Got Squirrels? Read On.

Now that winter is here, we are in full bird feeding mode.  And, along with the birds come their friends the squirrels.  Instead of trying to chase these critters away, why not help scientists better understand them.  Whether you live in a city, the suburbs or a small town, squirrels are part of our landscape.

You and your kids can help researchers understand squirrel ecology by submitting your observations of the animals to the PROJECT SQUIRREL site.   http://www.projectsquirrel.org

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Just Add a Whale by Beth Ferry + Win a Free Copy

Writers are always asked where their ideas come from. Sometimes I know exactly when and where an idea originated.

I heard a song.   I saw a squirrel.    I read a really cool word.

I try to remember now, because, as I said, writers are always asked.  I get many of my ideas from word play, because that’s my favorite kind of writing.  But I have never gotten an idea from a piece of art.

Until now.

In March of 2015, I was lucky enough to see these adorable pieces by Lisa Mundorff.

Lisa and I share the same agent, so I was given the opportunity to create a story based on these pictures.

Since it was something I had never done before, I was excited.

This sounded fun.  And easy!

I wrote one story about penguins and rainbows.

Then another about rainbows and penguins.

And another.

And another.

And you get the idea.

I wrote in rhyme.

I wrote in prose.

I wrote a short story, then a long one.

Ultimately, I couldn’t do it.  I just didn’t have a story in me about penguins and rainbows.

Weeks passed, then months.  5 months to be exact.  Then I thought about a whale.

Why?

No matter how hard I try, I cannot think why I thought of a whale, but once the whale popped into my head, I knew I had a story.

And I wrote it!

The whale was the key; the unexpected character that changed the direction of the dead end I was cruising down.

In August 2015, Lisa read it and liked it.  So did our agent!

Lisa sketched out the story and then in January 2016, we sold A Small Blue Whale to Knopf.

It is a story about a whale searching for a friend, who just happens to be those silly rainbow-chasing penguins.

So ultimately, I did write a story about penguins and rainbows, but it took the addition of the whale, something new and unexpected, to make the story come to life.

Writing this book taught me that whatever I assume is going to be easy will never be easy. And things that I assume will be hard will actually be hard!  It also taught me to think a little bigger, even if that bigger is a small blue whale.

Beth Ferry is a picture book writer who lives near the beach in New Jersey. She is the author of numerous picture books illustrated by amazing artists. Her titles include A Small Blue Whale, published October 2017 as well as Stick and Stone, Land Shark, Pirate’s Perfect and Sealed with a Kiss which will be published for Valentine’s Day 2019.    

Would you like a signed copy of A SMALL BLUE WHALE?   Let us know in the comment section and I will enter your name.  If you share this post of Twitter or FB, I will enter your name again.  Reblog it, and get a third entry.   The winner will be chosen at random on Wednesday, December 6, 2017.  US residents only, please.

 

Alive and Well: Our Monarch Butterfly Project

I’ve posted a few times about our efforts to help save the endangered Monarch Butterfly.  By planting milkweed, the insect population will lay eggs and produce the caterpillars that make the next generation.  While these butterflies might be attracted to other plants like the popular Butterfly Bush, they ONLY LAY EGGS ON THE MILKWEED. AND THE CATERPILLAR ONLY EATS THE LEAVES OF THIS PLANT.  

Perhaps because we’ve had such a mild fall, the last Monarch cycle occurred just a couple weeks ago.  And, I am happy to say, we “hatched” SIX butterflies this season- up from TWO last year.

That may not seem like much, but  every bit adds to the total.

 

After the caterpillar is done feeding, it attaches its chrysalis underneath the siding of our house.  We went out and checked them each morning and one day…three weeks ago…we found this:

It’s a small effort, with such a beautiful reward.  Long may these lovely creatures live!

To learn about the monarch and how you can help save this endangered species and to get free milkweed seeds to plant for next year visit: http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm

1…2…3…Butterflies!

Here’s a novel way to encourage children to practice counting and other math skills: try counting butterflies.  All across the US, volunteers are counting butterflies in the name of science. In 1975, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) launched it’s annual butterfly count program. Volunteers from all over North America  join together on designated days to identify and count butterflies – no scientific degree needed. By using only your eyes and enthusiasm, you will contribute to scientists understanding of local butterfly populations and how they have changed over time.

For more information on where and when these counts take place check out the NABA website: http://www.naba.org

You can also learn more about butterfly counting at: http://www.monarchnet.uga.edu,  or at: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org.

Happy Counting!

Shiela Fuller Takes you on: A NIGHT HIKE FOR THE ELUSIVE SPOTTED SALAMANDER

If you live in the eastern part of the United States and have access to vernal ponds, you might want to go on a night hunt in search of the spotted salamander.

Get out your flashlight and put on your wading boots because the area around vernal ponds can sometimes be muddy. The absolute best time to find the spotted salamander is after a rainfall just as winter is becoming spring, mid-March through mid-April. This is a very small window of opportunity to find one, as these hibernating amphibians will wake up and march in great numbers in search of the closest vernal pond. It is here that a new generation of salamander eggs are laid.

