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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Laurie

The life of an Arctic whale scientist. John Craighead George. Alaska. In his recent presentation about adventure writing, Peter Lourie emphasized that appeal of his career lies in the information he learns, the people he meets, and the places he visits. The same holds true for me in my reading of his nonfiction text, Whaling Season.

It takes years to become a whale scientist. As part of this position, one tries to answer questions about the unique biology of whales. In March, the itch begins for whaling season. Scientists will study satellite images of the ice. They figure out the direction of the winds and the currents that are responsible for opening up the “leads” in ice where whales might migrate. The Inpait hunt twice, once in the spring and later again in the fall. To get the data they need, scientists must arrive at a caught whale before locals begin to butcher it. No matter time it is, or how long the process takes, scientists must measure and take samples of blubber, blood, internal organs, flukes, among other things. After all measurements and samples are taken, scientists will also remove contents from the whale’s stomach for later analysis. Why do scientists care so much about the special biology of whales? A major reason is curiosity, but another is the preservation of the bowhead whales and their habitat.

In trying to select which of Lourie’s many books to purchase, what drew me to Whaling Season was the fact Laurie got to meet Craig George. He is the oldest son of children’s book author, Jean Craighead George, most famous for her My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves books. Jean herself is the daughter of an insect scientist. She’s also the younger sister of twins John and Frank, grizzly bear experts who have worked for National Geographic. Craig’s father was a scientist and conservationist, as well as a pioneer in pesticide ecology. Craig learned about science from his dad, but also from his Uncle Frank who taught him to respect the wilderness. His wife is a former veterinary technician, who worked for seventeen years at the town clinic in Barrows, Alaska, before she began to collect samples of whales in her free time. That’s how she and Craig met. Now the two work at Wildlife Management in Alaska, sharing a mutual interest in the mystery of bowheads.

The final topic I’ll cover in my write-up about Whaling Season is setting. Peter Lourie focuses on Barrow, Alaska, a small town at the top of the world. Here, men and women and even teenagers jump on snow machines and drive out onto the ice to help harvest the whale. The harvest is part of a tradition the Inupiaq Eskimo have followed for more than two thousand years. Barrow is a place of thick ice, polar bears, harsh cold, and bowhead whales. It’s also a location impacted by global warming, where climate changes are making the ice and whale hunting more unstable. Here too, for weeks on end, it’s dark for twenty-four hours. But one can also experience the privilege of watching the midnight sun sink into the Arctic Ocean. Lourie found it a place rich in culture and beauty, an area to which he wishes to one day return.

Whaling Season is a highly visual and informative narrative about the adventure of scientists, whales, and life in the Arctic. It often had me thinking fondly of my home province of Newfoundland, which also features a unique landscape and once too used to depend on the ocean for its livelihood. Peter Lourie has a passion for research and exploration, both of which shine in his nonfiction texts.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

There are few things students dread more than research papers. And there are few things teachers dread more than reading them.

One late afternoon near the end of a spring semester, after grading many dry research papers, fifth-grade teacher David Somaza picked up a book on his shelves by Peter Lourie. As he began to read, he realized that the adventure writing was exactly what he had hoped to find in his students’ projects. He called Peter Lourie, who had long been a friend, and talked about how to teach students to write interesting nonfiction based on adventure stories. Shortly after, Somoza tried to replicate the process with his students, the results of which he shared with Lourie. Somoza even invited Lourie to his class. After a time, the two realized that they had a lot in common with their writing and teaching, as well as love of travel, and they decided to write a book. That book is Writing to Explore, Discovering Adventure in the Research Paper.

I first heard of the authors, and Writing to Explore, at Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. Below are my notes from their presentation on how students can discover passion in research. Over the next few days, I’ll also review a few of Louries adventure books. Save the dates: October 28-30!


Peter Lourie began with the disclaimer that Writing to Explore wouldn’t have come about, if not for having a teacher aboard. He is out in the field, but not in the school system.

Then Lourie jumped into talking about how he loves his job as an adventure writer for the below reasons:

  • Places I see when I travel
  • History, information I learn along the way
  • Especially the people I met

Setting is big, Lourie noted. If he isn’t curious about a place, there’s no story. Of course, at the center of his adventures, are the people he meets! (While telling the audience this, he projected photos of places he’s been and people he’s met.) Then there is also the information he learns. Laurie gets to go out with the experts. “It’s the life! I can roll with the manatee.”

Next David Somoza talked. He shared of loving his job too, a career that he’s held for twenty-two years. There are obstacles and challenges in the educational field, but one just has to close the doors to the classroom and enjoy teaching students. Somoza explained how initially writing and reading research papers was a boring process. Unintentionally, he would tell his students to read, write, and do nothing else. Then he read one of Lourie’s books, discovered he wanted to keep reading, and realized that was what he wanted for his students too.

The two got together many times. One time they were both talking about writing and, out of that conversation, they decided to write a book. Lourie and Somoza worked together for four years on Writing to Explore.


For Peter Lourie, his books are personal essays or literary travelogues. He views the writing of them as a simple process, similar to what kids have to do when doing research papers.

  • Research: What’s an infinitive? A verb form: verb + to
    • to study, learn, EXPLORE!
  • Journey:
    • use the library, internet, people, observation
  • Journal:
    • all writing depends on details
    • develop notes, audio, video, photos
  • First draft: usually terrible
  • Revisions: keep doing it, what writing is all about
  • Publication

Research is organic. So is writing.

All writing depends on details.

When doing research, what should one do first? Start with setting! You can use photos for inspiration, but cannot rely on them for portraying the background. You must do develop setting with your words!

Next is character. For an adventurer, at the center, are the people you meet.

What else? A setting or a character alone would be flat. Combine photographs for setting, music for characters, and turn into films to make a narrative. Move characters through a setting in a series of actions. Draw readers in with thoughts and emotions of the narrator.

Setting, character, action, culture, and researched info are all woven together. TAPESTRY!


  • Research
  • Journey: the point where kids become engaged and take off in their own direction
    • collect photos, maps, videos, interviews
    • use Webquest to manage all of the above components
    • provide students with templates in Google DOCs so that teacher can add notes
  • Journal
  • First draft:
    • travel via the internet, imagine themselves taking an adventure
    • write a paper as if flying in a plane or driving in a car; kids look up real flights
    • no limit on the age that the student can be; kids imagine themselves as adult experts
    • use a blend of fiction and nonfiction
  • Revise:
    • not a typical report
    • Need a different skill set, basics of writing: setting, characters, developing scenes
  • Publication

How do you provide the skills set for setting?

  • Imagine you’re there
  • Write it up first person
  • Employ descriptive language
  • Use senses

How do you help students provide a picture? Tell them students to just write everything down and then help them revise.

  • Details: use precise language
  • Context: situational/context words
  • Background and foreground
  • Transitions: when moving from one event to another

In another take, the students edit language:

  • Dull or imprecise
  • Metaphors and similes
  • Cut out “there is/there are”

At this point, Somoza would paste-up all the pictures and read the essay. Students guess whose work which it is.

How do you provide the skills set for character?

  • Familiar characters: interview and look at photos of real people
  • Unfamiliar characters: turn on music and turn off lights, students have to describe character

What else?

  • Mentor text
  • Video prompts

The goal is to retell the experience so that readers can imagine it on their own AND become engaged with the writing.

How do you help students weave in research? Students look up information, rewrite it in their own words, and then write as a story. The teacher provides instruction in:

  • Craft of writing: plot, character, setting
  • Craft of research: location, use, and crediting of sources
  • Development of imagination

Lourie and Somoza end their presentation by recommending Lucid Press, a web-based drag and drop publishing app that enables anyone to create stunning content for print and digital, it is free to educators. They also allow time for questions and signing of books. To learn more about how to write adventure narratives, check out Writing to Explore.

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