Curiosity queen; writing science, history,
and everything in between
Writing a recipe is harder than it looks. I found this out when a children’s magazine editor asked me to add a recipe to my article about eating insects.
First, I thumbed through my recipe file mentally substituting bugs for a vital ingredient. Mushrooms stuffed with millipedes was out. (Most kids don’t like mushrooms.) I nixed beetle sausage, also. (Too much chopping and frying in a hot skillet.) Flipping to desserts, I chose toffee. I could substitute bugs for nuts.
After my trip to the grocery store for butter, sugar and chocolate chips, I visited the pet shop, and asked for a cup of mealworms, which are fly larvae (also known as maggots, but that’s not very appetizing). The man handed me a little carton that looked like a Skippy cup of ice cream. I wrote that down because I would need to pass that information on to readers who, like me, had no clue how to purchase creepy-crawlies.
With all the ingredients on the counter I recorded each step:
After that, I was on familiar ground blending butter and sugar, and sprinkling chocolate chips.
I called my concoction Toffee Surprise, and taste-tested it in a large group setting where peer pressure encouraged full participation -- my mother’s birthday party! The verdict: The toffee was yummy, crunchy, and sweet with a subtle earthy aftertaste.
Although I don’t plan on cooking more edible vermin, I did learn some important rules for writing a recipe: Choose a food that is reader-friendly; be aware of your readers’ abilities and safety issues; record every step in order; pay attention to even the smallest details; and prepare it yourself so you can work out the bugs (no pun intended).
Peggy Thomas is the co-author of Anatomy of Nonfiction, the only writer's guide for children's nonfiction. To find out more about Peggy, visit her website. She also has a blog for writers, based on the book.
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, 7 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/baking-with-bugs;-how-to-write-a-recipe.
Nonfiction is the new black
You’ve probably heard of Marco Polo, who left his hometown of Venice, Italy in 1271 as a teenager and traveled for the next 24 years. He spent most of his time in China, where he became an advisor to the country’s ruler Kublai Khan. He published The Travels of Marco Polo in 1300 and it became an instant best-seller.
Four years later Ibn Battuta, who became known as the “Muslim Marco Polo,” was born in Tangier, Morocco.
When he was about 21 he undertook the hajj, the trip to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula. During the month he stayed there following a two-year journey, he heard fascinating tales of far-flung lands from his fellow pilgrims. Rather than returning home to the career as a lawyer that awaited him, Ibn Battuta decided to see those lands.
He joined a camel caravan to Persia. From there he went to Africa, then to Asia. He crossed hot deserts and snow-covered mountain passes. He survived bandit attacks and voyages on stormy and pirate-infested seas. He enjoyed long periods of living in luxury, as well as other periods of soul-crushing poverty.
He finally returned home to discover that his parents were dead. So he crossed the Straits of Gibraltar to visit the remnants of Islamic Spain. Then, at the “request” of the sultan of Morocco, who wanted to establish trade relations with the mighty Muslim empire of Mali, West Africa, Ibn Battuta toured that region for nearly three years. He came back to Morocco for good in 1354, ending 29 years of traveling. During that time, he covered about 75,000 miles. By contrast, Marco Polo’s journeys encompassed roughly 15,000 miles over a 24-year period.
Like Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta published an account of his travels, A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling, more commonly called the Rihla (or “Journey”). He spent his remaining years before his death in 1368 as a judge—finally involved with the legal career he had avoided so many years earlier.
If you would like to learn a lot more about Ibn Battuta, click here to go to a website that includes student activities.
And, if you would like to learn more about author Jim Whiting, click here to go to his website. He has a great new series on the NFL Today, with a book about each of the teams.
David M. Schwartz
The amazing, engaging, math exponent
'Tis the season. The rotting season.
You thought Halloween was full of ghosts, goblins and ghouls? Well, wait until the post-Halloween season. This is when your Jack O' Lantern begins its ghoulish decline. It starts as a pumpkin and it ends as a heap of goo. This is scary!
