BECAUSE OF A BIRD by Jennifer Ward, award-winning author of humor- and nature-themed books for children and adults

Because of a bird, my eyes opened to the big-wide world around me in such a marvelous way. I have always been a nature girl. But you know that scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, where the Grinch’s heart suddenly grows and bursts and he feels love and wonder and his life changes? THAT’S what happened to me once. Because of a bird.

When I witnessed a hummingbird mama craft her wee cup nest outside my kitchen window, it was an “aha” moment for me.

She built it upon a carved, wooden mobile I acquired in Mexico. Every few minutes she’d come and go and land upon that mobile. It was a curious thing to watch this behavior—and at first I wasn’t certain why she kept perching on this hanging art. But then, little by little, a tiny nest formed. A NEST!

This particular hummingbird mama sparked the idea for my book, Mama Built a Little Nest—it got me thinking about bird nests in general. They are all so different, structurally!  Birds create the most variety of homes of any wild animal. Their nests often defy gravity, natural elements, weather, and predators—and birds design them without the use of hands or opposable thumbs. Remarkable engineers. And who knew it took a hummingbird over a week to craft such a wee cup that can expand as her chicks grow? I was hooked.

I began immersing my life into the lives of birds: observing them, documenting behavior, learning all I could—reading scientific journals, keeping abreast with the latest research through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program). Who knew that birds need our help in so many ways? I didn’t.

The livelihood of birds is threatened by habitat loss, pollution, pesticide use, drying water sources, climate change, outdoor cats, and death/injury caused by human structures, namely window strikes. Did you know close to a billion birds are killed each year in the U.S. alone just by window strikes? Many of these birds are neotropical migratory songbirds, flying by night, that have traveled thousands of miles to their nesting grounds in the North America.

I engage with the avian world every day and do my part to help them as I can. My husband and I know the birds on our property personally; they are like extended family to us. We greet each migration season as a cause for celebration, eagerly anticipated arrivals and departures.

My work as an author covers many topics, including humor in addition to science, but birds are a reoccurring theme with my writing and a true source of inspiration. For that, I am ever grateful to them. Forthcoming bird-themed books of mine include the parenting book, I Love Birds! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander and Explore Birds with Kids, and How to Find a Bird.

Birds are a true barometer to the health of our planet. We need them and must be aware of the steep decline in their numbers taking place and the human-caused challenges they face. Please visit FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn more.

Jennifer Ward is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for children and adults. Her home is nestled among the treetops of old growth oak forest in Illinois, where she wakes up each morning to bird song and writes full-time.


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Team ’18 mentors an estimated 12,000 students while taking Authors for Earth Day total contributions past $92,000

What wouldn’t a person do, to help the most wondrous products of four billion years of creation?   Richard Powers, The Overstory

MEET TEAM ’18, twenty-two award-winning authors and illustrators from across the United States, who stepped up to help young readers connect with the natural world: Eliot Schrefer, Tui Sutherland, Lissa Price, Katherine Roy, Loree Griffin Burns, Miranda Paul, Marty Kelley, Elissa Brent Weissman, Suzanne Slade, Debbie Dadey, Andrea Alban, Patricia Newman, Dan Gutman, Kate McMullan, Polly Holyoke, Lisa Kahn Schnell, Lori Degman, Linda Crotta Brennan, Barb Rosenstock, Sandy Asher, Rachelle Burk, and Ted Scheu.

This extraordinary line-up reached a projected TWELVE THOUSAND STUDENTS from January to May, giving kid voters the power to research important conservation initiatives and then direct $19,000 from the authors’ own speaking fees to praiseworthy environmental organizations.

As always, the students voted to support a wide range of organizations, all of which strive to save natural habitats and wild animals and/or create sustainable human communities. Twenty-one charities won contributions in 2018: Rainforest Alliance, Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Wildlife Conservation Society, Coral Reef Alliance, Hug It Forward, African Wildlife Foundation, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, The Humane Society of the United States, Marine Mammal Center, Surfrider Foundation, Friends of Horicon Marsh, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, National Park Foundation, Lake County Forest Preserves, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pet Pantry of Lancaster County, Maine Audubon, Honeybee Conservancy, and Ape Action Africa.

THANKS to the generosity of our members, the Authors for Earth Day coalition has now counted over 150 A4ED school visits and granted more than $92K to 90+ organizations worldwide! 

Such forward-thinking gifts—empowering young readers and funding critical environmental causes—reach far beyond the classroom. They have a profound impact on the future, too, as students never forget encouraging concepts they learn from talented and enthusiastic kid-lit authors.

From seed to sapling to tree, our coalition is growing. Slow and steady, every year we stretch our sights higher, always with the goal of providing young readers the sturdy branches of fact-based knowledge to climb.

We are already excited about the MONUMENTAL mile-marker we are sure to cross next year! In the meantime, join us on Facebook to read more about the extraordinary successes of our 2018 authors and illustrators and all the brilliant kids who voted for Earth Day. Every day.

Wishing you a nature-filled summer!

Brooke Bessesen, A4ED Executive Director

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Best-selling author Stuart Gibbs reminds us that we must actively protect wildlife before it’s too late

The northern white rhinoceros is going to go extinct in your lifetime. At this moment, there are only three of them left on Earth and they are all too old to breed. So soon, there will be no more northern white rhinos.

I am guessing that you are upset to hear this. Maybe you are even horrified. Well, you should be horrified. The northern white rhino is a beautiful animal and they were wiped out by humans, who killed them all simply for their horns.

Why do humans want rhino horns? For two reasons:

1) Some people mistakenly believe rhino horns have medical properties, and can cure diseases like cancer. Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is the same substance your own fingernails are made of. If keratin could really cure disease, doctors would tell you to chew your fingernails.

2) Some people simply think that a rhino horn looks better in their home than it does on a live rhino.

People often ask where I get the inspiration for my books. The inspiration for Big Game, which is about rhino poaching, came from my son. When he was five, we visited the San Diego Safari Park. At the time, there were eight northern white rhinos left in the world, and four were at that park. That really upset my son, so I decided to write about poaching.

I did not write about northern white rhinos, however, because I was worried that they would be extinct by the time the book was published. So I wrote about Indian rhinos instead, although the sad truth is that they are also headed toward extinction. All rhino species are. The Javan and Sumatran species are down to only about sixty animals each. The southern white rhino in Africa is being poached at a rate of three rhinos a day. Which means that within a few decades (maybe less), the only place anyone will be able to see a rhino is in a zoo. And that’s if we’re lucky.

This is a northern white rhino. Above, Stuart is seen with an Indian rhino.

While researching Big Game, I learned many fascinating things about rhinos, but here’s what impressed me the most: They are surprisingly gentle animals.  Hippos are often thought to be docile but are really dangerous—but rhinos are the opposite. Many people think of rhinos as ornery and aggressive, but for the most part they are not. The ones in zoos are often sweet-tempered and kind.

Nola, the last remaining northern white rhino in San Diego, was regarded by her keepers as one of the most docile, lovable animals at the park. Sadly, she passed away a few years ago. The remaining three northern white rhinos are owned by a Czechoslovakian zoo but are living out their final years in a preserve in Kenya, protected by armed guards.

You are probably wondering how we can keep all rhinos from going extinct. It’s a complicated problem, but basically we need to convince people to stop buying rhino horns. If rhino horn loses its value, then poachers will stop killing rhinos.

To do this, people worldwide need to be taught that rhino horn does not cure disease. Countries need to make importing rhino horn products illegal and enforce those laws. Communities that live near rhinos need to believe that a live rhinoceros is worth more than a dead one.

There are many organizations working to protect rhinos.  If you care about these amazing animals, I encourage you to visit the websites of the International Rhino Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund to find out how you can help save them.

