Meet the Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Are northern saw-whet owls the cutest birds in the world?


Earlier this year, my family adopted a northern saw-whet owl for me. I couldn’t wait to meet the little critters in person, plus participate in some community science. So I waited for the announcements from the National Aviary to join in Project Owlnet.

Unfortunately, the spring lockdown meant it was cancelled. But in the fall, we were able to join Project Owlnet while safely socially distancing outdoors.

We walked through dark woods to the mist nets that waited to catch the owls as safely and softly as possible. A recording of the saw-whet call, an insistent “toot, toot, toot” echoed through the trees. The owls are migrating south and don’t actually make noises as they fly. But the recording calls them low to the ground – why, researchers don’t exactly know. They wait in the net until we released them. We checked the nets frequently. The owls are about as big as an adult’s hand. But they are feisty. They snapped their beaks to scare us. But their big golden eyes were endearing and their soft feathers were irresistible.

We carried the owls back to the picnic table and took several measurements. We measured wing size, tail length, and estimated age by looking at wing feathers. We blew open feathers on their chest to measure fat tissue. We put them upside down in plastic cups to weigh them! All the owls we caught were big, for saw-whets, and were female. They were brave little ladies.


After recording all the data, we took turns stretching out our arms like tree branches, setting the owls on them, and watching them fly away. We quickly lost sight of them in the dark, but I’m sure they could see us perfectly.


I’m chugging through revisions of The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci. This book is coming out fromNomad Press in May 2021)I really love all of the activities included in the book. I can’t wait to see readers try them and share their results!

Revisions can be hard, but how often in life do we get a chance to fix our mistakes? One of the reasons I love being a writer.

Do You Use a Standing Desk?

Do you use a standing desk? I’m trying out a new standing desk in my office.

I used to have a very tall craft desk. I thought I might stand to write, but I couldn’t stand for eight hours. I ended up buying a tall drafting chair so I could sit sometimes. Then I ended up sitting all of the time.

So when I bought this little standing desk, I did NOT buy a  TALL CHAIR.

I’m not sure it will be easy for actual writing, but when I’m researching – reading, taking notes, watching videos, listening to zoom lectures – I’m going to try to stand.

My new desk is adjustable and rolls around on wheels! I won’t be walking and writing though. If I want to do that, I can always pop down to the treadmill and put my laptop on an old shelf. I rest the shelf on the arms of the treadmill and get walking. That’s easiest when I’m watching videos.


Reading and Writing Against Bias

I’m so excited about an upcoming workshop that I’m taking through the Highlights Foundation. “DISMANTLING THE KALEIDOSCOPE: ESSENTIAL CONVERSATIONS IN KIDLIT, A VIRTUAL SYMPOSIUM 2020” will challenge participants to “talk about misrepresentations in books” and “develop action plans for resisting them.”

I’ve got all the books for the reading list. I can’t wait to learn and listen.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know your thoughts!

  • A Phoenix First Must Burn Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope, edited by Patrice Caldwell (Viking)
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Quill Tree Books)
  • Dreamers by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books)
  • Hands Up by Breanna McDaniel and Shane W. Evans (Dial Books)


Virtual Author Visits

Are you a teacher or author looking for a virtual author visit? I love connecting with classrooms and talking about nonfiction. We can work with a local bookstore to get kids copies of signed books. We have great discussions about research and writing about technology, medicine, mistakes, and more. I can do author Q&As or brainstorming activities!

This is a great time to have authors interact with students when you don’t have to worry about travel fees or bad weather cancelling events.

Contact me about fees, timing, technology and any other questions. Stay safe!

author visiting a classroom

Watch This Space

owl cookies

I’m excited that Spider magazine recently accepted a fiction story and a recipe. They will be in print at some point. Magazines work very far in the future (think eight months to two years!) Eventually I’ll be able to share the actual publications.

I also received a rejection for a word game that I submitted. Rejections always sting, but it’s important to take a breath. Remind yourself it’s (usually) not personal.

For me, it helps to have lots of projects going on and to try a revision. How do you handle rejection?

Pittsburgh Writing Events

Where do you find out about Pittsburgh writing events?

Of course, my favorite is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 

But there are many more writing groups active in our region. There is so much going on. There are so many opportunities even though we can’t gather in groups. Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed trying to pick between different events, but I would never want the pendulum to swing the other way. No, there’s no need to feel like a lonely writer toiling away at your craft. Stay connected, share events with other writers, be nosy, and be involved.



Pittsburgh Book Festival

Bookish in the Burgh


Writing with Your Senses

“The eye and the ear are different listeners.” – Jane Yolen

When we read sensory details in a book, parts of our brain are activated. The parts that are activated are the same parts that would be active if we were experiencing the sense in real life.

So if you write about the spicy sweet scent of cinnamon, the brains of people who love cinnamon will light up (activate) like they were actually smelling it.

I practice using my senses to experience the world around me. Every other day I write down a sentence that includes one of my sensory observations.

“His phlegmy cough sounded like Velcro ripping in his chest.”

“The hot parking lot after the rain smelled like metal.”

“Water droplets crawling down my legs felt like ants.”

“Seeing the light underside of leaves warns me a storm is coming.”

The Wetlands

Take a look at this photo of a salt marsh near Cape Henlopen, Delaware.

What would it feel like if you were a giant and rubbed your hand across the grass tops?

What would it feel like walking through the marsh grass?

What would you hear in this salt marsh?

How would it smell? (Let me tell you, it has an ODOR!)

What do you see in this photo?

What can’t you see – but you know is there? (Hint: we did spy snakes and spiders!)

What things can we taste in a salt marsh? Have you ever tasted salt air as you inhaled deeply?



Good writing means using all of your senses to describe the world. For the next week, any time you write, include details from all five of your senses. Do this especially if you’re writing nonfiction!

  • How does your favorite blanket smell?
  • How does the water falling out of your faucet look?
  • What do you see when you look at that rock in the dirt?
  • What does the refrigerator sound like?
  • Lick your CLEAN finger. What does it taste like?

Share your sensory sentences here!