During the Civil War, soldiers loved to eat and to sing. One of their favorite songs was about food they hated: “Hardtack, Come Again No More!” It was a parody of composer Stephen Foster’s popular 1854 tune “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
Hardtack was a thick cracker that formed the men's basic ration. Nearly every soldier received nine or ten every day. Hardtack lived up to the “hard” part of its name. Soldiers often had trouble crunching the rock-like crackers and gave them nicknames such as “teeth dullers,” “sheet-iron crackers,” “jawbreakers,” and so on.
According to a popular joke, a soldier bit into a piece of hardtack.
“I found something soft!” he told his comrades.
“What is it?” they asked.
“A nail!” he replied.
To make hardtack easier to eat, soldiers often bashed the crackers with the butt end of their rifles. They scooped up the crumbs and mixed them with bacon grease and salt pork to make a kind of mush called skillygalee.
Hardtack had another nickname: “worm castles.” Worms frequently burrowed into the crackers. To get rid of those little wrigglers, soldiers dunked the crackers in hot coffee. The hardtack fell apart and the worms floated to the surface. Sometimes the men had contests to see whose hardtack had the most worms. Reportedly, the record was 32!
Not everyone threw the little creatures away, though. One soldier explained that “They eat better than they look, and are so much clear gain in the way of fresh meat.”
If hardtack had all these problems, why was it such an important part of the soldiers’ daily diet? First, it was easy and inexpensive to make. Every day 3 or 4 million crackers popped out of bakers’ ovens and were shipped to the armies in the field.
Second, hardtack hardly ever spoiled. In 1898, U.S. Navy sailors in the Spanish-American War chowed down on hardtack baked more than 30 years earlier during the Civil War.
Third, the crackers didn’t weigh very much. Soldiers could carry enough hardtack in their backpacks to eat for several days.
Soldiers joked that they could stitch together crackers to make a bulletproof vest, though it’s doubtful that anyone actually did. Maybe they should have. In 2010, college students performed an experiment by firing pistol shots into chunks of hardtack. They were astonished to find that the crackers stopped the bullets!
© Jim Whiting, 2014
Jim Whiting has written 250 nonfiction books. He's known as Washington State's most prolific children's book author.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Hard Crackers in Hard Times." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/hard-crackers-in-hard-times.
Picture this: It’s cold gray October 1918 in France, in the Argonne Forest. World War I has been going on for four hideous, deadly years. You and about 500 of your fellow Americans are smack in the middle of a MASSIVE battle. You’re running out of food and ammo. Shells are EXPLODING all around you and some of them are American! Those guys don’t know where you and your buddies are, trapped in a hillside valley, surrounded by enemy Germans!
How can Major Charles Whittlesey, the commander of this lost battalion, let those other Americans know where his unit is? They’re cut off from the telegraph wires; so what, wave a flag? That’ll just draw more enemy fire! The messengers he’d sent had been shot or captured. How about homing pigeons? In this awful war, more than a 100,000 of them were used to carry battlefield messages. The major had sent all but one of his pigeons only to see them shot out of the sky. Finally, the desperate officer calls for his last one, named Cher Ami, the French words for Dear Friend.
Major Whittlesey scribbles out a message: “We are along the road parallel to 276.4.Our own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake, stop it.” He rolls the scrap of paper, stuffs it into the tiny silver canister attached to Cher Ami’s leg, and sends him up and away. This pigeon has flown 11 successful missions— will he make it now? He must!
The Germans fire.
Cher Ami falls! He’s hit!
But he beats and flaps his wings, gains altitude, and flies 25 miles. Despite being blinded in one eye and shot in his bloodied breast, Cher Ami delivers the critical message, still attached to his leg, dangling by a bloody tendon. And 194 American soldiers are saved by their brave dear, feathered friend. For his heroic service, Cher Ami was awarded France’s highest medal, le Croix de Guerre (the Cross of War).
In the months after the war ended, on November 11, 1918, ocean liners carried Cher Ami and many thousands of other veterans to America. He continued to be treated, but in the end, his injuries were too serious. Cher Ami died on June 13, 1919.
Back in the USA, Major Charles Whittlesey gave speeches about the war. He said nothing about any sorrow or awful memories, so no one knows just why he jumped off a ship to his death in the sea, late one night in November 1921. But the memory of soldiers’ heroism and of one bird’s stubborn courage will never die.
Cheryl's Latest book is Flags Over America. Click here to find out more about the book or click here to find out more about the author.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Dear Friend." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 01 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/dear-friend.
Are skunks aggressive, dangerous animals? Or are they peaceful animals that try to avoid trouble? Well, biologists who study skunks think of them this way: if life were a sport, skunks would be known for their strong defense and for playing fair.
Skunk stinkiness comes from a chemical weapon called musk. Foxes, weasels, and some other mammals also produce musk, but skunk musk is especially strong and long-lasting. And only skunks use musk to defend themselves from attack.
Picture a skunk ambling along in the night, looking for food. It digs in the soil to get tasty earthworms and beetle grubs. The black and white fur that comes with just being a skunk sends a warning. This color pattern is unusual among mammals. It signals: "Beware, don't mess with me!"
Suppose a coyote or other predator ignores this first warning. It steps toward the skunk. When a skunk feels threatened, it faces the danger. It raises its tail and tries to look as big as possible. It stamps its feet and clicks its teeth together. It may growl or hiss.
Oh, oh! Despite all of these warnings, the coyote growls and comes closer. Now the skunk gets really serious. It twists its body into a U-shape, so it can see the coyote and also aim its rear end toward it. The skunk's tail arches over its back, away from its rear—the final warning. This gives the skunk a clear shot, and also protects its own fur from the stinky musk. Skunks try to avoid smelling bad!
From two grape-sized glands, a skunk can spray musk as a fine mist, or squirt a stream. It can squirt accurately for about 12 feet (3.7m), and hit an attacking animal right in the face. The musk stings the predator's eyes, and can blur its vision for a while. And it stinks! Animals hit with this musk learn to never bother a skunk again.
A skunk's glands store enough musk to fire a half dozen shots but then need a week or so to produce more. This is seldom a problem, since a skunk sprays only when its life seems to be in danger. Some skunks can go for months or even years without spraying musk. That's fine with them. Skunks want to avoid trouble, and "play fair" with their many warnings.
A skunks’s stripes point to where the spray comes out. A 2011 study found that animal species that choose fight over flight when faced with a predator often have markings that draw attention to their best weapon. So while a badger has stripes on his face to highlight his sharp teeth, skunks’ stripes are perfectly positioned to highlight their ability to spray potential threats. By http://www.birdphotos.com via Wikimedia Commons
Skunks are so nice that some people want to keep them as pets. The striped skunk is the most social skunk and the one most commonly domesticated. The legality of keeping skunks as pets in the US varies by state, with it being illegal in a majority of them. By Matt MacGillivray via Wikimedia Commons
Larry Pringle has written many animal books, among them The Secret Life of the Red Fox. His The Secret Life of the Skunk will be published by Boyds Mills Press in 2019. It is about spring and summer in the lives of a mother striped skunk and her kits.
ML 8 Citation
Pringle, Laurence. "How Skunks Play Fair." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/how-skinks-play-fair.
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.
The Explainer General
In 1961 the United States was losing the Space Race with the USSR. Our best rockets were blowing up on the launch pads.
But on January 31, 1961, we were ready to send our first astronaut into space on a long, high arc. He was only three feet tall. His name was Number 65. (If the rocket blew up, a “named” animal would sound bad in the news . . ) When asked by radio, 65 would press sequences of buttons on the flight control panel, then receive a banana pellet reward.
The blast off from Cape Canaveral (now Cape Kennedy) wasn’t perfect. The Redstone rocket didn’t blow up, but the launch damaged the passenger pod’s hull. Also, the controls didn’t shut off on time and pushed the rocket much higher, much faster than planned. Ham traveled at 5,800 miles an hour, and reached a then-record high of 155 miles! This put his reentry landing far beyond the U.S. Navy ships sent to retrieve him. The pod splashed into the ocean, but water poured into the damaged pod. 65 was sinking! Two hours later a helicopter picked up the passenger pod just in time.
65 was a hero, so he was given a proper name: Ham. He appeared on the cover of magazines and newspapers as our first man—er, chimp— in space!
In only a few months human astronauts followed Ham’s lead. Alan Shepard and John Glenn rocketed into space and Ham was forgotten. He was given to the National Zoo in Washington, DC, where he lived for 17 years, alone. He was trained as an astronaut and didn’t get along with jungle animals. His keepers noticed that he often lay on his back and punched in imaginary button sequences, as if he were still flying the capsule. The old chimponaut became lonely and depressed.
Ham was sent to a special “show animal” camp where he could reconnect with his wild brothers and sisters. He was taken to Andrews Air Force Base for the trip. As he was walked across the concrete something wonderful happened. He passed between two lines of Air National Guard pilots, saluting Ham. Ham the brave Chimponaut finally got his honor parade.
Ham lived 3 happy years at the camp and died peacefully in 1983. You can see a plaque for Ham at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico. It says:
He proved that mankind could live and work in space.
Adkins new book is about the first drive in an automobile. The wife of the inventor took her kids to see their grandparents.
ML 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "Chimponaut: A Hero Forgotten and Remembered." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 9 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/chimponaut:-a-hero-forgotten-and-remembered.
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