight will even end.

CAN’T AND CAN DO LISTS (Intrapersonal)

-Jessie and Evan’s lemonade war stems from their fears. As a class, brainstorm a list of Jessie and Evan’s fears. Then, ask each student to brainstorm a list of all the things they think they “can’t” do. When everyone is done, dispose of these lists as a group either by burying or recycling them to show those fears are gone for the year. Next, have each student brainstorm a list of everything he or she can do. As the school year progresses and students gain skills, ask them to add to their lists.

MATH COMPANIES (Logical/Mathematical)

-Jessie and Evan team up with friends to sell more lemonade. Have your students team up to solve the math problems in the book. If you’re reading it out loud, divide students into math companies of three or four students. Each time you come to a math problem in the book, have the companies work together to figure out the solution. The first team to come up with the correct answer wins.


-Ms. Davies talks about comment cards in The Lemonade War and these are a great way to create community in a classroom. Each week assign one student another student in the class. Each student must write a specific compliment about their assigned student on an index card. Choose a student to read the index cards out loud at the end of the week. It’s best if this activity is done anonymously to avoid embarrassment and teasing.


-Bring in newspaper ads for students to look at. Which ones work and which ones don’t? Why? Based on their findings, have students create visual advertisements for a product. Discuss the properties of color, line, shape and form and how these elements work together to create an effective advertisement or not.

TEN TIPS (Verbal/Linguistic)

-Evan and Jessie write "Ten Tips for Turning Lemons Into Loot." Have each student write ten tips for an activity he or she knows how to do. Discuss word choice and how writing tips differs from other forms of writing such as reports, letters, and advertisements.


Frindle by Andrew Clements
How We Are Smart by W. Nikola-Lisa
Lunch Money by Andrew Clements