Nonfiction is the New Black
Baseball fans were fascinated by an article in Sports Illustrated magazine just before the start of the 1985 major league baseball season. It profiled Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, a rookie pitcher who was in spring training with the New York Mets. According to the article, he could throw a baseball at a top speed of nearly 170 miles per hour. That was twice as fast as many other pitchers. Photos accompanying the article showed Finch with his excited teammates. Teams that would be playing the Mets contacted the league office. They feared that their batters would be in danger when Finch was on the mound.
There was, however, a problem with the article. “Finch” in the photos was actually Joe Berton, an Illinois junior high school art teacher. The article’s subtitle provided a clue about its real purpose: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letters spell “Happy April Fool’s Day—ah Fib.”
The issue was dated April 1.
The Sidd Finch saga is one of the best-known hoaxes that occur every year on April Fool’s Day. It’s not clear when the custom of playing tricks on this day originated, or even why. The first clear reference seems to come in 1561, in a work by Belgian poet Eduard De Dene. A nobleman orders his servant to run silly errands on April 1. De Dene was almost certainly making a reference to a custom that was already well-established.
By the end of the following century, it had spread to England. In 1698, a London newspaper reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This was a prank that city dwellers played on bumpkins from rural areas. There were no lions, nor was there any washing.
In Scotland, April Fool’s Day actually became two days. The first day was “hunting the gowk” (a gowk was a cuckoo bird, a symbol of fools), sending people on ridiculous errands. Then came Tailie Day, which involved pinning tails or “kick me” signs on people’s butts.
It’s not clear when April Fool’s Day came to the United States. But today Americans love “celebrating” it. So if someone tells you a story that seems like a hoax or a joke, check the calendar. If it’s April 1, someone is probably fooling you.
Crack! It's going, going, it's gone! Professional players make it look easy to hit a home run. But without science, they’d be left in the batter’s box. In The Science of Hitting a Home Run, you can take a closer look at the science that makes a home run possible. Check this and Jim's many other titles out at his website.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "April Fool's Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 30 Mar.
David M. Schwartz
The amazing,engaging, math exponent
Pi Day takes place on March 14th this year, as it has every year since 1988 when this mathematical holiday was invented. Pi Day? Does that sound crazy? Sure it does. It’s irrational. Pi is the world’s most famous “irrational” number. Therefore, Pi Day is the world’s most irrational holiday!
Take a circle, any circle, and divide the circumference by the diameter. The quotient is the number called pi, represented by the Greek letter π. It is a little more than three. How much more? That is a question that people have been working on for centuries.
Pi is an incredibly useful number in mathematics, physics and engineering. It helps us understand things from the shape of an apple to the energy of stars. It helps us design things, from buildings to spaceships.
Pi is an irrational number. That means when you write it as a decimal, its digits do not just end (like 3.5) and they do not repeat in a pattern (like 0.3333…, where the 3s go on forever).
Here is a slice of pi: 3.141592653… The “dot-dot-dot” means the digits keep on going. How far? Is there a pattern?
With supercomputers, mathematicians have probed the mysteries of pi to over a trillion digits. The digits keep going. Infinitely. No pattern has ever been found. (Written in an ordinary font, a trillion digits of pi would go around the world 50 times.)
But the endless, patternless nature of pi enchants many minds and some people delight in memorizing the digits. A 69 year-old man named Akira Haraguchi recited 100,000 digits from memory in Tokyo in 2006. He shattered the previous record of Chao Lu from China, who had memorized merely 67,890 digits of pi after studying for four years.
Can you see a date in the first three digits: 3.14? It’s March 14th — Pi Day! This holiday is celebrated worldwide by students, teachers and math enthusiasts who enjoy pi-themed activities, clothing, jokes and food (namely pie).
This is an ordinary year as far as Pi Day is concerned, but in 2015, Pi Day was really special. After 3.14, the next two digits of pi are 15. So March 14, 2015, was not just any old Pi Day. It was the “Pi Day of the Century.” You’ll have to wait until March 14, 2115, for another Pi Day so sweet!
Happy Pi Day, everybody!
David Schwartz probes many mathematical mysteries in his books and school presentations given all over the world. He wrote this Nonfiction Minute while celebrating Pi Day at Tashkent International School in Uzbekistan. He 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
Schwartz, David M. "Happy Pi Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Mar.