Stuart Gibbs used to study capybaras, the world’s largest rodent. Now he writes popular middle grade novels, including the Spy School series. His mysteries Belly Up, Poached, Panda-monium, and Big Game all center around extraordinary species in serious trouble. Stuart even has a special page on his website called “Save the World!” Check it out and find his books at

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THE NATURAL HISTORY OF YOUR PLACE by prestigious science writer (for young people) Loree Griffin Burns

What’s natural history, you ask? My favorite definition was written by a teacher named Tom Fleischner. According to Tom, natural history is “the practice of giving focused attention to the more-than human world, and doing so with honesty and accuracy.”

What’s the more-than-human world? It’s the life all around you: birds, insects, squirrels, mice, moles, mushrooms, plants, grasses, weeds, shrubs, trees, euglenas … any organism that happens to be where you are when you stop and take note. People who pay close attention to these lives, recording what they see over time, are called natural historians. Natural historians have compiled a lot of information about what creatures have lived on this planet, where they have lived, and when. Read carefully, these histories tell the story of life on Earth. The most beautiful thing about that story, to me, is this: it isn’t finished yet. Which means you and I can take part in the telling. We can be natural historians too.

In the book Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Back Yard (Henry Holt, 2014), I introduced readers to the idea that they could be scientists in the field, collecting important information—data, if you will—in their own backyards.  Today I want to remind readers that the work of observing your backyard or favorite green space needn’t be done solely for the sake of submitting data to professional scientists … it can be done for the sheer joy of it! My three kids and I learned this for ourselves a few years ago, when we spent a single school year recording all the animals we came across in the place we call home. We took photographs and compiled them into a book—a giant three-ring binder, really—that we called The Flora and Fauna of Hosmer Street. Amazing things happened to us that year. We met some cool creatures, for sure, but we also learned to slow down, to look harder, to see more*.

Think you might like to be a natural historian yourself? My advice is simple: go for it. Spend time outside in the places you are curious about, and start recording what you see there, honestly and accurately. You can do this with a sketch pad, a notebook and a camera, or you can embrace the incredible technologies now available for this kind of work. (I’ve recently started using a smart phone application called iNaturalist, and love it.) Soon you’ll be an expert on the natural history of your place, adding new chapters to the story of life on Earth.

Loree Griffin Burns earned a PhD in biochemistry before she became a children’s author and her passion for science shows in her books. Her titles have been honored with ALA Notable designations, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book Award, an IRA Children’s Book Award, a Green Earth Book Award and two Science Books & Films (SB&F) Prizes. Learn more about Loree at

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Award-winning children’s author Kay Frydenborg tries to see through different eyes

When I was six, I was a horse. On sneakered feet, I would canter around backyards and vacant lots in the Florida suburbs where I lived, snorting and whinnying as I imagined wild horses might do. At six, I’d never seen a wild horse, or ridden a tame one, but I was a reader. Reading every horse book I could get my hands on had taught me a lot about what it was to move through the world like a horse.

Years later, I stood on the edge of a winter-chilly salt marsh on Assateague Island, not far from the setting of one of my favorite childhood books, Misty of Chincoteague. By then I’d grown up, graduated from college, married and had two kids. In addition to dogs and cats, too, I had a pony and horse who lived in our snug barn and ate hay all winter.

That day I scanned the horizon, hoping to spot a descendant of Misty, but the island seemed all but deserted. Finally, I saw a solitary chestnut, far in the distance. I wondered how a little horse owned by no one could possibly find enough food and shelter to survive the coming winter, and I promised myself I’d write about the wild ponies one day to find out. Eventually I did: Wild Horse Scientists was published in 2012. It was not at all the book I thought I’d write all those years earlier.

I was never a fan of science in school. Back then it seemed intimidating, in the same way that history was often dusty and dry, and math was confusing. It wasn’t until I started researching and writing books that I discovered I actually love science and history. (Okay, maybe not math!) In my books, I tell true stories about animals, people, and the natural world, weaving together facts (science and history!) with imagination. Wild Horse Scientists, for example, is told through the eyes of a scientist trying to solve the big problem of unsustainable population growth of wild horses, but it’s also a window into the inner lives of those horses.

