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On Feb. 2 a woodchuck (groundhog) emerges or is hauled out into the light. If it sees its shadow there will be 6 weeks of winter; otherwise, an early spring. This amazing
prediction depends entirely on whether it is cloudy (no shadow), or sunny (shadow).

No groundhog is needed! With our own human eyes and brains we can detect whether we sense sunshine and see shadows. Then we alone make the meteorological forecast (which is also nonsense but that's another story).

Sorry, Punxsutawney, it is just SHADOW OR NO SHADOW DAY.  Read More 
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A treasured book of my teen years

The Indians of New Jersey sounds like the title of a nonfiction book. However, there's a sub-title: Dickon Among the Lenapes. This book by author M. R. Harrington was first published in 1938 under the title Dickon Among the Lenape Indians. (It is still available from Rutgers Univ. Press, Amazon, etc.) When I was probably about 12-13 years old I borrowed it from the library of Honeoye Falls Central School.

The book is rich with details (and illustrations) of Lenape life, which appealed to my own nature-exploring adventures. However, I was especially drawn to its fictional narrator, an English boy (Dickon) who was swept overboard from a British ship in 1612 and lived with the Lenapes for two years. He has trouble with a bully but is lovingly accepted by others, and by a dog. At the book's end he makes a heart-wrenching decision. It made me cry when I was twelve, and probably can do so again now.  Read More 
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Writing can be hard work!

Though my spirits have been lifted these past weeks by seeing more monarchs on the move, heading for Mexico, my life has been dominated by a writing struggle. Yes, I say "struggle" because the book writing process is sometimes like that for me. It is somewhat like a roller coaster of feelings, and believe me, the low points are not fun. However, at some point--not yet reached--a writing project will give me lots of highs, and great feelings of accomplishment. And, by the way, I sometimes remind myself that many people have jobs that are so much more difficult, boring, and soul-destroying than mine.

A fall with far-above average temperatures has yielded some sweet surprises in nature: Green frogs still active in the garden pond. Katydids calling at night, even in early November. Ten or twenty years ago we would have had a killing frost well before Halloween. Our everyday lives show evidence of global warming, brought on by human activity. Some minor changes are welcome. The major ones are scary.
author in classrooms and libraries
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The year 1997 stands out because my book AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE: THE STORY OF A MONARCH BUTTERFLY was published. In 1998 it won the Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction for children. And, remarkably, it is still in print, as a paperback from Scholastic.

My dedication in that book: "To monarchs--only butterflies, yet strong enough to lift the human heart." They continue to have that affect. Whether I am driving along a highway or fishing on the ocean's edge, the sight of a fall-migrating monarch stirs strong feelings--and cheers, as I wish the butterfly a safe journey to Mexico. But, thanks to humans, monarchs face many threats. Their numbers at overwintering sites have dropped lower and lower. The great migration has faltered. These past few years I saw no monarchs at all near home. visiting author

Ah, but 2017 offers hope. A few monarchs have appeared, visiting butterfly weeds and butterfly bushes. A milkweed plant volunteered in a flower garden, and has now been fed upon by 4 monarch caterpillars. Another fed on butterfly weed. Though I found just one chrysalis, I believe all 5 made it through to adulthood. In the weeks ahead I will be near ocean beaches along which monarchs traditionally travel as they head west and south from New England and New York. Hopes rise. I may have many chances to cheer and cheer and cheer migrating monarchs!  Read More 
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Oh, oh,the Katydids are Calling!

Nature gives my family and me some wonderful animal music: spring peepers, wood thrush concerts, chimney swifts twittering overhead, cicadas. Then each year about July 22-23, we hear the first katydids. A few have called from trees the past few nights; they will continue well into the fall.
However, katydids send a kind of mixed message. Many years ago I mentioned this to my wife, Susan. "They signal that summer is far along. Fall is coming." Susan was then a very good, dedicated school teacher--BUT she did not want to be reminded of autumn's approach. I believe it was my remark about katydids that led to a family rule: in summer vacation (until near Labor Day), we tried to avoid the S-word, the A-word, and the F-word. And those words were School, Autumn, and Fall. In general, though, from now on this summer we will enjoy the bittersweet music of katydids (the K-word).  Read More 
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Pharrell Returns!

On June 15 I wrote (below) about the disappearance of a very appealing feral cat that had been part of my life for about four years. He was last seen about June 3rd or 4th.
I suspected that he was dead, but each morning looked from a certain window to see if he was in his usual "waiting for breakfast" spot. At 7 a.m. on June 30 he was!

He had lost weight but was not "skin and bones." And, of course, he was still feral, not letting me get very close. He continues to show up, often twice a day, for a good meal.
And when I let some people know the good news, I included a link to "Happy," by Pharrell Williams. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM  Read More 
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The Secret Life of the Skunk!

