Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mother Nature is a Nerdy Chick. She’s strong, talented, and assertive. Okay, she can be cranky too, but we try to stay out of her way.

 

winter

This past winter, Mother Nature bombarded many of us with unreasonable amounts of snow and pitched us into frigid polar vortexes (which we had never heard of before). But while we hunkered down in our homes (thanks MN for four days of writing while the office was closed), she was out there creating beauty: putting diamonds on tree branches, etching intricate frosty patterns on glass, and sculpting ice into glossy reaching fingers.

 

ocean

me_oceanWhen April arrived and the last snow melted away, I attended a writers’ retreat at the Jersey Shore. Mother Nature spent the weekend churning the sea with heavy wind and rain, but I didn’t let her chase me away. Doing my best Jim Cantore imitation, I bundled up in storm gear and walked alone on the beach. I inhaled the salty, fishy air and watched Mother Nature paint patterns on the sand with foaming water, leaving collages of shells, stones, and claws.

 

spring_sign

Today my perennial garden is covered with last fall’s leaves, hiding treasures like clutter hides a teenager’s messy bedroom floor. Mother Nature is sending small signs of spring, hinting at the summer to come. She grows a quilt of glossy leaves and her small gifts of early flowers pop up. She soaks her gardens with more rain, and paints abstract patterns of lichen on trees.

Mother Nature is a creative and clever Nerdy Chick. She has endless imagination when using color, form, and texture. She shares all of it with us—whether we want it or not. If we accept her many moods, we can see her beauty all around us.

 

All photographs © Mary Zisk 2014

 

Investing in your Nerdy Chicks

As 2013 draws to a close, people are starting to reflect on what has happened and identify things to focus on in the future, especially in the new year to come. I’ve noticed that a lot of people are talking about investing in women.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea. Just a year ago, billionaire businessman Warren Buffet said that he believed that harnessing the full power and potential of women would be what saves the U.S. economy.

On an international level, Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai brought the need to offer women equal educational opportunities to light, both in her advocacy for women’s education and her valor and courage when she was almost assassinated for those views. A report from the George W. Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative called INVEST IN AFGHAN WOMEN: A Report on Education in Afghanistan uses Malala’s example to make the case for why we should invest in girls’ education.

Just last week, Catherine M. Russell, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, gave a speech about increasing the opportunities for women to participate in politics and government. She said, “We know that that investing in women and girls – helping them unleash their potential – is the right thing to do morally – and the wise thing to do strategically.”

Here at Nerdy Chicks Rule, we are strong believers of investing in women – especially in girls. If you have a Nerdy Chick in your life (as I do), you already know that the more you invest in her now, the easier it will be for her to reach her full potential. So we’ve come up with some tips to help you invest in the Nerdy Chick in your life:

  • Encourage

1074test_tubesIt seems pretty obvious – the more you encourage someone, ANYONE, the better he or she will do. Somehow, though, there are people that believe that encouragement alone is not enough. A few years ago, on January 14, 2005, then president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, made it clear that he believed that there was an innate difference in the ability of men versus women in mathematical ability. And yet, studies have shown that there aren’t innate differences in ability between boys and girls, just in the ways they are encouraged to pursue certain fields or careers. (We’ve even blogged about this here earlier this year.) So, if you believe in your Nerdy Chick, encourage her to try things, pursue her interests, follow her heart. If other people try to dissuade her, encourage even harder.

  • Inspire

Another one that seems pretty obvious, but bears some discussion.

wedu logoIn 2012, two graduates of the London School of Economics, Mari Sawai and Mario Ferro, founded an organization called Wedu. Their goal is to create access to higher education for women in Southeast Asia through microfinancing, mentorship and counseling. What I found really great about their approach is the mentoring. These women understand that it is not enough to have ability – Nerdy Chicks need role models, something to aspire to. For your Nerdy Chick, be a role model. And if you aren’t the right role model, find her one. Connect her to other people who can support her. Give her a network and a community of people who believe in her. Over time, that will only make her exponentially stronger.

  • Invest (money)

The last thing I want to quickly touch on is the importance of money. As a country, we’ve been talking a lot about saving for the future and ways we can figure out how to pay for things like mortgages, health care as we age, college costs, and a lot of other things. And while we all know that saving is essential, I wanted to give a concrete example of what a difference it can make.

growing savingsMy oldest daughter is 12. In six years, she’ll be going to college. If I gave her just $20 a month, every month for the next 6 years, when it is time for her to pay for college, she’d have almost $1700 set aside (and that’s assuming a relatively conservative 5% annual interest rate). If I gave her $50 a month (around $10 a week), she’d have about $4100 for college. These things can mean the difference between being able to afford a higher education or not. It’s one of the best ways to invest in your Nerdy Chick. (Click here for a great simple calculator to estimate savings.)

Encourage, inspire, invest. Three simple steps that can make a big difference.

Top Ten Nerdy Gifts 2013

It’s the holiday season, time for gift-giving and gift-receiving. You might be wondering,

“What does the nerd in my life want more than anything else?”

Tough question. You can’t just get ANYTHING. You have to take this question as seriously as, well, as your nerdy loved one would.

Here are some suggestions to help you find the optimal solution…

1. Silently Correcting your Grammar T-Shirt

im_silently_correcting_your_grammar_womens_dark

This one basically screams NERDY! In a good way! (Just so you know, CafePress has an entire assortment of Silently Correcting Your Grammar merchandise!)

2. Hardcover Silhouette Earrings

book earrings

Beautiful. Nerdy. Perfect.

3. My Life in Graphs

life in graphs

This one allows the nerd in your life to collect data and carefully quantify her entire life. Who doesn’t want to do that?

4. Talk Nerdy To Me Tote

nerdy tote

This one needs no explanation.

5. Goggles Umbrella

umbrella

Smart and functional. Love.

6. Style is Elemental Shower Curtain

shower curtain

Why waste a minute when you can be learning about the universe?

7. The Hungry Scientist Handbook by Patrick Buckley

hungry scientist

The cover says “Edible Origami” and “Light Up Lollipops.” Need I say more?

8. Engineer’s Motto Shirts

engineer t shirt

If this feels completely true to you, you are definitely a nerd. If this sounds completely familiar to you, you definitely love a nerd.

9. Organic Microscope Swaddling Blanket

microscope blanket

For the newest nerd in your life, get her off to a great start by emphasizing the right things.

10. Ice Speed Chess Set

chess ice

Is there anything nerdier than chess? A great game for all ages to hone critical thinking skills, competitiveness, and strategy. And the ice angle guarantees speedy play!

Happy shopping, everybody!

PiBoIdMo Wrap Up: Let it Be

Duck Duck Moose by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Illustrated by Noah Z. Jones

My upcoming picture book!

Now that Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month is over, I thought it would be nice to reflect a little bit on what we’ve accomplished in the past few weeks. If you participated in PiBoIdMo, first off, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve made great progress on your writing journey. Publishing is an art where creativity and magic come together to make great books. But publishing is also a numbers game – the more manuscripts you create, the more likely it is that some of them will get published. And how do you create manuscripts? Well, it starts with ideas. And now you have lots of ideas – at least 30 if you got through the month! (More if you followed my PiBoIdMo advice.) So you’re all set!

Except…

I’ve got some bad news. Well, potentially bad news. More like bad reality, actually. Except that reality is never bad.

Here’s the reality of the situation: not all of the ideas you have so carefully thought up during PiBoIdMo are picture book ideas.

I know you want them to be. I know that’s what you intended and planned for. I know you have great dreams for these ideas, dreams that are so good that you want to will them into existence.

But for some of your ideas, those dreams will never come true.

I’m not saying these things to upset you, or to de-motivate you. You shouldn’t lose your momentum. I just want you to focus your energy on the best paths to maximize your ability to succeed and get published.

Here’s the thing: your story ideas are like your children. You give birth to them, you nurture them, you guide them toward the goals you have carefully set for them. You know what’s best and you will make that happen.

For those of you who have children, you’re probably already guessing where this is going to go.

With our children, no matter what we have dreamed for them when they were helpless babes in our arms, those kids who once needed us for their very survival somehow end up being the people they choose to be. Not necessarily the people we intended them to be.

This is the kid who was supposed to grow up to be a doctor…

My parents wanted me to be a doctor. They even bought me a $100K science education from Caltech. And in the end, I write books about talking pigs.

With our characters, our story ideas, they will also be who they are, regardless of what we want them to be.

Early on, I said that not all of the ideas you have so carefully thought up during PiBoIdMo are picture book ideas. That is reality. Some of those ideas will turn out to be chapter books, or middle grades, no matter how hard we push them to be something else. (Just like some of our children will become kidlit authors, no matter how hard we push them to be doctors.) That’s ok.

Some of those ideas will turn out to flounder and struggle, will find it difficult to ever realize their full potential. That’s ok, too.

Because the reality is that some of the ideas you have are picture book ideas. They need you to cultivate and develop them, but with your help, they will grow to be wonderful picture books.

The key here is to let your characters be who they are. Let your stories be what they are. If they grow into something different than you thought, follow them on their path instead of forcing them onto your own. The end result will be truer, will have more heart, and will be better written.

Good luck to everyone and see you next PiBoIdMo!

(In case you missed it, here is some more PiBoIdMo advice from Kami and from me from earlier this month.)

Inspiration Permission

In the last two weeks, I practically made myself at home over at Tara Lazar’s blog. I revealed two new covers for two new picture books and held a caption contest, and then I gave a math lesson for PiBoIdMo. I don’t want all my Nerdy Chicks (and Nerdy-Chicks-Supporters) to think I’ve forgotten about them, though. So I’ve been trying to think of something to share here in honor of PiBoIdMo.

Sometimes, inspirations come from from seemingly disparate places. That’s what happened here. I’ve managed to mash up the caption contest with a PiBoIdMo lesson.

There were a lot of great caption ideas for both ORANGUTANGLED and SNORING BEAUTY. I had to pick one winner, though, and that was Dawn Young with her very versatile entry, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?” (Works so well for both covers, no?)

BeFunky_snor beauty cover winner BeFunky_orangutangled winner.jpg

But like I said, there were so many wonderful ideas. Here are some more that stood out to me:

BeFunky_orangutangled cover collage

 

What was very cool was how so many different people looked the same pictures but came up with such different ideas for what the characters were saying, thinking, or feeling — and often, their ideas did not resemble my books AT ALL. And I realized that here was something that could help all the PiBoIdMo participants and writers in general.

I give you my permission to take inspiration from other books.

All the people who participated in the caption contest looked at a picture and, without any other information, allowed themselves to imagine who the characters were. But what each of them came up with was his or her own idea, not mine. And many of them are ideas that can be built on.

To be very clear, I’m not advocating stealing other authors’ ideas! (Please don’t go write a book about three orangutans tangled up instead of two!) But I can see the beginning of new, original ideas in the captions that I read. For example, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?” — could that be a starting point to brainstorm other awkward situations? Could one of those situations be the basis of a new book? I think so.

I’ve actually used a version of this exercise in schools when I’ve conducted writing workshops. When you look at a spread of a picture book, there is only so much dialogue in the actual text that accompanies a picture. But if you ask a classroom of kids to fill in what that extended conversation might sound like…it’s actually amazing how far they can take it. They can start with one image and a few lines of text and they can write an entire scene around it. (Teachers, what do you think? Have you ever tried something similar with your students?)

So, writers, PiBoIdMo participants, Nerdy Chicks: when you get stuck on your next idea, I hope you’ll think of this suggestion, and I hope it will get some of you un-stuck. But even if it doesn’t, I guarantee you’ll have fun — and sometimes that’s all we need to get us going again.

 

 

Nerdy Chicks and Losing

Scantron-Bubble-TestI like to joke that I don’t like to play games that I can’t win. It’s a way to show my competitiveness, and also a way for me to brag a little bit about my abilities. But the truth is that I don’t like playing games I can’t win because I really cannot handle losing.

A lot of smart women feel the same way I do. And it turns out that our inability to face losing might be what is holding us back.

The data shows that in elementary school, girls get better grades than boys, with both performing equally well on standardized tests. But by the time they get to high school, boys open up a lead in standardized test scores – an average of 33 points higher than girls on the SAT – even though girls graduate high school with a higher average GPA.

