Wednesday, 30 January 2013

How Dean & Lisa were 'born'

Dear Reader,

Quite a few parents have asked how I came up with Dean and Lisa, the two 'earth' characters that turns up throughout my books, asking questions and pointing out facts to the young readers.

Truth be told, I did not come up with Dean and Lisa. This is what happened.

An early draft of Dean and Lisa. The final picture ended up in Global Warming for Young Minds.

When I showed an early manuscript of Global Warming for Young Minds to my daughter, her reaction was far from what I had expected.

'It is boring,' she said after having flicked through just a few pages.
Expecting the worst, I finally managed to whisper: 'Why?' 
'Its a children's book, but there is nothing in it for children,' came the honest answer.

This was quite a watershed moment for me. Having spend months trying to write an interesting non-fictional book for children, and then find that my target audience thought it was boring because it lacked something for children was quite hard to take.

So I asked what she would do to make the book more appealing for children, and my daughter immediate suggested that I create a boy and girl character. And when I asked her about their names, the thought for a moment before saying 'Dean and... Lisa'. 

The rest is history as they say. Many weeks, drafts and discussions later my focus group of 1 was finally happy. Hurray!

The Dean and Lisa characters ended up being based on the Earth, enforcing the idea that they are 'Children of the Earth' and that if we look after and protect the Earth, we also look after and protect our children.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Topical book for children about Fukushima

Dear Reader,

I recently read an excellent book by an American children's author name Dr. Fred Bortz.

His 2012 book 'Meltdown: The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future' provides a clear and thought provoking description, which will appeal to secondary school children, of the biggest earthquake in Japan's history and its devastating impact on the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In addition, Dr. Bortz objectively examines the different alternatives to nuclear power, and poses some big questions about how we decide what technologies should underpin the world's future energy supply. Big, important questions, which are sure to provoke a fierce debate at home or in the class room.

You can read more here...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Darwin and a little known Dane

It always amazes me how something we take for granted today was a complete unknown or mystery just a few hundred years ago - until someone suddenly figures out how a particular aspect of the natural world works. Take fossils for example.

About 400 years ago, fossils was known, but it was generally accepted that fossils somehow 'magically' grew in the ground until dug up.

It took a celebrated but little known Dane, Niels Stenson (1 Jan. 1638 – 25 Nov. 1686), to shatter this assumption once and for all. Niels Stenson, who decided to Latinizise his name to Nicolas Steno, realised that fossils were the remains of past life.

The next big eureka moment came when he figured out how the fossils had ended up deep underground inside rocks in the first place. 

While we take for granted that sedimentary rocks are laid down in sequence, in layers building up with the youngest layers at the top, and that these layers trap remains of animals, it was Nicolas Steno, who first made this significant discovery.

Many therefore consider Nicolas Steno to be the founder of modern geology and of a particular branch of geology known as Stratigraphy.

If you want to read more about this little known Dane and his important discoveries, which became the underpinning pre-requisite for Darwin's evolutionary work, Wikipedia has a great article on Nicholas Steno.

Inscription on house in Copenhagen where Nicholas Steno was born.

I am happy to note that Nicholas Steno is not forgotten. Here is how Google celebrated him recently.

Friday, 25 January 2013

My TOP 5+1 ways to make children read books

Dear Reader,

It is generally accepted that it is good for children at any age to read books. It helps their reading, writing and comprehension skills, and they are likely to discover something new and interesting about the world around them.

All well and good, but how do we make our children read books? There seems to be an endless list of things competing for a child's attention, and many of these are far more shiny and interesting than a book.

Well here is my list of top 5 + 1 things to try.
Do you agree? Let's share ideas and experiences about what works or not!?

  1. Start them young, let them grow up with books from an early age.
  2. Make books available 24/7. Surround them with books, within easy reach*
  3. Read laud for them, and make them read laud for you. Show your appreciation.
  4. Make books special. Give as presents or as a special gift for doing well with school work.
  5. Allow them to scribble and write in their books.
  1. Children love to copy their parents, so make sure you read lots of books yourself.

* We have books in every room in the house, even the toilet :))

Monday, 21 January 2013

When Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib ruled the earth

An evolutionary tale for everyone.

On the seabed, some 600 million years ago, in warm, shallow waters, lived a group of strange looking creatures. They had exotic names such as Charnia, Spriggina, Dickinsonia and Tribrachidium.

As good friends do, Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib lived happily together on the slimy seabed, grazing on bacteria, and absorbing nutrients through their skin. They were literally spineless and toothless, but the four amigos did not care because they ruled the world!

Our tale ends with the evolution of the first organism with hard mouth-parts, a primitive predator, which must have come as a bit of a shock for Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib. Before any of them could mutter 'natural selection' the world's greatest arms race had started in earnest.

It is easy to understand why scientists have named this period in time the 'Garden of Ediacara', a deliberate and religious association with the Garden of Eden and the Ediacara hills where Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib left their marks forever.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Are books dead?

Dear Reader,

Are books dead? Depends on who you ask.

Someone into the latest gadgets might well answer: "Who cares? And by the way, please don't  disturb me while I am reading 'Fifty shades of grey' on my new Kindle."

A scientific minded person might well respond with: "What a stupid question! Books can't die because they weren't even alive in the first place!"

A politician will be unable to provide a straight answer, but is likely to feel obliged to form a working group, who may report back in 12 to 18 months.

But if you ask almost any parent, who routinely is trying to encourage a child to read and learn about the world, the answer is almost certainly going to be: "No, books are live and well, and a great way of enticing a child into learning."

Two weeks ago, I received an email from Allison, who lives in Oxford. Allison wrote about how she had enjoyed seeing her 9 year old son scribbling the answers to the puzzles in "Global Warming for Young Minds" directly onto the paper.

Thank you Allison for making a great point.
The fact is that children simply can't scribble their ideas or answers down onto a Kindle or Nook. And this is why children's books and books in general are here to stay.


Hampshire 2013

Saturday, 19 January 2013

New Blog

Dear Reader,

Just couldn't believe it. My old Blog had been unceremoniously removed, without as much as a kind word or any word for that matter, by my ISP. From one day to the next, it was no longer in existence.

I am quite sad that it has gone, it was a place where I had documented many of my hope, fears, problems and success connected with the publishing of my first and second children's book. And now it has all gone.

Like old photos or other sentimental items consumed by fire, I can live without it, but I would much rather that it still existed, so I could read it, remember, reflect and add to it.

But life moves on. And I am starting a new Blog, where some of the many topics that my friendly and loyal readers use to enrich and fertilise my world can be discussed, humoured, and just simply passed onto a greater audience.

For now, I am off to enjoy the snow, which has fallen so beautifully on man and beast.

Hampshire Jan. 2013