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The LTER Children's Book Series - an Opportunity for IM Outreach

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Issue: 
Spring 2006

- Chris Gardner (MCM)

The second installment in the LTER Children's Book Series, The Lost Seal written by McMurdo (MCM) scientist Diane McKnight and illustrated by Dorothy Emerling, is currently in press and scheduled to be released in June 2006. However, the international group of children who participated in the project can already see their contributions and learn more about the story at www.mcmlter.org/lostseal.

Several LTER sites have expressed interest in developing children's books. This provides the LTER IM community with an opportunity to stimulate public interest in science and ecology through enhanced online resources related to the book. The story of The Lost Seal describes the first ever documented encounter with a live seal in the remote McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Following the model of My Water Comes from the Mountains, the first children's book associated with Niwot Ridge (NWT) LTER, The Lost Seal features children's original artwork along with professional illustrations by Emerling. A packet containing the story, instructions for the teacher, photos of the Dry Valleys taken by MCM scientists, and video taken at the time of the event, was sent to 2-4 grade classrooms in the United States, U.K., New Zealand, and Australia, reflecting the involvement of explorers and scientists from these countries in the Dry Valleys. The children then created original watercolor paintings and wrote comments based on the plot of the story and photographs from the Dry Valleys and surrounding regions.

Since all of the >400 art pieces obviously couldn't be included in the book, we created a website where children can view high resolution scans of all the artwork and associated comments (www.mcmlter.org/lostseal/search.html). An undergraduate work-study student scanned the artwork and entered the comments, first names, and file paths into a spreadsheet that was subsequently loaded into a relational database. To view the art, children can either choose their school from a drop-down menu or search by their first name, either of which will take them to a JSP page that displays the query results with clickable thumbnails and comments. Another notable feature of the site is the screen shots taken from the book that are linked to videos of the actual lost seal and MCM field camps, which helps relate the story to real life events and places. Other resources on the site include the MCM photos and links to more information about Antarctica. Developing a site-level network of websites related to the children's book series would add an excellent interactive and expandable educational element to the series, as well as provide access to the children's art that was not chosen for the print version of the book.