Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Teaching the Power of Wonder
So what’s a knot garden?
Knot gardens first caught my eye when I was a kid and visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. When I later visited England, I saw how our first president had carried on a long-standing tradition. Knot gardens, edged with tight growing shrubs like boxwood, wound across the property of kings and queens and lords and ladies.
Sometimes herbs or flowers were planted inside the rows of shrubs, which twist and turn to form shapes that look like fancy knots. England’s Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed strolling through such gardens with her ladies-in-waiting. Certainly the queen’s knot gardens were among the finest in her day.
In Washington DC, we Americans have a knot garden inside our National Arboretum, an outdoor museum of plants and trees. Small evergreens form the knot. Visitors stop to sniff the fragrant herbs planted both inside and outside the knot of evergreens.
It can take years to establish a knot garden, but you can create an updated version that will grow in just one summer. All it takes is a little space, a variety of marigold plants, a digging tool, a bit of water-soluble fertilizer, and regular care.
Plan your garden to be three feet by three feet. Look at knot gardens online for clues and make a simple design. Marigolds come in many colors, sizes, and shapes. Think about how tall and wide they’ll grow. Do you want tall flowers in the corners?
Now plant your plants. Carefully pop the flowers from their packs and transplant them into roomy holes so they’ll grow well. Plant the inside garden first. Then move to the outside. At first your garden might look skimpy, but in a few weeks it will fill in.
Mix fertilizer with water in your watering can and give the little plants a good drink. Marigolds are heavy feeders needing regular watering and fertilizer. Every few days, stick your fingers in the dirt to check for moisture. When the soil’s getting dry, it’s time to water— early in the morning or late in the day.
Check this blog for more details!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan's lively biography of one of England’s greatest monarchs includes a time line, online resources, and 21 activities to offer readers hands-on experiences with life in the Elizabethan Era. Kids can create costumes for the queen’s court, including a knight’s helmet, a neck ruff, and a cloak, play and sing a madrigal, create a 3-D map of an Elizabethan town, stitch a blackwork flower, design a family coat of arms, play a game of Nine Men’s Morris, grow a knot garden, and much more.
Kerrie 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
Hollihan, Kerrie Logan. "Knot Gardens." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 17
May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/Knot-Gardens.
The Explainer General
On May 24, 1883, The Brooklyn Bridge was opened to the public. It took 14 years, $15 million and many lives to link Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Before work was begun, its designer, John A. Roebling, was making final surveys of the site. A docking ferryboat nudged a piling near him, driving a dirty nail into his foot. He died of tetanus 24 days later. His son, Washington Roebling took over the engineering project.
To sink the bridge tower foundations down to bedrock, workers excavated river silt inside two open-bottomed 3000 ton iron bases, caissons. High-pressure air pumps kept river water out. As the caissons were dug deeper beneath the river surface, air pressure grew higher; work became more dangerous. When they were digging near seventy feet deep, a few workers walked through the caisson air-lock at the surface, across the street to the tavern, and dropped down dead. The cause: nitrogen embolism—gas dissolved in blood under high pressure expanding rapidly at normal pressure. Scuba divers call it “the bends.” Washington Roebling, himself, was crippled this way but monitored the project through a telescope from his bed upriver. His brilliant wife, Emily Warren Roebling, managed construction on-site. Twenty to 30 bridge workers were killed in construction from nitrogen embolism, being struck by falling material, and by falls from the towers.
It was the longest suspension bridge in the world, with a river-span of 1595.5 feet. Anyone could cross: 1¢ for a pedestrian, 5¢ for a horse and rider, 10¢ for a horse and wagon, 5¢ for cows, 2¢ for sheep or hogs.
Only six days after its opening, the bridge was crowded with walkers when a rumor started that the bridge was collapsing! Strollers stampeded, killing 12, injuring 35 in the panic. Was the great bridge safe?
Months later, May 17, 1884, the great huckster and self-promoter P. T. Barnum set out to prove the solidity of the bridge “in the interest of the dear public.” Across the broad bridge paraded 21 elephants with Barnum’s famous African elephant Jumbo in the rear. They were followed by seven Bactrian camels (two-hump) and ten dromedaries (one-hump). Since elephant and camel fares had never been specified, no tolls were paid. The New York Times reported “…it seemed as if Noah’s Ark were emptying itself over on Long Island.”
If any doubts remained, Barnum’s ballyhoo proof put them to rest.
The story of how Jumbo was brought from Africa to the United States is a fascinating one -- Google it. In the meantime, you might want to have a look at Jan Adkin's fascinating description of how people often have to use brains rather than brawn to move heavy items.
Jan Adkins 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
Adkins, Jan. "Proof Positive: Ballyhoo Confirms the Safety of the Brooklyn
Bridge." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 7 June 2018,
Master Chef of Kids' Hands-On Science
Just the thought of Malala Yousafzai brings tears to my eyes. If you don’t know who she is, you should. In 2015, at the age of seventeen, she was the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
From the time she was eleven, she had a single purpose: to fight for the right to an education for every girl and boy on the planet. As a Pakistani, where women live life in the shadows, she has faced many obstacles in expressing her beliefs. In October of 2012, when she was fifteen, she was shot in the head on her school bus, the target of assassination. The Taliban claimed credit for this diabolical act. Miraculously, she survived without serious impairment. But the brutality of the Taliban did not stop her; neither did an earthquake, a flood, or the lack of financial resources. She continued to speak out on behalf of education for all.
I’ve read her memoir, I Am Malala. She is like the child in the fable The Emperor’s New Clothes who speaks unvarnished truth with the impeccable logic of the child who does not understand political correctness.
“If the [the Taliban] come, what would you do Malala? ...If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others...with cruelty...you must fight others but through peace, through dialogue and through education...then I’ll tell him [the Talib] how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well... that’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.”
Like the, Diary of Ann Frank, you cannot escape the voice of a young girl who cares about her hopes and dreams for her future and that of the troubled world.
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice... those who have fought for their rights... their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”
How can we motivate students to fight for their own interests in acquiring an education? How can we inspire them to do the hard work needed? Maybe they need to hear Malala speak.
Here, in the United States we have both the right and the availability to education, yet so many kids don't take advantage of it to make something of themselves. What lesson can we all take away from Malala?
Vicki Cobb's classic book, Science Experiments You Can Eat has been updated and enlarged and was released in July of 2016. You can also see Vicki's new winking caricature on her website.
When we think of endangered species, we are likely to think “cheetah” or “grizzly bear” or some other big, familiar, and in-the-news animal. But unfortunately, just about any sort of living thing can enter the list of endangered life. Scientists fear that the continuing elimination of habitat by humans and the changing climate could result in the loss of a million or more species in the foreseeable future.
The Torrey pine, native to the coast of southern California, is on the endangered list. Before the city of San Diego and its suburbs developed, woodlands featuring this species thrived along the nearby rocky coast. The frequent cool afternoon fog helped the trees tolerate a climate where rain is scarce during the summer months.
Now, largely because of human development, this beautiful tree with open, spreading branches is critically endangered. There are just two areas left where these trees grow in the wild. Fewer than 5,000 individual trees live on tiny Santa Rosa Island off the Santa Barbara coast and in the Torrey Pines State Reserve on the San Diego coastline.
In addition to having an ever-shrinking natural habitat, the Torrey Pines have recently struggled to survive an onslaught of the five-spined engraver beetle, which bores through the bark and lays its eggs in the cambium layer of the tree. The beetle attack can result in shutting off the supply of water and nutrients to the tree, killing it. Healthy trees may be able to survive, but drought can weaken a tree, making it vulnerable to attack.
Torrey pines do not replenish themselves easily. They take their time to produce seeds. The male flowers develop in February as clusters of reddish finger-like structures on lower branches. Their pollen fertilizes the female blossoms, which look like tiny red cones. It takes about 3 ½ years for the cones to grow and the seeds to develop fully. Then the cones release seeds, but some may remain until the cone itself drops from the tree as long as ten years after pollination.
The Torrey Pines State Reserve works hard to protect these rare trees, but it may be too late. The increasing heat and dryness brought about by climate change could weaken the remaining wild trees, resulting in beetle damage and early death. Let’s hope these hardy beauties find a way to survive these difficult challenges.
Do you ever stop to think how your everyday life has been shaped by people from the past? Well, if you play the guitar, brush your teeth, or eat dessert after a meal, you owe a debt of gratitude to a Muslim musician who lived twelve hundred years ago.
Abul-Hasan, a commoner born in Baghdad around 789 A.D., had a gift for song that so pleased the ruling caliph he gave him the name “Ziryab,” meaning “Blackbird." Ziryab’s natural musical talent made other musicians jealous, however. So, when the caliph died in 813, they exiled the "Blackbird," sending him to wander the Islamic world for a decade. He performed wherever he went and picked up customs from the people he met.
Ziryab eventually found his way to Al-Andalus (today’s Andalusia, Spain). Its ruler loved music. In fact, he valued musicians above all other professionals. He welcomed the refugee. He offered him asylum. Ziryab was an instant sensation. He introduced his instrument, the Baghdadi oud, to his new neighbors. Then, adding an extra string to his oud, he ignited the evolution of the Spanish guitar.
He established the first-ever music conservatory in Córdoba, which gave rise to the genre of Andalusian classical music--musiqa al-ala—that is still a popular in Morocco today.
But Ziryab's influence didn't stop with music. He transformed Córdoban society as well. He taught locals how to make deodorant and toothpaste. He instructed women in how to shape eyebrows, cut their hair into bangs, remove unwanted body hair. He inspired men to shorten their hair, as well, and to shave daily. And instead of piling his food onto platters, as was then the custom, Ziryab ate his meals atop a clean tablecloth and in three distinct courses: a soup, a main dish, and a dessert.
So each time you sit down to a three-course dinner, strum your six-string guitar, brush your teeth, or tidy your hair, you are following in the footsteps of a Muslim musician who lived 1,200 years ago.
In music, Ziryab was the first to introduce the lute (Al-U'd) to Spain and Europe in general. He is credited with the addition of the fifth bass string to it which later paved the way for the development of the guitar. He also established the first conservatory in the world that included the teaching of harmony and composition.
Sarah Towle is an award-winning digital storyteller of immersive tales for educational tourism. With her latest project for secondary school students—the History Hero BLAST—she puts the Story back in History, bringing a fictional flair to factual tales of inspirational figures from around the world and throughout time. A blog and future podcast, the HHBLAST welcomes the participation of published and aspiring authors, including young writers. Click here to find out more Ziryab and other History Heroes and about how to bring the HHBLAST—and Sarah—to your school!