writing science, history, and everything in between
My knees shake as I stand behind Poonlarb, a towering female Asian elephant who rocks back and forth while the veterinarian explains the procedure. I pull on a rubber glove that goes up to my armpit, and grease my entire hand and arm with a lubricant.
Taking an elephant’s temperature is one way the vet can assess the animal’s health, which is important at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) in Thailand where many of the elephants have been rescued from harsh lives hauling lumber, or begging on the busy streets of Bangkok. The GTAEF is one of many organizations struggling to protect abused, captive elephants, as well as educate people on the plight of the dwindling wild population. Loss of habitat and poaching for ivory has made the Asian elephant ten times more endangered than their big-eared African cousin.
When the vet hands me the thermometer, I laugh. I was expecting something…well… elephant-sized. But the thermometer is no bigger than the one I use at home. Protecting the glass tip with my finger, I ask Poonlarb if she’s ready, and inch my hand into her rectum. “More,” the vet says, and I reach further pushing up on my tip-toes. Poonlarb’s muscles gently contract around my arm. If the mahout (elephant handler) wasn’t holding her tail, this nearly two ton female could easily knock me off my feet with one swish. I rub Poonlarb’s rump, and assure her it will be over soon, but four minutes is a long time when you have your hand up an elephant’s backside.
I pull the thermometer out and hand it to the vet. “36.2 Celsius,” she says. “Normal.” That’s 97.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Poonlarb is one healthy elephant, and luckily for me, a patient patient.
To learn more about Asian elephants, click here to go to Think Elephants International
Peggy Thomas not only knows something of the anatomy of an elephant, but she knows the internal structure of nonfiction.
Peggy Thomas is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Thomas, Peggy. “How to Take an Elephant’s Temperature.” Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 23 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/how-to-take-an-elephants-temperature.
nonfiction is the new black
Accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth embarked on a tour of the then-British colony of Kenya in early February, 1952. Her father, King George VI, had been too ill with lung cancer to join them.
The royal couple stayed at Treetops, a three-room hotel built into the top of a large tree overlooking a water hole and salt lick. Just getting there could be dangerous. Angry elephants could unexpectedly charge arriving guests as they walked the considerable distance from the parking lot. Then guests endured a twisting 30-foot climb up a rickety ladder. At night leopards often prowled in the trees just outside the rooms.
The place was so perilous for guests that the hotel actually hired an experienced hunter named Jim Corbett. He had made a reputation for hunting men-eating tigers in India. Corbett remained on high alert through the night of the royal visit, his high-powered hunting rifle at the ready. Nothing happened.
Something very important happened in London, however. At some point during the night, the king died. Under the communication systems operating at the time, there was no way of contacting Treetops to inform Princess Elizabeth of her father’s death.
Unaware of what had happened, Elizabeth rose at dawn, added more photos to go along with those she had taken the previous day, then had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. She and Philip drove to Sagana Lodge, a wedding gift to her from the Kenyan people. Officials there had received word of the king’s death and notified Philip. He took Elizabeth for a walk in the garden in mid-afternoon and broke the news to her. She was now the queen, and in fact had become Elizabeth II while she was still asleep at Treetops the night before.
She immediately made arrangements to return home and boarded an airplane that evening. When the plane was airborne, she excused herself and went to the restroom. Returning several minutes later she said nothing, but it was apparent to everyone on the flight that she had been crying.
Elizabeth has been queen ever since. If she is still reigning on September 15, 2015, she would surpass Queen Victoria and become the longest-reigning British monarch in history.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Princess Who Went up a Tree and Came down a Queen." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 24 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-princess-who-went-up-a-tree-and-came-down-a-queen.
Celebrating the History of Science and the Science behind History
Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660) was a famous Spanish painter. He had a slave named Juan de Pareja (1606 – 1670). Call him an indentured servant if you want, but it’s more accurate to say he was Velazquez's slave, as he was not at liberty to leave. For years, Pareja prepared brushes, ground pigments, and stretched canvasses for the artist. While he was at it, Pareja observed his master carefully, and secretly taught himself how to use the materials, and how to paint.
Pareja was referred to as a Morisco in Spanish. One way to translate the word is that he had mixed parentage (the offspring of a European Spaniard and a person of African descent). Another way to translate the word is that he was a Moor—someone descended from Muslims who had remained in Spain after its conquest by Ferdinand and Isabella.
In 1650, Velazquez was preparing to paint a portrait of Pope Innocent X. As practice, he painted Pareja, who had accompanied the artist to Italy. Here is the portrait.
