VOLCANO DREAMS Giveaway For Teachers/Librarians

I’d like to announce a giveaway as part of the launch of VOLCANO DREAMS. You MUST be a teacher or librarian to enter. The prizes include:

  • 2 hardcover copies of VOLCANO DREAMS for your classroom/library
  • A “Volcano-Making Kit”
  • A hard copy of my teacher’s guide to VOLCANO DREAMS
  • Bookmarks for all your students
  • A Yellowstone Forever bag to hold all your goodies
  • A 30-minute classroom Skype visit with me

The giveaway runs through the month of September.

To enter (remember, you MUST be a teacher or librarian, as I will only mail to school addresses in the US and Canada) you can comment below, and/or comment on Twitter with the hashtag #VolcanoDreamsYellowstone.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope you will enter and hope you will win!!

But It Doesn’t Look Like A Volcano!

In the last couple of posts I told you that when you are in Yellowstone, you are inside a volcano. But you wouldn’t know it. And that’s due mostly to one simple thing: erosional processes.

Note the “yellow stone” exposed in the Grand Canyon.

The earth isn’t static. Gravity plays a huge role in how the earth looks, as do water and temperature fluctuations. Landslides, rockfalls, sinkholes, and so on are all aspects of erosion. Glaciers once rolled over the landscape and carved deep valleys. Because we are on a planet that experiences wide changes in temperature and rainfall, we witness what those processes do over vast time scales to change the way our earth looks.

In Yellowstone, erosion is responsible for the creation of landforms like the Falls of Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Hoodoos, and much more. Erosion has exposed cliffs and carved steep falls and riverbeds. Erosion has made the great mountains even greater.

The huge Yellowstone caldera, which is roughly shaped like a bowl, is formed by a combination of collapse (of the volcano as it cooled) and erosion (of the edges of the caldera over time).

Erosion is a continuing process that you can witness in real time, every time you see a stream or river, or witness a heavy rain.

At the end of August, I’ll be announcing a giveaway for teachers and librarians that will run the month of September. In the meantime, I’d like to announce that I’ll be in Yellowstone, so if you happen to be there, please come by!

I’ll be signing my books in Canyon from 11AM to 3PM on August 22.

And signing in Old Faithful from 11AM to 3PM on August 24.

I’ll have bookmarks and other swag. See you then!

Why Are There Geysers In Yellowstone?

Last week I described the Yellowstone volcano. The magma that fuels the volcano also fuels the thermal features that you’ll see in the Park: geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and steam vents. Heat flow deep inside the earth beneath Yellowstone is the driving force behind – or more accurately, beneath – all of these features.

The earth’s crust in Yellowstone’s basin areas and radiating from the margins of the caldera is riddled with fractures. Rain and snow melt permeate the crust through this network of fractures, and this water becomes superheated by the magma at depth. This superheated water is like water in a pressure cooker – when the pressure builds up high enough that it can push upwards against the weight of water and rock above, it will burst out of the ground as a geyser. The most spectacular geysers form when the channel through which the geyser water rises is

Old Faithful in winter

constricted, like the difference between blowing the same amount of water through a hose or through a straw.

Steam without much water forms a steam vent, or fumarole. Hot springs and mud pots form when the water rises without becoming highly pressurized. The mud pots are found in places where the hot water bubbles up through clay soils, and these can form brightly colored “paint pots”.

Some geysers erupt continuously. And some erupt at random intervals. Steamboat Geyser in Norris Basin is currently the world’s largest active geyser, and its eruptions can reach almost 400 feet high. Steamboat’s eruptions cannot be predicted and it has been quiet for as many as 50 years, but lately it’s been erupting quite often – 8 times since April of this year (2018). Why? It’s not clear. Perhaps the earth has shifted a tiny bit (which happens all the time), allowing more water down and then back up again.

The most well-known regular geyser is Old Faithful, which erupts on average every 90 minutes, and can reach heights up to 200 feet. Because it’s so regular, it’s easy to plan to see it when you visit.

The thermal features in Yellowstone are truly beautiful, but they are deadly hot. A white crust surrounds many features, and it is highly unsafe to walk on. If you go to Yellowstone please, for your own safety and to preserve these fragile features, obey all signs and stay on walkways.

What? We’re Inside A Volcano?!

Most visitors to Yellowstone National Park are not aware (at first) that they have entered a giant volcano. That’s right. Yellowstone sits above a “hotspot” – a place where molten rock rises up from the mantle into the earth’s crust, close to the surface. This has created the Yellowstone supervolcano, which has erupted every 650,000 years or so and is responsible for the amazing geologic landscape and thermal features we see today.

But don’t worry – there is little chance of an eruption occurring while you’re there! For one thing, these episodic eruptions occur on such a huge scale, with many hundreds of thousands of years in between, that you won’t likely be around for the next one. For another, because Yellowstone is so fascinating and dynamic, geologists have planted instruments all over the region to map its frequent earth movements. We would have plenty of warning of an impending eruption. Even though Yellowstone does experience frequent earthquakes that does not signal a major event.

The Yellowstone supervolcano last erupted 630,000 years ago. That eruption formed the caldera edges that you can see today, when the eruption blasted apart the crust, which then collapsed as the volcanic activity subsided.

The cooling lava formed some of the most interesting geologic features in the Park. Look for cliffs with columnar jointing, and visit the glassy obsidian rock (which formed when the lava cooled extremely rapidly).

There were a number of previous eruption events which have left a trail of geologic clues across Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. The reason for this long “tail” is that the earth’s crust actually moves over the mantle in response to plate tectonics.

If you want to learn more about the Yellowstone volcano, I recommend the book Windows Into The Earth by Robert B. Smith and Lee J. Siegel. And if you want to follow what’s happening in Yellowstone all the time, check out this website: https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/yellowstone/ There you’ll see the kinds of instruments that scientists use to monitor the volcano, and discover other fascinating aspects of its geologic history.

In the next couple of posts I’ll look more closely at the Yellowstone supervolcano and how it forms the thermal features you can see when you visit.

Animals In Yellowstone – Part 2


Humans have a complicated relationship with wolves. They may be ancestrally related to man’s best friend, the dog, but… Wolves are variously described as scary, beautiful, intelligent, cagey, dangerous, and fascinating. The gray wolf is the top predator in the Yellowstone ecosystem, and has been the bane of ranchers and farmers since Europeans first came to the region with sheep and cattle. We love to watch them play outside their dens in Yellowstone National Park, but we don’t want them in our back yards or our herds.

Early in the last century, gray wolves in the states around Yellowstone were almost exterminated and were in danger of extinction. Protections covered those that migrated south from Canada, but those that did migrate did not establish thriving packs in the northern U.S. In the 1970s wildlife biologists began to explore the idea of reintroduction of wolves into the Park. For one thing, biologists recognized that the populations of the wolf’s primary prey species (deer and elk) had exploded, and that huge and now unmanaged population was damaging fragile streams and rivers. Balance in nature is important, some would say vital, and wolves provide balance.

The reintroduction of the gray wolf did finally begin in 1995. Wolves were held in pens in the Lamar Valley on the northern edge of the Park until biologists were satisfied that releasing them into the wild would be safe for them and that they would remain in the Park, lessening conflict with humans. Since their reintroduction wolves have established a number of thriving packs both within and outside the Park, and while there have been a few negative interactions, the efforts of wolf biologists and other groups have gone a long way to mitigating problems.

I’ve had the good fortune of seeing wolves in the wild. They are beautiful – and scary (though they are not the most dangerous wild animal in North America. That distinction belongs to mama moose!) They generally stay away from humans, but hearing their song on an evening wind is spine-tingling. If you go to Yellowstone, be sure to spend some time either early in the morning or late in the evening in the Lamar Valley, where the wolves still congregate and den. If you see a large group of people with spotting scopes, they are surely watching wolves.

Two of my favorite books about wolves are Rick Bass’s THE NINEMILE WOLVES, and Thomas McNamee’s THE RETURN OF THE WOLF TO YELLOWSTONE.

It’s interesting to note: both bison and wolves were hunted nearly to extinction and brought back by the efforts of concerned biologists. Today, both animals rank highest on the list of animals that tourists wish to see when visiting Yellowstone National Park.

Animals In Yellowstone, Part 1

The American west is rich with wildlife. But some of America’s most interesting animals can only be seen easily in Yellowstone National Park because they are now concentrated in that ecosystem. Plus – visitors can drive through the Park from dawn to dusk and observe even from roadsides animals that are otherwise not visible to humans.

Buffalo in winter

Here are just a few of the animals you might see:

  • Ungulates like bison, elk, mule deer, white-tail deer, moose, antelope, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats
  • Predators like coyote, fox, mountain lion, grizzly bear, black bear, bobcat, lynx, and wolf
  • Smaller mammals like weasels, skunks, and badgers
  • Birds like bald eagles, trumpeter swans, ospreys, and sand hill cranes

Elk are numerous throughout the Park. They like to concentrate around the hot springs at Mammoth. Mountain goats are often seen at the highest elevations, like the slopes of Mount Washburn. Bald eagles can be spotted soaring or sitting above the rivers, searching for trout.

