Stephen R. Swinburne
I really like vultures. Sure, they’re ugly and they eat nasty dead things. But those are not necessarily bad characteristics.
First let’s deal with “ugly.” Vultures’ bald heads are what make them seem ugly to most people. But think about why they’re bald. Imagine thrusting your head inside the carcass of a white-tailed deer to reach the meat. A feathered head might capture bits of flesh, blood and gore and you end up with a face full bacteria and flies. Scientists believe that one reason vultures have evolved featherless heads is to aid in hygiene. A bald head stays clean and any remaining germs or bacteria are baked off by the sun. Vultures have also found that a bald head can help with temperature regulation. When it gets cold they can tuck their heads down to keep their neck covered with feathers. When it’s hot, vultures can extend their neck to expose bare skin. Their bald heads work so well that I wrote a poem about them.
It’s best to have no feathers,
When you stick your head in guts,
That way you don’t go walkin’ round,
Your noggin dripping schmutz.
Moving on to “eating nasty dead things,” the next time you see vultures eating a dead animal on the side of the road, be thankful! That carcass might be dead from rabies or contaminated with other harmful diseases. Vultures have the amazing ability to consume rotting and diseased flesh and stay healthy. It’s all in the stomach. Vultures possess very powerful stomach acids that destroy most bacteria and deadly viruses. In fact, vulture stomach acid is so strong it can dissolve metal! Except if that metal is lead shot -- many turkey vultures are killed every year by consuming shot that they encounter in dead deer. Vultures are the world’s natural “sanitation workers,” helping to stop the spread of disease.
I’m so appreciative of the work they do, I even wrote a poem about eating dead things:
I like my meat dead,
It’s best if it’s not moving.
Don’t want to see one final twitch,
I prefer it oozing
So, the next time you see a vulture circling in the noonday sky, think about the valuable and important clean up service this bird provides to us and to the environment. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that….
Steve Swinburne is a science writer, but as you can see from this Minute, he likes to write poetry too. In his book Ocean Soup, he offers verses in the voices of tide-pool animals, including the barnacle, sea urchin, sculpin, mussel, starfish, hermit crab, anemone, and lobster. For more about Steve's poetry, click here.
Steve Swinburne 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
Swinburne, Stephen R. "In Praise of Vultures." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ In-Praise-Of-Vultures.
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.
A cowardly bully came out
of his cave today to
trespass on our shining city.
Out of the blue
he had the nerve
to punch out its
two front teeth.
The pain is excruciating;
Bleeding is everywhere.
The remaining stumps are
We've lost our pretty smile.
We can't bite a big apple.
It's hard to look at mutilation.
Dazed, we check for damage.
Although choking on thick air,
we are very much alive.
Our heartbeat is strong.
There is no drop in our vital signs.
Blood rushes in to replace
Slowly we discover
we can still chew
and make a fist and
Oh yes, we'll make sure
this "holy" terror
can never return
to our playground
or our friends.'
How do we shadow box
a villain who doesn't
play by the rules?
We see evidence
of our noble,
and loving spirit.
Yet hate destroys
within as well as without.
Here then is our challenge:
We must keep this wound
becoming toxic to ourselves.
We must imagine the unimaginable
to thwart evil
before it comes back for more.
We must seek justice,
not vengeance to
preserve our soul.
We must trust our leaders
who see more
than this one tormenter.
We must be brave
As good as we believe
ourselves to be,
we must become better.
Scar tissue is stronger
Text copyright © 2001 by Vicki Cobb
Reflection: I wrote this poem on September 12, 2001. I am a New Yorker. One grandson, who was 4, was starting school, a few blocks from ground zero. My husband was working in the city. It was a terrible day. I wrote this poem to try and make sense of it for my readers. Do you think it is still true today?
Here I am in 2014 on the 43rd floor terrace in lower Manhattan. The brand-new Freedom Tower, on the site of the Twin Towers lost on 9/11, soars behind me. It is 1776 feet tall.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "September 11, 2001." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/category/cobb-vicki.
Nonfiction is the new black
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
When I take a big bite into a hamburger, I am taking part in a food chain. When energy moves from one living organism (hamburger) to the next (me), scientists call this path or chain the Food Chain. Every living thing needs food. Food provides energy for plants and animals to live.
Food chains begin with plants using sunlight, water and nutrients to make energy in a process called photosynthesis. There are lots of different kinds of food chains— some simple, some complex. An example of a simple food chain is when a rabbit eats grass and then a fox eats the rabbit. I think food chains are so interesting, I’ve written some poems about them.
A Shark is the Sun
Shark eats tuna,
Tuna eats mackerel,
Mackerel eats sardine,
Sardine eats zooplankton,
Zooplankton eats phytoplankton,
Phytoplankton eats sun.
So...shark eats sun.
In every food chain there are producers, consumers and decomposers. Plants make their own food so they are producers. Animals are consumers because they consume plants or animals. Decomposers have the final say as they break down and decompose plants or animals and release nutrients back to the earth. Animals can be herbivores (plant eater), carnivores (meat eater) or omnivores (plant and meat eater). What are you?
Why Can’t I Be On The Top?
I don’t like the bottom,
I want to be at the top.
I’m tired of being crushed and stomped
and chewed into slop.
Why can’t I be the tiger
with claws as sharp as shears,
With a roar as loud as thunder
To threaten trembling ears?
Who designed this food chain?
Is there a chance I can opt out?
At least I’m not a plankton
Floating all about.
I hope you are happy with your place in the food chain. If not, you might want to sing along with the Food Chain Blues.
Food Chain Blues
Mama said be careful,
It’s a risky world outside,
Dangers lurking everywhere,
Hardly a place to hide.
She said some of us get eaten,
And some of us survive.
Count yourself quite lucky,
If you make it out alive.
We’re stuck in this cruel cycle,
Nature’s red teeth and claws.
You wanna do your best,
To stay clear of someone’s jaws.
I got the food chain blues
I got the food chain blues
Someone’s gonna eat me.
I got the food chain blues!
For more of Steve's poems about creatures check out Ocean Soup. It even has its own web page here.
Steve Swinburne 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
Swinburne, Stephen. "Food Chain Poems." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8
Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Food-Chain-Poems.
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