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The Icemen Campeth

January 16, 2014

Tags: Originally written for Boys' Life magazine.

Winter boots stick out from a dome of snow. Somewhere inside, the rest of James Davis, 15, grunts and sweats, even though the temperature is below freezing. Like a wolverine digging its den, he wields a trench shovel to hollow out a five-person shelter against the coming night’s cold.

James and his buddies are building quinzee huts. These shelters turn a sub-zero night into a cozy snow-tel room.

The temperature drops … 15 degrees … 10 degrees …

Come winter, bitter cold on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sends most people scurrying for the indoors. Not these guys. Each year, they snowshoe into their winter camping adventures. “I brag about it with my friends,” says Michael Williams, 18. “They say we’re crazy, but it’s a great experience.”

Cold Camping
Winter camping presents greater challenges than sacking out in warmer weather. “You need to be more prepared,” explains Brandon Kwak, 15. “You’ll stay warm if you have the right gear.”

The right gear includes long johns, wool sweaters, and waterproof top layers. “And you always need a set of dry clothes to change into,” Brandon suggests. Cotton clothing, though, is a big no-no when it comes to cold-weather camping. Once cotton gets wet, it saps precious heat away from the body. That can be a quick ticket to hypothermia—dangerously low body temperatures.

Knowledge and experience, though, are just as important as the right gear. The quinzee huts, for example, take forethought and major shovel work. Some of the crew went out to the wooded site several days before the campout. They piled up five large mounds of snow. This gave the snow time to settle.

Hollowing out the shelters required teamwork. At first, the guys took turns tunneling to open up the inside with trench shovels. Once there was enough room, a second shoveler could crawl in to help.

After a chili dinner, the guys hung out by the fire drinking hot cocoa. They were surrounded by the kind of silence only winter camping offers. “We were in the middle of nowhere,” remembers Matt Lanaville, 15. “You couldn’t see any city lights or hear traffic. It was just the moon and clouds and stars.”

Finally, they crawled into their snow domes. A waterproof tarp for a floor, insulating mattresses, and cold-weather sleeping bags promised a snug night’s sleep. Warmed by body heat, quinzee huts will stay a comfortable 30 degrees through the night.

The campers soon drifted off to sleep. Outside, the thermometer kept dropping: 5 degrees … 0 … minus 5 …


Hold Your Seahorses!

January 16, 2014

by Sean McCollum

One glance at a sea horse and you know why it got the name. (Their genus name, Hippocampus, is Greek for “bent horse.”) But sea horses—for all the resemblance to their four-legged, grass-grazing, land-loving namesakes—are fishes. And amazing fishes at that! They are captains of camouflage with armored bodies and talented tails. Their wacky adaptations make them wonders of the sea.

Where Sea Horses Roam
Like land horses, sea horses like grass. But they prefer to hide in it rather than nibble on it. Most species of sea horse haunt seagrass beds as well as coral reefs along warmer coastlines. There, they hang out and hang on by wrapping their prehensile tails around seaweed or some other support. Then underwater currents deliver their food—tiny sea animals and plants called plankton.

Masters of Disguise
Spotting a sea horse in its natural habitat is a tricky treat for SCUBA divers. These fish are masters of disguise. They can change colors to camouflage themselves, and feature bumps called tubercles (say: TOO-bur-kullz) that also help them blend in. They have to be good at hide-and-seek since they’re lousy at run-away. They lack tail and large anal fins that most fish use for power and speed. They maneuver with just dorsal fins and a pair of pectoral fins that look like ears on the sides of their horsy heads.

Look Ma, No Scales!
Sea horses might not be fast, but they are plenty tough. Instead of fishy scales, bony plates protect their bodies. This makes them less than tender snacks for most predators. Sea horses also lack teeth. Instead, they use their tubular snouts like straws to suck in plankton whole. Sea horses are ambush hunters, aided by eyes that can move independently of each other. They calmly lie in wait until a morsel floats by—and flick! Then a very simple digestive system—sea horses don't have stomachs—turns food into energy.

From Education Week ...

November 13, 2013

Tags: bullying, teachers, writing, cliques

Here's a link to an inspiring story of how a teacher used the power of writing to help students address bullying in their own classroom.

http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2013/11/04/fp_rockower.html?tkn=SWMDlRgmyZvxAZnW%2BHb4o1BAIWiiwP21Sre2&intc=es

A New and a Little Scary Place

June 6, 2013

Tags: How bad dancing helps me stay in touch with school-age readers ...

Originally posted on The Wild Writers Web site ...

A bunch of years ago I took a six-week swing dance class here in Boulder. I had always loved watching the expert dancers on the dance floor—the timing, the spins and rocks, the lifts, the glee. The good hoofers made it look so effortless, so fluid—so fun!

Our instructors were great—gifted and patient. But by the second class I realized something that made my heart and stomach sink: I … was … a … slow … learner. I had to practice the most basic “step, step, rock step” a couple dozen times before it started to make any kind of connection between my brain and feet. Simple spin? My partner was lucky I didn’t tear out her arm by turning the wrong way. Partner Charleston? Give that girl some shin pads.

Oh, and then have us do a “show-what-you-know” during class? Anxiety turned to dread amped up to breath-holding fright as the instructors went down the line of dancers. When our turn came, I couldn’t remember even how to start! The only sound in my brain was the static of self-consciousness. (I think I drooled.)

As a kid and youth, I had a rep as a fast learner—at least that’s how I remember it. I had played sports and been in the high school band and done musicals and theater—but that was a long time before this. Somehow I thought ingrained confidence from those experiences would automatically kick in.

Instead, I finished those six weeks with an in-depth knowledge of the inner life of the wallflower. And as much as I told myself to relax and just have fun, I was constantly fending off self-consciousness about being the dork with two left clown shoes.

Along the way, though, I had a revelation as it related to my writing for kids. Self-conscious wallflowers? That is how many, many kids feel every day as they head off to music lessons or basketball practice or the classroom—especially as the bus carries them into adolescence. They are constantly facing new challenges and learning new things, and many (most?) must navigate social fears and self-doubt as well as the content—curricular or otherwise.

This helped renew my affection and compassion for my young readers. I want to write for them in ways that reassure them that yes, there are challenges and setbacks, but struggles and mistakes are part and parcel of life. So let’s be patient and kind with ourselves and others so the shy, wonderful things that live inside us feel safe enough to emerge from the shadows. I want to show in my stories that living life and enjoying it is not about being the best or even particularly good at what we try. It is about showing up, opening ourselves to sense and beauty, and taking part at whatever level our abilities and personalities allow.

When I want a reminder about the reality of kids’ lives, I now know one of the best things I can do is try something that makes me nervous. I try to experience the sweaty palms and the heart-bending thrills of going outside my comfort zone—failing, falling down, laughing, then getting back up and trying again.

Those of us who work with young people should occasionally seek that out; because “The New And a Little Scary” is a place where kids live every day.

The Next Big Thing Welcomes Christine Liu-Perkins!

May 29, 2013

Tags: Kids dig mummies, and they are going to love Christine's upcoming book!

Today, I welcome friend and fellow Colorado author Christine Liu-Perkins to my Web site as guest blogger, part of the Next Big Thing blog author tour.

Launched in Australia, The Next Big Thing is an ad hoc network of bloggers that has spread around the globe. It features authors and illustrators of books for kids, tweens, teens, and young adults discussing their recently published books and/or those slated for publication within the coming year.

After years of research, writing, and revising, Christine can finally dish about her upcoming book ...

What is your title of your book?
AT HOME IN HER TOMB: LADY DAI AND THE ANCIENT CHINESE TREASURES OF MAWANGDUI (pronounced mah-wahng-dway). (more…)

The Next Big Thing Welcomes Caroline Stutson!

May 22, 2013

Tags: We celebrate Caroline's charming Cats' Night Out ...

Another entry in The Next Big Thing virtual authors' blog tour, we feature Caroline Stutson's picture book, Cats' Night Out. No library or first grade math class should be without it!

What is the title of your book?

CATS’ NIGHT OUT

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to do a different kind of counting book. Young fans seemed to like the difference, too. I received one letter that told me “… the book I rilly like is Cats Nihgt Out … beccuess it cawnts bie tows.” (In case you’re wondering, that’s: “because it counts by twos.”) Dancing in pairs seemed like a natural way to demonstrate this, and what’s not charming about pairs of dancing cats?

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a picture book for ages 4 and up. (more…)

The Next Big Thing!

May 1, 2013

Tags: robots, history of robots, Capstone Press, Next Big Thing, Raham, Krantz, science history, science fiction

My turn! Today, I host the Next Big Thing blog author tour. Launched in Australia—a beautiful place to launch from, I must say—this blog network has since gone international. It features authors and illustrators of books for kids, tweens, teens, and young adults discussing their recently published books and/or those slated for publication within the coming year.

