Counting Crabs, One Author’s Citizen Science Project

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Spring has sprung, and for horseshoe crabs, that means making the journey to beaches along the Eastern U.S. for spawning season. Citizen Scientists like Leena in Moonlight Crab Count will be combing the beaches at night counting the ancient creatures hoping that it is a successful season for the crabs and shorebirds.

Author Jennifer Keats Curtis worked with ecology expert Dr. Neeti Bathala to write Moonlight Crab Count, and while doing research, she and her daughter Max became a Citizen Scientist for a day and here is her story!

JenniferCurtisAs a lifelong Marylander, I’d seen horseshoe crabs but didn’t really know enough about them so I jumped at the chance to work with environmental ecologist Dr. Neeti Bathala so I could learn more! As part of my research, my daughter, Max, and I went to Ocean City, Maryland, to be part of a citizen science project—counting horseshoe crabs. During spring and summer, horseshoe crabs, who have migrated from Mexico to our East Coast, somehow know it’s time to lay to lay their eggs. They come ashore at night during lunar tides, when the moon is full and new. Horseshoe crabs are an important part of the ecosystem and scientists want to know how many there are. People, like Max and me, get to be part of the projects to figure that out.

One warm July evening, we met biologist Steve Doctor and two other scientists at the DNR boathouse and hopped aboard an old workboat. We literally hopped—we used a bucket as a stepladder.

DSC_6246Aboard the boat, we put out to the north side of Assateague Island, which was just a couple hundred yards from the boathouse and just shy of the famed Ocean City boardwalk. Max helped us record some data: 23.2 degrees Celsius, winds at 6 mph. On this island, we saw just five horseshoe crabs, all males. We picked one up and one of the scientists showed Max the “boxers” that make the horseshoe crab a boy. He had slipper shells stuck all over his shell. The little snails were apparently just along for the ride.

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As the sun set, we powered over to Skimmer Island, a coastal island that is home to endangered black skimmers. I was a little distracted by all of the incredible birds here, as well as the full-fledged heron rookery.  We walked around the bend, and there they were—hundreds of living fossils, all coming onto the beach to mate and lay eggs. Max and I excitedly helped the scientists count as many horseshoe crabs as we could. We were thrilled to see so many until Steve told us that typically there are far more. In fact, the beach is usually totally full of horseshoe crabs and that just weeks before, he’d counted 36,000. Well, he didn’t count all of them; he did the math calculating footage and numbers.

When we returned home, once Max had eaten her weight in snacks from CandyDSC_6209 Kitchen, I excitedly talked to Neeti about what we’d seen and we discussed ways to use this research in our story. She also told me about her wonderful dog, a boxer named Bobie, and we decided we’d make her a big part of the story. Woof!

I am over-the-moon excited about the beautiful illustrations by Veronica Jones and the chance for Neeti, Veronica, and I to share Moonlight Crab Count with children everywhere.  Horseshoe crabs are fascinating, and they offer a chance for families to take part in a cool citizen science project.

The counting and tagging season is upon us, and there are opportunities for families to get involved and help researchers with their count. Visit horseshoecrabtagging.org and scistarter.com to learn more about counting projects in your area. If you are still not completely convinced to join the citizen science effort learn more on PBS The World’s newest documentary The Crowd & The Cloud. Each week they will highlight different projects and topics. In episode 4 watch for a mention of Moonlight Crab Count!

You can also learn about Jenifer’s book Moonlight Crab Count at arbordalepublishing.com or request a copy at your local bookseller.

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Earlier this month we announced that our book Once Upon and Elephant made the finalists list for the Children’s Choice Book Awards, well today we having fun with some elephant crafts and came across some folding fun!

In fact, in addition to all the teaching activities that are available on our website, we have gone elephant mad and made a Pinterest board with all sorts of fun activities. We tried a few out in the office including this elephant you can make with only a dollar.

Check out the activities, and an elephant would never forget to vote!!

