On January 25, 1862, Charles Darwin received a box of orchids. It was the beginning of a long journey toward answers. One of the orchids, the Madagascar star orchid, intrigued him. Darwin knew a lot about orchids and could name most of the orchids in the box. But he had to write to his friend to find out the scientific name of this one. The orchid had an 11” long nectary, the long tube where the plant stored nectar.

Orchids. Spread from POLLEN: Darwin's 130-Year Old Prediction

Immediately, Darwin wondered how the orchid could be pollinated. He had no idea the answer would take 130 years to fully answer.


We know that science can be a matter of hard work, hours of repeating the same experiments. As Carla McClafferty wrote in her biography, Marie Curie and Radium (p. 40), Marie Curie worked hard to separate out radium and polonium from pitchblende (p. 40 of Marie Curie and Radium, by Carla McClafferty). They discovered that there were two unknown elements. But isolating the elements out of pitchblende took four years.

Here’s a timeline of her work in isolating the element of radium out of pitchblende.

• Uranium rays found in February 1896.
• 1897 Married Pierre Curie and had a baby
• 1898 Decided to study radium rays for her doctoral thesis.
• July 1898 named new element polonium
• December 1898 named new element radium
• 1899 – 1902 It took four years to isolated .1 gram of radium salt; she did eventually isolate a full gram of radium from 7 tons of pitchblende. That’s like isolating 3 raisins from an adult elephant.
• March 28, 1902 Determines atomic weight of radium.
• 1903 Earns doctorate with her thesis
• 1903 Shared the Physics Nobel Prize, which was awarded tor Marie and Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel
• 1903-1911 She continued the work on radium
• 1911 Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911.

BIG IDEA: Sometimes, the back-up experiments give the most important results.

Darwin Almost Right

Darwin predicted that the Madagascar star orchid would be pollinated by a giant moth. 21 years later, in 1903, two etymologists, or insect scientists, published a new book about moths. Baron Rothschild and Karl Jordan described a new species of Madagascar hawk moth (Xanthopan morgani praedicta). It had a very long proboscis (straw-like mouth), long enough to pollinate the star orchid.

However, no one had actually observed the pollination happening.

POLLEN: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction is the story of the star orchid and the hawk moth and how scientists eventually proved that the moth pollinated the orchid. It only took them 130 years!

POLLEN: Darwin's 130-Year Prediction | Mims House
POLLEN: Darwin’s 130-Year Prediction.
Starred Kirkus Review
Junior Library Guild selection

In other words, scientists stand on the shoulders of the giants in science who went before them. It’s important to know the history of science and to learn about the scientific experiments and studies of previous generations of scientists. Each generation builds on the work of the previous as they work to answer questions about the world around us. Read more of the story of Darwin and his moth here.

Interview with Bill Guzules (known as the Godfrogger) about teaching kids about bullfrogs.

Launching today is ROSIE THE RIBETER: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The book chronicles the story of the female bullfrog who holds the world record for the longest triple-jump. In May, 1986, the frog jockey team of Lee Guidici, Bill Guzules, and Dennis Matasci jumped Rosie. She won with a jump of 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches. Today, we talk with Bill Guzules about the frog jump held at Sutter Elementary School, Santa Clara, CA.

Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County | Mims House
Releases on April 12, 2019

How did you and Lee Guidici get the idea to teach kids about bullfrogs? Why take bullfrogs into the schools?

We started teaching kids back when they did outdoor education program in the unified school district. The kids didn’t know the difference in frog and toad. We hit on a way to do that, because of the Frog Jump. They make a big deal to be sure the kids brought frogs, not toads. At first, we had to talk about the differences. Most kids brought toads instead of frogs.

The Frog Jump evolved from that early outdoor education program. Today, kids can easily list 5-6 differences between frogs and toads.

Frog Toad
Long legs, made for hopping Shorter legs, made for crawling
Smooth skin covered with mucus Rough, thick skin
Eggs in a cluster Eggs in a chain
Lives in water Lives on land
Round, bulging eyes Football shaped eyes, not bulging

We started the Frog Jump in 1966, so we’ve had 53 years of jumping frogs at Sutter Elementary School. In fact, we’ve had a big impact on the school. Originally, their mascot was a serpent, but that’s changed to a frog.

Our Frog Jump is a sanctioned preliminary jumping contest because we jump 3-400 frogs. The winner of our jump goes to the Frog Jubilee (Trademarked) straight into the final division. They skip the preliminaries. We currently have an alumni division, too, and the alumni winner also goes into the final.

What do kids like most about bullfrogs?

Kids and frogs go together. At Sutter Elementary, sometimes kindergartners are intimidated by the bullfrogs. They are BIG – as long as 14 inches, from nose to stretched out legs, or 8” nose to tail. The fifth graders help the kindergartners learn about the frogs. Each 5th grader works with 4-5 kindergarten kids. As they grow up, kids look forward to becoming the “big” kids who help out with the frog jump and teaching the younger kids about frogs.

The frog jump lives in the memory of these kids, too. When kids come back, they ask if they still do the frog jump. We’ve also started holding Frog Jump times for junior high kids later in the day, after their school lets out.

We haven’t had any kids that I know of become herpetologists. But lots have gone on to teach science. In fact, a couple former students currently teach in same district they graduated from

If you can’t see the video, click here to watch this 2016 TV interview with Bill Guzules.

What do kids like least about bullfrogs?

