Middle Grade Author Claudia Mills is a fellow contributor to the blog Smack Dab in the Middle http://www.smack-dab-in-the-middle.com and has just released a new MG book about…you guessed it…ANTS! Here’s Claudia.
Thank you, Darlene, for inviting me to join your delightful blog today. I feel more creative just reading through these fabulous activities to help children’s imaginations flourish and grow. I appreciate this chance to share my new book (the first title in the Nora Notebooks series), The Trouble with Ants, about a girl who has a hard time getting her classmates to appreciate her passion for myrmecology, or the scientific study of ants.
I have to admit I never expected to write a book about ants. I can’t say that I myself was ever a fan of ants.
It’s more fair to say that, like most adults, I’ve been instead an enemy of ants, especially ants that I find venturing onto my kitchen counters or pantry floors.
But when I wrote an earlier book, Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters (Knopf, 2011), the character of Nora appeared on the page to provide a contrast to always pessimistic Mason and always optimistic Brody. Nora is serious and scientific. Rather than seeing the glass as half empty (like Mason) or half full (like Brody), Nora would want to measure the volume of water in the glass, and in millimeters, not ounces. Rather than having pets like fish, hamsters, cats, or dogs, Nora’s “pets” are the ants scurrying around her ant farm, objects of her scientific experimentation.
It was challenging for a non-ant-lover like me to write a book about a girl who loves ants. For research, I read the mesmerizing autobiographical account of a lifelong love affair with ants, Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration by brilliant scientists Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. From them I learned the astonishing ant facts that Nora collects in her notebook at the end of every chapter, facts like: “A worker ant is less than one-millionth the size of a human being. But all of the ants in the world taken together weigh as much as all the human beings in the world.” And: “The total population of ants in the world is ten thousand trillion.”
I also got an ant farm of my own: “an original Uncle Milton” plastic ant farm, complete with a tube of ants. As with Nora’s first attempt, my ants died off after a few weeks, but not until I had the opportunity to watch their almost miraculous feats of tunnel building. All that impressive engineering, done by . . . ants? Ant farms, and ants, are easy to purchase over the internet. You can also make a do-it-yourself ant farm by gathering ants from your own backyard, but I have to admit I haven’t done this myself. (I’m not that much like Nora!).
I’m hoping that The Trouble with Ants will offer an invitation to young readers to pursue their own eccentric passions and develop their own idiosyncratic subjects of study. And simply to keep their eyes open to the beauty and wonder of the world around them. Next time they see ants swarming on a summer sidewalk, maybe they’ll pause to take a look and reflect on how happy Nora would be at this moment. And maybe they’ll be a little happier themselves, too.
Here is a link to the first review of the book, a starred review in Publishers Weekly:
And here is a link to a website on how to make your own ant farm:
http://www.claudiamillsauthor.com. The Trouble With Ants makes its debut on September 22.