Friday, August 29, 2014

A Journey Through Time with Christine Liu-Perkins

I first learned of the Mawangdui tombs in November 1999, at a special exhibit at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.  Seeing objects of the Li family’s daily life and then staring at a model of Lady Dai “sleeping” created for me an irresistible connection to her.  I was gripped by the vivid awareness that Lady Dai had been an actual person who had combed her hair, suffered illnesses, and enjoyed good food and music.

My Desire to learn more about the Li family and their world led me to track down materials of all kinds on Mawangdui and on life in the early Han dynasty.  I prowled university libraries for articles, haunted bookstores in American and Asian cities, scoured websites, and was spellbound by videos.  Every source’s bibliography launched a search to track down its sources. 

In 2002 I traveled to the city of Changsha to see the tomb site, as well as Lady Dai and the artifacts in the Hunan Provincial Museum.  Seeing the full range of artifacts impressed upon me so many new details—the astounding preservation of the two-thousand-year-old food, the glamour of the silk clothes, the massiveness of the burial chamber timbers.  Seeing Lady Dai’s actual body was mesmerizing.

The next year I published an article, “Silk Treasures of Mawangdui,” in Dig magazine.  But writing one article wasn’t enough to satisfy my curiosity; I wanted to keep exploring by writing a book about the tombs.

Pieces of information about Mawangdui lay scattered about my mind like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  How could I fit them together into a book?  Finally I recognized that the Mawangdui tombs are like a time capsule: every artifact reveals something about life in the early Han dynasty.  Each artifact tells a story—what it meant to the mourners who buried it, how it expresses the artisans’ knowledge and skills, and what it was like to live in that time and place.  Within this framework I could not only describe the Mawangdui artifacts but also explore the history and culture of the early Han dynasty.

This expedition has lasted fourteen years so far, yet my fascination with Mawangdui and Lady Dai is as intense as ever.  Next?  I would love to go back to Changsha to see the artifacts and tomb site again, and to silently thank Lady Dai and her family for inspiring my marvelous journey through time.

Author's Note From:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Science? It's Sedimentary, My Dear Watson!

Want a sure-fire way to make your summer rock this year? Think geology and food! As the weeks of summer stretch by, one way to keep kids engaged (and learning) is to head to the kitchen and cook up some science! Not only is this a fun way to tap into a child’s curiosity, but it maintains the momentum of learning that often stalagmites—I mean stagnates—during the summer.

Let’s get rocking! Actually, rocks come in three basic "flavors": metamorphic, sedimentary, and igneous. Metamorphic rocks are those that have "morphed" or been changed through heat and pressure. If you visit a museum this summer, you may notice the marble floor and statues. Marble is an example of metamorphic rock.  Sedimentary rock is formed from small pieces of other rocks and minerals fused together. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have a chance to walk on a sandy beach this summer. If you do, think of sandstone--a sedimentary rock formed by particles of sand cemented together. Then there’s igneous rock which is formed from liquid rock beneath the earth’s surface that has cooled and hardened.

Are you still on solid ground with all this science? Think again! Like a piece of delicious summer fruit, the earth has an outer "skin," but the inside is a whole different matter. In thickness, the surface of the earth is like the skin of a peach—only 4- 44 miles (6- 70 km) deep, compared to the rest of the earth which measures nearly 4000 miles (6400 km) to the center. Phew! Travel down to this center of the earth and you’ll find a solid metal core. This is surrounded by a thick layer of liquid metal—mostly iron and nickel. Even though the inner core has a temperature similar to the surface of the sun (9800°F / 5505°C), it is solid because of the enormous pressure pushing in on it. The next layer is called the mantle and the part of the earth that we live on is called the crust. The mantle is where the pockets of magma—molten rock—come from that erupt and form lava.

I don’t know about you, but all this talk about rocks makes me hungry. Head over to the kitchen to make this yummy Sedimentary Pizza Lasagna. Mmmm! 

Sedimentary Pizza Lasagna  
Illustration copyright © 2014 by Leeza Hernandez.

Before You Begin
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Oven temperature: 375°
Yield: 4-6 servings
Difficulty: medium

Frying pan
Spoon or spatula
Rectangular pan (8 x 10 inches or larger)
Heavy duty aluminum foil
Small bowl

1/2 pound (8 ounces) ground turkey or beef
2 cups pizza sauce
1 egg
1 cup ricotta cheese
Oven-ready lasagna noodles
Sliced pepperoni
1–2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

  1. With an adult’s help, cook the ground meat in a frying pan until it is brown. Drain off any fat. Add the pizza sauce and mix well. 
  2. Spread about 1/2 cup of the meat sauce on the bottom of the rectangular pan. Top with oven-ready lasagna noodles, overlapping slightly to cover the whole pan. Top with more sauce—about 1/2 cup. 
  3. Crack and beat the egg, then mix thoroughly with ricotta cheese. Spread half this mixture over the noodles.
  4. Arrange a layer of pepperoni next, followed by a sprinkling of cheese. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles.
  5. Repeat the layers. Cover the final layer of lasagna noodles with the remaining meat sauce and a generous amount of mozzarella cheese.
  6. Cover the pan with heavy-duty foil. Bake in a 375°F oven for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Can you still identify the individual ingredients?


Posted by Ann McCallum, author of Eat Your Science Homework.

Remember the old excuse: the dog ate my homework? Did it ever work? Teachers are more savvy than that. But try saying that YOU ate your homework and you’ll put a smile on Teacher’s face. You know why? The kitchen is a laboratory, recipes are experiments, and food is science. Eat Your Science Homework releases August 5, 2014.

Ann McCallum is the author of several books for children including Eat Your Math Homework, Rabbits Rabbits Everywhere, and Beanstalk: The Measure of a Giant. Eat Your Science Homework: Recipes for Inquiring Minds, was recently named a Junior Library Guild selection. Ann lives in Kensington, MD with her family.

Leeza Hernandez has illustrated several children’s books, including Eat Your Math Homework. She is also an author and graphic designer whose art has been featured in books, magazines, and newspapers. She is the recipient of the Tomie dePaola Illustrator Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Leeza lives in central New Jersey. Visit her online at

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Anna McQuinn Writes and Gardens and She Takes Lola with Her

Writing is a funny thing. You think you're writing about one thing, but it turns out you're writing about something else altogether, you just don't realise it!

When I started writing Lola Plants a Garden, I thought I was just writing a simple story about Lola and gardening. I thought, 'if she wanted to garden, Lola's a bit like me, so first thing she would do is read up on the subject.' 
She loves books anyways, so that was appropriate and that's what I made her do. 

I actually have a small town garden and I don't really regard myself as a gardener. But I do have a wonderful collection of gardening books with fantastic photographs of beautiful gardens and inspiring schemes… Our garden is at it's best in spring, (when I do a little weeding and planting) but once the big cherry tree comes into leaf it's too shady for many flowers, so I spend most of the time sitting in the shade reading gardening books (and occasionally cook books, craft books…) I've always been a little bit more into reading about doing things and looking at nice pictures of things than actually making or doing!

I actually did more gardening when I was very little. My dad is a very keen gardener, growing vegetables and fruit in our back garden, as well as flowers and a large lawn out front. His carrots, turnips, potatoes, onions, lettuces, strawberries, and rhubarb kept us happy and well fed (except for the year when, aged three, I picked the strawberry flowers and presented them in a bunch to my mother!).

I helped with weeding and planting, and he also gave me a little patch to grow my own stuff – some onions, lettuce, a few flowers… My most adventurous year was the one when I decided to grow various items mentioned in the Enid Blyton stories I was reading. Like Lola wanting to re-create Mary Mary's contrary garden, I wanted to be like the Famous Five and the adventurous four who seemed to exist on a diet of radishes, watercress sandwiches and ginger beer.( I thought ginger beer was alcoholic and off limits  – in fact I was a bit shocked the children were allowed to drink it) but I was determined to find out what watercress and especially radishes tasted like (having never eaten them before). 

I have to tell you, both were disappointing. I couldn't really understand the attraction of watercress (though combined with hardboiled egg and mayonnaise  - a recipe from one of the cooking books I also happened to have borrowed from the library - it was just about OK). But the radishes were a total bust! I think that in combination with the descriptions of Dick and George wolfing them down, the very word 'radish' sounded delicious to me. So the bland, pale, hard white radishes I grew were a horrible disappointment. Worst of all was I'd been very successful and had an enormous crop which I couldn't give away fast enough!

Whenever I took a break from all that planting and weeding (not!) I was off to do the other thing I liked to do in the garden – pretending to be a spy! I would get down on my tummy and crawl between the vegetable ridges, pretending I was sneaking up on some bad guys or escaping from some bad guys… and you know, I think this is really what Lola Plants a Garden is about. It's about the fact that little kids are like little sponges – soaking up experiences and trying stuff out and working out how the world works and who they are and how they fit. And it's about the fact that we must not limit their options or their imaginations. Too often we see a little girl who loves reading and we put her in the 'cerebral'  box. We buy her more books (good thing) and read to her (good thing) but perhaps forget that on other days she may enjoy running in the garden just as much… We see a little girl who loves to run about and we put her in the 'sporty box'. We sign her up for after school sports clubs (good thing) and cheer her from the sidelines (good thing) but perhaps forget that once in a while she might like to sit and listen to a story… We see a little girl who loves dressing up and we put her in the 'artistic' box and we sign her up for art class (good thing) and dance class (good thing) but forget that once in a while she might like to run about in the mud or plant some flowers…

I was that mix of things – a crazy reader, soaking up information and stories but then acting them out, running about, pretending… getting muddy. I was fortunate that my parents accepted that mixed up bundle of stuff and it wasn't really until my teens when I started to run middle-distance competitively that these two sides of my personality seem a problem to other people. My running club peers were curious about my 'bookishness', seeing it as at odds with my my passion for running and some of my 'cerebral' friends thought  my love of physical exertion was just weird. (And did I mention that I was also into art and played two musical instruments). Happily, none of my friends were anything other than puzzled by my 'other' interests and I continued with them all. 

But more and more I see a modern trend to channel people into a particular stream earlier and earlier (I think so they can be sold things more efficiently). The tailored advertising of the 'if you liked that author/musician/dress – you'll like this author/musician/dress' is ubiquitous. It may seem innocuous, but is a symptom of a world where we are encouraged to identify with a particular (and often narrow) set of values/ambitions and stick with them. When applied to young children, this tendency to label and contain seems to me to be kicking in earlier and earlier. I have parents of 2-year olds tell me 'he's not really into books' as if this is a fixed character trait like having brown eyes (and as if ANY trait is fixed in a 2-year old) and I see parents dress their little girls as princesses and wonder why they don't want to run and play outside.

So Lola Plants a Garden is about ALL of that… It's about a little girl who is like a little sponge, soaking up information about the world around her; acting out things from books; trying out different roles and figuring out what makes her happy and where she fits in the world…

Lola loves to sit on her mom's lap and read books together. 

 Anna McQuinn is the author of Lola at the Library and other books about book-loving Lola, as well as Leo Loves Baby Time. Her newest book--Lola Plants a Garden--will be available August 5, 2014. Visit Anna online at www.annamcquinn.comIllustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw.