One of the most effective ways to teach children about nature is to interest them in a writing project. Marianne Berkes’ book Going Home: The Mystery of Animal Migration perfectly lends itself to that because the animal migrations offer such a compelling story, and the specifics of each species’ migration is so different. Here is a letter of encouragement with some suggestions from Marianne Berkes.
A Letter to Young Authors
One moonlit night on a beach near my home in Florida, I watched a female loggerhead turtle crawl to the shore and deposit her eggs in a nest in the sand. It was incredible to me how this creature could travel on such a dangerous journey to return to the same place where she had been born 20 or so years before. How did she know the way?
As you may know, I recently wrote a book about migrating animals, Going Home, the Mystery of Animal Migration. While I wrote it in my favorite way to write, in rhyming verse, I decided to add a little story about the loggerhead turtle in narrative non-fiction—non-fiction that tells a story. I called it “The Wonder of it All,” and you can find it near the end of my book about migration, as an example of another way to use your imagination and write.
There are many, many different kinds of animals that migrate. Would you like to write about one of them? It will be fun! Your character could be small like a butterfly or huge like a whale. It could run, or swim, or fly. You can use the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures of your character’s environment to bring your own story to life.
Of course, once you have chosen your character, you’ll have to do research, which often rewards the writer with surprises. For example, I never knew why poison dart frogs had that name until I wrote Over in the Jungle. When doing research for Over in the Ocean, I learned that father seahorses give birth to babies. When preparing for Over in the Arctic I discovered that wolverines are actually part of the skunk family and spray their food with a strong smelly musk.
So, which animal will be your character? Will there be other characters in your story? Where will your story take place—on land, in the sea, or in the air? What problems will your character face? As you add action, it will push your story forward.
Always ask yourself, “Who, What, Where, When and How”?
Who is your story about?
What happened in your story?
Where did it take place?
When and How did it happen?
If you like to use your imagination, you may want your character to do something that can’t really happen, and that of course is fantasy. Write in the style that works best for you, but either way, editing and rewriting are necessary. Don’t be afraid to erase or start over. With every revision comes a clearer understanding of where you are actually going with your story. I often read my story aloud and listen for the flow and use of language to see how I can make my story better.
Some other fun ideas for writing about animals that migrate:
Write an acrostic poem. An acrostic poem uses different letters of the character you are writing about to begin each line in a poem. It should describe your animal. Example:
- T – travels the globe
- E – eats fish
- R – returns to the Arctic
- N – needs light
Add music to your story. With my books, Over in the Ocean, Over in the Jungle, Over in the Arctic, and Over in Australia, I can sing my words, using the old familiar tune “Over in the Meadow.” As you write about an animal, record sounds or music that will enhance your story. Practice reading your story to the rhythm of the music. Maybe you’d like to perform your story to a lower grade class with the music.
I have been so pleased to hear from teachers and students who have performed a Readers’ Theater using “Going Home, the Mystery of Animal Migration.” At a school I visited in the fall, ten third graders read a verse for each migrating animal’s story while I read the informational paragraph that explained the animal’s migrating pattern. While we did that, one hundred second graders enjoyed Jennifer DiRubbio’s beautiful illustrations on a large screen as the third graders read. We had some great discussions while reading the book. Students shared their experiences—geese they had recently seen migrating in a V formation, a hummingbird at a bird feeder, monarch butterflies on milkweed.
It is wonderful to know that this book is being enjoyed by parents, educators and of course students. I hope it will continue to stimulate discussion, enhance learning and encourage you to write your own story about an animal that is “going home.”
Enjoy the journey!