Behind the Scenes
Here at Scope, we go to great lengths to research each article and story in the magazine. And those journeys can take us down some rather unusual research paths—from tracking down a rare Revolutionary War diary to talking to a chef in England who specializes in making fish head pies. Here are some of the most bizarre and delightful things that the editors of Scope have done in the name of research.
Ants Taste Great!
When I was writing "Would You Eat This?" about eating insects, I decided I needed to taste some bugs for myself. So I went to a local restaurant and ordered ant guacamole—yup, guacamole with ants sprinkled on it. I definitely hesitated before chowing down but to my surprise, the ants added a zippy crunch. It was delicious! Unfortunately I wasn't quite so brave when it came to the cricket tacos.
—Kristin Lewis, Editorial Director
How Hot Was It?
For the article "Stinky Pits," I needed to find out how hot (and potentially stinky) it was during the summer of 1912 in Atlantic City, where an early deodorant was marketed. Luckily, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has weather data going back more than 100 years. So how hot was it? Up to 90 degrees. And people were wearing wool suits!
—Adee Braun, Senior Editor
I do a lot of the research for the photos and videos used in Scope’s vocabulary slideshows (like this one). I have seen some images that have made me want to remove my eyeballs and run them through the dishwasher! I will simply offer a word to the wise to never type any of the following into a search bar: putrid, decompose, carcass, unsettling.
—Jenny Dignan, Senior Editor
A Breakfast History Mystery
For the nonfiction feature "The Shattered Sky," we wanted to paint an authentic picture of what that fateful morning in Halifax was like just before the disaster. What would people have been eating? Surely oatmeal would have been on the menu. But wait, would they have called it oatmeal or porridge? I called up the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic to find out. One of the historians confirmed that oatmeal would have been the breakfast of choice, not porridge. Mystery solved!
—Mackenzie Carro, Associate Editor
by Allison Friedman and Mackenzie Carro
If there’s one online resource our teachers can’t get enough of, it’s videos. The most consistent piece of feedback we hear about them is “more, please!”
We’ve been working on Scope videos for 3 years now, and we can honestly say that we love producing them as much as you and your students love watching them. But believe it or not, putting together a 5-minute video is no small feat!
2: The number of weeks it took to make the video, from beginning to end
4: The number of times we edited the script before we were happy with it
6: The number of video drafts our incredibly talented (and patient!) video editor, Seth Stein, put together before we settled on the final one
30: The approximate number of snacks we consumed while working on this video (and that’s a conservative estimate!)
100: The number of dust storm photos we combed through before finding this perfect image:
400: The number of photos and video clips our eagle-eyed photo team gathered for us to look at
1,550: The number of times the video has been viewed so far!
Do you have any suggestions for future Scope videos? Let us know in the comments below!
Mackenzie Carro is an Associate Editor at Scope
Allison Friedman is the Associate Editor at Storyworks
Editor's Note: Here at Scope, one of our missions is to give your students a window into the writing process. In this post, playwright Spencer Kayden discusses how she created our play Conquer the Sky, a historical fiction drama about the Wright brothers. This post presents a great opportunity to discuss with your students how authors combine fact and fiction in this genre. We also encourage you to share Spencer’s source list with students who want to learn more about the Wright brothers and this fascinating period of history. Find the list at the bottom of this page.
When Kristin asked me to write a historical fiction play about the Wright brothers, I immediately thought of a visit I made to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. I remember looking at the Wright brothers’ 1903 Flyer thinking, This flimsy biplane changed history? You can actually connect the dots from this contraption made of wood, muslin, and aluminum to the jet that flew me from Los Angeles to D.C.??? What struck me in particular was that these two untrained brothers labored for years believing they could achieve what most people deemed impossible.
1. How am I going to tell the story?
The first thing I did was lots and lots of research. After delving into several books about the Wright brothers, my mind was soaring with possibilities. Would I focus on the brothers' early years in the bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio? The countless hours they spent conducting flying experiments on the beach in Kitty Hawk? Or the years they toured Europe and the U.S. just to prove that yes, indeed, humans can fly. (Most people didn’t believe it was possible until they saw it with their own eyes.) The more I read about Kitty Hawk, the more intrigued I became with the families who lived in this isolated place in the early 1900s. Many of the residents were descended from sailors who had been shipwrecked on the Outer Banks and never left. (That part of the ocean is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.) In fact, Kitty Hawk was so remote that when Wilbur first arrived in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, by train, he couldn’t find anyone who had even heard of Kitty Hawk, much less anyone to take him there by boat.
2. Creating the character of Bea
Then I came across an old photograph of Bill Tate, the postmaster of Kitty Hawk, and his family, who graciously welcomed the Wright brothers and aided them in many ways. By this point I had decided that, as with other historical fiction plays I’ve written for Scope (such as Light, May 2015), the most effective way to tell this story would be through the eyes of a teenager who was there. So I decided to invent a 13-year-old daughter for the Tates—and the character Bea was born.
3. Choosing a conflict for Bea
Bea needed to have a conflict that could be explored through her experience of meeting the Wright brothers. I combed through newspapers from the period for inspiration. While perusing North Carolina newspapers from 1903, I came across an ad announcing the opening of Jane Brinkley’s new millinery shop in Plymouth. Hatmaking was one of few professions open to women at the time. Hmmm, I thought. Perhaps Bea has dreams of being a hatmaker . . . And perhaps she is afraid of pursuing her dreams. And perhaps her parents’ apprehension about the rapidly changing world around them contributes to her self-doubt. And perhaps she has a friend who encourages her. And through it all she sees the Wright brothers unabashedly pursuing their passion, even though nearly everyone around them thinks they are nuts. These are the ideas I wanted to bring out in the story. How did I do?
This 1903 hat advertisement from The Goldsboro Headlight inspired me to make Bea a hatmaker. (DigitalNC.org)
I hope you and your students enjoy reading this play as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Here are the sources that I used for my research. I encourage you and your students to check them out!
- The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster 2015)
- The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age by Peter L. Jakab and Tom D. Crouch (National Geographic 2003)
- The Flyers: In Search of Wilbur and Orville Wright by Noah Adams (Crown 2003)
- The Roanoke Beacon, June 19, 1903
- The Goldsboro Headlight, September 10, 1903
- The photo of the Tate family can be found here
Spencer Kayden, Contributing Editor
Spencer Kayden has been a writer and editor for Scope and other Scholastic magazines for 20 years. She is also a Tony-nominated actress and has a talent for origami and baking bundt cakes.