It's a pretty amazing picture, isn't it?
Velazquez got all sorts of praise for it from the artists in Rome—he was even elected into the Academy of St. Luke.
According to some sources, Velazquez would not allow Pareja to pick up a paintbrush. But one day, when King Philip IV was due to visit Velazquez, Pareja placed one of his own paintings where the king would see it. When the king admired it, believing it to be by Velazquez, Pareja threw himself at the king’s feet and begged for the King to intercede for him. Whether or not that story is true, Pareja did become an accomplished painter, and impressed the king so much that he ordered Pareja freed.
Pareja remained with the Velazquez family until his death.
It was hard to find examples of his paintings, but here are two that are attributed to him.
Sarah Albee's latest book is Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions and Murderous Medicines. You can read a review that gives you a dose of what's in this book.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "The Painter Was a Slave." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 25 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-painter-was-a-slave.
Kryptos stands in the shadow of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia−waiting to be revealed. No, Kryptos is not a foreign spy. It is a mysterious sculpture. The large, curved copper monument is covered with 1800 cut-out letters that together form four separate coded messages.
The sculpture was created by artist Jim Sanborn who was chosen to create it for the grounds of the CIA. When Sanborn began the work, he was not an expert in codes. He learned about writing codes and breaking codes from Ed Scheidt of the CIA.
Kryptos stood there, like a silent challenge, after it was installed in 1990. Two years later men from the National Security Agency (NSA) set out to crack the code and they did solve the first three messages. Then in 1998 one man at the CIA also solved the first three. But neither agency publicly announced they had done it. Nine years after Kryptos was unveiled, Jim Gillogly was the first person who did not work for a government agency who solved the first three of four messages. These three messages are a poetic phrase, coordinates for a location on the grounds of the CIA, and an account of the opening of King Tut’s tomb.
The fourth message is the shortest and only has 97 letters. For more than twenty years people all over the world have tried to figure it out. Sanborn, the creator of Kryptos, has grown impatient that the last section of Kryptos has not been solved. In 2010 he released a clue and revealed that one six word section of letters were code for the word “BERLIN.” Still no one could solve it. In November 2014, Sanborn announced another clue, a five word section of letters were code for the word “CLOCK.”
Still the fourth message on the Kryptos code has not been broken. It remains one of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries.
Would you like to try to crack the fourth code of Kryptos? Here it is:
Carla Killough McClafferty writes about international intrigue in her book In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry. In this book you will learn the true story of how one American man traveled to France during World War II with the intention of rescuing refugees from the Nazis. Fry lived a double life as he secretly smuggled people out of Europe. Ultimately Varian Fry’s efforts saved the lives of more than 2000 people.
Carla McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
Teaching the Power of Wonder
Long before we celebrated Halloween, Celtic people in the British Isles honored the dead during Samhain (which we pronounce “SOW-ren”). Some scholars think that Samhain was a Celtic version of New Year’s Eve. It was a holiday filled with ritual. Folks believed that in late fall, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its very thinnest.
To light their way at this dark time of year, they carved out vegetables, and popped glowing coals inside. A popular choice was the humble turnip, which they grew, cooked, and ate, of course.
Why turnips, you may ask? Think! Pumpkins didn’t grow in Europe—they are a New World vegetable. In fact, an old drawing shows how Indians in Virginia grew pumpkins in their villages in the late 1500s.
Why not give turnip carving a try? Order big ones at your farm market. When you first bring them home, they might be hard as rocks. Let them sit out in the open for several days until they soften up a bit.
To carve yourself some examples of the original “jack-o-lantern,” grab the turnips, some tea lights, a small knife, and a pointy spoon. Hold the turnip root tip up. Use a marker to draw the circle for the lid. Then trace or draw eyes, nose, mouth—whatever you’d like.
Now be sure there’s an adult to help you! Use the knife to carve around the circle. Remove the top of the turnip and set it aside. That’s your lid. Use the spoon to scoop out the turnip just like a pumpkin. Be sure to leave a nice thick wall. Then pierce the turnip with your knife and gently carve out the features.
Pop the tea light inside. Find a dark spot. Have the grownup help you light the wick and… LET IT GLOW!
Today, folks grow pumpkins in the Old World, so kids all over Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales carve jack-o-lanterns just like you do. Turnips are out….unless you want to feed the cows.
Kerrie Hollihan's biography of Isaac Newton sheds light on a lot of ideas people thought were mysterious. If you liked the turnip activity, there are lots more in this book.
Kerrie Hollihan is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
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