Recently sent to my editor: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE SKUNK. It was fun to research and write, particularly because it is narrative nonfiction. In the process of writing I discovered that I needed some specific details not found in my research. So I sent an e-mail to a woman biologist who lives and works on Martha's Vineyard, MA. (I met her ten or more years ago. I was fishing at night on an ocean beach; she came along with an antenna to help her locate skunks that carried little transmitters. We've been in touch ever since.) She helped with some skunk details, and she will also be the expert who checks my writing and the illustrations.

Writing a nonfiction story for young readers allows a writer to play with words. For example, there's this, when young skunks (kits) are led by their mother to a rocky stream: "For the first time the kits hear the music of flowing water. It tinkles, splashes, and sploshes. It gurgles, burbles, and babbles."

One more thing: my wife and I are members of a secret group of people, of unknown numbers. The secret: we like very much the strong, musky scent of skunks!  Read More 
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A Nonfiction Minute

I am one of several dozen nonfiction authors featured on a strangely-named site called iNKThinkTank.org. (No, it is not a place to buy printer ink! The name stands for "interesting nonfiction for kids.) One wonderful feature of the site is called the Nonfiction Minute. There are about 170 there, on a wide range of subjects, and one of mine is called "Watch a Webmaster at Work." Here is how it starts:

"This summer, you may be able to observe an amazing event in nature. You can watch a small animal build a structure much bigger than itself, using materials from inside its own body. This is what happens when a spider spins a web."

In addition to the roughly 400 words there, narrated by me, there is a quick video of a spider spinning. A few weeks ago a librarian in an elementary school told me that she used this Nonfiction Minute to help prepare her students for my author visit. This is the first time a librarian or teacher offered me specifics of how Nonfiction Minutes can be used. We know they ARE used; the site gets many thousands of visits every week, even through summer vacation. In a variety of ways, fascinating bits of nonfiction are getting into schools and homes--a good thing!  Read More 
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Missing Pharrell

Long ago (1983) my book FERAL: TAME ANIMALS GONE WILD was published. One chapter was about cats. I especially enjoyed exploring some neighborhoods in Brooklyn, NY at night, interviewing a female college student who was studying feral cats. More recently, I became attached to a feral cat that visits here. For about 4 years through all seasons, he showed up, often twice a day. Most mornings around 7 a.m. I looked out an upstairs window and saw him waiting, patiently, by an old playhouse. Soon he was given a bowl of cat food (including items not eaten by our indoor cats).

I doubt that he had ever been a pet; he let me get no closer than 7-8 feet. Closer, he bared his teeth and hissed. Definitely feral. I named him Pharrell. We enjoyed seeing him sip water from the garden pond, and lounge in sunny spots on cold days. A handsome "tuxedo" cat (mostly black with white markings), Pharrell became part of my life--until about two weeks ago. No sign of him since. I've inquired at the local animal shelter, and of a neighbor who also fed him occasionally. Nothing. Perhaps he has been captured and is being tamed; perhaps he was killed by a coyote. The not-knowing is troubling. And, so far, each morning I continue to look out the window at Pharrell's spot to see if he's waiting for his breakfast. Read More 
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Author Makes Big Mistake!

Sometimes, authors make mistakes in their books. And, often the error is
discovered by a kid reading the book!
That happened to me. I wrote a book called the Scholastic Encyclopedia of
Animals. (You might have a copy in your school library.) It has information about 138 animals, and all of the research and writing took most of a whole year. I know that I sometimes make mistakes, so I asked an animal expert to check my work. She found a few errors. I fixed them, and the book was published. It was my 96th book, and I thought it was perfect. Yeah!
A few weeks later I received a letter from North Carolina. It was from a 6-year old boy named Sebastian, and he had found a big mistake in my book. Here is what he wrote: "I was reading about my favorite animals with my mom and we read on page 62 that Lions are the biggest cats on Earth. But, tigers are bigger than lions! We turned to the Tiger page (page 111) and you wrote "The tiger is Earth's biggest cat." Did you know you wrote that?"
Oops! I had somehow written that two different cats were the biggest. Everybody, including the animal expert, had missed this BIG UGLY error. Quickly, I talked with the book's editor about fixing the mistake when new copies of the book were printed. And I wrote to Sebastian. I congratulated him, thanked him, and promised him a new, corrected copy of the animal encyclopedia when it was printed. When I mailed that new book, I wrote to Sebastian, "No other reader or book reviewer has let me know about this mistake. Hurray for you!"
When I visit schools, I am sometimes asked to autograph a copy of my animal
encyclopedia. When this happens, I always turn to page 62 and see what it says about
Lions. If it is a really old copy, the error is there. I sign the book, and also write, "Beware of the mistake on page 62. Tigers are bigger than lions!"
When I write, I try to do good research, and I ask experts to check my work. Mistakes are rare in my books. But I know that, if I mess up, some school kid--maybe even a 6-year-old--will probably tell me about it.  Read More 
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