A celebrity has just arrived in Mr. Madison’s classroom at El Verano Elementary School and the 3rd graders are beside themselves. “Here he is!” they exclaim as the visitor walks through the door.
This special guest has not come to give a lesson or tell a story. He is neither a star athlete nor a movie star. He doesn’t play an instrument, sing, dance or do magic tricks. His tricks are mostly limited to sit, stay and shake. He is a dog. His name is Fenway Bark.
An eight-year old chocolate-colored Labrador retriever, Fenway has been coming to El Verano for six years with his owner, Mara Kahn. He has helped hundreds of children become better readers. Fenway is a literacy dog.
“Fenway’s job is to listen while you’re reading,” explains Mara to the class, which is gathered in a circle around her and Fenway.
One of the best ways for children to improve their reading is to read aloud, but reading in front of an audience can be scary. What if Chelsea mispronounces a word? Or if Alex loses track of where he is on the page? Will everyone laugh? The fear can discourage some children from reading aloud at all.
Solution: read to a totally non-judgmental audience that doesn’t care what you read or how you read it. Read to a dog! When reading to dogs, young readers don’t have to worry about saying “whoof” when they meant to say “which.” With less anxiety and more confidence, young readers increase their reading fluency. That’s why literacy dogs visit hundreds of schools and libraries as reading buddies for children.
Vanessa sits cross-legged on the rug in Mr. Madison’s classroom. She gingerly opens Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola. Softly, slowly, she reads about Big Anthony who ignores Strega Nona’s instructions not to touch her magical pasta pot. Fenway sits up and looks at Vanessa. He gazes at the floor. Vanessa keeps reading. The pasta starts flowing. Fenway stretches out. Vanessa reads a little louder, a little faster. Pasta floods the town. Fenway licks Vanessa’s knee. She giggles and goes back to her book.
Today, six children got to read to the canine visitor. “It’s so cool to read to a dog,” said one boy who will get his chance next week. He was already thinking about choosing a doggone good book
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "Reading Has Gone to the Dogs." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 20 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Reading-Has-Gone-to-the-Dogs. Accessed 20 Dec. 2017.
Carla Killough McClafferty
Illuminating lives from the past,
impacting lives in the present
Radium is a radioactive element that glows. In the early decades of the twentieth century, companies such as the U.S. Radium Corporation made money from this unusual characteristic. They manufactured watches that were painted with radium paint that allowed users to tell time in the dark.
The employees hired to paint the tiny numbers and hands of watch faces were mostly young immigrant women. It was a good job with better than average pay. Also, it was exciting to work with the world-famous radium. Just for fun sometimes the girls would use radium paint on their teeth or fingernails to show their boyfriends how they glowed in the dark. After all, the company told the girls that radium was harmless.
Each girl painted the faces of 250 to 300 watch dials in a typical workday. To do this delicate work it took a steady hand and a pointed paint brush. Throughout the day, in order to keep a sharp point on their brushes, the girls would put the tip between their lips then dip it into the radium paint.
In 1921 Amelia Maggia, one of the dial painters, had a swollen cheek and terrible toothache. She had the tooth pulled but her gums would not heal. Infection set in and destroyed her jawbone. She died the next year from her mysterious condition. Then another young woman developed the same symptoms. Then another. Then another. Each of the girls had one thing in common: they were radium dial painters. Ultimately they learned that every time they put their brushes to their mouths their bodies absorbed radium, and that radiation was harmful to people.
In 1928, five “radium girls” sued U.S. Radium Corporation. By the time the case went to trial each woman was dying from radium poisoning. One of the girls, Grace Fryer, had so much radium in her system that when she blew her nose, the handkerchief glowed in the dark. The company decided to settle the case and agreed to pay their medical bills, and give them each a one-time lump sum of $10,000, plus $600 per year for the rest of their lives—which weren't very long. Sadly, it took the deaths of the “radium girls” and many others to understand the dangers of radium.
Carla Killough McClafferty writes about radium and the amazing scientist who discovered it in Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium. This book focuses on the life of the most famous female scientist of all time. In it you will learn how Marie Curie overcame poverty and prejudice to achieve her dreams. Also included are the fascinating details of the “radium girls” and how companies added radium to all sorts of products including water, toothpaste, bath salts and medicine.
Carla Killough 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.
MLA 8 Citation
McClafferty, Carla Killough. "The Taste of Death." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 19 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/ The-Taste-of-Death. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
You probably eat bananas at least once a week—they are the most popular of all fruits, even surpassing the apple. But have you ever noticed that bananas have no seeds? Probably not. You just peel them and enjoy their soft, seedless flesh without even thinking about seeds.
If you’d been strolling through a tropical forest in New Guinea thousands of years ago and reached up to pluck a wild banana snack, you wouldn’t have wanted to eat it. The banana ancestors had big hard seeds surrounded by a small amount of sweet flesh, not worth peeling. Sometimes, however, plants appeared with fruit that had no seeds. Over time, people cherished these seedless fruits and grew the plants for their own use.
The banana plant sends up a central stalk surrounded by very large leaves, then flowers at the tip. The flowers produce a heavy load of bananas without being pollinated. Then the stalk dies. Meanwhile, the stalk sends out side shoots that become new plants. That’s a form of cloning, meaning that all of a banana plant’s progeny are genetically identical, both to their parent and to one another.
