Unabridged: a Charlesbridge Children's Book Blog


School Visits (and the Genius Ideas I Learn from Them!)<br /><font size=3>by Suzanne Slade</font> 0

Every school visit I always learn something interesting from teachers and students. My last author visit was no exception because I discovered a genius idea called Genius Hour. During my presentation I’d shared the proof pages of my upcoming picture book, The Inventor’s Secret. Later, one teacher came up and said The Inventor’s Secret would be perfect to kick off her Genius Hour program.

I was excited to see her so enthused about a book I’d worked on for four years, yet I was a bit embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of Genius Hour. So she kindly explained—Genius Hour is a program where students work on a project of their choosing for one hour each week. The great part about this student-driven program is that children are highly motivated to learn about their topics.

Genius Hour lends to a wide variety of projects in one classroom, as each student selects the subject he or she wants to research. For example, at the school I was visiting—Meadowview School in Woodridge, IL—fifth graders in Ms. Wright’s Genius Hour program baked up cotton candy cookies, built battery-powered cars out of spare parts, and much more!

Meadowview students building a battery-powered car from leftover parts from science kits and spare toy parts.


Fifth grade Meadowview student decorating cotton candy sugar cookies with blueberry drizzle.


During my school visit this teacher also explained the message of persistence in The Inventor’s Secret would help inspire young inventors working on their own contraptions in school “makerspaces.”

Okay, full disclosure, I didn’t know what a makerspace was either! So I did a bit of research and found out makerspaces (aka fab labs or hackerspaces) are workspaces in schools and libraries where students can brainstorm, experiment, and create their own projects. Makerspaces are filled with various kinds of equipment, such as 3D printers, electronics, tools, computers, hardware, craft supplies, and more.

Now my son had tinkered on gadgets for years in our basement, which slowly aquired an assortment of tools, wires, and electronics equipment (including a 3D printer that he used to make his own inline skates), so I understood the enormous potential of a school makerspace.



Since learning of makerspaces, I’ve enjoyed reading about school labs around the country and the incredible projects children are creating in them. Would you believe students at Fox Meadow Elementary in New York made models of Lincoln’s face in their makerspace using a 3D printer and files of Lincoln’s actual life mask from the Smithsonian 3D image library? How awesome is that? (FYI - A technology teacher at Fox Meadow, Peter McKenna, started a School Makerspace forum where teachers can exchange ideas and projects.)

Fox Meadow school makerspace


3D printed model of Lincoln life mask

Actual Lincoln life mask


So as another new school year begins, I can’t wait to learn more fascinating things from students and teachers during my author visits. I’d also be thrilled to receive pictures of your school’s creative projects, including the sling shot cars, electric circuits, or flip books your students make using The Inventor’s Secret free Teacher’s Guide.


Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books (and former engineer who working on car brakes and Delta IV rockets.) Her latest picture book, The Inventor’s Secret, shares the fascinating, true story of persistence (and friendship) of two of the world’s most famous inventors—Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Use it to kick off your Genius Hour, inspire young inventors, or celebrate National Inventor’s Day (February 11.) Also, check out the book’s trailer and look for more teacher resources on Suzanne's website.


The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford
ISBN: 978-1-58089-667-2 HC $16.95
Available September 8, 2015

Find Out More
Genius Hour Livebinder 
Suzanne’s List of Genius Hour Resources 
Designing a School Makerspace 
Manufacturing Makerspaces 
Instructables - website with great DIY projects 
Make: - website with more great DIY projects

Remember ALA Annual in San Francisco? 0

Those were the days. Join us on a trip down memory lane. Ah, good ol' Charlesbridge booth 3116. The authors! The illustrators! The librarians! The books!! Good times.

Persistence pays off for horseshoe crab visitors<br /><font size=3>by Lisa Kahn Schnell</font> 0

Long sleeves, long pants (with socks pulled up over them), headlamps, and a slathering of bug spray—we were not the typical summertime beach-goers. But we had an important job to do: survey horseshoe crabs!

