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Reptiles in My Neighborhood by Elaine A. Powers, Author

In this post, I’d like to tell you about some of the common reptiles that live in my neighborhood in the Sonoran Desert.

Illustration of a Red Racer, or Coachwhip snake Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum cingulum) is a slender nonvenomous snake with variable coloring to help in camouflage. In Tucson, Arizona, coachwhips that are pink to red in color are called Red Racers. The pattern on the scales give the snake a braided look, like an old-time leather coach whip. Their large eyes provide good eyesight. In times of trouble, they prefer to rapidly slither away (considered one of the fastest snakes) but, if cornered, they will rise up, hiss, vibrate the tips of their tails to simulate the sound of a rattlesnake, and strike quickly and repeatedly.

The coachwhip is associated with several Western fables. One is that the snake bites its own tail to form a hoop, then rolls in pursuit of its prey. Another is that a coachwhip will chase a person, coil around him, and then lash him to death with its tail. The snake checks the person for life by inserting its tail into the person’s nose. If the person isn’t dead, the snake will continue the lashing.  Of course, none of these stories are true.

image of desert spiny lizard on a rock
Desert Spiny Lizard; Photo by Skeeze from Pixabay

Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister) is a large, stocky lizard of southwestern Arizona. The male’s body features a purple stripe near the neck.

 

Illustration of western diamondback rattler
Illustration of Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

 

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) This snake is known for its distinctive rattle when threatened. The keratin rattle mechanism at the tip of the tail twitches up to 100 times per second. The dark diamond-shaped pattern on its back identifies this common Tucson rattler.

Rattlesnakes belong to a group of venomous snakes called pit vipers and are found in a wide range of habitats. The pits, located between the nostrils and the eyes, are used in sensing the heat of other animals, and are sensitive enough to detect a body only a fraction of a degree warmer than the ambient air. Rattlers usually hunt at night, preferring small nocturnal mammals. Rattlesnakes are important in controlling the populations of disease-carrying rodents.

If you want to learn about this fascinating snake, I recommend my picture book, Don’t Make Me Rattle! You’ll also find a 46-page Diamondback Workbook here, which is used by teachers, tutors and parents to supplement children’s educations.

image of children's workbook cover, with picture of western diamondback rattler and a listing of the activity sheets inside

A brown book cover, with a circle with blue sky, with a rattlesnake popping out of the circle, title: Don't Make Me Rattle

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Rhyming is Required for Picture Books, In My Humble Opinion by Elaine A. Powers, Author

A brown book cover, with a circle with blue sky, with a rattlesnake popping out of the circle, title: Don't Make Me Rattle
“Rattlers have tongues that we flick out and back. We’re not smelling your scent so we can attack. We’re “tasting” the molecules that float in the air, Our Jacobson’s organs determine what is there.”

 

I write children’s books, both adventure tales and picture books. My personal opinion is that picture books should rhyme.  It doesn’t need to be overt rhyming, it can be subtle rhyming, but the text does need to rhyme. However, rhyming alone isn’t enough for a book.  The rhyming text must have a point, purpose, or reason, meaning some lesson must be taught.

The lines and rhyming can be any way you want them to be: a few beats per line, or complete sentences. However, they must be consistent.  You can also arrange the words in a visual pattern for more fun (but no changing patterns within the book).

Even though the text rhymes, the story-line must still have an arc, which builds to a climax.

Please use correct punctuation.  Some poems today are free-form with their punctuation, but when teaching children to read, correct usage is important.

Write a book that children and adults will enjoy reading over and over – that is the ultimate goal. Repetition allows children to learn the language, ideas, and the story-line of the book.

Many people have told me they wanted to write a children’s book. I encourage them all. However, if you’re thinking of writing a “mere” children’s book, know that writing a rhyming picture book is as tedious and as difficult as writing a novel!

“With vibrant illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe, this picture book is jam-packed with scientific facts about roadrunners, delivered in verse form to keep the narrative lively. Roadrunners “…grab their victim/behind its head/And bash it on/the ground until it is dead.” Want to know how to swallow a horned lizard? Keep reading!” AZ Daily Star
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Why Poetry is Important to Children by Elaine A. Powers, Author

A green and blue book cover, with a castle, title: A Child's Garden of VersesI was asked once, What was the first book I remembered reading as a child? It was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. All through the years, I have enjoyed revisiting my favorite poems. The wonderful thing about poetry is that it is not age dependent. Sharing rhymes creates a special bond between children and adults. Both can learn and enjoy together.

Poetry has been shown to support cognitive development in children. Poetry improves language skills. Interestingly, children learn new words even if they don’t fully understand their meaning at that time. This helps prepare them for academic success, not only through language development, but also by increasing information and confidence. Poetry also improves imagination and creativity, and encourages an interest in reading and, in some people, writing poetry.

The rhythms in poetry are exciting to small children who love to dance and move to the beats and sing rhymes. This continues into adulthood. After all, song lyrics do usually rhyme.

That is why I have written three science-based children’s books in rhyme. It makes learning all about the creatures fun and interesting. Plus, I love vivid, colorful illustrations, which is a trait of my books. I get a lot of oohs and aahs from others, too. You’ll find the rhyming “Don’t” series here.

A brown book cover, with a circle with blue sky, with a rattlesnake popping out of the circle, title: Don't Make Me Rattle

 

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Books, by Popular Demand! by Elaine A. Powers, Author

I inherited my mother’s house, which is in an RV Resort in Ft. Myers, FL. Every year, I travel there at Christmastime to perform in each year’s original Cantata, composed by a very talented woman, Ruth Rodgers, and her husband, Dr. Ted Rodgers. I directed the orchestra, sang, played the trumpet and thoroughly enjoyed the celebration. Sadly, 2017 was the final cantata.

That meant, however, that this past Christmas, I could fully participate in the park’s holiday potluck dinner.  A gift exchange takes place every year—you know, the kind where everyone gets a number and as each number is called, that person selects a gift. The fun part is, they may keep the gift they chose or trade for one another person has already selected. Some gifts are traded (grabbed!) repeatedly until the numbers finally run out.

I decided to take the collection of my “Don’t” series books (Don’t Call Me Turtle, Don’t Make Me Fly, and Don’t Make Me Rattle) as my gift. I also took along some Southwestern-themed wrapping paper and tape since I didn’t know what supplies were in the house. I brought some yummy Tortuga rum cakes from my travels to the Cayman Islands. I was ready.

Green book cover with a tortoise standing on hind legs, pointing at the viewer
Let ME tell you about the differences
between tortoises and turtles.

Cold feet struck that afternoon. Was bringing my own books the right thing to do?  Geez, maybe I should have brought something more appropriate. I searched the house for something I could substitute, but there was nothing. Fate determined the “Don’t” series books would be my gift.

One of my neighbors greeted me at the door that evening . “Is this one of the books you’ve written?”  

I confessed it was.

His reply? “I know what gift I’m choosing.” 

Sure enough, his number was called and he selected my gift.  I was honored and delighted that he wanted my books.

His number was called early, but his possession of the books was short lived. A few numbers later, a woman took the books from him.  Then a few more numbers, and another woman selected the books—and so on! 

My books were one of the most desired gifts of the evening. It was both engaging and rewarding to know that my efforts to make science education fun are working. I hope to inspire many future scientists by creating books written in rhyme, filled with scientific facts, that children and their parents truly enjoy reading.

Happy new year to all!

A brown book cover with a Diamondback rattlesnake inside a circle, showing the sky
I am shy and I love it
when you simply pass by.
An orange book cover with a southwestern roadrunner painted within a circle, blue sky in background
Roadrunners don’t fly–
do you know why?