When you hold a bullfrog for a while, it dries out. They pee to wet themselves. This helps their skin stay moist, but it also makes them slippery and likely to escape. The frogs pee all over your hands and sometimes it gets on your clothes. That’s about the only thing kids don’t like about the frogs. We always have sanitary wipes available, and we remind them to wash hands before lunch

What’s the most surprising thing about bullfrogs for kids?

Kids are always surprised about how their attitude to the frogs develops. Over the years of frog jumps, they gain so much knowledge about frogs and learn to love them. They start out not touching frogs but end up loving them. They learn how to handle frogs without hurting them. They move from fear to confidence. It’s fun to see kids attend the Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp.

Are you getting ready for the frog jump this year?

Yes. It’s about time to take some dads out to catch frogs for the Sutter Elementary event. After that, we’ll catch frogs for the Frog Jubilee, the third weekend of May.

Interior page from Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County | Mims House

If a kid wins our contest, they can’t use the same frog. We always return frogs to the same waterway within a day of the frog jump. That means we have to catch more frogs for the Frog Jubilee. We always test the frogs to see if it will jump a winning distance. We’ll set aside a 16-foot-jumper for the winner from Sutter Elementary.

Bill Guzules was classroom teacher for 32 years. 5th, 6th, 4th, 4-6 gifted. He says the kids were so bright that he had to go back and review algebra for the smarter kids. He taught PE, art, speech, reading, social studies, or math. He attended San Jose State college where he started out wanting to teach high school. To help pay for school, though, he drove a bus before and after school. As a bus driver, he learned that he liked the younger kids best. Bill is currently retired and helps babysit his four grand-daughters. He’s currently a car-pool grand-dad three days a week.

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 Shanda McCloskey

I LOVE robots. I find the technology behind robotics fascinating, but what I find even more interesting is how we humans perceive them. In art and entertainment, robots are often depicted as characters with a meaningful purpose. They have names, and if they don’t, we give them one. We root for them (or not), love them (or hate them). We project emotional qualities on them. Machines don’t have emotions, yet we witness their selfless devotion, endless determination, and unwavering loyalty. A robot would sacrifice itself for the cause, its purpose. No hesitation. No questions asked.

When our first family robot (Dusty, the robot vacuum) “died”, I found myself thanking it for helping my family have a clean floor to play on for the past two years. Strange? Or strangely beautiful?

I believe the best STEM thinkers not only use their brains, but their HEARTS also to fathom EVERY possibility.

My book, DOLL-E 1.0, is about a little girl who programs a doll to be her new friend! I want to encourage you in your STEM thinking and STEM class discussions to also consider matters of the heart. These heart matters might greatly affect the science, the technology, the engineering, and the math.

Besides DOLL-E 1.0 by Shanda McCloskey (me!), other books I recommend for discussing similar thoughts above are THE WILD ROBOT and THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES by Peter Brown. For general considerations of the heart in regards to science, I recommend THE THIRTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm. All these books are excellent read alouds with students that evoke questions!

And for some hands-on-crafting-coding fun, here is a DOLL-E 1.0 STEM Project Guide written by the brilliant Colleen Graves at Makey Makey Labz:


Now that’s linking literacy!

Shanda (rhymes with panda) comes from a whole family of different kinds of artists and entrepreneurs! She studied art in Atlanta and New York City. But before writing and illustrating kids books, she taught art to high-schoolers.

Shanda is the mama of two young girls and the wife of a cute web developer. DOLL-E 1.0 is her very first book about robots or anything for that matter!

DOLL-E 1.0 is out now, and its companion story, T-BONE THE DRONE, will release September 2019.

Shanda invites you to visit her at ShandaMc.com!

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 Alexandra Siy

Everyone knows that picture books aren’t just for kids! Older children and adults love them, but does it work the other way? Can early elementary students learn from science nonfiction chapter books? The answer is yes, when we read out loud and use the valuable information provided in the back matter, and on the author’s website to make the science accessible. Reaching, and reading, for the stars builds confidence and interest in science, and introduces topics that generally aren’t covered in early picture books.

space - Voyager spaceship

Even if early elementary students can’t fully grasp all of the scientific details, they will be enriched by listening to the story of the Voyagers and the people who dreamed them up. They’ll want to see pictures of interstellar space, and gas giants, and magnetic fields. And they’ll want to listen to the Golden Record and then come-up with the songs, sounds, and images that they’d include on their “Golden Record” to send to the stars.

I reached for the stars when I decided to write about the twin Voyagers—the spacecraft that have been flying through space for over forty years. I was drawn to their story because they each carried a “Golden Record” of music, sounds, greetings, and electronic pictures from Earth. A record album flying through space…so cool!

It was fun thinking about the aliens who billions of years from now might discover Earth by playing the Golden Record. But I also had to grapple with concepts such as gravity assist, plasma waves, termination shock, and the magnetic highway. How do you explain this stuff to 12-year olds who haven’t had a semester of physics? I discovered the answers in the stories behind the science, about the thinkers whose imaginations made the Voyager mission possible. From Galileo and his telescope, to Carl Sagan who convinced NASA to photograph the Earth from 3.7 billion miles away, to Candy Hansen who found the “pale blue dot” in a sunbeam—stories are what connect us to science.

space - Footprints on the Moon

I encourage teachers and parents to help their elementary students reach for the stars by reading a chapter of science nonfiction out loud to them everyday. Supplement with images and videos from the author’s website and back pages, and you’ll be fueling the imaginations of our next generation of scientists!

