Co-authors Charles O. Pilkey and Orrin H. Pilkey talk with Marisa Vitulli about their new book, Lessons from the Sand: Family-Friendly Science Activities You Can Do on a Carolina Beach.
Q: Who is the primary audience for this book?
Charles Pilkey: The book is intended for families with kids up to middle school age. We hope parents will do the activities together with their children.
Orrin Pilkey: We also think that the activities herein are a goldmine for high school students doing science projects. The activities could give older kids a start, and they can follow up and proceed into the wild blue yonder as far as their imagination will carry them.
Q: Orrin, in the past, you’ve worked on projects for adults. What inspired you to tailor this one for younger readers?
OP: There is so little written about the real science of beaches, and kids need to appreciate beaches beyond being places to play miniature golf. This book is unique in its scientific basis. I’ve led a number of field trips to the beach for children, and I love their curiosity and willingness to learn. I’d guess 90% of the activities are concerned with things most children will miss altogether. It’s easy to see why because a beach is such a fun place. I also have two 12 year-old grandchildren and a great grandchild (amazingly, all are above average in everything!). These are my inspirations.
Q: How does this book work for families with children of different ages?
CP: Some of the more advanced activities in chapter 8, which measure salinity, use microscopes, and involve Google Earth maps, might be more suitable for older kids. Middle school and high school students, with a little fine-tuning, could expand many activities into high school science projects.
Q: Speaking of family, Charles, you did the illustrations and wrote most of the activities for Lessons from the Sand, and, Orrin, you wrote the activities connected to barrier islands and beach features. What was it like working as a father-and-son team?
CP: I’ve worked with my father on other books but only as an illustrator. This is the first time we’ve collaborated as writers. A little over half the activities I wrote on my own. For most of the others, especially those in chapters 2 and 4, my father wrote a rough outline, which I then expanded into a full activity. When an activity was finished, he checked it for scientific accuracy. The system worked well.
Q: Lessons from the Sand is organized into sections of activities and science experiments instead of traditional explanatory chapters. Why did you choose this particular format, and how would you like the book to be read?
CP: Kids learn best by doing. We decided an activity approach with a minimum of lecturing would be more inspiring than traditional pedagogy. I like to think of the book as a door through which young minds can pass and discover on their own the beauty and scientific wonders of a Carolina beach. Lessons from the Sand was designed to be as much an aesthetic experience as an intellectual one (hence the illustrations and literary quotes). All too often, the beauty in nature tends to be overlooked by traditional science texts. As stated in the “How to Use This Book” chapter, the activities do not have to be done from start to finish in numerical order. Better the readers skip around, choosing those activities that are most interesting.
Q: Do families need to bring any special equipment with them to the beach in order to do these activities?
CP: Families need to bring the following special equipment to the beach: imagination, curiosity, patience, and eyes that can see the world in a fresh way. Of course, they will need a microscope to look at plankton and a hydrometer to measure salinity. For some activities, families can improvise if lacking the required items (as listed under “What You Need”). For example, if no orange or timepiece is on hand for Activity 4 “Longshore Currents,” you can get a rough idea of current velocity by observing how fast bubbles or driftwood move in the surf and compare that velocity to how fast or slow someone can walk.
Q: In the book, you talk about your own family outings by the sea. When you were designing and illustrating these activities, were there any vacation memories that led to certain experiments being included?
CP: “Plankton” (Activity 36) was inspired by a Cub Scout camping trip on the USS Yorktown (not recommended for claustrophobes!). The trip included an oceanography class in which the scouts examined plankton under a microscope. The opening story for “Fossils” (Activity 26) is based on what actually happened one afternoon on Myrtle Beach while my son and I were hunting for fossil sharks’ teeth. I got the idea for “Beach Tracker” (Activity 18) after finding bobcat tracks on Huntington Beach. “Night” (Activity 40) came from several unrelated experiences, all revelatory of some of the cool (but largely unknown) things you can see on a beach after sunset: green flashes glimpsed from a Hawaiian beach; ghost crabs huddled in their burrows, illuminated by a flashlight on Shackleford Banks; phosphorescence glowing in the waters off Atlantic Beach (NC); camping on a Costa Rican beach only to be rudely awakened by a pair of coatis, crawling over my sleeping bag in the dead of night.
Q: Do either of you have a favorite activity from the book?
CP: My favorite activity is “Murder Mystery” Continue reading ‘Interview: Charles O. Pilkey and Orrin H. Pilkey on Lessons from the Sand’ »