We're all stepping away from our blogging desks for a well-deserved blog vacation. We will be back with brand new posts right after Labor Day.
Until then, feel free to search through our archives to read any of our intriguing posts from the past. And join our I.N.K. Facebook Group. We welcome anybody to post there and start a discussion, even during our blog vacation. If you are reading anything good, do let us know.
See you back here in September!
Monday, July 30, 2012
We're all stepping away from our blogging desks for a well-deserved blog vacation. We will be back with brand new posts right after Labor Day.
at 8:10 AM
Friday, July 27, 2012
Today while writing my current book, I'm reminded of my History of Design professor, Pat Allred --- who made design history come alive. And, in doing so, gave me a life long love of design history.
So, here's a reposting of my piece from February of this year titled Making Nonfiction Interesting for Kids.
*OK, maybe my 50th tag... about my 47th post. But, I worked so hard on that graphic that I had to leave it.
Recently, I’ve been thinking way back to my senior year in college. That year, while fulfilling the last electives to graduate, I took the most interesting classes of my college experience – History of Design, Art and Environment and History of the Home. I just unearthed my class notebooks and those were the actual titles. Until now, I haven’t had to use what I learned in those classes, except for help in Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit*, of course.
As I think back, Pat Allred, my professor for History of Design, did a fabulous job making the information interesting and relatable. With each design time period –Victorian, Bauhaus, Moderne, etc, she first explained the historical facts of the time. Then, she went through each design discipline and related it to the time period and the other areas – Graphic, Furniture, Architecture, etc. I totally got it.
Then, as I was writing my senior paper on Doll Design, I was able to use what I learned from Professor Allred and mix the evolution of dolls within a historical timeline combining how children were perceived through the years, manufacturing processes, social and fashion trends. For the entire three hours of class time, she had slides to illustrate what she was teaching. As I said above, I found my notebook complete with extensive outline, notes, bibliography and copies of every slide – an absolute goldmine.
As I begin the research and writing on my new book, I’m aiming to make the information interesting and relatable. All that architecture and design history fodder is finally going to be of use as I research and write biographies for 22 women architects, landscape architects and engineers. I’m so inspired and passionate about these women, but how can I make the information interesting and engaging for kids? With any luck, I can incorporate what I learned in Professor Allred’s classes as I write and inspire future architects and engineers. Anyone else have a similar experience with clearing off the cobwebs and making use of material stored way back in the back of your brain?
*Once, in an intense game of Trivial Pursuit, I won by knowing about the Dionne Quintuplets. They were the first quintuplets that survived through infancy – and were made into a doll line. Gotta love design history.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Update: Last week I connived a way to fit a favorite children's book into my lesson plan. One student asked if she could borrow it for a few days. Today she returned it, smiling, and said her son had really enjoyed it. Slow but sure, one convert at a time. I'll take it!
Monday, July 23, 2012
I’m going to install a little window in my mind so you can see how it works. At least how it is working at this moment. It may not work in quite the same way at any future time. Here’s my promise: other than having decided on the overall idea, I have not planned the specifics of what I’m about to write. Instead, I will record my thought processes (if there are any) as they occur, to see if something interesting, useful or otherwise worthwhile happens. And if not, you’ll get to see that, too. Ready?
There were many other numbers but that’s enough for now.
So here’s what happened. I thought to myself, “Hey, how about a book about saguaros and their numbers?” Saguro Numbers or Saguaros by the Numbers or Number the Saguaros or something like that. Or maybe not like that. But let’s not get hung up on the title. The thought did not evade me that if I could pull it off, sequel possibilities would be countless: Elephants by the Numbers, Great White Sharks, Dinosaurs ... even Oceans, Earth, The Solar System, etc.
But wait a minute, suppose I created a bunch of number lines, on different scales, and I showed not only the saguaro-relevant numbers (example: 1,500 gallons of water stored) but other values that could put it into perspective, such as how much water is found in a large watermelon, in the body of a human, in an Olympic-size swimming pool.