Alexandra Siy is an award-winning science writer for children. Her recent title, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space was an NSTA BEST STEM book. All of her titles explore science as art by using primary source imagery to reveal the extreme—from outer space to the microscopic world. Her innovative text structures include narrative nonfiction and expository literature with an emphasis on design. The co-creator of the Nonfiction Minute, a project of iNK Think Tank, Alexandra has combined her academic training in science (she has a BA in biology and an MA in science education) with her passion for story-telling and photography. She also holds an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature from SUNY Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA in Creative Writing. Alexandra has lived in many states, including Alaska. She currently lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley with her teenage son and their cat.

 Please visit Alexandra Siy’s website for more information about her work.

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 Jennifer Ward

Nature offers an infinite source of wonder. Big wonders: just how big is the universe? Little wonders: I wonder what made that tiny burrow in the ground? Wonders that ignite the imagination and facilitate deeper questioning, discovery and understanding. Each time I embark on a writing project, it begins with a simple concept from nature based on personal curiosity. As I become enlightened during my research and inquiry, it always brings me joy to learn more about how the planet works – and I am often left feeling a bit humbled and in awe.

Learning about animal homes helps scientists and conservationists ensure the safety of species whose numbers are threatened and declining.

Mama Dug a Little Den” is a book seemingly simple in concept. It portrays a variety of animal species and their homes in the wild. But if we choose to take time to wonder deeper about wild animals and their homes – how was the home created? Why was it created? Do species use the same home, season after season, year after year? Did it take a long time to make each home? And then wonder even more – how do wild animals survive the elements they face? Extreme weather? Predation? Habitat decline? How do parent animals ensure the safety of their offspring? How are we all connected?

These are the bits and pieces – little nuggets of curiosity – that spring from nature, wind up as words on the pages of a book, then serve as a springboard to science, discovery, understanding and, perhaps most importantly, empathy for all living things among book readers.

When sharing Mama Dug a Little Den with students, there are many layers and levels of learning that may be explored that align with Life Sciences curriculum standards in the area of Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems, as well as with Structure, Function and Information Processing.

  • Read texts and use media to determine patterns in behavior of wild animal parents and offspring that help offspring survive.
  • (LS1.A.1): How do animals use external parts to help them survive, grow and meet their needs? [check!]
  • (LS1.B): Growth and Development – adult plants and animals can have young. In many kinds of animals, parents and offspring both engage in behaviors that help the offspring survive. [check!]
  • Observations (LS1.C.1): How do wild animals survive? What do they need to survive? [check!]
  • Observe/Compare/Contrast (2-LS4-1): Students may make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats. [check!]

One den in the author’s backyard, de-mystified!

Cross curricular activities make learning even more meaningful and authentic.

  • Mathematics, (2.MD. D. 10) – Draw a picture graph or bar graph to represent bio-diversity among various explored ecosystems to represent documented data.
  • Literacy, (RI.1.1)  Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
  • (RI.1.2) Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text.
  • (W.1.7) – Participate in shared research and writing projects, i.e. “How does a polar bear make a den?”  Write a “how to” sequence of instructions for specific animal homes and how each may be made.

Of course, it’s just as important to read for the sheer joy of reading, and walk in nature for the sheer joy of walking in nature. Who knows what that book or walk may lead you to wonder about? And what may be discovered?

I hope to discover you at the Linking Literacy event at the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis on April 12 – 13! This special event is going to be rich with people who value books, education, literacy, science and STEM. If I don’t see you there, you can find me on Facebook, where I share bits and news about writing, nature, STEM and birds.

Jennifer Ward is a naturalist and the award-winning author of more than 24 books for children, including Mama Built a Little Nest, an ALA Notable book, and Mama Dug a Little Den, a 2019 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, both illustrated by Caldecott honoree Steve Jenkins. Her work also includes Feathers and Hair, What Animals Wear, a 2018 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, and What Will Grow? which received 3, starred reviews and won the Growing Good Kid Book Award by the American Horticultural Society. Jennifer’s forthcoming science/nature books include, How to Find a Bird,illustrated by Diana Sudyka (Beach Lane Books, 2020); Round, illustrated by Lisa Congdon (Beach Lane Books, 2020), and Me with You, about symbiotic relationships in the wild, illustrated by Alexander Vidal (Beach Lane Books, 2021)Visit her on the web at JenniferWardBooks.com

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 Heidi E.Y. Stemple

I’m much more poet than scientist. In fact, I didn’t really think I was writing a science book. Or, for that matter, a STEM book. All I wanted to do was write a good story about a subject I am passionate about.  But, I would bet that many of the people on the Best STEM and Outstanding Science Trade Book lists would probably say the same thing.  We just want to write a good story.

OK. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, my background is really both—poetry and science.  I was raised by parents who were each passionate about one. My mother is author Jane Yolen; my father, Dr. David Stemple was equal parts computer scientist and citizen scientist.  In fact, even if you have never met my dad or me, you may still know our story.  My mother immortalized us both in her book OWL MOON (illustrated by John Shoenherr, Caldecott 1988).  My father taught me everything I know about birds, and, in particular, owls. He and I participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count for years. After his death, I continued owling for the count with my group, the O.M.G. (Owl Moon Gang) in his territory. We’re pretty good. On our best night night we called down 67 owls.

Heidi Stemple, selfie while counting birds at night.

