Jeff Kinney, author-illustrator of the wildly popular book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid BUILDS GREEN to help the environment and inspire younger generations

When I was a kid, I thought of the natural world as an inexhaustible bounty. It never occurred to me that one day we might lose the treasures of nature that I took for granted.

In my lifetime, the world has changed faster than at any other time in history. Technology has enhanced and enriched our lives. Information travels more quickly than we ever could have imagined. So much good has come with the rapid advancements of the past forty years.

As human beings, we’ve learned so much about ourselves and about our world. And the most important thing we’ve learned is how much human activity can effect our environment.

I’ve read Time magazine almost my whole life. I seen hundreds of covers over the years, but the ones that always get my attention are those that feature the state of Planet Earth.

If Time is any indication, the healthfulness of our planet is in jeopardy. Cover stories over the past four decades have featured everything from the depleted ozone layer to vanishing wildlife species to the effects of global warming.

I have to admit, when I see a cover that disturbs me (like a recent one about the world’s bees vanishing), I’m tempted to bury my head in the sand and to hope that the next week’s issue will have something more entertaining on the cover (like, say, a debate on whether or not college athletes should be paid). But the truth is, the drumbeat of environmental concerns has become so deafening that it’s impossible to ignore.

What’s undeniable is that the activities of human beings are wreaking havoc on the natural world. If we don’t take action to protect our environment, we’ll destroy it, and faster than we think.

architectural drawing for the Kinneys' eco-friendly building

There’s hope that we can turn things around. There’s a growing body of information on ways we can act to help ensure that the world’s natural wonders will survive and thrive.

My wife and I are taking this information to heart. We’re constructing a three-story building in the center of our town, and we’re doing it in an environmentally-conscience way. The building will have solar panels, a charging bay for electric cars, energy-efficient toilets and sinks, and use reclaimed wood throughout. We hope this building can be a model that might inspire others to create energy-efficient buildings and homes.

There’s a term for kids who are growing up with computers as a part of their lives from the beginning… “digital natives.” Let’s raise a generation of “environmental natives” who value the world’s precious treasures and acts to protect them.

Jeff Kinney is the author and cartoonist of  the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, international award winning and bestselling teen titles, which have spawned several popular movies. He was named one of the TIME 100 World’s Most Influential People by Time Magazine in 2009. Jeff is also a game designer and creator of the website Poptropica. Discover more about his books at www.wimpykid.com.

Posted in Jeff Kinney | Comments Off

HOW COULD WE LET THAT BEAUTIFUL BIRD GO? by Newbery Honored and two-time National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt

Kathi and Mingus by photographer Igor Kraguliac

I love swamps.

When I was much younger, I lived with my sister in a small cabin outside of Nacogdoches, in deep East Texas. We were surrounded by tall pine trees and the ground was always soft and squishy.  It was dark back there, and a little creepy.  The woods were filled with poisonous snakes, biting insects and stinging vines that grabbed your socks and jeans whenever you brushed too close.

The ponds and slow-moving bayous were filled with logs that could, if you looked closely, actually be alligators.  It’s not really a place for a picnic . . . unless, that is, you want to be the lunch.

But look closer, the swampy woods of east Texas are also beautiful.  The tall cypress trees, with their knobby knees that pop up through the water and their long mossy beards, feel like grandparents.  And in a way, they are, as they provide nesting places for thousands of birds, frogs, and small mammals.

There are also, in those woods, many ghosts, the dozens of species that used to live there but have disappeared, most particularly the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, or IBWO as it’s known in birding circles.  A hundred years ago, this beautiful and statuesque bird, with its three-foot wingspan, filled the forests of the eastern United States.  There was no mistaking its cry—kint, kint, kint KAPOW! When people spotted it, they often shouted in amazement, “Good Lord, what a bird!”  And so it became known as the Good Lord Bird.

Once in a while, someone claims to have seen one, and even though it seems highly improbable and most likely impossible that one still exists, I think we see their ghosts.  We see them because there is an unanswered question out there:  “How could we let that beautiful bird go?”  Yes, I want to know, how could we?