Now is when your Halloween pumpkin begins to rot. Don't get me wrong. Rot is not gross. It is a beautiful thing—beautiful in its own deliciously disgusting way.
You start with a proud Jack, a plump, shiny-skinned pumpkin. Halloween is over so you leave it on your porch, or inside by the window, or maybe you toss it into the garden or onto the compost heap.
It attracts some visitors. A squirrel. A pair of mice. A scurry of sow bugs. They chew the skin of the pumpkin, leaving moist, rough surfaces, just perfect for the next wave of invaders: the molds and fungi and bacteria that start to grow. There are dozens, even hundreds, of types of organisms waiting to sink their "teeth" into pumpkin flesh as soon as the conditions are right. One kind of invader changes the conditions of the flesh to make it perfect for the next one. Meanwhile, the poor pumpkin is looking less and less like a pumpkin. Its skin turns to shades of black, gray and white, with only a few patches of dull orange. Its shape collapses into a heap, then a pile of mush, and then . . . well, no shape at all.
Do you think rot rots? Imagine what your life would be like if things didn't rot. You'd be tripping over all the old pumpkins, not to mention mice, eagles, tomato plants, oak trees and everything else that ever walked, flew, swam or grew upon the earth. Their dead bodies simply wouldn't go away! Worse, their nutrients would be locked forever inside. The energy in the molecules they are made of would be unavailable to any other living things. Rot, properly known as "decomposition," releases all those good vitamins, sugars, proteins, carbohydrates and energy so that they can be used by next year's pumpkin, which will grow from the seeds of last year's pumpkin. Mice and eagles, tomatoes and the trees in a nearby forest can grow and reproduce because nutrients and energy pass through complex food webs from plants to the animals that eat those plants, to other animals that eat those animals.
It's all possible because of rot. So you see, rot doesn't rot. Rot rocks!
David is the author of > 50 books on math and science, including his newest, rottenest title, Rotten Pumpkin. For more information, click here.
David 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.
Have you ever wanted to tell your life's story? It's not as easy as you think. Here are some tips that can make it easier.
First, realize that you can't tell your whole story. Not only will you bore your readers, you'll probably give up before you write a quarter of it. Instead, choose a theme—something that's been important to you and that interests you about your life. Here are a few examples:
* The story of you and your favorite hobby.
* Your experiences with your favorite—or least favorite—pet.
* Fun times you've had with your dad, mom, or best friend.
* The three scariest things you ever did.
* Your best/worst school year.
In my memoir, Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts—Journeys of a Biologist's Son, I decided to focus mostly on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Narrowing down my story not only led to a better story, it made the writing process much less overwhelming. This kind of "slice" of a life is called a memoir. In contrast, when someone tries to tell their complete story, it's called an autobiography. Usually, the only people who write autobiographies have invented electricity or landed on the moon—or they are running for president!
A second tip for telling your story is to pick out certain characters and let the reader get to know them. When writing my memoir, I could have said a little bit about a lot of different people in my life. Instead, I chose just a few and tried to tell more about them. This lets readers get to know the people in your story—and care about your story more.
One last tip is to leave out the boring stuff. When you start writing, it's tempting to include every detail. Instead, start your story where it really gets interesting. For instance, don't begin with, "On my first day of school, I walked to class." Instead, you might start with, "When I looked in the cage, I realized that our twelve-foot long boa constrictor had escaped!" Just because it's your story doesn't mean it shouldn't have a good plot and plenty of action. Focus on topics you'd like to read about—even if you didn't know you!
After reading these tips, you might be asking yourself, "Can I write more than one memoir?" The answer: absolutely! So dig in, have fun, and tell your story. You, your friends, and family will be glad you did.
To help your story be more interesting, focus on one thing. For my memoir, I focused on my relationship and adventures with my dad. Here, he is graduating with his doctorate degree from U.C. Santa Barbara
Both my dad and I loved reptiles, so I told a lot of stories about them in my memoir.
