Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sprouts of Hope: Writing a Book For Kids and Families

Energy Lite: Using Kill A Watt Meters to Reduce Energy Use

By The Sprouts of Hope

Last April the Sprouts of Hope organized an exhibit for the Cambridge Science Festival, and we used our exhibit to help kids understand more about energy, how we use it and how we can find out how much energy we use in our homes. We showed parents and kids how a Smart Meter works; it measures energy use in our entire house. And we had set up a display with Kill A Watt meters that showed how much energy is saved by using fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) instead of incandescent ones.

A Kill A Watt meter is monitor that tells you exactly how much electrical power an appliance in your home is using. Using it can help you cut down on your carbon footprint.

So, when we plugged a hairdryer into one of our Kill A Watt meters at the exhibit and turned it up to high, the grown-ups and kids couldn't believe how much energy it took to dry their hair. A lot of them told us that they would never dry their hair again!!

This is when we first had the idea of writing a book for kids and parents about using Kill A Watt meters at home. If they had a book and a Kill A Watt meter, parents could find ways to reduce their energy bills and kids could learn about how much energy is consumed by the things they use everyday. And when they find out how much energy they are using, we thought they'd use these things less often or in more efficient ways.

Actually, the idea of writing such a book -- and donating the book and a Kill A Watt meter to the Cambridge Public Library system -- was suggested to us by John Tagiuri. He's a great friend of the Sprouts and had helped us to set up our Cambridge Science Festival exhibit. He'd also taken photographs of us as the Statue of Liberty holding a CFL bulb. [Here's a picture Melissa took of us when John was taking photos of us.]

This fall we started working on Energy Lite, the book we've now written. And while you might think that the topic of Kill A Meters might be a boring subject to write about, it turned out to be a lot of fun, especially when John took pictures of us doing the experiments that we write about in the book. It took us a while to come up with how we'd tell a good story about Kill A Meters and also the best ways to describe what they are and how parents and kids could use them. To figure this out, we brainstormed ideas and then we wrote our ideas on pieces of paper -- describing what we might include on each of these pages.

Then we spread these pages on the floor and rearranged them until we figured out the best order for them in the book. And that's

how our book came to life. We didn't include everything in it that we first thought we would, and as we went along we changed our minds about drawing pictures to go along with our words -- even after we'd already drawn quite a few pictures. [You can see what one of our early page designs looked like.] That's when we decided to use photographs.

Each of the Sprouts was responsible for thinking about and writing two of the pages -- and Maya worked on drawing the cover.

After several meetings, when we reviewed what we'd written and drawn, we'd do the same thing all over again; we'd put our pages on the floor and see how they fit together. And as we wrote more words and thought more about the images to go with them, we started to read them out loud to each other to see if what we'd written made sense. We also wanted to be sure that we were also telling a good story.

Then it was time for our photo shoot with John, who is an amazing photographer and such a great partner with the Sprouts of Hope. We had ideas about what pictures we wanted to use on various pages, so we spent a couple of hours taking ones of all of us using the Kill A Watt meter with different appliances -- a hairdryer, of course, a laptop computer, a toaster over and the light bulbs.

We printed all of photographs that John took and then we became photo editors and selected the ones that we wanted to use in the book. That's when Melissa, who mentors the Sprouts of Hope, took our words and images and worked with her friend, Lois Fiore, who designed the book on her computer.

Now that we are done writing and editing the book, we are going to meet with the director of the Cambridge Public Library system to talk about donating our book and Kill A Watt meters to the main library and to all of its branches. We want families to be able to check it out -- just like they'd check out a book or a DVD from the library. We are trying to figure out how we can get it printed. And we also want to figure out how to spread the word about this book so that maybe other kids will want to write one for their library. It would be wonderful to create a kind of Kill A Watt library all over the country -- and then in cyberspace, too.

Once our book is in the library, we will encourage other people to make similar books and spread the word about conserving energy!