Meet the Illustrator: Veronica V. Jones

Meet Veronica V. Jones, Moonlight Crab Count is her debut picture book and we think it is pretty great! We learned a lot about Veronica when we did this short interview get to know her too!

This is your debut children’s book, when did you decide to pursue a career in illustration?

I’ve been working as an illustrator for a long time. Soon after I graduated from university in 1995, I realized I wanted to work as an illustrator.   I started sending out mailers and emails to companies who might like my work. My first break was getting to work as a graphic designer, first for a company that made novelty photo sticker booths, then for a government contractor. This gave me a lot of valuable experience with new tools and software, as well as the business of commercial art. When my husband and I were about to welcome our first child in 2000, I decided to work as a freelance illustrator (and stay home mom) full time. I spent a long time creating artwork for the hobby tabletop game market, that is, collectible card games and roleplaying games, which use a lot of action, fantasy and science fiction art. In 2010, I decided I wanted to start doing artwork for children’s books and that’s where my heart has been ever since!

Can you discuss the difference between illustrating for children and adults? Is one more challenging the other? (If so, why?)

I think my work for children’s books is actually more challenging. My projects for adults these days are for the covers of novels. You have to tell a little bit of the story while also making a design that will be easy to figure out whether it’s on a bookshelf in a store or a tiny thumbnail on the Amazon website. However, for my children’s books, I have to do all of that and then the 13 or so interior spreads to accompany the story. I have to make sure the characters stay consistent so that Leena, for example, looks like Leena whether we’re at the start of her story, the middle, or the end. While I can usually wrap up an adult novel project in 2-3 months, a children’s picture book can take 6 months or more!

Have you always known you wanted to be an artist? What is your favorite media to work with (and why)?

Ever since I was little, I’ve always known I loved to create. I enjoyed making art for myself, and my friends but I didn’t really think about it as a job. Luckily, I met a medical illustrator who convinced me to start looking into illustration as an option.

I tried out a lot of different media to learn what would be the best fit for me. While I’ve enjoyed working with acrylics, pastels, pen and ink and colored pencil. For my work, I prefer my digital paintbrush. It gives me a lot of control, flexibility and speed, which is ideal when you’re working on a project. 

Did you draw when you were a kid? (Please provide details and/or a specific example.)

I drew ALL. THE. TIME!! So much so, I would get in trouble sometimes. The margins of my notebooks would be covered in doodles and I would practice poses from my favorite comic books like Spiderman. I remember in 7th grade drawing a ballerina I was particularly proud that it was shown off in the school art show. 

What books (or illustrators) have inspired you? 

There are so many books that have shaped me to be the person I am today. I was a voracious reader as far back as I remember, spending all the extra time I could both in my school library and the public library. Back in elementary school, I grew acquainted with Fudge and Ramona Quimby, went through the wardrobe to Narnia, and sleuthed with Encyclopedia Brown. As I grew older, I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books and all of the Nancy Drew mysteries. I read the Hardy Boys, but they weren’t as fun. I LOVED books by Robin McKinley (still do!) like “The Blue Sword” and “Hero and the Crown”. In high school I expanded to mystery and horror, reading Agatha Christie novels and Stephen King. I vividly remember reading “It” during final exams in the gym.

As for artists, I’ve been especially inspired by Norman Rockwell and Alphonse Mucha. I greatly admire the work of more recent illustrators Michael Whelan, Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood and Tony DiTerlizzi. It was Tony’s work on the Spiderwick Chronicles that led me to think about jumping into art for the children’s book market.

Research is an important part of illustration. Can you explain how you learned about horseshoe crabs for “Moonlight Crab Count”? What is one fact that you didn’t know before you started?