From the bay-side coast of New Jersey near Cape May, we watched the sun set. Quinn, our leader from the American Littoral Society (ALS), waded into the gentle surf and picked up a wiggly horseshoe crab. Every leg flailed and the book gills fluttered as she talked about horseshoe crab basics. Some of the volunteers examined horseshoe crabs, too.

Quinn talked about restoring local beaches—removing debris and other horseshoe-crab hazards--after Hurricane Sandy hit the coast in October 2012. Horseshoe crabs are generalists. They can eat a variety of food, and they will lay their eggs in sand of varying coarseness. This flexibility is part of what has allowed the species to survive for millions of years! But big rocks or hunks of concrete trap horseshoe crabs and don’t provide a safe place for their eggs to develop. By spring of 2013, the battered beaches were once again ready for the horseshoe crabs, as well as for the shorebirds that rely on their eggs to fuel their journey up to the Arctic.

I had originally been told that we would survey horseshoe crabs that evening. Surveyors place a meter-square plot frame at regular intervals along the shore and count the number of horseshoe crabs they find within the plot frame. Quinn had surveyed the same beach we were on just a week earlier and it had been covered with horseshoe crabs. In one place, they counted 38 in one meter-square frame! The night we were there, so few horseshoe crabs came to shore that she ended up not surveying at all. She had brought along some tags though, and as distant lightning became not-so-distant, we focused on those.

Quinn gave us a quick tagging demonstration.

Then, because I had tagged before (and my family was enthusiastic), we started things off. My older daughter sloshed into the water collecting horseshoe crabs. My mom recorded basic information about each animal.

For a while, I drilled, and my younger daughter—who had just learned to pick up a horseshoe crab that night—inserted the tags. Soon all the volunteers were involved. There was even a videographer making a how-to video about horseshoe crab tagging!

One horseshoe crab we found had a damaged shell. Quinn explained how a horseshoe crab’s blood coagulates around any bacteria that enters a wound and isolates it, allowing the animal to heal itself. That same ability is what makes horseshoe crab blood valuable to humans, too. Scientists use Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL), which comes only from horseshoe crab blood, to test medical equipment for dangerous bacteria. If the LAL coagulates, it signals a problem.

Other horseshoe crabs we found were crusted with barnacles, slipper shells, and even long tendrils of greenery. There seemed to be entire ecosystems right there on their shells.

Quinn talked about the way scientists can date horseshoe crabs by the age of the animals that live on them. We know that horseshoe crabs mature and stop molting when they are around 10 years old. By dating the ages of the animals that live on mature horseshoe crab shells, scientists estimate that horseshoe crabs can live another 10-15 years once they’ve stopped molting. So, the animals we were looking at were between 10 and 25 years old.

Lightning chased us off the beach soon after we finished the tags Quinn had brought. But nothing could keep us from a quick stop at a nearby ice cream stand to finish off the evening.

A couple nights later, on the night of the new moon, I had a book signing at Bethany Beach Books in Delaware. We didn’t find any horseshoe crabs on the beach there, but visitors at the signing said they’d seen huge numbers of horseshoe crabs nearby, on the bay side. I looked at my family longingly. Tagging had been great, but we didn’t see as many horseshoe crabs as I’d hoped. Maybe it was still possible? It had been a long day, and it was already past everyone’s bedtime. We didn’t even know if we’d see anything.

But my crew was dedicated. As we pulled into the parking lot near a bay-side beach, everything was silent and dark. Ridiculous, I thought. What are we doing here? Then, near the boat launch, there they were!

We walked a bit further to a small sandy beach. More!

That was the sort of moment that inspired me to write my book, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, in the first place. This amazing event was happening close to where I’d spent so much time growing up, but for most of my life, I hadn’t known anything about it.

The next day we had lunch with some family friends who now live on the west coast. A couple of the children had read my book, and they were quite smitten with horseshoe crabs. We talked about how horseshoe crabs don’t live on the west coast, but luckily it was just the right time to visit them here. Maybe they’d see some during their visit, I said hopefully.

Back home the next day, I found a photograph in my email in-box. My west-coast friends had gone out to see the horseshoe crabs that evening. They’d even found a tagged crab.

Horseshoe crabs have been on this journey for a long, long time. For some of us, this is only the beginning.




Lisa Kahn Schnell is the author of High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs.