GUEST BLOGGER HENRY HERZ
I Am Smoke is a spare, lyrical, “autobiographical” account of the life cycle and beneficial uses of smoke across the globe and throughout the ages. The creative nonfiction picture book offers science, history, and global cultural studies appeal to young readers.
Smoke speaks in mesmerizing riddles: “I lack a mouth, but I can speak. I lack hands, but I can push out unwanted guests. I’m gentler than a feather, but I can cause harm.” When it speaks, its messages swirl and shift like smoke itself—playful, challenging, devious. Smoke has been borne aloft from flames, and its elements returned to earth, since before recorded time. Its cycles never end. It was here before us. It helps us when we’re wise but hurts us when we’re careless. Do not treat me lightly, it seems to warn.
Benefits of smoke
Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. Both are dangerous. But both can be beneficial, too. The helpful uses of fire are more obvious, like providing light and heat, cooking food, making ceramics, and keeping predator animals away. Controlled fires clean forest floors, nourish the soil, promote the growth of established trees and reduce the frequency of huge fires.
Smoking cigarettes is bad for you. But did you know that smoke has been used for millennia by people across the globe? It has been used to coax pumpkin seeds to sprout, drive out pests from buildings, and signal people far away. Fragrant smoke can cover up less pleasant smells. It is used by beekeepers harvesting honey to calm bees, it can flavor and preserve foods, and it is used in religious ceremonies and in healing.
A smoky research challenge
The topic of beneficial uses of smoke offers a great way for you to combine STEM with history, geography, and social studies for your students. Ask your students to do the following analysis and communication steps:
- Identify a beneficial use of smoke
- For older students, ask what burns to make the smoke
- List the different countries or cultures that use/used it in that way
- Determine over what time frame they used smoke in that way
- Sketch an image of what that might look like.
- Label the sketch to explain what is happening
- The student presents their research to the class.
Featured image: “Smoke” by Centophobia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Henry Herz is a children’s book author and anthologist. He’s written the following children’s books: MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY, MABEL & THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH, CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW, HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, ALICE’S MAGIC GARDEN, GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE, 2 PIRATES + 1 ROBOT, THE MAGIC SPATULA, and I AM SMOKE. Henry also wrote the children’s stories: “Pay the Piper”, “Born to Dance”, and “Maria & Maslow” (Highlights for Children) and “A Proper Party” (Ladybug Magazine). Henry is the co-editor of COMING OF AGE (middle grade anthology, Albert Whitman & Co.) and THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (young adult anthology, Blackstone Publishing). Find out more at https://www.henryherz.com and @HenryLHerz.
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