Research is critically important to my process. I research not just the animals, but the objects, boats, houses and landscapes that a story is set in. For Moonlight Crab Count, I needed to do a lot of research on horseshoe crabs to make sure they came out right. I found out what kind of animal they are – not a crab at all but more closely related to spiders, as well as where they come up on land to reproduce (Mid-Atlantic seashore). One fact that completely blew my mind was that the horseshoe crab doesn’t have 2 eyes like we do but 10 eyes!

How do you begin Moonlight Crab Count, or tell us about your creative process? 

When I work on the artwork for a book like Moonlight Crab Count, my first step is to read the story over and over. I want to know whom the story is about and what happens. I try to start picturing the story in my head. Other artists use pencils, watercolor or acrylic paint for their art. While I may use some of those tools, my main tool is a computer. I use drawing and paint programs and a special pen and tablet to draw and paint on the computer.

Before I draw the pictures to go with the story, I need to come up with what the main characters will look like. For Leena, her mom, and Bobie the Boxer, I looked at a lot of pictures and sketched A LOT. Next, I start to do research to make sure that everything looks the way it’s supposed to. That means reading up on the places, things, and animals that show up in the story and keeping copies of pictures that I can return to later.

When I’m ready to start drawing, I make a version of the story on my computer. In this version, I split up the text into different pages with lots of blank space for drawing. Then I carefully go page-by-page and start to sketch out ideas for pictures that will accompany the text. These first sketches can be VERY simple. This is called a book dummy. I come up with simple sketches for each page then go back and make them into detailed drawings. As I’m drawing, I review the research I collected at the start to help me draw the people, animals, and places realistically. Once all these detailed drawings have been approved, I start painting! Like my drawings, I use my computer to paint.

As I paint, I make sure to look at all the pictures side by side to make sure the colors go together and look like they belong together. Once I finish, I submit these to the publisher. Generally, there is some back and forth as we change little things to make the text stand out better or to make sure the details are right. For Midnight Crab Count, we went back and forth on the lights on Leena’s boat. I don’t have a lot of experience with boats, so my editor was a big help on getting the details of the lights right! 

The colors in “Moonlight Crab Count” are beautiful and unusual. Can you talk about the coloration?

The colors of twilight and night are my favorite…the deep blues and indigos, the way the clouds catch the last bits of light to glow in the sky and how colors are muted by the dark. I wanted to really give the impression of the progression of night, so I used very little light just the moon and a few lights, until the final brilliant dawn. 

Do you have a favorite illustration in this book?

I have two favorites. I loved how the cover came out. I tried hard to instill a sense of wonder and magic in that moment when Leen sees the horseshoe crabs in the surf. My second favorite is Bobie running towards us with his tongue flapping. He just looks so goofy!

What challenges did you face in illustrating Moonlight Crab Count? 

While I’ve illustrated for middle-grade books, Moonlight Crab Count is my first picture book, which is quite different. It was a great learning opportunity. There’s a lot more art required, and illustrators have to keep the character consistent throughout the book, so it’s a bigger job. I loved doing it!

What’s next? 

The next book that I’m working on is The Lizard Lady. It’s about a scientist working with endangered land lizards in the US Virgin Islands. It’s a lot of fun because who doesn’t like tiny little lizards?

What advice can you offer to aspiring illustrators?

There are a lot of skills you need to learn to be a successful illustrator. Draw everything you see around you. Draw your favorite characters (like Spiderman!) but also the things you don’t like to draw, like feet, or cars or the trees. Try to learn different media like paints, pastels or markers so you know which are your favorites. Practice telling stories with your art.

Do you visit schools and/or teach illustration to children?

I’m very excited to start visiting schools to tell them about my work as an illustrator. Every summer I teach art classes to kids and teens at my local recreation centers. These classes aren’t long, but they’re FUN! I love to hang out with kids and see the world from their point of view, so I’m really looking forward to getting into classrooms and meeting more kids.

Learn more about Veronica on her website VVJones.com or contact her for a school visit at Veronica@VVJones.com!

Get Moonlight Crab Count at arbordalepublishing.com or request a copy from your local bookseller!