The ancestors of the modern banana could reproduce in the usual way, so their seeds contained mixtures of DNA from the mother plant and DNA from another plant’s pollen. This “sexual reproduction” allows for the genes of the plants to be combined in new ways. If a disease came along, it might kill most of the plants, but some others could have natural resistance and survive.
Because it lacks seeds, the banana has gotten into trouble. Back in the 1950s, an especially sweet and tasty variety called the Gros Michel was the commercial banana. But a devastating fungus came along and killed the plants and contaminated the soil. Growers then chose another variety, Cavendish, which resisted the disease. But now a wilt called Panama disease has shown up that kills the Cavendish plants. And because bananas lack genetic diversity and because they don’t develop seeds that mix up their genes, the Cavendish has no way of defending itself.
Banana growers are doing what they can to stop the spread of the disease, however, and up to now they have been successful. But don’t be surprised if in a few years the bananas you buy look and taste different. Luckily, there are other varieties out there, like small “finger” bananas and larger red-skinned fruits, that you can already buy in places like Hawaii.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent's new nonfiction picture book about horses has a fresh focus: how people over the ages have decorated horses in special ways. Organized into three categories—warfare and hunting, performance and competition, performance, and ceremony—the book introduces horses such as the chariot-pulling war horse of the Persians to the rose-decorated winner of the Kentucky Derby. For more information, click here.
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. "The Flaw in the Seedless Banana." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-nonfiction-minute/The-Flaw-in-the-Seedless-Banana. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Teaching the Power of Wonder
When I was a kid fifty years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt had a bad rap. We learned that way back in the 1900s, he banned Christmas trees from the White House. What a lousy father, I thought.
Down through the years, the story went something like this: Across America in the early 1900s, huge forests were in danger of destruction from a lumbering practice called “clear-cutting.” Lots of newspapers and public leaders asked Americans to stop going to the woods to cut Christmas trees. Now when the Roosevelts and their six kids lived in the White House, they didn’t have a tree. Stockings and presents, but not a tree. So folks assumed that Roosevelt had outlawed Christmas trees, because he was a huge outdoorsman and conservationist.
But, according to people who’ve done their history homework, that’s not the whole truth. It’s possible that First Lady Edith Roosevelt had six kids to think of and didn’t want the extra fuss of a Christmas tree. Christmas trees had become very popular ever since the old German tradition was picked up in the United States, but not everyone chose to have one.
As it turned out, the Roosevelts did have at least one tree, courtesy of their eight-year-old son Archie. On Christmas morning 1902, Archie surprised his family. The president wrote about it in a letter that told of Christmas morning:
A magazine ran the story of Archie’s tree the next year. From then on, it picked up all sorts of embellishments, sort of like playing telephone at a birthday party.
Today, the best explanation of the old story appears on a blog run by the Forest History Society. Visit their website.
And for more cool facts about Christmas trees, check out the website of the folks who know, the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois.
Theodore Roosevelt for Kids brings to life this fascinating man, an American giant whose flaws were there for all the world to see. Twenty-one hands-on activities offer a useful glimpse at Roosevelt’s work and times. Readers will create a Native American toy, explore the effects of erosion, go on a modern big game hunt with a camera, and make felted teddy bears. The text includes a time line, online resources, and reading list for further study. And through it all, readers will appreciate how one man lived a “Bully!” life and made the word his very own.
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.
MLA 8 Citation
Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. "Did Theodore Roosevelt Ban Christmas Trees?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 22 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/ Did-Theodore-Roosevelt-Ban-Christmas-Trees. Accessed 22 Dec. 2017.
Henry VIII gets a lot of bad press notably for his seven wives and a regrettable habit of chopping off heads. But there were two Henrys: early and late. Early Henry was a humdinger.
He became king at age 17 in 1509, a big (over six feet) handsome lad. He was broadly educated and well-read in English, Latin, and French. He played the lute, organ, and harpsichord, composed music, and sang well. He loved a party, and he was a ferocious sportsman. Henry played excellent tennis, was a skilled wrestler, hunter, and jouster.
His love of jousting may have been his undoing. This was not a battle skill but a royal game: on huge horses, in heavy armor, opponents rode at each other with blunt lances to knock each other out of the saddle. But in 1536 Henry left his face-covering visor up during a joust, catching a lance on his forehead. His majesty went down under his horse. His legs were crushed and he lay unconscious for two hours, apparently a serious concussion.
Henry changed radically. The broken long bones in his legs healed poorly and developed infected ulcers, which had to be drained using red hot probes. Ouch. Walking became difficult and painful, and finally impossible. The smell from his infected legs was awful. He became angry, paranoid, and irrational. No longer active, he ate and ate, bloating from around 210 pounds (95 kg) to 400 pounds (181 kg). This was late Henry: obese, dangerous, and smelly. His altered mental state and his constant pain surely contributed to his marital difficulties and to steady employment for head-choppers.
A mental, physical wreck, Henry VIII died at age 55 in 1547. Court embalmers replaced his innards with sawdust, resin and herbs to preserve the body, but Henry was already rotting from the legs up. The royal corpse was placed in a sealed lead coffin. An enormous regal procession set off from Whitehall Castle to Windsor Castle. The funeral parade halted the first day at the old Syon Abbey. In the middle of the night, the lead coffin exploded!
Or did it? Some historians suggest that it simply broke because Henry was too fat and the roads were bad. Yet contemporary morticians insist that gasses of decomposition can blow open even a modern sealed coffin. The coffin was soldered shut and the parade hustled on to the burial at Windsor, an untidy end for a wonderful and terrible king.