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Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking

Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking

Written by Elin Kelsey; artwork by Soyeon Kim
Published in 2015 by Owl Kids Books
ISBN: 978-1-77147-062-9
Grades K-5
Book Review
“Problems are like sticker burrs. They poke. They prick. They nag. But sometimes, problems spark marvelous ideas.” Elin Kelsey, acclaimed author of You Are Stardust recognizes that problems are a problem not just for humans but for all living creatures. Yet, she once again takes a hopeful approach letting the environment be her guide. In Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking, Kelsey draws from research on animal adaptation and shares the creative ways that animals use their problems as platforms for learning,such as how squirrels learned to cross streets by watching people and how dung beetles steer by the stars. While we may understandably feel frustrated, scared, angry, or worried when faced with every day problems, Kelsey urges readers to see our problems from the lens of possibility and to apply the life strategy animals often use of try, try again. Soyeon Kim’s playful, three-dimensional dioramas invite us to read and reread each page marveling at the details through her use of real-world materials, fine sketching, and painting techniques to place us in the natural spaces the featured animals inhabit. Sure to inspire clamors of “I never knew”, Kelsey and Kim prompt readers to be inquirers of the natural world: to take notice, to wonder, and to bravely embrace their own wild ideas.
Teaching Ideas / Invitations for Your Classroom:
Grades K-5
Closely Reading Endpapers to Ignite Wonder. Before reading aloud Wild Ideas, engage the class in a close reading of the endpapers, if possible, using a document camera or magnified copies. The endpapers are composed of intricate sketches and accompanying factoids about the creatures featured in the text. Support students to make predictions about what they think the book will be about based on the sketches and information they see. Have students share what they notice the creatures seem to have in common. Which pieces of information surprise, amaze, and interest them? Use the endpapers as a springboard for students to generate original questions about the creatures. This process of noticing and questioning will help anchor students to listen to or read the remaining text as inquirers.
Repeated Read-Alouds for Inspired Thinking. Problems exist for all of us, but like animals we can reframe problems as possibilities. Engage students in a repeated read aloud structure of Wild Ideas. In the first read aloud, encourage students to consider what the text is mostly about. In a second read aloud, support students to notice and name which creatures inspire them the most. How so?  Next, create a class list of problems students feel they encounter in their everyday lives anywhere from learning to tie their shoes or ride a two-wheeler to conflicts with friends and family. Further the conversation and listing by collectively brainstorming possible solutions to those problems.  Consider going on a class walk around the school or neighborhood noticing potential sites for inspired problem solving. Return to the idea of reframing problems as sites of possibility throughout the school year as a whole class or on an individual basis.
What’s the Science? Text Set One of the criticisms of the book is that more of the science could have been explained in the body of the text or in the back matter. To support students with greater understanding of the science itself, investigate online resources and gather additional books and magazines from your local or school library. Visit Owl Kids Books site to discover more about the science behind the book especially by listening to an array of compelling podcasts that explain more about the science spotlighted in the text including how killer whales need advice from their moms, why pigeons procrastinate, and how octopi make-believe their way out of tough situations, to name a few. For further investigation into the world of animal science gather texts by other esteemed nonfiction authors and illustrators who specialize in the science of animals including the work of Steve Jenkinsand Sy Montgomery (see Further Investigations).
Wordsmiths Gather Powerful Words. Wild Ideas is a nonfiction picture book full of lyrical language particularly in Kelsey’s use of powerful verbs. Words like poke, prick, nag, innovate, procrastinate, and calculate roll off the tongue during read alouds and seem to dance of the page thanks to creative layout choices including words in bold and different font sizes. Through repeated read alouds, have students identify the words in the text that most excite and intrigue them. Categorize the words into those they know, those they’ve heard before, and those they are unsure of. Further notice with students how the words are being used and where they are positioned in sentences. Use Wild Ideasand Kelsey’s word choices to inspire your students to become wordsmiths noticing and gathering interesting words all around them in the texts they are reading and in their local environments. Create a place in your classroom for students to record the words they find and want others to know about as you build a classroom culture that delights in language.
Duet Model: Author/Illustrator Partnership Across Texts. Kelsey and Kim have partnered before on their acclaimed You Are Stardust, which focuses on the ways we are connected to the world in surprising ways. Engage students in a duet text set by reading across both books supporting students to make comparisons about the topic choices, artistic methods, and use of language. What about their partnership works so well? In what ways do both books spark conversation and position readers to value and use their imaginations? View the You Are Stardust app, which offers read-to-me and read-on-my-own options, animation, sound effects, behind the scenes with the artist, and a build-your-own diorama activity. Finally, support students to craft their own writing and art pieces through partnership focused on the topic of animals or any topic of their choosing drawings from the techniques used by Kelsey and Kim.