Once Upon an Elephant is a Children’s Choice Finalist

We are jumping with joy over the announcement that Once Upon an Elephant is a finalist in the Children’s Choice Book Awards.

The Friday celebration has rolled into the weekend, but now we begin the campaign for votes! This is the tenth year kids will cast their votes, and the Children’s Book Council has a great new voting booth that will be open until May 7th. Check it out!

Before you cast your vote, get to know Once Upon an Elephant.

OnceElephantFrom slowing wildfires to planting seeds, one animal is the true superhero that keeps the African savanna in balance. Elephants dig to find salt that other animal lick, their deep footprints collect water for small creatures to drink, and they eat young trees to keep the forest from overtaking the grasslands. In every season, the elephants are there to protect the savanna and its residents – but what would happen if the elephants were only “once upon a time”? Read along to discover the important role this keystone species plays in the savanna and explore what would happen if the elephants vanished.

 

Meet Linda Stanek
As an early and middle childhood educator, Linda Stanek wants to inspire young learners, lindastanekincluding children with written language disabilities, to write about things that excite them. Her own passion for saving endangered animals and teaching children about the importance of each link in the natural world provide the inspiration for Once Upon an Elephant. Linda has also written The Pig and Miss Prudence and Beco’s Big Year: A Baby Elephant Turns One. Linda has two grown sons and lives in Ohio with her husband and feline family members. Visit her website at www.lindastanek.com.

 

Meet Shennen Bersani
Shennen Bersani is an award-winning illustrator with 2 million copies of her books cherished and read by children, parents, and teachers throughout the world. Her art ShennenBersanidelivers heartfelt emotion, the wonders of nature and science, and creates a unique joy for learning. Some of Shennen’s other illustrated works include A Case of Sense; Once Upon an Elephant; Salamander Season; Sea Slime: It’s Eeuwy, Gooey and Under the Sea; The Shape Family Babies; Animal Partners; Shark Baby; Home in the Cave; The Glaciers are Melting!; and Astro: The Steller Sea Lion for Arbordale. In 2015, Shennen made her debut as an author with Achoo! Why Pollen Counts. Shennen lives with her family near Boston. For more information, visit her website at www.shennenbersani.com.

Tweet us your favorite elephant fact to win a signed copy of Once Upon an Elephant. Remember to tag @arbordalekids

New Book News: Science and Cultural Connections

Our final two books that are celebrating their book birthdays this month are A True Princess of Hawai‘i and Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos.

 At the center of each of these stories is a rich history that has been shaped by the landscape. Today we talk with Terry Catasús Jennings and Tammy Yee on how these stories were created and where they found inspiration.

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Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos
by Terry Catasús Jennings and illustrated by Phyllis Saroff

Terry, what inspired you to write Vivian and the Legend of the Hoodoos?

Ten years ago, my husband and I visited friends in Southwestern Utah. The beautiful red rock mountains and canyons stole our heart. We’ve wintered there ever since. Biking and hiking with friends we can’t help but follow in the footsteps of the native civilization that lived there about a thousand years ago—the Ancient Ones. Seeing the petroglyphs and pictographs they left is a humbling experience. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find evidence of a village. In 2014, we visited a beautifully preserved site in a private ranch. As we walked through the piñon pine grove, pottery sherds crunching beneath every step, I felt a sense of connectedness. This was a place where ancient peoples had lived, but it had not been disturbed. I could imagine them by the fire, grinding pine nuts, stringing bows. I could imagine them looking out over the wide expanse below the mesa at sunset. Not long after, visiting Bryce Canyon, I learned about the Legend of the Hoodoos. The book almost wrote itself.

