August 2, 2017

7 Tips For Visiting Civil War Battlefields

by Brandon Marie Miller

I'm working hard on a new middle grade book about Robert E. Lee! As part of my research, this past spring I visited Lee sites across Virginia including four Civil War battlefields. I've visited many such places over the years and find them beautiful and haunting. Today, it's difficult to remember the suffering and carnage that happened on these battlefields. They are lovely places to stroll or hike. But let's not forget the real stories of what happened.
Pondering things at the McLean House where Lee surrendered.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

Manassas National Battlefield Park where two major battles took place.

Here are a few tips for taking in the history of these national treasures.

  • Before you go, check out the park's website for plenty of information, including things you can do with your kids. Search the calendar for special events like living history demonstrations and meeting historic interpreters.
  • Start at the visitor center. Stroll through the museums, watch the orientation films about the events that took place all around you, engage with fiber-optic maps.
  • Talk to the park rangers at the desk. Pick up a map, get downloadable apps. Find out what programs and ranger-led walks are happening that day. These ranger programs and walks are excellent ways to learn the stories of the battles and the people involved, both soldiers and the civilians. There are also science and nature related things to do at the parks.
  • Take a self-guided car tour. In some places you can purchase a CD for this. The battlefields are big and spread out-- thousands of men camped, fought, and died at these places. Stop at designated spots along the driving route. Take a walk, read the markers that show what happened right where you are standing. You'll get a sense for how troops moved through the day, how armies clashed on multiple fronts, and how battles ebbed and flowed as reinforcements arrived or armies fell back.
  • Before your visit, you can also book a personal tour guide for several hours or for most of the day. Check the parks website. Guides can be found through outside groups or booked through the museum shops at the park. You can really immerse yourself in the tour which can often be tailored to fit your interests, so it is well worth the money.
An example of the trenches at Petersburg National Battlefield Park.
Thousands of Confederate paroles were printed after Lee's surrender.
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park
  •  Visit the museum shop and book store at the Visitor Center. Books cover an amazing range of Civil War subjects-- there is something for everyone's interests.
  • Find the donation box and slip in a few dollars. Help support these important sites of our nation's history! What Civil War battlefields have you visited?

July 1, 2017

Un BEE-lievable! Learn about the Buzz.....

The bee hive that hung off my floorboard.....

The bee holding box is on the far right.
The vacuum doesn't harm them!

Last month I noticed what looked like bees floating in and out of a hole in my house. I called a friend who happens to be a bee expert. Sure enough, these were bees, and I hired him to take a look and see what was abuzz.
These snaps and videos show what he found in the floor of my daughter's old bedroom--a hive about six weeks old. It took all day for two men to tear up the rug, listen for bees with a stethoscope,  smoke the bees to make them sleepy, trim away the floor, and then remove the hive.

The bee vacuum you see gently swept the bees into a holding box to keep them safe. Wow...I was blown away!

The background noise is the bee vacuum. Even during lunch break, the vacuum ran in order to keep them air-cooled in their holding box.

The hive was shaped exactly to fit a space under the floor. Birds had pulled away insulation and nested in there last year or so -- thanks to a hole made by a woodpecker sometime before that!  Mother Nature at work in my house....
Once the hive was collected and all the bees removed, the beekeeper drove to another neighborhood where the hive found its new home. Isn't that cool?

The damp stuff is nectar in the hive! 

Blogger Jeff Bogle has a fun "Honeybee Smelling Activity" to do with youngsters at PBS Kids...  

What's more, check out this colonial pastime developed by my co-blogger Brandon Marie Miller for George Washington for Kids!

June 5, 2017

Backyard Nature Science Activities for Summer Fun

The following is a guest post post from author Colleen Kessler.

Getting your kids outside as often as possible can go a long way towards improving moods, creativity, and can even make them smarter. For real! In his books, Last Child in the Woods and Vitamin N, Richard Louv shares research that details the innumerable benefits of getting outside and enjoying nature.

Summer is the perfect time to get outside with your kids.

