GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

by Darcy Pattison

The hardest writing task for kids is to choose a great topic. Once the topic is narrowed down enough, writing an essay is much simpler.

Likewise, as an author, choosing a topic is hard. When I know little about a topic, it means intensive research. That’s why the topic of sound and sound waves was a happy choice for me. I hold a Master’s degree in Audiology, the study of sound and human hearing. I’ve worked as a Speech Therapist at a deaf school, and at an otolaryngologist’s (ENT Doctor) office doing hearing tests and recommending hearing aids. Sound is what I studied and did professionally.

Sound and sound waves. Cover of CLANG! Ernst Chladni's Sound Experiments by Darcy Pattison

When I first ran across the story of Ernst Chladni (CLOD-nee), the Father of Acoustics (the study of sound), I was excited. Besides the fact that I knew the general topic, there were quotes taken from an article Chladni wrote himself in a German music magazine. His account of the meeting with Napoleon in February 1809 gave me direction for writing CLANG! Ernst Chladni’s Science Experiments.

A third thing helped me decide to write Chladni’s story: the NextGen Science Standards. In both first and fourth grade, students study waves in general and sound waves in particular.

For example:
1-PS4-1 Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer
Plan and conduct investigations to provide evidence that vibrating materials can make sound and that sound can make materials vibrate.

CLANG! was written to introduce the topic of sound and sound waves to the elementary student in a fun way. Chladni concentrated his work on sound transmitted through solids, but vibrating strings (ex. Guitar) and vibarting columns of air (ex. Pipe organ) were part of this study, too.

The Father of Acoustics: Sound and Sound Waves

I live in Arkansas, the home of Kevin Delaney Day, a science entertainer who’s been featured on the Jimmy Fallon Show and the Tonight Show.

What really caught me, though, was the story of Chladni himself. He was a self-taught man and was hampered in his research by finances. Most scientists of the time taught at a university. Instead, Chladni took his show on the road, traveling to entertain wealthy patrons with his science.
We have science-entertainers today such as Bill Nye the Science Guy. They evoke a kind of “gee-whiz” response with experiments.

Halloween Science Experiments with Kevin Delaney

If you can’t see this video, click here

Kevin Delaney and Jimmy Fallon Create Instant Quicksand

If you can’t see this video, click here

PATRONAGE for the Sound Scientist

It’s hard to make a living as a science entertainer! What Chladni needed was a patron, someone who could support him for a time while he worked on a certain project. Through his French scientist friends, he was introduced to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
The patronage of nobility was often sought after by artists and musicians. It was rarer for a scientist to seek such financial help. The French scientists were motivated by the idea of a new book about acoustics written in their native French.

Big Idea: Science Needs International Cooperation

There were three reasons I wrote this story: I’d studied acoustics and sound in college; the NextGen science standards features sound and sound waves in elementary school; and, the event was described in Chladni’s own words. But there’s also a fourth reason. I like stories that demonstrate a big idea in science. These may not be in a curriculum, but I think they are important for kids to understand as they learn about science and consider careers in science.

Chaldn’s story is a great example of how international cooperation is important for advances in scienctific knowledge. Scientists are people who need to eat and drink. He may have preferred finances to come from a German source, but in the end, he needed money to support him while he worked on a new book about acoustics. If the French Emperor wanted to give him 6000 francs, he’d take it.

International cooperation has always been important in advancing the study of science. It’s a BIG idea of science! I hope it made a BIG book for those teaching sound and sound waves in the classroom.

DOWNLOAD a Teacher’s Guide for CLANG!

Darcy Pattison

Storyteller, writing teacher, Queen of Revisions, and founder of Mims House ( publisher, Darcy Pattison has been published in ten languages. Her books, published with Harcourt, Philomel/Penguin, Harpercollins, Arbordale, and Mims House have received recognition for excellence with starred reviews in Kirkus, BCCB and PW. Four nonfiction nature books have been honored as National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade books: Desert Baths (2013), Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma (2015), Nefertiti the Spidernaut (2017), Clang! Ernst Chladni’s Sound Experiments (2019).

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

How do you come up with your ideas? It’s a question I love to be asked when I visit schools. Many of the books I write would be classified as “activity books,” although I try to include the same kind of rich information that readers might find in a more straightforward nonfiction book. And how I come up with my ideas? I use a process that looks an awful lot like the work of a scientist or engineer.

Read, Read, Read says Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

When I start on a book, I read everything on the topic that I can get my hands on. I look in science journals, textbooks, books for everyday readers, books for professionals. And as I read, I constantly ask myself, “what would this idea look like in the real world?”

Dog Science: Unleashed by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

For example, while researching Dog Science Unleashed: fun activities to do with your canine companion, I read that dogs change from puppy to adult more than any other mammal, and this change is what allows us to breed dogs that can vary so much in size and shape. I thought on this idea, and I wondered if this meant that puppies looked more alike than adult dogs. I hit up the internet for images of puppies from different breeds, and was amazed: sure enough, it was much harder to tell the puppies apart than the adults. Check out this line-up. Can you match the puppy with the adult dog?*

Puppy Match from Jodi Wheeler Toppen

Play, play, play! Step 2 of Writing Non-Fiction for Kids

So this is the next stage in my research. I take the information I read about and look for ways to play with it. That might be messing around with pictures, like the puppy matching. It might mean grabbing my dog, and say, feeling the underside of her ears to see if I can tell how hot she is before and after exercise or seeing if I can trick her into yawning. Or it might mean asking a scientist if I can visit his lab and watch him give a dog an MRI.

This is where my work most replicates the work of researchers and engineers. They are constantly looking for how an idea plays out in the real world. I work with the Hu Biolocomotion Lab at Georgia Tech, and Bo Lee, a graduate student, was talking to me recently about his work with star-nosed moles. These moles sniff underwater (without getting a nose-full of liquid!). It was thought that their funny-shaped faces helped them sniff, but the mechanics were not understood. Bo wanted to figure out how, but no one even knew how to study the question. So he began by playing with straws,  blowing bubbles in corn syrup and trying to figure out what it would take to blow a bubble out and suck it back in without having it float away. Eventually, he hit on a method of trimming the straws into a shape that helped the bubbles stay in place–a shape that had a lot in common with a star-nosed mole’s face. He moved from just playing with corn syrup and straws to more sophisticated methods, but it was through looking in real-life at the ideas he had read about that he found a way to tackle the problem.

In Dog Science Unleashed: fun activities to do with your Canine Companion, I spell out ways that readers can use information about dogs to get up and discover something for themselves.  I also included “Take it Further” suggestions that provide just the seed of an idea for readers to develop. But my real hope is that by using an information-rich activity book as  a model, readers will begin to see all of the books they read as springboards to research in the real world.

*Answers: A-Yorkie; B-Rottweiler; C-Weimaraner

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former science teacher and the author of the Once Upon A Science Book series (NSTA Press) on integrating science and reading instruction.  She also writes for children, with her most recent book being Dog Science Unleashed: Fun Activities to do with Your Canine Companion. Visit for more information on her books and staff development offerings.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Ann Rubino

It’s always surprising to learn about technology in history. People built huge stone buildings, forged armor, ground grain in wholesale lots, designed watches with such tiny parts we need magnification to see them today. How could they do such things, with the little they had both in terms of knowledge and tools? Yet they did. A kid today, set loose in the woods, would be hard pressed to find a stick adequate to hold his roasted marshmallow, yet hundreds of years ago people found ways to cope, often elegantly. The story of technology has deep and wide roots. It is fair to show some of them to our kids. Fair to let them in on a secret: people have always used technology, just not the sort that involves pushing buttons. It’s all about the thinking, the persistence in working toward a thought-out goal and the reasoned use of materials and knowledge at hand.

Stories can make the point, and bring with them a world of historical background as well. The story is the “special sauce” that makes the facts interesting.

I imagined characters based on memories of my former students, placed in a world long gone, a world that was changing rapidly with new discoveries and inventions: the telegraph, the battery, cast iron tools of all kinds.

2019 Best STEM Book

In Emmet’s Storm I imagined my main character as one of the gifted students that I loved to teach—quirky, earnest, unevenly developed with a great grasp of theory but an inability to keep papers right side up in a binder. I put him in Iowa in a tiny town in 1887, the summer before the disastrous Children’s Blizzard of 1888. Other kids don’t like him. He collects stacks of Scientific American, then a weekly filled with news of new inventions and discoveries. He tries to replicate what he reads, usually to spotty-to-disastrous results. He manages to avoid punishment when his hot air balloon sets fire to a farmer’s hay wagon parked outside the saloon. However, when the school principal, a kindly but prim nun, gets knocked on her posterior while touching his Leyden jar experiment, it’s the final straw. He’s assigned to the country school, newly built after a lightning caused fire. “The school board rejected my advice to install a lightning rod,” nine-year-old Emmet complains. The new school is made of local limestone and is caulked “tight like drum” by a German villager with precise work habits. What happens when the blizzard hits rounds out the plot, with many “hooks” to intermediate science topics, especially electricity and weather. Ultimately dorky, misfit Emmet becomes the hero.

I was getting the feel of semi-mythical Floyd, Iowa, by the time Emmet’s Storm won the Best STEM book of 2017. My granddaughter wanted to know why grandma always writes about boys. She had a point. I had long been interested in the Orphan Train movement and it fit in with my time period, so in memory of my Swedish grandfather, a cabinetmaker and inventor “sold” by his stepmother as an apprentice at the age of nine, I invented Inga.

Inga is an 11-year old girl from Sweden who arrives in Iowa on the Orphan Train and is assigned to the blacksmith and his pie-making wife. She has all sorts of time-saving ideas, some of which work. She forms an uneasy alliance with Emmet who is assigned to help her with English. Most of her scientific challenges relate to mechanics and simple machines, though her emotional journey is difficult. She finds solace in solving problems with her amazing ideas because missing her parents, in her words, “…is too sad. I cannot think on it.”  Inga’s Amazing Ideas is a Best STEM Book 2019.

Both books aim to make use of scientific concepts in use in a true historical context, making the point that STEM is just a new acronym for what people have always done in varying degrees: use what they know to solve problems, try out solutions, discard ideas that don’t hold up to reality, and persevere in the attempts. Magic doesn’t solve problems; work does. Science grounds students in the complex and fascinating reality that surrounds them.

Ann Rubino

While teaching elementary science, Ann Rubino’s team won the OHAUS Award in 1990 for innovations in science teaching. She was an early reader for Illinois of the New Generation Science Standards; sat on the review board of Science & Children magazine; and worked as a consultant for the Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago. She holds an MT(ASCP), B.A.Ed., a M.S. Ed. and an Endorsement in Gifted Education. Her last teaching assignment was as adjunct at Lewis University, teaching science methods. After retirement, she reviewed children’s books for the Recommends division of Science & Children and continued to work for several years on the review board.