I always wanted to write a book about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. But, I wasn’t sure how to tell the story. I thought, maybe, I wanted to tell it from the point of view of a birder going out into the field. Maybe the mom telling her daughter goodnight and going out to start owling at midnight. Eventually, I realized I was trying to tell MY story. But, my story has already been told.  The story that needed telling was that of the man who started the count–Frank Chapman.  I only knew a very little bit about the actual first count. As I researched, I became fascinated by the idea that this one man had one small idea which, as it grew, changed the way we conducted scientific surveys. The story was important, but, additionally, it became a metaphor.  Unlike the arc of a regular story, COUNTING BIRDS starts at one point and grows larger exponentially because I began with Frank and moved through the evolution of the Count to modern day. I love the message that no idea is too small to change the world. Frank Chapman wasn’t the president or a great leader–he was just a guy who worked in a museum curating bird exhibits and a writer who owned a magazine. His idea wasn’t large, in fact, it was quite small—put down your guns and count another way– with your eyes and ears. That was almost 120 years ago. We are still doing it.

illustrated by Clover Robin

Published by Quarto

The other thing I love about this story is that it is about citizen science. You do not need a degree. You do not even need to be an adult. Some of the most influential people who changed the landscape of the natural sciences were not scientists at all.  Charles Darwin was aboard a ship that visited the Galapagos Islands when he observed the differences in species that sparked his curiosity and lead him to theorize about the origins of species, natural selection, and evolution. He was not on that boat as a scientist. Though he was an educated man, he was there as a companion to the captain.  And, he changed the world.  Mary Anning was even less qualified as a scientist than Darwin. She was a 10-year-old girl living on the coast of England in the early 1800s and working with her father collecting “curiosities,” which we know now were dinosaur fossils. She was not even allowed (no women were) in the Geological Society where the rich educated men discussed fossils and made proclamations about the new science of paleontology.  She had no scientific education. She was a child. And, she changed the world. 

Truly, for me, the most amazing thing that has come out of this book is that people who have read it—both adults and children—are contacting me to say they have joined the Count. So, in a small way, I feel like the book, itself, is contributing to science. Like the story says, “all birders are welcome.” I hope that readers see that, also, all ideas are welcome. Because, every idea and every person—no matter how small—has the potential to change science and the world.

Heidi E.Y. Stemple is the author of more than 25 books including YOU NEST HERE WITH ME, FLY WITH ME, MONSTER ACADEMY, and NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IN PINK. She lives and writes on an old farm in western Massachusetts where all the animals (besides a couple of really lazy house cats) are wild. When she’s not writing, she teaches writing and visits schools to talk about being a writer. Once a year, she counts owls for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

You can learn more about her at: HeidiEYStemple.com

Or talk birds and books with her on social media:

Instagram and twitter: @heidieys

Facebook: Heidi Stemple, Heidi E.Y. Stemple, and Owl Count

On March 20, 2019, the first all-female space walk will take place. Astronuats Christina Koch and Anne McClain will go outside the International Space Station to work to replace nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries for the power channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays. This continues the ongoing work to upgrade the station’s power storage capacity.

Of course, females have been astronauts for a long time. Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space when she flew on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. Many countries — Canada, France, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom — have sent women into orbit or space on Russian or US missions. And this isn’t the first time a female astronaut has done a space walk. There have been 213 space walks on the International Space Station. The first woman to walk in space was a cosmonaut, Svetlana Savitskaya. She was on her second mission when she space-walked on July 17, 1984 as part of Salyut 7-EP2.

Sunita Williams, Astronaut & Space Walker

One interesting female astronaut is Sunita Williams, Captain, U.S. Navy. She made seven spacewalks for a total of 50 hours and 40 minutes, putting her #9 in the list of most experienced space walkers. For females, she’s only surpassed by Peggy Whitson who has ten spacewalks for a total of 50 hours and 21 minutes.

While on the International Space Station (ISS), Sunita did many animal experiments. We’ve chronicled one such story in NEFERTIT, THE SPIDERNAUT. This spread shows her holding the spider habitat aboard the ISS. A Johnson jumping spider was sent to space for an interesting experiment. Most spiders spin webs to catch food. But jumping spiders actively hunt their prey and jump to catch their food. But what would happen is a spider was sent to a micro-gravity environment such as the ISS?

Space Walker and Astronaut Sunita Williams

Nefertiti was video taped for two weeks while she hunted in her habitat. She learned to hunt by putting down an anchoring thread, then jumping. Like a bungee cord, the thread pulled her back to the habitat’s surface. When she returned to Earth, she had to re-learn how to hunt.

Nefertiti the Spidernaut | MimsHouse.com Space experiment by space walker Sunita Williams
2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

When I interviewed Sunita for the book, she said that after the experiment was over, she had a choice. She could have packed the spider away and let her die. However, she liked having something living beside her in the ISS. She set Nefertiti’s habitat near her desk. Sunita said that the spider’s eyes would follow her as she moved about the cabin space. Because of Sunita’s care of Nefertiti, she survived to come back to Earth.

Read Neferiti’s story now!

Watch the March 2019 Space Walks here.

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 Patricia Newman

If elephants could teach, what topics would they choose? Perhaps they’d introduce you to a new species of African elephant called the forest elephant, and compare them to their savanna and Asian cousins. Perhaps they’d talk about the concept of a keystone species—how elephants support all other wildlife in their habitats. Or perhaps they’d discuss specific behaviors, such as how mothers care for their young. These are some of the usual topics we teach when confronted with wildlife. But elephants can be quite chatty. They trumpet a birth, roar at death, and rumble about migration routes. Pandemonium ensues when two elephants mate (no privacy in the elephant world). They also communicate in multiple frequencies—both within and below our range of hearing.