After we move on from high school, things get worse. Girls – or, women, rather – really start to lose ground to men. In the US, women represent almost 60% of college students but later earn roughly 77 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Although 54% of advanced AP/Honors math students are girls, fewer than 25% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are held by women. Even without citing hard statistics, we all know that when it comes to leadership, managerial, or executive positions, women lag behind men significantly.

As parents and educators of Nerdy Chicks, there are many issues that lead to these gaps in achievement that we cannot change in a day (or in a single blog post). But there is one thing that we can start to address that could quite possibly make a difference: the way we give our Nerdy Chicks feedback on their academic performance.

good gradesOne theory about why girls do better in younger grades has to do with the ability of girls to perform well at the social side of education. Girls learn self-control earlier, follow instructions better, and generally behave in more acceptable ways than boys. In other words, they are “good.” Probably, these things collectively help them learn better, and often, they get praised for their academic performance in a way that is linked to their “goodness.” When you tell your daughter that she is very smart or a great student, it can start to sound like being smart or being a good student is something innate, something she was born with, something that is as much a part of her as her hair color or her nose.

For the record, I’m guilty of doing just this. I have often told my daughters how smart they are in the same breath that I tell them how beautiful they are. Even though one is changeable and the other is inherent.

The feedback that we give boys is very different. Because boys are often less conscientious, they are encouraged to try harder and put in more effort. The result is that boys learn that trying hard or putting in effort is far more important that what grade you get. Over time, this might be what accounts for the ability of boys to succeed.

Studies have shown that when students face advanced material that doesn’t come easily, boys react to the difficulty by continuing to try hard and put in an effort. Girls, on the other hand, may view the difficulty as a sign of the failure of their brains to handle it. They’d rather not try something and fail at it, because that would just prove that they aren’t “good” or “smart.”

In other words, boys play games they can’t win because they believe that they can figure out how to win with enough effort. Girls stop playing when they can’t win. You know, like I do.

I’ve been this way for so long that, even though I recognize the logic here, I’m not sure I can change. I’m not sure I can find the confidence to try something I might not be good at, to publicly fail, to “set myself up” for potential embarrassment. But I think I’d like to teach my girls a different way. So from now on, I’m not going to praise my kids for being smart – I’m going to praise how hard they tried. I’m going to link their success to their exertion, and I’m going to make their effort, not the grade they get, the goal. Whenever possible, I’m going to make them play a game they can’t win. Because, hopefully, I’ll be able to convince them that not winning today doesn’t mean never winning – that every loss will bring them closer to winning one day.

On that day that they win, I will cheer. I will be proud of them. And, probably, I won’t ever play with them again. Because I really can’t handle losing.winking face

 

 

REMINDER

If you haven’t entered the BOY PROBLEM Giveaway, today is your last day! Click here to enter.

 

 

Chick Lit for Chicklets

SAMSUNG CSCRecently, the Nerdy Chicks conducted a workshop at the New England SCBWI Conference about Creating Chick Lit for Chicklets. Here is a recap of what we talked about…

What is Chicklet Chick Lit?

Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly. Chick lit for chicklets is pretty much the same thing but geared specifically to the interests of a child or young adult audience. The main character of Chick Lit is always a strong female who bucks authority to follow her dreams.

What qualifies as Chicklet Chick Lit?

Not every book with a female main character would be considered chicklet chick lit — this is important to keep in mind. Some books just happen to have female main characters. In this very limited case, just being a girl is not enough.

In Chicklet Chick Lit, the main character’s obstacles and challenges must be specific to gender. The chick lit heroine is very aware of her world and the details of this world will deeply affect her choices/actions.

Let me introduce you to my friends…

In addition to the main character, Chick Lit is often populated by strong secondary characters. Here are some of the archetypes commonly found in Chick Lit for Chicklets:

BFF

antiBFF

apparent parent

antiparent

boy friend

Now you all know more about writing Chick Lit for Chicklets — we hope you try your hand at this fabulous genre!

(If you attended the Nerdy Chicks’ workshop at NESCBWI and would like a copy of the entire PowerPoint, please fill out the form below or email Sudipta or Kami directly)