Guest post By Miranda Paul
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.
Those of us who love science and all things nerdy don’t have to be convinced to pick up the next STEM book. In our classrooms, there are children who gravitate toward nonfiction or fact-base chronicles of all kinds of phenomena. But we are at a time when a love for and a knowledge of science is increasingly important in society. How can we reach more readers, especially the children who might otherwise never pick up a nonfiction STEM title?
Writing about the science in their life. Before it was titled Nine Months, I referred to my picture book as “The Story of You.” In my research, I tried to unlock some of the most captivating and relevant aspects of fetal development so that kids would feel an intimate sense of accomplishment. I wrote with the intention of astonishing them by the science of their own development and growth. I imagined their reactions, and then got to affirm them when I tested the advance copy with first graders:
I once had a tail?!
If I kept growing that fast, I’d be as tall as a skyscraper!
I didn’t know I could dream before I was even born. Wow, I’m awesome.
The text is based around the senses as they develop in utero—especially touch, sight, sound, and taste. Science happens every second of every day, and many adults can forget (or never learned, perhaps!) how extraordinary the ordinary can be—breathing, moving, swallowing. Though our paths into this world are varied and diverse, every human being on this planet has gone through much of what the developing baby in this book endures. The recto pages, which depict one family’s simultaneous story of getting ready for that new human being, positions the text (and the book) at the intersection of science and social studies—one of my favorite places to reside, professionally. The book becomes versatile in this regard, and as practical as it is beautiful.
Students pick up books for all kinds of reasons. Whether they want a short, accessible text or realistic, large illustrations or something that’s true and surprising or an introduction to the unknown, Nine Months has the potential to reach a range of young children. Older children—those who may be getting a new sibling or cousin, as well as those who may be only children or curious about their own development—can find a wealth of information in the four pages of back matter. Even the kid who may not be a science-lover surely will appreciate knowing more about how quickly a lion or cat can reproduce or how long an elephant’s gestation lasts, if they’re not already leaping around at the fact that they were able to do somersaults when they were “zero.”
Nine Months took me ten years to fully develop from concept to final text. It was the book I wanted for my daughter when I was pregnant with her brother. While there were sentimental, Hallmark-style titles about the love and preparation for a new baby, and there were great books about the facts of life, I wanted a book that combined both. A book of scientific accuracy PLUS wonder and emotion, portrayed in a meticulous and realistic way. I wanted a book that could be gifted to anyone from a toddler to a first-time mom as a baby shower gift to a teacher beginning a biology unit.
Expository nonfiction, especially STEM titles, have the power to reach readers who may not otherwise gravitate toward narrative nonfiction. And Nine Months combines the expository elements with a linear sequence that pulls the typical fiction reader in. Jason Chin’s incredibly detailed watercolors and actual size renditions, modeled after his own relatives (a diverse family not unlike our own) reminded me immediately of my own pregnancy. It’s the book I’ve been waiting for for ten years. But hopefully, it’s a book that fills a gap in classrooms, libraries, and households, too. Nine Months is ultimately the story of us all, and it’s hard to deny the miraculous science of our species once you know the details.
Miranda Paul is the award-winning picture book author of One Plastic Bag, Water is Water, Whose Hands Are These? and Are We Pears Yet?, the winner of a 2018 Award of Excellence from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries. Her 2019 titles include I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and Nine Months: Before A Baby is Born, which has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. Nine Months releases from Neal Porter Books at Holiday House on April 23, 2019. Learn more about Miranda at www.mirandapaul.com.