Wednesday, June 3, 2020

MILKWEED AND MONARCHS

Monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant in northern Wisconsin.
Look along a roadside, in a vacant lot, or in an abandoned country field, and you will probably see milkweed, a tall plant with broad leaves, thick stems and pink, yellow or purple flowers. If you look closely, you might find a monarch butterfly sipping nectar. Many insects make milkweed plants their home. They eat the nectar, sap, leaves, stems, roots, and seeds. You may also have milkweed plants, also called butterfly weed, in your garden.
Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed plant in my garden.
Milkweed gets its name from the white sap inside its stem. Poisonous chemicals are in the sap. Most plant-eating animals, such as cattle or deer, do not eat milkweed because it tastes bad. But monarch butterfly caterpillars are able to eat milkweed sap and the poison does not hurt them. A little bit of the poison becomes part of their bodies and helps protect them from birds and other predators. Predators learn to recognize monarchs by their distinctive black and orange colors and avoid them because they taste bad.

Female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed leaves and when the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars eat the leaves. After a few weeks, when the caterpillars are about two inches long, they stop eating, attach themselves to a leaf and cover themselves with a green shell called a chrysalis. Inside, the chrysalis, the caterpillar, now called a pupa, slowly transforms into a butterfly. After about two weeks, the beautiful butterfly emerges and the cycle of life begins again. (For a previous post with more about metamorphosis and a photo of a monarch chrysalis, click HERE.)
Milkweed pods in the fall. (Illustration by Caroline Arnold)
In the fall, monarch butterflies fly to their winter homes and milkweed flowers turn into seed pods. At first, the crescent shaped pods are soft and green. As the seeds grow inside the pod, the outside becomes hard and brown. When the seeds are ripe, the pod cracks open and the seeds spill out. The wind catches the the fluffy seeds and they are carried away, floating like tiny helicopters. Some of the seeds fall to the ground. In the following spring they will grow into new milkweed plants, providing homes for a new generation of monarchs.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed. In recent years, the disappearance of milkweed in many rural areas as a result of development has had a deleterious effect on monarch butterflies and their numbers have plummeted. You can learn about planting milkweed in your area to help monarch butterflies at this NWF website.

In my book, Butterflies in Room 6, about a kindergarten class raising painted lady butterflies, you can learn more about butterfly development.


Wednesday, May 27, 2020

THE WRITING PROCESS: Six Questions Exercise

When Mammoths Walked the Earth is available as an e-book on Amazon
I recently cleaned out my files and found various materials that I had used when teaching my class in writing for children in the UCLA Writer’s Program. Here is a writing exercise called “Six Questions.”

When I started researching my book When Mammoths Walked the Earth (Clarion, 2002) I ended up with a jumble of facts about these huge prehistoric animals that lived in the Ice Age. My job in writing the book was to line up the facts so they made sense. So I asked myself a few questions: Who were the mammoths? What did they look like? Where and when did they live? Why were they unique? How do we know about them?
Asking questions is a technique I use that helps me focus on what my book is about and this helps me figure out how to organize the information. The six basic questions are who, what, where, when, why and how. Try answering the following questions about your subject. Your answers will help you shape your story. (Although my focus is on writing nonfiction, this exercise works for fiction too.)

Who is your book about? Who or what is the main subject or character of your story?
What does your subject look like? What is unique or special about your subject’s appearance?
Where does the main character live? Or, where does the story take place? In other words, what is the setting of your story.
When does the story happen? That is, what is the time frame?
How does the main subject behave? How is it adapted to its particular way of life? Or, what is the main action of the story?
Why should we be interested in your subject? What makes it compelling?

Note: When Mammoths Walked the Earth is out of print but available as a Kindle book on Amazon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

LETTERS FROM STUDENTS: Author Visit Follow-Up

I love to do author visits and to feel the excitement that surrounds my appearance at a school. But the real value for the students is in the preparation and follow-up. I love to get letters and thank-you notes from students and teachers after my visit. They tell me what the students remember and what most impacted them about my program.
A few months ago I was pleased to receive a packet of thank-you notes from Mrs. Ritter’s kindergarten class at Jacoby Creek School in Arcata, which I visited in October during the Humboldt County Authors Festival. In the picture above you can see me (without any hair!) and the table with my book display. I love the drawing of the tiny butterfly in the book in my hand!

Note: One of the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic is the suspension of school and cancellation of author visits. I don't expect to do any on site author visits in the near future, although perhaps when school reopens there will be the possibility of Skype or Zoom visits. Time will tell.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Projects for Kids: A GARDEN IN YOUR KITCHEN, Growing an Avocado Pit

It may take up to six weeks for an avocado pit to sprout.
Look around your kitchen. Some of the things we eat are seeds. Some of the things we eat have seeds in them. And some, such as pineapples and carrots, will sprout new leaves if placed in water. Now, at a time when many schools are closed, I will post a new simple gardening project each week that kids can do at home. Have fun watching things grow!