Many animals congregate in the Lamar Valley along the north end of the Park – which conveniently is open to cars all winter (unlike the rest of the Park in winter which is only open to snow vehicles.) Because two of these animals – bison and wolves – have interesting histories, I’m going to concentrate in the rest of this post on the American bison, or buffalo, and next week I’ll talk a bit about wolves.

Elk on the lawn at Mammoth

When Europeans first arrived in America there were large endemic herds of American bison. Bison have been here since prehistoric times, grazing in huge herds in the open prairie lands. By some estimates, 20 to 30 million buffalo once roamed the plains of America, mostly west of the Mississippi. Some say that there were so many animals they occupied every square inch of land for as far as the eye could see. They were hunted on horseback and on foot by native Americans who harvested them for food, clothing, and shelter.

Sadly, buffalo were easy targets for Europeans with firearms, and by 1900 they were nearly at extinction, with only 300 animals remaining in the entire country. Some travelers shot buffalo through the open windows of trains passing through the plains; there were so many animals no one realized the extent of the slaughter until it was almost too late. The near extermination of the buffalo was also partly responsible for the degradation of living conditions for many native American tribes, especially Plains Indians, who relied on the buffalo for survival.

Fortunately for the buffalo, a few animals were held in private hands, and conservation efforts in the early 1900s concentrated on bringing animals back into Yellowstone. A small herd of genetically pure animals was held in the Mammoth area until the population stabilized. As a result, today almost 5000 American bison roam freely throughout the Park, and it is almost a certainty that if you visit Yellowstone, you’ll see buffalo. They are magnificent and impressive animals, our national mammal.

But, please! These animals, while they look like large – very large! – cows, are extremely dangerous, as dangerous as a grizzly if you get too close. They are ill-tempered and defensive and can gore or trample the unsuspecting tourist. Enjoy them from a safe distance and think about the tens of thousands of years the American bison has been a part of this beautiful landscape.


Yellowstone: Human History in Brief

In anticipation of the release of VOLCANO DREAMS, I want to spend a little time “in” Yellowstone National Park. In subsequent posts I’ll focus on the Park’s animals and thermal features, but this post will give you a cursory overview of the Park’s human history.

Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872 by Congress and signed into law as the world’s first national park by President Ulysses S. Grant. But long before it was a national park, the Yellowstone ecosystem was inhabited by Native Americans who lived with its extraordinary natural features and unique animal life.

Shoshone camp

As long ago as 11,000 years prehistoric peoples lived in the Yellowstone region, as evidenced by dated projectile points. When Native American peoples began to coalesce into tribes, Shoshone, Blackfeet, and Bannock were among those that traversed the region. The Shoshone gathered obsidian (a volcanic glass rock), known for its ability to be honed to a knife-sharp edge. The Tukudika harvested the bighorn sheep and became known as the Sheepeaters. The Kiowa tradition says that their creator gave them Yellowstone at a hot spring in the Mud Volcano area. Other tribes – Crow and Piegan – also have strong associations with the region, and even long after the arrival of Europeans Native Americans have lived in and around Yellowstone. Altogether 26 current tribes have historic connections to Yellowstone.

Thomas Moran’s painting of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

The first white men to arrive, in the 1700s, were traders and trappers following the world’s appetite for fur. These early visitors described a hellish scene of “brimstone and vapors” so bizarre that the tales were laughed away. As the fur trade was replaced by mining and lumber, the stories spread until the region was explored more formally by others including the Washburn expedition. Public lectures followed that expedition and shared that the tales of the remarkable beauty of Yellowstone were no exaggerations, and this prompted requests for funds from Congress for further exploration.

An 1871 delegation headed by Ferdinand Hayden included the landscape painter Thomas Moran, whose paintings are still some of the most famous and beautiful representations of the Park. Preservation of the region itself was promoted by Hayden, and thus the generation of a new idea: creating a protected area for public enjoyment, our first National Park.

After further exploration and the essential development of roads and trails, early public touring of Yellowstone followed, though the tours were primitive by today’s standards. The west was still wild and untamed and attacks from bands of “hostiles” and robbers were possible at any time. The construction in 1883 of the big, out-of-place National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs, with a capacity of anywhere from 300-500 guests, opened a new era.

