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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Eco Mysteries

Manitou Cave of Alabama

Manitou Cave on Lookout Mountain, Alabama

On a brisk spring morning, we arrived at Manitou Caves on the outskirts of Fort Payne, Alabama, where Annette Reynolds, founder and steward of the caves, welcomed our group with a radiant smile.

Intrepid Spelunkers Manitou Caves

Earth Day Migratory Bird Day

Helping Birds Along the Way

On a perfect spring day, citizens celebrated the first
International Migratory Bird Day at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Earth Day festival. At the Media Mint Publishing Booth, visitors learned that birds fly thousands of miles from their wintering areas in South America and the Caribbean to their summer nesting sites in the United States and Canada. A Piping plover, for example, can travel over a 1,000 miles from the Caribbean to the breeding areas in northern United States and Canada.

Media Mint Publishing Earth Day

Solo Paddling River Trails

Laurie Chandler Kayaks the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

It is my pleasure and honor to introduce Laurie Chandler as my guest blogger. In the summer of 2015, Laurie Chandler became the first woman to solo paddle the entire 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail, at the age of 53.

Laurie Chandler Paddling

She holds degrees in Biology and Forest Productivity from Albright College and Duke University and worked for many years in the field of forest genetics. A lifelong learner, Laurie returned to Kutztown University in 2001 to study elementary education and is now pursuing a second career in special education at her local K-8 public school. After moving to Maine in 2003, she began exploring the lakes and rivers there in her first kayak and discovered a new passion, wilderness paddling. Embracing a simpler life, Laurie now lives in her parents' log home in Bremen, Maine, within four miles of five lovely lakes. She has two grown and freshly-independent children living in Virginia, a daughter who is a graphic designer and a son who is a firefighter. Life is good and every day is a gift. Read More...

UAB Scientists Explore Antarctica

Margaret Amsler Antarctic Researcher

Claire: How fortunate for me to have attended two of your thought-provoking presentations in one week! Thank you for taking the time to share your work with us, Maggie. As the author of an Eco mystery series, I am fascinated by the intricate research you do to solve the Antarctic’s ecological mysteries. It’s my sincere hope that your work will inspire the next generation to follow in your footsteps. What first sparked your interest in Antartica?

Dr. Margaret Amsler at Palmer Station (photo credit: C. Amsler)

With a declared major of marine biology I was assigned an academic advisor who studied both freshwater and marine crustaceans.  Research on the latter was conducted in Antarctica.  I had to meet with her once a term to review coursework progress.  Each meeting she shared enthralling stories about the remarkable organisms of Antarctica and their various adaptations to the frigid south polar waters.  My junior year I volunteered in her laboratory on campus and during my senior year was asked to be a participant in her field work in Antarctica after I graduated.  Read More...

Alabama Butterfly Atlas Launch

Invitation to Participate in the Alabama Butterfly Atlas
It is my honor to interview Sara and Paulette about their plans to create an on-line
Alabama Butterfly Atlas. By good fortune, I meet Paulette at the Moss Ross Festival and she motivated me to add an eco mystery about butterflies to my on-going eco mystery series.
Sara Cunningham Bright is a professional photographer whose work has been featured in Canoe, Southern Living, Birder’s World, Outdoor Life, Geo, and Portico, and is on permanent display at McDonald’s Corporation, Alabama Power, Wachovia Bank, and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
Paulette Haywood Ogard has taught classes on wildflowers and native plants at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and conducted workshops throughout the southeast on wildlife habitats, butterflies, and butterfly gardening. Paulette and Sara are the co-authors of Alabama Butterflies: Glimpses into their Lives.

Blogger book cover
Glimpses into their Lives.

Green Ribbon Schools Award

Alabama Green Ribbon Schools
On a day filled with sunshine, it was my pleasure and privilege to attend the celebration recognizing the three schools and a university as Alabama Green Ribbon Schools Award Winners for 2015.

Green Ribbon Shirely Farrell
Shirley Farrell, State Dept. of Education, with Liz Ellerson of E.A.T. South (Boris Datnow)

Congratulations to the winners:
Auburn University
Bluff Park Elementary School, Hoover City Schools 
Lincoln Elementary School, Talladega County Schools
Lincoln High School, Talladega County Schools

Connecting to Nature with Apps

Green Apps for Outdoor Classroom Adventures

If you are an environmental educator — teacher, nature guide, or parent— you will find this lesson plan,
Eco Detective Nature Hunt, exciting. In my Eco Mystery series, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six, six feisty teens solve an intriguing eco mystery in order to save an endangered species. Now students can create their own eco mysteries with the new “green” apps. These inspire kids to go outside and observe nature closely. In other words, outside time and screen time do not have to be mutually exclusive. Instead of battling to keep kids away from gadgets, why not use technology to encourage kids to explore outdoors? In this blog I outline a way to use nature-based apps that enhance kids’ experience outdoors, and then arouse their curiosity to learn more through reading and research. 


Environmental Project Based Learning

How to Launch Environmental Project Based Learning

1. LAUNCH PARTY. To arouse the students’ curiosity, plan the event to be novel and dramatic. Design a presentation that encourages students to generate questions that plunge them into an intriguing ecological mystery that they must solve in order to help save an endangered species. You could invite an author of eco mysteries or non-fiction books with environmental themes. For example, for my school presentation I dress up as Mrs. Margarita Mariposa, a character in The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries (Book Six). I wear a striking mask with flowers and butterflies, and send
paper monarch butterflies into the air. 

Mexico in Birmingham

Huntsville Botanical Gardens Education

Huntsville Botanical Gardens Serves Educators and Students

Children's Education program coordinators, Misty Hertzig and Soozi Pline, graciously invited educators and their community partners to a special event at Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

Soozi and Misty


Protect World Heritage and Biospheres

Help to Preserve the World’s Cultural and Natural Heritage

Following our passion for preserving wild places, Boris and I took the plunge and entered National Geographic's "Expedition Granted" contest for $50.000! Whether you’re a nature lover, a traveler, a teacher, an armchair explorer, you can participate in “Expedition Granted,” with one click. Here’s How:

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PBL and Environmental Fiction

"To sunshine, clear water, and sparkling skies and to the kids who are cleaning up the Earth.” Jean Craighead George

Butterfly girls

Butterfly Awareness Day, Birmingham Botanical Gardens

This blog serves two purposes. First, it provides a list of environmental fiction that students would enjoy and will fit neatly into the core curricula you will be teaching. Second, the blog demonstrates a way to apply what they have learned from reading to their own projects, using Project-Based Learning.


Birmingham Butterfly Awareness Day

Butterfly Gardening and Conservation

Butterfly on Boris

On a  perfect summer day, I was delighted to join the Birmingham Botanical Gardens to celebrate Butterfly Education and Awareness Day, and to share my newest book in the eco mystery series for middle grades, The Adventures of The Sizzling Six: Monarch Mysteries (book 6).


Macro and Floral Photography

Hydrangea Fest & Flora Photography

lanark Hydrangeas

On a mellow summer Saturday surrounded by lovely woodlands, we enjoyed the Hydrangea Fest & Flora Photography at Lanark Nature Center in Millbrook, Alabama. To kick off the day, professional photographer, Quincey Banks, shared tips for creating successful macro and flora photography.


Butterfly Education and Awareness Day

Butterfly Education and Awareness Day
Birmingham Botanical Gardens, June 14, 2014, 10 - 2 p.m. Free

Ellie & Butterfly


Hiking The Tuskegee National Forest

Audubon Field Trip to Tuskegee National Forest
On a crisp early morning in April, a group of intrepid explorers from the Birmingham Audubon Society arrive at the Pleasant Hill Trailhead in the Tuskegee National Forest. Bird calls ring out high above, which our knowledgable birders identify for the novices as pine warblers, red-eyed vireos, brown thrashers, eastern towhees, northern cardinal, Carolina wrens and a variety of other birds. The blackened areas in the forest show the on going effort by the US Forest Service to restore the longleaf pines by controlled burning of undergrowth.This is because extensive timbering and replanting with loblolly pine during the settlement period of the nineteenth century increased the population of pine beetle and caused a sharp decline in longleafs—and with them the endangered Red-cockaded woodpecker that nests in mature longleaf pine forests with grassy undergrowth.
Pleasant HillTrail

Advantages of Enhanced Electronic Books

How You Can Benefit from Enhanced Electronic Books
Imagine zooming far above the Atlantic Ocean, reading a fascinating book about the exploration of the ocean, when, magically, the author is sitting next to you, telling you what inspired him to write the book! This is no futuristic fantasy, it’s exactly what I experienced when reading Atlantic, an Enhanced eBook by Simon Winchester. Watching and listening to the video was an Aha moment for me! It brought home the power of Enhanced eBooks and inspired me to begin creating my own. To get a clear view of this new development let’s look at where we are right now. Read More...

Environmental Education Eco Mysteries

Become an Eco Detective

Teachers and Environmental Educators can use my eco mystery series to teach environmental education, ecology and writing across the curriculum. Just download my teacher Handout, BECOME AN ECO DETECTIVE. To get started visit these links:

Teacher Handouts

Green Apps to Get Kids Outdoors

Let Your App Be Your Nature Guide
We've all heard about the problem of kids—and adults—spending too much time indoors playing video games and not enough time outside moving about. With new “green” apps, outside time and screen time do not have to be mutually exclusive. Instead of battling to keep kids away from gadgets, why not use technology to encourage kids to explore outdoors? My friends who are birding enthusiasts and environmental educators are already doing so, so why not join them. In this blog I suggest apps that will enhance kids’ experience outdoors—as well as our own. 

Wehle Land Conservation Center

Monitoring Bird Migrations Through Alabama

Deep in the woodlands of Alabama, there’s a field station monitoring the amazing passage of Neotropical birds migrating from Central and South America. Far from human eyes, in the dark of night, birds swarm over this place. Unbeknown to them, a high tower receives signals that feed their distinctive calls into a computer monitor system for human eyes to decipher. Some birds come down to rest and feed before continuing on.

Earth Day at the Botanical Gardens

Earth Day and Green Living

Despite the weather forecast for thunder, lightning and rain, enthusiastic visitors flocked to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for the annual Earth Day event. What a pleasure to meet so many curious kids, and interesting folks. From the number of exhibitors it seems that Community Gardens have taken off in Birmingham! Read More...

Earth Day Picnic

Picnic for the Planet Alabama Nature Conservancy

What a pleasure to be a part of Picnic for the Planet, 2013! On a perfect spring day, we gathered together with kids of all ages for a picnic celebrating Earth Day.  Sponsored by The Alabama Nature Conservancy at Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham, picnickers basked in the sunshine, played on the lawns, danced to live music, and enjoyed presentations about the excellent projects of the Nature Conservancy. Read More...

Citizen Scientist Eco Mysteries

For many kids, science class means slogging through textbooks, memorizing the discoveries of others, and performing pretested experiments that come with preconceived answers. Citizen science projects can offer kids the chance to study and to participate science outside the confines of the classroom.