Monday, December 3, 2012

Three Cool Activities for Too Hot? Too Cold? by Caroline Arnold

My new book, Too Hot? Too Cold? Keeping BodyTemperature Just Right (February 2013), grew out of many years researching animals and learning how each one has adapted in its own way to the weather and temperature of its habitat. Some animals migrate or hibernate; others grow thick coats of fur in winter and shed it in summer; some, such as those that live in the desert, restrict their activities to night, when the air is cooler. I began to realize that there were many parallels between animals and the way people adjust to variations in temperature in the places where they live. We may not grow thick fur to keep warm, but we do put on heavy coats and jackets when it is cold outside.  

Caroline Arnold, age 10, with her brothers
I grew up in Minnesota where winters are cold and summers are hot. When I was ten, my mother took a photo in front of our house of me and my brothers all bundled up in our snowsuits and mittens on a snowy February day. She wrote on the back of the photo that the temperature that day was minus fourteen degrees Fahrenheit! I have fond memories of sledding and ice skating on cold winter days in Minneapolis. In summer, when temperatures soared into the nineties, my brothers and I stayed cool by swimming in the lake not far from our house. 

I now live in Los Angeles, California, where the seasonal variations are not so extreme. Even so, there are clear differences between winter and summer. On warm summer days, I often see lizards sunning themselves in my driveway. On cool winter days, the lizards hide among the rocks. In spring and fall, I enjoy watching birds as they migrate through southern California on their way to and from their summer homes farther north.

As I worked on the book, I tried to think of activities that would help readers understand the concepts I was describing. It is one thing to read about an idea, and another to experience it. Here are three simple activities you can do that are related to information presented in Too Hot? Too Cold?

Getting Heat From the Sun 
Dark colors are good for absorbing the sun’s heat. That’s why vultures will hold out their dark wings on cold mornings to catch the sun’s rays. Light colors reflect the sun and help keep an animal cool. The addax, an antelope that lives on the Arabian Peninsula, has a light-colored summer coat to help protect it from the desert sun.

Activity: Hot Rocks
In this activity you can test how well dark and light colors absorb the sun’s heat.

You will need:  Two rocks (about the size of your fist), white paint, black paint, a paintbrush

Paint one rock white and the other rock black. Put both rocks in the sun and wait for one hour. Then feel the rocks. Which rock feels warmer?

The white rock reflects the sun’s rays and stays cool. The black rock soaks up the sun’s rays and becomes warm. To stay cool on a hot day, would you wear a dark shirt or a light one?

Migrating to Keep Warm or Cool
Some animals leave their homes, or migrate, when the weather gets too cold or too hot.  Many birds migrate. Some of them fly thousands of miles between their winter and summer homes. Strong wings make them good flyers.
Activity: Wingspan Measuring Tape
Have you ever wondered what kind of bird would you be, if you could fly? A bird flies with its arms, which are covered with feathers. Stretch out your arms as if you were flying. Here's how you can make a measuring tape to find out your wingspan...
You will need: heavy paper (such as cardstock), scissors, tape, a pencil, and a bird guidebook. 

Cut the paper in 1.5 inch strips. A paper cutter works well if you have one. Or, use your scissors. You will have eleven strips, each eleven inches long. 

Connect the ends of the strips with tape. (Strapping tape is best, but any tape will do.) You will have now a strip 121 inches long. Look in the bird guidebook to find the wingspans of various birds. Then, start at one end and use a yardstick or measuring tape to mark the tape with the width of each bird's wingspan. Here are some of wingspans on my tape: emperor penguin, 32 inches; peregrine falcon, 3.5 feet; red-tailed hawk, 4.5 feet; flamingo, 5 feet; turkey vulture, 6 feet; golden eagle, 7 feet; bald eagle, 8 feet; California condor, 9.5 feet. You can add the wingspans of any birds you like. 

Ask two people to hold the ends of your tape. Then you can measure your wingspan. When you are not using the tape, it folds up like an accordion.

Keeping Warm Through Thick and Thin
Large objects gain and lose heat more slowly than small objects. Animals with large bodies warm up and cool down more slowly than smaller animals. They have less surface area in relation to their size than smaller animals do. For example, a crocodile’s huge body helps it retain body heat longer than a smaller reptile could. This lets it remain active even after the sun has gone down.

Activity: Cooling Thermometers
This experiment is a simple demonstration comparing the length of time it takes for objects of two different sizes to cool down in your refrigerator.  

You will need:  2 household thermometers, 4 washcloths, rubber bands, paper and pencil, a clock.  

Look at the thermometers and write down the room temperature. Wrap one thermometer in one washcloth and fasten it with rubber bands. Wrap the other thermometer in three washcloths and fasten with rubber bands. Put both thermometers in a refrigerator for five minutes. Then take them out, unwrap them, and look at the temperature on each thermometer. Which one cooled off the most?

These activities can be done at home or at school. I enjoy doing the wingspan activity during my presentation when I do author visits at schools. Third graders are almost always red tailed hawks. Two students together, fingertip to fingertip, have the wingspan of one bald eagle!

For more projects and activities go to my website or my blog

Posted by Caroline Arnold, author of Too Hot? Too Cold?, due out February 2013. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This is the story of THE HOUSE THAT GEORGE BUILT

During a recent school visit, a second-grader asked where I got the idea for my latest book The House That George Built. While answering her question I realized this story began in the same way as most of my picture books—when I accidentally stumbled upon a fascinating, little-known piece of history which literally gave me goosebumps. In the case of George, inspiration struck when a proud dad was telling me about the White House model his daughter made for a school project. He mentioned George Washington designed and built the President’s House, yet he was the only president who never lived there. Really?!  (Cue goosebumps.)

Immediately a title came to mind, The House That George Built. But before I could consider writing this story, I had to do research to determine if there was enough "good-stuff" to make a picture book (unofficial author term which means relatively unknown, yet captivating facts which lend themselves to a complete story arc with a satisfying ending). So I hurried down to my local library where I checked out The President's House, a two-volume set of colossal books filled with detailed White House history by noted historian and author, William Seale. One thousand, two hundred and twenty four pages later, I knew there was plenty of "good-stuff" for a story. Now I had to figure out the best way to tell it.

Considering the book title idea, my first thought was to share George’s story using an adaptation of "The House That Jack Built" nursery rhyme. From my research I knew George was intricately involved in the entire building process—from selecting the house design and plot of land where it would be built, to deciding the best roofing material—so I was concerned a revision of that tightly structured rhyming piece wouldn’t provide enough room for all the interesting facts I’d found. After some consideration, I decided the nursery rhyme adaption would be a fun, unique way to provide basic information about the main building elements of the house (brick, stone, wood), and by adding some lively prose paragraphs, I could share all the details of George’s huge building project.               

But the research and writing of this book was just the beginning of my adventures with George. The illustration process was incredibly exciting as I watched the talented, award-winning artist Rebecca Bond bring history to life with her detailed, historically accurate sketches, which later turned into breathtaking, watercolor masterpieces. 

Early sketch by Rebecca Bond from The House That George Built

A final spread by Rebecca Bond from The House That George Built
Then came something I’d been waiting my entire writing career to do—I’d always wanted to dedicate a book to my parents, but for one reason or another none of my previous books felt right. But George was perfect! First, my parents names are George and Martha (for real), and they’d created a wonderful home for our family. So after many years, I finally dedicated a book to my parents.

Suzanne Slade visits the White House
Later, I had the opportunity to visit to the White House. What a thrill to personally see the magnificent home I’d studied for years. I’d be lying if I didn’t say my heart skipped a beat the first time I spied that gorgeous white stone exterior, which I’d learned turned white when it was first painted with a stone sealer made of ground-up rice. As I admired the stately two-story design, I remembered the original plans called for three stories, but without enough stone to cover three floors George had modified the plans to two. I smiled when I looked up at the massive roof, recalling that the first roof of impressive heavy slate rock leaked every time it rained.

While working on The House That George Built, I was constantly amazed by the fascinating history I discovered about the President's House (which was renamed the White House by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901), and I hope readers enjoy learning about America's most famous home as much as I did!

Posted by Suzanne Slade, award-winning author of over 90 books for children. You can find out more about her and her books at

The House That George Built is a 2012 Junior Library Guild selection and was chosen for the Children's Book-of-the-Month Club.