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Possible Writing Lessons
with examples from Jean Craighead George's books

Consider using exemplary works by science authors to demonstrate particular mini-lesson topics. Model examples from books by a selected author, then have your students look for additional examples that highlight the topic. Provide students with the opportunity to compare and discuss their findings.

What follows are a few purposive examples of how Jean Craighead George's books may be used to show how science writers practice their craft. We have pulled some ideas for mini-lessons and provided the titles, publishing information, and excerpts to support suggested topics for writing mini-lessons using Jean Craighead George's books.

Establishing Setting

The Moon of the Alligators, (p. 16-17)

"[The alligator's] hole, which was fifteen feet deep and some forty feet long and wide, was far out in the Everglades at the edge of a cypress head. On one of its shores was a beach where she sunbathed. Around the edges of the pool in the shallow water grew pickerelweed and arrowheads. Among their stems the fry of the largemouth bass grew up. On the shore, just out of the water, grew clumps of six-foot-tall alligator flags. Their large leaves, on the ends of long stalks, waved and fluttered like banners. These plants announce the locations of alligator homes to human, bird, and beast."

Dear Katie, The Volcano Is A Girl, (p.4)

"Katie and her grandmother stood on a hillside in Hawaii watching the Kilauea Volcano erupt. Fires lit up its sloping cone. Lightning flashed about it. The wind screamed. Hot orange-red lava glowed along its side. When it rolled into the sea it exploded into sizzling fireworks."

The Moon of the Salamanders, (p.9)

"In the third moon of the year the first thaw came. Warm winds blew for days and nights. Lakes of ice turned to water. The snow slipped away. The frost let go of the soil. The Northern Hemisphere was tilting into the sun, and even the polar winds could not stop the coming of spring. The warmth penetrated the dark, rich soil in Michigan and southern Canada and thawed the last holdouts of winter: the floors of the woodlands and their ephemeral ponds. Sequestered among old hemlocks and maples, beeches and oaks, these ponds, unlike lakes and permanent ponds, are here in March, gone in August."

Effective Use of Color Descriptions

The Moon of the Chickarees, (p.9)

"She was an American red squirrel, about eleven inches long with rusty-brown fur and short tufts on her ears. She sported a bushy tail that was fringed with silver hairs. Her jet-black eyes were outlined in white."

Julie of the Wolves, (p.5)

"Miyax pushed back the hood of her sealskin parka and looked at the Arctic sun. It was a yellow disc in a lime-green sky, the colors of six o'clock in the evening and the time when the wolves awoke."

One Day in the Woods, (p.9-10)

"The beeches shone yellow-green, the sugar maple leaflets were a pale pinkish- green, the chestnut oaks were olive green and the ash trees gleamed silver-green. There were blue-greens, orange-greens, gray-greens. The spring woods on May the third were a cathedral window of more than one hundred fifty sunlit greens, a different color for each species of tree."

Weaving Time Through a Story

One Day series: Prairie, Woods, Alpine Tundra, Desert, Tropical Rainforest
One Day in the Desert (pp. 1, 20, 42)

"At daybreak on July 10th....", "At 12:30 p.m. a desert tortoise...", "The warm sunlight of late afternoon..."

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here, (pp. 5, 7, 29)

"December 21...Winter is here. It was brought by the little hands of darkness. Each little hand is a few minutes long.", "In summer they began bringing winter...On June 21, while you were cooling off under the hose, winter began. The little hands cut off the warm sunlight.", "On the 22nd of December, little hands of light begin to push back the edges of darkness..."

The Thirteen Moons series
The Moon of the Gray Wolves (pp. 9, 16, 18, 19)

"In Toklat Pass the moon of November rose in darkness although it was only four o'clock in the afternoon.", "The five adult wolves had been confined to a small area since the pups were born in May.", "In early August, when the pups could...", "One September night the black wolf sat down...",

Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary, (pp. 5, 14, 27)

"1 Day Old...When you see dandelions turning silver, look to the north. Wolf pups are being born.", " Seven weeks old...On the longest day of the year, look to the north. Wolf pups are outdoors playing.", "4 Months Old...When you are back at school, look to the north. Wolf pups are leaving their summer dens."