That question is so painful to consider, that it nestles right in the deepest part of our hearts.  How could we? The yearning is so big, I think, that it’s easy to imagine that we’ve seen one.  The very act of imagining such an amazing bird, somehow lets us off the hook a bit, let’s us delay that awful question for at least a little while.

It’s why I set some of my stories in the swamps, because those too are at risk of becoming ghosts.  A swamp is a hard place to love.  They’re not like a majestic, breath-taking mountain, or a rolling hill, or a bounteous ocean side.  They’re murky and dark and dangerous.  But they are safe havens to critters we may not even know about, they are the protectors of hundreds, maybe thousands of species, and if the IBWO has even a remote shot of returning to us, then it will need these murky, dark and dangerous homes to raise its babies.

I want my books to offer up that hope, even if it’s a tiny bit magical, that anything is possible, that miracles occur.  I want that heartbreaking question, How could we? to become more than a question.  I want it to become a clarion call to take action, not only in our imaginations, but in our activities too, because inside of that question is an urgent insistence that we become better than we already are.

I want the birds to look at each one of us, and say, “Good Lord, what a human being!”

Kathi Appelt is the author of many acclaimed children’s novels and picture books. She received a Newbery Honor for The Underneath, which was also a National Book Award finalist. And The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp was a National Book Award Finalist too. Both are set in the swamps. Visit www.kathiappelt.com to learn more about her writing (and love of cats).

 

Posted in Kathi Appelt | Comments Off

HOW TO TELL THE STORY OF SEA TURTLES? by Steve Swinburne, award-winning author of over 25 nature books for kids

Where do you start? “Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” That’s what Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland.

To tell your readers the story of sea turtles you must hook them at the start. Notice I said   story. Kids have always wanted and WILL always want: a story. A good beginning. A riveting middle. A satisfying conclusion. Kids want a page turner. An unputdownable yarn. Should nonfiction books begin with a great lead like fiction books do? Yes, yes, a hundred times yes!

“‘One egg out of a thousand will produce an adult sea turtle.” So says Dr. Kimberly Stewart as she gently places the leatherback hatchling, not much larger than a match-box car, onto the black-flecked sand. Its front flippers begin to beat, heaving the tiny turtle toward the sea and stippling the face of the sand with miniature tracks. “This could be the one in a thousand.’”

Dr Steward with a Leatherback; book cover; Steve holds a bag of sea turtle eggs

I had no idea how I would begin my sea turtle book as I traveled from my home state of Vermont to the Caribbean island of St. Kitts for ten days of research. That’s okay. Finding your leads (and middles and endings, too!) is an act of discovery. As I followed Dr. Stewart, my sea turtle expert, during nights and days on the beach, the story of her passion to save these magnificent endangered animals emerged.

I have always loved telling the story of ardent conservationists and wildlife biologists out there in the field enduring the cold, the biting flies, the crappy food, the crappier sleeping conditions, etc., in order to research and preserve endangered animals. Once A Wolf tells the story of Doug Smith’s lead role in the Yellowstone Wolf project. Black Bear – North America’s Bear highlights New Hampshire’s Ben Kilham’s passion to understand black bear behavior. In my book, Coyote – North America’s Dog, I followed the tracks of Dr. Bob Crabtree as he works to understand the relationship of coyotes and the newly-released wolves into Yellowstone National Park.

I love the great naturalist E.O Wilson’s gentle call to action when he says, “Ants make up two-thirds of the biomass of all the insects. There are millions of species of organisms and we know almost nothing about them.” He also said, “Go as far as you can, (young scientists). The world needs you badly.”

The Earth is such a cool place to live. It’s the only planet I want to live on. Forget about Mars, and I’m so over Pluto. So, get out there, you young writers and young scientists, go forth across the Earth. Be open. Be ready to be enthralled and engaged and keep telling the stories of this one-of-kind planet we call home.

Steve Swinburne is an author, photographer and musician with over two dozen children’s books and a very funny ukulele CD (“Poop-A-Lay-Lee”) to his credit. Steve travels around the globe to research his nonfiction writing projects. Learn all about the efforts to save the endangered leatherback sea turtle in Steve’s new book called Sea Turtle Scientist. Details at www.steveswinburne.com.

