Center City Public Charter School

Photos courtesy of An Open Book Literacy Foundation

Last month, while in Washington, D.C. for the USA Science & Engineering Festival, I was invited to visit the Center City Public Charter School in Center Heights. Sponsored by An Open Book, my morning visit with Ms. Vanessa Elliott’s sixth grade science class was, in a word, spectacular. Ms. Elliott’s students were excited and inquisitive and completely jazzed by the concept of citizen science. And I was completely wowed by their enthusiasm.

The morning would have been a success no matter what, because Dara La Porte from An Open Book had prepared the school, and Ms. Elliott had prepared her students, and because these kids were so very open to rewriting the definition of a scientist. (You know, so that it included them.) But my supremely generous publishers, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers and Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books, pushed the event over the top by donating enough copies of Citizen Scientists and Tracking Trash that each student went home with a copy of their very own.

Do you know how cool that was? It was very cool. I thought so, and so did the students.

Sometimes in the rush to write and edit and perfect and promote and meet deadlines, I lose sight of what I am really trying to do with my work: share stories and ideas that thrill me with people who will be equally thrilled. I’d like to thank each and every student I met at CCPCS last month for reminding me of that. Happy exploring to all of you!

USA Science & Engineering Festival

Later this month, science fans from around the country will descend on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, for a celebration of all things science. The second USA Science & Engineering Festival is a free two-day event boasting thousands of hands-on activities, exhibits, and presentations. I’ll be speaking on the Family stage Saturday, April 28 at 4:25pm, and signing books at the Signing Stage at 5:30pm on the same day. (Woot! Woot!) Come on by and say hello!

Find details about the festival, featured activities, the book fair, and all the featured authors on the official festival website.


2012 Great Backyard Bird Count

© Benjamin Griffin Burns

This year’s Burns family Great Backyard Bird Count event was not the usual well-planned affair. Scheduling conflicts kept me from holding the after school birding program I’ve run for the past four years, so there was not the usual gaggle of children to invite. And I’ve only hung a single feeder since our move, making it unlikely that many of our usual feathered visitors would show up either. I decided a small count, just me and my kids, was the best approach for this year.

But then a reporter from our local daily newspaper called and said she’d like to do an article on backyard birdwatching and my new book. She wanted to schedule an interview for Saturday afternoon, smack-dot in the middle of Great Backyard Bird Count weekend. When I mentioned this, she asked if she could bring along a photographer and collect images of me and the kids counting.

Uh. Okay.

But that seemed sort of crazy. So many of our former bird counters are local kids, friends and neighbors we’ve known forever. The sort of people I could call last minute and say, “Please, please, please come over to my house on Saturday and help us count birds. There will be a reporter. And a photographer. And you guys are much cuter than I am!”

In the end, eight of us counted birds, talked to the reporter, and tried hard to pretend the man with the camera trained on us wasn’t there. It was a fun afternoon that will surely lead to a nice article. As a bonus, we recorded eight species of birds:

Sharp-shinned hawk (a life bird for almost everyone in the group)
Black-capped chicadee
Dark-eyed junco
Downy woodpecker
White-breasted nuthatch
Tufted titmouse
Northern cardinal
Eastern blue bird

And as a bonus-bonus, five more species, recorded over the remainder of the weekend:

American robin (28 of them!)
Blue jay
Red-tailed hawk
Mourning dove
American crow

I’ll append a link to the article as soon as it runs. In the meanwhile, tell me: did you count birds this weekend? What did you see?

Edited 5/17/2012 to add: Here’s the T&G article!

On Tooting One’s Horn

In my spare time these past months, I’ve been organizing my rag-tag collection of business cards and teacher contact lists and compiling them—along with the email addresses of my friends and family and acquaintances—into a massive (for me) Email Marketing Database. It was an angst-ridden process.

Why the angst?

Well, for starters, I am not good at tooting my own horn. The very idea that I was compiling this database with the end goal of sending every person on it a few words about myself was daunting. Excrutiating, even. That said, I’ve learned over the five years since my first book was published that marketing myself and my work is not something that is going to happen effectively without my help. My publishers are wonderful, and they do a lot for me, but their resources are limited and they have many authors and many books to promote. If I don’t supplement their promotion with a little legwork of my own, fewer readers are going to see my books. And toot-challenged or not, I do want readers to find my books.

So I kept at the database.

There were other demons. I kept asking myself: Will Tom want to be in my Email Marketing Database? (Tom being a high school friend.) Will Jane think I’m being pushy? (Jane being a writer friend I know personally but not well.) Will Harry wonder why I’ve included him? (Harry being the neighbor I sort of know, but not well.) Doubts like these haunted me the entire time I was creating the database, learning how to export email addresses from my contact books, composing that first promotional newsletter, and right up until the moment I told my marketing program (Mad Mimi, if you’re wondering) to send that first e-Blast.

But send it I did.

And the most amazing thing happened: my colleagues and business contacts and teacher friends and neighbors and family members and random acquaintances and Toms and Janes and Harrys began responding. Kindly. And while there are a few folks who’ve asked to be taken off that marketing list (2 out of 940!), yesterday was filled with lovely email messages of support and congratulations from all over the world. In the words of an editor friend with whom I shared my database/marketing angst: “Let it go!”

And so I’m letting it go…

My third book, Citizen Scientists, was published yesterday. If you didn’t get an email from me, or hear about the release on Facebook or Twitter, feel free to drop me a line (lgb (at) loreeburns (dot) com) and I’ll add you to my new Email Marketing Database. If you did hear about it, please feel free to spread the love far and wide. And if you’ve already spread that love, thank you from the bottom of my angst-less heart!

PS: The lovely valentine graphic above was a gift from my son on Release Day. How cool is he?

Leap Day Book Launches!

“What is citizen science, anyway?” So begins this journey into the surprising world of science for everyone, everywhere. Part job description, part nature study, and part beginner field guide, Citizen Scientists invites readers of all ages to think of themselves as scientists, encouraging them to begin by tagging butterflies, counting birds, identifying frogs, and hunting ladybugs…

It’s here! It’s finally here! My newest book for young readers, Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard will be published on February 14, 2012. Photographer Ellen Harasimowicz and I will be launching the book in two public events, one at her local library and one at mine. In keeping with the books outdoorsy nature, and in celebration of the amphibians that star in chapter three (“Frogging in Spring”), we’re holding these events on Leap Day, February 29, 2012.

We’ll share the people and places that helped us create the book in a short, all-ages presentation. A book sale and signing will follow. Here are the details:

Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 1:30pm
Harvard Public Library
4 Pond Road
Harvard, MA

Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 6pm
Beaman Memorial Public Library
8 Newton Street
West Boylston, MA

Please feel free to help us spread the word by sharing a link to this post. And if your free, we hope you’ll come and help us celebrate!

Sneak Peek!

I’m thrilled to be part of the Worcester Writers Collaborative Author Explosion on January 29 at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westboro, Massachusetts, where more than a dozen local authors will be reading and signing copies of their books in a single afternoon. We are a diverse group of writers, creating books for children as well as adults, works of fiction and of nonfiction, books published traditionally and books published on our own. If you live in central Massachusetts and would like to learn more about the variety of writers living and working near you, do stop in and say hello. We’d love to meet you. Here are the event details:

Saturday, January 29, 2012, 1-4pm
Tatnuck Bookseller
18 Lyman Street
Westborough, MA

I’ll be on hand to talk about and sign copies of The Hive Detectives and Tracking Trash. Since Citizen Scientists releases just two short weeks later, however, I’ve decided to dedicate my reading time to a Sneak Peek! I’m scheduled to read at 1:30pm, but plan to hang around, enjoy the festivities, and mingle with attendees and with my fellow authors all afternoon. I hope to see you there!

Can I See Your I.D.?

True Stories of False Identities
By Chris Barton
Illustrations by Paul Hoppe
Dial, 2011

Category: Middle Grade Nonfiction

I wanted to get my hands on this book for two reasons. First, Chris Barton wrote it. (Duh.) Second, I’d read somewhere the entire collection of thematically-linked true stories was written in the second person; this I had to read.

For those of you who haven’t thought about narrative mode in a while, the second person refers to the use of the personal pronoun “you.” As in:

“You are a fibber. A confabulator. Mary Baker, you’re a liar.”

Those are the opening lines from Barton’s profile of Mary Baker, who spent a couple crazy weeks in the summer of 1817 impersonating an exotic Asian princess. Her story is interesting in its own right, but because of the Barton’s choice to tell it in the second person, and to bundle it with ten additional short biographies of pretenders, readers are treated to something unexpected: front row seats in her interrogation.

And in the end, this is what struck me most about this book. Barton’s use of second person is a huge part of why it works so well, even though his is a somewhat unorthodox use of the form. Typically, a nonfiction writer will use second person to pull a reader into a piece, hoping she will see herself as the “you.” That is exactly why I used second person in CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, my book on kids and nature study. I wanted to invite readers into the experiences I was writing about:

“Butterfly eyes can detect movement, so when you sneak up on your monarch, net raised high over your head, be sure to move slowly. Do not point. Do not let your shadow fall on the butterfly. Breathe quietly.”

The reader is there with me in the meadow, catching butterflies. And if the form has worked the way I intended, she will be breathing quietly, waiting to see what happens next.

In Barton’s second person narrative, though, “you” is not the reader at all; “you” is the person being profiled. By taking this approach in a collection of ten biographies, Chris asserts his role not only as the book’s narrator, but as a trustworthy interrogator. As a reader, I came to understand that he would ask the right questions of his subjects, get me to the bottom of their strange stories of deception. I read along for the ride. And even though the ten subjects were from different times and places in history, they were strongly linked, in my mind, by their interrogator. (Er, biographer.)

I really, really enjoyed this book. Check it out, and whatever you do, do not skip the Afterword.  It is also written in the second person, but this time the “you” refers to Chris himself. That is, Barton is both the interrogator and the person being interrogated in this final chapter. My head nearly exploded as I tried to follow along. Totally brilliant.

Especially for Science Teachers

It’s a linky kind of Friday …

Today I’ve got some links especially for science teachers. I’ll add this post to today’s STEM Friday round-up, but please feel free to forward it to the science teachers in your life, too.

First up, the American Museum of Natural History has published its slate of online classes for the fall, and they are pretty cool. (Space, Time, and Motion, anyone?) You’ll find full listings and course descriptions at the AMNF Seminars on Science webpage.

Also, the National Research Council has compiled a new framework for improved K-12 science education standards in the United States, and their report is available online for free. Go to the National Academies Press website and scroll to the “Dowload Free PDF” button. (Free registration is required in order to download.) I’ve begun reading it myself and am encouraged by the call to move science education away from rote memorization of facts and toward a hands-on approach wherein students actively participate in the scientific process. I know the transition to more experiential learning in the science classroom won’t be easy to implement, but good gravy, won’t it be more fun?

Finally, in the spirit of encouraging kids and teachers to actively participate in the scientific process, a sneak peak at my upcoming book about citizen science is now available on Goodreads. (You must be a Goodreads member to access the page; becoming one is free and easy.) If you read the chapter, I’d love to know what you think.

A round-up of posts from the kidlitosphere on the topics of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) can be found at Wrapped in Foil today. Check it out, and happy clicking!