The holiday we celebrate is named after a Christian martyr who was killed in the fifth century. Valentinus was a priest who secretly performed marriages for Roman soldiers who were forbidden to marry by Emperor Claudius. He was caught, tortured and killed for disobeying the emperor’s edict. Legend says that while he was awaiting his execution in jail he restored the sight of the jailer’s blind daughter. There is also a legend that the last words he wrote were in a note to the jailer’s daughter that he signed, “from your Valentine.”
Valentine and his saint’s day became synonymous with love. Although valentine greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages they weren't widely distributed in the United States until Esther Howland made her mark on the card industry. Esther, a student at Mt. Holyoke College, received a Valentine’s Day card created by an English company. Her father was a stationer and Esther got the idea to make her own cards and sell them in his store in Springfield, Massachusetts. She began to publish and sell valentines in 1850. The cards caught on.
Soon she was hiring her friends to help her keep up with the business. Even though the practice of sending pre-printed cards was mocked in a New York Times editorial in 1856, the business actually grew. In 1866 New Yorkers mailed more than 86,000 cards. And although most were priced low enough for anyone to send, they were also becoming more elaborate. Some were reported to sell for $500 each.
Today valentines are no less popular. More than 150 million cards are exchanged each year on February 14th. Some of those are still handmade, but the majority of them, 145 million in 2013, are purchased.
And there are still some very expensive cards created for those willing to spend the big bucks on their valentine. One of the most expensive cards you can buy is custom made by Gilded Age Greetings. For a price of $3,500 they will create a card that comes complete with 23-karat gold and precious stones. Their most expensive card comes at a whopping $5,000. Most will argue that it is the sentiment that counts the most when sending a Valentine greeting. Homemade cards with a lovely wish are most often the most memorable.
Here's a story of some animals you can love. How could capturing the last wild California condors help save them? Why are some states planning to cull populations of the gray wolf, despite this species only recently making it off the endangered list? How did a decision made during the Civil War to use alligator skin for cheap boots nearly drive the animal to extinction?
Nancy Castaldo's Back from the Brink answers these questions and more as it delves into the threats to seven species, and the scientific and political efforts to coax them back from the brink of extinction. This rich, informational look at the problem of extinction has a hopeful tone: all of these animals’ numbers are now on the rise.
Nonfiction is the new black
The onset of spring, summer, fall, and winter every year is precisely measured, depending on the sun’s position. But there’s no similar astronomical or scientific reason for celebrating New Years on January 1.
Many people don’t. The Chinese New Year occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice, between late January and mid-February. Muslims mark the occasion on the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar. That calendar is based on the lunar cycle, 11 or 12 days shorter than the solar calendar. So their New Year comes a little earlier every year. Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, is a two-day observance that begins 163 days after Passover and varies between September 5 and October 5. Unlike other New Year’s celebrations, Rosh Hashanah is holy, a time for piety rather than parties.
There was just as much variation in ancient times. In Babylon, the first new moon after the vernal equinox marked the New Year. Egyptians celebrated it in early August, when the annual Nile River flooding began. In Greece, Athens and Sparta couldn’t get along, so their respective new years didn’t occur at the same time. In Athens, it was the first new moon after the summer solstice, while the Spartans waited until early fall.
So how did January 1 become the most widely accepted start of the New Year? The answer: Julius Caesar. For centuries, the Roman calendar was in a state of chaos, with the number of days in the year fluctuating widely. In 46 BCE, Caesar worked with the brightest Egyptian astronomers to retool the calendar. He wanted the year to begin on the first of January, a month named after the god Janus. Janus had two faces: one looking backward (at the year just ending) and the other facing forward. For the Romans, it was party time!
Caesar didn’t stick around very long after his innovation. On the Ides of March—March 15, 44 BCE—he went to the Roman Senate as usual. While one senator distracted him, others swarmed around him with knives they’d hidden inside their togas, hacking and gashing. He collapsed and died.
His calendar proved more durable. When Roman legions conquered new territories, the natives had to adopt the Roman calendar. Every day, especially at the start of the new year, it was a reminder of Roman power.
You've been hearing from Jim Whiting almost weekly, so we thought you might want to know more about him. He's an interesting fellow:
Children's book author. Acclaimed multi-genre freelance editor. Entertaining and informative classroom visitor. Middle school running coach. Award-winning magazine publisher. Workshop presenter. Sportswriter. Light versifier. E-commerce and e-book writer. Teacher. Runner. World traveler. Sailor. Scuba diver. Photographer. Actor. Patron of the arts. Hometown Hero. And of course Voracious Reader.
For more about Jim, read his biography and background.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Happy New Year--in August?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 2 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/Happy-New-Year-in-August.
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.
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