How does a squirrel protect itself from the rain? Where do ladybugs disappear when the weather turns frosty? Can a frog really survive the winter in a frozen state?
Students at Colt Andrews School learned the answers to those questions and more when they entered Melissa Stewart’s Science Clubhouse Monday morning. The noted author – who has published 182 children’s books over the last 15 years – visited the school’s library Monday to teach kids not only a little science but also about the art of writing to kick off the school’s Reading Week.
“I see myself as bringing together the language arts and science,” said Ms. Stewart. “Kids all take something different from it, and that’s OK.”
The young students from Mrs. Gordon’s second-grade class were no different, each latching on to a different theme in Ms. Stewart’s writing workshop Monday.
“I learned that ladybugs don’t get hurt when they fall because they have a hard exoskeleton,” said 8-year-old Abby Bratsos.
“I liked it. I learned how books are manufactured. It takes more than a year,” added Nicholas Viveiros, 7.
Of course, the group also learned about the craft of writing. Ms. Stewart detailed her process for the children, beginning with forming an idea, researching, putting thoughts on paper, and — most important — revising her work.
“One day I was walking through the woods and it started to rain, so I ran under a pine tree for cover,” Ms. Stewart told the students of the genesis of When Rain Falls. “I looked up and saw a squirrel using his tail as an umbrella. I wondered if they always do that. I did some research and found out they do. I thought that was interesting, so I wanted to write a book about what animals do in the rain.”
Editing and revision take up the most time in the book-writing process, Ms. Stewart told the children. They were stunned to learn one of her books required 56 revisions over a period of 10 years before it finally hit the book store shelves.
“Sometimes you have to revise it over and over again,” Ms. Stewart said. “Like when your teacher gives you your work back with corrections. I spend about 20 percent of the time on the rough draft, and about 80 percent of the time revising.”
Before Ms. Stewart’s workshop, the second graders acted out one of her popular books — Under the Snow. Wearing masks made in class, the students detailed how each of their animals survives when frigid temperatures set in.
“I was a squirrel,” said 7-year-old Seren Davis. “My favorite thing was my tail.”
“I go to be the first narrator, and my favorite part was when I got to say ‘chickadee-doo,”” added Evan Harris, 7.
Ms. Stewart, a Massachusetts native, spends much of March through May touring schools throughout New England to share her love of writing and science. Originally a biologist, Ms. Stewart discovered her talent for writing almost by accident while working on cloning fruit flies at Union College. After a professor remarked on the quality of her written reports, she decided to pursue the new career, earning a Master’s degree in scientific journalism at New York University.
“I was really kind of a science kid. Writing never occurred to me as something people do,” said Ms. Stewart, who wrote Life Without Light in 1998, the first of 182 children’s books she’s penned. “I just keep cranking them out.”
Her library of science-based children’s books is available on her website, melissa-stewart.com, which also contains fun videos, lessons from the life of a writer, and a kids section with art projects and educational games.
Reading Week at Colt Andrews continues with more workshops from Ms. Stewart Tuesday, Read to the Principal Day Wednesday, a Literacy Night workshop for the whole family sponsored by the Colt Andrew Parent Group Thursday night at 6:30, and “Dress like your favorite book character day” Friday.