Salamanders in Springtime: Paired Presentations

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 29, 2010

Neither school vacation nor unexpected snowfall kept kids away from learning about salamanders with author Sarah Lamstein and naturalist Larry Clarfeld on Wednesday afternoon.

When Sarah told us about her new book, Big Night for Salamanders (illustrated by Carol Benioff, Boyds Mills Press, 9781932425987),  we thought it would be a perfect fit for Shelburne. We loved the book, which is both informative and poetic, and our town happens to host a pond that is one of our state’s most active destinations for the annual spring salamander migration. We couldn’t swing an event coinciding with this year’s actual Big Night, since there’s no way to predict exactly when it will happen. (The Big Night happens on a 40-degree, rainy spring night; all three conditions must be met before salamanders decide to leave their winter burrows and travel to vernal pools to lay their eggs.)

Since we wouldn’t be heading out to see salamanders in the wild, we thought it would be fun to find a nature organization that might bring salamanders to us. After a few phone calls and emails to organizations around the state, we discovered the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, Vermont, and a wonderful young man, Larry Clarfeld, from their Amphibian Monitoring Program.

You’d think Sarah and Larry had been doing these presentations together for years, it went so smoothly. They alternated sharing information with the kids, showing slides, reading the book, and teaching the children how to recognize and handle (both gently and sanitarily) delicate amphibians. Let me tell you, when a bunch of 6-13-year-old boys and girls willingly wash their hands without complaint, you’ve got some great presenters.

Sarah had brought some dried leaves, a pine branch, and a few toy spotted salamanders to illustrate their habitats and hiding tactics.The kids enthusiastically answered her questions, eager to share what they knew (and didn’t know) about amphibians. What I loved was that she had kids from kindergarten through 6th grade, and managed to engage all of them. (She also travels with her own portable microphone, which definitely helped with our Loft acoustics.)
This was one of those visits that made both parents and kids happy, and brought teacher attention to a great book and a great nature program. I think both author and naturalist will find their way into more classrooms; it was a perfect pairing.
Booksellers and librarians: what paired presentations have you tried and loved?

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