What Miss Mitchell Saw

Distilling a full life into 32 pages is such a hard thing to do. It requires deep reflection, a willingness to seize a single theme and, at the very same time, to let all the other beautiful and important and relevant themes in that beautiful and important and relevant life go. Hayley Barrett and Diana Dusyka manage this task brilliantly in their picture book biography of Maria Mitchell. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW is a marriage of deliberate storytelling and expansive art, a book that focuses readers on knowing and naming, cornerstones of scientific inquiry, but doesn’t get mired in details of astronomy, its devices, and its techniques. I’m really glad I finally picked this gem up. You should too!

FITBBC Recommendation: Joyful Noise

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices
(HarperTrophy, 1988)
by Paul Fleischman
Illustrated by Eric Beddows

“The following poems were written to be read aloud by two readers at once, one taking the left-hand part, the other taking the right-hand part. The poems should be read from top to bottom, the two parts meshing as in a musical duet. When both readers have lines at the same horizontal level, those lines are to be spoken simultaneously.”

This is one of my favorite insect books of all time. Some of my fondest family memories involve gently encouraging (this might be a euphemism) my three kids to perform a poem from this book as part of our one glorious homeschool year.

I found a couple YouTube videos featuring Joyful Noise and two voices, and I couldn’t decide which I loved best. Have a peek at both. But truly, the best way to enjoy this book is out loud and with a friend.


Nonfiction Monday: Alexandra Siy’s Next Big Thing

© Alexandra Siy
© Alexandra Siy

A few weeks ago, after blogging about my own Next Big Thing, I promised to share the Next Big Thing blog meme responses of a couple of my nonfiction writer pals who don’t keep blogs. Pamela Turner shared her Next Big Thing (a Scientists in the Field book about dolphins) here. And this week, the one-and-only Alexandra Siy shares hers: a new collaboration with scientist and microscopist Dennis Kunkel. Their subject? Spiders! Here’s a sneak peak …

1.  What is the working title of your book?

The title is Spiderbook: Friends on the Web. Like most of my books, it started out with a different title, but I think this one will stick because the format of the books is loosely based on Facebook’s “friend” theme. After all, we should all be friends with spiders, and always “like” them.

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

This will be my fourth book with Dennis Kunkel, Ph.D., an electron microscopist who images all kinds of tiny things! Our most recent collaboration was BUG SHOTS: The Good, the Bad, and the Bugly, which looked closely at insects. A book about spiders was the natural sequel.

3.  What genre does your book come under?

Spiderbook is nonfiction for young readers ages 8 and up and illustrated with color micrographs, photos, and drawings.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The main characters in Spiderbook are, of course, spiders! Certainly, the orb web weaver would be played by Julia Roberts, who was the voice of Charlotte from the movie “Charlotte’s Web.” Indeed, my original proposal for the book was based on a horror movie theme. My editor didn’t think children would get the references to all the old movies and then it wouldn’t seem fun (which was the point). But since you asked, here is a peak at what could have been: “Sacula” featuring the sac spider; “The Woflman” featuring the wolf spider; “Daddy Dearest,” you guessed it, the famous daddy long legs spider (not to be confused with Daddy Long Legs); “Claws,” starring the crab spider; and of course “The Black Widow Project.”

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Spiderbook: Friends on the Web takes a close look (literally) at ten spiders from some of the common spider families, linking a narrative text and accompanying images to reveal some of the fascinating secrets that will make you love spiders, instead of running away in fear.

6.  Who is publishing your book?

Holiday House in 2014

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I worked on the manuscript for several months, on and off, with an intense period of writing that lasted about three weeks. The three-week writing binge was the result of much prior research and study, outlining, and thinking.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Nic Bishop’s Spiders was an inspiration, but very different in style and design. I quote from Charlotte’s Web in the text, and hope E.B. White would approve.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always been a bit “put-off” by spiders…not exactly afraid, but not a big fan. When I realized a book about spiders would be a good follow-up to my book about insects, I dove into the subject, and now I am truly amazed. I count more than 43,000 spider families as my “friends” and “like” them all. (If you could click “love” I would.) There will be a Facebook page called Spiderbook, and a website called spiderbook.info… here’s an interesting tidbit: the domain name spiderbook.com is for sale and I tried to buy it for $99, but the owner wants thousands, so dot info will have to do.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Dennis’s electron micrographs, as always, are amazing. Readers might be interested to know that some of the images Dennis made are from spiders that were collected by my friends—mostly children and young people. One such specimen, known to me as Devon’s spider, created a stir on the internet for a few minutes as spider experts from around the country attempted to identify it. There was some controversy, but in the end, we were able to assign it to a family and genus. Science at work in real time!  Spiders really are our friends on the web.


For a full round-up of Nonfiction Monday posts around the internet, visit Stacking Books.

Life on Earth

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/34922807 w=400&h=300]

I’ve spent the past week or so exploring e-books, in preparation for the creation of the enhanced electronic version of TRACKING TRASH. Among the gems I’ve discovered so far is E.O. Wilson’s LIFE ON EARTH. What is available now is only an introduction to the enhanced textbook that will eventually be available, but the introduction is free–and stunning–so I recommend checking it out if you have the devices to do so.

To me, LIFE ON EARTH is an incredibly well-done glimpse into exactly what an enhanced e-book can do. As a codex-clutching skeptic, I thought I’d never be converted. Oh, my. If I’m not converted, I’m at least intrigued. This is not the textbook of old. It includes the same information, but presented in engaging ways that enhance understanding and didn’t for a moment distract me as a reader. There is footage of E.O. Wilson in the field, animations of cellular components, stunning full color image galleries, and more, all accessible (or not) as often as you like. Of all the e-books I’ve explored so far, the textbook genre is the one in which the electronic format makes the most sense.

Also? I think E.O. Wilson is a national treasure. In a short video interview introducing the chapter on small creatures, which you can see above, he explains why he has spent a lifetime studying ants. They are abundant and easy to find, he explains, simple to study and intensely interesting. And then, with a boyish chuckle that melts the part of me that so admires passion, he adds “I honestly cannot understand why most people don’t study ants!”

Me either, Mr. Wilson. Me, either.

Promote Your Book

by Patricia Fry
Allworth Press, 2011

Category: Nonfiction for writers

Back in 2004, I had a good premise for a children’s book … and no clue what to do with it. I had done enough research to know that what I needed was a strong book proposal with which to pitch my idea to publishers, but I didn’t know how to write one. So I took a class.

This class.

And Patricia Fry taught me everything I needed to know. In six weeks, I had refined my book idea, written a solid book proposal, and drafted a professional cover letter to go with it. I sent the entire package to Houghton Mifflin shortly after the class ended, and was eventually offered a contract.

In 2007, I had a new children’s book … and no idea how to help get the word out about it. So I bought a book.

This book.

Once again, Patricia Fry taught me what I needed to know. I launched my website, started a blog, and learned to promote myself better, both online and in person.

Not surprisingly, when Patricia asked to interview me for her latest endeavor, a book for writers on the subject of book promotion, I was thrilled and honored to participate. And today I’m happy to let you know that PROMOTE YOUR BOOK: OVER 250 PROVEN, LOW-COST TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FOR THE ENTERPRISING AUTHOR is available to the public. It is just what I expected: a treasure trove of useful marketing tips and ideas for anyone with a book to sell, be it your first or your fifty-first, be it traditionally published or self published.

Well done, Patricia. And great timing; I’ll be reading PROMOTE YOUR BOOK as I prepare to launch CITIZEN SCIENTISTS this spring …

Anastasia Suen on Read and Write Sports

Anastasia Suen is one of nine fabulous writers who will be helping me celebrate nonfiction this June at the American Library Association conference in New Orleans. You can find a whole lot of information about our Nonfiction Book Blast panel and presentation at our Nonfiction Book Blast blog, and you can learn more about Anastasia’s latest book, READ AND WRITE SPORTS, here.

Hope to see you in New Orleans!

Darcy Pattison on Writing (and Researching) Nonfiction

This week on the Nonfiction Book Blast blog, Darcy Pattison talks about her transition from writing fiction to writing nonfiction. Read what she has to say about researching for the two genres here.

And don’t miss the kickin’ book trailer she made to show of the many authors and books (including me and THE HIVE DETECTIVES) that will be featured at the Nonfiction Bookblast panel presentation this June at the American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans:

I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, Darcy!