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Rachel Ignotofsky Author Essay

What's Inside A Flower?

Happy Earth Day, Readers!

Earth Day is here! Which means countless teachers and scientists will be shouting from the rooftops about why we should protect our planet! You will surely see posts about cuddly pandas and cute baby elephants. You’ll learn silly trivia, like that wombats poop in cubes or that bees talk by dancing. You may even tear up learning about the koalas who lost their homes in Australia’s fires or the polar bears who are desperate to find sea ice in the Arctic Circle.

The sad stories, the cute photos, the fun facts . . . these are all told to make you stop, listen, and learn more about our planet. I love these stories (and have told them myself). But sometimes I feel like they distract from the main point scientists want to make: our planet provides us with irreplicable ecological benefits that people need to survive.

Food, nutrient-rich soil, breathable air, bountiful oceans, natural protection from storms—these are just a few of the things our natural world does for us. And if we ruin those natural resources, it is not just the cuddly critters that will be in trouble.

In my books about nature and science, I put a spotlight on the hard work our planet does for us.

I want young readers to understand this concept early as they begin their science studies. That is why I introduce the concept of ecological benefits in my elementary-school level book What’s Inside a Flower?

My book The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth is written for middle school and young adults. Here we dive deeper into the topic by highlighting different ecosystems all over the world and the biggest benefits these places provide us.

Once kiddos and their adults understand how our planet is working hard for them, they will be even more inspired to do the work to help protect our planet.

I’m not going to lie—fun animal facts will always be one of my favorite things. But this Earth Day, let’s go deeper and celebrate and protect the bounty that our planet provides us!

Rachel Ignotofsky

RACHEL IGNOTOFSKY is a New York Times-bestselling author, illustrator, designer. She graduated from Tyler School of Art's graphic design program and formerly worked as a senior designer and illustrator at Hallmark Greetings. Rachel and her work have been featured in many print and online media outlets such as Babble, the Huffington Post, Scientific American, and Buzzfeed. She is the author of The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth, Women in Science, Women in Sports, and I Love Science.

Books to instill respect for and curiosity about our Earth

Sarah Miller Author Essay

Violet and Daisy

Let me tell you a secret: the research is the best part. I’m supposed to say that it’s the writing, but it’s not. Writing is work. It’s necessary work if I want to share the stories that enthrall me, but it’s hard work. Research, though? That is a playground.

The most fascinating thing, the thing that nothing but research reveals, is how stories evolve. Even nonfiction, which is built of facts, is affected by our perceptions. As the years and decades pass, the way we look at people and events undergoes drastic transformations, even when the facts remain the same.

For instance, Lizzie Borden is perceived today as an axe-wielding psychopath, even though the facts inform us that she was a Sunday school teacher who was acquitted of the murder of her father and stepmother.

Or consider the Ontario government’s move to take custody of Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne—the first surviving quintuplets in history—and raise them as wards of the crown. In 1934, that decision looked like a heroic act of protection for five premature babies, but eighty years later, it reeks of exploitation.

And then there’s Violet and Daisy Hilton. These conjoined twin sisters were abandoned by their mother and abused and exploited by their guardians from the time they were three weeks old, and no one at that time batted an eye. At least, I was pretty sure that’s what happened. Turns out, Violet and Daisy had a habit of stretching the truth for the sake of publicity almost as often as they themselves had been lied to as children.

How do you suss out the truth in cases like this? Dig. And keep digging until you hit facts that won’t yield. Then dig a little more, just to be sure.

My career began with historical fiction and might have continued exclusively in that direction if I hadn’t started reading about the Borden axe murders. Once I delved deep enough to discover how drastically the Lizzie Borden of pop culture differs from the verifiable facts about her, the challenge of uncovering the real Lizzie instantly had much more appeal than (re)creating an imaginary one. So I read the Borden murder trial transcript. All of it. As well as the witness statements, inquest testimony, and preliminary hearing transcript—2,578 pages in all. That was not 100 percent fun, but it’s how I learned that if you go back to the bedrock facts and begin creeping steadily forward—chronologically, if possible—you start to catch glimpses of how people’s memories metamorphose, even when they’ve sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Next came the Dionne Quintuplets and four trips to North Bay, Ontario, with a stop at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto. Imagine reading the handwritten diaries of the first nurse who attended those five identical babies. Imagine slipping on white cotton gloves and opening folder after folder of original photographs of Yvonne, Annette, Cécile, Émilie, and Marie Dionne—1,400 images in all. At the Callander Bay Heritage Museum, I got to sit at a table covered with boxes and sift through snapshots, blueprints, and scrapbooks stuffed with newspaper clippings. Every box was a surprise—I swear to you, it felt just like Christmas. The sisters’ baby clothes were hanging on the walls, and the basket they were placed in the night they were born was in a glass case. No less dazzling, and even more valuable to me, were long-neglected newspaper and magazine interviews with the Dionne sisters and their parents and siblings, which enabled me to let their voices be heard for the first time since the 1930s.

These trips aren’t just about learning what can’t be learned elsewhere. They’re also about feeling what can’t be felt elsewhere. It’s one thing to read about how five fragile preemies were whisked out of their family’s farmhouse and into a custom-made hospital across the road. It’s another to stand outside of the barbed-wire fence that surrounds the remains of the hospital and think about what that fence meant to not only the five children locked inside, but the rest of their family, who were locked out.

Pondering the evidence in the Borden case for a year, wondering how all those tiny pieces fit together, is not the same as standing in Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery before four headstones marked Andrew, Abby, Lizbeth, and Emma (Lizzie’s sister). It’s only in the cemetery that you fully realize that the Borden murders are much more than a puzzle—they were crimes that brought about the destruction of an entire family.

I don’t always get to go in search of one-of-a-kind artifacts and experiences, though. There’s a lot of sitting in one spot, turning virtual pages until, if I’m lucky and tenacious enough, I uncover something vital that nobody’s looked at in decades. In the National Library of Australia’s digital collection, for example, I stumbled across a 1915 newspaper article protesting Violet and Daisy Hilton’s treatment at the hands of their guardians that made me stop and blink in disbelief, because somebody did care. Somebody saw them not as freaks, but as eight-year-old girls. In its own way, that was as affecting as standing in front of the barbed-wire fence in Ontario.

Then, to sit down in front of a blank page and condense all of that information and all of those experiences into a couple hundred pages—that’s when the real work begins.

Sarah Miller

Sarah Miller is the author of the historical fiction novels Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, which was called “an accomplished debut” in a starred review from Booklist and was named an ALA–ALSC Notable Children’s Book, and The Lost Crown, a novel hailed as “fascinating” in a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and named an ALA–YALSA Best Book for Young Adults.

Random House Teachers and Librarians