During the long summers with my dad, I often hung out at his laboratory. One summer I helped him build this giant plankton net that he used to sample animals in the Gulf of Mexico.
My dog, Puppy, helped get me through the difficulty of my parents’ divorce, so Puppy became a primary character in my book. Man, I wish I still had that shirt!
Sneed B. Collard III is the author of more than eighty award-winning books, many focusing on science and the natural world. His entertaining memoir Snakes, Alligators, and Broken Hearts--Journeys of a Biologist’s Son recounts his challenges and adventures growing up as the son of divorced biologist parents, and the experiences that would one day lay the foundation for his writing career. He is a dynamic speaker and offers school and conference programs that combine science, nature, and literacy. To learn more about him and his talks, visit his website, www.sneedbcollardiii.com.
You know how it is: old campfire stories, interesting things you’re doing or seeing or hearing about—they get all mixed up in your dreams and your stories. That’s how it was for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. One night in 1816, in Switzerland, when there wasn’t anything on TV (because it wasn’t invented yet), she and her friends decided they’d each write a horror story. By combining her knowledge with the idea what if, 18-year-old Mary made up one about a monster. It’d turn out to be one of the most famous monsters ever.
These were some of the ideas that influenced Mary’s thinking:
Hmmm…I’ll bet you can guess now what story Mary wrote! In it, her character, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, gathered parts of dead people’s bodies in his laboratory. His experiment? He’d make a perfect person then bring it to LIFE with the power of lightning – and it worked! But – oh no! Dr. Frankenstein accidentally created a MONSTER! And then a lot of horrible things happened!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was first published in 1818, never got very good reviews, but never mind. In the almost two centuries since she wrote it, Mary’s monster story has sparked the imaginations of playwrights, moviemakers, cartoonists, musicians, and Halloween costume-makers again and again and again.
It kind of makes you wonder about your own ideas and memories. What if you put them together in your imagination? You could spark a story into LIFE!
Cheryl Harness is not only a nonfiction author and an illustrator, but she has also written a novel called Just for You to Know. If you would like to read an excerpt from her book, click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
How often do you check your cell phone or email each day? Use Twitter or Facebook? Can you stand not to “stay in touch” for even one day? We’re used to being able to hear from people anywhere in the world at any time, with just a few taps on a keyboard or telephone pad.
Through most of human history people could only communicate when they were within shouting distance. When alphabets came along, our ancestors could create messages on stone or wood and later on parchment (made from animal skin), or paper, made from wood pulp. Then, of course, the message had to get from one person to another by way of a messenger. When public mail came along, it made that process much easier and more reliable.
That’s where things stood for a long time. Imagine being a soldier in 1804 joining explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their epic trek across the west to the Pacific Coast. This was territory almost totally unknown at the time to European Americans.
You’ve left behind your family and all your friends. Now you have no way of finding out what happened to those dear to you. Did your father or mother die? Did a sister get married? How many babies were born? Your loved ones get to be a bit luckier, since in the spring of 1805, the keel boat that carried the expedition to Indian villages for the winter is sent back down the Missouri River with a small crew, and you get a chance to write notes to your loved ones, reassuring them that you are okay.
A lot can happen during a 2½ year span like the one endured by members of the expedition! Finally, in September of 1806, you and your colleagues return to the St. Louis area and find out that most people assumed you were all dead. Now you must figure out as quickly as possible how to reconnect with family and friends. It won’t be easy, since they don’t know you are alive, and you don’t know where they are after so long. How can you even locate everyone you care about?
Think about it: If you didn’t have email or a phone of any kind, whose messages would you miss the most? And who would you most wish you could tell about these events in your life?
Dorothy has written about how the horse changed the lives of the Plains Indians and everything that followed.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent 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.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Keeping in Touch." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/keeping-in-touch.
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