Stagecoaches carried passengers through the Park to a tent camp at the geyser basins near Old Faithful. Visitors bathed in the hot springs (not only dangerous, but today strictly forbidden as it damages the fragile thermal structures). “Sagebrushers” roughed it by camping in their own tents in the wild, and “dudes” spent their days with touring companies and their nights in the hotels that were built to accommodate, including the gorgeous Old Faithful Inn, opened in 1904.

Not until the early 1900s did the idea of the preservation of Yellowstone’s natural features become a cornerstone of its existence as a park. Preservation and conservation of both the wildlife and natural features are the reasons why Yellowstone is a national treasure – we can all visit this extraordinary place and enjoy its wonders.

If you want to read more about the history of Yellowstone, my favorite resource is Aubrey L. Haines The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park, published by the University Press of Colorado. I’ve created a Pinterest page with some of my favorite images, which you can find here.

Follow along – next week I’ll begin a discussion about the unique wildlife of the Park.


VOLCANO DREAMS: A STORY OF YELLOWSTONE (Web of Life Books) is my newest book, a picture book for readers ages 5-8 (and older!) out in September 2018. It tells the story of the Yellowstone super volcano, which is responsible for the thermal features that make Yellowstone one of the world’s jewels.

The story of the volcano, right down to the magma chamber underground, is framed by the animals that inhabit the Park, from buffalo to elk to bears. Packed with facts about both animals and geology, VOLCANO DREAMS is beautifully illustrated by Marlo Garnsworthy.

Kirkus Reviews has said about VOLCANO DREAMS: “The author’s first picture book reflects her own appreciation for this national treasure, which could inspire family visits. An unusual and appealing addition to the sense-of-wonder shelf.”

Starting next week, follow this blog for a tour of Yellowstone and a discussion about both the animals and the super volcano. Plus………….I’ll be running some cool giveaways. Stay tuned!

Kathi Appelt & THE UNDERNEATH: “Terrifying Beauty”

As a newbie writer, I had the great good fortune to move to the same Texas town where Kathi Appelt lives. When we met I was instantly struck by her generosity, not to mention her talent. She became my true mentor, encouraging me in all things including attending Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was there that I first heard her read some of the early pages of THE UNDERNEATH.

I was instantly mesmerized – as have been so many readers now, adults and children alike. It’s no wonder the novel is a Newbery honoree. It’s no wonder that ten years after publication we can celebrate this gorgeous piece of literature and introduce it to a whole new cadre of readers.

For teachers especially, Kathi has created an activity page which you can find here. And she’s also sponsoring a fabulous giveaway of 15 copies of THE UNDERNEATH, in addition to a classroom set of books and a Skype visit! Just click the link to submit your entry to the giveaway.

And here’s a lovely new trailer made by her son and daughter-in-law:

Kathi has generously come to the blog today with a guest post on fear and bravery, and on the necessary marriage of those two opposites that leads to what saves the day: love. I’m honored to host her.

Here is Kathi’s post:

Terrifying Beauty

I confess that I’m not a brave person. Rather than walk up and step on cockroaches, I tend to throw shoes at them and duck for cover. I don’t watch scary movies. No Texas Chainsaw Murders for this girl. I refuse to swim in bodies of water in which I cannot see my feet. There are crabs, don’t you know. You will never find me at the top of the Empire State Building, or any other tall building for that matter. I will never grace the gondola of a hot air balloon—you can go to the bank on that one.

I also don’t eat very hot and spicy peppers, nor do I drink anything stronger than a nice Chardonnay. You could say that I’m pretty much just a big old scaredy cat.

So this begs the question of why I tend to write books that put my heroes in positions that could clearly be considered “life or death.” On the surface, the answer seems to suggest that I’m somehow living vicariously through my characters, putting myself in impossible situations and then bravely winning the day. And I think there may be a modicum of truth to that. Don’t we all wish that we could be as resourceful as Kirby Larsen’s Hattie, in Hattie Big Sky, or as wise as Jacqueline Woodson’s Lonnie in Hush, or as funny and witty as Alan Cumyn’s Owen, in The Secret Life of Owen Skye?

The thing is, I know that Kirby, Jacqueline and Alan are all of those things that their characters are: resourceful, wise, witty. And more. So much more.

But where does brave come in? In the ten years since The Underneath was published, kids around the world have written to me about this book, and one of the things they almost always talk about it is the bravery that my old hound dog and his two kittens share. And they are brave, aren’t they? They would do anything for each other, including putting their own lives on the line.

The hard question that I carried with me while I wrote this story was not for my characters. I knew their answer. Rather, it was for myself. Would I, could I, do the same? Would I risk my own life for someone I loved? I sincerely hope that I would make that choice, but I simply don’t know. I’ve never been confronted with this kind of situation.

Every day, there is another story in the news about heroism, about someone who put him or herself in harm’s way. It’s something that doesn’t only show up in fiction or in movies. It can seem random—like recently, when James Shaw, Jr., a young father of a four-year old daughter, threw himself at a shooter at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, TN. Something compelled him to act bravely. And thank goodness, right?

But in a story, we need more. We need to understand why a character acts and reacts. We need to know what compels him or her to step into those hero shoes (and not throw them at the cockroach). In other words, fiction is not random.

One of the higher purposes of fiction is to allow us to discover how seemingly random elements can combine to create that instance of bravery in exactly the moment that it is called for. If we can watch a kitten like Puck grow from being a small mischief-maker into a determined hero, then we can more fully understand what motivates someone like James Shaw, Jr. to say, “I’m not going down today.”

For me, it always boils down to fear and love. They’re the opposite sides of a single coin. Ranger loved those kittens, and they loved him. We’re talking Big Love, the kind that rolls over you in waves. But wherever there is Big Love, there is Big Fear. And behind that Big Fear is the very real terror of losing those we love. There’s no bigger nightmare.

When I first became a parent, I remember reading an article in Mothering magazine. The writer had just had a baby girl. I had just had my baby boy. In the article, she claimed that becoming a parent was a “terrifying beauty.” I was struck by the truth of that phrase. There is nothing more profoundly wonderful, and at the same time, so wrought with the horrifying prospect of loss.

It’s not just with our children that we experience this kind of Big Love/Big Fear. It’s the same with all those we love, it’s the same with our pets, it’s the same with places. I call them “the three p’s.” People, pets, places. They’re where our hearts find meaning and yearning and sustenance. They’re where we are confronted with the depths of our own characters.

In writing Ranger and the kittens’ story, it was this Big Love that I was reaching for, but in order to find that, I had to find the Big Fear too. One can’t exist without the other.

Writing The Underneath didn’t make me brave. But it definitely gave my heart some room to expand. And I can’t help but think that when we give ourselves a chance to explore the “terrifying beauty” of our own lives, we can confront our fears and make more space for love to save the day.

Kathi Appelt is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her first novel, The Underneath, was a National Book Award Finalist and a Newbery Honor Book. It also received the PEN USA Award. Her other novels include The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, a National Book Award finalist, and Maybe a Fox, one of the Bank Street Books Best Children’s Books of the Year. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To learn more, and to find curriculum materials and activity pages, visit her website at kathiappelt.com.

Fifteen lucky winners will receive an autographed paperback copy of The Underneath. In addition, one Grand Prize winner will win a classroom set of 20 copies of the book PLUS a 30-40 minute Skype visit for her/his school, classroom, or library with award-winning author Kathi Appelt. Enter here!

Benefit For Vermont College of Fine Arts

Every year the Writing and the Writing For Children and Young Adults programs of Vermont College of Fine Arts puts on an auction benefit. It’s an awesome collection of biddable items that benefit the school “supporting scholarships, residency events, alumni programs and initiatives. This year 100% of the auction proceeds will fund scholarships for students in both programs, with the Glover Fund for Writers, Authors, & Publishers, VCFA’s invested scholarship fund which will grant writing students’ scholarships for years to come.”

Check out items like these:

  • Just added 25 page critique by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency. Linda is looking for MG, YA, and adult fiction across all genres and will analyze the critical first 25 pages of your novel, defining its strength’s and identifying ways you might improve it or make it more salable.
  • Handmade VCFA Afghan crocheted by VCFA’s very own Angela Paladino. Lovely, cozy, and full of VCFA pride!
  • Spend three days at a VCFA residency! This is your chance to experience what another program residency is like. Accommodations at VCFA and meals included, if desired. [Dates must be agreed upon by winner and Program Director; excludes the two residential programs].
  • Tea for two with Katherine Paterson. Spend time with the incredible author herself at her home in Montpelier, VT.

I’ve donated to this auction because I so love my alma mater and want to support her, and you can find my auction item here – a bunch of books and cool swag. I can personalize the books for you or your gift recipient (your kid’s teacher, maybe?) And because I love the school so much, I’m adding a last minute item – a hot-off-the-presses first edition hard-cover copy of my not yet released picture book VOLCANO DREAMS!

But don’t wait – there’s less than a week left to bid! Don’t miss this chance to get some wonderful stuff, and benefit VCFA!