© Loree Griffin Burns

On Friday I led a group of citizen scientists out into a gorgeous milkweed meadow, where we hunted for ladybugs. In a short walk that involved no sweep nets (we didn’t want to whack all the beautiful, about-to-pop blooms off the milkweed), we recorded four species of ladybugs: ursine anthill ladybug (Brachiacantha ursine), polished ladybug (Cycloneda mundi), seven-spotted ladybug (Cocinella septempunctata), and multi-colored Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridris).

Because we didn’t collect specimens but, rather, recorded them photographically as we hiked, our numbers of individuals within a species are not precise. There was a single mating pair of ursines (see photo), one individual polished, and one individual seven-spotted. My best guess is that we spotted at least five Asian ladybugs, but I can’t be sure we didn’t recount the same individual.

Anyway, it was a great afternoon in the sunshine, celebrating insects that live in our neck of the woods. For more information on ladybug citizen science, or to view ladybugs we and others have found over the years, click on over to the Lost Ladybug Project website.


Green Earth Book Awards

Andri, me, Phil, Tiffany, Eliot, and Melissa at the Ward Museum Photo courtesy Salisbury University
Andri, me, Phil, Tiffany, Eliot, and Melissa
Photo courtesy Salisbury University

My little life in books is very, very busy these days and I’m having lots of great experiences … even if I am not finding time to blog about them. In the past two weeks I’ve visited three schools (waves to the super students at Runkle, Upham, and Winthrop elementary schools), delivered one keynote lecture (cheers to the Rhode Island Science Teachers Association), and spent an entire weekend celebrating readers, writers, and planet Earth with people who care deeply about all three.

For this last event, the environmentalists at The Nature Generation and the children’s book-saavy faculty of Salisbury University teamed up to put on an amazing Read Green festival and to award the 2013 Green Earth Book Awards. It was such an honor to cheer the winners of a literary contest for area students, to work with students at Salisbury Middle School, to see Ellen Harasimowicz‘s photos on display at the Ward Museum of Waterfowl Art, to accept a Green Earth Book Award for CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, and to speak with teachers and teachers-to-be at the Read Green conference.

On top of all that Read Green goodness? I got to hear Eliot Schrefer speak about ENDANGERED, his National Book Award nominated YA novel. (Aside: it’s a must-read, folks.)  I met Tiffany Trent, chicken-raiser, beekeeper, and author of the environmentally-themed steampunk YA novel THE UNNATURALISTS. (Yes, I bought myself a copy. Yes, I am excited to read it!) I bonded with author friends old and new, including author Melissa Stewart, photographer/author Shelley Rotner, Icelandic rock star Andri Magnason, and teenaged author/illustrator/environmentalist Olivia Bouler.

I am holding these people and all of my Maryland moments close as I type this morning; it truly was an unforgettable weekend. (I haven’t even mentioned my afternoon with the wild ponies of Assateague! A thousand thank yous to Patty Dean and Ernest Bond for those memories.)  The event that sums the entire Green Earth experience best for me, though, is this one …

On Friday night, at the Green Earth Book Award ceremonies, I was serenaded by Phillip Hoose. Okay, he didn’t sing to me exclusively, he sang to everyone in the room. Still … his rendition of the song he co-wrote with his daughter Hannah, Hey, Little, Ant, captured the mood and the magic of this evening so perfectly that I doubt I will ever forget it. Here’s a sip of that moment for you: a previously recorded audio of Phil and Hannah performing Hey, Little Ant. (Go ahead, click over and scroll down and click again and enjoy it. You won’t regret it. Trust me!)

So … it’s been a whirlwind. And things around here aren’t going to slow down anytime soon. It’s planting season in Massachusetts, and I’m busy starting seeds and bedding asparagus and pruning vines. I’m learning how to manage my bees (yes, they survived the winter!) and my daughter and I are embarking on a new husbandry adventure: chickens. I’ll be visiting with students in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York over the next two weeks, too. Life is busy. Life is good. Spring has sprung. I’m embracing it all. I hope you are, too.

Happy Dance News


I’m pleased and honored to announce that Citizen Scientists has been named a Green Earth Book Award winner!  I’ll be traveling to Salisbury, Maryland to accept the award in early April, and am looking forward to participating in the Read Green Festival at Salisbury University while I’m there. Many thanks to the award sponsor, The Nature Generation; be sure to visit their website for the complete list of the 2013 Green Earth Book Award winners.

And SuperExtraDouble thanks to The Winthrop School in Massachusetts, who were kind enough to reschedule our April visit so that I could attend the award ceremonies. I look forward to hanging out with all you Winthrop School folks on our soon-to-be-decided makeup day!

SB&F Thanks

© Gerry Burns
© Gerry Burns

SB&F Prize weekend was a total blast! A blur, but a blast. I’ve posted a few photos in this album on my Facebook author page for those who want a peek at the festivities. I’ve also decided to publish my acceptance speech here on my blog, because in my excitement, I left both the speech and my glasses on my seat when I took the podium. Plus, these are thanks that bear repeating.

                  Thank you to Terry Young and the SB&F Prize committee, to Maria Sosa and everyone at Science Books & Films, to AAAS and to Subaru for making this award possible and for allowing me  to be part of it.

                  Thank you to my friends at Henry Holt, especially my editor Sally Doherty.

                  Thank you to my colleague, photographer Ellen Harasimowicz, who traveled from Central Park to central Mexico with me in search of the pieces of this story;

                  Thank you to my husband Gerry, who supports every crazy book idea—and therefore the endless research trips—I come up with.

                  And thank you to my kids, Sam, Ben, and Catherine, who for the past few years have patiently counted more birds, traipsed alongside more vernal pools, chased after more butterflies, and stalked more ladybugs than they may have wanted to. I’m not sure they know how helpful they were to me and, since they are here tonight, I’m going to take a second to tell them…

                  One of the tough aspects of a book like this was identifying the parts of citizen science and individual projects that would most appeal—or not appeal—to kid readers.  I know what spoke to me, a forty-something adult writer with a scientific bent, but to know what appealed or didn’t to kids, I needed help. And, so, I watched you. Everything you did while we explored Hosmer Street or Wachusett Meadow or Trout Brook was supremely helpful to me. In fact, most of it is in the book. Thank you three for helping me get things right.

                  And finally, a quick but sincere cheer for all of you who read books, especially kids books and extra-especially kids science books. Ours is a tiny corner of the publishing world, but tonight I realize this is actually just fine by me. So long as we can gather every now and again, like this, and talk books, share our passions, swap our ideas, dream about new projects and new ways to excite the rest of the world about science and its stories.                  

                    Thank you all so very much.

And thank YOU for reading. I plan to give away copies of the prize-winning titles in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned!

Citizen Scientists news


The past few months have brought some nice accolades for CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, each of which makes me proud and very, very grateful. Thank you to the teachers, librarians, scientists, reviewers and children’s book lovers who make these awards happen …

  • It was awarded an AAAS/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books (Hands-On Science category). You can read more about this award and all the 2013 finalists here.
  • The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) named it an Orbis Pictus honor book. You can read about the Orbis Pictus winner, the Orbis Pictus honor books, and more NCTE Recommended titles here.
  • The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) included it on their list of Outstanding Trade Books for Students K-12. Access the complete list here.
  • The New York Public Library included it on their 2013 list of 100 Titles for Reading & Sharing. You can see that complete list here.

Citizen Science Portals


Is it me, or is citizen science EVERYWHERE? I just opened the January/February edition of Audubon magazine and found a piece about yet another web portal for curious kids and their families to explore citizen science projects that need their help. I’ve added it to my growing list (links below) of places to send folks who need a “real science” fix …


Cornell Lab of Ornithology Citizen Science Central


Happy exploring!


© Loree Griffin Burns
© Loree Griffin Burns

One of my favorite reviews of Citizen Scientists, from librarian and SLJ blogger Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes, contains this line:

“The rear of the book is a backmatter-palooza …” (You can read the full review here.)

Yes! The final ten pages of Citizen Scientists are a backmatter-palooza. That’s partly because I’m a sucker for meaty backmatter; how better to truly ponder a book than to thumb around in the land after THE END, getting a feel for why the author wrote what she wrote … and where she thought you might like to go next? The truth is, though, that this book demanded serious backmatter real estate. If Citizen Scientists worked as I hoped, then readers would finish antsy to launch their careers as citizen scientists. I wanted to point them to a depth and variety of print and web resources that would help them do that.

