Questions and Answers: Summer Science Journal

kittyA scientist is always at work posing questions and finding out why? Most recently an archaeozoologist, Wim Van Neer set out to find the origins of domesticating cats.

From artifacts, they knew that Egyptians valued cats and even shared their homes with the animals, but were they the first to domesticate the feline? A much older cat was found in a tomb in Cyprus. Is this the ancestor of our modern housecat?

The genetic tests show our housecats can be traced back to the Near Eastern Wildcat. The Egyptian cat mummies have a different subtype and so the research continues for this team. Even with some questions answered, there is always more to discover.

BigCat_187Author Scotti Cohn shares her home with a kitty or two. Before writing her book, Big Cat, Little Kitty, Scotti’s questions lead her down a different path. She researched the behavioral similarities of domestic and wild cats.

“Animal behavior is fascinating to me, whether we’re talking about pet cats and dogs or wild animals around the globe,” says Scotti. “I think my interest in animal behavior comes across in all of my Arbordale picture books. Why do wolves howl? How does a domestic cat’s behavior mimic that of a lion or tiger? What prompts animals to migrate? Why do animals form “partnerships”? I like being able to respond to those questions in a way that makes children eager to learn more.”

We know sometimes science seems overwhelming to kids and parents, but really asking questions and finding answers is fun! Summer is a great time to hone research skills, and test theories without the pressure that sometimes comes with school assignments.

cheetahHere are some tips:

Write it down: Start a science journal filled with questions just waiting to be answered

Research: Head to the library or a museum and find tools that help to fine tune your questions

Experiment: Set up simple experiments or observations to help come to a conclusion

Begin Again: What did you find out? Are there new questions waiting to be answered?

Read Big Cat, Little Kitty, as part of the Arbordale Summer Reading Program. Learn more about domestic and wild cats in the For Creative Minds section too!

Want to read about the origins of your kitty, learn more about the domestic cat study here.

 

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Why E-books are Good for Children

Information technology and new technological devices are revolutionizing the world of literature, and children’s literature is no different. The ever-increasing numbers of e-books and e-readers in recent years has sparked debate about whether or not e-books are bad for the book industry or reading in general. This argument has been especially critical in the arena of children’s literature. Though children’s e-books have both their improvements and downsides over print books, they achieve the same goal of reaching out to children and telling stories or conveying information in a way that children can understand and enjoy.

One improvement e-books have over print books is the superior picture quality of e-books. This is particularly important for a lot of children’s books. Lots of children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, contain beautiful color illustrations or photographs. Backlighting on computers or iPads make these pictures brighter and more vivid, enhancing the child’s enjoyment and reading experience. Additionally, pictures which splay across two pages and are split down the middle by a page divide in a print book look better on a screen where there is no page divide.

There are other improvements. Audio books enable young children to hear stories without their parents having to read to them. This way if parents are doing something else the kids can have a book out and have a computer read it to them, and parents can interact from the kitchen or the driver’s seat (“What’s the picture of?” “What kind of sound does that animal make?” etc) without having to take their eyes off the stove or the road to read the book. Additionally the fact that iPads, e-readers, computers, and other electronic devices can hold hundreds of e-books in a tablet that takes up about as much space as one book makes them convenient for traveling and ensures that children always have something new to read.

Parents will like that the e-books are often cheaper and more durable than print books. Our favorite books all suffer from over-use – dog eared pages, worn covers, pages falling out. These happen even to adults’ favorite books, and most kids are far less careful with their things. E-books don’t have pages that can fall out or covers that can get bent in the bottom of a backpack. There are durable tablets available so that kids can drop the e-readers without breaking them.

The most important thing is to get children reading and to get them reading good books. Fiction has to have characters and an interesting plot. Children get this from the story itself, not the media. Harry Potter is still Harry Potter whether you’re reading about him in the familiar-smelling, dog-eared pages of the books you’ve had for years or whether you’re reading about him on a computer screen with the movie soundtrack emitting from the same computer. The same idea goes for nonfiction. Children’s nonfiction has to have information that keeps the child engaged and which the author explains on the child’s level. These qualities are things that both print books and e-books have in common. The goal is still the same – to get kids reading and interacting with language and information. Information is powerful no matter the media through which it is conveyed. 

For more information on children’s e-books from Sylvan Dell, go to Amazon. Our e-books are $0.99 through the 18th of May.

Summer Reading Rewards

The Sylvan Dell offices are buzzing with excitement today! June kicks off Summer Reading. We are offering two free movie tickets with the purchase of an eLibrary, and rewarding reading by giving away prizes each week.

Over the course of the next two months go on a road trip with Sylvan Dell from the depths of the ocean then blast into outer space. Every two weeks we will be featuring a new free eBook. For the first two weeks, we are offering Animals are Sleeping for the new reader, and in coordination with the American Library Association theme of the month. Then explore the ocean with Ocean Hide and Seek, seek out where animals live in Habitat Spy, climb into the clouds with A Day on the Mountain and finally blast into space with Solar System Forecast, a Sylvan Dell new release.

With this exciting news, we have also developed a new Sylvan Dell iPad app available for purchase in the iTunes store. Now you can read your favorite Sylvan Dell books on the go. Just like our website the iPad app has auto-flip features audio available in English and Spanish as well as access to our quizzes and For Creative Minds sections.

As you know at Sylvan Dell, we are committed to make learning adventurous, especially when nature is in full bloom. To prevent the “summer-slide” make reading fun with activities, and keep checking with Sylvan Dell for great rewards throughout the summer.  Click here and send us a short story about which Sylvan Dell books is your favorite and what makes this books so special. You will win three of Sylvan Dell’s latest books.

Sylvan Dell Publishing Will Offer 70 eBooks Free in Honor of Read Across America Day!

In honor of Read Across America Day 2012, Sylvan Dell Publishing will be offering our complete site license of 70 eBooks FREE! Participants can visit http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com on Friday, March 2nd to use this great feature, with great eBooks including auto-flip, auto-read, and selectable English and Spanish text and audio.  This is in addition to the free activities available every day including a “For Creative Minds” educational section, 40-70 pages of free teaching activities, three quizzes, and a related websites page for each title.

 

Sylvan Dell’s co-owner and editor Donna German states, “We are proud to offer children a simple way to participate in Read Across America Day.  By offering our full eBook Site License we also make it easy not only for children to read and explore our great books, but we make it easy for parents and teachers to use each book as stepping stone to learning with our “For Creative Minds” section and our free teaching activities.”

To participate in Sylvan Dell Publishing’s Read Across America event, simply visit www.sylvandellpublishing.com on March 2nd and click on the Read Across America icon in the upper right-hand corner of the website. For questions or concerns, call Sylvan Dell Publishing directly at (877) 243-3457 or email info@sylvandellpublishing.com.

 

A Conversation with Jean Heilprin Diehl, author of Three Little Beavers!

We are so excited to announce our final new release for the spring 2012 season Three Little Beavers! Written by Jean Heilprin Diehl and illustrated by Cathy Morrison, this book is a perfect fit for any classroom!

 Beatrix the beaver longs to be good at something. Her brother Bevan is an expert at repairing the lodge with mud and twigs. Her sister Beverly is a superb swimmer and underwater gymnast. What makes Beatrix stand out? One day, she runs away by swimming up the creek and finds some fresh garden plants to eat, and tasty trees to gnaw. When her siblings set off to find her, all Three Little Beavers wind up trapped! It takes some simple engineering on the part of the humans who set the traps, and Beatrix’s discovery of her special talents, for the people and beavers to finally find a way to live in harmony.
 

Q and A With Author Jean Heilprin Diehl

What kind of research do you do for your books?

I love research! I research online, in physical libraries and in the field. I also conduct  interviews. The research stage offers up so much  fascinating information, that it can be hard to pull away from.  Too much research can be a distraction from writing, so the trick is to do the right amount…whatever that is. For the novel I’m writing now, I studied fireflies and a rare pediatric neurological disorder. To characterize the protagonist’s best friend, I learned what virga is and who invented the paper clip and where the digit ‘one’ repeats three times in a row in the infinite number pi. For Three Little Beavers, I observed beavers swimming in a lake, kayaked up a stream where beavers live and visited a series of ponds dotted with old beaver lodges and dams. I interviewed a park service officer who had resolved an urban wildlife conflict involving beavers and also a professional trapper who had humanely trapped beavers with the square, box-like Hancock traps described in the story. I checked out books from libraries, read online articles and websites and watched video clips.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

When I was growing up, I loved to read, and I especially loved adventure books with maps of imaginary lands printed inside the front and back covers. Some kids put up posters of athletes or musicians or actors on their bedroom walls; I had the map of Middle Earth. I guess it was natural to want to do what I admired so much. In sixth grade I wrote a series of poems that a teacher suggested I pull together into a book.  After that, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

How do your own experiences shape your writing?

Experience is to writing like air is to lungs. Experience inevitably and perhaps inadvertently shapes what I’m drawn to write about and the process by which I go about writing.  I think the human imagination is piqued by non sequiturs. A random image, headline, anecdote or event I  read or hear about but haven’t personally witnessed can also get me thinking. Experience includes all five senses.  It also includes reading.

What inspired you to write Three Little Beavers?

Raising kids can mean a lot of time spent driving them around! I’d been thinking about how often young children, when riding in cars or on school buses, see dead animals along the road, which can be pretty upsetting. Then my local children’s librarian happened to mention that her collection lacked a book about urban wildlife conflicts, and she didn’t know if there were any books for kids on the subject.  I decided to write one. I went looking for stories with happy endings and found one about beavers. I learned that there is a lot humans can do to co-exist with North America’s largest rodent. Beaver families typically consist of multiple kits, so that got me thinking about siblings and a line I’d read once that had stuck in stuck in my head: ‘the goal of middle childhood is to differentiate the self.’ That’s how I got the idea to write about Bevan, Beverly and Beatrix.

What is your favorite aspect of writing?

I enjoy the research, as I mentioned, and I enjoy finding a word or set of words to fit an image or an insight or a moment in nature or an emotion or an interaction. I like voicing what it is I have to say to other people through written words, and I like being finished with writing, because writing is hard.

What is the most challenging part of writing a book? 

For me, the most challenging part of writing a picture book is to tell a complete story, with fully developed characters, with an economy of language.  The old adage is true:  it’s much easier to write long than short. I’m still learning how to leave enough space – and the right space – for an illustrator to tell the story visually. Images create the story’s visual complexity, which is delightfully true of Cathy Morrison’s wonderful illustrations for Three Little Beavers.

 

Visit Jean’s website at www.jeanheilprindiehl.com, or the Three Little Beavers homepage at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=ThreeBeavers.

A Conversation with Janet Halfmann, Author of “Home in the Cave”

Sylvan Dell is proud to introduce one of our great new spring releases, Home in the Cave!  Written by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Shennen Bersani, Home in the Cave is the educational tale of Baby Bat and his adventures in the cave he calls home.  Through his exploration, Baby Bat not only learns about other cave critters, but he learns a lot about himself as well!

Janet Halfman is the award winning author of over thirty children’s books, both fiction and nonfiction, including Home in the Cave, A Little Skink’s Tail, and Fur and Feathers.  In this interview, Janet Halfman shares her literary and creative experiences as she discusses her life as a children’s author with her fans and readers.

 

What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I like the surprises that occur as I’m writing my first draft of a story. Sometimes the characters just seem to come up with ideas on their own, such as Sophia does in Fur and Feathers when she adds her own special touches to the animals’ coats. But I think my favorite part of writing is the revising. I love finding just the right word to bring a character or action to life. I love making each sentence sound and flow just right.

