Monday, August 30, 2010

The greenest book: paper or electronic?

[This post first appeared on INK (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) about a year ago. While the technology has progressed quite quickly, the issues discussed below have not.]
I’ve been pondering this topic quite a bit and found several online articles (listed at end) plus insightful reader comments that helped me to make this list. Without getting into heavy number-crunching to calculate carbon footprints, here are some pros and cons of traditional paper books vs. electronic books. Some of the items aren’t necessarily energy-related, but impact the reader’s experience and thus the desirability of one form over the other.

Paper book pros:
Trees are a renewable resource.
Paper books require little energy to read (aside from a lamp and some cookies, perhaps.)
Browsing is easy.
Paper books...
can last for decades or centuries
are often lent to many readers (via libraries as well as informal passing around.)
are generally not thrown away but are donated or sold.
are a carbon sink.
are pleasant to read in bed, in the bath, on the beach, or atop Mt. Everest.

Paper books...
are heavy to ship.
become dated very quickly and can’t be directly updated.
are an all or nothing proposition. You either buy the whole book or none of it.
can be made from recycled materials and printed with non-toxic ink but often (usually?) are not.
Paper manufacturing requires a great deal of water and energy.
Pulp trees are often grown in an unsustainable way.
Many (most?) books are printed overseas and shipped long distances.
Because book returns are allowed, many books are shipped twice... to a bookstore, then back to the warehouse.
Excess books that are returned may ultimately never be sold and instead get recycled or destroyed.
Bookstores, libraries, and warehouses must be heated, cooled, and otherwise use energy.

Now for electronic books... first, a definition. For my purposes, a book in digital form can be a PDF that is downloaded from the Internet, a book published on a web site, read via a Kindle or other portable device format, on a CD, or hidden inside stuffed animals, etcetera.

E-book pros:
take almost zero physical storage space... say “bye-bye” to bookshelves loaded with books nobody reads!
can be very inexpensive or free (depending on the economic model.)
can be easily subdivided so readers could buy only the portion they really want.
can easily be revised and updated.
Text and images that have been turned into electrons require little energy to “ship.”
Hundreds of books can be stored in one easy-to-carry package.
Various enhancements such as dictionary access, easy searching for terms, sound, animation, and who knows what else already are (or soon will be) possible.
Creative possibilities such as multiple endings, non-linear reading, internal and external linking, reader collaboration, and other multimedia mash-ups are possible.
Narrow interest publications are more economically feasible.

E-book cons:
They can’t be read without electricity.
Reader devices (e.g. computer, Kindle) take energy to manufacture and ship, and often contain toxic or nonrenewable materials.
Device life spans are relatively short.
Current devices are expensive.
Some technologies allow the seller to delete the book from a purchaser’s device (yikes!)
Readers can’t share a book under copyright (legally, anyway) except by lending their device.
Many titles are not currently available in electronic form.
Many people just don’t like reading on a screen.
Browsing e-books is a clunky experience compared to swiftly flipping through books in a bookstore.

I haven’t reached many firm conclusions, but one thing is for sure; it’s highly desirable that both paper and e-books be as green as possible, period. The trend is for “we the people” to be more demanding about how the products we consume rate in terms of their sustainability. As authors and readers, these issues are a top priority for us to think about now and in the years to come.
Innovation and the Future of E-books by John W. Warren (downloadable PDF)
The New York Times: Are E-Readers Greener Than Books? by Joe Hutsko
Cleantech Group Report: E-readers a win for carbon emissions(summary)
The New York Times (April 2010) How Green is My iPad?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

“Reading is an Investment” teaches kids about money

While digging through the blogosphere, I stumbled over a new program in Vermont designed to teach young children basic financial concepts. Debuting this fall statewide, I’m delighted to say that one of the three books utilized will be Follow the Money.

The story begins as George, a quarter, is minted. Taken to the bank, he soon becomes change in a cash register drawer, then goes on to be spent, lost, saved, donated, and even washed in a washing machine as he travels hand to hand through the economy. Among other things, I wanted to show how people make such varied choices about how to use their money.

The second book is One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway, and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. It’s based on true story about a boy in Africa who started with one chicken and ended up with a large poultry farm. The story shows how microlending impacted not just the main character but also his family, village, and region. 

The third book is Money Madness, written by David Adler and illustrated by Edward Miller. It explores early systems of exchange such as bartering, and early forms of money including rocks, feathers, and lumps of metal. It describes the advantages of money with concrete examples to show how difficult it could be to trade bread for a house, for example.

Many of us didn’t get very much practical information about personal finance and almost certainly could have used more guidance at an early age. It’s wonderful that the State Treasurer’s Office in Vermont decided to pursue this important aspect of their students’ education. 

As John Bramley, one of the Reading is an Investment program supporters stated, “Financial literacy is more important today than ever, as shown by recent events.” I suspect we can all agree on that point.

[Update August 29, 2010] The Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy has a K-12 standards PDF available with an outline of the knowledge and skills students should possess. Topics include taking responsibility for personal financial decisions; finding/evaluating financial info from various sources; developing a plan for spending and saving; and many more. Mastering these topics is a good investment for all ages, no doubt!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Water-themed picture books

The not-yet-released book Splish Splash! by Amy Schimler looks like a cute book. I haven’t met Amy personally, but a mutual artist friend Joyce Shelton told me about her. It’s a board book with an interactive feature... to see two interior spreads and find out more about it, check out this post on her blog.

Sketches and finishes from an upcoming book about the effect of climate change on the ocean can be seen on Stephen Aitken’s blog.

You can see some gorgeous watery artwork on Janeen Mason’s website from Ocean Commotion: Sea Turtles. I worked a tropical fish puzzle of hers once and it was amazing to see the detail she puts in her artwork.

You have to go visit this site for Ocean Soup: Tide-Pool Poems written by Steve Swinburne and illustrated by Mary Peterson, it couldn’t be more charming. Bubbles rise, crabs jump out, and more. I blogged about her approach to the book on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) in the post Illustrating Nature.

I have a partial ms. with an ocean theme... hmmm, maybe I need to get busy on that one. These are just a few that caught my eye...if anybody has other favorite watery picture books, feel free mention them in the Comments.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Digging Up Prehistoric Reference

[This article is adapted from a post I originally wrote for I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids.]

While working on a My Teacher is a Dinosaur, I went on the hunt for good reference material. Though there are zillions of books on the multitudes of fabulous dinosaurs, it was more difficult to find information about the myriad of other intriguing prehistoric critters from cyanobacteria to giant sea scorpions to Diictodon (“the gopher of the Permian,” a reptile that lived in burrows) to Ambulocetus (“the walking whale”) and many more. In addition to having a more inclusive view of life throughout Earth’s prehistory, there had to be plenty of pictures, naturally. These are a few books I found that include dinosaurs AND equally interesting non-dinos:
Super Little Giant Book of Prehistoric Creatures
by David Lambert and The Diagram Group
2006, 288 pages, 
4" X 5".

This small book has clear illustrations, timelines, overviews of the major geological
periods, and spotlights a good variety of animals with a description plus a summary of pronunciation of those tongue-twisting names, scientific classification, size, diet, location, and era.

The Complete Guide to Prehistoric Life
Tim Haines and Paul Chambers, the makers of the TV trilogy 
Walking With Dinosaurs/Beasts/Monsters
2005, 216 pages, 8.5" X 11.

This book has stu
nning digital illustrations with photo-realistic detail that bring the ancient world to frightening life. Presented in chronological order, there’s a written description of each animal and its lifestyle. From Thrinaxodon (a reptile with whiskers), to Giganotosaurus (the largest meat-eating dinosaur), to Entelodon (a rhino-sized pig) these are fascinating creatures to get acquainted with.

National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals
by Alan Turner, paintings by Mauricio Anton
2004, 192 pages, 8.5" X 11.25"

A splendid compendium starting with mammal-like reptiles then covering the major mammal groups such as marsupials, elephant relatives such as Deinotherium (with nice chin tusks), primitive whales, tank-like Glyptodonts, bear-dogs, giant sloths, the largest land mammal (Paraceratherium) and many more, including human ancestors. Many of the painterly illustrations also include a panorama of the habitat that existed at the time, as opposed to showing the animals on a plain white background.

The World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Creatures
by Dougal Dixon

2007, 512 pages, 7" X 9"

One of the most comprehensive guides available, with about 1,000 animals described and nicely illustrated. After summaries of the geological timescale, habitats, and the process of fossilization, the animals march in. Starting with early tetrapods (4-limbed descendants of fish), there are giant amphibians, early reptiles and mammals, ocean-dwelling reptiles such as plesiosaurs, flying pterosaurs, armored/grazing/meat-eating dinosaurs, almost-birds, early cats, dogs, camels, rhinos, primates... they’re all there and more in a mind-boggling parade of the incredible creatures that existed ages ago.

By the way, I haven't forgotten about prehistoric plants. There aren’t many books devoted to them exclusively, but many references include at least a token section about ancient flora. And not to neglect the wonders of the Internet... you can find recently unearthed discoveries too new to be in books by putting in search terms like “giant prehistoric rodent”...some very cool critters just may 
pop up, such as this 1 ton wonder that did end up in my book.

When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Long Before Dinosaurs
by Hannah Bonner
2007, 48 pages, 8.5" X 10.5 inches

When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life before Dinosaurs

These two books are a funny, informative survey of life before the dinosaurs.

Prehistoric Life: The Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth
DK Publishing
2009, 512 pages, 11.8 X 10.3 inches

My husband Andy spotted this thick tome at the bookstore, and it was a huge help. In addition to many pictures, the timelines made it much easier to put things in order.

For an incredibly comprehensive list of K-12 books about fossils, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric topics, check out this page compiled by retired science librarian Jack Mount.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lists of recommended picture books

It’s always nice to find my books on a list... that’s how the word-of-mouth spreads about children’s books, from what the publishers say. Here are a few that I came across recently:

A list of the 10 Best Elementary Math Trade Books, featuring my Fraction Action.

Five books plus ideas and resources for teaching fractions to 2nd graders on Open Wide, Look Inside.

A nice list of math books plus lesson plan ideas, including my Missing Math.

Favorite Books for Third-Graders is quite an extensive list from the GreatSchools Book Nook Experts. They include my Mapping Penny’s World in the section called Books About School.

A short post called Learning Coin Values with Money Bingo that mentions my Follow the Money.

Top 20 Earth Day Activities and Books is comprised of two nice lists, including The Great Trash Bash on the Educationtipster blog.

Books About the USA shows the jackets and describes the content of each book, including Celebrate the 50 States.

If anyone spots a book of mine on a list, please let me know, TIA!

My Teacher Is a Dinosaur free coloring page

Yesterday I received copies of my fall picture book and they look great. The full title is My Teacher Is a Dinosaur and Other Prehistoric Poems, Jokes, Riddles, & Amazing Facts. It takes readers on a whirlwind tour of the history of life on Earth starting 4 1/2 billion years ago... not bad for only 48 pages, right? For more info including reviews, please check out this page.

These previous blog posts tell a little about the behind-the-scenes activity. I also wrote about doing the research for this book on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) here and here. Last but not least, here is my I.N.K. post about how to write jokes and riddles.

I haven’t forgotten about the coloring page... here it is!
Click on the image to enlarge it then print it out with a horizontal orientation and get out your crayons. (Did you know there is a Crayola set with 96 colors!?!) Or drag it off the web page to your desktop. Feel free to send it to any kids you know that love dinosaurs. If anyone sends me a photo of a colored-in page, I’ll post it here. Or, post it on my author page on Facebook!

Thanks, y’all!

[Note: This post also appeared on my studio blog... I’m in the middle of transitioning all my book-related posts to this blog. I’ll be reprinting some I.N.K. posts also in case readers didn’t see them the first time around.]
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