Greg Woodall, a local archeologist, educated me in the ways of the Ancient Ones in Southwestern Utah. Barbara Frank at Southern Utah University let us look in at the University’s collection of artifacts. Then I spent time with the elders at the Shivwits Paiute Indian Reservation making sure I portrayed the Paiute culture accurately and with respect. The story acquired new layers from the details they shared with me. The legend connected the story to the geology and they connected the legend to their daily lives. My own experience when I came to the United States as a twelve-year-old refugee from Cuba colored Vivian’s behavior. Like Vivian, I wanted to fit in. I had better things to do than worry about the traditions my family brought from Cuba. In addition to explaining the process of erosion, I hope the book is helpful to students of all cultures in explaining the value of knowing our history and customs.

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A True Princess of Hawai‘i
by Beth Greenway and illustrated by Tammy Yee

Tammy where did you find inspiration for A True Princess of Hawai‘i?

Years ago, I lived in a sleepy subdivision six miles above Hilo town on the island of Hawai’i. Many of the homes were built on the remnants of the 1881 Mauna Loa eruption featured in the book, A True Princess of Hawai’i. Evidence of the eruption was everywhere. Lava rock walls bordered tiny gardens and black pahoehoe lava peaked through the grass, ferns and ‘ōhiʻa trees. Nearby was Kaumana Cave, part of a miles-long lava tube that was formed during the eruption. It was the perfect place to raise two young sons!
Since then, I have been fascinated with the story of Princess Ruth’s intervention to save Hilo from Pele’s destruction. So it was a joy to pour through the Bishop Museum and Hawai’i State Archives for photos from the 1880s depicting the people, places, and events in this story. I was inspired, too, by the paintings of Joseph Nawahi, and also the Volcano School paintings of late 19th century artists Charles Furneaux, D. Howard Hitchcock, Titian Ramsay, and Jules Tavernier.
I hope this book will inspire you to learn more about Hawai’i and it’s rich cultural and natural history.
Learn more about these books and get educational extra for all of Arbordale’s new releases on our book homepages.

New Book News! Animals from sea and sky

Keeping with the theme of animals today we feature two new books that will take young readers to the head of the class with interesting animal facts.

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Honey Girl: The Hawaiian Monk Seal is the true story of how rescue workers and veterinarians stepped in to save a very important Hawaiian Monk Seal.

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Otis the Owl is a baby barred owl, not quite ready to fly and sometimes bothered by his sister, he relies on his parents to show him how to make his way in the world.

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Mark the pages in your book with fun and easy to make paperclip bookmarks!!

Head to our Pinterest page for details

 

New Book News! Bat Count & Moonlight Crab Count

Do you have a young scientist in the making? This season we have two citizen science books that just may inspire your family to find their own project. You can spot bats, frogs, butterflies, crabs or even stars to help scientists with important research.

First, we meet Jojo and her family as they await the yearly bat counts on the family farm.

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Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story 
by Anna Forrester, illustrated by Susan Detwiler

Bat Count is inspired by author Anna Forrester’s family farm, and the citizen science project that her family participates in every summer. Anna would like to show young readers that participation in citizen science is a great way to do real science, and that is very meaningful to the scientists finding solutions to ecological problems.

Visit Anna Forrester’s website for more batty fun! 

Next, we meet Leena, her mom, and dog Bobie as they travel to a small beach for a night of collecting data on horseshoe crabs.

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Moonlight Crab Count
by Neeti Bathala, Jennifer Keats Curtis & Veronica V. Jones

Horseshoe crabs are one of the oldest and strangest looking species around! Each spring they swim to shore and spawn along the Eastern US, but the Delaware Bay is the best spot to see a whole crowd of crabs, sea birds and people too. The living fossil has blue blood that is very important to medical reserch, and thier eggs are an important food source for a few different migrating birds. This is why citizen scientists are busy counting crabs as they are spawning.

Learn more about horseshoe crabs and the citizen science project.

Get involved in your local area: Check out these sites for ongoing projects around the world!

https://www.scientificamerican.com/citizen-science/

https://scistarter.com/citizenscience.html

https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Citizen-Science.aspx