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.
The Explainer General
The real Dracula didn’t drink blood or sleep in a coffin. He was not a count but an honorable, well-educated warlord. And much, much scarier than the movie Dracula.
As a Knight of the Dragon Society his father, Vlad II, was called Dracul (“dragon”) . When Vlad III was born in 1431, he was called “little dragon,” Dracula. He was always loyal to his family, friends and to his people, but he was betrayed over and over, beginning with his father. Dracul gave Vlad and his brother Radu to the Turks as hostages—then attacked the Turks!
Wallachia (now part of Romania) was harried in the south by Turkish Moslems. In the north, Hungarian warlords schemed to take over. When the Turks killed his father, Dracula escaped to defend his country and his people.
His methods were rough. He punished offenses large and small by impaling. A long sharpened stake was pushed into the offender’s bottom, then raised upright. Death might come in an hour or in two days. He raised a forest of stakes with impaled offenders in a valley near his capital, Tirgoviste.
Messengers came from the Turks to demand tribute money. Dracula asked why they didn’t take off their turbans as a sign of respect. They said they never took off their turbans. Dracula made certain they didn’t. He had the turbans nailed onto the messengers’ skulls.
An enormous Turkish army attacked from the south. Dracula retreated wisely, seizing and impaling hundreds of the invaders’ stragglers. He made a fierce night attack on the sultan’s camp, killing thousands of Turks before he was beaten back. But when the Turks approached Tirgoviste they rode through a valley lined with 20,000 impaled corpses. The most recent victims were Turkish soldiers. The Turks were so scared that they turned back to home.
Dracula ruled for only seven years. His brother, Radu the Handsome had converted to Islam and swept into Wallachia with the Turks. Another betrayal. Dracula was defeated.
Was Dracula a fiend or a warrior sternly protecting his people from the invading Turks? We just don’t know. We can’t believe the grisly tales his enemies told about him. Best historical guess: Wallachians both loved and feared him. You can see that in an historic tale. Vlad Dracula placed a fabulous goblet at a fountain in Tirgoviste. Any citizen could drink from the golden vessel. It was never stolen. They were too afraid.
Jan Adkin's DK Biography: Thomas Edison tells the story of the famous inventor, from his childhood as an "addled" student, to his reign as the "Wizard of Menlo Park," where he developed the electric light bulb, the phonograph, and many other inventions still in use today. For more information on the book, click here.
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.
Two weeks before Halloween in 1944, a small jet fighter plane was parked on an Ohio airfield. The plane was wearing a kind of costume. It had fake propellers attached to the front of its wings. Was this jet getting dressed up so it could zoom off trick-or-treating at airports around the country?
Not exactly. Those fake propellers weren’t a Halloween prank. They were serious business, a disguise that the Army hoped would fool enemy spies.
Jet planes don’t use propellers, the spinning blades that give other aircraft the power to fly. A jet’s power comes from jet engines attached to the under side of its wings. A jet engine sucks in air and spins the air very fast inside the engine. The air is then mixed with gas fuel in the engine and an electric spark sets the gas-air mixture on fire. This burning mixture blasts out of the back of the engine with so much force that the plane can move forward and zoom up and away.
In 1944, World War II was still raging. For most of the war, military planes had been propeller planes, both for the United States and Britain, as well as for their enemies, Nazi Germany and Japan. Jet engines had only been invented a few years before the war began but weren’t used in military planes until early 1944, when Germany became the first country to use a jet fighter in battle.
The U.S. had built a jet plane—the XP-59A—but it was still being tested. In the fall of 1944, a version of this new jet, called the YP-59A, was shipped for testing to Wright Field, an Army aviation test center in Dayton, Ohio. To keep spies from finding out about the plane, it not only had fake propellers but also an armed soldier standing guard.
On October 14, 1944, test pilots took turns test-flying this jet at Wright Field, after the fake propellers were removed! They noted problems, so none of these U.S. jets were ever used in the war. But although the plane never made history winning any battles, one of the pilots testing it did make history that October day: 26-year-old Ann Baumgartner Carl. That day she became the first American woman to pilot a jet aircraft. She was one of the WASP pilots--Women Airforce Service Pilots—the first women’s unit to fly for the U.S military.
If you are interested in finding out more about the WASPS, Amy Nathan has written a book on the subject. Click here for more information.
MLA 8 Citation
Nathan, Amy. "When a Jet Wore a Costume." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/when-a-jet-wore-a-costume.
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.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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