“What does a scientist look like?” Loree Griffin Burns asked a group of 4th, 5th and 6th grade students today at Inly. As she expected, there were suggestions of lab coats and glasses and top secret government operatives working in labs. But as Loree explained during a lively session with our students today, scientists are people “who pay attention.” “If you have senses, you can record science,” she told them. Based on her book, Citizen Scientists, Loree shared inspiring stories about kids and adults who listen to frogs and watch ladybugs and capture – and release – butterflies.
My favorite part of the day was witnessing Loree’s enthusiasm for science during five sessions with students between the ages of 6 and 14. One of her PowerPoint slides about a frog watching project reads: “Coolest. Thing. Ever.” That seems to sum up her attitude about the wonders of the natural world.
From where I was sitting, I could see the faces of our students watching Loree, and there were awesome moments of seeing a completely new idea or question occur to them. Loree explained why the declining honeybee population is threatening to the environment. Bees pollinate flowers, she told the kids, and with more chemicals in the atmosphere and fewer places for them to “buzz around,” many of their colonies are collapsing. She also talked about the complex world of the beehive. Especially interesting was learning about undertaker bees that are responsible for removing their fallen comrades from the hive.
Citizen Scientist is only one of Loree’s five science books for young readers. She started the day by describing the life cycle of a butterfly, the subject of her beautiful picture book, Handle With Care, to a group of six, seven and eight-year-olds. And in its starred review, Kirkus called Loree’s newest book, Beetle Busters, “a splendid example of science controversy in everyday life.”
The story about the Asian longhorned beetles is incredible – and started, quite literally, near the science writer’s own backyard when beetles began showing up in central Massachusetts. Scientists believe that the beetles came from China where they were in the wood used to make shipping pallets. The pallets traveled on a ship to Boston and ultimately found their way to Worcester, Massachusetts. The beetles then “chewed themselves out” of the wood and began to invade the nearby forests. To eradicate the beetles, Worcester embarked on a program to cut down 30,000 trees and chip them into mulch. Loree made a complicated and challenging scientific challenge accessible to our middle school students. As she explained to the students, “Worcester sacrificed their trees to save others.”
Between sessions, I asked Loree about the science writers she admires. Not surprisingly, she mentioned Steve Sheinkin, the author of Bomb, Sy Montgomery, the author of several excellent Scientists in the Field books, and Sally Walker, the author of Civil War Submarine. I was especially interested to learn about Walker’s new book, Ghost Walls: The Story of a 17th Century Colonial Homestead.
Loree’s next project is a young adult book about the human drama behind the discovery of the structure of DNA. Just from the short description she gave me, I’m already looking forward to reading it.