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
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When I was a kid, I made a “telephone” from a shoebox and mounted it on the wall in our family’s apartment. My daughter once made a drum set using trash cans, paper plates, sticks, and an abundance of tape. Children are naturally driven to invent, build and create, and these skills are now seen as vital to their development as future innovators, problem solvers and leaders.

cover of made by maxine

Several years ago, while doing research for a freelance writing assignment, I discovered the Maker Movement and became obsessed. I visited makerspaces, attended Maker Faires, and met both adults and children engaged in crazy-cool projects. Some involved technology like Raspberry Pi and 3D printing, while others were low- or no-tech, such as cardboard cities and Rube Goldberg machines.

The Makers I interviewed were motivated by a variety of reasons. Some liked to experiment with new technologies, while others wanted to improve upon existing designs or bring to life ideas from their imagination. But while their interests and skill levels vary, they share a collaborative spirit and almost everything is open source. An added bonus is the environmentally friendly emphasis on recycling and repurposing materials!

I knew I wanted to write a children’s book about a girl who embodied the can-do attitude of these Makers, optimistically believing that failure is never a reason to quit. As a writer, my first draft is never perfect and my stories improve with each revision. Similarly, my character would view each “flop” as just another step in the process, providing valuable information along the road to success. And of course, her projects would always be over-the-top creative, ambitious and loads of fun! That girl became Maxine.

interior page, made by maxine

Maxine likes to make things, but not in a crafty sense. She prefers gears to googly eyes and circuits to coloring books. She deconstructs and reconstructs, tinkers, tweaks and hacks. Like the real-life Makers I met, Maxine embraces new technology and is all too familiar with failure. Educators will appreciate that she intuitively uses the Engineering Design Process* not because she’s following steps she learned in school, but because it makes sense and actually works.

Since its release I’ve heard from many parents and educators about kids’ projects inspired by Made by Maxine. (Chelsea Clinton tweeted that it’s a favorite in her house!) I often raid my recycling bin for materials I can bring to bookstore and library programs, where my storytimes include a “Maker Challenge.” I’m always delightfully surprised by the creations that result.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: A new Maxine Book!

There will be a follow-up Maxine book coming out in early 2021! I’ve just seen the illustrations and they’re spectacular – Holly Hatam’s art is whimsical and clever, adding so much delicious detail for readers to explore. I can’t wait for you to see it!

Resources

Engineering Design Process from Engineering is Elementary, developed by Museum of Science, Boston

  • ASK: What is the problem? How have others approached it? What are your constraints?
  • IMAGINE: What are some solutions? Brainstorm ideas. Choose the best one.
  • PLAN: Draw a diagram. Make lists of materials you will need.
  • CREATE: Follow your plan and create something. Test it out!
  • IMPROVE: What works? What doesn’t? What could work better? Modify your design to make it better. Test it out!

About Ruth Spiro

In addition to Made by Maxine, Ruth is also the author of the popular Baby Loves Science board book seriespublished by Charlesbridge. Titles include Baby Loves Aerospace EngineeringBaby Loves Coding and Baby Loves Gravity. This spring she continues in her signature style of introducing complex subjects to little listeners in a new series, beginning with Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! The “Baby Loves” series is illustrated by Irene Chan and Greg Paprocki.

A frequent speaker at schools and conferences, Ruth’s previous presentations include the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Children’s Festival of Stories, Maker Faire Milwaukee, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the World Science Festival. Ruth hopes her books inspire kids to observe the world, ask questions, and when it comes to their futures, DREAM BIG!

Connect with Ruth here:

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