Alas, backmatter has its downside. Foremost on my mind today: the ephemeral nature of web addresses. After Citizen Scientists went to press, but before copies were even available for purchase, one of my favorite of the backmatter web resources, the website Science for Citizens, changed its name. And its internet handle. Grrr.

We will fix this in subsequent editions of the book, of course. In the meanwhile, know this: Science for Citizens is now SciStarter. It is a great place to search out real science projects in need of real amateur scientists. Into bats? They’ve got you covered. Crazy for mastodons? No problem. Honestly, it’s project-palooza over there. For a little taste, check out SciStarter’s Top 12 Citizen Science Projects of 2012. You’ll see some you’ve heard me talk about before (Great Sunflower Project) and some that I’m only beginning to contemplate (Project Squirrel, anyone?).

Happy exploring!

Winter Lecture Series

© Loree Griffin Burns

I’m pleased to be part of MassAudubon‘s Friday Night Lecture Series at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary (113 Goodnow Road) in Princeton, Massachusetts this winter. Check out the complete list of the series speakers below, and join us for one or all events. Lecture admission is $7 for MassAudubon members and $10 for nonmembers, and all lectures begin at 7:30pm. Call the Sanctuary at 978-464-2712 if you have any questions.

January 11
Belize it or Not: Mass Audubon’s Tropical Connection
Leader: Bancroft Poor, Mass Audubon’s Vice President

January 25
How Can I Help? Empowering Citizens with Science
Leader: Loree Griffin Burns, Scientist/Author

February 8
A Forest Journey
Leader: Matthew “Twig” Largess, Certified Arborist, Largess Forestr, Inc

February 22
Management of Grassland and Shrubland Habitats for Declining Wildlife Species in Massachusetts
Leader: John Scanlon, Forestry Project Leader

March 8
Life as a Field Artist
Leader: Gordon Morrison, Artist, Naturalist and Author

March 22
The Nature of Mongolia
Leader: Chris Leahy, MassAudubon Bertrand Chair of Natural History and Ornithology

April 12
Nature Potpourri
Leader: Gail Hansche Godin, Photographer/Naturalist

‘Tis the (bird census) season …

© Loree Griffin Burns
© Loree Griffin Burns

Yesterday’s post reminded me to remind YOU that some excellent bird-related citizen science opportunities are just ’round the corner …

These are great opportunities to get outside, show off your birding skills, and do a small something to help monitor the birds in your neighborhood.  Both projects are simple, fun and–I warn you!–addicting. My kids and I have participated in one or the other since 2008, and we’ve had some extraordinary moments. (Last year’s sharp-shinned hawk comes to mind.)

All the information you need to get started can be found at the websites linked above. Check them out and see if a bird count is something you can fit into the family calendar. If so, fill up your feeders, dust off your ‘nocs, and invite the neighbors. Happy Counting!

Harvard Museum of Natural History

© Loree Griffin Burns

This past Saturday was a glorious–sunny and warm with a lovely breeze all day long–and I spent the early part of it talking about citizen science at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. That’s where I met Zepur, age six, who arrived sporting ladbybug earrings and clutching her own copy of Citizen Scientists. She told me she and her dad had already begun listening for frogs near their house, and then she pulled these hand-written checklists and notes from inside the front cover of her book. It was the sort of moment that makes a writer like me giddy.

I gave my talk, including a little introduction to the Lost Ladybug Project, and then Zepur, her dad, myself, and a dozen hearty ladybugging newbies headed out into the Museum’s courtyard for a look around. We were in the middle of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. We tried to shake ladybugs out of magnolias trees and lilac bushes, but came up empty. In fact, I was gearing up to launch my “sometimes science is like this” schtick when we approached what I now call the Crabapple Tree of Happiness. There we found the mother lode of ladybug larvae, enough for everyone to have a closer look. And then, with much cheering and oohing and ahhing, we spotted one mighty fine and much-appreciated Asian multicolored ladybug.

Thank you Zepur and friends. It was fun hunting ladybugs with you!