Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Project: THE SALTY SEA, Making Salt Crystals

Salt Crystals
Ocean and sea water is salty.  Some lakes are also made of salt water, but most have fresh water.  Great Salt Lake in Utah, the Salton Sea in California, and Lake Nakuru in Kenya are all salt lakes.
You may have swum in the ocean or a salt-water lake.  Even though the water was clear, you would have been able to taste the salt on your tongue.  When salt dissolves in water, it disappears.  Here is an experiment you can do to make it reappear.

Making Salt Crystals
You will need:
  • 1 cup sea water (If you do not live near the ocean or a salt lake, you can make your own sea water by mixing 2 teaspoons table salt with 2 cups [.5 liter] water.)
  • pie pan
  • magnifying glass

1. Pour the sea water into the pan.  Put the pan in a warm, dry place and let the water evaporate.  This will take a few days.  What do you see when the water is gone?
2. Look at the salt crystals with the magnifying glass.  What shape are they?  Each kind of mineral forms its own crystal shapes.  Can you see the X-shaped indentation on the top of each crystal.

About two-thirds of the salt that is dissolved in sea water is sodium chloride, or ordinary table salt. When water evaporates from the sea, the salt is left behind, just as it was in your salt crystal project.  This means that the water vapor in the atmosphere, which falls back to Earth as rain, is fresh water.

You can find this project and many others in my book The Geography Book: Activities for Exploring, Mapping, and Enjoying Your World. It is available both in paperback and as a Kindle book.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

CLCSC Fall Gala Featuring Author/Illustrator Bryan Collier

Martin's Big Words by Bryan Collier
A week ago on Saturday it was a pleasure once again to participate in the annual Fall Gala of the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California honoring outstanding authors and illustrators and the winner of the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Field of Children’s Literature, this year given to much loved Dr. Claudette S. McLinn, Director, Center for the Study of Multicultural Literature. The featured speaker was author/illustrator Bryan Collier, recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration for several of his books and the 2002 Caldecott Honor Award for Martin’s Big Words.  In an entertaining and passionate speech he spoke about his childhood and the strong influence of books like Harold’s Purple Crayon and Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats on his own work.

This year the Gala was held at the Descanso Gardens in La Canada Flintridge in a large hall near the entrance to the gardens. The morning began with a delicious breakfast and introductions. I was one of many authors attending the event. I enjoyed the opportunity see old friends and to chat with the librarians sitting at my table. After the event was over, my fellow author Joan Graham and I took a lovely walk through the gardens and visited the small art museum, which had a water themed exhibit. Although the weather was warm, the shady paths were pleasant as we walked through the various habitats on our way to the museum.  All in all, it was a lovely day!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Have you ever hosted an author visit at a school or been part of a planning committee to bring an author to your community? I know from my own experience that author visits are one of the best ways to promote reading and writing and provide the opportunity for students and teachers to interact with a “real live” author/illustrator such as myself.
My friend Alexis O’Neill, author of The Recess Queen and many other well loved books, has been working on a study to provide statistics and stories to assist teachers and librarians in making a case for bringing authors and illustrators to their schools. But first, she needs to “take the temperature” of anyone who has hosted an author visit at their school or library.
If your answer is yes to the above question, it would be much appreciated if you would take the 2-minute survey at the following link. You responses may help bring more authors into schools and classrooms.
This study is being sponsored by the Ventura County Reading Association (California) and is the first of its kind. We’re hoping that this can offer helpful insights to schools as well as to published authors and illustrators.
As you may know, since the start of the recession and the No Child Left Behind initiative, teachers and librarians have had to fight harder to convince their administrators to host an author visit. Now that it’s the era of Common Core, will it be the same, worse or better climate for author visits?
Thanks a million for helping to get the word out!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Radical Changes in the Editing Process: Santa Barbara Breakfast With the Authors

Greg Trine, Joan Graham, Heidi Gill, Susan Casey, Valerie Hobbs, Alexis O'Neill, Sherry Shahan, Mel Gilden, Sara Kras, Marianne Richmond, Caroline Arnold, Robin Mellom, Amy Koss
Last Saturday I participated, along with thirteen other authors, in the 62nd annual Breakfast with the Authors sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Office of Education.  After time to mingle and chat and eat a delicious breakfast we each had the opportunity to address the question:  What is the most radical change you have made to your manuscript in the editing and rewriting processes?

For me, the answer was easy.  It was the conversion of my 24 page nonfiction picture book A Panda’s World (PictureWindow Books, 2006) to a 20 page board book.  First of all, the page sizes were shrunk from 11 by 11 inches, to 8 by 8 inches. (The illustrations remain the same, except smaller.) Then all the front matter (information about panda size, weight, etc.) was eliminated along with three pages of back matter (map, fun facts, glossary, etc.).  Then, the text on each page spread had to be shortened from two paragraphs to about two sentences! That's a radical change! And, the sidebars with fun facts were also eliminated. What was left were the essentials of the story.  Net result: a new book perfectly suited for a parent to read to a young child or for a beginning reader to read alone.  The board book edition of A Panda’s World will be published in February 2015, along with three other titles from the same series–A Penguin’s World, A Zebra’s World and A Polar Bear’s World.  I am delighted to have the new board book versions of these books, which make the stories available to a whole new audience.

The morning’s program also included a panel of teen readers who responded to anonymous first pages.  It was fascinating to hear their opinions and find out how they identified with the characters in the stories.
Thanks so much to Rose, Matt, Fred and Doris for all the hard work to organize the breakfast.  It is always a pleasure to participate!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Children’s Literature Class, Santa Barbara City College

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak to Elizabeth Bowman’s children’s literature class at Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, California.  The students are current or pre-experience teachers at preschool and elementary grades.  They were a lively and appreciative audience with lots of excellent questions.  I talked about my books and life as an author and offered a variety of ways that books like mine can be used in the classroom both for reading and as jumping off places for related projects.  At the end of my presentation the last question was: “As you have visited schools over the years, what is the most memorable question you have had from a student?” I will never forget the student who asked, “If you could be a dinosaur, what kind of dinosaur would you be?”  My answer: a feathered dinosaur!
Thank you Elizabeth for inviting me to your class!