Category Archives: Blog

National Poetry Month 2018: one haiku every day


… or almost every day, anyway. I forgot that yesterday was the start of April, and in the flurry of warm weather and family visits, did not find a haiku moment. But as often happens at this time of year, I’ve was reminded and inspired by my friend and colleague, the poet and writer Liz Garton Scanlon. She’s been sharing her haiku daily during National Poetry Month for ten years now; be inspired too, by visiting her blog.

Here’s the haiku I found today …

watching snow cover
the garden, the grass, the road–
plants in a window

Fill-in-the-Blank Book Club: ART

Last week, the Fill-in-the-Blank Book Club held its second meeting at the Beaman Memorial Library in West Boylston, MA. Unlike most book clubs, we don’t choose a book to read. Instead, we choose a topic, and then we invite anyone who has read a book related to it–any book, any genre, any age group–to join us and share. (For a little more on how the book club started, read this post, or this one.)

For this meeting, our topic was ART. What a variety of titles showed up! We had some children’s books, of course, both biographies:



We had some fascinating adult nonfiction on the topic of graffiti art:



And also some popular art-themed adult fiction:


One book clubber was listening to her book, the audiobook of this title:


It’s always interesting to see what people chose to read, watch our conversation stretch, and to leave the library with new ideas and great book suggestions. Our next topic is HUMOR. Think funny, people! Read far and wide and bring your favorite funny reads to the library on Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 6:30pm. I hope to see you there.

Life on Surtsey Love


It’s been an exciting few weeks for me and my new book. LIFE ON SURTSEY was reviewed favorably by Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist (three stars! read the full reviews here!) and if that wasn’t thrilling enough, also named an Orbis Pictus Recommended Book, an SLJ Best Book (Nonfiction), and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book (Middle Grade Nonfiction). To say I’m overwhelmed would be an understatement.

And guess what? TOMORROW IS LAUNCH DAY! If you live in central Massachusetts, join the celebration at one of my favorite libraries on the planet. Details can be found here.

Thank you for reading!

Publication Day!


Today is the fifty-fourth anniversary of the eruption of the undersea volcano that birthed the island of Surtsey. It’s also the day my book about this special place, and the scientists who have been studying it all this time, is officially available to the public. I’m pretty excited to share this book with all of you, and so have compiled a few links to help you learn about it and, if you’re inspired to read it, get yourself a copy.

You can read about my journey to the island on the Nerdy Book Club blog; just click here.

You can read more about back story in this School Library Journal interview with Daryl Grabarek; just click here.

You can read a starred review of the book, from Kirkus Reviews, by clicking here.

And if you read Icelandic, you can read a nice announcement of the book’s release from my friends at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History; just click here.

You can buy yourself a copy through your favorite independent bookseller by clicking here.

You can also buy a signed copy through my website; click here for my bookstore.

If you live in central Massachusetts and are free on Thursday, November 30 at 6pm, you can join me in person for the official book launch party. Copies of LIFE ON SURTSEY and all my other titles will be available for sale and siging, with all proceeds going to my favorite hometown gathering place, the Beaman Memorial Library. Click here for more information.

Finally, if you are a teacher and you’ll be at the National Council of Teachers of English conference later this week, you can get yourself a signed copy at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth on Friday; click here for more information.

That’s a lot of links. But publication days only come once every few years for me, so I’M EXCITED! Happy reading, friends.




Life on Surtsey Book Launch!

Please join me to celebrate the publication of my sixth book for children, Life on Surtsey, Iceland’s Upstart Island: 

Thursday, November 30, 2017, 6-8pm
Beaman Memorial Library
8 Newton Street
West Boylston, MA

Festivities will include a brief presentation, local refreshments, and all my books will be available for purchase. Proceeds from this event will benefit the Beaman Memorial Library. Please feel free to spread the word!

2017 NCTE Convention Appearances


Here’s where you’ll find me at the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English, being held in St. Louis, MO from November 16-19, 2017.

Friday, November 17
Room 242

How’d You Do That?
Authors Share Revision Strategies that Student Writers Can Use
In a panel presentation, Tracey Baptiste, Laurel Snyder, Linda Urban, Sarah Albee, Kate Messner, and I will share the tools and strategies we use to engage with our words when its time to revise them.

Main Convention Hall
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth

Book sale and signing

Sunday, November 19
Room 144

Nonfiction Magic:
How (You and) Your Students an Become Magicians, Too!
In a panel presentation, Alexandra Siy, Sarah Albee, Laurie Ann Thompson, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and I will share the various roles writers of nonfiction must inhabit in order to create true stories that shine.

I’d love to see you at any or all of these events!

One Very Fine Day

That right there is one of my new favorite things. It’s a butterfly life cycle game, hand-made for me by Mr. P’s kindergartener’s at Brookwood School, a replica of the set they keep in their classroom for students to challenge themselves with. The idea is to mix all the tiles up with your eyes closed, have a friend set a timer, and wait for that friend to shout, “Go!” Then you open your eyes and try to put the life cycle pictures in the correct order as quickly as you can.

The reigning butterfly life cycle tile game champion in Mr. P’s class is a young man named Porter, and he had looked a little nervous on Friday when his class challenged me to try and beat his time of 7.56 seconds.

He needn’t have been. I did not come even close to beating his time. That game is harder than it looks! These kindergarteners are great sports, though, and they gave me a second chance.

Once again, not even close.

So—this is the part that is making me smile as I type—those generous little souls spent a part of the rest of their day making me my own set of butterfly life cycle tiles. A remedial game set, they told me, in which they drew the caterpillar stages extra carefully because those were the tiles I kept putting in the wrong order. “Now you can practice at home,” they said.

And you know what? Porter did not look at all nervous this time.

“By the time you come back, Mrs. Burns, I’ll probably be in fourth grade,” he told me. “I’ll be even faster by then.”

Thank you to all the kindergarteners at Brookwood School, to their teachers, to librarian Sheila Geraty, to all the staff and administrators who’ve built such a vibrant learning community and then invited me to be part of it for a day. I got at least as much as I gave. Considering the way I feel every time I look at the new butterfly life cycle tile game sitting on the desk beside me, I’d say quite a bit more.

Three cheers for monarchs! Three cheers for learning! Three cheers for kindergarteners!

Okay. I’m off to practice …

FITBBC Recommendation: Flight Behavior


Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver
(Harper, 2012)

One of my favorite facets of the Fill-in-the-Blank Book Club is that participants can read whatever sort of book they like: fiction, poetry, nonfiction, graphic novels. And they can choose books that are written for adults or for children. It’s all up to you! The only guideline, really, is that the book in question have some relation to our monthly theme. Our inaugural meeting will happen in person in Massachusetts and online everywhere on Tuesday October 24, and our topic, as many of you know, is insects.

I’ve already recommended some children’s nonfiction and children’s poetry, so today I’m going to shake things up and share an adult novel that fits the theme beautifully. Barbara Kingsolver’s FLIGHT BEHAVIOR is the story of an Appalachian community touched by a mysterious invasion of butterflies. Some people see the presence of the butterflies as a miracle, others fear it’s a sign of impending doom. This is a gorgeous novel, full of the complicated characters living in a complicated world, and their experiences will stay with readers long after the book is finished.

The invasion of monarch butterflies depicted in the novel is fictional, but the butterfly behavior is completely real. Every winter, millions of monarch butterflies in eastern North America undertake an incredible migration. They end up, somehow, together in a handful of remote mountaintop locations in central Mexico. I was lucky enough to visit several of these sites when working on the book Citizen Scientists, and I can tell you they are astonishing to witness. Here’s a video peak, which doesn’t do the live sight justice, but will give you just a taste.