the "Julia Child" of kids' hands-on science
I’m often asked where I get my ideas for books. Let me give you an example:
The other day, when I was walking in a neighborhood park, there was a man doing whole-body lifts on a piece of exercise equipment with a huge, brilliantly–colored parrot on his shoulder. It was so unusual that, without thinking, I called out: “What a beautiful bird! May I take your picture?” I was full of questions so we chatted for a while.
Me: “What kind of bird is that?”
Scotty, the parrot-man: “She’s a green-winged macaw.”
Me: “What’s her name? How old is she?”
Scotty: “Her name is Lucky. She’s 2 ½ years old but she can live more than 60 years. She’s a vegetarian, like me. Her beak is a nut-cracker. ”
Lucky repeatedly kissed Scotty on the lips with her giant hooked beak as he turned to talk to her. She had been an expensive gift to him—they cost about $1500 at Bird Jungle, our local bird store. She couldn’t fly because he kept her wings clipped; it’s dangerous for a 2 ½ pound bird to be able to fly around the house. He had given her a bath that morning. She had communicated that she wanted one by putting her head under the faucet and looking at him.
“Why did she want a bath?” I asked. “Was she dirty?”
Scotty wasn’t sure why, except that it rains every day in her natural habitat—the rain forest. Then he pointed out a new feather on her neck. It was encased in a white sheath. A bath makes the sheath fall off and the feather fluffs up. Maybe that feels like undoing a pony tail
This is often how I get ideas for books. I find something interesting and start asking questions. Of course, I paid a visit to Bird Jungle. What a noisy store! There I found more people to interview. It’s amazing how much you can learn from people who are experts.
After a while I ran out of questions. That’s because I didn’t know enough to keep going. How can I remedy that? Go read a book or two about green-winged macaws and other rain forest birds. It could lead to a book idea about the rain forest like: This Place Is Wet.
When I write, I don’t write just about content. I write what interests me about content. There’s a big difference.
Vicki made a trip to the Amazon rain forest with her good friend, Alaskan artist, Barbara Lavallee. You can find out what they learned there by reading This Place Is Wet. For more information about the book, click here.
Vicki Cobb 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
Cobb, Vicki. "I Met a Man about a Parrot." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 18 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
I-Met-a-Man-About-a-Parrot. Accessed 18 Dec. 2017.
Our Nonfiction Minute writers are joining teachers and students across the US for a winter holiday break. We won't be posting during the holiday, but we will still be thinking and writing. Watch for us to resume on January 2nd with a post on how the first of January got to be the start of the new year.
If you'd like to browse through our archives as you plan themes for the new year, use the column at the right. You can search by author and topic, but you can also browse through the Minutes by month. Just scroll down to the bottom of the column and pick a month.
And, if you have some time, you may want to take a look at the Transfer2Teachers tabs. There are some good ideas on how to work with Minutes in the classroom. And, if you would like to receive notice from time to time of new books and news from our authors use the Schedule Sign-up tab.
Read Karen Sterling's story of how she got involved with iNK. Maybe it will inspire you.
We always welcome your comments and suggestions. Just hit the comment button at the upper right to tell us what you think or to offer your suggestions about our postings.
May you enjoy every Minute of your holiday!
Nonfiction is the new black
During the Middle Ages, “going to the bathroom” or “relieving oneself” meant using a privy. A privy typically consisted of a raised board with one or more openings cut in the middle where the users would sit. Their fecal matter would plop into large holes called cesspits beneath them. Over time, the cesspits would fill up and start overflowing. When that happened, gong farmers had to empty them.
“Gong” came from a word that means “going.” And the farmers “harvested” the accumulation of months or even years of “going.” To make sure all the foul material was removed, the workers would hop down into the pits, where the feces came up their waists or even higher. Because of the relative ease of getting them in and out, small boys were often employed. The cesspool contents were dumped into carts and taken to larger dump sites on the edge of town, where more conventional farmers would use it as fertilizer.
People in the Middle Ages rarely bathed. So gong farmers stunk. Really. Stunk. Because of their horrible stench, they were often restricted in where they could live. They were allowed to work only at night to spare their fellow citizens from seeing and smelling them.
Besides the horrible smell and probable lack of friends, gong farmers encountered specific occupational hazards. Decaying fecal matter could produce poisonous gases. At least one gong farmer stumbled into a cesspool he was cleaning and drowned. Violators of the rules for collecting the refuse and disposing of it were submerged in barrels up to their necks and placed on public display for hours on end.
On the other hand, gong farmers were well paid, often earning in a day what other workers might make in a week. They had another potential source of income as well. Careless crappers occasionally dropped rings or coins into the cesspits. Enterprising gong farmers combed through the mess with their bare hands in search of those treasures.
The advent of better sanitary methods in the 19th century ended gong farmers in many countries. However, it is still practiced in some areas of the world.
You can learn more about Jim Whiting with a visit to his website. He is an interesting fellow with an interest in music and sports and has written lots of books in both fields.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Gong Farmers: Their Crop Was ...Crap." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 15 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Gong-Farmers.
We're collaborating with the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration to produce a LIVE STREAMING EVENT:
Ever wonder how an idea becomes a book? How does an author gather information, decide what goes in book or what doesn't and when it is complete? Get your answers straight from award-winning nonfiction author Carla Killough McClafferty. Join Carla on December 14th at 11:00 am EST see her live, face-to-face in our amazing Zoom Room! This is using technology for a personal connection! All you need is a computer, wifi and a screen and projector. We supply the virtual meeting place. Read more about it and sign up here.
Celebrating the History of Science
and the Science behind History
Imagine you’re driving home from your favorite take-out restaurant when you suddenly encounter a giant boulder in the middle of the road. With luck, the person at the wheel has time to slam on the brakes and then drive around it.
Scientists are refining a technology that helps cars avoid collisions and traffic jams. Cars will be programmed to “see” a roadblock or sudden slowdown before the driver does. And some of this technology is based on . . . ants.
Leafcutter ants, to be specific. Leafcutters can be any of a number of species of ants equipped with powerful mandibles (jaws). They travel in long lines through the rainforest, leaving a scent along the trail to find their way back. After an ant saws a chunk out of a leaf, it flings it over its back and then joins the super-highway of nest-mates heading back to the nest. Once there, the ant’s colleagues chew the vegetation into a pulp and then mix it with ant poop and fungus spores. The ants eat the resulting fungus that grows from the decomposed goop.
According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, scientists blocked the path and created a narrow passageway between leafcutter ants and their nest, to see what the ants would do. Not only did the ants at the front show the ants behind them an efficient route back to the nest, but the chain of ants also somehow communicated, ant by ant, the need to carry a smaller piece of leaf to fit through the narrower passage the scientists had created.
And none of them bumped into anything, even while lugging leaves ten times their body weight. By working together and adapting quickly, the ants communicated information and reinforced the trail using what scientists call “distributed intelligence.”
And ants don’t just help car engineers. Scientists in other fields have been studying ant traffic patterns for all sorts of different systems where massive amounts of interacting units have to move around without crashing into one another. Besides traffic jams, scientists are studying ways to apply ant-like ingenuity to fields of study such as molecular biology and telecommunications.
Sara Albee's book, Why'd They Wear That?, was published by National Geographic in 2015. Get ready to chuckle your way through centuries of fashion dos and don'ts! In this humorous and approachable narrative, you will learn about outrageous, politically-perilous, funky, disgusting, regrettable, and life-threatening creations people actually wore in public.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Ants in a Jam." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ Ants-in-a-Jam.