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This morning, as I was taking the kids to the bus stop in the rain, I opened our big golf umbrella. It was yucky outside, and I was anything but joyous. Then my daughter says, “I love how umbrellas open.”
Wow. That made an impact on me. At some point, we take advantage of things like the beauty and complexity of a closed umbrella magically opening. If you take the time to look at the mechanisms, it is pretty amazing how pieces that are bundled together pop into place to create a shelter…almost like trying to make sense of how pages in a pop-up book work.
My daughter’s comment made me think of two things.
First, it made me relate the idea to writing for children. Children are amazed at things that no longer phase us as adults. We can write about something simple, and it can still impress young readers. The concept doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. It’s a reminder at keeping things simple when writing for children.
I have often met adults who are new to writing for children. They try to do too much in a picture book manuscript. A picture book needs to be kept simple. Otherwise it can take away the beauty of the concept. As writers, we just need to “open the umbrella” and give our young readers a chance to enjoy it.
I also realized what a shame it is that we lose our fascination with everyday objects. When does it happen? When does something like an umbrella opening no longer impress us? It is just a matter of witnessing it too many times? Are we too busy to notice? I was happy to be reminded today to take time out for the little things. It was nice to remember that happiness can come from seeing something simple but amazing.
Take a minute out of your day to notice something amazing right in front of you
In about two weeks, my new middle grade novel, Sled Runners & Cookie Cutters comes out. The book takes place in the Midwest and features sled dog racing. If you’re like my character, Ana, in the book, you might have not even known sled dog racing existed in the Midwest. It sure does!
There are three main types of sled dog racing: long-distance racing, mid-distance racing, and sprint racing. My book is about sprint racing.
What’s nice about sprint races is you often get to see both the beginning and the end of the race. Races are usually less than thirty miles long. The races I watched, however, were closer to eight miles. Because the trail went in a circle for the races I attended, spectators could see both the beginning and end of the race relatively in one spot.
Witnessing my first race was what served as inspiration for my novel. I still remember watching my first sprint race in Wisconsin. The minute I stepped out of my car, I was pulled into a world I knew nothing about but became quickly intrigued. To give you a taste of the experience, here’s a blurb from my novel:
As I opened the car door, the frigid air and the sound of millions of dogs barking and howling rushed in. I took in the noises that had become a melody to me over the weeks of practice.
Wow. There were dogs everywhere. In boxes in pickup trucks. Attached to drop chains on picket lines going from trucks to nearby poles. Some dogs were being walked; others were in kennels. Everywhere you turned: dogs, all waiting for their race to begin.
That part is exactly how I felt and what I saw.
Sled dog races are a blast to watch. And although it’s a competitive sport, that’s not the vibe you get when you’re there. Everyone was more than willing to answer my endless questions.
And I sure asked questions. Although my story is fiction, it required a TON of research. Luckily, research can be fun. I traveled to Alaska to see first-hand a long-distance race. I got to be “backstage” as mushers prepped for a 975+-mile journey. I went to races in the Midwest to see what spring racing was all about. I visited a sprint-racer’s home to see the set up of the kennel. And I followed mushers on Twitter and Facebook to hear the jargon used.
I am excited that all my research paid off. In Cookie Cutters & Sled Runners, readers learn all about sprint racing in the Midwest along with Ana. Great for eight to twelve year olds.
Who doesn’t like using food for science? After completing a unit on insects, end with allowing students to make their own out of food products. Remind them that they should make their insect scientifically correct (3 body parts, 6 legs)—if you are using this as an assessment, you might not want to give too many details. Things to include for them to build with are [Read more…]
After reading Don’t Squash That Bug! and learning about insects through other books and activities, students can share their knowledge of insects by writing an acrostic poem. For each letter of the alphabet, students write a fact that they learned about insects. For instance, for the letter A, students could write something like “Ants live in colonies” or “Apples are a food that mealworms eat.” [Read more…]
A great skill for students to practice is comparing and contrasting attributes of various organisms. With each insect group, students can answer yes or no to attributes such as
- Does it have wings?
- Does it eat plants?
- Does it eat other insects?
- Does it make noises, such as chirping or buzzing?
If you want to teach your class how pollination works, try this lesson I wrote for the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago: Click here for PDF
Non-insects that are fairly easy to catch are:
- roly-poly bugs
Insects and non-insects to avoid: