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A woman explorer & Giant Panda mythbuster

  • Posted on March 28, 2012 at 5:53 AM

I am blogging for the KidLit Celebrates Women’s History site today and cross-posting here.

Quick! Name ten explorers. How many of them were women? Perhaps you listed Sacagawea or Amelia Earhart? Did you include Delia Akeley, Christina Dodwell, Mary Kingsley, Florence Baker, Alexandrine Tinne, Gertrude Bell, Alexandra David-Neel, Florence Von Sass Baker, Isabella Bird Bishop, Annie Peck, Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Eva Dickson, Marie-Anne Gaboury, Jeanne Baret, Josephine Diebitsch Peary, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Freya Stark, Valentina Tereshkova, Robyn Davidson, Liv Arnesen, Kira Salak, Ida Laura Pfeiffer, Harriet Chalmers Adams, or Ruth Harkness?

If it weren’t for Alicia Potter’s sharing the story of Ruth Harkness in Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, I would not have begun to seek names of women explorers. Melissa Sweet illustrates this gem from Alfred Knopf, 2012. This picturebook retelling of the story of Ruth Harkness’ expedition to China to bring back the first live panda inspired me to delve more into women explorers, particularly Ruth Harkness.

Deborah Watson-Novacek ( created pages on squidoo for Female Explorers. Her article aided my exploration and helped provide many helpful links. I was able to read several accounts of Ruth Harkness’ achievements including

I have often wondered why some people in history had such a strong desire to travel, to wander, and to explore that they were willing to give all in their efforts. What qualities did these people possess that enabled them to achieve more than others? None of these people were perfect. Most had conflicts in their personal lives and many did not reap great benefits from their explorations.

The article in the Christian Science Monitor by Adelle Waldman on August 9, 2005, “How a party girl went in search of a panda: The true tale of a 1930s New York socialite who trekked Tibet determined to bring home a cub.”  reviewed Vicki Constantine Croke’s book “The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal.”  The writer states “That Harkness had flaws does not, of course, make her an unworthy subject for a biography – on the contrary, it perhaps makes her all the more interesting.”

To me, this acknowledgement of flaws makes a biography far more believable. Croke’s novel provides additional information and does not have to sift through details to fit in a 32 page picture book. Her 400 page novel provides a great deal more information, but also lauds Ruth Harkness a bit much for my own cynical taste. I can overlook this as I supplemented my reading with other accounts of Ruth Harkness’ deterioration and death at 46.

Kate Kelly on the web site America Comes Alive highlights Ruth Harkness as an Influential Woman. America Comes Alive! is a site Kate Kelly created to share little-known stories of America’s past. She wrote, “When I selected Ruth Harkness for the 2012 “Inspirational Women” list, most descriptions were of a “socialite-turned-explorer who brought home the first living panda.”  As I read in greater depth there was much more that was unsaid regarding the well-being of wildlife as well as the life of Ruth Harkness. Her life tells a particular story of her time.  I was captivated, though it certainly was not what I expected!”

What does it take to motivate anyone, male or female, to leave their comfort zone and achieve something no one else has ever done? Ruth McCombs Harkness was a New York City fashion designer and a socialite. She had been friends with her husband William Harkness for ten years but married to him only two weeks before he left on a mission to bring back the first live giant panda. Since William had already successfully brought back Komodo dragons, it was a shock for Ruth Harkness to learn that while William was delayed in China, he died of throat cancer before setting out on his expedition.

As Croke states, “Left with a tiny fortune, Harkness decided to use it to follow in his footsteps, a stunning decision for a woman who wouldn’t even walk a city block if there was a taxi to be hailed.”

Alicia Potter in Mrs. Harkness and the Panda manages to point out the criticism Ruth faced from nearly everyone when she announced her intentions to finish William’s expedition. In describing the “Panda-monium!” that occurred when Mrs. Harkness arrived in America carrying the panda in her arms, Alica Potter simply vindicates Ruth Harkness’ bravery and determination by stating:

“None of these newspaper stories called Mrs. Harkness crazy. Or foolish. Or reckless. They called her a “woman explorer”.”

Potter downplays much of the conflicts Ruth faced; although, she does acknowledge in the author’s note how our values and ideas towards animal conservation have changed. Since our story ends with Su Lin finding a home at the Brookfield Zoo, and Ruth Harkness finding a home in the “rugged, beautiful mountains of faraway China”, the chronology of events provided important follow-up details. Since I wrote my very first research paper on the giant panda in elementary school, I have been intrigued by this animal that was thought to be mythical even in most of China.

The giant panda became known to the Western world in 1869 when a French missionary Pere Armand David sent a dead pelt to the Museum of Natural History in Paris. In 1929 Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt (sons of former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt) killed a giant panda which was then stuffed and exhibited at the Chicago Field Museum. Between that time and Ruth Harkness’ journey, twelve well-staffed and equipped professional expeditions to China failed to collect a single live specimen.  How did Ruth Harkness expect to succeed where they had failed? Somehow with her 22 bags of luggage and her guide Quentin Young, her expedition succeeded. There were rumors and innuendos to be faced, but Ruth’s achievements stood.

Even when women achieved milestones in exploration and adventure, they often could not receive the benefits. Deborah Watson-Novacek notes  “The adoration of the American public did not help Ruth overcome the chauvinism of the all-male institutions in the field of science and exploration, however. Many institutions snubbed her before the Explorers Club did her the “honor” of being the first women allowed to attend a dinner with the “gentlemen.” It should be noted, however, that the Club listed Su-Lin, not Harkness, as their guest of honor for the evening.”

Other sources I explored after reading this picture book include:

“Honest, Fair, Courageous and Strong: Four Picture Books Starring Real-Life Heroines” by CANDACE FLEMING Published: March 9, 2012 New York Times Sunday Book Review which reviews Potter’s Mrs. Harkness and the Panda. Fleming states “Sweet’s mixed-media images, which incorporate maps, handmade paper and delicate watercolor drawings, give the book the feel of a travel journal — a wonderful way of accompanying Harkness on her journey.”

The web page A Woman’s Bridge has an article on April 15, 2011, “Ruth Harkness and the Giant Panda” by Yoon Joung Lee. The mission of A Woman’s Bridge Foundation, established in 2009, was to create a sense of unity, vision, and purpose among women as a community of professionals, wives, mothers, and simply as people. “Women must reach out to each other more to value and protect each other whether as housewives or as corporate executives. We create partnerships for women in need, particularly those in local area shelters, and help raise supplies and awareness for local area women’s’ shelters and services. We also establish dialogue to further thought on national and international women’s’ issues.”

While searching for Ruth Harkness’ obituary, I found instead the obituary for Adelaide “Su-Lin” Young who is the namesake for the panda Ruth Harkness brought to America.

“In the 1930s, Adelaide “Su-Lin” Young, the pampered and glamorous daughter of a New York nightclub owner, morphed into one of the first female explorers to venture into the part of China devastated by last week’s earthquake.” (Earthquake referred to was the Sichuan province 2008 earthquake

Mrs. Young was believed to be the first American female explorer to enter the Tibetan-Himalayan region.  San Francisco Chronicle

World Wildlife Foundation In 2004, the results of the most comprehensive survey of China’s giant panda population revealed that there are nearly 1,600 pandas in the wild, over 40 percent more animals than previously thought to exist. These findings came from a four-year-long study of pandas and their habitat carried out by the State Forestry Administration of China and WWF. In Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, Alicia Potter states in the end notes that there are approximately 2,500 giant pandas in the world. I do wonder about this discrepancy.

Facts from the Brookfield Zoo history of the Giant Panda: The Brookfield Zoo was the first zoo in the world to have a giant panda. The Brookfield Zoo was formally opened on June 30, 1934. Su Lin (male) was born approximately in September 1936. His name means “A Little Bit of Something Precious” in Chinese. He was captured by Ruth Harkness in the bamboo forests of the Szechuan mountains of southwestern China on November 9, 1936. Su Lin came to the Brookfield Zoo on February 8, 1937. He choked on an oak stick, developed complications from an infection, and died in April, 1938.  The Brookfield Zoo had a Giant Panda Zoo from 1937-1953.

Panda Cam’s and Links:

None of these sources provides all the answers I seek. They provide “pieces of the puzzle” or “strands of life’s weavings”, glimpses into the past, but mainly more questions. Isn’t the study of history simply the refining of our questions and the rebuilding of our knowledge structures? We are constantly changing as we learn. Our questions change as we change.

I still ponder why some people in history explore more and what qualities they possess that enable them to achieve more than others. I am excited each time I discover a new gem like Mrs. Harkness and the Panda because I know authors will continue to create new biographies to try to answer these questions – and maybe provoke a few more in the process.

Be sure to check out the School Library Journal review which states: This is a gorgeous book. The illustrations are a combination of small and large watercolor drawings, background collages using decorative Chinese papers, floral prints, maps, and Chinese lettering, as well as a few photographs. This little gem will be perfect for one-on-one sharing and for those second-grade biography assignments. It’s simply stunning.–Ieva Bates, Ann Arbor District Library, MI

The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China’s Most Exotic Animal by: Vicki Croke

Recent posts for Kidlit Celebrates Women’s History include:

March 27th Passing it On– the book Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper

March 26th  Not just pretty and pink: the hatching of Goosebottom Books

March 25th Stitching Stories in the Ring 

March 24th  Blue Thread, Five Sisters, and Woman Suffrage

March 23rd The Firefly Letters

March 22nd The Other Mozart

March 21st Apparelled in Honor: The Story of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Early posts this month were listed here at Practically Paradise.

Topics for Women's History Month

  • Posted on March 20, 2012 at 7:54 AM

Are you following the KidLit Celebrates Women’s History Month posts? Here are some of the most recent post topics:

March 20 Red Bird Sings: The Story of Zitkala-Sa and Book Giveaway!

March 19 A Q&A with Deborah Kogan Ray: Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute Princess

March 18 Beryl Markham: Feminist Hero? or Heroic Female?

March 17 Joan of Arc: an early feminist

March 16 Before Girls Could Play

March 15 What I Learned from Emily and Georgia

March 14 Women in the Footnotes of History by Sylvia Branzei-Velasquez

March 13 Ancient Queens and Modern “Sluts”

March 12 “Failure Is Impossible”: My Hero Susan B. Anthony

March 11 Margaret Knight, aka “Lady Edison”

March 10 Role Models

March 9 Margaret Chase Smith — Independence of Thought

March 8 Women in Science – Trailblazers Before the 20th Century

March 7 (Un)Celebrated Women of 2012

March 6 A Place at the Campfire

March 5 Emily and Carlo by Marty Rhodes Figley

March 4 Annie Sullivan: Miss Spitfire

March 3 Every-Day Dress-Up

March 2  Writing about Wangari Maathai

March 1 Stopping by Seneca Falls

I continue to be amazed and humbled by the achievements of these women, but also about the ability of these bloggers and authors who make our history so vitally relevant and important. Thank you to everyone who has posted.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

  • Posted on March 16, 2012 at 12:08 AM

I am LOVING the book Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. I have tried it out with students in PreK, K, and 1st grade classes this week. I’ve tried it with a variety of other titles to expand our thinking and comparison skills. No matter what I do, students who are calm at the beginning of our reading, are practically jumping up and down by the end. It seems I’m losing total control of my storytime-ish class just by putting this creative and artistically beautiful title in front of their eyes. They love it.

Storytime starts so sweetly when I show them the cover and have them guess the title. I cannot help the fact that the beautiful splash strokes of green paint invite my touch and that the word green is raised above the page. I cannot help myself stroking this book lovingly as I open to share it.

There are so many different types of greens and Laura Vaccaro Seeger enables the reader to interact and appreciate each one.  Students are relaxed as I show them the first green – forest green. Then when I turn the page and display sea green, they sit up on their heels and lean forward in wonder. Since some of the students have noticed there are cut-outs in the pages, I flip back and acknowledge that they must be looking at the entire picture, and the cutouts, and be predicting what those cutouts will become as we turn each page. Immediately they start to chat about this and call out suggestions as we turn further.

When we reach khakhi green and find a chameleon hidden in the page, I begin to lose control of the crowd. These students have never heard of an animal that changes its colors to blend and we have to spend some time with how wonderful this world is.

I start to believe I’m going to recover the class when I turn to faded green and they tip their heads to think about how colors fade. But then I swiftly lose all control again when we come to the pages of never green and no green. Their interest burns back to feverishly high levels and by the time I hit the last page with CIP data, they cannot control their bursting into applause.

There aren’t many words to this title, but visually this book speaks to my students. Green sparks their minds to consider colors in new ways. All colors. After reading, I ask if we should contact the author and ask her to please make more books celebrating colors. Of course the answer is a shouted,  “YES!” When I ask what color, I am very careful to practice what I preach (in the blog on the Little Black Book) and I embrace all answers. Laura, I hope you don’t mind, but my students are demanding you get right back to the paints and start making more books.

When I commented on how long it takes to make books, one of the first grade classes said, “We could help paint colors, too.” Yes, my darling students, you can paint and play with colors. You can seek new combinations. You can try cutting out shapes and sections and planning the design of your art to interrelate. And thanks to the joyous celebration of all types of green in this title, you can embrace different shades that all are “green.”

Laura, we love this book. I asked my students for comments to send you. Here are some of their words:

  • I love it. Tell her it’s a really good book.
  • Tell her I like green too and maybe now other people will like green and even eat their peas.
  • It’s so pretty and I just want to touch it.
  • Tell her to make some more for me like orange. (Should I mention the University of Tennessee’s colors are orange?)
  • Tell her I want to know how she made the cover cause it looks like its wet and I was afraid to touch it. But  I love it and maybe she could come by our class on Wednesdays and show us how to make it, too.

While I hold my breath for Laura’s call to say, “Sure, I’ll pop in and love on the colors with you,” I’ll have to find other ways to extend our learning. Perhaps we’ll visit the publishers’ page and show the book trailer.

The only problem I see now is how my assistant is going to pry Green out of my fingers so I can donate it to the library collection. I am like everyone who touches this book. I want to scurry in to the corner, happily turn each page and trace each brushstroke, and never set it down. I have had to rescue this title as would-be shoplifters try to sneak it out even when they KNOW I’m sharing it with another class. I wonder how many copies I will need or if my teachers will share this with each other. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Have you seen Green yet?

Poetry Madness! Ed DeCaria

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 8:58 PM

Thanks to Susan Taylor Brown, I learned about Ed DeCaria’s launching of  a March Madness Poetry Tournament, where poets are assigned a word and matched up in head-to-head battles in time to start reading and voting. These 64 poets have to write a kid appropriate poem. Readers vote, winners move on to the next round. Susan noted: Some of the words are insanely difficult. Some are funny. The poems are great fun to read, most of them light, funny verse. You can check out the first round here:

STEM by Payola Richardson

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 8:41 PM

Ms. Payola Richardson, one of the parents at our school, spoke during our STEM Showcase and shares her remarks with us.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These are the tools needed to prepare our children to compete successfully in the future.  They are the gateway and the key to succeed in life.

The benefits of a STEM education provide improved and accelerated teaching tactics that motivate and inspire students through instruction, observations, and hands-on activities giving them the power to discover and explore.

STEM provides a curricular that fosters investigative skills, assimilation and logical thinking, enhancing mental comprehension and pride in their success and accomplishments.

A STEM education prepares students for the next level of life by introducing them to concepts of higher learning.

Exposing and educating students to technology allows them to incorporate learned skills, enabling them to make more informed decisions about career choices.

STEM teaches them how to train and recognize their brain is a computer – “their greatest asset!”,  teaching them how to file, organize and recall thoughts and lessons at will using this knowledge to compete for higher salaries.

STEM familiarizes students to new gadgets and techno devices being produced now and in the future.

STEM prepares and guides them in recognizing the importance of a thorough education.

It takes a village to raise a child properly.  The teachers, staff and parents of Hattie Cotton are a village.

Thank you for allowing Hattie Cotton to be a part of the experience in preparing your child to make a difference to change and improve the world.  THANK YOU!


  • Posted on March 13, 2012 at 8:13 AM

While I’m filling in my basketball brackets and arguing with my sons about who will take it all, I thought I should join the ranks of those predicting winners from the SLJ Battle of the Books. Here are my predictions for

Round One:

  • Amelia Lost over Anya’s Ghost
  • Between Shades of Gray over Bootleg
  • The Cheshire Cheese Cat over Chime
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone over Dead End
  • Drawing from Memory over The Grand Plan to Fix Everything
  • Inside Out and Back Again over Heart and Soul
  • A Monster Calls over Life: An Exploded Diagram
  • Okay for Now over Wonderstruck

Round Two:

  • Between Shades of Gray over Amelia Lost
  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone over The Cheshire Cat
  • Inside Out and Back Again over Drawing from Memory
  • A Monster Calls over Okay for Now

Round Three:

  • Between Shades of Gray over Daughter of Smoke and Bone
  • A Monster Calls over Inside Out and Back Again
  • And the Winner:

    • Between Shades of Gray will overtake A Monster Calls

    Okay, those are my picks. Where are yours?

    Board books 1 Great, 1 okay

    • Posted on March 11, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Recently I was packing up new baby care packages and decided to add two board books. While I did this, I realized that one of these board books was okay and would be held by a child, tossed around, chewed upon, and fall apart to be tossed away (and, no, I’m not telling).  The other board book was special. It has gone on my list of books to give any family with a new baby.  Take a look at this list on GoodReads and think about what’s on your top 10 list of gifts to give at a baby shower. Of course, Pat the Bunny comes to mind, but what am I adding to the keeper list? Little Black Book by Renee Khatami.

    Little Black Book by Renee Khatami. Randam House, 2011. 978-0-375-87235-8 $8.99 Publisher’s description: Black is the new black in this darkly tantalizing touch-and-feel extravaganza for the senses! Now babies can enjoy this daring color in a novelty board book chock-full of gorgeous, full-color photographs. There are textures to touch, a flap surprise, and the scratch ‘n’ sniff scent of sweet licorice that you can almost taste!

    I absolutely love this little book. It is disarming. You hold the front cover and don’t anticipate the pleasure you will get from opening the book. The front cover does mention the Little Black Book is meant to: touch and feel, scratch and sniff, and lift the flap. The first page begins “black is… the soft fur on my big pet bunny.”

    Aha! A Pat the Bunny moment. Not the little white bunny here, no, this is a photograph of a beautiful black bunny with soft touchable fur meant to stroke. You continue on to discover a sparkling night sky, a magician’s hat, a bat, smelly licorice, smooth velvet for dress-up, and even a funny cat mask with touchable whiskers.

    Why do I love this title so much? The photographs are beautiful, clear, and joyful, plus the celebration of all things black redeems those who love the color black best of all. (Here’s to you, #1 son!) Black is beautiful and embraced in these 14 pages.

    If you visit an early childhood classroom and ask students their favorite color, you’ll notice teachers encourage students to name blue, green, purple, red, yellow, and orange. Teachers actively discourage students from naming black, white, brown, tan, and grey. It’s as if there is a list of acceptable colors and a list of those other colors that exist. Do you have a color bias? When my oldest son was picking items to decorate his bedroom at 5 years old, he consistently chose black because it was his favorite color. To this day, he still has black sheets and black blankets. He isn’t goth. He just loves black.

    In fact, now that I think about it, I believe I need to go back and purchase a copy of this book for my school library for any color units to support preschool and kindergarten. I may have sent my publisher’s review copy to my new step-granddaughter, but I know I will be buying many more copies as gifts for friends. Schools and public libraries could use this title as it transcends the format.

    Replacing moldy books

    • Posted on March 10, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    This year has been challenging as I seek ways to overcome obstacles. Since this is my first year at this school, I’m still learning the collection and preparing a collection development plan of action.When you need EVERYTHING, particularly in the fiction and picture book section, it can be overwhelming.

    The Obstacle: While constructing my orderly plan, we had an event that forced our biographies to the top of the list. Our roof leaked. Now, I’m not referring to the torrential one-time downpour we faced yesterday because I was able to move the 700’s and save those books. And, yes, the stuffed animals have dried out beautifully. I noticed the custodian had the fan blowing on them, too, not just the carpet.

    I’m referring to the slow insidious leaks that trickled over the entire biography collection all summer long. Those books escaped notice because circulation of biographies was very low. Sadly after we’d moved them to a new location in a more prominent position and on lower shelves, students began picking them up to read and discovered that many of those books had mold inside. AWK! I am horribly allergic to mold and have to use my inhaler whenever a student thrusts one of those titles in my face. I won’t risk mold with my students, so those books have to go.

    The opportunity: my library clerk Laurie and I are using this opportunity to totally re-evaluate every title in the biography collection. Moldy books, out! Sports stars that even the parents of my students haven’t heard of, you’re out of here. Books written at the 7th-9th grade level and about people that appeal to mainly middle schoolers, out. We’ll send titles that aren’t a health risk to new homes. I wonder if some of the senior centers around here would like some of the ancient sports biographies?

    Titles that never circulated are being evaluated to see why.  Are they too old, too difficult, ugly covered, dated illustrations, or just mismatched? If I were starting the biography collection today, would I include each individual title.

    If it’s a good title, but never circulated, was it “marketed”? Has it been displayed? Has anyone placed it in a student’s hands? Has it been booktalked? Has it been suggested to a teacher or integrated into a lesson? I try to imagine why it was initially purchased. Will it earn its stay on our shelves?

    And, then, I do a very old-fashioned librarian-y task. I have a printout of the biography collection and I have written on it every title that I am watching, every title I’m marketing, and every title that I’m weeding.

    I’ll use this printout as I sort through teacher lesson plans for matches and needs. I’ve begun a list of people  I want to locate biographies about and I’ll look at publisher catalogs, especially online catalogs to begin a “wish list”.

    The Obstacle: the budget.  One of the biggest obstacles revolves around the usual suspect – the budget. Like you, I have had a stagnant budget or, worse, a shrinking book budget since databases consume a larger portion. By the time my portion of district databases and the databases I purchase for school are removed, I have about $4 per student to buy books. You and I both know this doesn’t buy a large quantity of books.

    The Opportunity: focused fundraising. I’ve found if I just ask for money to buy books, interest is tepid. If I have very focused plans complete with sample covers of books I want, interest gets warmer.

    So now I need your help. I’m attempting to locate the best list of biographies for elementary ages PreK-grade 4 that should be in a collection. I also need to be sure to include many titles with African-American, Hispanic, Somalian, and Asian faces. Any suggestions? Which publisher do you consider the best for elementary biographies?

    STEM Friday

    • Posted on March 9, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    Practically Paradise is hosting STEM Friday today. I’m focusing on Wisdom, The Midway Albatross today. I’ll post photos and more at the bottom of this page throughout the day as they arrive. In the meantime, please check out these STEM-ulating posts and come back often.

    Roberta Gibson has a light review of Food Technology (Sci Hi Science & Technology) by Neil Morris today at Wrapped In Foil

    Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day writes it’s STEM Friday with Zero the Hero

    Diane’s note: how many school librarians have to count down to establish that you want to begin an activity and that students should be in their places and ready to begin? I always go to zero, so was shocked when a student asked what I was saying this week. He thought zero was hysterically funny and that I’d made it up. Fortunately this was a kindergartner, not a fourth grader. I have time to teach him the importance of zero and now, I have a book to do it with. Thanks, Anastasia.

    At SimplyScience, Shirley Duke has a guest post by Fred Bortz, author of Meltdown! He tells about his road from physicist to children’s author.

    Zoe Toft has a review of  The Story of Inventions, by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Adam Larkum and designed by Steve Wood, but mentions a couple of other inventions/design books, plus shows her daughter making her own invention.

    Jeff Bargar at NC Teacher Stuff has posted a review of Sir Cumference and the Viking’s Map:

    Ronna Mandel at Good Reads with Ronna has an interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about his kids’ book,  What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African American Inventors

    Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years is my STEM title today. I received a request from author Darcy Pattison to consider blogging about Wisdom this week. The one-year anniversary of the Japanese Tsunami that destroyed so many lives, homes, a nuclear plant and more is March 11th. Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill have written a new picture book that is very timely for remembering the survivors – even the animal survivors. Darcy hooked me with this information:

    The oldest wild bird in the world, documented with continuous banding since 1956, is Wisdom, the Midway Albatross. When the Japanese Tsunami hit on March 11, 2011, her nest and her chick lay in the path of danger. This is her amazing story of survival of manmade and natural disasters for over 60 years.

    She has survived manmade disasters: plastic pollution, water pollution, longline fishing, and lead poisoning.

    She has survived natural disasters: predators, storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis, including the Japanese earthquake.

    At over 60 years old, she is still laying eggs and hatching chicks. Among the birds of the world, this albatross, its ecology and life are amazing. It is a story of survival and hope amidst the difficulties of life.

    I could not imagine the survival instincts of this Laysan Albatross to survive for over sixty years and still be laying eggs. I admit I was also intrigued by the banding program and had to go check for myself if there really was a bird over 60 years of age. (Yes, it’s true) There are excellent links in the back of the book for curious children (and librarians) to learn more about Bird Banding, Saving the Albatross, Tsunamis, Plastic Pollution, and even a link to Wisdom’s own facebook page. Having read Wisdom, the Midway Albatross, I’ll be able to help students explore animal survival and adaptation better for our next PBL (Project-based Learning).

    Wisdom, the Midway Albatross will be a Free Kindle Download on March 9 and 10. For those without a color Kindle, the free desktop Kindle program shows this book beautifully.  The GoodReads Book Giveaway ends on March 11.

    Darcy was gracious enough to share her information with us on researching nonfiction for Wisdom.


    Research for a non-fiction children’s book is essential. When I first heard the story of Wisdom, the Midway Albatross, I was amazed.Wisdom has been banded since 1956 and at over 60 years old is still laying eggs and raising chicks. She’s the oldest known wild bird in the world. When the Japanese tsunami struck last March 11, she was on Midway Atoll and she and her chick were in danger.


    Those are the bare facts. To chronicle her story, though, I did research. First, I talked with Pete Leary, the wildlife biologist at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. He’s taken many photographs of Wisdom, many of which were used as the photo reference by illustrator Kitty Harvill as she did the illustrations for the book. Leary was easy to work with because he was passionate about tellingWisdom’s story to kids, too.

    Then, the research turned to the history of the bird. I looked up the dates of each time she was banded; I studied the history of storms, earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific for the last 60 years; I studied the health of the ocean, the history of ocean pollution, especially the Pacific Ocean. Slowly, a picture emerged of the life and times of a species, a region, and of one special bird.

    This is a story of how man and nature collide. The Naval Station at Midway Atoll decreased the albatross population. The increase in plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean has taken a toll on the seabirds of Midway; many eat so much plastic that their stomachs are full and there’s no room for food, so they starve to death. Longline fishing–the practice of baiting fishing lines miles long–has taken the lives of many seabirds.

    Yet, it is also the story of survival and the men and women who care about the small corners of earth left where there is still wonder and amazement about a chick hatching. The albatross population is thriving since the Navy left; longline fishing practices have been modified; and the word is getting out about plastic pollution.

    That leaves the natural disasters that albatrosses must face: storms, winds, earthquakes and tsunamis. Wisdom has weathered her share of storms: thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes. She had survived at least one other tsunami on Midway.
    (Teachers see the Top 108 Earthquake and Tsunami Sites at

    How would she survive the Japanese tsunami on March 11? Read her story to find out. Then, LIKE Wisdom’s facebook page (a site run by the staff on Midway) and follow the hatching of her 2012 chick at

    For more on the book, see

    Book Details

    • JNF003270 JUVENILE NONFICTION / Animals / Endangered
    • JNF003030JUVENILE NONFICTION / Animals / Birds
    • EPub: ISBN 9780979862182
    • Paperback: ISBN 9780979862175
    • Binding: Softcover
    • Backmatter: Resources for teachers/parents
    • Reading Level: 840L or 3-5 grade reading level
    • DDC: 598.42

    Thursday night, our STEM school wrapped up our PBL on Wind, Water, and Weather with a STEM showcase. Pictures and more will be coming. While we enjoyed showcasing the student works, the adults in the room had opportunities for exploring and engaging innovative thinking.

    1) someone (Dr. E) accidentally released all the helium balloons to soar 30 feet up to the vaulted ceiling. It took five people and a wonderful roofing maintenance man to figure a way to get these down without a ladder. Hint it involved twisting a rod with tape on the end around the ribbon to wind it down.

    2) the rainstorm caused a huge leak in the library ceiling right over the 700’s section and our Flying Cage project. With the rain streaming down the umbrellas of the Flying Cage inside the library, several parents realized something was just too realistic about the display. We were able to relocate our precious books and brainstormed several ways to prevent further weather damage as the ceiling tiles swelled and collapsed down the wall.

    Gail Gauthier of Original Content: Original Content Relating to Children’s Books and Writing at writes “STEM people may be interested in this talk on “narrative
    science.” It deals with adult writing, but I’ve been thinking of some of
    the nonfiction picture books I’ve been seeing recently as creative nonfiction.”

    Gail Gauthier
    Original Content: Original Content Relating to Children’s Books and Writing

    Pat Scales article in the Random House newsletter

    • Posted on March 3, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    Pat Scales writes about National Women’s History Month in the recent Random House newsletter. I appreciate her booklist of titles and recognize that it is simply a beginning. I’d love to collect other’s reading suggestions for the elementary level. Any suggestions?

    I already have these three listed on the page of Internet Resources:

    Amelia Bloomer Project list at

    This excellent page from the National Portrait Gallery shows 70 portraits of women.

    Gale Cengage Learning has an excellent page of Free Resources to support biographical research during Women’s History.

    Which picture book biographies are we missing?