When I wrote Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, I set myself what seemed a harder challenge than being a horse; I tried to imagine what it might be like to be a tree. In particular, a small, spindly tree—the cacao— that grows in only a few places on earth. Sprouting from its trunk hang clusters of a large, colorful fruit that everyone wants and needs, because everyone wants to eat chocolate! To tell its story, I needed to know where this tree came from, how it grows, how those beautiful football-shaped fruits could be transformed into chocolate, and who in the world managed to figure that out, anyway?

When I wrote A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human, I tried to see the world through the eyes of both early humans and certain wolves who formed an unlikely alliance many thousands of years ago, before there were books, or even written languages, to tell about it. How did this happen, why did it happen, and what can the evolving science and history of dogs teach us about our furry best friends today, and about ourselves?  Once we were just one relatively puny, but brainy, animal among many. We weren’t even the top dog on the planet—wolves were. Cooperation with them became a winning strategy for both early humans and the wolves who became our first dogs.

Since our ancestors migrated out of Africa 90,000 years ago and began spreading across the planet, we’ve achieved amazing things. But many other species have been lost forever, and more are threatened with extinction. Fifty percent of the planet’s land mass has been transformed for human use, and 50 percent of its fresh water. Human-caused climate change threatens polar bears, yes, but also wild horses, wolves, cacao trees—and humans. Scientists agree these are solvable problems, but it will take awareness and a cooperative effort by humans to solve them.

Sometimes seeing the world through the eyes of people and animals different from ourselves can make all the difference.

Kay Frydenborg is the award-winning author of several titles for young readers. Her book Wild Horse Scientists was a finalist for the 2014 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Middle School Science Book category. And Chocolate was selected as an A4ED Eco-Book of the Month. Learn more about Kay at



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Woo Hoo! It’s time to Celebrate Our 2017 GREEN AUTHORs

Thanks to illustrator Jim Paillot for our wonderful GREEN AUTHOR icon!

At every Authors for Earth Day school visit, a generous A4ED participant willingly gives up their speaking fee to empower young readers. These generous gifts have long reach: Not only do they allow students to research environmental organizations and vote to determine which orgs deserve donations; not only do they provide fiscal support to essential non-profit causes; they also inspire classroom discussions, school reports, library book check-outs, and meaningful conversations at the family dinner table.

Some of our prestigious participants have provided these extraordinary benefits to several schools through the years (indeed, there have been over 125 A4ED school visits to date).

GREEN AUTHORS are authors and/or illustrators who have donated to environmental education through at least five annual Author for Earth Day school visits. This year we announce three new GREEN AUTHORs: Debbie Dadey, Barbara Gowan, and Brooke Bessesen. All of these women have been members of our coalition since 2010. And all have shared their talents to help pioneer the A4ED program.

Debbie Dadey ( is the best-selling author of 166 traditionally published children’s books, including the  series Mermaid Tales (which promotes ocean protection), Keyholders, and The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids. It’s no surprise that many of Debbie’s titles are enjoyed by reluctant readers, as she was an elementary teacher and librarian before becoming a children’s author. She still visits schools to inspire students to read and write—traveling as far as Cairo, Egypt to do it! In addition to participating in Authors for Earth Day, Debbie has written two  A4ED blogs. And as our Social Media Director, she champions our mission with upbeat environmental news and Facebook posts relating to our special events.

Barbara Gowan ( is a true environmental leader. After earning her biology degree from the University of Notre Dame, she shared her passion for the outdoors as a park naturalist. Now she is the award-winning author of six nonfiction books for young readers, including G is for Grand Canyon and Desert Digits. In 2013, D is for Desert was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book by the NSTA. Barb also works directly with educators and students. She is on the roster of Teaching Artists with the Arizona Commission on the Arts, a former board member of the Arizona Reading Association and vice-president of the Greater Paradise Valley Reading Council. As a recent contributor to our A4ED Blog, she wrote a wonderful essay about the value of nature books in the classroom.