If elephants could teach, I think they’d teach sound.

Most elementary or intermediate sound units begin with the concept of sound as vibration. What if we turn that approach upside down and begin with sounds as a means of communication before drilling down to the physics of how sound is made? In other words, start with the phenomenon: I wonder what those elephants are saying?

Eavesdropping on Elephants cover

            In Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, I tell the story of a group of scientists with The Elephant Listening Project who study forest elephants. They use sound to explain how elephants use the forest, interpret what they’re saying to one another, and help save them from extinction. As a reader, you dive into the rain forest of central Africa with the scientists to figure out how they accomplish these goals, but at the same time you are learning about sound:

  1. How scientists record sound and what they do with it once it’s recorded.
  2. How to read a spectrogram and understand terms such as fundamental frequency and harmonics. How to identify audible sound versus infrasound (generally humans cannot hear sound below 20 Hertz).
  3. How observations PLUS sound help scientists decode what elephants are saying to each other. The audio and video QR code links in the book transport you to the forest to observe—and listen to—elephants the way the scientists did.

Once you’ve read the book, try some of these simple sound experiments with children (all of which are explained in detail in my Eavesdropping on Elephants teacher guide developed by educators at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology):

  1. A language of your own (activity #3 in the teacher guide) –Team up with a partner and communicate using only sounds—no words. Can your partner tell when you’re scared? Sad? Issuing a warning? Surprised? Now watch the video of two elephants saying hello on p. 23 of the book (you can either use the QR code or type in the short link). How do the elephants communicate?
  2. Make a sound map (activity #5 in the teacher guide) — Go outside with a clipboard and a piece of paper. Sit quietly. Make a map of what you hear. Use different symbols to represent cars, squirrels, birds, etc. Can you determine which sounds are close and which are far away? Natural vs. human-generated?
  3. Decoding spectrograms (activity #9 in the teacher guide) – Study the spectrogram on page 15 of the book. What does the graph measure? Can you tell which sounds have a lot of energy behind them or are higher? Are there parts of the spectrogram that indicate sound you can’t hear? Now watch the videos listed in the teacher guide. These are cool, because you not only see and hear the elephants, but you see a spectrogram in motion as the sound occurs.
  4. Create your own spectrogram (activity #10 in the teacher guide) – Get your tech on with this activity. Download an app or spectrogram software and start experimenting. What range of frequencies can you produce? What visual patterns can you create? Can you change the sound by varying the playback speed?

Each one of these activities may be expanded to discuss aspects of sound—vibration, wavelength, loudness, pitch, and the mechanics of how we produce sound.

If elephants could teach, they’d definitely teach sound.

I hope to see you at the Linking Literacy event on April 12-13 during the NSTA National Conference in St. Louis. Panel discussions, small group conversations with authors, and book signings promise to tickle your inner STEM!

Can’t make it? Find me on Twitter @PatriciaNewman, Facebook, or Pinterest

Patricia Newman’s award-winning books show kids how their actions can ripple around the world. She is the author of the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; as well as NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Newman hopes to empower kids to think about the adults they’d like to become. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Mims House is very excited to see that POLLEN: Darwin’s 130-Year Prediction has received a starred Kirkus Review! It’s also a Junior Library Guild selection.

Sometimes scientists take a long time to reach a conclusion—and the team of Pattison and Willis (Clang!, 2018, etc.) explores that idea in this look at a hypothesis about a moth and a flower.
In 1862, Charles Darwin received orchids in the mail (the variety is depicted in the beautiful mixed-media illustrations from Willis, who painted on newspaper to create textured images). When Darwin noticed that the star orchid’s nectary was unusually long, he envisioned the type of creature, a huge moth, that would have had to evolve to allow the flower to reproduce. In 1903, two entomologists found the hawk moth, which they believed to be the insect that Darwin imagined, with a lengthy, trunklike proboscis. But there was a problem: “No one had seen the hawk moth pollinate the star orchid.” It wasn’t until 1992 that entomologist Lutz Thilo Wasserthal was able to verify that the moth and flower depended on each other. Using plenty of science vocabulary made approachable through conversational text and Willis’ kid-friendly illustrations, Pattison captures the sense of wonder that comes from discovery, even if the proof arrives 130 years after the initial idea. The intriguing moment is well-told in this third installment of a picture book series, giving real insight into the scientific process and celebrating the determined researchers who strive to further human knowledge.
An illuminating introduction to Darwin and evolutionary development for young readers.

Kirkus Reviews
POLLEN: Darwin's 130 Year Prediction | MimsHouse.com. Starred Kirkus Review.
Pollen: Darwin’s 130 Year Prediction – coming May 7, 2019| MimsHouse.com

Preorder the ebook for POLLEN!

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 Jen Swanson

What is the best thing about science? Some might say learning. Others experimenting. But for me, it’s all about the inquiry. I love asking questions. Why? Because I want to know how things work. And I’m sure a lot of readers have questions, too. That is why I pack my books full of facts. Ones that might challenge them to think more deeply about a topic, or just fun facts that they can share with their friends.

But in my book, Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact (NGKids) I decided to take inquiry to another level. I went straight to the reader and invited them to take a trip with me and explore their career options by asking them the question:

Astronaut or Aquanaut—Which would you be?

There is no better way to explore how you feel about something than to “experience” it. Okay, so you won’t actually become an astronaut or aquanaut by turning the pages of this book. But you will understand what it takes to train, work, and live there.

It’s so much fun to imagine what our future careers will be one day. You might find yourself wishing to blast of into space OR to dive deep under the ocean. But would you like either of these careers? Are they hard to do? What kind of training is needed? And WHAT does the suit you have to wear look and feel like?

These are all amazing questions.

Take a look at the two suits. There is a lot to explore in each one. Which do you think is more comfortable? Which one is designed for easy movement? Which one looks cooler? Why does one have a sun shield and the other a giant flashlight?

By answering these questions, readers are exploring their own knowledge of different topics while actually learning more about these two environments. In understanding that the astronaut needs a sunshield, students are aware that it can be very bright in space, but the flashlight is needed underwater because the sun’s rays can’t penetrate the depths of the ocean.

This very simple comparison opens the door to limitless inquiry and discusions that lead to great understanding. But wait. There’s more. Because this is a science/STEM/STEAM book we have some fun activities for you to do right in your own home to see which one of these careers you might choose.

Astronaut Training

Do you have what it takes to dock at the Space Station?

Grab a tennis ball, a big plastic cup, some rope or strong string and give it a try. It’s not as easy as you think!

Aquanaut Training

Underwater is all about how things float. If you were going to dive deep under water, how do you make sure that you stay down there? And how do you make sure that you come back up? That force is called Buoyancy. It’s a force that pushes up on us as gravity pushes down.

Try this experiment to see how things float… or sink

Did you succeed? Did both of your experiments work? Which one did you like more? Again, this point of inquiry allows readers to evaluate what they did during the experiment. Re-think. Revise and try again. Just like real scientists and engineers do.

Challenge: If you’re looking for more ways to decide, I challenge you to design your own space suit OR underwater suit. What would it look like? What tools would it have? Draw it and compare with your friend.

So what did you decide? Will you be an  Astronaut OR Aquanaut?

My choice? Aquanaut. All the way.

I’d rather see this out my window:

Than this:

Although to be quite honest, they are both amazing views!

Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Darcy. I can’t wait to meet all the amazing science educators at NSTA in St. Louis.

Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact earned a California Reading Association Gold Award, a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards, and was a Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2019 NSTA Best STEM book.

Jennifer Swanson


Bio: Science Rocks! And so do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for children. Jennifer’s passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017. Jennifer’s book, Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Re-setting the Thermostat (Lerner Books) received a Green Earth Book Honor Award. Her Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact received a Eureka California Reading Association Gold Award, a Silver Medal in the Florida Book Awards, and a 2019 NSTA BEST STEM book award.  She has presented at multiple SCBWI conferences, National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the World Science Festival and the Atlanta Science Festival. You can find Jennifer through her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

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 Carrie J. Launius and Christine Royce

NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books – since 1973

national science teachers assocation outstanding trade book seal

In 1973, the first Outstanding Science Trade Books list was published on cooperation between the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council. This list which identifies books that were published in the previous year has continued since that day with the same collaborators and many scientists, educators, and librarians having served on the review panels throughout the years.

While this book list is now in approaching it’s fiftieth year, the criteria associated with the books selected have been tweaked over time but remain largely consistent.  Books

  • must be scientifically accurate and not contrary to current scientific thinking;
  • should not lead to misconceptions or oversimplify facts;
  • engage students in the understanding of science;
  • include an informative and aesthetically appealing format with the presentation of information in a logical and clear sequence;
  • are appropriate for the intended audience;
  • should be without significant personification, teleology, or animism or inaccurate anthropomorphism;

Additionally, if conflicting scientific theories exist, as many views as possible are represented. Finally, but equally important, the information is free of gender, ethnic, or socio-economic bias, whenever possible.

Best STEM Books

    Fast forward to the current time and the recognition that STEM has a definite place and need within the current classroom.  Knowing this, the Best STEM Book List morphed from the Outstanding Science Trade Book List and added to the recommendations books that could be utilized as exemplars in the area of STEM thinking.

While the criteria for the OSTB has been vetted and are clear, the criteria for the BSB is muddy as it is not nearly as cut and dry (i.e. has accurate science content) when selecting books for this list.  Much more inference is used while reading the books. The original idea was due to the fact that it was desirable to shine the light on what we believed created STEM-like thinking and provide resources that modeled that for students.  We looked at a variety of books, examined their components, and analyzed them to identify what we thought a STEM book would look like; but more importantly, we determined what was NOT a STEM book though the use of the Frayer Model.  Once an initial categorization was determined, a small team of educators developed the criteria.

The initial starting point considered that a STEM book was not just a book that taught science, technology, engineering or math.  A STEM book promoted STEM-like thinking and needed to incorporate at least two of those subjects in an integrated and supported manner.  The goal was to select books to promote not only convergent thinking but also divergent thinking.

After much research and thought we came across these STEM Book tenets which require that books

  • models innovation;
  • illustrates authentic problems;
  • assimilates new or more efficient ideas;
  • invites divergent thinking;
  • shows progressive change or improvement;
  • explores multiple solutions to problems; and
  • integrates STEM disciplines.

Along with this criteria books needed to have accurate content,  be age appropriate, and incorporates and demonstrates diversity. 

    To engage students in STEM topics and STEM like thinking, it is important that students be provided with a plethora of experiences from the earliest of ages.  Providing opportunities for students to gain exposure to STEM like thinking through literature allows students to connect this experience to other opportunities that they have. There are additional benefits for using books in this way which include the ability for students to get into the “heads” of the story characters; consider experiences that they characters have had or are describing,  and begin to understand the “thinking stance” associated with how they approached the situation described.  Furthermore, we want students to use the experiences and thinking strategies described in the story in their own experiences and to learn to take risks, be bold, and try new things. 

In considering all of the wonderful books published each year, you might run across a book that you believe should have made one of our lists based on the criteria.  We find these books too.  By providing additional information about the process and the existence of the list, we hope that more publishers would submit books to the CBC for consideration.  Books cannot be reviewed for consideration as a Best STEM Book, if it has not been submitted.

There is no doubt that both of these book lists have a similar goal which is to bring quality children’s literature into the K-12 classroom  in order to utilize the books as a springboard for engaging students in the pursuit of science disciplines and STEM habits of mind.

Check out the current OSTB and BSB lists.

Carrie J Launius
Carrie J. Launius, co-leader of the Linking Literacy Event.

Carrie J. Launius created the Best STEM Book Award, is co-leader of the Linking Literacy Event at the 2019 NSTA Convention, is the Elementary Science Coordinator for St. Louis Public Schools as well as the NSTA District XI Director.

Christine Royce, Current President of the NSTA

Christine Royce, Ph.D is the current president of the National Science Teacher’s Association and co-leader of the Linking Literacy Event for the 2019 NSTA Convention.

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 blog by Melissa Stewart

Photos like this one warm my heart. They’re potent reminders of why I write for kids.

When this girl read my book Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, she was fascinated by the Galápagos tortoise. She couldn’t believe that it took this giant turtle almost 6 hours to travel one mile—a distance she could easily walk in just 20 minutes.

book cover for Melissa Stewart book

And yet, the tortoise is able to survive because its thick, heavy shell protects it from predators. It may be a slowpoke, but it really doesn’t matter one bit.

When adults read the facts in my book, their curiosity might be momentarily piqued, but then they move on. Kids are different. They dig in and revel in their fascination. They ask questions, and then they go in search of the answers. They read and explore and discover. There’s just no stopping a curious kid!

This girl was so intrigued by Galápagos tortoises that she took the time to let her imagination soar. Using her creativity and simple materials available right in her classroom, she made a physical model and engaged in some powerful kinesthetic learning. By literally trying on some of the Galápagos tortoise’s unique body features, she gained a deeper understanding of the animal’s way of life and how it experiences the world. Now that’s a science lesson that will last a lifetime.

We all know that books can change lives, but we can’t always predict which book will speak to a particular child and how it will influence him/her. That’s why it’s so important to give all students access to a rich, diverse array of fiction, narrative nonfiction, and expository nonfiction titles.

Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins; and the upcoming title Seashells: More than a Home, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of educational resources for teaching nonfiction reading and writing.

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 Suzanne Slade

Nearly 50 years ago astronauts landed on the moon for the first time.

I still can’t believe humans achieved this monumental feat!

Growing up, my understanding of the first landing was rather simple: Apollo 11 landed and Neil Armstrong took man’s first step on the moon. As an adult, I was surprised to discover that the earlier Apollo missions (1-10) faced many little-known trials and tragedies. (Did you know the Apollo 1 astronauts died on the launchpad during a test?)

50th Anniversary of First Moon Landing

About 9 years ago I decided to create a special book for the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing (July 2019). One that shared Team Apollo’s remarkable ingenuity and bravery, as well as their surprises and setbacks. As a mechanical engineer who used to worked on rockets, I knew writing about spacecraft, flight trajectories, and mission details would entail a lot research. Just like the precise moon missions, there was no room for error. So I dug in. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know!

In September 2018, COUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON (illustrated by NYT best-selling illustrator Thomas Gonzalez) released. It shares the incredible 2979 days leading up to the first moon landing—from President Kennedy’s 1961 announcement that America should land on the moon, to Armstrong’s first step on the moon.

Ironically, this book took me about 2979 days (8.2 years).

Timeline of Writing COUNTDOWN

For those who like the “inside scoop,” here’s a brief timeline of that process.

Day 1: On November 20, 2009 I began research for COUNTDOWN with astronaut autobiographies, reliable books, and NASA websites.

Day 44: Dove into the Apollo mission transcripts (Apollo Flight Journal and Apollo Lunar Surface Journal). Read the astronauts’ own words as they worked and joked together. (Did you know the astronauts called each other “Babe?” Ah, the groovy 60s!)

Day 198: Began studying the mesmerizing photos in the Apollo image gallery.

(COUNTDOWN contains 52 phenomenal Apollo pictures.)

Day 370: Completed a detailed story outline.

Day  685: Visited Chicago Adler Planetarium “Mission Moon” exhibit and examined Apollo module, spacesuits, helmets, a moon rock, and more.

Day 1485: Awesome day! Interviewed astronaut Alan Bean (4th man on the moon). He discussed how he became an astronaut, his harrowing Apollo 12 launch (his rocket was hit by lightening twice!), and his one regret—he wished he’d smuggled a football to the moon and thrown the longest pass in the universe.

Day 1500: Exchanged emails with Apollo 7 astronaut, Walt Cunningham.