What topics do you most enjoy writing about?

I enjoy writing about animals and nature. I never cease to be amazed at the intricacies of each animal’s life and how all of life is intertwined. For example, when researching and writing Home in the Cave, I was amazed to find out how important bat droppings or guano are to the other animals in the cave.

When did you become interested in writing?

I have loved to write all my life, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college and took a writing course by mail that I decided I wanted a career as a writer. To accomplish that, I went back to school and got a second degree in Journalism (I had originally studied to be a Spanish and English teacher). The second degree led to jobs as a daily newspaper reporter, managing editor of a national magazine for kids who live in the country, and many years as a creator of coloring and activity books for Golden Books. When my position at Golden books was eliminated about 15 years ago, I set out to become a children’s author, my original dream!

What is a typical writing day like for you?

First, I check my e-mail and social media sites to see if there is anything I need to take care of right away. Then, If I’m working on a story, most of my day is spent on that story. To create the best story, I have to completely immerse myself in it and let it become part of me. Then ideas come to me while I’m taking a walk, or making supper, or doing any number of things. When I’m not working on a story, I promote my books through social media and other ways, look for new markets, fine-tune my old manuscripts, read picture books, etc. I work in an upstairs home office next to a window overlooking a huge, old maple tree. I spend 50 to 60 hours a week working on writing or business related to writing. And I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world—to have reached my dream of being a children’s author!

What is the most frequently asked question you encounter as an author?

People often ask me how long it takes to write a book. I tell them that each story is different. Many require lots of research. Even for a fiction picture book, I often have a pile of research books sev-eral feet high, in addition to research I do on the Internet. And often story ideas bounce around in my heard for a long time before I start to write them d
own. People also ask how I found my illustrator. I tell them that the publisher usually chooses the illustrator. The publishers know which of the many illustrators they work with will be best for the story. Usually, the artist and illustrator do not even meet. That way, the writer can do her creative thing and the illustrator is free to do his or her creative thing. And I’ve never been disappointed. Often an illustrator adds some touch that never even entered my mind. For example, in Little Skink’s Tale, illustator Laurie Allen Klein showed a caterpillar changing into a butterfly throughout the book. Children love finding this additional surprise!

Most of your books are about animals and nature. Why is that?

I grew up on a farm in Michigan. My dad loved farming, and I think his love for animals and nature rubbed off on me. After supper, the whole family would often pile into the pickup to go to the back forty to see how much the corn or soybeans had grown. Today, whenever I go on a walk, I have to pause several times to watch a dragonfly or butterfly, check out a new blossom or try to find the bird that’s singing. I’m constantly amazed by the stories that nature has to tell.


What tips do you have for parents regarding instilling a love of read-ing in their children?

Parents and other caregivers can give children so much by starting to read to them at a very young age. Reading opens up so many avenues for chil-dren and is a wonderful bonding experience between caregiver and child. A child who is read to is much more likely to become a reader. And a child who can read well is likely to have an easier time in school. Also, a story is a great way for everyone to wind down after a busy, hectic day.

The Great Divide! A Conversation With Suzanne Slade

Sylvan Dell is proud to introduce the final book in the Suzanne Slade math  series, The Great Divide! This book, like Multiply on the Fly features beautiful, detailed illustrations from Erin Hunter, as well as a great “For Creative Minds” educational section in the back and teaching activities at http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com.

Animals, like people, enjoy spending time with their friends and family. Many groups of animals have their own unique names. Did you know that a group of gorillas is called a band? And a bunch of billy goats is a tribe? Following in the footsteps of Multiply on the Fly (multiplication), What’s New at the Zoo? (addition) and What’s the Difference? (subtraction), this rhythmic, fun-to-read-aloud book introduces children to division as they conquer bands, tribes, mobs and more.

Below, Multiply on the Fly author Suzanne Slade discusses life as the author of over 90 picture books for kids, and gives advice based on her experiences.  Learn more about Suzanne on her website and figure out how to schedule an in-person or virtual author visit with Suzanne at http://www.suzanneslade.com/.   Suzanne has also just been selected to be a February Featured Author for the Girl Scouts Studio!

What is the most rewarding part of writing children’s books?
There are actually several things I love about writing chil-dren’s book. First, I enjoy discovering cool facts that fasci-nate me. I get a great feeling of satisfaction when I finally complete a book manuscript. And it is very rewarding when a child tells me that they like one of my books.

What is a typical writing day like for you?
My writing day begins when my children leave for school. I usually first catch up on emails, then get back to writing whatever book I’m working on. This almost always involves lots of reading and research. I might read my story out loud to see how it sounds, or send it to a writing friend to get their suggestions on how I could make my story better. Many of my writing days include a quick trip to the library and per-haps a virtual author visit via Skype. Oh, and I also do lots of snacking when I work. A tasty bowl of cereal can really help me keep going!
When starting a new project, how do you determine the style of writing you would like to use? (rhyming, prose, etc.)
When I begin a new book I carefully consider the age group I’m writing for and the topic of my story. These two factors help me decide how I want to write the story. For example, if I’m writing for a younger audience, I often choose rhyme. Prose is usually a better choice if my book is geared for older children, or it’s a topic that has lots of cool, detailed facts I’d like to share.

Is it true you used to work on rockets?
Strange, but true. I have a mechanical engineering degree and worked for McDonnell Douglas in California in the 1980’s. As a test engineer there, I worked on Delta IV rockets that NASA used to send weather and communications satellites into orbit.
How did you go from engineering to writing children’s stories?
When I was a teenager I was interested in writing children’s sto-ries, but my love of math and science determined my studies in college. Later after I became a mom and was reading picture books to my children every day, I began to think about writing again. My path to publication, like many authors, was a rather long journey. I had a great deal to learn about writing, editing, submitting, and children’s stories in general. I took several writing classes, joined critique groups, learned from the many resources available from SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustra-tors), and just kept practicing writing.
What advice do you have for girls wanting to pursue a career in a math or science related field?
I tell girls who love math and science to study hard and pursue whatever career they are most excited about. I think there are as many opportunities for girls in the field of math and science, as there are for boys.
What do you hope readers get out of your books?
I hope young readers simply have fun and enjoy reading my books. Of course, if they learn something cool or interesting about animals or insects along the way, that’s great too!

What is the most frequently asked question you encounter as an
author?
I’m often asked what I enjoy most about writing children’s books, and to be honest, it’s hard to think of anything I don’t like about writing children’s books! I love the ex-citement of getting a fresh, new idea. I love digging in and doing research for a new book. I am very curious and enjoy learning new things when I write a story. I really enjoy the challenge of putting my ideas for a fiction story together. To me it’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. I usually know all the parts of my “story-in-progress”, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how they fit together.
I also like to play with fun-sounding words. When I read, I often write down interest-ing or unusual words I find in case I want to use them later. It’s also exciting to dis-cover words that sound really cool together. Like hop poppin’, wicky wacky words! Another part of writing I enjoy is working with editors. They are always very helpful and smart. Editors have great ideas to make my writing better. And of course, one of my favorite parts of writing books is sharing them with children. Most children are very curious like me, and they have great imaginations. It’s great to see them enjoy one of my books.
The Great Divide is the latest clever title in your four-book math series. What inspired you to write (and keep writing) a math series like this?
I really enjoy writing books about math because math was my favorite subject in school. I also love learning about all the fascinating animals and insects in our world, so I have fun including cool facts about them in my books.
Many of your books feature animals. What’s your favorite animal and why?
Well, my most favorite animal of all is my little 7-pound dog, Corduroy. As far as wild animals, I a big fan of penguins. They are so adorable, yet all dressed up!