Brooke Bessesen ( is the director of Authors for Earth Day. This April marks a decade since her first Earth Day school visit—the one that motivated her to found the A4ED coalition. She has written about the grass-roots beginning of Authors for Earth Day on our blog. Having worked with wildlife as a veterinary technician, field biologist and animal rescuer, Brooke strives to share the wonders of science with readers of all ages. She is the author of seven books, including Look Who Lives in the Ocean! and Zachary Z. Packrat Backpacks the Grand Canyon, and has been honored with a Celebrate Literacy Award, Glyph Award, Judy Goddard Award, and Grand Canyon Reader Award nomination.

Join us in congratulating these GREEN AUTHORS for their exemplary contributions to conservation and education. May they inspire others to support our Authors for Earth Day mission. Through the resting chill of winter lies the promise of a prosperous spring—as we head into our 2018 season, we look forward to increasing our community outreach and charitable donations, and to honoring even more of our members as they become next-year’s GREEN AUTHORs.

Please visit Authors for Earth Day at

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HELP SAVE THE PLANET…ONE GEOCACHE AT A TIME! by Wendy Mass, bestselling children’s author of A Mango-Shaped Space and The Candymakers

When I find something I love, I tend to go all in and then I want to share it with everyone through my books. So it is with the hobby of Geocaching. In The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase, 12-year-old Miles introduces his friends to the sport of geocaching, and his knowledge of it winds up helping them solve an important mystery.

What IS Geocaching? Essentially you use the GPS built into your phone, along with a free geocaching app, to search for containers with trinkets, toys, and a logbook tucked inside. Or as cachers are fond of saying, geocachers use billions of dollars of high-tech satellite equipment to find Tupperware hidden in the woods! If you love hidden treasures, being out in nature, the spirit of community, and the joy of perseverance and discovery, then geocaching might well be for you.

It’s tremendously gratifying to watch the compass in the app count down the feet as you close in on your find, which can be in the woods, a park, in the middle of a bustling city, or any public space you can think of (with some restrictions of course). There’s even a cache hidden on the International Space Station! The containers come in all sizes—from big enough to fit a basketball, to so small and camouflaged that it looks like a metal bolt or a rock.

Geocaching is good for the planet, too! It wakes people up to the beauty of nature that they pass by every day and might not notice—a beautiful view, an oddly-shaped tree, ruins of an old building, a hidden garden, a waterfall. Searching for treasure in the great outdoors helps you see your environment with new eyes, and when you appreciate it, you want to take care of it.

To further your education of certain areas, instead of boxes to find, you can seek out an “EarthCache.” This is a geological destination where in order to claim the find, you will learn information about the spot where the compass has led you. This is a GREAT way for parents and teachers to introduce kids to geology and preservation.

Groundspeak, the main organization behind the activity, started an environmental initiative called “CITO” or Cache in, Trash out. Simply bring a bag with you to pick up any trash you see on your way. Sometimes my kids get more excited doing this, than by finding the cache! There are CITO community events held all over the world, making the geocaching game-board that we call Planet Earth cleaner and safer.

Of course there’s more to say that can fit here (including the fun of hiding your own caches!), but head over to Watch the short instructional videos, make a free account, and download the app. Then, WHEREVER in the world you find yourself, you’ll be able to pull up a list of nearby caches and you’re off and running (but not through poison ivy—leaves of three, let them be!)

Wendy Mass is the New York Times bestselling author of eighteen novels for young people, including A Mango-Shaped Space and the Space Taxi series. Her titles have been translated into 20 languages and nominated for 76 state book awards. Visit her website at

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THE SMALL THINGS by award-winning children’s author Miranda Paul

As a picture book writer, I have days where I only write one sentence or change a few words. At the end of the day, what I’ve completed seems so…small. But day after day turns into year after year of those small steps. Those small words soon become polished drafts of manuscripts that go on to become published books. And look! Now I have a whole career built out of small steps!

Because several of my books are educational, linked to environmentalism, or tied to science and social studies issues, I often get introduced as an activist, environmentalist, or a community leader. Sometimes, I feel it’s too generous of a title for me. But if I step back, I see that little things I have done to carve out a greener life. I can see that the impact, or reach, has been far greater than I ever imagined.

Many of the students I have visited across the United States and the world, especially those who have read One Plastic Bag—a book about environmentalist Isatou Ceesay—realize that one person can make a difference. Students and activists start small and consistently and persistently work toward a goal. Over time, and together with others, small acts of environmentalism, kindness, or bravery add up to better realities for people and planet.

So what stops us from trying something new, even something small? When it comes to environmental issues, we can be overwhelmed by all that we aren’t doing. Our guilt or fear can cause us not to try; we feel like we’ll never be doing enough.

But instead of dwelling on what we’re not doing in our classrooms or homes, let’s look at every little task of the day and find opportunities to do! That’s right—every small thing we do from taking a shower to getting dressed to making a Facebook post becomes an opportunity to do good. Here are some examples:

1. Pour small amounts of cereal or milk into your bowlyou can always refill if you’re hungry!
2. Choose organic clothing materials instead of synthetics or buy from second hand stores
3. Watch a YouTube video to learn how to fix something rather than buy a new one
4. Make a special waste bin for hazardous items such as batteries or expired medicines, and learn the best method for disposing of them within your community
5. Skip the strawwhen you go out to eat, order “water, no straw” for example
6. Bring utensils with you or keep some in your vehicle or purse
7. Ask for a box at the grocery store or bring reusable bags instead of taking new ones at stores
8. Pack your school lunch in containers rather than throw-away bags or wrapping
9. Wash and reuse any plastic ware or baggies that come home with you or your children
10. Unplug your TV, video games, toaster, or other appliances when not in use
11. Put your cell phone on Airplane Mode to save battery life
12. Eat more vegetarian meals
13. Dress in layers so you can use less A/C or heat, or aren’t limited to staying indoors
14. Check out books from the library that are environmental – libraries make purchasing decisions based on what gets checked out, and they withdraw books that don’t get read
15. When you see a company making a good environmental choice, Tweet and share it
16. Support environmentalists and scientists by sharing their research, findings, and news on Facebook and other social media

Just during my Authors for Earth Day events in the past two years, I’ve spent time with more than 1,000 students and teachers. Imagine the impact if each did just one of these things every single day? Wow. And what other small things would you add to this list? Let’s get started turning small into BIG!

Miranda Paul is award-winning author of several picture books, including of One Plastic Bag and Water is Water, both named Junior Library Guild selections. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly in addition to being named to several recommended and “best of” reading lists. Learn more at

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RAISING MONARCHS by award-winning nonfiction children’s author Steve Swinburne

I’m raising monarch butterflies. I bought an $18 mesh butterfly habitat terrarium from Amazon this summer. As of September 1st, I am hosting 10 chrysalises and 12 feeding larvae. Why am I growing monarch butterflies?

Because this insect may be headed for the Endangered Species List. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are the only North American butterfly to make an awe-inspiring migration. They fly from their overwintering grounds in Mexico and California to as far north as Canada, some travelling nearly 3,000 miles. This large, fast-flying orange and black butterfly used to be a common sight along roadsides, fields and gardens of America. But over the last 20 years, numbers of monarchs have decreased by 80%. Pesticide use is one culprit. And roadside mowing of milkweed and other wildflowers is another. Milkweed is the critical plant in a monarch’s life cycle. Adult butterflies lay eggs on the plant and monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves. Less milkweed, less monarchs.

By mid to late August in New England, the fourth generation of monarch butterflies emerges from their chysalises. These butterflies are in what as known as “reproductive diapause.” These are full grown adults but they’re not ready to reproduce. What they are ready to do is migrate. This is the migratory generation of monarchs. Their job is to fly south to the high elevation oyamel fir forests of Mexico, a trip that will take about 2 to 2 1/2 months. There they overwinter, and by mid-February will mate and begin a new generation of monarch butterflies. These popular butterflies play a key role in the ecosystem by helping to pollinate flowers and by providing a food source for creatures, such as birds, spiders, lizards, and small mammals.

terrarium, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly

So I’ve cleared a little patch of ground in my backyard and planted milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). I’ve been watching and learning about monarch butterflies for many years. I even wrote a book about them for young kids called A Butterfly Grows. And I might write another one someday about raising them.

No matter where you live you can help. Find out what milkweed and nectar plants are native to your area. In the fall, go out and collect mature milkweed seedpods. If you grow them, they will come. I’m enjoying my role as a citizen monarch butterfly scientist! I’m monitoring milkweed stands and monarchs in my little town in southern Vermont. I’m turning my neighbors and friends on to these awesome insects. The monarch butterfly is in trouble, but if we all do our part, we can help the population of this most American of butterflies!

Stephen Swinburne is an author, photographer and musician. He has written many books for children about nature, including A Butterfly Grows. To research his nonfiction topics, Steve travels the world. Learn more about his interesting life and books at

Read Steve’s other A4ED blog, about endangered sea turtles, here.


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Two-time National Book Award Finalist Eliot Schrefer explores the rainforest for his upcoming middle-grade series

My eyes lit up when I saw it—after a long hot day spent trekking in the Amazon, ant bites up and down my arms and sweat pooling in my clothes, I’d reached the lodge. It was constructed in the ancient style, on stilts to protect it from flooding, with the sides completely open to the outside to maximize whatever rare breezes come up in the rainforest. It makes the lodge as cool as possible without electricity for air conditioners or fans, but leaves it fully exposed to whatever wildlife decides to come visit. I was hoping to see a panther, but maybe not on the way to the bathroom.

No panthers invaded the lodge while I was there, but I did get to know a pair of macaws very well indeed. The magnificent, muscular red birds would wander the lodge, fully and completely habituated to humans—that’s a nice way of saying they were a little bratty. They’d invade my room, fly my e-reader to the roof and then drop it, poop on my dresser, make off with my socks.

I was in the Amazon to research animals for my new middle-grade fantasy series, The Lost Rainforest, but the lodge that was hosting me is also home to a long-term macaw study—tens of thousands congregate at the clay lick nearby, seeking out salts to neutralize the toxins present in all jungle greenery. I asked one of the scientists working there what the story was with the tamed parrots.

He explained to me that macaws will lay clutches of 2-4 eggs, but only the first two to hatch get any food whatsoever. The third and fourth eggs are there for insurance, but are ignored by their parents and left to starve. The pair of macaws at the lodge, he explained, were the third and fourth eggs of a clutch. They’d been rescued by soft-hearted researchers who had been with the project, and now the humans at the lodge were stuck with them.

The Lost Rainforest is about five young animals banding together to save their magical rainforest home, and one of the characters is a macaw. I knew right then that I’d base him on one of those local macaws at the lodge; in my story he’s the third to hatch, and owes his life to his rescuer—for good and for bad.

Beyond giving me a character study for my book, the story of those macaws also complicated one of my rainforest assumptions. I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of one of those gruff researchers, breaking the scientific mandate not to interfere, hand-feeding a baby parrot, in a jungle lodge days from civilization. I tend to think of human interference as the enemy for the rainforests, that we can only bring suffering when we come into contact with a place like the Amazon. But the story of those two prankish macaws was the opposite. For those two birds, at least, human intervention was a source of good, of life itself.

Eliot Schrefer is the acclaimed author of nearly a dozen books for readers from middle-grade to YA to adult. Among his honors: two of his novels about great apes, Endangered and Threatened, were National Book Award Finalists, and his series Spirit Animals made the best-seller lists of both The New York Times and USA Today. Learn more about Eliot’s work at

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