A writer's strategy: Present fascinating facts to keep kids reading


June 30, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JOANNE SETTEL knows how to interest children: Hook them with disgusting information, and they'll keep on reading.

In her latest book, "Exploding Ants: Amazing Facts About How Animals Adapt," Settel provides young readers with a peek at fascinating, yucky facts about animals and their behavior.

In the introduction, titled "Why Animals Do Gross Things," the Harper's Choice resident explains that while animals do things that may seem unpleasant to us, these behaviors are critical to their survival.

A swallowtail butterfly larva mimics the shape, color and slimy appearance of a bird dropping, for example. This "disgusting disguise," Settel says, protects the larva from predators.

"There's a real problem with kids and science," she says. "What they learn in school is often very dry. This kind of book gets kids excited."

Children are sure to be intrigued by chapter titles such as "Caterpillar Guts for Breakfast," "Bursting with Blood" and "Murderous Nest Mates."

Settel says her approach to writing science for children works because "it's almost like something that's forbidden, something you're not supposed to talk about. It's a great way to capture their attention."

She used the same strategy in three earlier books she co-authored with Dorsey Hall resident Nancy Baggett: "Why Do Cats' Eyes Glow in the Dark? (And Other Questions Kids Ask About Animals)"; "How Do Ants Know When You're Having A Picnic? (And Other Questions Kids Ask About Insects and Other Crawly Things)"; and "Why Does My Nose Run? (And Other Questions Kids Ask About Their Bodies)."

Cookbooks are Baggett's specialty, but penning a science book for children wasn't too big a stretch.

"The testing of recipes is like a scientific experiment with controls and variables," she said.

Her newest project -- a book on American baking -- is to be published next fall.

Baggett said she and Settel met through the Columbia Writers Workshop. The group meets every two weeks to critique members' work and share information about finding a publisher.

Although Settel is no longer active in the group, she maintains close friendships with many of its members.

Settel received a doctorate in biology from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She teaches anatomy, physiology, biology and zoology at Baltimore City Community College.

Settel and her husband, Barry Frieman, have two grown children. Maya Frieman, 26, is completing her doctorate in vocal music at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. Jennifer Frieman, 20, is a psychology major at the University of Maryland, College Park.

As for those exploding ants mentioned in the title of Settel's book, here's the scoop:

Soldier ants of the species Camponotus saundersi manufacture deadly chemicals inside their bodies. When an intruder approaches, the ant will release small amounts of the chemical to warn off the invader.

But if the intruder attacks, the Camponotus ant sacrifices itself for the good of the ant colony by contracting its muscles, bursting open and spewing out its deadly chemicals.

"Exploding Ants: Amazing Facts About How Animals Adapt" is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers. It is available at bookstores.

A family affair

Scouting is a family affair for the Roths of Glenmont.

Daniel Roth, 16, is working on becoming an Eagle Scout -- the highest rank in Scouting.

Brother Chris, 19, is an Eagle Scout, and 7-year-old James is a Tiger Scout.

Their dad, Patrick Roth, is the Scoutmaster of Troop 649. And their mom, Karen Roth, is a member of the troop committee and its merit badge counselor.

To become an Eagle Scout, Daniel must plan and execute a community service project. Though Daniel lives in Glenmont, his troop meets at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center.

He chose to help the Wilde Lake Community Association's Revitalization Committee by listing all the cul-de-sacs in the village, identifying which ones have islands and renovating one of them.

Daniel chose the island in the cul-de-sac on Rain Dream Hill.

"I wanted to do a project that would benefit a lot of people," he says.

"Wilde Lake is one of the oldest communities in Columbia, and it's going through growing pains," says Jeryl Baker, coordinator for the Revitalization Committee.

Some of the homes, trees and islands in Wilde Lake need extra attention because of their age. Baker says many Wilde Lake residents have been tending the islands on their cul-de-sacs for 30 years and are tired of it.

Although the county owns the islands, it is the responsibility of residents to maintain them, according to Baker.

Daniel met with residents of Rain Dream Hill a few months ago to discuss plans for beautifying the island. He contacted nurseries to get donations of plants and mulch.

Rain Dream Hill residents Norma Rose and Joel Aber took up a collection among the neighbors to pay for materials that Daniel needed.

A few weeks ago, Daniel and members of Troop 649 cleared the island of debris, weeds and gravel.

On Saturday, Daniel, members of his troop, and friends and neighbors on Rain Dream Hill met to plant 14 azalea bushes and five flats of impatiens, potentillas and hostas.

The group worked from 8 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m.

"It all worked out pretty good," says Daniel. "There was a lot of sweating because the weather was so hot, and the ground was hard because of the drought. It definitely looks a lot better than it did before."

Aber is pleased with Daniel's efforts. "It's beautiful," he says. "I think everyone in the neighborhood is pleased. What once was an eyesore is now something beautiful."

Daniel hopes other residents in Wilde Lake will stop by to see an example of what they can do to improve their islands.

For information on how to start a similar project on your Wilde Lake street, contact Baker at 410-730-3987.

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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