 

 

 

Posted in Steve Swinburne | Comments Off

LOVE EVERY LIVING THING by Suzy Kline, author of the beloved Horrible Harry series

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote a wonderful poem when he got out of a prison in Siberia. His words really express the way I feel about life.

“Love every leaf, every ray of light

Love the animals, love the plants

Love each separate thing,

Loving all, you will perceive the mystery of God in all.”

I loved being a school teacher for 27 years. Mostly, I taught second and third grade which is the setting for my school stories about Horrible Harry and his friends. I enjoyed reading books aloud, writing with my students, and especially teaching science. Many of Harry’s adventures come from my real life experiences in the classroom. I am very much like Miss Mackle, Harry’s teacher. We grew monarch butterflies from eggs, observed ant behavior in ant farms, cried when Charlotte died in Charlotte’s Web, had a terrarium in class for visiting salamanders and garter snakes, as well as tanks for fish and frogs, and kept a hamster cage. We learned so much by just taking care of these magnificent creatures and from observing them!

All the characters in my stories are based on real people from my class. And Harry, well, he was inspired by one particular student I had. That year, I had to go to bed an hour earlier because I needed extra patience to deal with him. But his interest in science inspired us all, although it got him in trouble sometimes. Once he even left the playground by crawling through the hole in our school fence—he went into the empty lot next door looking for wild mushrooms!

The very first Horrible Harry in Room 2B came out in 1988, which means Harry has been in second or third grade for twenty-five years now.  Since that time, Harry has been fascinated with…

Charles, his pet spider… Edward, his pet earwig… Tasmanian devils… vultures… night crawlers… frogs and beetles… Goog, his one-eyed cat… ants… Stinkhorn mushrooms… and even canaries!

What mellows Harry’s character is that even though he is impulsive, doesn’t follow directions, and can be very gross, he loves nature, and takes very good care of his pets. In one book, Harry’s pet earwig dies. This is the scene where Harry and his friends decide to have a funeral for him. Doug is the narrator:

illustration by Frank Remkiewicz from Horrible Harry Bugs the Three Bears

We followed Harry out to the backyard.  He dug a hole in one corner of the garden.  He placed the tissue with Edward in it inside the hole.  We watched him sprinkle dirt on top until he made a mound.  Harry then patted it with the palm of his hand.  Song Lee found three little rocks and placed them on top.  Mary added some blades of grass.  Ida added a few sticks.

“We should say a prayer,” I said.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Will you say one, Song Lee?”

Song Lee nodded, then spoke very softly.  “Dear God, help us love every living thing.”

“Amen,” we all said.

Keep caring about every living thing and celebrate Earth Day!

Suzy Kline is the author of nearly 50 best-selling books for young readers. In addition to the Horrible Harry series, she also writes the Herbie Jones and Song Lee series, among others. Suzy promotes Reader’s Theatre and creates science–based classroom activities that can be explored alongside with her books at www.suzykline.com.

 

Posted in Suzy Kline | Comments Off

CELEBRATING NATURE IN RHYME, ONE RHYME AT A TIME by best-selling Dr. Seuss author Tish Rabe

Like many of us, I remember the first time my mother read The Cat in the Hat to me and I was delighted by all those fun words, wonderful rhymes and wacky pictures. I later learned that Dr. Seuss wrote it as a way to introduce kids to the 100 words they needed to know in first grade. He saw the words “cat” and “hat” and literary history was made!

Five years after he died, I was asked to take over a project he started but never finished—a line of non-fiction science books featuring the Cat in the Hat. The creative challenge was that the books needed to be factually correct and also have the classic rhythmic style Seuss made famous. My goal was to get kids excited about the natural world and the animals that share it with us. The fun rhymes were designed to inspire students to “go find out more” about each subject:

When birds want to go on a winter vacation

They all take a trip and that’s called migration.