Nutik, the Wolf Pup, (p. 15)

"When the moon had changed from a crescent to a circle and back again, Nutik was fat."

Putting Voice into Story

Everglades, (p.5)

"The storyteller poled the children under arching trees into a sunny water glade. He sat down and leaned toward them. 'I am going to tell you a story," he said. "It is not a story about a person or a mythical creature. It is not even a story about an animal.' The children looked at each other and waited."

Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here, (p.5)

"Dear Rebecca, I turned on the lights to eat breakfast this morning and put on my coat to go outside. Winter is here."

Dear Katie, The Volcano Is A Girl, (p.4)

"Dear Katie, You are right. The volcano is a girl. You asked me why I changed my mind, so I will tell you."

Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad and 38 Other Recipes, (p.4)

"I am the third of four generations of wild-food gatherers who take to the hills and fields in spring, summer, and autumn to harvest the free-growing plants, prepare them, and eat them. Grandfather taught my father, my father taught me, and I taught my children where to go for wild strawberries, fern fronds, and lamb's- quarters."

Using Comparisons

The Moon of the Bears, (p.42)

"The cub was tiny, about as big as a person's hand, and weighed only eight ounces, the weight of a small jar of mustard."

Dear Rebecca, Winter Is Here, (p.28)

"Snow birds leave the blizzard-bound mountains and come to your yard. They make tiny angel wings when you fly. You flop and make angel wings."

Choosing One or a Small Group as a Representative Subject Focus

The Moon of the Bears, (p.12)

"Growling softly, she lifted her big, doglike head from her furry belly...She was one of more than a hundred thousand black bears that live in dense woods near meadows and swamps of Florida..."

Look to the North: A Wolf Pup's Diary, (p.5)

"Boulder, Scree, and Talus arrive. They are blind and deaf. They can't even smell. Each weighs only one pound."

Pacing of a Story to Fit a Subject

The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies, ( p. 9 ),

"The moon of May slipped below the curve of the earth a few minutes before dawn. Darkness engulfed the long, wide Mississippi River Valley. In a damp field in Arkansas, in the brief blackness before daybreak, a dewy breeze arose. Scented with wet loam, sassafras leaves, and sweet-scented shrub, it blew through the woods and over a rice field, and faded in the river thickets. Then the sun came up."

The Moon of the Chickarees, ( p. 9 )

"The sun arose. The sky turned yellow. The faintest hint of green showed on the April land. A furry face appeared in the hollow of a fir tree. 'TCHER -r-r-r-r-r-r-rrr, TCHERRR -r-r-r-r-r-r!' The screamer's breath turned to ice stars in the cold air."

Creating Suspense

The Wounded Wolf, ( pp. 7, 16, 18, 19 )

"A wounded wolf climbs Toklat Ridge, a massive spine of rock and ice. As he limps, dawn strikes the ridge and lights it up with sparks and stars. Roko, the wounded wolf, blinks in the ice fire, then stops to rest and watch his pack run the thawing Arctic valley.
"Roko sees the shelter rock. He strains to reach it.
"Roko stops, his breath comes hard. A raven alights upon his back and picks the open wound. Roko snaps. The raven flies and circles back. The white fox nips at Roko's toes. The snowy owl inches closer."
"Only yards from the shelter rock, Roko falls. Instantly the ravens mob him. They scream and peck and stab his eyes."

Use of Descriptive Language

Acorn Pancakes, Dandelion Salad and 38 Other Recipes, (p.15)

"Sometimes called 'beaver tail' because of its flat, round pads-tasty and nourishing any time of the year-this cactus is found in the desert throughout the west, and in wastelands in the east and north-east. Large, waxy flowers appear in spring, followed by savory red fruits in summer."

My Side of the Mountain, (p.85)

"September blazed a trail into the mountains. First she burned the grasses. The grasses seeded and were harvested by the mice and the winds. Then she sent the squirrels and chipmunks running boldly through the forest, collecting and hiding nuts. Then she frosted the aspen leaves and left them sunshine yellow."