As larvae, the spotted salamander is dull green in color. It will lie low in the vernal pond under debris.   They will live in the vernal pool breathing with the use of gills for up to 4 months. If the vernal pond should go dry before the salamanders reach the juvenile stage, they will not survive.   If they reach adulthood, the spotted salamander dons a black body with irregular yellowish-orange spots and black vertical costal lines arising from a grey underbelly.  It has a wide snout, perfect for tunneling and burrowing, and gives it the name “mole salamander”.

These salamanders prefer the privacy of the vernal pond to a body of steady open water, like a pond or stream, because there would be a higher number of predators to eat the eggs and larvae. After a few months of living and growing in the pond, the spotted salamander will leave the pond, spending the bulk of its life in a burrow in a deciduous forest. Then the salamanders will emerge once a year and relocate to the vernal pond where it will lay its eggs and begin the cycle over again.

After the salamanders become adults, they prowl for food at night making them nocturnal hunters.   Using their sticky tongue, they eat anything small enough to swallow like worms, crickets, spiders, and slugs.

A an adult, the spotted salamander hides in its burrow below the leaf litter, can separate itself from its tail, and excrete a poisonous substance from glands around its neck, all in an effort to protect itself from predators.  Akin to other salamanders they also have the ability to regenerate or grow new body parts if it becomes injured.

The spotted salamander is not a threatened species but they are susceptible to environmental threats such as the destruction of wetlands or acid rain and the actions of humans.

If you haven’t found a spotted salamander in its natural setting on your own, perhaps a trip to the Sally Rally will increase your knowledge and appreciation of amphibians. The Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania has organized walks to admire the spotted salamander.  The time to go is now.

Spotted Salamander taken by Kristen Fuller

http://events.dcnr.pa.gov/promised_land_state_park#.WO5NZYWcHIU

http://www.paherps.com/herps/salamanders/

http://srelherp.uga.edu/salamanders/ambmac.htm

http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/VernalPool_Salamanders.aspx

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/spotted-salamander/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_salamander

https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Library/Amphibians-Reptiles-and-Fish/Spotted-Salamander.aspx

 

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.

 

Remembering Animals This Holiday Season.

For many of us, our furry and feathered friends are just as much a part of our family as humans are.  You can show other animals how much you care in a special way by adopting a pet longing for a home.  Visit Home 4 the Holidays for more information.  http://www.Home4theHolidays.org

The NATIONAL DISASTER SEARCH DOG FOUNDATION recruits rescue dogs, trains them and then pairs them  – free of charge – with firefighters and other first respondents to help find victims buried by natural disasters such as earthquakes.  To donate to this worthy cause:  http://www.searchdogfoundation.org

Remembers the Critters this holiday season!

Author Terry Jennings Has Magnetism + A Free Book!

My author friend Terry Jennings has a new book out about magnetism that she wants to share with you.  Here’s Terry.

Who wants another book on magnetism? Like poles repel and opposites attract and that’s the way it is, right? Kids already know all about it.

            So why did I write another book on magnetism? It’s so much more than the dance between the poles! And that’s what I love about writing non-fiction and creative non-fiction. You find out so much cool stuff.

When I wrote Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story, I never planned to have a gopher as the main character. But those little diggers (8-12” long) helped Mount St. Helens (9600 feet tall before the eruption) recover. They dug up the ash and softened it so that seeds could sprout. They brought up nutritious bacteria from below. What could be cooler than that?

With Sounds of the Savanna, I learned all about prey and predator interactions. I learned that everybody’s gotta eat ‘cause everybody wants to live! That does mean that sometimes another animal has to die, but it’s surprising how unsuccessful predators are. I also heard that predators cooperate. That makes sense, right? Hyenas and lionesses, they cooperate. But what about prey? Zebras, wildebeest and antelopes all eat the same plant. Zebras eat the old, tough stuff—their teeth are made for it. Wildebeest like the next part. Antelopes love the tender new growth but they can’t get to it until the zebras and the wildebeest have grazed. Wildebeest hide within zebra herds because zebra stripes confuse predators. Cool too, right?

So what was cool about Magnetic Magic? We all do know that like poles repel and unlike attract. But did you know that inside a totally unmagnetic copper pipe a magnet can create both a current and a magnetic field? You can also try it with a totally unmagnetic aluminum pipe. Check it out in my website: http://www.terrycjennings.com/Teacher-Guides-and-Activities-Magic.html give it a bit of time to load and click on the You Tube “Is aluminum magnetic?”      magneticmagic_120

But the coolest thing of all, is that the earth’s magnetic pole shifts. It wonders, from the north geographic pole to the south geographic pole and to places in between. Magnetic North changes from year to year and from place to place. So if a treasure map from a hundred years ago gives coordinate directions from a fixed geographic point and we try to find the treasure this year, we won’t be able to, unless we know the magic number. The magnetic declination. It’s a number we add or subtract from the coordinates (depending on whether the declination is east or west that year). With that number, we can find the treasure. Check out the book and activities at http://www.terrycjennings.com/Teacher-Guides-and-Activities-Magic.html        

author-pic-snow-canyonWant to win a copy of Magnetic Magic? Here’s how:

Tell us your favorite recent Non-fiction picture book and why you like it.  I’ll put your name in a hat and draw a winner who will receive a signed copy of Terry’s new book MAGNETIC MAGIC.   WINNER WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON THIS BLOG ON WEDNESDAY, 10-26-2016.