The cool thing is that you don’t have to take your kiddos hiking in the woods, riding the rapids, or climbing mountains to give them the benefits of nature. You can do so many thing with them in your own backyard — yes… even if you’re a city family and backyard means the lot behind your apartment building.

There are always things to explore.

In my new book, 100 Backyard Activities That Are the Dirtiest, Coolest, Creepy-Crawliest Ever! I share super-simple ways that your kids can become backyard biologists and learn loads and loads about the nature found all around them. Most of the activities can be done with simple things you’ll easily find around your house, and the kids can even do them themselves — giving you time to catch up on your summer reading while they’re happily engaged.

Check out some of these fun ideas from the book:

Those are just a small sampling of the activities your kiddos will find to keep them busy all summer long in the book. They’ll spend a chapter learning all about being a backyard biologist and what it means to observe carefully and engage in the scientific method. Then, they’ll become backyard entomologists, learning about bugs of all sorts. They’ll try their hand at backyard herpetology, ornithology, and ecology too.

Seriously, hand them this book, give them access to a bunch of recyclables, and then sit back while they learn all about biology without leaving their own backyard — summer fun AND learning all rolled into one.

May 1, 2017

Plant a Garden

by Brandon Marie Miller

Ah, spring. Trees bloom and leaf out, flowers dot gardens with color. Thunderstorms rumble and sometimes, even a bit of late snow flies. As life renews itself in spring, my mind jumps ahead to summer gardens-- Flowers, fruits and veggies.

When I researched my biographies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson I learned how much both men loved their gardens. They ordered bulbs and seeds from Europe, traded plants with friends and grafted plants together to create new ones. Both GW and TJ grew a huge variety of vegetables and herbs. Jefferson experimented with 330 varieties of more than 70 types of vegetables. Washington planted cherry, fig, apple and pear trees as well as trees of pecan and hickory nuts.
Kitchen garden at George Washington's home, Mount Vernon
Are you ready to get your hands dirty? We have several blogs about gardening-- check them all out! See my blog from February, 2014 to learn how to grow a plant from a cutting. Check out the activity below-- PLANT A GARDEN-- and try out your green thumb!
Garden path at Jefferson's home, Monticello

March 5, 2017

Women and World War I

Next month marks 100 years since the United States went to war again Germany and the other members of the Central Powers in the Great War – later called World War I. This month, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Hence my post: to introduce five young women whose war stories I share in  In the Fields and the Trenches: The Famous and the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I.

ène Curie, daughter of the groundbreaking physicist Marie Curie, served as an x-ray technician along the Western Front, driving her “petite Curie” vehicle with portable x-ray equipment to diagnose soldiers’ injuries. Still in her teens, she confronted both the French Army and its doctors in order to carry out her work.                                                                                                         

Katherine Stinson Otero, America’s “Flying Schoolgirl” crisscrossed the US and Canada in her plane to entertain crowds and sell Liberty Bonds. She ached to fly for the US Army but was forced to settle for driving an ambulance in France.
Eleanor Butler Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt Jr., ran a YMCA for American doughboys in Paris. She was one of few American wives allowed to serve in France.

Elsie Janis, a famous actress, raised her own money to tour France to entertain the troops, whom she lovingly termed “my boys.” She once arrived at a show standing on the cowcatcher of a locomotive. (My Aunt Jan was named for Elsie.)

Helen Johns Kirtland, American photographer who went to the trenches on her honeymoon and snapped memorable photos of the war and peacemaking afterward.


I’m sharing an easy activity: tap—or point and click—your way to some top websites on World War I. Imagine my surprise when I looked at Grandpa's draft card—it's transcribed incorrectly.  Frederick Corban Logan, as recorded, was actually Frederick Urban Logan. Someone at the National Archives couldn’t read old fashioned cursive! 

Library of Congress portal

“World War I: Online Offerings” from the March/April 2017 Library of Congress Magazine

100: First World War (United Kingdom)

The National Educational Assoc. offers a wide-ranging set of links to useful website to help target your research

A private individual has built, admittedly non-academic but worthwhile.

Take a family trip down memory lane by ordering the war record of your World War I soldier:

Find your loved one’s draft card here: