GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.
See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020.
Guest post by Baptiste Paul
In college, I was trained in the environmental studies field at Bucknell University. I did not know then that the skills I’d learn or the content I’d study would serve me well on the path toward becoming a children’s picture book author. But isn’t life experience and knowledge in any field important in creating nonfiction content for young children? Since my youth, I’ve always loved having a hypothesis and testing it. The worst that can happen is failure—something that most scientists acknowledge as a necessary step in any discovery.
I’ve had formal experience teaching in a classroom, so when I began presenting to children I also had to hypothesize about what they’d be interested in hearing about. I decided they might like to know more about the research process. For me, the most fascinating and rewarding part of my job as an author is connecting with kids through showing them my research. The children I encounter in the classrooms are curious. They want to learn about the world around them. In any given day, a curious child repeatedly will hear the words “no” and “stop” from the grown ups around them. I wonder if we, the adults, might ask those students open-ended questions instead—such as, can you tell me more about your project? Have you thought about this or that? What worked? What did not work? Or, what could we do differently here? Sometimes, the most important lessons come from failure. It’s okay for kids to know and embrace failure.
Two years ago, Miranda Paul and I took a trip to Cameroon to do research for our co-authored book I Am Farmer, which would become my debut STEM nonfiction picture book. The book tells the story of Farmer Tantoh, a Cameroonian environmentalist and humanitarian. We visited the places he grew up and worked and spoke with his mother, grandmother, neighbors, and school teachers. We learned that at an early age, Tantoh was curious about the environment and how things grow. Most of his learning was through experimentation and observation. Although his first experiment failed (he tried to plant onion bulbs on top of the soil and under the shade of banana trees), he never gave up—partly due to two encouraging adults who didn’t tell him “no” or “stop.” Tantoh wondered why his onions did not grow. Eventually, he sought help from his grandmother. Instead of reprimanding him for stealing her onions, she explained to him that plants need sunlight, dirt and water to grow. That was the moment when he realized that there was a process for everything. It was also led to a desire to learn everything, joked one teacher.
During his life, many people around him died from typhoid and other water borne diseases. Tantoh himself suffered from the disease for years. When he got better, he devoted considerable amount of time to learning about underground water systems and how they work. His work would eventually save thousands of lives. Since one of the biggest challenges still facing many villages in Cameroon is access to safe and clean drinking water, I Am Farmer is also a book about how one person continues to recognize a problem and implements a plan to reduce it. His method for accomplishing so much? Nurture others’ curiosity and teach them to utilize their energy and resources together.
I Am Farmer is a book about social justice and global issues, but it is refreshing to see there are many reviews that highlight this picture book for its STEM concepts to elementary and middle school audiences. According to one of the reviewers, “This story of hope and determination will appeal to anyone who cares about the environment. It has clear tie-ins to geography, environmentalism, and STEM that will make it perfect for the library and education markets.”
Looking back, it seems inevitable that an environmental science major who grew up with many similarities as Farmer Tantoh would write a book like this. But that’s the fun thing about life and science—the outcomes may or may not be predictable, but the processes are what get us there.
Baptiste Paul is a Caribbean-born author of two books for children. His debut picture book, The Field,received starred reviews from Kirkus, The Horn Book, and Booklist. According to Kirkus, his co-authored book Adventures To School,will “will pique readers’ curiosity.” His picture book biography, I Am Farmer, chronicles the work of Cameroonian environmentalist Tantoh Nforba (2019, Lerner/Millbrook). Born and raised on the island of Saint Lucia, Baptiste is a native Creole/Patois speaker who enjoys reading his books and sharing about his experiences with anyone who will listen. Learn more about Baptiste at baptistepaul.net.