Avocados
Did you know that the pits inside peaches and avocados are seeds? Most pits take a long time to sprout. The hard outer covering must split or rot away before the seed inside can grow.
An avocado pit takes two to six weeks to sprout. But when it does grow, it makes a beautiful houseplant.
First wash the pit, and remove any bits of avocado. Then poke three toothpicks into the side of the pit, and place the seed on the top of a glass or jar filled with water. The round end of the pit should be down, and the pointed end should face up. Be sure than there is always some water covering the bottom of the pit.
As the pit begins to grow, it will split. When the stem is about six inches long, cut off the top half. Then, when new leaves have formed and the root is thick, plant it in a large pot (about ten inches across).  Keep it watered, and it should grow into a beautiful plant.

Look for all the  kitchen garden projects in these posts:
Dried beans and peas 3/25/20
Fresh Vegetable Seeds 4/1/20
Herbs and Spices 4/8/20
Birdseed 4/15/20
Citrus Fruits  4/22/20
Carrots  4/29/20
Pineapple  5/6/20
Avocados 5/13/20

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Projects for Kids: A GARDEN IN YOUR KITCHEN, Growing Pineapple Leaves

New leaves have begun growing from the center of this planted pineapple top
Look around your kitchen. Some of the things we eat are seeds. Some of the things we eat have seeds in them. And some, such as pineapples and carrots, will sprout new leaves if placed in water. Now, at a time when many schools are closed, I will post a new simple gardening project each week that kids can do at home. Have fun watching things grow!

Pineapple
Next time your family is having fresh pineapple, cut off the top two inches before you serve the rest. Keep the leaves attached. Trim the edges of the pineapple so that the the center of the fruit fits into the top of a glass. Fill the glass with water just to the bottom of the pineapple. Place near a window so the pineapple gets plenty of light. In a few weeks you will see roots growing down into the water.  You can plant your pineapple in a pot with soil and watch it sprout new leaves. 

You can experiment with other seeds and plants around your house. It’s fun to discover how things grow–and you’ll end up with a beautiful garden in your kitchen!

Look for all the  kitchen garden projects in these posts:
Dried beans and peas 3/25/20
Fresh Vegetable Seeds 4/1/20
Herbs and Spices 4/8/20
Birdseed 4/15/20
Citrus Fruits  4/22/20
Carrots  4/29/20
Pineapple  5/6/20
Avocados 5/13/20

Monday, May 4, 2020

CHILDREN'S BOOK WEEK, May 4-10, 2020. Celebrate #BookWeek2020atHome

Children's Book Week is an annual celebration of children's books, authors, illustrators and publishers. This year's celebration, May 4-10, 2020, is the 101st!  #BookWeek2020atHome 
It is sponsored by the Children's Book Council and Every Child a Reader.

Here is what they say:

This celebration honors children's books, readers, and book creators. It is all about connecting over books and that can be done anytime, anywhere. Celebrate at home and online all week long!
Read all about our new plans in PW Children's Bookshelf.
Resources and Celebration Ideas!
  • Brand New 2020 Bookmarks with activities are available. Wonderfully illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, the Fan Brothers, Michaela Goade, John Parra, Sydney Smith, and Duncan Tonatiuh!

  • Find coloring pages, the 2020 Official Poster, and more printable activities on our website.

  • Need some celebration inspiration? Check out all our ideas for how to participate at home and connect with others.

  • Follow #BookWeek2020atHome to find videos, live virtual events from book creators, resources, and celebration ideas from libraries and local bookstores. And use it to let us know how you are celebrating from wherever you are!
Please email Shaina.Birkhead@cbcbook.org with questions.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Projects for Kids: A GARDEN IN YOUR KITCHEN, Carrots

Sprouted Carrot Tops
Look around your kitchen. Some of the things we eat are seeds. Some of the things we eat have seeds in them. And some, such as pineapples and carrots, will sprout new leaves if placed in water. Now, at a time when many schools are closed, I will post a new simple gardening project each week that kids can do at home. Have fun watching things grow!

Carrots
Cut off the top of the carrot, leaving about an inch of the carrot on it. Place this in a shallow dish of water, and wait for a few days. Soon you will see new leaves growing out of the top. Wait a bit longer and you will see roots growing out of the carrot bottom. You may want to transplant your carrot into a pot full of soil and watch the leaves continue to grow.

You can experiment with other seeds and plants around your house. It’s fun to discover how things grow–and you’ll end up with a beautiful garden in your kitchen!

Look for all the  kitchen garden projects in these posts:
Dried Beans and Peas 3/25/20
Fresh Vegetable Seeds 4/1/20
Herbs and Spices  4/8/20
Birdseed  4/15/20
Citrus Fruits  4/22/20
Carrots  4/29/20
Avocados  5/6/20
Pineapple  5/13/20