Nutik, the Wolf Pup, (p.16)

"They [Amaroq and Nutik] lived by a different clock. They fell asleep to the gabble of baby snow geese. They awoke to the raspy hiss of snowy owlets."

Sentence Variation

The Moon of the Fox Pups, ( p. 11 )

"On this evening, the pups, ears up, black noses wet and shining, were watching and waiting for their parents at the mouth of the den. A warm wind stirred the whorl of leaves on an Indian cucumber root, a perky wildflower. All the fox pups turned their heads to watch it dance. A June beetle alighted heavily on the flowers of a wild leek plant. All heads turned its way. A yellow star grass dropped a petal. Five pairs of eyes studied it."

Use of Strong Verbs

Everglades, ( pp. 15, 17 )

"Every day a blizzard of wood storks dropped into the grass and dined on the snails, crabs, bugs, and fish. A profusion of pink flamingoes hunted in the shallow mudflats. Hundreds of miles of roseate spoonbills vacuumed the ponds and shallows with their sievelike bills. A myriad of little songbirds fluttered through the trees that grew on the islands in the river of saw grass. Quantities of alligators roamed the grass and dug pools for their young. A plentitude of orchids bloomed and turned the island trees into colorful cathedral windows. A plethora of lizards and anoles clambered over the orchids..."

Moon of the Bears, (p.10)

"The snow began to melt and gurgle into the soil."

Grabbing the Reader's Attention

The Tarantula in My Purse..., ( pp. 98-101, 44-50 )
"The White Mouse Experiment"

"...Twig took on a project for science class.
'I'm going to study two white mice,' she informed me one day. 'I'll keep notes on what they do. Notes are the secret of scientific investigation, my teacher said.' "

A Talking Crow

"...Crowbar came into our lives. Craig found him on the ground in a spruce grove. A violent windstorm had knocked bird and nest out of a tree.
" 'Crows can learn to talk as do parrots or myna birds.' With that we began Crowbar's English lessons."

The Power of Similes and Metaphors

The Moon of the Owls, ( pp. 9, 11-12, 14 )

"The needles on a pine tree gleamed like glassy spears."

"The great horned owl is a magnificent bird of prey with tan and brown feathers, feet that are as big as baseballs, and heavy talons as sharp as darning needles."

"When he flies, he travels as silently as a falling star."

The Moon of the Salamanders, ( p. 33 )

"The yellow spots on their sides shone like lanterns in the water."

The Moon of the Chickarees, ( pp. 35, 37 )

"He looked for the screamer, could not find her, and came down the tree like flowing water."
"A hooded merganser saw the marten and swam into the grass, his black-and- white head now looking like sunshine and shadow."

The First Thanksgiving, ( p. 4 )

"On top of the gravel the glacier deposited huge boulders it had carried from distant places. One settled in Plymouth Harbor. It is a boulder of Dedham granite, the only Dedham granite in the entire area. A wandering pilgrim, it left its home in Europe two hundred million years ago, when the land was breaking up into continents. This boulder is Plymouth Rock."

Everglades, (p.13)

"When the winds blew, the saw grass clattered like a trillion swords."

Writing About Scientific Investigations

The Fire Bug Connection, ( pp. 88, 90, 96, 97 )

"'They're not growing up. They don't mature and have young. That's the problem, and the article didn't say anything about that.'"
"She sat down and stared at the jars--thinking, thinking. Who was doing this? Who was murdering her fire bugs in such a bizarre manner?"
"'It's the holding jars,' she said and got to her feet. 'Something's wrong with the holding jars. The one adolescent we left in the terrarium became an adult. The ones in the holding jars didn't.'"
"'There,' she said to herself, 'I've got a control.' Maggie had a terrarium with sand, and holding jars with paper. Now she had a clear plastic box with neither."

The three other eco-mysteries: Who Really Killed Cock Robin, The Firebug Connection, and The Missing Gator of Gumbo Limbo are also filled with excellent examples of engaging in and recording scientific investigations.





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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9912078. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.