Stephen R. Swinburne
I really like vultures. Sure, they’re ugly and they eat nasty dead things. But those are not necessarily bad characteristics.
First let’s deal with “ugly.” Vultures’ bald heads are what make them seem ugly to most people. But think about why they’re bald. Imagine thrusting your head inside the carcass of a white-tailed deer to reach the meat. A feathered head might capture bits of flesh, blood and gore and you end up with a face full bacteria and flies. Scientists believe that one reason vultures have evolved featherless heads is to aid in hygiene. A bald head stays clean and any remaining germs or bacteria are baked off by the sun. Vultures have also found that a bald head can help with temperature regulation. When it gets cold they can tuck their heads down to keep their neck covered with feathers. When it’s hot, vultures can extend their neck to expose bare skin. Their bald heads work so well that I wrote a poem about them.
It’s best to have no feathers,
When you stick your head in guts,
That way you don’t go walkin’ round,
Your noggin dripping schmutz.
Moving on to “eating nasty dead things,” the next time you see vultures eating a dead animal on the side of the road, be thankful! That carcass might be dead from rabies or contaminated with other harmful diseases. Vultures have the amazing ability to consume rotting and diseased flesh and stay healthy. It’s all in the stomach. Vultures possess very powerful stomach acids that destroy most bacteria and deadly viruses. In fact, vulture stomach acid is so strong it can dissolve metal! Except if that metal is lead shot -- many turkey vultures are killed every year by consuming shot that they encounter in dead deer. Vultures are the world’s natural “sanitation workers,” helping to stop the spread of disease.
I’m so appreciative of the work they do, I even wrote a poem about eating dead things:
I like my meat dead,
It’s best if it’s not moving.
Don’t want to see one final twitch,
I prefer it oozing
So, the next time you see a vulture circling in the noonday sky, think about the valuable and important clean up service this bird provides to us and to the environment. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that….
Steve Swinburne is a science writer, but as you can see from this Minute, he likes to write poetry too. In his book Ocean Soup, he offers verses in the voices of tide-pool animals, including the barnacle, sea urchin, sculpin, mussel, starfish, hermit crab, anemone, and lobster. For more about Steve's poetry, click here.
Steve Swinburne 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
Swinburne, Stephen R. "In Praise of Vultures." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ In-Praise-Of-Vultures.
Who would build the world’s tallest building – the powerful Bank of Manhattan Trust Company down on Wall Street or Walter P. Chrysler, the automobile tycoon up on 42nd Street? It was early 1929, and a race for the sky raged in New York City. In late summer, the newspapers reported that the bank soared to 973 feet, just two feet higher than planned for the Chrysler Building. To the king of cars this was intolerable, so he turned to his architect, William Van Alen, who decided to outfox the competition.
Five months later, people in New York were treated to an extraordinary sight. In 90 minutes, a splendid tower, topped by a silvery spire, with triangular windows, emerged from the building’s open roof. Secretly assembled in the fire shaft, it rose to a height of 1,046 feet, making the Chrysler Building the world’s tallest building.
Van Alen had given Chrysler a structure that not only scraped the sky, he also, most imaginatively, used details of cars as decorations. Near the top of the building perched eight eagle-headed gargoyles, based on the hood ornament of a 1929 Chrysler Plymouth. Thirty-six stories above the street, there’s a wrap-around frieze of stylized cars featuring real metal hubcaps and four giant radiator caps.
For a few months, until the Empire State Building took over as the world’s tallest building, Chrysler relished his number one status. His lavish apartment was near the top, and he boasted to friends and foes alike that he had the highest toilet in the city. So there he sat, on his porcelain throne, delighting in his elevated position.
Chrysler and Van Alen expected rave reviews when the building was completed, but that didn’t happen. “The height of commercial swank,” sneered The New York Times. “Stunt design, with no serious significance,” sniffed The New Yorker, and another newspaper accused the spire of having the “appearance of an uplifted swordfish.”
But things change. Now some 75 years later, the Chrysler Building is many people’s favorite skyscraper, and recognized as an outstanding example of Art Deco, the style of the twenties and thirties. Above all, there’s that incomparable swordfish-nose spire.
It was Van Alen’s aim to have the triangular windows lit up at night. And now, long after his death, they do, launching the Chrysler Building into the Manhattan sky with all the fantasy and glitter of the Jazz Age.
Roxie Munro is not only an author, but she is also an illustrator.
She did the art for Gargoyles, Girders & Glass Houses by Bo Zaunders, a superb picture book tribute to seven of history's most celebrated architectural wonder-workers; It takes readers from the domes of Florence to the mosques of Turkey, from the Eiffel Tower to the Chrysler Building. Stunning illustrations and lively text evoke the passion and genius of builders whose inspiring work spans five centuries and six countries. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "The Race for the Sky." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 5 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ The-Race-For-The-Sky.
“My heart was enlisted,” the Marquis de Lafayette wrote in his memoirs, “and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.”
Who were the revolutionaries Lafayette referred to? Americans, bien sûr!
Lafayette was just 19 when he paid for his ship, hired a crew and set sail from France to attach his colors to ours. He defied his king, who denied him permission to leave, and left his pregnant wife and child behind.
Seasick every day of his month-long voyage, he nevertheless learned English along the way. Docking at Charleston, NC, he trekked hundreds of miles to Philadelphia, suffering a month of broken carriages, lame horses, and nightly mosquito raids. He remained buoyant, and dedicated to our fight.
Finally at Continental Congress, he enthusiastically introduced himself—only to be turned away. There were too many foreign officers, they told him.
S'il vous plaît, Lafayette pleaded. He’d come so far—and he would work for free.
They accepted his services, but refused to give him what he yearned for: troops to command.
At least Lafayette could stay—and meet his idol, Commander-in-Chief George Washington!
Lafayette felt an instant connection with Washington, who invited the young Frenchman to live with him. Washington was diplomatic. He knew Lafayette was of noble descent, and he needed France’s aid in order to win the revolution. But Lafayette mistook the invitation for affection. “I am established in his house, and we live together like two attached brothers…” he wrote his wife.
It wouldn’t be long before Washington felt genuine affection for Lafayette. As the situation in Philadelphia grew dire—they were surrounded by the British and awaited an inevitable attack—Washington took a moment to have a “great conversation” with Lafayette. Think of me as your father, he told him. Lafayette was touched in the deepest way.
At the Battle of Brandywine, the Americans were overwhelmed and defeated. Our soldiers panicked—deserting their lines. Lafayette requested permission to rally the troops. Though he feared for Lafayette’s life, Washington granted his wish.
Lafayette’s great spirit convinced the troops to stay. The Americans still had an army, to fight another day. A musket ball ripped through Lafayette’s leg! He eventually collapsed. Back at headquarters, Washington instructed his personal physician, “Treat [Lafayette] as if he were my son. For I love him the same.”
The father/son relationship of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette developed while they were under British siege. A multiple award-winning choice in history books for kids, and a compelling account in American history by a research-loving writer!
You can buy it here.
Polar bears are built to withstand some of the coldest temperatures on the planet. Their brown and black bear cousins avoid the winter cold by digging dens and sleeping. But, except for pregnant females, polar bears spend the arctic winter outside where temperatures could be -40° F (which equals-40 °C) and windy. That’s too cold for humans. You could go outside, but only for only a few minutes with every part of your body completely covered. And if you didn’t wear goggles, your eyelashes would freeze and break off if you touched them.
Polar bears are warm-blooded like us with a body temperature of about 98°F/37°C. But they are invisible to night-vision goggles that pick up the infrared rays that warm-blooded creatures, including humans, give off. Why? Nature has given polar bears enough insulation to prevent body heat from escaping. They are toasty warm and comfortable in the frigid arctic.
Their heat insulation is in several layers. Under their skin, there is a 4-inch (21.5 cm) layer of fat. Next to the skin is a dense layer of woolly fur that also keeps heat in. The fur you see is a thick layer of long, colorless guard hairs that shed water quickly after a swim. They are stiff and transparent and hollow. In the arctic sunlight, the hairs act like mirrors and reflect white light, which acts as camouflage against the snow so the bears are not seen by their prey. Polar bear skin is actually black, so that it can absorb the invisible warm infrared rays of the sun and the bear’s own body heat, both of which are reflected back by the guard hairs.
Most warm-blooded animals raise their body temperatures through exercise. Polar bears hunt seals, which they don’t often chase. They prefer to sit at the edge of an ice floe and wait for dinner to arrive. At best, they’ll lumber after a seal at four and a half miles (7.25 km) an hour, raising their body heat to 100°F (38°C). When that happens, they go for a swim to cool off.
Cold won’t kill off the polar bears, but global warming can. As polar ice disappears, so does the hunting ground for seals. Not so cool!
Close up, the polar bear guard hairs are transparent. This allows the infra-red light (heat) from the sun to pass through them to be absorbed by the black skin under the hairs. The hairs also act like mirrors , reflecting back to the skin any infra-red radiation escaping from the bears body so it can be reabsorbed. Thus, the insulation is just about perfect with no infra-red radiation escaping. The hairs are also coated with oil so they drain quickly after a swim.
Vicki Cobb's This Place Is Cold shows how the latitude of Alaska affects the lives of the plants, animals and people who live there. It is gloriously illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, a long-time Alaskan resident and artist.
Vicki is a member of Authors on Call—she can visit your classroom with interactive videoconferencing: Read more about her here.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "The Way Polar Bears Keep Warm Is Cool." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/The-Way-Polar-Bears-Keep-Warm-Is-Cool.
David M. Schwartz
The amazing, engaging, math exponent.
Think of a big number. How about one million? It's a thousand thousand. That's a lot. If you counted nonstop to a million, it would take you about 23 days.
A million is small compared to a billion, which is a thousand million. Want to count that high? You'll be at it for 95 years. But a trillion makes a billion look puny. A trillion is a thousand billion (or a million million). Counting that high would take you 200,000 years. Have fun!
Of course trillion is not the biggest number. There's quadrillion, quintillion, sextillion, septillion, octillion, nonillion, decillion and more. Each is a thousand of the previous one. There's even a humongous number called vigintillion, a one with 63 zeros.
But vigintillion is a shrimp compared to a googol. Googol? Notice how it's spelled: G-O-O-G-O-L, not G-O-O-G-L-E. The number googol is a one with a hundred zeros. It got its name from a nine-year old boy. A googol is more than all the hairs in the world. It's more than all the grass blades and all the grains of sand. It's even more than the number of atoms in the universe. Astrophysicists estimate the number of atoms to be a one with 82 zeros. You'd need to add 18 more zeros to get to a googol.
Incidentally, a few years ago, the two men who had invented a powerful new internet search engine decided to name their website and company for the gigantic number googol. But they spelled it wrong. That's why the company Google is spelled with an L-E. But the number googol is still spelled with an O-L.
Googol is so large that it's practically useless, but the boy who named it came up with a name for an even bigger number, "googolplex." A googolplex is a one with a googol zeros. There isn't enough ink in all the pens of the world to write that many zeros but feel free to give it a try.
So is googolplex is the biggest number? What about a googolplex and one? Two googolplex? A googolplex googolplex? Any number you say, I can say one bigger.
I hear you asking, "What about infinity? Isn't that the biggest number?" Sorry, but infinity isn't a number. A number specifies an amount and infinity is no amount. It means "goes on and on forever."
And that's what numbers do. They go on and on forever. Infinity is not a number but numbers are infinite.
Think you're too old for an alphabet book? You'll think again if you check out a sampling from David M. Schwartz's: B is for Binary, F is for Fibonacci, P is for Probability... You can see that this is an ABC book unlike any other. For more information, click here.
David Schwartz 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
Schwartz, David M. "What's the Biggest Number?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 1 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Whats-the-Biggest-Number.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council