A project I had been working on this summer has finally come to fruition, and just in time for Christmas! The Adventures of Big Blue and the Capt’n, with Hari the Tiger, is a picture book I cowrote with Ben Young, a worldwide adventurer who has a deep desire to help educate people about the preservation of endangered species. He had an idea for two characters, both endangered animals: Big Blue, a blue whale, and the Capt’n, a green sea turtle. Their goal is to teach children about the endangered animals they meet as they travel the world. Ben asked for my help creating a story around Big Blue and the Capt’n, using some of his personal experiences. He’s been to Indonesia, where this story takes place. He’s also seen the animals and places mentioned in this book. In the end, I hope what we created helps make people more aware of the threats to some of the world’s most amazing and endangered animals.
And YES, there will also be plush toys of Big Blue and the Capt’n for sale.
Available at http://store.discovery.com
Only once before, for the book War in Afghanistan, have I co-written with someone. That project was easy, as I worked with a long-time friend and we were able to divide up the writing by chapters. All went smoothly.
I was a little more worried, though, about a recent batch of songs I had pitched. They were to be illustrated in picture books and paired with music, and they were based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teachings. See, I had the bright idea that my wife could help me with them. She is a STEM specialist, and I know this publisher was looking for science songs. So I hoped that pairing our skills would get them to bite.
And they did! The pitch was accepted, and thankfully, we devised a system for getting the books written. My wife provided me with the ideas (her expertise as a STEM specialist) while I wordsmithed the text (my expertise). Sure, there was a little back and forth, and a few disagreements. We both have our musical talents (she sings while I play guitar) and preferences (she likes more classical music while I’m into American and blues). But in the end, I think we may have some hits on our hands.
The above sample is from Math Saves the Day!, a song about how we use math every day, even when we aren’t thinking about it.
Okay, now in the process of wrapping up my Everything Predators book. It’s been grueling, as for every hour of writing I need to put in a few hours of research to back me up. At home, the family is getting annoyed that I’m continually watching documentaries on animals. Secret Lives of Predators, by National Geographic Channel, has been one of my faves. And there is a wall of research books preventing anyone but a mountain climber from getting to my desk.
At least things are to the point where I’m wrapping up and putting the final touches on the last chapter, chapter four, which includes fun stuff related to pop culture. And since I’m a big monster movie fan and reader of mythology, I’ve got a lot to work with.
Some movies/books/shows with larger than life predators (based on real life predators) that I mention
- Jaws—there are more deaths in one Jaws movie than there are shark-related deaths in a year.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest—the Kraken has been a popular monster in Greek and Scandinavian myths, most likely the results of people seeing giant squids, which are too shy to attack people.
- Rikki-Tikki-Tavi—As a child, I loved the cartoon adaptation of this Rudyard Kipling story about mongoose who saves a family from a cobra.
- Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner—another favorite from my childhood, but know that in real life, a road runner is never going to outrun a hungry coyote.
So while working on my Everything Predators book, I’ve come across some bizarre creatures that I wanted to share.
Goblin Sharks—these beasts live in the dark, depths of the ocean, so are rarely seen. They have jaws full of needle-like teeth that shoot forward (reminding me of the monsters in the Alien movies) to snatch prey.
Amazonian Giant Centipede—okay, anything with more than four legs can be kind of creepy. But when it has almost 100 legs and can be the size of your forearm, that is scary-creepy. And these centipedes can catch bats!
Mantis Shrimp—these little guys (most are only a few inches long) pack a punch powerful enough punch to crack the shells of snails and crabs.
Archerfish—an apt name, as they shoot water at bugs, hoping to knock them into the water, where they become fish food.
And those are just a few of the cool predators that I’m including in this book.
One of my big projects this month is book about predators. It’ll be my 6th book in National Geographic Kids Everything series, and I continue to be excited to write for them, especially since I was so enthralled with National Geographic Magazine growing up.
And while I’ve done a lot of book research about animals over my years, and written many books about different critters, it’s always fun when a project helps you learn new things, or at least look at the world differently.
That is very true of this project. It has stretched my understanding of what predators are. Mostly we think of animals like sharks and lions and wolves as predators. But when looking at what truly defines them: animals that get energy from eating other animals, the definition of a predator expands to goldfish, songbirds, hornets, toads, whales, moles, etc . . . There are thousands of animals, that eat other animals, that we don’t normally think of as predators because of our fascination with the apex predators.