Throughout the years I have written about lots of aspects of the natural world: reptiles, butterflies, sea creatures, weather, bugs, dogs, cats, deserts and space—just to name a few! I always learn something new while researching each book and love adding “who knew?” facts for young readers. Like… seagulls can drink salt water. (Who knew?)

When I was asked to write a guide for kids entitled How to Help the Earth, I knew the Lorax was the perfect character to take on this important topic:

Hello! I’m the Lorax. I speak for the trees,

and the fish and the birds and I’m asking you please

to help out the earth. I am counting on you.

Together I know there’s a lot we can do.

I wanted to be careful not to just list things kids can do, but make the book inspiring and uplifting too. I think sometimes kids feel they’re just one small person so what difference can they make? But if we all chip in we can make a BIG difference.

If we work together, the earth will get better.

The land will be clearer. The soil will be wetter.

The sun will shine brighter. The trees will be greener.

The sky will be bluer. The air will be cleaner.

I never met Dr. Seuss, but I like to think he’d be proud of how we continue to inspire kids and let them know they can make a difference—one rhyme at a time!

Tish Rabe has written over 160 books for children including The Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library, which has sold over 4 million copies. A television series based on these books premiered on PBS Kids in 2010. She is also a television writer and professional singer. To learn more go to www.tishrabe.com

 

Posted in Tish Rabe | Comments Off

VOICES FROM A TROPICAL RAIN FOREST by Newbery Honored Cuban-American author Margarita Engle

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, I played with seeds and bugs instead of dolls. My sister and I formed a two-person club for the protection of animals.  Our room was crowded with caterpillars, tadpoles, and other small creatures, but we loved to spend most of our time outdoors.  I was a voracious reader, so whenever I climbed a tree, I took an adventure story with me.  My favorites were The Black Stallion, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and nonfiction tales of tropical exploration.

For most of my childhood, a tropical island was the emotional center of my world.  During summer visits to relatives in Cuba, I fell in love with the lush vegetation.  Flowers.  Seedpods.  Tendrils.  No curiosity was too small for contemplation.  Fascinated by sensitive mimosa, I wondered why one type of plant could snap its leaves shut in self-defense, while others remained motionless.

In Cuba, I rode horses and observed tarantulas, while in Los Angeles, I read travel books and wrote poetry.  In college, I studied botany, agriculture, and creative writing eventually becoming the first woman agronomy professor at one of California’s polytechnic universities.  I married an entomologist, raised children, and traveled throughout Latin America, intrigued by tropical rain forests.

Now, as an author of books for young people, my love of nature is combined with a passion for stories told in free verse. Many of my books are about Cuba’s history, but there is always a backdrop of nature.   In The Surrender Tree, a healer uses wild plants to cure the wounds and fevers of soldiers.  In The Firefly Letters, a suffragist writes by the light of glowing insects.  In Hurricane Dancers, indigenous Cubans tend fields of native pineapple, maize, and sweet potatoes.

My next verse novel is Silver People, Voices From the Panama Canal (Harcourt, March, 2014). On one level, it is the story of Caribbean islanders who were recruited to dig the canal, and then subjected to U.S.-imposed apartheid.  At the same time, Silver People is also my personal love letter to tropical rain forests, with poems in the voices of trees and animals.  Writing from the point of view of a troop of howler monkeys may be the most fun I have ever had on paper!

When I write about history, I find it impossible to separate my concern for human communities from my love of natural habitats. Once the natural world enters a child’s mind and heart, it brings the lifelong joy of curiosity, along with dedication to the cause of conservation.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of several verse novels about Latin America, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor book, Pura Belpré Medal winner, and Jane Addams Peace Prize Winner.  She has also written several picture books and a middle grade novel about search and rescue dogs. Visit her at www.margaritaengle.com.

 

Posted in Margarita Engle | Comments Off

Three NEW environmental poems by Jane Yolen, author of over 300 books for young readers, including Owl Moon and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Garden to Gardener

First the earth must be turned,

clods loosened, worms set free,

Breathe deep of the strong brown air.

Next make the graphs of rows,

measured, treasured, tweaked, and ruled.

Now you must set in the points.

Strew seed. Cover. Tamp.

Unless rain is forecast–water.

And even then, water right away.

Finally, step back.

Smile.

Stretch.

The green will do the rest.

©2012 Jane Yolen all rights reserved


The Recycled Orchestra

Here music is played by children on pieces of garbage

recycled, reworked, refinished, refined.

Small fingers hover over stops, strings, beating time,

though time is all they have for payment.

Music doesn’t come from their fingers or mouths;

nor from strings saved from the trash

or corroded pipes shaped into horns,

into flutes, or the old canister now a drum.

It comes from the heart, that oldest dump site,

that heap of emotions, that compost of desires.

©2013 All rights reserved


Insectology

Entomologists don’t study ents.

but insect ladies, insect gents.

They study them in places muggy.

I’d say it drives them really buggy.

©2013 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century, beloved for her poetic voice. Her children’s books have won dozens of awards, including the Caldecott, Golden Kite and a National Book Award nomination. Visit her official website at http://janeyolen.com/

Posted in Jane Yolen | Comments Off

CREATIVE DISCOVERY by Patricia Newman, award-winning author of picture books and nonfiction books

In school, we often ask students to work together in groups solving a shared problem or creating a project in which each team member contributes to the outcome. Similarly, in the study of alternative energy scientists around the globe form cooperating groups that pose experimental methodologies and ask hard questions in the race to find affordable, deliverable solutions to fossil fuels.

Caring about the environment is not just good for the planet; it is good for creative discovery, too. During the research process for my two newest books, Energy Lab: Biofuels and Energy Lab: Water Power (grades 4-8), I interviewed scientists, volunteers, academics, and business leaders all over the country who study how to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Additional research introduced me to wave energy studies in Scotland, the way France extracts energy from tides, Brazil’s ethanol-producing sugar cane
industry, and a company exploring the heat from the ocean’s thermal vents as possible sources of electricity.

So in the spirit of team learning, I offer two group activities for your students that will not only foster an awareness of our environment and a desire to protect it, but a new-found understanding of what they can bring to the conversation:

  1. Renewable energy is about connecting systems–using the waste of one process to fuel another: for example, a dairy farm that recycles manure to make electricity. Discuss other  connected systems. Is there one in your school or town? How does it work? What type of renewable energy does it provide? Create a poster showing the relationship between the energy systems.
  2. Construct a waterwheel (Use this possible model or your own design. Younger students may use a teacher-built model for the experiments). Position the waterwheel in a sink or kiddie pool with a running hose. Move the wheel around to find the best energy output. Experiment with the amount of weight that can be lifted using the power of water. Extend the activity for older students by producing enough electricity to light a light bulb.

As a former teacher and now as an author, I find the teamwork that surrounds alternative energy research exciting. Common goals lead to partnerships and friendships, which lead to shared experiences, which could ultimately benefit humankind as much as our planet. I hope you will give me the chance to share with your students the exciting places writing has taken me!

Patricia Newman is the author of several books for children, including Jingle the Brass, a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Smithsonian-recommended book; and Nugget on the Flight Deck, a California Reading Association Eureka! Silver Honor Book for Nonfiction. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

 

 

Posted in Patricia Newman | Comments Off

LAUGH, ASK & INSPIRE: BOOKS ABOUT NATURE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD by Lori Polydoros, author of books for young readers

Most kids love to laugh. They love nature and stories. It’s no different in the inner city, palm huts along the river Paraguay, or cement buildings with dirt floors in Kenya. Of course, not all students around the world have equal access to literature, but writing books that spark their interest is the first step. If you can make a child giggle, inspire a question about nature, or entice them to disappear into another time and place–then you’ve done it. You’ve begun to save the world.

Bringing nature to my inner city students in the Los Angeles area has been the most rewarding part of teaching in the States. Digging in the cool earth of our community garden became a way to lower a child’s stress. Searching for earthworms was like finding buried treasure. And caring for animals like green tree frogs and ball pythons in our science lab taught them compassion and responsibility. As an author of many non-fiction books, I never tire of watching fascination about nature motivate even the most reluctant reader of any age.

