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In Which The Author Sets Up A Google Alert and Learns Many Marvelous Things About Snails

Just before Escargot was released, a thought occurred to me. Having written a book about a very beautiful French snail, it seemed to me that I should stay up-to-date on snail news. I'm not sure, at this point, what I expected to learn -- perhaps I just thought I'd find out if people were talking about my book. But whatever my reasoning, I set up a Google alert to send snail news my way. This has turned out to be a quite wonderful blessing. Snails, it seems, are the source of many remarkable stories. Of course, you do have to skim over all the headlines noting that something or other is "moving at a snail's pace," which, when viewed in aggregate, quickly reveals itself to be the world's most irritating cliche. But the rest is pure, random, gold.

Of all the snail news, the best -- and also the most tragic -- was the saga of Jeremy, the snail whose shell spirals left instead of right. As one article explained:

Snails mate face-to-face, sliding past each other on the right hand side so that their genitalia can meet. To copulate Jeremy must beat one in million odds to find another snail which also has left-handed sex organs which are compatible with his own.

An English snail researcher hoped to match Jeremy with another left-coiling snail in order to see if the trait was hereditary, and so he put out a call for possible mates. Two other left-coiling snails were found, and all was rejoicing and salacious speculation -- until the two potential mates, Lefty and Tomeu, hooked up with each other. In the latest news:

Researchers announced earlier this month that the pair has produced three clutches of eggs, and more than 170 baby snails. The first batch of eggs was ‘fathered’ by Lefty and laid by Tomeu; because snails are hermaphrodites, they can fulfill the role of either mother or father.

But there were other, happier research stories, too. The Brits, it seems, are fascinated by snails. This week researchers at the marvelously titled BBC television show The British Garden: Life and Death On Your Lawn announced that snails have a homing instinct and will -- at their own leisurely pace -- creep back to their own territory if moved. Professor Dave Hodgson apparently gathered 65 snails from four corners of a garden in Hertfordshire and painted their shells with a fluorescent color corresponding to the home corner. I'll let the article tell the rest:

A  fifth group of snails, brought up from Cornwall was also added to the mix as a control group, and painted bright green . 

 Once the snails were glowing brightly, they were videoed overnight to find out if they would travel back to their home flower-beds during their nocturnal meanderings. Snails can travel just over one mph and so can get 25 metres in the 24 hours. 

"Interestingly, the Cornish ones headed due west, extraordinarily in the right direction to get home," said Prof Hodgson.

"In the blue corner, almost all of the snails I found were blue snails. In the red corner, almost all of the red snails found their way back. In the orange corner almost all of them were orange, and of the pinks almost all of them were back in the pink corner.

 Think how much richer your life is now that you know that a British researcher has been color-coding the snails in his garden.

Yesterday's alert informed me that researchers were able to selectively remove memories from a snail's brain, which makes you wonder what kinds of things snails remember. (Where home is, apparently) This research might some day help people rid themselves of traumatic memories, the article claims. Meanwhile, the venom of another kind of snail looks like a promising painkiller, potentially helping us fight opioid addiction. And the slime from yet another kind of snail is reportedly useful for treating acne. Snails: the answer to every question.

And there's so much more -- so many odd, marvelous tidbits. Customs agents in Philadelphia discovering 7 lbs. of Italian snails in a box labelled "Shoes and Honey."

Tiny snails the size of a seed stopping a freeway bypass in England.

Different tiny snails showing up in driveways and footpaths in New Zealand, where residents whimsically speculate that they're being eaten by leprechauns.

Photos of snails in the rain.

Video of giant snails "slurping earthworms like spaghetti." (These both come from the Daily Mail -- what is it about the Brits and snails?) 

In Maine, a little girl coaxes snails out of their shells by humming to them. In Israel, a veterinarian saved the life of a snail by mending its broken shell with glue. In Utah, elementary school teachers rewarded students for improved reading abilities by eating snails. Imagine the scene:

The entire student body gathered in the lunchroom for the end-of-year assembly. After handing out various awards, Literacy Coach Kimberly Panter announced 85 percent of students had improved their reading scores, and as a reward, various teachers would have to eat snails.

Names were drawn out of a hat to see which teachers would have to eat the snails, to the roar of the students. The snails were donated by local restaurant La Caille. Alex Hill, a representative of La Caille, demonstrated how to eat the snails by clasping the snail shell using tongs and pulling out the meat with a special fork. After a quick countdown, the teachers gulped down the snails, a few pulling faces and squirming. One teacher quickly began drinking a Diet Coke as soon as she could.

(Escargot, naturally, was horrified by this development. "They couldn't eat a nice salad with a few croutons and a light vinaigrette?")

