Friday, April 12, 2013

Guest Blogger, Darcy Pattison, Everyone Knows! False Assumptions

I’d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Darcy Pattison, an author, blogger, and writing teacher.  Darcy has been published in eight languages. Recent nature books for children include: WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS, first place winner in the Children’s Picture Book category of the 2013 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and a Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly; DESERT BATHS, an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book 2013, and PRAIRIE STORMS. Darcy Pattison is the 2007 recipient of Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards for her work in Children’s Literature.

As a speaker, Darcy presents programming on her books, and is well known across the country for her Novel Revision Retreat.  Because of her reputation as an excellent writing teacher, Darcy’s blog, Fiction Notes, which offers practical advice on the craft of writing, has many followers.  Her blog can be found at
Have you heard the old folk song, “Sweet Violets”? It’s a practical demonstration of setting up an expectation and thwarting it:
There once was a farmer
Who took a young miss
In back of the barn
Where he gave her a. . . lecture
On horse and chickens and eggs
And told her that she had such beautiful. . . manners
That suited a girl of her charms,
A girl that he wanted to take in his. . . washing and ironing
And then if she did,
They could get married
And have lots of . . . sweet violets.
Kids and science are like this. They make assumptions about a topic and it is sometimes difficult to move them past those assumptions. Take the subject of baths.
Everyone knows that a bath means lots of soap and water, right?
 Not necessarily.
 I heard a story about birds who take baths with ants. Anting is a well-documented behavior among certain species of birds, and happens one of two ways. The birds may simply go and stand on an ant nest and allow the ants to crawl through their wings. Or a bird may crush an ant in its beak, then use the crushed ant like a washcloth to stroke its feathers. Scientists suspect that the ants are helping the bird get rid of parasites, such as tiny mites. Or the crushed ant releases formic acid, which may act as a disinfectant.
 When I heard about anting, I wondered how else animals might take a bath. First, I had to define for myself what a bath meant. Bathing is a method of hygiene that helps remove dirt, parasites, dead skin/feather cells, etc. When you remove the assumption that a bath means water, many types of animal behaviors can be defined as a bath.
It was time to research. To stretch the idea to the max, I decided to use only desert animals—just to emphasize that a bath doesn’t have to be water.  This did mean some limitations. I couldn’t include fish. In fact, it was hard to document any cleansing behaviors from amphibians or arachnids. I stretched the definition to the max by including a snake (reptile), who sheds his skin as a bath.
The result if my picture book, DESERT BATHS, which was named a 2013 Outstanding Science Trade Book. For me, the most interesting thing is how kids stretch their definition of a bath and challenge their initial assumptions. That’s good science.

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