The kids I taught in Paraguay were tri-lingual, bright, and curious. In a village of eight families and one textbook, traditional education was not a priority. Survival was. Even though they didn’t have formal reading and writing skills, we spent many important hours discussing the native animals. We laughed at dancing fireflies and marveled at giant, praying mantises. We spotted capybaras paddling through the river and shivered at the growl of the crocodiles at night. These are the books these kids would read, if they had access to them.

In Southeastern Kenya, I worked with students full of eagerness, pride, and determination. With an unemployment rate of over 85%, most of their families had made huge sacrifices to pay for their child’s schooling. It didn’t take long to connect us through the universal language of story. We giggled about a caterpillar that couldn’t tie his 12 shoes in one of my own books, Too Many Legs. As I read from Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree house Series, they students fell in love with Peanut, Jack and Annie’s pet mouse, and wanted to talk about dinosaurs, rainforests, and traveling to the moon. They couldn’t get enough. These kids need books.

No matter your pinpoint on the map, our future depends on books about science and animals and the environment. Learning about the natural world connects us to our own lives and helps us to reach out to other perspectives across the globe.  These stories make us invest in the world. They can be told by writers and teachers and parents alike. Through our words, we make children laugh and inspire them to question or soar to new places.  Our stories matter, and they are desperately needed to take flight across the globe.

Lori Polydoros is not only a children’s author with many titles to her credit, but a SCBWI/OC volunteer, teacher, and traveler. She is developing a non-profit organization called Connect the Kids, which connects students and teachers in Kenya to those in the US. Learn more about Lori’s books and work at her website: www.loripolydoros.com and follow her travel adventures at: http://encuentrodecuentos.blogspot.com/.

 

Posted in Lori Polydoros | Comments Off

WRITING TO RIGHT THE WRONGS OF OUR WORLD by Janet Wong, poet and author of 30 books for young readers

Janet teaches Nissa to say "conservation." Good job, Nissa!

When I saw photos of the emaciated and diseased tigers kept in small caged pens in China’s “tiger parks,” places such as the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village in Guilin, China, I knew this was something I wanted to work to change. I decided to write
a book about it right away.

I didn’t want to give children nightmares, and I didn’t want it to be shunned by parents, teachers, and librarians as preachy. My aim was simply to reach as many children as
possible and make them aware of this problem. So I decided to embed my discussion of the plight of these tigers in the nonfiction back-matter notes of Once Upon A Tiger, a whimsical collection of “pourquoi tale poems” about the tiger and eight other endangered
animals. After years of traditional publishing, it was my first venture into the world of artisanal publishing.

My hope was to inspire children to wonder about these animals. If, because of their wondering, they want to learn more, that would be perfect. But if they simply enjoy the poems, that would be all right, too. Here is the title poem:

TIGER

Once upon a Time…

there was a Lion

who was strong as fire,

and very, very hungry.

Why share one zebra

when I can eat a hundred?

While the others slept,

she devoured a whole herd,

stripe by stripe.

The next morning

she was covered in stripes.

She scratched off her fur.

Her skin was marked, too.

The other lions knew

where the zebras had gone.

They stripped her name away.

She was cut off from the pride.

An arrow, orange with fire,

burned north beyond the sky.

That is where they sent her,

the zebra-eater of lion legend—

way back when,

once upon a Tiger.

After the ebook was published, young readers from all over the world sent me their poems inspired by it.

I believe strongly in publishing projects as tools for developing social responsibility in students while also raising funds for charities. Writing about the wrongs that they have seen or read or heard about is an empowering real-world exercise that will build their writing and critical thinking skills. It’s not very difficult to create a print-on-demand paperback, and it’s almost as easy to create an ebook (see my instructions).

My friends tease me about being an evangelist for publishing fundraisers. But consider: isn’t it more exciting and meaningful for students to sell their own cause-inspired writing rather than wrapping paper, magazines, or the world’s maybe-not-so-finest chocolate?

Janet Wong is the author of 30 books for children. Her poetry has been featured in venues as diverse as the White House, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the NYC subways. Learn more about Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals and Janet’s other books at www.janetwong.com.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Janet Wong | Comments Off