Day 1660: Finally began first draft. The first lines came out in short, lyrical lines or free verse. The voice felt right for the immediacy and tension of the story, so I went with it.

Day 1850: Shared manuscript with critique friends. They provided feedback on various versions over the next two years.

Day 2111: Made list of “echo words” that appeared in the story often (“spacecraft,” “small,” “powerful”) and replaced many with other words.

Day 2510: Peachtree Publishers acquired the project. (Happy dance!)

Day 2630: Sent my 51-page Sources Doc with sources for all facts to illustrator Tom Gonzalez, who’d signed onto the project. (Another happy dance!)

Day 2766: Tom Gonzalez emailed about Apollo 8 details. As the project continued, we chatted many times about Schirra’s beard, Schweickart’s spacewalk, gloves, and other tedious details.

Day 2874: PDF of Tom’s first sketches arrived. Over time, I reviewed several rounds of sketches/art for technical accuracy.

Day 2920: Dr. Dave Williams from NASA agreed to vet the story. Over the next year we exchanged dozens of emails. Dave sent an audio recording of the final transmission of the Apollo 1 crew which allowed the book to accurately share their last words.

Days 2934-2964: Worked 60+ hour weeks on final edits and fact checking.

Exhausting, yet exciting to see the book coming together so beautifully.

Day 2979: After 8+ years on the project, I submitted last edits January 15, 2018.

Finally, the 144-page book was going to the printer. Whew!

Countdown Cover

“Stunning… Truly out of this world. A must-buy for most poetry collections.” — STARRED Review, School Library Journal

Free Resources for COUNTDOWN

COUNTDOWN Book Trailer

COUNTDOWN Teacher’s Guide

If you attend the NSTA National April Conference in St. Louis, I’d love to see you at the “Conversations with Authors” session Friday afternoon. Also, please stop by to see me Saturday 10:00-11:00am in the autograph area for a free “Astronaut Selfie” photo*.

(*You in an astronaut suit soaring through space!)

More great “space” resources:

Story Time from Space – Videos of astronauts reading books on the International Space Station. My book, ASTRONAUT ANNIE, is blasting off on the next resupply rocket and will be read by an astronaut on the ISS!

NASA TV – Live transmission of astronauts working on the International Space Station.

NASA Kids’ Club – Exciting games, crafts, and activities for students.

Click “Find Out Who Is on the Space Station” link to see who’s on the Space Station now.

Spot the Station – Input your location to see when the International Space Station will be passing over your town.

NASA Teach – Awesome rockets activities for grades K-12.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 100 children’s books. A mechanical engineer by degree who worked on Delta rockets, she often writes about STEM topics. Along with Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, other recent titles include: Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, Astronaut Annie, The Inventor’s Secret, and Dangerous Jane. Free Teacher’s Guides for these books and more at www.suzanneslade.com. @AuthorSSlade

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 Mary Kay Carson

Inventors make fantastic subjects for young reader biographies. One of favorite quotes from inventor extraordinaire Alexander Graham Bell explains why.

The inventor is a man who looks around upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world.

Alexander Graham Bell book cover

The desire to “find a better way” or improve on some technology is something all students identify with. Who hasn’t been frustrated with some lackluster product or confounding gadget, after all. That includes kids.

Inventing is about using critical thinking to solve a problem. It’s why I love writing books for kids about inventors. Taking young readers through an inventor’s process from idea to practical invention is a fun journey. It often provides a perfect narrative structure full of flashes of insight, horrific failures, eureka moments, devastating setbacks, and thrilling successes. Whew! What a ride!

Inventors are rarely boring characters—another reason they’re a pleasure to write about. Alexander Graham Bell was a forward thinker who immigrated to the United States and had many interests and talents. While famous for inventing the telephone, Bell invented and experimented his entire life and considered his true life work to be teaching those with hearing impairments to speak.

Here are a couple of other things you might not know about the Scottish-American inventor and educator. Alexander Graham Bell…

  • invented an improved phonograph that Thomas Edison had to buy the patent for in order to build a usable product.
  • worked with early airplane inventors Glenn Curtiss and Samuel Langley and competed with the Wright Brothers.
  • attempted to save President Garfield from his fatal gunshot wound with a bullet-finding invention similar to a metal detector.
  • was a pioneering speech teacher to the deaf and a life-long friend and mentor of Helen Keller.
  • emigrated from Scotland with his parents after both his brothers died from tuberculosis.

Reading about the lives and work of past inventors is a great way to inspire the next generation of tinkerers, fixers, and makers of a better world.

In her 25 years as a writer of books for young people, Mary Kay Carson has authored more than fifty titles. Her books have received many starred reviews as well as earned awards, including the 2019 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Hands-On Science Book for Alexander Graham Bells for Kids, the 2016 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature for Inside Biosphere 2; and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 2009 Children’s Literature Award for Exploring the Solar System. Find out more about her and her books at www.marykaycarson.com

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 https://youtu.be/XXFJOl_F088

Kevin Delaney and Jimmy Fallon Create Instant Quicksand

If you can’t see this video, click here https://youtu.be/kaovQAqAvq0

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 (mimshouse.com) 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 https://OnceUponAScienceBook.com 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 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.

UPLIT Novel for Kids

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 http://newquist.net/

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 TVTropes.com, 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 https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RelationshipUpgrade 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. TVTropes.com 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 www.TracyMaurerWriter.com. 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 www.shanakeller.com.  

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.   Anitasanchez.com

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