For more, see Catree Books

Need an uplifting story? The new UpLit genre includes books that have an uplifting message of some kind. That doesn’t mean there’s no conflict or that the characters don’t struggle. Rather, at the end, there’s an uplifting message of hope and faith in the human spirit.

Longing for Normal - an UpLit Novel
An UpLit Novel for Kids!

Longing for Normal is the uplit story of an orphaned boy who finds a home, loses it and finds it again with the help of a simple sourdough bread recipe.

Eliot Winston was in foster care when he caught the attention of Griff Winston, the school nurse. After getting to know each other, Griff decides to adopt Eliot. In fact, Griff also proposes to a childhood sweetheart which means Eliot will finally have a real family with a mom and a dad. They go to court to finalize the adoption and Eliot is in heaven.

But then, Griff develops a brain tumor and dies.

Eliot and his new step-mom Marj are left to figure things out. Will she sign the final adoption papers or send him back to foster care?

Eliot and Alli – Two Troubled Kids

Alli Flynn has also been in foster care, staying with one family for years. She thought it was her forever home until—the mom becomes pregnant and suddenly Alli is out. Her new foster home is cold and unloving. But all Alli wants is to meet her new brother or sister. She must escape long enough to do that.

Two troubled kids. What do they have to battle the world with?
A simple sourdough recipe. The Winston family has kept a sourdough starter going for 150 years.
Here’s an excerpt from the first time Eliot and Griff made sourdough together:

Home. The sharp smell of sourdough always brought memories of Griff. On one of my first visits to Griff’s house, four years ago, when I was just a foster child for another couple, we made our first loaf of bread together. It was a long holiday for Presidents’ Day in February. My foster family went on a family trip, so Griff invited me to stay over. Friday night, Griff pulled a glass jar from the fridge. “Ever make bread?”
I tapped the jar, puzzled. It seemed to be full of a yellowish-white liquid with foam on top. “No. Doesn’t bread just come from the store?”
Griff launched into a big lecture on sourdough. He was like that, knew so much about science and the world. Loved explaining things. Not like lecturing from a teacher, so much as giving me a gift of knowledge.
Griff’s voice still echoes in me, like echoes from a booming voice would linger for a long time in a canyon: Sourdough, he said, is made from a combination of yeast and bacteria. The yeast gives off gases which makes the bread light and fluffy. The bacteria gives it a sour taste. Today, most breads rise too fast and the bacteria doesn’t have time to develop that sour flavor.
Taking off the lid, he held out the jar.
I took a whiff. “Stinks.”
“Heavenly smell,” Griff said and grinned that huge grin that showed his one false tooth in the front of his mouth. “Kinda like dirty socks.”
That smell, that amazing smell, followed us all weekend as the bread rose, was punched down, and rose again. Finally the loaf came out of the oven, and Griff slathered it with real butter and handed it to me.
I chewed and considered.
“Well?” Griff demanded.
I made him wait, taking another bite and leaning my head from side to side.
I gave in and giggled. “Heavenly,” I said, using Griff’s word.
And Griff beamed, lighting up a place in my heart that I thought would never be lit by anyone again.

When school starts that fall after Griff died, they decide to do a Bread Project. They’ll start with one jar of sourdough starter and each week, people will pass on new starter to the next person. Here’s how Marj explains it.

“Next week, the first person will pass one cup of starter on to the next person. Then two people will have the sourdough starter. They will feed it and let it grow a week and then, the next week, those two will give to two more, so there will be four jars of starter. Double that the next week for eight jars of starter.”
My slides flickered–quickly–on the cracked screen behind Marj. Quickly. Explaining how each week the number of jars of sourdough starter would double. By Thanksgiving, ten weeks from now–1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512–there would be 512 jars. Enough for each student to take home a jar of starter.

With a pyramid scheme like this, the project is bound to fail. But Eliot can’t let that happen. With Alli’s help, they dig into the community and visit home after home, encouraging everyone to bring bread to the Thanksgiving feast. And this international community shares their favorite bread recipes: Pan dolce, ciabatti, ekmek, naan, pretzels, poori, pita. English muffins, raisin bread, cinnamon rolls, Kaiser rolls, potato rolls. Loaves of rye breads, whole wheat breads, just plain white loaves. Focaccia. Dutch Crunch. Everything from A to Z: Anadama to Zucchini-Carob Bread.

In the end, it’s the spirit of Eliot and Alli that triumphs. It’s an uplifting story of a trouble family who finds peace through a simple sourdough bread recipe.

Read this uplifting story now! Buy a paperback or hardcover here, or ask your local library for an ebook copy through Overdrive.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Carla Billups

Books have always been at the top of my list of favorite things growing up and as an adult. When I started teaching elementary education about thirty years ago, I was reintroduced to children’s literature and realized how much of an impact it had on my life. When I started reading a lot science trade books, I realized there were so many stories and information to tell that deal with science both fictional and non-fictional. Many of my students who showed no interest in novels enjoyed science trade books, and when students are interested, they read more.

As luck would have it while attending a welcome back to school event at our state arboretum, I met Dawn Cusick, a science trade book author. She and I live in the same area and are both educators so I took a chance to ask her about the process of writing science trade books. There were several ideas I shared with her and she agreed to to meet with me.

Fungus among us

We started working on different ideas, doing a lot of research and she asked me to help her with the book about fungus. In doing the research for The Fungus Among Us, the Good, the Bad and the Downright Scary, the information we were able to find was more abundant that we could ever have imagined, more than we could put into the book. One of the topics really peaked my interest is in the idea that fungus could possibly be an answer to some of the ecological issues that we are facing, most pointedly about plastics. Researchers and designers all over are looking at ways certain types of fungus can replace plastic or even break down plastics.

Ecovative Design is a company that develops alternative packaging and products made with mycelium and organic agricultural byproducts instead of plastic. When the user is finished with the product, instead of becoming trash, the product can be put on the ground and it will biodegrade. Ecovative Designs also has kits for educators to purchase so students can design something that can replace plastic. Once the mycelium is activated, it begins to grow, and can be molded into the student’s design, set aside and when the mold has filled in, it’s baked to stop the growing process. It’s a great engineering and design challenge for students, thinking of something that is plastic that they want to change to a more earth friendly product.

Because most fungus is not easily visible to our eyes, it’s not often noticed in the way it deserves to be. Increasing research is looking for ways to expand the use in so many innovative ways from building and recycling batteries to helping to save honey bees. It is a field that continues to grow. It will be amazing what the possibilities can bring.

Carla Billups taught science for for many years before becoming the Elementary STEM Coach for Buncombe County Schools in Western North Carolina. She has been on the faculty of the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy, where she worked with teachers from all over the country for fourteen years. She spends much of her time writing engineering and design curriculum for all subject areas. The Fungus Among Us, The Good, The Bad, and the Downright Scary is her first book and she was so happy that award winning author, Dawn Cusick invited her to collaborate on this book. She now has the writing bug and is looking forward to writing her next book. She lives in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina with her three cats and dog who inspire her every day! For more information, see Dawn Cusick’s website.

Guest post by H.P. Newquist

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day. They’re almost synonymous, aren’t they? They weren’t always linked, but “The Book Of Chocolate” explores the origins of this now-pervasive pairing.

Chocolate was a bitter drink prized by Mayans and Aztecs for its health benefits, and cocoa beans were used as currency in Central America long before Columbus showed up. When it evolved into an actual treat in Europe during the mid-1800s, chocolate became an expensive and rare food, regarded as something reserved for the rich and the royal. On those occasions when it was given as a gift by commoners, it meant that someone had made a financial sacrifice to buy it—and thus was showing a great deal of affection. Valentine’s Day was the day on which this affection was made most public.

As for all those heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates, we can thank Richard Cadbury—of the famous Cadbury chocolate company—for indulging his artistic side in the 1860s and painting boxes to hold his family’s chocolates during special occasions. There is more on that particular history in the book.

Science plays an important role in the pairing of chocolate and Valentine’s Day. The chemical elements of chocolate that affect the brain may have unconsciously led people to equate chocolate with love. They affect the same parts of the brain that cause feelings of happiness and joy. Chocolate, oddly enough, is one of the most complex chemical combinations known to science. As of the most recent research, there are over six hundred chemical compounds in raw chocolate, ranging from theobromine to caffeine. In fact, there may be over a thousand chemical compounds; scientists are regularly finding more. The reason that we don’t know the exact number is because the chemistry of chocolate changes at every single stage of its production. Cocoa beans change their composition as they ferment; nibs change from heat during roasting; cocoa butter changes when it’s separated from the mass. It changes again many times when other ingredients and their own unique chemistries are added to the mix: sugar, milk, spices, fruits, and anything else that makes up the final product. Cocoa beans are so complex that scientists haven’t been able to come up with a substitute for them (like they have for sugar).

This latter point is what makes the story of chocolate a perfect springboard for science. All books are, of course, stories of one kind or another. And I’ve found that truly unique and interesting stories are often excellent vehicles for “stealth science.”

Chocolate: An Example of Stealth Science

Stealth science is a method of introducing readers to science without them thinking it is science, or without scaring them off by labeling it as science. In essence, readers are unaware that they’re learning any science. In each of my books, I weave stealth science into the theme of the story. For instance, in The Book Of Chocolate, one of the most fascinating elements of growing cocoa starts with a midge. The midge is a fly so small you can barely see it: a full-grown midge is barely 1/32 of an inch long. In order to stay airborne during flight, the midge’s wings must beat one thousand times per second. To understand how fast that is, you can blink your eyes five times a second if you’re incredibly quick about it. For each blink, a midge’s wings beat two hundred times.

This is a fascinating set of facts rooted in the realm of science (in this case, zoology). And yet, the reader isn’t told that this is a quick science lesson. It is a natural—and just as important, engaging—part of the story of chocolate. The science is extracted from everyday objects, environments, or situations.

In addition, I think science books and lessons best serve children (and adults) by being stories written from the outside in—a method of presenting stealth science, as it were. Too much of how we try to engage people in the sciences starts at the level of the atom or the seed—both of which are literally and figuratively invisible in our daily lives. Our normal observations about the world begin from the opposite perspective. For instance, people look at an orange, and they see the entire sphere before they see the seed. Kids peel the skin off an orange, break open the wedges, and suck out the juice before encountering the seed. The same is true of experiencing the internal workings of a car engine or a clock. In the realm of mechanisms, you learn by looking at the whole and then stripping it down, not by starting with an abstraction that is then created from seemingly disparate parts.

I use this approach in all my writing—for example, “The Great Brain Book” and “The Book Of Blood.” Kids are familiar with skulls and the entire brain, so I explored the brain’s anatomy by delving through the skin, the skull, the layers, and lobes of the brain until we got to synapses and axons and dendrites. With “Blood,” I began with the imagery and myth of blood in various cultures and our experience seeing it from cut fingers and loose teeth. That’s the fascinating “outside” element of blood that leads stealthily down into the spleen, bone marrow, corpuscles, and platelets.

This approach works well outside of books. I applied the technique to a traveling guitar exhibit, where people learn about electromagnetism, sound waves, decibels, pattern recognition, and other science-related elements by interacting with the guitar, the world’s most popular instrument. (The exhibit is in St. Louis at the Science Center, so stop by if you’re interested.)

Stealth science gets children and adults involved even if they have no idea they are subliminally learning. And it can be applied everywhere, every day: flowers, food, sports, clouds, buildings, computers; every single thing. If I’ve gotten a reader to think about the chemistry of chocolate—or about the culture of the Maya and Aztecs—when they’ve come ostensibly to learn about candy and cakes, then I’ve accomplished something.

HP Newquist is an author who has written about everything from technology to music. His most recent books are From Here To There (Viking/Smithsonian) and The Book Of Chocolate (Viking). He has won numerous awards for his work from science, academic, and library associations. Notably, of the 21 books given the Best STEM Award by the NSTA and CBC in 2018, two were written by Newquist. When not writing, he serves as director of The National GUITAR Museum and gives talks on artificial intelligence. Learn more about him at

A sweet romance isn’t what I set out to write. Instead, The Blue Planets World series, is science fiction for teens. And yet, as I plotted the story and created characters, I realized that a sweet romance would definitely add interesting emotional layers. Reluctantly, I decided to plot out this sweet romance.

Boy Meets Girl/Girl Meets Boy

A character’s entrance sets the tone for a story, so I decided to make the boy meets girl/girl meets boy scene into a big one. In Book 1, SLEEPERS, the meeting takes place in a coffee shop on Bainbridge Island (in Puget Sound, just off Seattle) where Em works as a barrista. Jake is new in town and sampling all the coffee shops. When he walks in, there’s a scene where he gets a good first-look at her and is smitten. She’s indifferent at first—of course.

To keep the scene from focusing too much on the romance subplot, the main plot takes a big shift in the coffee shop, too, when the antagonist Captain Hill walks in with his father. Jake eavesdrops on them until Em accidentally spills coffee on the Captain. He roars at her and Jake comes to her defense, thus revealing himself to the Captain. Using Jake’s interest in Em is the motivation to reveal himself. Here, the subplot provides motivation.

Using Tropes

In writing worlds, we often talk about the tropes of a genre. Tropes are literary devices such as metaphor, irony, synecdoche and so on. But in the sense used here, a trope is a general plot or character element that often occurs in a certain genre of novels. For example, fairy tales often end with “Happily Ever After.”

One tool I like it the website, which lists many literary tropes and gives examples from television, movies, books, comics, and much more. Be careful! You’ll go down a rabbit hole when you start following the options for exploring a trope or genre.

If you look up Romance tropes you’ll also be directed to Chivalric Romance which then lists 66 sub-tropes, each with a page of explanation with its own set of links. There’s the Rags to Riches trope or the Trial by Combat trope

Sweets for a sweet romance.
Sweet Romances are appropriate for young YA, even if it’s Sci-Fi.

In other words, the tropes stimulate ideas. They give an easy set of options for the next plot step in a novel. There are so many tropes available that each story demands a unique set of tropes. I never worry about repeating someone else’s story because there are so many choices.

I found several options for sweet romance that I used in the story. The Almost Kiss is a good emotional moment where characters are about to kiss but something interrupts them. Long after, there could be a Relationship Upgrade when Jake and Em admit that they are a couple.

It might seem slightly mechanical to look at tropes like this, but I see it as freeing me to be more creative. Within the trope, how can I make the moment unique and memorable in my story.

Sweet Romance Takes Time

One nice thing about the choice of a sweet romance is that the pace of the relationship is slower. Em is introduced early in SLEEPERS, Book 1, but Book 2 follows Em closely as she takes center stage with her own family revelations because she’s adopted and discovers her real parents. has multiple tropes on adoption, which again came in handy.

Since I knew this would be a trilogy of novels, I spaced out the relationship’s important moments. That also gave me opportunities to mesh together the main plot and the subplot. Writing teachers often say that the subplots must all be wrapped up before the final climax scene—except the romance. It’s common for the love interest to have a final scene so that the emotional resonance returns to the sweet romance.

The Blue Planets World Series is a YA sci fi saga. But for those who want to find it, there’s also a sweet romance subplot that enriches the story. Check out Book 1, SLEEPERS!

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Do you remember that kid who claimed bragging rights for knowing stuff? Let’s call him “Encyclopedia Eddie.” He annoyed me, to be honest. But I also secretly wanted to know as much as he did. He was the kid I had in mind when I started working on John Deere, That’s Who!.

From my experience writing an earlier book about tractors, I knew that most people who have seen the name “John Deere” on those ubiquitous green-and-yellow tractors and lawn mowers conclude that John Deere must have invented the tractor.

Wrong, friends. John Deere died about 30 years before the first tractor. And that fact alone would have been bragging rights for Eddie. But it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to find out what John Deere actually did to make him famous. My line of inquiry had nothing to do with STEM—and everything, in the end.

My research for the book included reading books, scouring 1800s newspapers, viewing online archives, interviewing experts (including farmers and the archivist at the John Deere headquarters), and visiting the John Deere museums in Moline and Grand Detour, Illinois. I learned that John Deere was a pretty good blacksmith, which the little town of Grand Detour needed, especially since its location on the prairie meant that the farmers were banging up their heavy plows on the tall-grass roots all the time. BOOM. John had a problem to solve for his customers! John did hands-on research and figured out that steel would probably work better than iron. He brainstormed solutions, chose a design that might resolve the problem, built a prototype, tested it, and kept tinkering with it to make it better and better. His plow eventually changed America and his company went on to become one of the best-known farm-implement and equipment manufacturers in the world.

Now my job was to write that up, and make it interesting and engaging for young readers, including Encyclopedia Eddie. It had to a have a fun-factor. But what?

I tried lyrical prose à la Jacqueline Briggs-Martin’s Snowflake Bentley. My draft? Utterly boring.

Next, I revised the content into a series of poems, recalling Joyce Sidman’s Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold. Hers? Beautiful. Mine? Meh.

Then I played with the rhythm, repetition, tone, and voice, using The Extraordinary Mark Twain, According to Susy by Barbara Kerley and Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter for inspiration, among other outstanding biographies. Soon, I found my own way into John Deere’s story and things became more fun, for me and for readers.

After the book came out, a teacher emailed me to ask if John had used the Engineering Design Process. My first reaction was: His plow was developed in 1837—way before some fancy-pants innovation technique. Then I looked up “engineering design process.” Turns out, John nailed it!

So, when I say that the book had nothing to do with STEM, I mean that I didn’t set out to write a STEM book. I wanted to write the surprising story of one of America’s game-changers in an interesting and engaging way. Tim Zeltner’s beautiful artwork complements the effort and captivates readers, particularly visual learners. Together, I think we organically and authentically created a STEM picture-book biography—and that’s why it works.

When young readers discover a picture-book biography about a scientist, inventor, engineer, mathematician, or artist they know nothing about—or think they know everything about—magic can happen. Educators, librarians, parents: please, read the books aloud. Share the back matter. Then deconstruct the book together:

• Can you find technical information tucked into the story? What did you learn?

• Ask why this person mattered then, and why this person matters now.

• Discuss how the illustrations help tell the story (or not).

• Look for patterns in the illustrations and text.

• Ask how does this story change how you think about that time period, place, culture, etc.?

• What would you tell a younger reader about this book? About this person?

STEM/STEAM picture-book biographies can help stretch readers’ imaginations while conveying truths about our world, past and present. These books offer accessible ways to see how one person (or a group) can make a difference or lead to changes. Picture-book biographies can inspire more inquiry and reinforce STEM learning. They can even be fun to read, for Encyclopedia Eddie and the rest of us. 

I’m looking forward to talking more about picture-book biographies and other STEM books at the 2019 NSTA Convention’s Linking Literacy event on April 12-13, in St. Louis. And I’ll have a sneak peek there of my next book, Samuel Morse, That’s Who!

Who’s ready for some STEM-book fun? We are, that’s who!

Tracy Nelson Maurer has written more than 100 nonfiction books for children, including the award-winning John Deere, That’s Who! (Henry Holt) and Noah Webster’s Fighting Words (Millbrook). Her next book, Samuel Morse, That’s Who! (Henry Holt), launches June 25, 2019; it’s already a Jr. Library Guild Selection. She loves the writing process and talking about books. Come join the discussion!

Learn more at Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@ReadTracyMaurer).

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest Post by Shana Keller

Tinkering? Forget it. If a toy broke, my mom threw it out. No matter how badly my siblings and I wanted to take our old Etch-a-Sketch apart—our gadgets and gizmos ended up in the trash. Always. What are you going to do with it? It’s broken! Don’t make a mess! —these were the common reactions to our requests.

It’s no wonder I grew up with the impression that ‘science’ was something other people did in a cold lab with petri dishes, or in a hidden office somewhere behind government walls and granite mountains. Over the years, the ‘science’ I was interested in, what I now know as reverse-engineering, was slowly pushed out of my reach.

So, when Ticktock Banneker’s Clock was nominated as a Best STEM book by the Children’s Book Council in 2017, my wonder came back in unexpected ways. I was excited to hear from teachers about their excitement to use my book, especially when I think back on how badly I wanted to build things and take them apart.

Thanks to the STEM/STEAM movement, there is a shift in how educators and parents view the world of science. The shift, even for myself and as a parent, is in realizing and remembering children have a “natural sense of wonder” and that it’s important to let them explore.

Parents and educators are seeing the value in what were once deemed silly games and hobbies. Games like twenty questions. Hobbies like collecting cicada exoskeletons, cloud counting, or, for lack of a better term, specie spying. I spent entire afternoons on a curb watching roly-polys roll, completely unaware my observations of these pill millipedes were scientific.

Rachel Carson, a renowned scientist said, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

As educators and parents, our biggest job is to share that wonder with them. To let them take apart their toys, to let them take pictures and draw sketches of what interests them, to encourage their observations and play. How fun would it be to show up in class and your teacher tells you, “Today, we’re dissecting toys.” Well, it’s happening.

These days, there are Maker Spaces and what I think of as Tinker Spots, found not only in schools, but libraries and children’s museums across the country. Last year, I had the honor of participating in a design challenge program that supported the Maker Movement in Pittsburgh. Those young inventors amazed me, not only with their products, but their fearless attitude towards science.

Science may have intimidated me as a child, but writing about it now, and in a way that inspires children to take their own actions, is simply amazing. I’ve seen how picture books can be used as launch pad to help children sift through their wonders. Take a look at the photo of a clock a young middle-schooler from south Florida created after reading Ticktock Banneker’s Clock!

There is no question that picture books can be used as a tool of research (but don’t call it that) to assist children when their natural curiosity takes over—even when and especially if they don’t have an adult that supports their interests.

To further this discussion, I will be a part of the Linking Literacy conversation at the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, April 12-13.  I look forward to meeting with educators, discussing ideas, and signing books!

Shana Keller writes books for children and young inventors. Entrenched in the world of STEM/STEAM, she is happy to share her experience filing a patent for her own invention. She serves on the Advisory Board for the Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education founded by Dr. LaGarrett J. King. In addition to Ticktock Banneker’s Clock (Sleeping Bear Press, 2017), Shana has two forth-coming picture book titles by Sleeping Bear Press. For more information, please visit her online at  

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest post by Anita Sanchez

When I was in third grade, I had a goal. A goal I pursued with single-minded enthusiasm, dedication, and energy. I was determined to get into Narnia.

I’d been enraptured by reading The Chronicles of Narnia, but reading about it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to go to that magical land, smell the flowers, talk with unicorns, run my hands through Aslan’s mane. I wanted to have a real, hands-on experience, dragons and all. I spent a lot of time that summer prowling the back of my grandparents’ old wardrobe, tapping on the back wall.

Today, as an educator and writer, my goal has not fundamentally changed. I still want to experience things directly, hands-on, not through a computer screen, or even through the pages of a book. And that’s what I want for my readers, too: close-up, hands-on learning that engages all the senses. Ironically, I write in the hope that kids will stop reading my books—that they will get up and go outdoors, drawn by an irresistible curiosity to see for themselves what I’m writing about.

I’m a writer of science books for children, but my other job is being an environmental educator, working at nature centers and schools. I take students outdoors for science classes–students of all ages, from preschool to college. The tools of my trade are insect nets, hand lenses, feathers, mammal bones, and birds’ nests. During my classes we wade in streams, turn over rotting logs, watch chickadees, observe tadpoles. We get wet, scratched, mosquito-bitten, and muddy.

Over the years, I’ve noticed, it’s gotten harder and harder to persuade my students to leave the blacktop behind. Many children today have a disconnect with nature that is truly scary. Just the other day I led a group of suburban kids on a nature walk.

“Wow!” said one little boy, picking up something small and round. “I never thought I’d see one of these in real life.”

He was referring to an acorn. He’d seen one on TV, in the movie Ice Age, but hadn’t realized that acorns really existed.

Kids love to experience nature in books, on TV, or in the safe and virtual reality of a computer screen. They especially love the most dramatic parts of the natural world: sharks, tornadoes, piranhas, volcanoes. But few kids will ever witness a real volcanic eruption or swim with an actual great white—they’ll never experience these things directly. In my books I write about the adventures waiting to be had nearby, about the enchantment of finding earthworms and slugs, stomping through mud puddles and picking dandelions—things that kids might be able to find even in the most urban of schoolyards. My books are set close to home to open the possibilities of real-life nature exploration in every child’s environment.

My book Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Natu0re’s Other Decomposers (HMHKids, 2019)deals with the weird topic of decomposition. In researching it, I wanted to look for examples that kids could experience for themselves—opportunities to observe, touch, and yes, smell things in the act of decomposing. I didn’t have to look very far–decomposition begins when a kid takes a bite of hot dog, and small bits start decomposing between their teeth. Decomposition isn’t something that occurs only in the wilderness; things decompose every day in the refrigerator (mystery meat and green-furred cheese), in the lunchroom trash can, and on the playground.

In my books I often include activities to help students conduct their own experiments. In Rotten I added many sidebars titled: “Rot It Yourself.” I wanted to show my readers how to participate in science by adopting an earthworm, dissecting a rotting log, building a compost pile, or measuring rates of decomposition of buried paper vs. plastic in the back yard.

Perhaps the greatest learning experience when kids figure out how their own bodies work. In my book Itch: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch (HMHKids, 2018) I introduce young readers to something they don’t think about a lot–their own skin. The book explains how this marvelous organ works to protect them, why it gets itchy, and how it heals. It also explores the life cycles of some of the common itch-causing culprits like mosquitoes and poison ivy, and my hope is that the book will make kids less fearful of going outdoors.

I hope my books will help young scientists begin the process of asking questions and discovering their own answers. Finding ways to observe, touch, smell, and listen to the real world can help children have experiences more magical than any to be found in Narnia.

As a science writer, Anita Sanchez is especially fascinated by plants and animals that no one loves. Her books are intended to get kids excited about science and the wonders of the natural world. As an environmental educator for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, she developed curricula for environmental science programs serving thousands of students. Many years of field work and teaching outdoor classes have given her firsthand experience in introducing students to the terrors and joys of nature. She is the award-winning author of many books on environmental science for children and adults.


“One item which seems quite naturally to be inseparable from you in your work is your notebook. Many years ago, during my Congo wanderings, I was given a ring file pocketbook, which has been a treasured and useful memento of that country for more than three decades. . .Jack Vincent, British ornithologist

Scientists tend to be fanatical about their notebooks. For those who get into the habit of recording in a notebook, it becomes a confidante. It includes their thoughts, actions, evaluations, dreams, speculations, observations, tedious lists of specimens, and much more. It’s fitting that young scientists turn to these historical journals for clues on what to include in their own science notebooks.

Observing Historical Science Notebooks

To write this book, I looked at hundreds of different notebooks from a variety of American scientists. Most came from the Smithsonian Field Book project and the National Library of Medicine. Notebooks from biologists and doctors are different. Throw in the notebooks from the Silicon Valley engineers housed at the Computer History Museum, and scientists’ notebooks expressed many different goals and approaches. Some emphasized one step of the scientific process more than another. Each notebook looks different because scientists were trying to accomplish different goals. Even the shapes of the physical books varied.

My STEAM Notebook: Helping Kids Write About Their Observations |

Engineers tended to emphasize idea generation, the design phase, or drawings of how to build something. Biologists tended to tell a narrative of observing or collecting specimens in the wild. In the laboratory, notebooks tended to be more procedural, or “this is what I did and how I did it.” Medical research included be exact chemical procedures in a laboratory. Notebooks for those researchers held pages of mathematical figures, dense tables of data, and little narrative. Doctors involved in public health, however, traveled to sites with disease outbreaks, worked with community organizers to make changes, or worked on public education campaigns. Their notebooks are often travelogues with notes on disease scattered throughout.

Some scientists were compulsive about writing down everything, while others merely jotted things now and then. Overseas travel often inspired a detailed diary, and then the scientist wrote nothing for a decade. But through the varied experiences of American scientists, the notebooks are there. Why?
Scientists felt compelled to keep a notebook for many reasons. For engineers, a notebook could be a legal document, the basis of a patent filing. Other scientists seemed to have a sense of destiny and wanted to record something for later generations to read. Others were just bugged by an idea and wanted to work it out on paper.

Essentially, they all had to address the basic question of all writing: who is your audience? Yourself or others?

Process v. Product based Science Notebooks

Most notebooks I looked at took a process-based approach, which means the notebook was a record of the process of exploring science. These notebooks were written by the scientists for themselves. Even when there was a sense that this record might be historically important, scientists often skipped days in recording data.

NSTA Recommends This Book for Writing About Science
The National Science Teacher’s Association publishes a site that recommends books for teaching science, NSTA Recommends. This is their review of MY STEAM NOTEBOOK
Reviewed by Steve Canipe
Director, Science, Mathematics & Instructional Design Technology

This book, written by Darcy Pattison and entitled My STEAM Notebook: 150 Years of Primary Source Documents from American Scientists, at first look might well draw a startled reception from teachers and parents. The reason for this is that the book is mostly blank pages. A reader might well think what is this? Ms. Pattison, the author, explains her reasoning for blank pages in the well–written introductory notes. She has poured through many scientific notebooks used by American scientists, ranging from those in the mid–1800s to the end of the 20th century and it appears her purpose is several fold. One, she wants to introduce the idea that all scientists keep a journal, notebook, or other record of their observations, experiments, experiences, etc. Two, she wants to inspire young scientists to start or keep doing good record keeping and has provided a blank template to follow. Read the full review here.

By contrast, most recommendations about student science notebooks take a product-based approach. Students must complete a project with certain required elements, and the teacher grades the notebook. Scientists are focused inward on their own goals, experiences, and projects. Students, because they produce a product-based notebook, must look outward. Scientists write for themselves; students write for their teacher. Like any writing project, audience is a key consideration of what and how something is written.

One element almost universally required in student notebooks is a question. Often called a focusing question, it serves to guide the rest of the inquiry. After examining historical examples of notebooks from scientists, I rarely found a focusing question. That’s not to say that the question wasn’t in the scientist’s mind, but it wasn’t expressed on the pages of notebooks. Scientists were usually clear in their inquiry goals and didn’t need to state the question so others could evaluate it. Again, it’s the difference between inward or outward facing purposes for a notebook.

Another way to say this is that process-based notebooks are best used for formative assessment, those which monitor student understanding and then modify the course work to aid understanding. Product-based science notebooks are best for summative assessment such as when the teacher evaluates and assigns a grade.

150 Years of American Scientists: Read Their Science Notebooks

The scientists whose notebooks are included here span about 150 years of American scientific study, from the mid-1800s to the end of the 1900s. In the process of researching available historical notebooks, I concentrated on seeking examples that would help students learn to use their own notebooks to record questions, observations, and conclusions. The historical notebooks are arranged here in a progression that will help students understand the potential for what a notebook can do for their scientific understanding.

My STEAM Notebook - Alexander Wetmore
Alexander Wetmore in Panama, where he collected bird skins.

Alexander Wetmore, nicknamed Alick (pp. 16-17), is presented first because his first recording of a bird occurred at age eight while in Florida on a vacation. He described the pelican as a “great big bird that eats fish.”5 Throughout his teen years, he kept a monthly record of all the birds he saw. By age 15, he had published his first article in 1900 in Bird Lore magazine, “My Experience with a Red-headed Woodpecker.” (See pp. 148-149 for a reproduction of that article.) Wetmore’s notebooks show that observations can be done at any age. Lifelong passions can begin in an elementary school science notebook.

If you pare it down to essentials, the only things recorded in a notebook are words and drawings. Of course, photographs, worksheets, or other memorabilia can be fastened inside the notebook, but what students will actually write are words and drawings. Students need to explore a variety of ways to use text and art.

Acc 01-096, Box 1, Folder 26; Page of field notes documents M. Moynihan’s behavioral observations of gulls (laridae) in South America. This messy notebook from Mortin Moynihan shows a labeled drawing, lots of text, and a bit of doodling.

Martin H. Moynihan (pp. 28-29) presents a variety of options: text only, drawings only and a combination of text and drawing. Sometimes, text dominates, and other times drawings dominate.

William Healey Dall notebook from MY STEAM NOTEBOOK, by Darcy Pattison
Dall drew three potty made my natives. Without the text, though, it’s impossible to understand the size of each pot. The sketch and text together provide the needed information.

Likewise, William Healey Dall (pp. 40-41) gives students a look at additional options possible in a notebook. He drew maps, native people, and interesting objects while he kept a careful record of his travels to Alaska. Look especially at his drawing of native pottery. While it’s interesting, the drawing alone doesn’t tell enough because we don’t know the scale. Only the text explains the size of each pot. Students need to learn to use text and drawings together to give a more complete understanding of what is observed.

Joseph Nelson Rose cactus expert, from MY STEAM NOTEBOOK, by Darcy Pattison
When Joseph Nelson Rose collected Cactus, it included photos, seeds, pressed leaves, flowers and descriptions of each cactus.

A basic skill that students need is the ability to make a careful observation. Joseph Nelson Rose’s cactus example (pp. 52-53) is excellent because he includes descriptions of color, size, shape, and number. Notice too that he uses scientific vocabulary. As students write in notebooks, observations will be more exact as they learn the scientific names for objects, anatomy, and so on. For that, use My Glossary in the back of this book. However, remember that students may also choose to define words in context.

Lucille Mann feeds a tiger cub. From MY STEAM NOTEBOOK, by Darcy Pattison
Lucille Mann feeds a tiger cub at the National Zoo. She accompanied her husband on animal collection trips and wrote narratives that bring the trips to life.

Lucile Mann (pp. 64-65) was the wordsmith in the family, leaving the public speaking to her husband, William “Bill” Mann, Director of the National Zoo. Because she worked first as an editor, her diaries are carefully typed and edited. One type of writing found over and over in science notebooks is a narrative, or a description of something that happened to them. Mann’s narrative writing skills are shown by her use of sensory details in her travel descriptions.

Boy holds a board showing tape worms taken from his body. From MY STEAM NOTEBOOK, by Darcy Pattison
Scientists Fred Soper worked in public health in the US and South America. One project worked to eliminate tape worms by building better public health toilets. This boy holds a board that shows the tape worms taken from his body.

Fred Soper (pp. 76-77) also recorded narratives in his diaries kept during public health work in Brazil. He not only records scientific observations, but does it with humor. His writing voice was warm, sarcastic and funny.

Shifting focus to the drawings in the science notebooks.

Acc 000229, Box 20, Folder 1; Photographs documenting Mary Agnes Chase’s field work in Brazil, 1924-1925. With Dona Maria.

Mary Agnes Chase (pp. 88-89) originally worked as a botanical illustrator. Early in her career, she learned to use a microscope which helped her make observations that brought her work to life. She also used photography extensively later in her career, and it’s interesting to discuss with students the role of a botanical illustrator as compared with a photographer. Illustrators are free to combine elements from different seasons: for example a flower and a fruit. Photographers are restricted to only what their cameras can record. Also look at how carefully her type-written pages are edited.

DONALD S. ERDMAN’S NOTEBOOK: RU 007428, Box 1, Folder 1; “Account book and one sheet of paper dating from the Spring and Summer of 1948. The account book contains lists of expenses, including the cost of purchasing specimens. The book also contains a number of sketches (some in color), labeled with genus and number (approx. U-48-123 to U-48-175), sometimes including sex, locality, and other information. Localities include the Red Sea. The sheet of paper contains a list of fish collected or seen in the Persian Gulf.”

While many of the scientists included drawings, Donald S. Erdman (pp. 100-101) took them to a new level with color (although shown in b/w here). But he didn’t use color just to use color. Instead, he describes the reason for color: that preserved fish quickly lose any color. For proper identification and understanding of the fish, color was required. Students should learn to use whatever tools are necessary to record observations.

Robert E. Silberglied (pp. 112-113) had an amazing eye for visual details. Notice the elaborate key and compass indicating north that he used on his map of Gomez Farias in Mexico. Silberglied also specialized in photography. He used ultraviolet light in his studies and photographed flowers in ultraviolet light. Optical microscopy allowed him to zoom in close on a butterfly’s wing. Though he didn’t use it, we introduce the idea of aerial or satellite photography and electron microscopy in the discussion questions.

Almost all these American scientists collected specimens. Throughout, you’ll see discussions of objects that are sent back home for further study. From Chase’s grasses to Wetmore’s bird skins, collecting items for further study is an important part of observation. Scientists were careful to record exactly when and where the items were collected. Often the descriptions involve a physical location (e.g. Silberglied’s “. . .2 miles off Mexican Highway 85”6) Temperature, weather, elevation and other conditions are often reported. Students need to learn to record these type of variables.

Watson M. Perrygo (pp. 124-125), as a taxidermist and museum curator, shows one of the final stages of observations and collection of specimens. The objects are available for various scientific studies, and they are also made available for the general public to view in a museum setting. The specimens are important historical snapshots of an ecosystem and can be compared to contemporary conditions. But they are also an entertaining way to learn more science. Museums write informational materials to help the public understand what they are seeing.

For more, see MY STEAM NOTEBOOK.

Guest post By Miranda Paul

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Those of us who love science and all things nerdy don’t have to be convinced to pick up the next STEM book. In our classrooms, there are children who gravitate toward nonfiction or fact-base chronicles of all kinds of phenomena. But we are at a time when a love for and a knowledge of science is increasingly important in society. How can we reach more readers, especially the children who might otherwise never pick up a nonfiction STEM title?

Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born by Miranda Paul
Images copyright Jason Chin 2019

Writing about the science in their life. Before it was titled Nine Months, I referred to my picture book as “The Story of You.” In my research, I tried to unlock some of the most captivating and relevant aspects of fetal development so that kids would feel an intimate sense of accomplishment. I wrote with the intention of astonishing them by the science of their own development and growth. I imagined their reactions, and then got to affirm them when I tested the advance copy with first graders:

I once had a tail?!

If I kept growing that fast, I’d be as tall as a skyscraper!

I didn’t know I could dream before I was even born. Wow, I’m awesome.

The text is based around the senses as they develop in utero—especially touch, sight, sound, and taste. Science happens every second of every day, and many adults can forget (or never learned, perhaps!) how extraordinary the ordinary can be—breathing, moving, swallowing. Though our paths into this world are varied and diverse, every human being on this planet has gone through much of what the developing baby in this book endures. The recto pages, which depict one family’s simultaneous story of getting ready for that new human being, positions the text (and the book) at the intersection of science and social studies—one of my favorite places to reside, professionally. The book becomes versatile in this regard, and as practical as it is beautiful.

Students pick up books for all kinds of reasons. Whether they want a short, accessible text or realistic, large illustrations or something that’s true and surprising or an introduction to the unknown, Nine Months has the potential to reach a range of young children. Older children—those who may be getting a new sibling or cousin, as well as those who may be only children or curious about their own development—can find a wealth of information in the four pages of back matter. Even the kid who may not be a science-lover surely will appreciate knowing more about how quickly a lion or cat can reproduce or how long an elephant’s gestation lasts, if they’re not already leaping around at the fact that they were able to do somersaults when they were “zero.”

Page from NINE MONTHS by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

Nine Months took me ten years to fully develop from concept to final text. It was the book I wanted for my daughter when I was pregnant with her brother. While there were sentimental, Hallmark-style titles about the love and preparation for a new baby, and there were great books about the facts of life, I wanted a book that combined both. A book of scientific accuracy PLUS wonder and emotion, portrayed in a meticulous and realistic way. I wanted a book that could be gifted to anyone from a toddler to a first-time mom as a baby shower gift to a teacher beginning a biology unit.

Month 4, NINE MONTHS by Miranda Paul

Expository nonfiction, especially STEM titles, have the power to reach readers who may not otherwise gravitate toward narrative nonfiction. And Nine Months combines the expository elements with a linear sequence that pulls the typical fiction reader in. Jason Chin’s incredibly detailed watercolors and actual size renditions, modeled after his own relatives (a diverse family not unlike our own) reminded me immediately of my own pregnancy. It’s the book I’ve been waiting for for ten years. But hopefully, it’s a book that fills a gap in classrooms, libraries, and households, too. Nine Months is ultimately the story of us all, and it’s hard to deny the miraculous science of our species once you know the details.

Miranda Paul is the award-winning picture book author of One Plastic Bag, Water is Water, Whose Hands Are These? and Are We Pears Yet?, the winner of a 2018 Award of Excellence from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Her 2019 titles include I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and Nine Months: Before A Baby is Born, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. Nine Months releases from Neal Porter Books at Holiday House on April 23, 2019. Learn more about Miranda at

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

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

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

Historical fantasy draws upon real history but adds fantastical elements. World-building is a basic task for fantasy authors. Both fantasy and science fiction, by definition, take place in worlds outside our own. Contemporary fantasy may draw upon our known world, but it’s not fantasy unless some rules are bent to allow a fantastical element. Present day New York City isn’t fantasy until the Statue of Liberty comes alive and walks on water. (Or something equally fantastic.)

Historical Setting for Fantasy

But there’s nothing that says you have to invent everything. For example, Donna Jo Napoli chooses a particular time period for her retelling of fairy tales. Bound is a Cinderella retelling set in the 17th century Ming Dynasty in northern China. By setting it so specifically in a historical setting, Napoli doesn’t have to invent as much. Instead, she researches, sometimes for months. The beauty of this process is that she can also change anything she wants to fit the story. Unlike historical non-fiction, or even a straight historical novel, a fairy tale retelling can change the setting to be true to the story.

Liberty’s Historical Setting: Tall Ships

Liberty by Darcy Pattison

That’s what I’ve done with my middle grade novel, Liberty. It’s the story of two pigs who vow to sail the Seven Seas together. I always wanted to write a story with .

But pigs don’t sail. How could they hold onto the ropes with their hooves? How could they climb the rigging? It’s an interesting problem, but I was determined that they would sail the Seven Seas. I wanted to write a story about characters who set their sites on an impossible dream.

Once I decided on sailing, I knew I wanted to hark back to the 1850s when the tall ships ruled the seas. These are the huge sailing vessels which set world speed records for delivering goods to the Far East and India. That meant, the story must take place in a coastal town with a large harbor that was historically used for sailing ships. Boston.

Isn’t it cool to follow the chain of thought. One decision—the characters will sail—leads to the next—1850s tall ships—which leads to the next—Boston. Decisions are sequential and depend on each decision before it. If I changed a basic assumption (they wanted to sail), the entire story would collapse.
I looked for historical maps of Boston and had fun poring over them to decide where my hero/ines would lodge and work.

Liberty’s Plot

The plot also comes from these beginning decisions. The pigs, Santiago and Penelope Talbert, have one goal: to sail the Seven Seas. But to get there entails many steps. They have to escape Old MacDonald’s farm, cross the river into Liberty—the land where any person or animal can get ahead in the world, learn to sail, get a job on a sail boat, earn money for their own boat, and finally sail across the world. Nothing can be easy or the reader won’t stick around for the journey.

Specific details again went back to the setting. One thing that tall ships delivered to India was blocks of ice. Refrigeration wasn’t invented until sometime in the 20th century. In the 1850s, though, ice could be delivered in a city. Ice boxes were common and households paid for large blocks of ice to be delivered to keep things like milk and butter cool.

Ice was cut during deep winter. Crews went out to a pond or lake and cut out blocks of ice, which were packed with pine straw into ice houses. Of course, warm weather would start to melt the ice, but it could last long into the hot weather.

The tall ships were fast enough to carry ice blocks to India. They knew that half of the ice would melt before they arrived, but in India, ice was very expensive. The premium pricing available made it a profitable journey for an ice ship.

And there’s the setting that I needed. What if my pigs could apprentice on an Ice Ship, and sail around the world to India to deliver ice?

Historical settings reduce the work necessary for fantasy world building. But the author must still make choices on where and when to follow history blindly and when to make changes. For Liberty, that was easy because intelligent animals populate the world. That’s not historical, but it’s fun fantasy.

Guest post by Laurie Wallmark

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

In choosing who was to be my next subject for a picture book biography about a woman in STEM (science, technology, math, engineering), I had to consider many factors—the availability of source material, existence of other kids’ books about her, and the importance of her contribution to STEM. The most important consideration, though, was whether the story of that person’s life and achievement would engage and inspire children.

Hedy Lamarr cover

Many adults have heard the name Hedy Lamarr. They think of her as a glamorous movie star, widely considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Few people, though, know she was also a brilliant inventor. Hedy co-invented the technology, known as spread-spectrum frequency skipping, which keeps our electronic devices—like computers, tablets, and phones— safe from hacking.

The more I delved into my research about Hedy, the more I realized she was so much more than her looks. As she put it, “People seem to think because I have a pretty face I’m stupid….I have to work twice as hard as anyone else to convince people I have something resembling a brain.” Although Hedy loved acting, she couldn’t wait for the end of each day’s filming. That was when she could work on her inventions in her home laboratory.

In thinking about Hedy’s life, I realized she would be a good role model (in some ways—not all) for young people. After all, many children have the mistaken idea that some interests and hobbies are incompatible with others. You can’t be a football player and like to sing. You can’t be good at math and be an artist. And you certainly can’t be smart and dress in the latest fashions.

I hope that by reading Hedy’s story, children will learn you don’t have to choose between their interests. (Not to mention they might learn a little science alone the way.)

Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life (Sterling Children’s Books) releases February 5, but is available for preorder now wherever fine books are sold.


laurie wallmark childrens book author

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and many national awards including Outstanding Science Trade Book and Cook Prize Honor Book. Her picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and is a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Her next book, HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE (Sterling Children’s Books), releases in February 2019.Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA.

Find her online at her, Facebook or Twitter

By Anna Crowley Redding

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Hello, science teachers, educators, readers, and fellow writers!  I am thrilled to be a guest blogger on the MimsHouse blog today to share with you an idea that is going to prepare our students for the enormous technological revolution at humanity’s doorstep. I’m talking artificial intelligence, mass acceptance and use of driver-less automobiles, medical breakthroughs, human colonies on other planets, etc. This is such an exciting time to be alive and engaged in all things STEM/STEAM!

I am on a mission to help students of all ages fall in love with problem solving––which really means, falling in love with failure. Honestly, this came naturally to us as toddlers. When we were conquering walking, we fell almost every time.

Sometimes this led to tears. But more often than not, it meant making an adjustment in our balance, gait, or focus. Sometimes, all that was required was a little bit more confidence in taking that leap of faith that we could, in fact, make it two steps without holding on!

Google It by Anna Crowley Redding

The same was true with building towers out of blocks. When the tower crashed down over and over again, we eventually learned engineering (build a stronger foundation) and physics (don’t cantilever that rectangle block quite so much and oh, gravity…ugh.) And you probably figured out there are few block structures that can survive the “curiosity” of a younger sibling.

But somewhere along the way, this spirit of trial and error is often replaced with a quest to get the answer right the first time. Perfection becomes the goal. Our shift is changed from the process to the answer. And not just any answer. No, the right answer. On our first try. And really what that means is falling out of love with problem-solving in falling in love with perfection.

Believe me when I tell you that you are reading the words of a Type-A person who loves getting things right. But writing Google It: A History of Google (Feiwel and Friends 2018) and Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World (Feiwel and Friends 2019) was an eye-opening experience for me! The two students who invented the Google search engine didn’t set out to do so. They set out to solve a problem. Solving that problem resulted in nothing less than organizing the internet. Organizing. The. Internet.

When Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, started his rocket company (from scratch), it wasn’t to indulge his childhood pastime of building launchable rocket kits. No, he started from scratch because he realized the United States had no plan for getting to Mars. And for Elon, getting to Mars solves a specific problem that had weighed on him for years: a mass extinction event like catastrophic climate change, a planet destroying asteroid strike, etc.

In both cases getting these companies off the ground, solving all the mini-problems that cropped up meant failing over and over and over again. Back to the drawing board, tweaking, changing, adjusting and even starting over. This process required asking fundamental questions, cleaning the slate of conventional wisdom and assumptions so you can think about the problem in a new way.

Elon for example, traveled to Russia three times to buy inter-continental ballistic missiles. (Yes, it’s true). But, to hear him tell it, he quickly discovered they were artificially overpriced. Why not build a rocket himself? And to do that, he had to ask himself questions like this one: What is a rocket anyway? If a rocket is made out of these particular atoms, what’s the best way to arrange them?

Answering these questions and others with a successful, less-expensive rocket was no easy task. But he did it. And he accomplished this by dedicating himself to the question, to the problem, and not the solution. Had he dedicated himself to the solution, he might have spent all his money on those Russian ICBM’s, and maybe something would have gone wrong. And, then, what if he no longer had the money to solve the original problem of ensuring humanity survives an extinction event?

Enter today’s students, teachers, writers, and readers. How can we shift our focus back to falling in love with problems, dispensing with convention and dearly held assumptions? What if we pushed our thinking in new directions? What if students began hunting for problems, and trying different ways to solve them? And what if we, as coaches and mentors, let them fail––so that ultimately, they might solve a problem.

These ideas are at the heart of my books. Taking a deep dive into the lives of people who devote themselves to problem-solving has changed my perspective. I’m inspired and I want to share that love for tackling the unknown, the uncharted, and the unsolved with all of you.

In addition to the amazing NSTA BEST OF STEM books on the 2019 list, here are some other books that might encourage your students and support them on their problem-solving quests! See you in St. Louis!


p.s. (Full disclosure, tonight I am teaching my 7-year-old how to chop garlic and my biggest challenge will be to close my mouth and breathe until he figures it out without me taking over!)

For your youngest readers:

The Rabbit Listened. By Cori Doerrfeld –  Oh this book! Let’s face it, failure is necessary. But my goodness it can come with a heap of emotions. This book is a beautiful and gentle primer in how to handle those feelings and how to support your friends.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Chapter Books:

Any mystery series. After all, solving a mystery is solving a problem. But let’s face it, mysteries make the process even more fun than closing the case! Nate the Great, A-Z Mysteries, The Magic Treehouse, and so many more.

Middle Grade:

I Survived Series by Lauren Tarshis. Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett. So many more!

Young Adult:

Google It: A History of Google – How Two Students’ Quest to Organize the Internet Changed the World by Anna Crowley Redding

Anna Crowley Redding, children's book author

ANNA CROWLEY REDDING: Before diving into the deep end of writing for children, Anna Crowley Redding’s first career was as an Emmy-award winning investigative television reporter, anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Redding now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for kids and teens — which, as it turns out, is her true passion.

Guest post by Heather Montgomery.

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Inquiry. It’s a process we all know. Research shows its power, and as people who want young minds to grow, we all know its value. But, how do we jump-start inquiry?

Something Rotten by Heather Montgomery cover image

In my own experience, the greatest learning has come when I have had to fill in the gaps. What if we could provide that opportunity to kids?  

Here’s how it happened to me one day:

I was minding my own business, dissecting a road-killed snake. Not finding any good info on that particular species’ anatomy, I googled up a diagram of a related snake. As I snip-snipped my way through those gushy guts, the parts in front of me didn’t line up with that neat little diagram.

My mind insisted that I dig deeper.

I clipped, I snipped, I slipped all of the parts out on the table. With things sprawled out, I could see things were missing. What was wrong? Sudden I had questions and I had hypotheses. Two hours later I found myself feeling like I had made the discovery of a lifetime.

Now, what I learned that day was not new to science but it was new to me and I’ll never forget it. That process of trying to make the pieces line up, of trying to rectify the difference between the printed page and the real world, of trying to settle the cognitive dissonance going on in my mind – that is where the true learning set in. It is what prompted a 12-year journey and resulted in Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill.

What if we set students up for that? What if we give them the opportunity to fill in the gaps? What if we let them craft their own stories of discovery?

But trusting that process when crafting lessons (and books) can be hard. And putting this into practice can seem daunting. There are expectations, standards, and deadlines to meet.

How can we set up young minds for inquiry?

When teaching about metamorphosis, what if we give them a diagram of a butterfly lifecycle but a jellyfish as a subject?

Think of the standards they’d address without even knowing it:

Cover Little Monsters of the Ocean by Heather L. Montgomery
  • Asking questions
  • Developing models
  • Cause and effect
  • Patterns
  • Compare and contrast
  • Integrate knowledge from illustrations

What if we make the statement: “Bugs are just like people.” Then let the students prove us wrong (or right)? You know those students who like to prove us wrong – they will be engaged.

Bugs Don't Hug
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
  • Patterns
  • Distinguish point of view
  • Opinion writing

What if we set up their lab exercise for failure? When what they find in their pan can’t possibly match what is on their worksheet? Think of the critical thinking that could go on! The analysis, the evaluation, the leaning close and scratching of heads? The whispering to the partner? The decision about ignoring the mis-match or actually using the evidence in front of their eyes?

  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Constructing explanations
  • Structure and function
  • Provide reasons supported by facts
  • Write informative texts

A young man, Francoise Malherbe, who lives in South Africa became fascinated by bones when he was 3 years old. After a meal, he asked his father for the fish bones. As he grew, he kept collecting bones and started piecing the skeletons together. By age eleven he was collecting one road-killed animal a month and rearticulating it. Can you imagine what Francoise was learning? When you go to re-build a giraffe there are no easy instructions.

This is the kind of story that fuels my writing. This is the kind of thinking that fuels me as an educator. When inquiry takes over, genuine learning happens. Where can I leave gaps for kids to fill in their story?

Come join me at the Linking Literacy event during the NSTA National Conference, St. Louis, MO, April 12-13. There will be panel discussions, small group conversations with authors, and book signings.

Can’t make it? Check out #FreshLookAtRoadkill to follow the inquiry story.  


Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her recent titles include: Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis under the Waves (Millbrook Press, 2019), Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and Their Kids (Charlesbridge, 2018), and Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill (Bloomsbury, 2018). Inquiry is her life. 

Guest post By Jessica Fries-Gaither

GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Meet the Authors at Linking Literacy Event, 2019 NSTA Convention April 12, 2019

When I began my career as a science educator 20 years ago, I knew that my job was to provide interesting learning experiences for students to engage in scientific practices and learn science content. Through fabulous colleagues and professional development, I’ve deepened my understanding of research-based instructional strategies and have become more effective. What I didn’t expect, however, was that my view of my role would dramatically change.

You see, I’ve come to realize that above anything else I do, my primary role is to help students see themselves as scientists. It’s not enough for them to understand concepts and be able to perform skills (although both are undeniably important). Instead, I believe, it is crucial for each student to develop an identity as someone who approaches the world in a scientific way. These dispositions remain long after facts are forgotten, and help students persist in challenging situations.

I’ve also learned that one effective way of helping students develop their identities as scientists is to connect their work with historical and contemporary scientists. While the range of excellent picture book biographies has expanded greatly in past years, there was still a missing link between students’ classroom activities and the work of professional scientists. And so I began writing children’s books to fill that gap.

Notable Notebooks

Notable Notebooks

My first book, Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Questions (NSTA Kids, 2016) profiles a group of nine diverse scientists throughout history and how keeping a notebook or journal was or is an integral part of their practice. Readers learn about the work of scientists such as Galileo, Jane Goodall, and Ellen Ochoa and even get to see snapshots of some of these historic notebook entries! The book ends with simple instructions for making and keeping a scientific notebook — perfect for kids reading this outside of school or those new to the practice. Rhyming text is aimed at students in grades 3-5, and Linda Olliver’s beautiful illustrations bring each scientist’s work to life!

The book has been quite a success, being named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 and even being sent to the International Space Station to be read by an astronaut as part of the Story Time From Space program. I’ve also heard from teachers across the country (in elementary, middle, and even high school) that their students love the book and their science notebooks, which is incredibly rewarding. It has been used as the kickoff for a year of science notebooking, a connection to existing practice, or even the launching point for a biography study of scientists.

Exemplar Evidence

Exemplar Evidence

My newest book, Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data (NSTA Kids, 2019) was released in December and I couldn’t be happier to share! A follow-up to Notable Notebooks, Exemplary Evidence profiles another set of nine scientists, including Alhazen, Nettie Stevens, and Marie Daly. In this book, the focus isn’t on record keeping in a notebook, but as the title suggests, the collection of data in both qualitative and quantitative forms. Just as in Notable Notebooks, each scientist’s story is told through rhyming text and accompanied by Linda’ Olliver’s gorgeous illustrations. The final two pages of the book walk readers through four steps of data collection and analysis.

While the target audience is children in grades 3-5, I suspect that other ages will enjoy and benefit from the book as well. I’m eager to hear how this book is used in classrooms and homes across the country.

If you attend the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis, MO in April, 2019, I will present on the topic of developing students’ identities and science and will also be part of a special series of events related to science and literacy on Friday April 12, and Saturday, April 13. I’d love to see you there!

Jessica Fries-Gaither

Jessica Fries-Gaither is the Director of Studies and the elementary science specialist at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, OH. An experienced science educator, Jessica has written two books for science teacher as well as two picture books for NSTA Press. More are in the works! Her website is


GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, St. Louis, MO April 12, 2019, 1-4 pm.
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. 23 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 15-April 9.

See the full author list at GUEST POSTS BY SCIENCE AUTHORS and the date on which they will post.

Guest Posts by Science Authors

Here’s the schedule of authors and when they will post!


January 15 Jessica Fries-Gaither Exemplary Evidence: Scientists and Their Data
January 17 Heather Montgomery Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill
January 22 Anna Crowley Redding Google It: A History of Google
January 24 Laurie Wallmark Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life
January 29 Baptiste Paul I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon
January 31 Miranda Paul Nine Months: Before a Baby is Born
February 5 Anita Sanchez Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers
February 7 Shana Keller Ticktock Banneker’s Clock
February 12 Tracy Nelson Maurer John Deere, That’s Who!
February 14 HP Newquist The Book of Chocolate
February 19 Carla Billups/Dawn Cusick The Fungus Among Us, the Good, the Bad, and the Downright Scary
February 21 Ann Rubino Emmet’s Storm & Inga’s Amazing Ideas
February 26 Mary Kay Carson Alexander Graham Bell for Kids
February 28 Darcy Pattison Clang
March 5 Jodi Wheeler-Toppen Dog Science Unleashed
March 7 Suzanne Slade Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon
March 12 Melissa Stewart Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers
March 14 Carrie J. Launius & Christine Royce, Ph.D Science and STEM Investigates Books
March 19 Jen Swanson Astronaut-Aquanaut
March 21 Patricia Newman Eavesdropping on Elephants
March 26 Heidi E.Y. Stemple Counting Birds
March 28

Jennifer Ward

Mama Dug a Little Den & I Love Birds!
April 2 Alexandra Siy Footprints on the Moon & Voyagers Greatest Hits (as a read-aloud)
April 4 Shanda McCloskey Doll-E 1.0
April 9 See You at the Conference – Wrapup Post

Opinion essays and informative essays

Mentor texts help kids write great opinion and informative essays. Opinion essays are often considered one of the hardest essays for kids to write. Partly that’s because they are still developing opinions about many topics. But party it’s hard to give the reasons behind an opinion.
Narrative, Informative & Opinion Essays Printables |

Opinion Essay: Choosing a Topic

The difficulties in writing an opinion essay begin with the topic selection. Too often, the topics assigned don’t offer real options. For example, an opinion essay about changing bedtime from 7 pm to 9 pm offers very little to write about. Of course, kids want to stay up later, and of course, parents will say no.
Kids can’t articulate a reason for staying up late, except that they WANT to.
On the other hand, elementary essays about sensitive political topics aren’t useful either.
Instead, it’s helpful to think about topics for which there are clear criteria.

Criterion are rules or ideas that control how you evaluate things.

If you have a criteria that students are always polite in the classroom, then you can evaluate every statement against this criteria. Was there comment polite or impolite?
We often have multiple criteria for choosing something. These criteria help us form an opinion.

HGTV’s House Hunters

One fun thing to do with kids is to choose an appropriate episode of HGTV’s House Hunters to watch and discuss. I especially like the International House Hunter’s version since they focus on housing in other countries. Each episode follows a family as they look at and evaluate 3 different housing options. At the end, there’s always a grid comparing the options based on criterion appropriate for that family.


  • Big Garage
  • On a Lake
  • Big Yard

There’s always a compromise because no house ever meets all the family’s criterion. It’s a great example of using criterion to form an opinion and make a choice.

Dogs and Cats

One of the easiest elementary opinion essay topics is what breed of cat or dog is best for a student’s family. That’s because there are simple online engines that help students sort through the variety of breeds.

Dog Breed Selector Tool from Animal Planet
Cat Breed Selector Tool from Animal Planet

This simple tool uses ten criterion for choosing a dog breed: size, energy level, exercise needs,play needs, affectionate level, presence of other pets, training, protection, grooming, and climate. At the end of the quiz, the app recommends a breed and gives alternates based on your criterion. Students can also add their own criterion such as family tradition, health of family member, personal preference, hunting needs, and so on.

Writing the Opinion Essay

Once the criterion are clear, it’s easy to add the needed details to an opinion essay. One girl, for instance, said that her dad had back problems and couldn’t lean over. Therefore, he needed a big dog so he could still pet the dog. Another said her Grandma always liked lap cats, so she needed a cat who would enjoy the constant contact. Each family will present different circumstances, which means each student’s essay will be unique.

Out of the ten criterion from the tools, plus the individual circumstances criterion, most students will focus on 3-4 criteria. Each criteria can be discussed in a separate paragraph, which makes the essay’s structure simple.

Opinion Essay Mentor Texts

I Want a Dog cover. Opinion and informative essays |
Make Opinion Essays simple with this mentor text!
Our titles, I Want a Dog and I Want a Cat are mentor texts for going through the process of answering the criterion questions. Cousins Dennis and Mellie must decide on the best dog or cat for each family. They talk about the different needs of each family. Each book culminates with an essay that serves as a mentor text for writing an effective opinion essay.

I Want a Cat- Opinion and Informative Essays | MimsHouse.comWriting opinion essays are easy for elementary students when you start with criterion. It allows the students to evaluate choices based on something other than whim or un-reasoned opinions. By starting with a simple choice about the best pet for a student’s family, you bring the topic to their interests and knowledge level.


Read And Write Series -Complete Handouts | MimsHouse.comClick to Download

Writing the Informative Essay

Likewise, informative essays about cats and dogs are simple for elementary students because there’s so much information.

One strategy is to write about cat or dog breeds. For example, there are several classes of dog breeds: working dogs, toy dogs, and so on. It’s simple to research these broad categories of dog breeds and write a well-organized essay. Each category will receive its own paragraph. Look for topics with a similar built-in structure!

My Dirty Dog. Opinion and informative essay mentor texts.

Another type of essay required in elementary school is the how-to informative essay. These essays are essentially instructions on how to do or accomplish something. My Dirty Dog: My Informative Essay provides mentor texts for a how-to informative essay and one for an informative essay based on categories. The trick to getting these essays right is the time words: first, next, before, after, last and so on. When students understand these words and concepts, it’s easy to put the steps in the right order.

One way to facilitate this is to present the steps on separate cards and put them into the correct time order.

Use these mentor texts and the printables to make opinion and informative essay writing in your elementary classroom a fun and simple lesson.


Tomorrow is National Bird Day! Read about the astounding story of the oldest known wild bird in the world!

Surprised scientists have discovered that some birds live longer than they had thought. Scientists had been observing albatrosses for a long time. These seabirds spend much of the year at sea, just soaring over the oceans in search of food. They only come back to land to breed, lay eggs and raise chicks.

For example, in 1975 Harvey I. Fisher (Fisher, Harvey I., Pacific Science (1975), Vol 29, NO. 3, p. 279-3000) reported that after a 13-year study of 27,667 banded Laysan Albatrosses on Midway Island, they had a life expectancy of 16-18 years. The study reported the mortality (the percentage of birds that died) at each stage of their life. For example, during egg incubation, there could be up to 25% loss in some seasons.

It seemed to be the definitive study.

And yet, scientists still continued to band birds. Why? Because there was still more to learn. What else could they learn?

BIG IDEA: Sometimes, scientists don’t know what they’ll find. They do the work and then let the data tell them things.

BIRD BANDING: Surprised Scientists Find Banding Data Helpful

National Bird Day, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross |
eBOOK AVAILABLE: Click for more information.

How do you know the age of a wild bird? Usually, you can’t.
Banding birds (or Bird ringing, as it’s known in some countries) means that a band or ring of a durable material is places on a bird. Usually it’s a metal band places on a bird’s leg. It needs to be durable, yet lightweight enough that it doesn’t interfere with the bird’s normal life. The Bird Banding Laboratory is a UGSG program that keeps track of all bird banding in the US. (

On December 10, 1956, ornithologist Chandler Robbins banded 99 incubating Laysan Albatrosses on Sand Island, Midway Islands. One of those banded birds would later astound the world. The bird banded with number 587-51945 is still alive today, over 62 years later. She is Wisdom, now banded with a special red band, Z333.

The 1975 study said that Laysan albatrosses lived about 16-18 years. And yet, Wisdom is now over 67 years old and still laying eggs and still raising chicks. They assumed that she was at least 5 years old at the time of banding 62 years ago. She could be much older and we would have no way of knowing.

In 2012, Robbins said, “While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her.”

Wisdom has astonished scientists by living 3.5 times as long as expected. Statistically, if she’s lived over 60 years, there are other Laysan albatrosses who’ve also lived a long time.

What else could scientists learn from her? They are now banding each of her chicks with a special band. Her mate wasn’t banded originally, but has been banded for several years.

Questions for your students – think about what testing/observations methods would help answer these questions:

  • What else could scientists learn from Wisdom?
  • Do all Laysan albatrosses live longer than expected? Is a normal lifespan 16-18 years, and Wisdom is just an unusual bird?
    If there are short-lived and long-lived albatrosses, how are they different?
  • Will Wisdom pass her long-life to her children? Will they also live a long time? How long will be before we know the answer to this question?
  • How long has her “husband” lived? Has she had more than one husband?

Sometimes, previous research, such as the 1975 study of Laysan albatross populations seems to answer all the questions. However, science is about repeating the observations over time. Scientists observe, collect information and data, and then do it again. Only after observations have been repeated many times will they call the results a fact. Scientists will continue to band albatrosses, re-catch some albatrosses and report the data, and do it again.

Banding gives information about how long a bird lives, nesting habits, and migration habits.


National Bird Day, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross |
eBOOK AVAILABLE: Click for more information!

With new technology, scientists would like to track the location of birds over time. However, there are technological challenges. A tracking system is known as a GPS or Global Positioning System. The problem is the weight of these systems. Birds weight very little and can only carry certain weights; of course, each species will need a different size GPS unit.

For example, purple martins spend the summer months in the northern hemisphere. But as fall approaches in July to September, they fly south to the summer in the southern hemisphere. In July-August, a group of purple martins collect at a staging area near me in Arkansas. I’d like to know where my “Arkansas flock” travels to in South American. We suspect it’s somewhere in Brazil, but no one knows. A GPS system would answer that question.

While the GPS system is too heavy for purple martins, scientists can add a tracking unit that measures how much sunlight the bird gets. The length of each day tells scientists the latitude where the bird traveled. But without the GPS unit, they can’t pinpoint the longitude. Someday, when miniaturization technology is more advanced, we may be able to track the flight patterns of the purple martins.

We may be able to track Wisdom as she soars out over the vast Pacific ocean. That’s what we hope our students will be able to do for science. Add to our knowledge of our amazing world.

Aquaman MOVIE POSTER Opening this weekend is the DC Comics movie, Aquaman, the first full-length feature film about an creature who is half-man, half fish. Arthur Curry, the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis must lead his people against his half-brother Orm, who plans to unite the underwater kingdoms and fight the surface world. It’s going to be an exciting superhero to add to the DC collection.

The myth of mermen and mermaids has a place in Greek, Irish, Finnish and other mythologies. Best known is Poseidon, king of the underworld, and his son, Triton, who used a conch shell to call his people. Often, mermen have human torsos, but fish tails.


Sleepers, Book 1, Blue Planets World series | MimsHouse.comMy science fiction novel, SLEEPERS, draws upon the mermen mythology but takes it in a fresh direction. On the planet Rison, people evolved to be able to breath underwater and on land. Humanoid in shape, they have gills under their arms.

Because this was science fiction not mythology or fantasy, though, I worked through many issues in trying to figure out how humanoids could function underwater. For example, one problem with living in the seas is the temperature. Deep oceans are cold, about 32-38 degrees Fahrenheit (0-3 degrees Celsius). Seals have waterproof fur and whales have blubber (fat) to keep them warm. How could a humanoid survive the cold without protection?

In SLEEPERS, the aliens have a magma blood cell that runs hot and is activated by the ocean depths. The deeper they go and the more pressure their bodies experience, the hotter the magma cells run, keeping their body temperature regulated.


SLEEPERS isn’t a superhero novel like Aquaman. Instead, it’s a YA SciFi saga that begins when scientists on planet Rison realize that their planet is going to implode. They warn their governments years before it happens. Of course, they search for ways to stop the planetary implosion, but they are unsuccessful. They also sent out spaceship probes. They searched the universe for a suitable planet to which they could move.

Like any political situation, there were naysayers who slowed down the search for a new home. But they lucked out when they got a message from Earth. The Arecibo Message (this part is based in fact!) was a 1974 radio message sent toward globular star cluster M13 in hopes of encountering intelligent life.

Once contact was made with Earth, the Risons begged for a chance to evacuate people to Earth. “You only live on land,” they said. “Allow us to live in the seas.”


Essentially, it’s the question faced over and over by own own countries as they face immigrants and refugees fleeing this conflict or that war. Should we/could we/will we allow these foreigners—these aliens—to enter our country. It will be uncomfortable. They’ll take our jobs, food, land, and more, we worry. The humanitarian needs are weighted against our selfish desires to take care of our own homes. In many ways, the Blue Planets World series is a commentary on our strengths, weaknesses and struggles as humans as we consider other humans in distress.

But at it’s core, it’s an adventure that takes the teen reader on a thrilling ride.


The series is set up in the prequel, which is the story of First Contact between Risonians and Earth. We guarantee that you’ll be able to read this ebook on the device of your choice.

Get Your FREE Short Story

ENVOYS - Prequel

The Blue Planets Series

Earth finally hears from space:

"You only live on land.

Allow us to live in the seas."


Powered by ConvertKit

The BIG IDEAS in SCIENCE blog series

Big ideas in science are ideas, concepts, processes, or lessons that aren’t part of the science curriculum – but should be. Writing about big ideas in science wasn’t my plan. Instead, I thought I was writing about one amazing animal or one fascinating scientist at a time. However when I write, I’m always looking for something to spark my interest. Turns out, it’s the big ideas in science that make a topic fascinating enough to write about. I care about how this one specific example of science fits into a child’s overall understanding of science.

For the next year, I’ll post once a month on BIG IDEAS IN SCIENCE.
BIG IDEAS OF SCIENCE: Teachers Impact Can Last Centuries |

BIG IDEA: The Impact of Science Teachers

On December 28, 1848, as part of the Royal Institution’s Juvenile Christmas Science Lectures (London, England), Michael Faraday gave a scientific lecture to juveniles (kids). He called the lecture, “The Chemical History of a Candle.” British scientist Faraday is known as a superb experimenter, able to set up and conduct experiments. And he was an exciting lecturer, using experiments in his lectures. He always asked, “What is the cause? Why does it occur?”

Michael Faraday is consistently on lists of the Top 10 Scientists. He’s most famous for his work in electro-magnetic rotations, which is the basis of the electric motor. In chemistry, he discovered two elements, chlorine and carbon. He also experimented with steel alloys and optical quality glass. When he needed a convenient source of heat, he invented the Bunsen burner.

His candle lecture is the most famous science lecture ever given. The Royal Institution began giving juvenile lectures during the Christmas holiday in 1825. Since then, it’s run every year except during World War II. Faraday’s candle lecture was published in 1861 and has never gone out of print.

Think of that, science teachers! What if you gave a student lecture, published it and it stayed in print for 150+ years?

What was so wonderful about the lecture?

Fellow naturalist William Crookes described Faraday’s lectures this way: “All is a sparking stream of eloquence and experimental illustration.”

In other words, he was a gifted speaker with the ability to keep an audience fascinated. He knew what would keep their interest. One of his props was a candle salvaged from the wreck of the Royal George, which sunk on the 29th of August, 1782; yet the candle still burned brightly when lit.

Second, Faraday was aware of cutting-edge science of his time. One of the candles he showed was made from paraffin, which had just been discovered a year or two earlier. It was distilled from peat from peat bogs.

Faraday’s explanations were clear and understandable. He organized his lecture in a series of steps and explained each step thoroughly before moving forward.

BIG IDEA in SCIENCE: A good science teacher can have a long-term impact.


Burn: Michael Faraday's Candle | MimsHouse.comI took Faraday’s original 6500-word lecture and reduced it to 650 words. Of course, a picture book also has the advantage of illustrations. The diagram of a burning candle, and of the sources of candle wax are interesting and allow for fewer words.

Page from BURN: Michael Faraday's Candle |

In the editing process, word choice was hard. One problem is that Faraday’s lecture has archaic language. For a children’s book, it was important to keep the vocabulary under control. Archaic British expressions were the biggest hurdle in writing the story. In the end, I left some touch of archaic language, while updating most of the text to modern language. It’s a delicate balance to achieve.

I only hope that this version of Faraday’s candle lecture will have its own long life.

The 2018 Christmas Lecture will be given by biological anthropologist, author and broadcaster, Prof Alice Roberts, and Genetics expert Prof Aoife McLysaght, will take us on a fascinating journey to answer the most fundamental of questions: Who am I? The lectures will take place on December 11, 13, and 15, 2018.

Wisdom Returns to Midway Island

The US Fish and Game service announced this week that Wisdom, the Midway Albatross has returned to Midway Island for the 2018 nesting season. And she’s laid an egg! They say, “Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai return to the same nest site on Midway Atoll each year. Albatross often take time off to rest between egg-laying years, but the pair have met on Midway to lay and hatch an egg every year since 2006.”

Photo of Wisdom on Midway Island 2018
Wisdom and her egg on Midway Atoll in 2018. Photo credit Madalyn Riley /USFWS. Click to read their article.

I first heard her story in 2011, because she survived the Japanese tsunami that struck in March that year, killing thousands and destroying a nuclear plant. Even seven years ago, it was an amazing story of survival. That’s when I worked with illustrator Kitty Harvill to write her story.

How Old is the Oldest Wild Bird in the World?

Answer: The oldest wild bird in the world is at least 68 years old.

  • How to a bird’s age? We don’t know exactly how old Wisdom, the Midway albatross is because no one was there at her birth. However, she was banded on December 10, 1956, or sixty-two years ago. At the time, she was nesting and the minimum age for these birds to breed is 5-6 years old. That means Wisdom is at least 67-68 years old, but may be much older.

    Ornithologist Chandler Robbins who banded her said in 2012, “While I have grown old and gray and get around only with the use of a cane, Wisdom still looks and acts just the same as on the day I banded her.” Robbins passed away in March, 2017.

    We must quickly qualify this answer: Wisdom is the oldest known wild bird in the world.

  • Known: If Wisdom is 68 years old, there are likely older birds, but they just didn’t get banded. With over 650,000 Laysan albatrosses nesting on Midway, it’s impossible to band every one.
  • Wild: There are older birds in captivity. For example, Cookie the Cockatoo lived to be 83 years old.

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross

Starred PW review.

Wisdom, the Midway Albatross |
Read Wisdom’s Story NOW!

Pin It