GUEST POSTS: NSTA Linking Literacy, NSTA National Convention, Boston, MA. 9 am – 3 pm, April 4, 2020.
The National Science Teacher’s Association has invited authors of Outstanding Science Trade Books and Best Stem Books to discuss literacy and children’s books at a special Literacy Event. 14 of these authors have contributed guest posts to run from January 7 – April 2, 2020.

See the full author list and the date on which they’ll post at Linking Literacy 2020

Guest post by 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:

Or talk birds and books with her on social media:

Instagram and twitter: @heidieys

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

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