In the history of life on Earth, 99.9 percent of all species have gone extinct. But a few animals have survived since the time of the dinosaurs, or since long before the dinosaurs. Charles Darwin famously called them “living fossils.”
Living Fossils: Survivors from Earth's Distant Past shines a spotlight on six wonderfully living fossils: the horseshoe crab, the chambered nautilus, the African lungfish, the tuatara, the duck-billed platypus, and the venomous solenodon.
While researching these animals, I talked with scientists on four continents. I am extremely grateful to these gifted scientists for taking time to talk with me and share their knowledge and insight. I send my sincere thanks to Jennifer Basil, Jeak Ling Ding, Josh Griffiths, Marc Jones, Heather King, Carlos Meloro, and José Nuñez-Miño. Thanks to their help, the book includes new discoveries about living fossils and what they reveal about the history of life.
Once I began talking to these dedicated men and women I realized that most of these species are endangered by human activity. And so conservation became a core part of the story.
In a shining review, Kirkus called Living Fossils “well-organized, clearly written, nicely designed, and including new research… a satisfying selection of nature’s survivors for readers intrigued by the animal world.” The book is a Junior Library Guild selection.
I'm thrilled to have my first article appear on Science News for Students.
The article describes a new finding that milkweeds in California are widely contaminated with pesticides. Could poisoned food for monarch caterpillars be contributing to a dramatic decline in the region's population of monarch butterflies?
You can read the article here.
Taped on the window sill over my desk is a fortune that came inside a fortune cookie. It reads:
Judge each day not by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.
I planted a lot of seeds in 2019.
Not all of these seeds germinated, but I'm delighted with the ones that did.
In 2019, I spent time observing nature. I read beautiful books. I collected ideas. I turned some of these ideas into queries and proposals and articles and books. I landed new book contracts. I spoke by phone and Skype with scientists all over the world. I attended NCTE where I met wonderful writers, editors, educators, and librarians. I launched new books into the world, including one that was named to the AAAS/Subaru Longlist.
What seeds do I hope to plant in 2020?
Many seeds I planted last year grew so well, I'll be tucking the same varieties into the ground again this year.
In 2020, I will spend time in nature. I will collect ideas. I will turn my ideas into articles and books. I will work to land new contracts. I will reach out to scientists and other experts who can inform my work. I will support my friends and colleagues in the kidlit community. I will read books that represent the best of children's literature.
What seeds will you be planting in 2020?
I hope you have a wonderful new year! Happy planting!
This book began way back in 2010, when my children and I started volunteering to help maintain the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden, a public garden for pollinators in my hometown.
As we sweated under the hot sun—pulling weeds, dead-heading spent flowers—I was drawn to the colorful butterflies flitting by. But the expert gardeners who ran the place talked mostly of bees: the many kinds, their importance as pollinators, and hints that bees were in decline.
Bees came to my attention again a few years later, in the fall of 2016. I was researching The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery, a book that grew out of my work at the pollinator garden. As I carried out interviews for the book, many of the experts I spoke with wanted to talk bees, not butterflies. Again and again, they pointed out that bees were in trouble, too. And they didn't mean managed honey bees, which were getting plenty of press at that time. They meant wild bees, native bees. I decided to investigate.
This book tells the story of what I learned. It dives into the world of wild bees, the ones that are pollinating the bulk of our food. It traces the history of bees, all the way back to the dinosaurs, and explains why bees are so important to us and the world we live in.
The book explores what scientists know about bee declines: what's behind the declines and what questions remain unanswered. The list of culprits include parasites, pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss.
The book ends on a hopeful note, explaining in detail what everyone can do to help bees.
In a starred review, Booklist calls it "well-balanced and objective… An important resource for all libraries."
Where Have All the Bees Gone? is a Junior Library Selection. It releases February 4th from Twenty-First Century Books.
The 2020 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books was announced last week and I was thrilled and honored to see WHEN PLANTS ATTACK on the Middle Grade List. Thank you, AAAS/Subaru judges!
The prize is awarded in four categories. It celebrates outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults. The prize encourages readers to turn to science books for information and enjoyment, too.
Cheers for all the books on this year's lists. Some I had not seen before the list was announced. How had I not seen them? My reading list just got longer.
The finalists will be announced in November.
Growing up, I loved watching monarch butterflies flit in the sunshine. But I never knew they were long-distance travelers.
As an adult I learned that monarchs migrate from across the eastern US and Canada all the way to Mexico.
In other words, a butterfly that flies on paper-thin wings and weighs no more than a grape travels up to 3,000 miles.
I thought, everyone needs to know about this.
I began to mull over possibilities for writing a book. But could I contribute something new? Many wonderful books had been written about monarch migration for children, like this one and this one. My book idea stayed on the back burner.
Then the situation changed. In early fall of 2012, I had signed up to take my children to a monarch tagging event. That day I got a phone call that the event was canceled. The reason? There were no monarchs flying around.
I began to notice news and scientific reports of declining monarch numbers. Milkweed, I heard, that was the problem. Some scientists had concluded there wasn't enough milkweed, the monarch's host plant. The public latched onto this idea.
But then I started hearing that not all scientists agreed. Some had found evidence of a mysterious problem on the fall migration. Monarchs were departing but not arriving in Mexico. Why are they missing? What could be happening to them?
In the summer of 2015 I started digging in with more research. I talked with the person who had called me to tell me the monarch tagging was canceled. I wanted to hear her perspective on how monarchs were doing.
As summer gave way to fall, I visited schools that were raising monarchs or gardening for butterflies, and talked with kids and teachers.
I found instructions on the internet for making a butterfly net. I made a net, headed outside, and taught myself how to catch monarchs.
In late September, the height of the migration here in Pennsylvania, I recruited my youngest daughter and her friend to tag monarchs with me. My middle daughter came along and snapped photos. Our adventure became the opening of the book.
As fall slipped into winter, I phoned up many of the leading scientists who work on monarchs. They shared with me their ideas about what was happening. Some thought it was milkweed. Some found clues that other culprits were involved, like changes in climate or a disease. Some thought there wasn't really a problem at all, and that monarchs were doing fine.
I sorted through these conflicting ideas and arrived at what I believed was the most accurate take-home message:
Monarchs are declining—their numbers in Mexico are clearly down. But we don't know why. Probably there are a lot of causes—from diseases to deforestation of their winter habitat, from milkweed to climate change. The good news is that monarchs have the ability to bounce back quickly, and we can all give them a helping hand.
The book concludes with back matter that gives readers plenty of ideas for how they can help bring the monarchs back.
Hello and happy September! It's the start of a new school year, and Garfield's Fat Cat Guide to STEM Breakthroughs series is out. What a fun book project to be part of!
New in 2020 will be Where Have All the Bees Gone? It introduces teens to bumblebees and other wild bees. It explores why bees are disappearing, why their disappearance matters, and what everyone can do to help.
Fall 2020 will bring a book about evolution's survivors, strange creatures that have been around and little changed for millions of years. The book is for middle grades, and the working title is Survival of the Fittest.
To celebrate publication of my new book, When Plants Attack: Strange and Terrifying Plants, I'm giving away 10 signed hardback copies on Goodreads.
The contest ends soon. So if you want to enter, you have until Friday, April 26—also known as Arbor Day. Click here to enter now.
Meanwhile, a big thanks to Kiss the Book Jr, which rated When Plants Attack ESSENTIAL for libraries:
"Kinda gross, and very interesting, the full color captioned photographs show the plants up close and personal. We see the scientific process in action as specialists test why the plants do what they do."
You can read the full review here.
The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery was named to the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature Best Children’s Books of the Year list!
Not only did Monarchs make the list, it was designated as a book of outstanding merit!
Click here to see the 2019 Best Children's Books of the Year list.
Speaking of monarchs—the insects, not the book—they're on their way north right now. If you haven't already seen them in your area, expect to soon. They usually show up in my Pennsylvania garden in June, right as the milkweed shoulders its way out of the ground.
This month my new book on the creepiest, scariest plants in the world, When Plants Attack, was published.
To celebrate, I'm giving away 10 signed hardback copies on Goodreads. I hope you'll enter!
To share my love of all plants—the creepy and the not-so-creepy—the giveaway starts today, March 28, also known as Weed Appreciation Day. It runs through April 26, aka Arbor Day.
Click here to enter the giveaway.
Feel free to add When Plants Attack to your "to-read" shelf on Goodreads.