How does it work? Each author answers the same ten questions (or variations thereof), then turns the spotlight on a pair of others who then pick up the torch. In other words, it’s a global game of “Tag, you’re it.” For my part, I’ll be highlighting my nonfiction book about robots before tagging the work of two honored Colorado authors Gary Raham and Hazel Krantz. (more…)

Listen to the Kid

March 5, 2013

Tags: Originally published on the Wild Writers Web blog (http://thewildwriters.com/)

Last year, I wrote a pair of articles for the classroom magazines Storyworks and Scholastic Scope about Jordan Romero, the wunderkind who has climbed the “Seven Summits”—the tallest mountain on each continent. The stories focused on his preparations for a 2010 attempt to summit Mt. Everest with his dad and his dad’s partner, the controversy about a 13-year-old taking the risk, and his ultimate success in becoming the youngest to ever stand at the summit.

As I did my research, I became increasingly puzzled by the disapproval and, in some instances, outright anger and disgust directed at Jordan and his family. Parenting blogs and their readers’ comments were often scathing. Other mountain climbers said Jordan didn’t have the judgment or experience to make the attempt. TV interviewers seemed barely able to stifle their tongue-clucking, sometimes insinuating that Jordan was some egotistical little poophead and trust-fund punk (he’s not), or that Jordan’s father—a paramedic—should be arrested for child endangerment. It was like some kind of morality play with Jordan playing the straw boy for grown-ups’ collective fears. (more…)

Wild Ink Interview Part IV: Loving the Story

February 27, 2013

Tags: Nonfiction, getting started, exclamation points, Wild Ink

The last installment of my interview with Victoria Hanley for her book Wild Ink ...

• What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer?

Love the story, whatever it may be. Find that aspect that speaks to your own passionate curiosity or observe the passion in others and lead with that. For example, I’m a big sports fan but had never gotten into motor sports. But when I was asked to write a series on racecars, I delved into the mindsets of the fans as well as the driving teams. By the time I started writing, I understood and resonated with their affection and devotion to what is a very demanding sport. (more…)

Wild Ink Interview Part III

February 18, 2013

Tags: You make a living writing nonfiction for kids and teens. How many hours does it take, and what tips can you offer about the business side of nonfiction?

• From my interview in Wild Ink: Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market by Victoria Hanley

I probably put in 45–60 hours a week, including cleaning the oven and other feats of procrastination. More hours than that and my writing gets stale. If you start earning enough that it affects your taxes, get a tax preparer who knows the ins and outs of the tax code in regard to freelance work. You’ll be glad you did.

Much more importantly, cultivate a good relationship with your editors. Again, that sounds obvious, but too many writers view critical comments from an editor as a personal attack. It ain’t. Writing is usually solitary but publishing is a collaborative process. (more…)

Cool Quotes


It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have dome them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

-Theodore Roosevelt

"The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate."
-John Ruskin

It’s a myth that writers write what they know. We write what it is that we need to know.
-Marcie Hersman

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.
- Paul Ehrlich

Nothing softeneth the Arrogance of our Nature like a
Mixture of some Frailties.
It is by them that we are best told,
that we must not strike too hard
upon others
because we ourselves do
so often deserve blows.
They pull our Rage by the sleeve
and whisper
Gentleness to us in our censures.

-Halifax

Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty
and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
-Rumi

“We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork.”
-Didactylos in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.

"You can do it."

-Sherman Alexie, from
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

"It is blissfully simple to strike a savvy, sophisticated pose by attacking someone else’s creations, but the old adage is right: Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again." -Martha Beck

"Live in the active voice rather than the passive. Think more about what you make happen than what is happening."
-William De Witt Hyde

"The soul of a child demands these mighty passions, opposition and adversity."
-Isak Dinesen

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, 'I'll try again tomorrow.'"
-Mary Anne Radmacher

"That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time."
-John Stuart Mill

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."
-Wade Davis

"It is so easy to be cynical. It's an accurate reflection of reality. It's much harder; it takes a philosophical point of view, to be optimistic. You have to work at it every day. One of the joys of working with children is that they are still unspoiled by cynicism."
-Yo-Yo Ma

"Story means pleasure, as distinct from art; it would rather gratify than edify.
But stories also protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the twentieth century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories—that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle, and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narratives—in many fields of knowledge—because it is impossible to live without them."
-Bill Buford, 1996

"Adulthood is the consequence of decisions made by a teenager."
-Stew

"Kids are not stupid. They're just short." —Jack Prelutsky