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.
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.
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.
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.
by David M. Schwartz
the amazing, engaging, math exponent
A light year is not a year that has gone on a diet. It is not a year that’s been trimmed to 300 days. It’s not a year spent under high-wattage lamps. A light year isn’t any kind of year.
A light year is a distance. It is a vast distance; the distance light travels in a year. To appreciate a light year, you have to understand how fast light travels.
The speed of light is truly mind-boggling: 186,000 miles per . . . second. That’s “per second,” not “per hour.” In one tick-tock second, light travels a distance of 186,000 miles. If it could go in circles, it could travel around the earth more than seven times in just one second! But light travels in straight lines, not in circles. Imagine something traveling that fast in a straight line—not for a second, not for a minute, not for an hour, not for a day, but for an entire year. The distance it goes in that year is called a light year.
A light year is a convenient unit of measure when distances are enormous. You could talk about the same distances in miles. It's about 5,878,499,810,000 (5 trillion, 878 billion, 499 million, 810 thousand ) of them. But these measurements are so large that they are unwieldy. It's much easier to just name that enormous distance with two simple words: a "light year."
The star closest to our solar system is Proxima Centauri. Some of the light that leaves Proxima Centauri goes to Earth, cruising along at 186,000 miles per second. At that speed, light takes about 4.2 years to get to Earth from Proxima Centauri So how far away is Proxima Centauri? It is 4.2 light years away.
To give you an idea of how far that is, imagine going to Proxima Centauri in a spaceship traveling at the speed of the space shuttle — about ten miles per second. (That’s much faster than airplanes can fly.) You would get there in about 70,000 years.
Our Sun is much closer than Proxima Centauri. It is 93 million miles away. There is another way to refer to the distance from the earth to the Sun. Light leaving the Sun takes about eight minutes to get to Earth, so we say the Sun is eight “light minutes” away. If you traveled at the speed of light, you could get there in eight minutes. Have a nice trip!
© David M. Schwartz, 2014
David Schwartz has been fascinated by big numbers and big distances ever since he was a little boy riding his bicycle, wondering “How long would it take for me to ride to Proxima Centauri, 4.2 light years away?” He wrote about light years in his math alphabet book G Is for Googol.
David is a member of iNK’s Authors on Call. He can visit in your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Learn more here.
MLA 8 Citation
Schwartz, David M. "What Is a Light Year?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/what-is-a-light-year.
Nonfiction is the new black
Billy Mills was just a face in the crowd of nearly 30 runners at the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. His best time was nearly a minute slower than the race favorites.
Part-Lakota Sioux Indian, Mills was a scrawny kid, who had grown up in poverty and racial bias. Whites regarded him as an Indian. Indians sneered that he was part-white and therefore not one of them.
His father had encouraged the boy to envision a better life: “You have to look deeper, way below the anger, the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, the self-pity, way down deeper where the dreams lie, son. Find your dream.”
Mills began finding his dream when he discovered his talent for running. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. Then he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
Still, no one expected anything of him. He asked for shoes from the company that outfitted American runners. Sorry, he was told. We only give shoes to potential medalists. You don’t qualify.
Mills kept a diary. Six weeks before the 10,000 meter race, he wrote “I’m in great shape….I’m ready for a 28:25 [twenty-eight minutes, twenty-five seconds].” He had never run that fast. Nor had any American. Nor anyone in any previous Olympics.
The gun sounded. As each of the 25 laps rolled by, more and more runners fell off the pace. At the start of the final lap, Mills was one of three runners still in contention. As they rounded the first turn, Australian Ron Clarke shoved Mills out into the third lane. Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia took advantage of the opening and pushed his way between the other two, knocking Mills off balance for a moment. As the runners headed down the final straight, television cameras showed a tight battle between Gammoudi and Clarke. Mills was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly the television announcer screamed “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” Mills bounded back into the picture, passing Clarke and then Gammoudi almost as if they were standing still. He maintained his pace to the finish line, five yards ahead of Gammoudi and ten in front of Clarke. His time of 28 minutes, 24.4 seconds was virtually identical to what he had visualized. He remains the only American to win the 10,000 meters at the Olympics.
Mills crossing the finish line in the 1964 Olympics.
Watch Mills run the final lap
Jim Whiting is a walking encyclopedia. He has written more than 180 (count 'em!) books on many subjects. You can learn more about him here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "No Shoes for You." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/no-shoes-for-you.