What makes a predator?
- Predators kill and eat the animals they hunt.
- Typically, predators are larger than their prey, with exceptions for animals that hunt in groups, like a pack of wolves or an army of ants.
- Predators have heighten senses, like a hawk’s keen sight, or special features, like a chameleon’s long and sticky tongue, to help them catch prey.
TRIVIA: Blue whales are the world’s largest predator, eating tons of krill a day.
Back when I was in grad school, at Minnesota State University, Mankato, students got in free to all sporting events, which was great for a poor college student like me. That meant hitting home hockey games was one our favorite (as in inexpensive) forms of entertainment. The Mavericks weren’t always the best team, but they played against the Badgers and Gophers, so we got to see some exciting games.
Like with all fun writing projects, you mix things you enjoy, and for The Science of Hockey, that’s exactly what I was able to do. Hockey + graphic novel format = my newest release into the world. It’s also my first book in the Max Axiom, Super Scientist series. He’s a character created by a couple friends of mine, Chris Harbo and Donnie Lemke. So it was doubly fun adding to Max’s legacy.
Colorful, fascinating, and timely, this book on soccer is true to National Geographic’s reputation for excellent coverage. Non-soccer fans, whose numbers are diminishing, will enjoy this addition to the “Everything Series” for National Geographic Kids. It is an educational romp. With more than 100 pictures, interesting history about the game’s origins, and information about the worldwide coverage of superstar players, coaches, and their territories, this book will ensure that readers’ eyes do not wander. The picture book size is bold, illustrations are numerous, and the information is massive. Definitions, maps, addresses for soccer websites, and a photographic diagram of “The Pitch” (i.e., the playing area for international games) are provided. Altogether, this keeps the pressure on to keep on… reading. In 2015 the Women’s World Cup will be played in Canada, and the world again will be watching. To be in the know about soccer language and rules, place this book in your school library and your backpack.
In grad school, at Minnesota State University, Mankato, friends and I would hit Mavericks’ hockey games whenever we got the chance. As students, we got in free, which was about all we could afford at that time in our careers. While I can’t claim to be a huge hockey fan, the games were a blast, sitting behind the opponents’ goal and harassing the visiting team.
But I must admit a guilty pleasure in seeing the Zamboni roll out between periods. Ever since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with how this odd-looking, slow-moving machine worked. Not to mention, I’d be shouting along as the Gear Daddies classic “I Wanna Drive a Zamboni” blare over the arena’s speakers. When younger, I was envious of the person getting to drive it around—probably still am a little jealous.
So when given the assignment to write a graphic novel The Science of Hockey, I knew I had to dedicate a spread to the Zamboni.
My book is be part of the Max Axiom, super scientist series. And one futuristic device Max possesses is X-ray glasses. I thought he could use them to take a close look at how a Zamboni works. And since someone would be driving it around the rink at the time, I asked the illustrator to show the skeleton of the driver, something I thought was a humorous touch.
The Science of Hockey will be released this summer.
Stubby, the Dog Soldier has been selected for the 2015 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People reading list by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC). The committee “looks for books that emphasize human relations, represent a diversity of groups and are sensitive to a broad range of cultural experiences, present an original theme or a fresh slant on a traditional topic are easily readable and of high literary quality, and have a pleasing format and, when appropriate, illustrations that enrich the text.”
A nice shout out to an extra special pooch!
While researching for this book, Building the Golden Gate Bridge, I learned a valuable lesson: If something is falling from above, don’t look up! If I hadn’t, I probably would have suffered a broken nose when a friend dropped a hammer while we were installing some cabinets. Instead, I kept my head down and was only dealt a glancing blow, which left me with a black eye. Bad, but not as bad as it could have been. And that hammer fell only a few feet, not the hundreds of feet that items like coffee cups and rivets feel during construction of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Summary: People living in San Francisco during the 1920s and 1930s are fascinated by the project to build the Golden Gate Bridge—the world’s longest suspension bridge yet. Will you: Be a designer of the bridge, working to solve the many challenges created by such an enormous project? Or work as a crewmember, accepting the dangers of laboring hundreds of feet in the air above the cold, swirling currents of San Francisco Bay? Experience situations taken from real life.