And then there were the discoveries. At an ancient settlement inside a cave in Iraq, British (!) researchers found a decorated snail shell apparently made as an ornament by Upper Palaeolithic people. A mucous-shooting worm snail -- also called 'a spiderman snail' in other news articles -- was discovered in a shipwreck in the Florida Keys. Three new species of tiny, fragile, and colorless land snails were found in Georgia, Panama, and Belize. Certain species of bellicose snails were found to wield their shells like clubs to knock out predators. To quote the report:

They found that two snail species -- Karaftohelix (Ezohelix) gainesi in Hokkaido, Japan and Karaftohelix selskii in the Far East region of Russia -- swing their shells to hit the carabid beetles, demonstrating a very unique, active defence strategy; while other closely related snail species withdraw their soft bodies into their shells and wait until the opponent stops attacking.

The world of snails is one miracle after another. And so, the alerts that come to me each day, brimming with updates from the gastropodic world, seem somehow to be a reminder of the wonder of everyday life -- of the revelations lurking underfoot, just waiting to be noticed.

Tips for Using ESCARGOT In Your Classroom Or Library

It’s been a crazy, fun, and exhausting month for me and Escargot. Over the past three weeks, the gallic gastropod and I have visited more than a dozen schools. Talking with teachers and librarians gives me the opportunity to hear some of the creative ways school professionals are using Escargot to teach everything from science to persuasive writing.

Here are some classroom and library tips and tricks I’ve picked up in my travels. You’ll find more ideas and tools in my downloadable Escargot Story Hour Kit.

 


purple bubble raft snail copy

Share the Wonder of Snails!

My presentations for preK to 2nd grade students include a slide show of amazing snails and snail facts (some of which can be found in the Story Hour Kit.) I teach kids about snail radulas and tentacles and operculums, as well as some of the crazy and beautiful snail varieties found on land and sea (the one above is the Purple Bubble Raft Snail). Kids are fascinated by these familiar-yet-exotic creatures and always have dozens of amazing and perceptive questions.

Teachers and librarians tell me they are pairing Escargot with non-fiction books for science-based snail units and story times. One mom even brought some snails to school that she had collected in her backyard. You can emphasize the book's healthy-eating theme by feeding backyard snails delicious vegetables and fruits (cucumber, watermelon, and strawberries are beloved by kids and snails alike).

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Teach Persuasive Writing

Sheila Murphy, a first and second grade teacher in Maplewood, New Jersey, shared this lesson idea. 

She teaches her students that persuasive writing relies on a thesis statement followed by reasons and evidence. (She doesn't necessarily use these terms though.)

In Escargot, the thesis statement is, Escargot should be your favorite animal. 

Then she asks kids to come up with reasons and evidence to support this statement. For example:

- He is beautiful

- He is fashionable

- He is charming

- He is affectionate

- He is fierce

- He knows how to relax

And so on. (Kids will come up with many more.)

Then she asks her students to write a letter (to Escargot, to their teacher, etc.) making the case for their own favorite animal using the same format: a statement (________ should be your favorite animal) followed by reasons.

“It worked well for me," she reported. "All the children were engaged!”

asking questions lees class 2

3.     Use Escargot to Write Odes

I do group writing exercises with children as part of nearly every presentation – even in assemblies with hundreds of kids. Often we write a story together, but sometimes we write a kind of poem called an Ode. Escargot provides a natural introduction to odes because he gives so many reasons why he himself should be loved.

When talking about odes, I explain that they are poems of praise used show how much you like something and why. We then choose something that we all like and jointly write an ode to it. Sometimes we write odes to ice cream, books, teachers, or shoes. But lately kids have wanted to write odes to snails! 

Here is an ode written at an assembly this month. We had just talked about many amazing kinds of snails, so the kids were primed! While many odes are addressed to the object itself, I often don’t bother with this aspect when working with young kids.

 

Ode to Snails

by the PreK-2nd Graders at Lead Elementary School

 

We love your shell color,

your tentacles like bunny ears.

We love your bubbles

and your slime because

you can pass through sharp things.

We love your shimmery trail.

We love your eyes because

you can look at the dark.

We love your colorful shell.

You live under the sea

and can walk on the bottom of water.

We love how you eat,

how you share your food.

We love how you tickle us

when we hold you.

 

Note that the natural language of children makes it poetic. I didn’t have to ask them to be poetic -- they are poetic. Simply asking kids what they like about something generally elicits wonderful resultsWhen responses begin sounding too much alike, I ask a few leading questions. How do snails make you feel? What do they sound like? What colors are their shells? If they could talk, what would they say?

Children who can write independently can also write their own odes. I like this ode-writing lesson plan.

If you are using Escargot in the classroom, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Posted by on in Dashka's Blog
The Amazing Escargot Story Hour Kit

The Official Not-To-Be-Missed Escargot launch party will be held at 3pm on April 9, 2017 at Mrs. Dalloway's Books in Berkeley, California. But what if you can't make it? No need to cry, scream, and gnash your teeth. We have many Escargot events planned this spring. I've listed some of them below, but check the calendar to see them all as we're adding new ones all the time. 

"But," you say. "But what if I want to hold my very own Escargot storytime at my very own library or bookstore or even just with my very own children? What if I want to have an Escargot-themed birthday party, complete with games and prizes? What if I want to dress up as Escargot for Halloween, or just to go to work? What THEN?"

Relax, honey-bunch. Escargot and I have got you covered. 

Story Hour Kit cover

You can now download, straight from the MacMillan website, a gorgeous, fun-filled, action-packed Escargot Story Hour Kit and host your own Escargot party whenever you like! The kit features everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, you might possibly need to have the snailiest, Frenchiest, funnest event of your ever-loving life. The only other things you'll need are the book and some children. However, if you think you'd also like a snail costume and some snail cookies, well, I'll be adding information about those very soon.

What's in this storyhour kit, you ask?

- A poster for advertising your event

- A list of everything you'll need to have on hand

- A super fun finger-play that I wrote just for this book

- A snail tentacle template for making snail headbands

- A snail racing game with adorable snail standees to use

- A list of fascinating snail facts with which to amuse and impress your friends

Now, I know what your next question will be. "Are there enough snail facts to completely fill my mind with all the snail-based trivia I need?" The answer, sadly, is no. And that's not because the story hour kit is in any way faulty. It is simply that the world of the gastropod is so incredibly full of wonder and marvel that no single fact sheet can possibly satisfy the yawning curiosity most of us feel about all things Snail. Thus, I promise that this blog will continue to be filled with fascinating snail tidbits for weeks to come. Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, the Escargot Story Time Kit awaits you. Please email me through the Contact form on this website to share photos of your fabulous Escargot events! And check out the events below and on the calendar to find one near you!

Upcoming Events:

 

Sunday, April 9, 3:00 PM

Escargot Launch Party

Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore

2904 College Ave, Berkeley, CA

 

Wednesday, April 12, 11:00 AM

The Reading Bug

785 Laurel Street, San Carlos, CA

 

Tuesday, April 18, 4 PM

Copperfield’s Books

140 Kentucky Street, Petaluma, CA

 

Saturday, April 24, 11:00 AM

Green Bean Books

1600 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR

 

Saturday, May 6

Turn the Page Festival

Children's Fairyland

Oakland, CA

 

Sunday, May 7 11:00 AM

Books Inc, Burlingame

1375 Burlingame Ave, Burlingame, CA

 

Saturday, May 13, 12:00 PM

Napa Bookmine, Oxbow Public Market

610 First Street, Shop 4, Napa, California

 

Sunday, May 21

Oakland Book Festival

1 Frank H Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, California

 

Friday, June 2

BookExpo America

Javits Center, New York, NY

 

Sunday, June 4

Bay Area Book Festival

Berkeley, CA

Posted by on in Dashka's Blog

As a journalist, I'm constantly juggling deadlines, scanning social media for updates, and trying to find a few quiet minutes to write. So when 24Life asked me to write about busyness, I found myself deeply intrigued by the topic. You can read what I learned about getting out of the busyness trap here:

Posted by on in Dashka's Blog
BONJOUR, ESCARGOT!

My new picture book, Escargot, will be released on April 11 and it is already getting a wonderful response. 

That's no surprise to Escargot, of course. He already knew he was the world's most beautiful French snail!

His opinion was confirmed today when Escargot received his first starred review, from the March issue of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Naturally he feels humbled, if "humbled" is what you are when you make people read the review to you over and over and then you say, "Moi? Parfait? Engaging? Jaunty? Do you think so? Let's read it again." 

Not only that, but he's on the Top Ten Indie Next List for Spring, which means you can find him at all your favorite independent bookstores.

 

In fact, you can find both of us -- as we have an action packed schedule of Spring appearances. Check out the calendar and this space for details!

Here's the BCCB review in full:

 

★    ESCARGOT

Author: Dashka Slater

Illustrator: Sydney Hanson

 

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Pages: 40

Price (Hardcover): $16.99

Publication Date: April 2017

ISBN (Hardcover): 9780374302818

 

R*

 

Our self-assured narrator may have no shortage of ego (“I am such a beautiful French snail that everybody stares at me”), but one thing makes him very sad: “Nobody ever says their favorite animal is the snail.” Escargot hasn’t given up hope, though, trying to convince the listener of his suitability for favorite via flattery, unexpected ferocity, and a swift race to the salad at the end of the book. Escargot’s voice is parfait, an airy blend of ego and need masterfully balanced in witty and well-turned sentences that leave plenty of room for audiences to get the joke. Cues for interaction (“Can you also make a fierce face to scare away the carrot? Maybe we should roar at it, too?”) are unexpected yet playful, with additional humor in the snail’s engaging responses. Trim, controlled pencil and watercolor art gives Escargot the inevitable French sailor’s shirt, neckerchief, and teeny beret, but the jaunty guy’s wide, sincere eyes reveal the depth of his yearning snail soul—and make for some great comic faces. The neat regularity of the art mirrors the tonal control of the text while adding some clever touches, such as the snail’s loving gaze at himself in a glass tumbler or his casual recline upon a wine cork. Haul out your best Pepe Le Pew cartoon French for this gastropod confectionery. DS

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