Observing and Researching to Learn More. Much of what we know about animals has been gained by observing them in their natural habitat. Take your students outside to a local park, playground, or zoo to observe the different animals in the area for a set period of time. Encourage students to note any particularly interesting ways animals eat, sleep, move, or defend themselves. Have students record such observations in a science notebook. Back in the classroom, have them compare and contrast notes with each other.  In addition to direct observation, you can also extend student research through online and book sources to learn more about the animals they observed and the ways they solve problems. You can also search for live web cameras from a variety of zoos to see animals in action (see Further Investigations). Provide students with a research road map that can help them navigate various phases of research including generating a topic, wondering through questioning, reading across sources, finding key and interesting information, asking more questions, finding more relevant information, organizing your findings, and presenting your information. Offer students different ways to present what they learned from their research including making a class book in the style of Kelsey and Kim’s Wild Ideas, making a class mural that incorporates painting, sketching, and writing, performing skits that demonstrate how the animals creatively problem solve, or through three-dimensional art (see below).
Turning Research Findings into Three-Dimensional Art. Support students to select a favorite illustrated page taking notice of Soyeon Kim’s exquisite diorama techniques. What materials does she use? Where does she incorporate fine sketching? What are the places where paint is used and for what effect? View Soeyon Kim’s website (see Further Investigations below) to learn more as a class about her artwork. Support students to linger on their selected page taking notice of how she crafts people’s facial expressions, creatures’ actions and features, and the environment. Capitalize on this opportunity for language development, encouraging students to use precise terms when describing what they see. Gather everyday materials such as a variety of papers with varying textures, scraps of fabric, beads and cardboard. Also gather natural materials like leaves, sticks, and pebbles. Engage students in a conversation about possible steps they can take to construct their own dioramas to feature their own research findings. Possible steps include: 1) use paper and colored pencils to sketch the animal you studied as well as people in the style of Soeyon Kim 2) use natural and manmade materials to construct the landscape or habitat 3) add additional details using paint or return to sketched cut-outs.
Problem Solvers Text Set. Humans and animals have great capacity to think and to learn. Use Wild Ideas as part of a larger unit on the value of problem posing and problem solving. Gather biographies about people who were inquirers and problem solvers such as The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, A Wizard From the Start: The incredible Boyhood and Amazing Inventions of Thomas A. Edison by Don Brown, and The Inventor’s Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford by Suzanne Slade. Position students to see themselves as problem solvers through thought provoking read alouds such as What Do You Do with An Idea? by Kobi Yamada, Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford and The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. Throughout the school year, consider ways to ignite your students’ imagination and capacity to wonder and solve everyday problems. Set aside a classroom wonder station that serves as a quiet refuge for students to observe the world around them, pose questions, and consider solutions. 
Grades 3-5
Social Media Solutions
Elin Kelsey launched a social media campaign through Twitter using the #oceanoptimism in 2014. There have been over 50 million tweets using the hashtag. View with students the tagboard of ocean optimism. Read across tweets noticing the common themes that emerge and discuss with students their thoughts on how social media today offers solutions for local and global problems. Support students to notice the ways that ocean optimism follows the same emphasis that Wild Ideas does by encouraging a positive and solutions-oriented approach to the environment. Consider with students the ways in which positive, collective voices can lead to social action?
Further Investigations
Online Resources
Elin Kelsey’s Site
Soyeon Kim’s Site
Wild Ideas: Owlkids Books Site
You Are Stardust App
Art and Science Collaboration
Nature Explore
National Geographic Animals Site
World Wildlife Foundation Site
Animal Planet Site
National Wildlife Foundation Ranger Rick Site
Animal Web Cameras at the National Zoo
Animal Web Cameras at the San Diego Zoo
Animal Web Cameras at the Houston Zoo
Animal Web Cameras at the Columbus Zoo
Animal Web Cameras at the Woodland Park Zoo
International Wolf Center Web Camera
Books to Inspire Thinking about Animals and Nature
Davies, N. (2012). Outside your window: A first book of nature. Candlewick Press.
Jenkins, S. (2013). The animal book: A collection of the fastest, fiercest, toughest, cleverest, shyest – and most surprising animals on earth. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Jenkins, S. & Page, R. (2013). Animals upside down: A pull, pop, lift & learn book. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Kelsey, E. (2012). You are stardust. Toronto, Canada: Owlkids Books.
Montgomery, S. (2011). Kakapo rescue: Saving the world’s strangest parrot. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Books to Inspire Thinking about Human Problem Solving
Berne, J. (2013). On a beam of light: A story of albert einstein. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books.
Hosford, K. (2012). Infinity and me. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.
Kamkwamba, W. & Mealer, B. (2012). The boy who harnessed the wind. New York, NY: Dial Books.
Slade, S. (2015). The inventor’s secret: What Thomas Edison told Henry Ford. Charlesbridge.
Spires, A. (2014). The most magnificent thing. Toronto, Canada: Kids Can Press.
Yamada, K. (2014). What do you do with an idea? Seattle, WA: Compendium, Inc.

Katie Cunningham About Katie Cunningham

Katie is an associate professor of literacy at Manhattanville College. Her work focuses on children’s literature, literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.