— by Marianne Berkes
Twenty-five years ago I moved to Florida and became fascinated with frogs and their cacophony of sounds from a pond in the back of our home. In my first book, Marsh Music, published in 2000, I turned those night songs into a story about frogs performing a concert. At the end of the book, I added two glossaries, one of the cast (12 different frog species) and one for musical terms. I was thrilled when the Booklist review called it “an entertaining way to teach children about both nature and music.”
My second book, my first published by Dawn Publications in 2002, was Seashells by the Seashore, about a young girl who combs the beach collecting specific shells for her grandmother’s birthday. In it I alluded to the importance of conservation and living in harmony with nature, which of course, made it a “Dawn” book. A laminated tear-out identification sheet was included in the paperback so budding young naturalists could take it with them for a day of discovery at the beach. And of course, in the book is a glossary of the different shells.
My purpose for writing those books was that after reading them, kids (and adults) would feel the moist air outside after a rain and really listen to the sounds of frogs. Or they would go to a beach with sand between their toes, discovering, touching and feeling the amazing works of art the mollusks that live in shells create.
Those two books, and the fifteen that followed, identify me as an author who combines fact with fiction–“creative non-fiction.” What is a child’s perception of learning? I believe most children learn by doing
Tell me and I forget
Show me and I remember
Involve me and I understand.
When I write my “informational picture books” as they are now called, I determine how I can get kids inside the book. How can it be interactive? In 2004, I used the age-old song “Over in the Meadow” to which I put a different twist and wrote Over in the Ocean, in a Coral Reef. Kids sang the melody as they were learning to read. Because it rhymed and had a meter, it became easy for them to pick up on the lyrics. They were memorizing the book through repetition as fundamental skills were being learned. You can even listen to me singing it!
Now there are six “Over” books published by Dawn where kids act out what the animals in various habitats do as they learn about them and count them. Add spectacular artwork (I am so lucky to have great illustrators make my words come alive) and you have fun-to-read picture books that kids want to read again and again. For older students, there is interesting information about the habitats at the end. Also in the last few “Over” books there are hidden animals that kids of all ages love to look for as they learn.
Popular non-fiction author April Pulley Sayre recently said, “Administrators are starting to recognize that non-fiction writing is the key to student achievement.” Bravo to that! So many wonderfully written non-fiction picture books for kids are launch pads for discussion and learning.
Enter the Common Core Standards which have become a classroom reality in 45 states. They emphasize an increase in the amount of informational text for students to hear, read, and write. Teachers are now looking for non-fiction picture books from a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) point of view. And STEAM adds “art” to the mix. Dawn’s beautiful nature-awareness books provide skills to help kids be critical thinkers and increase success in reading, math and science, as well an appreciation for our natural world.
Each book is carefully vetted by experts in the field and many have curriculum connections. All my books with Dawn have free “downloadable” activities for educators (and parents). For example, my last four books published by Dawn:
- The Swamp Where Gator Hides (Spring 2014) introduces readers to animals that live in or near a swamp in a cumulative rhyming story. They wonder “Who will Gator have for lunch today?” as students perform a Reader’s Theater in this chain of events story.
- Over in A River, Flowing Out to the Sea (Fall, 2013) has a reproducible map of all the rivers in the book—great for learning geography—along with other curriculum connections and reproducible bookmarks of the river animals.
- What’s in the Garden? (Spring 2013) has 12 recipes that are in the book that can be reproduced along with bookmarks of the fruits and veggies, and other fun activities.
- Over in the Forest, Come and Take a Peak (Fall, 2012) encourages the reader to become a “wildlife detective” as they go on a Forest Scavenger Hunt along with several other “nature connections” and the reproducible bookmarks.
Please click Activities on the web site and see the wonderful variety of free downloadables for yourself!