How about a book of math problems related to saguaros? "It has rained for 30 hours in the Sonoran Desert. A 40-foot saguaro's roots spread 40 feet in all directions, and in the area above the roots, 100 gallons of water fall each hour. The saguaro can absorb half of that water. How much water can this giant cactus absorbed?” (Do you need the Teachers Edition? The answer is 1,500 gallons.) Then some narrative can explain that these plants really do this, how amazing they are, etc., etc. Nah, too much like a math textbook.
at 12:38 PM
Friday, July 20, 2012
I have enjoyed being a part of the I.N.K. blog since the beginning but am now stepping down to let others have a chance...while I will no longer be a regular monthly blogger, an article by me will be popping up from time to time. Here is my repost from April 21, 2010:
Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, so it’s nice to be able to talk about The Shocking Truth about Energy (I just received my copies last week.) The characters include a lightning bolt named Erg and a gaggle of household appliances, toys, and tools. With their help, young readers learn how energy can change into many different forms such as heat, light, or electricity. To begin with, kids find out that their own bodies can convert the energy embedded in fuel (food) into motion via muscle power.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
As teacher friends ask for suggestions to add to their reading lists, this seems like a good time to re-post this past favorite:
In a recent thought-provoking Washington Post article, journalist and author Joy Hakim wrote the following: “As they [education historians] document the tale, it was decades ago that we gave up teaching history as an idea-centered discipline played out by a succession of characters—heroes and villains—whose actions led to results that can be analyzed. That kind of story-based history is engaging. We replaced it with litanies of facts.”
She was talking about the state of textbooks, as well as the lack of integration of standard curriculum with the stories of science and social studies that, without, leave gaping holes in education. That’s where we nonfiction writers today come in.
As depressing and infuriating as much of Hakim’s article was to me, I also felt myself saying “but we do that—those stories are being written!” And so, with the intention of offering a tiny bit of assistance to all those who teach and/or otherwise influence the education of young minds, I decided to begin compiling a recommended reading list of stories for older readers—true stories; i.e., nonfiction (or veritas, truthiness or True Dat!)—that will surely supplement and complement and enhance the experience of anyone taking social studies and science classes using textbooks.
Please—I mean this—please, add to this beginning of a list. Let’s make it grow. I will incorporate your comments and update the list accordingly. Next time, I’ll make a picture book list!
History and Science Through Story:
Armstrong, Jennifer. The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History
Aronson, Marc and Budhos, Marina. Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Magic, Spice, Slavery, Freedom, and Science
Aronson, Marc. Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials
Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow
Burns, Loree Griffin. Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion
Cobb, Vicki. What's the Big Idea?: Amazing Science Questions for the Curious Kid.
Colman, Penny. Where the Action Was: Women War Correspondents in World War II
Deem, James. Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and Rediscovery of the Past
Delano, Marfe Ferguson. Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World
Freedman, Russell. Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas
Giblin, James Cross. The Many Rides of Paul Revere
Hakim, Joy. The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way
Harness, Cheryl. The Ground-Breaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America
Heiligman, Deborah. Charles & Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
Hoose, Phillip. Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
Jackson, Ellen and Bishop Nic. Mysterious Universe: Supernovae, Dark Energy and Black Holes
Jackson, Donna M. The Wildlife Detectives: How Forensic Scientists Fight Crimes Against Nature
Murphy, Jim. An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793
Nelson, Kadir. We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball
Partridge, Elizabeth. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary
Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain
Stone, Tanya Lee. Almost Astronauts: Thirteen Women Who Dared to Dream
Thimmesh, Catherine. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 On the Moon
Walker, Sally. Written In Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland
Weatherford, Carole Boston. Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Yesterday morning there was an article in the NY Times that touched on my former subject, Mary Sullivan. Although the article in case the link doesn't work it's called
100 Years After a Murder, Questions About a Police Officer’s Guiltdoesn't mention Mary, she had a minor roll in the case, though not in solving it (one of the many reasons I, sob, dropped the book). Seeing it there in the paper, I had a pang and so I decided to re-post this blog from early last year. If we weren't posting old blogs, I probably would have written an entire blog about my newly adopted dog, Ketzie. I guess I'm lucky because I am such a doting new parent I would have embarrassed myself by writing thousands of words about her and showing you a picture. OK. Since you asked. I'll show you a picture.
and one more just so you can see what she really looks like:
Now on to the "real" blog post, the repeat:
If it were up to me, you'd listen to this song while reading this post.
So. It's been a very, very long time since I broke up with a sweetheart, given that I've been married for almost 30 years. (In my culture, you get married at 11.) And I don't intend to ever break up with him. But there comes a time in every writer's life when she has to break up with a topic. Actually, many times. Usually the break-up comes early on in the project. At least for me. I work on something for a short time and realize that there's just no there there, or that it's not for me. Or someone or something else pulls at me, grabs my attention. ("Oh you over there, come hither...")
But sometimes, it seems, you go out with someone for a very long time before you realize he or she was not your bashert. This has just happened to me. It was a long relationship, but it was going nowhere. It just took me a very long time to realize that because I thought... I was sure...though I had niggling doubts...that I was in love.
But breaking up really IS hard to do.
(By the way, I also like this version of the song. My friend Judy Blundell votes for the slow version, which I also like. Ok, maybe I'm spending too much time listening to Neil Sedaka.)
I mean, look at her. An early NYC policewoman. A detective. And we had spent so many, many months together.
The more time, energy, money, time, time, time, you invest in a topic, the more reluctant you are to let it go. I bought and read very many books.
Thursday, July 12, 2012
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
One of the advantages of the new blogger format is that we can see how many people read a post. This post, which originally ran on May 2, not very long ago, had almost 800 views. This is substantially more than the average post. For this reason, as per our July reruns, I'm posting it again.
One person I’ve gotten to know well and admire this year is Dr. Myra Zarnowski, Professor of Children’s Literature at Queens College School of Education, part of the City University of NY.
- This year I am working with 5 first grade teachers to study animal size and shape. What better way to begin than using Steve Jenkins’ books What Can You Do With a Tail Like This? and Actual Size. We used the first book to tap into how the author structured the information. We constructed a “Question-Answer-Detail” (QAD) chart to collect information about how animals use their noses, tails, eyes, feet, and mouths. The author so clearly organized the information that collecting this information was easy. Then it was available to use for other purposes.
- I use two books by different authors—for example, The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin by Cheryl Harness and How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightening by Rosalyn Schanzer—to show how different authors deal with the same subject. This strategy is helps students see that different historical accounts are really different.
Monday, July 9, 2012
Like most of my fellow bloggers, I am selecting a popular (and, I think, interesting) blog from previous years to republish for July. Hope you enjoy it.
I also want to take the opportunity to announce that I have had two new books come out in this month: It's a Dog's Life on July 3rd and an updated version of See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House on July 5th in time for the new election season. It's exciting.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Furthermore I’ll begin by quoting my favorite email from a kid, one which wasn’t even sent to me. I’ve asked Lois Lowry if I could borrow it for this blog entry and she graciously sent me the exact wording. It read:
I am working on a research paper and in my thesis statement I have to identify you. Would you be considered a 19th century author? Please let me know ASAP.
Okay, on to me. I love the thank you notes that teachers assign after I’ve made a school visit. Certainly my mother would have approved. Here’s an excerpt from one letter that came from a school where I talked about Ultimate Field Trip 1: Adventures in the Amazon Rain Forest, illustrated by my frequent collaborator, photographer Michael J. Doolittle.
Dear Susan Goodman, I’m one of the many people who were in your second grade group. Here’s one question I wanted to ask you: Is your photographer Michel Dolittle related to Dr. Dolittle?
Here’s another note that asked a question (name changed, mistakes included).
Dear Susan, Will you please dedicate a story to my bear Oatmeal and me. My name is Mary Jones. I am very happy to meet you. I admiare you a very lot. I have read 4 of your books. I am a big fan on yours. It would be a great honor to have one of your books dedicated to me. Please word it like this. I dedicate this book to Mary Jones and her bear Oatmeal because she admiars me so very much. Sinserly Mary
I couldn’t resist. I had a book going to press and my husband ended up sharing his dedication, although I did invoke poetic license and changed her suggested wording.
Last one for this post, although I could keep going. One Sunday evening, I happened to be online and received a desperate email from a young lady with an assignment due the next morning. She asked me if my underlying reason for writing Ultimate Field Trip 4: A Week in the 1800s was…and then gave me two alternatives. I immediately wrote back saying that neither answer was right and then explained the message I was hoping to convey with the book.
Moments later I got another email, this time from her mother. She explained that her daughter was filling out a multiple-choice assignment created by the textbook company that had excerpted my book. And she provided me with all four possible explanations for my motivation. I studied them and decided the answer was E, none of the above. I wrote back and suggested her daughter bring this email chain between her and the author who explained her real intent to class. Who knows, maybe she’d get extra credit for taking some initiative.
HA! A week later I received an email from the mother who thought I might be interested in the upshot. Her daughter didn’t get any credit for the question, the answer was B.
As a lover of irony, I suppose this email exchange should be my favorite. But it’s just so wrong on so many levels. We can talk about: A) the issue of textbooks in general (although I’m grateful that this one used my writing as a good example). We can talk about: B) making children limit or reduce their interpretations of what they read to previously digested categories (which may well be wrong). We can talk about: C) the fact that assignments should help kids learn to think on their own rather than letting others tell them what they think (perhaps wrongly). We can talk about: D) not rewarding initiative and imagination.
Which do you think wins the “most wrong” award—A, B, C, or D? Give me your answer. But don’t forget that there’s always E, none of the above.
at 5:00 AM