On Creativity and Writing

I have always wondered why I don’t mind taking a hundred photographs and throwing out the 50 or even more that are slightly out of focus or didn’t capture the image the way I wanted, but that I expect every word I write to turn out brilliantly.

Thanks to my friend Deb for pointing out that in every creative process you need to be willing to create some (and maybe a lot of) duds, learn from them, throw them out either literally or figuratively, and keep trying. Sometimes you need to perform exercises that are meaningful only to your own process in order to produce works that speak to others in the future.

What do you think?

Strange Insects

Stink Bugs, Stick Insects, and Stag Beetles: And 18 More of the Strangest Insects on Earth by Sally Kneidel

Sally Kneidel knows her insects. In Stink Bugs, Stick Insects and Stag Beetles she gives detailed descriptions of 21 different kinds of insects in a way that is accurate, thorough and appealing. The book has a personal touch as well, because many of the insects are those the author encountered at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica.

The book is divided into parts: insects you will probably find, insects you might find and insects you probably won’t encounter in the United States. Each part contains seven chapters covering individual insects or groups of related insects. The title of the first section of each chapter is “That’s Strange.” Here the author emphasizes an odd fact about that particular insect or group of insects. She adds more punch by using a conservational tone and a bit of anthropomorphism to draw the reader into reading further. Once the reader’s attention is caught, however, the author quickly switches into a brisk, scientific tone. Next the author describes “What They Look Like” in enough detail to help with identification. Realistic drawings assist the reader to recognize each type. The next sections cover “Why Do They Do That” and “Where They Live,” ending with an activity called “ What You Can See and Do.”

One reviewer at Amazon had an issue with Kneidel’s use of anthropomorphism, and also the change of her voice to more scientific tone. Because she consistently used the more conversational tone in only the first section, I thought it was acceptable. Clearly she was using it as a hook. Sometimes we get so caught up in being factual that we forget to make the text exciting to read. How to best achieve the level of interest is open to debate.

I was disappointed, however, because the author never created any over-arching story in this book. It really felt like 21 randomly selected insects, with no connections made or concepts clarified in how insects relate to one another or their overall environment. Anyone could come up with 21 different insects (or other organisms) to write about. It is helpful to have some unifying theme to tie them all together.

Overall this book is a terrific introduction to the wild world of insects for someone who is interested in insects, but not overly knowledgeable.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (June 30, 2000)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 047135712X
ISBN-13: 978-0471357124

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at In Need of Chocolate.

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine

After reading Why boys don’t like to read: Gender differences in reading achievement at Lessons in Learning, I decided to look at books likely to interest older boys for the next few weeks.

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mystery of the H.L. Hunley by Sally M. Walker is fine example of a book with wide-ranging appeal. Those interested in history, marine archeology, the Civil War, naval engineering and/or science will all find something to discover in the comprehensive coverage. It should be noted, however, that this book is really for older children due to both subject matter and density of the text. Several times the crews of the submarine are killed, and in the last case the bones are shown, as well as reconstructions from skeletal remains.

Walker has thoroughly researched this book and her quest for detail has uncovered some truly remarkable stories in a submarine that remained hidden in the ocean sediments for 131 years. For those looking for all the answers, however, be aware that many questions about how the Hunley sank lingered at the time the book was published.

What I found most amazing was the amount of care and effort that went into preserving and recording every aspect of this project. Marine archeologists have to have a large range of skills to be able to accomplish this extraordinary task, from being able to scuba dive to finding out what might stop a old watch. Astounding!

Reading level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 112 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (January 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1575058308
ISBN-13: 978-1575058306

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Book Aunt.

Fireworks for Fourth of July

Reading Fireworks by Vicki Cobb and Michael Gold (Photographer) is a wonderful way to get ready for the Fourth of July.

fireworks1

The author says, “You’ll get a bang out of this” and she is right. You can almost see the lights, hear the explosions and smell the smoke from reading the first few pages. She calls it “painting the sky with light and sound.” Cobb quickly points out, however, that although spectacular and interesting, fireworks are not toys. They can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

In addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of fireworks themselves, Cobb also packs in a lot about the science behind the show. She educates the reader about scientific terminology, such as combustion, what an element is and how a match works. She even describes how a “party popper” works, which is the type of explosive a child might have experienced first hand.

The photographs definitely add to the quality of this book. Did you know that different types of fireworks have beautifully descriptive names like chrysanthemum, peony, soaring palm and silver willow? Michael Gold’s images make you want to “ooh” and “aah” just like for the real thing.

Interspersed throughout the book are great hands-on activities. Some are familiar, like growing crystal gardens using laundry bluing. Others are innovative, like doing a flame test to show how the fireworks get their colors. This experiment will require more than just adult supervision; the author suggests an adult should carry out the final step of adding the materials to an open flame of a gas stove.

Vicki Cobb has a friendly, conversational style that makes even difficult material easy to read. In the case of this book, younger readers may need some help with the unfamiliar terminology. Adults wanting to learn more about pyrotechnics will also find this book fascinating and useful.

If you are interested in adding new dimensions to your Fourth of July fireworks experience, this book can provide it.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Millbrook Press (September 2005)
ISBN-10: 0761327711
ISBN-13: 978-0761327714

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Tales from the Rushmore Kid.

Photo provided by Public Domain Pictures