Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’re interviewing Jennifer Swanson, author of Save the Crash Test Dummies. Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it an “innovative blend of history, technology, and engineering…insightful fun. STEM at its best.”
Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about your new book.
Jennifer Swanson: The idea for this book came when I was writing another book — about electrical engineering. I did a section on the self-driving car and I was hooked. I wanted to ride in one, very badly. I sent email after email to Google asking if I could ride in one. Of course, I got no response. But that didn’t stop my interest. After all, I survived three teenage drivers, surely I could survive a self-driving car. 🙂 Anyway, I began to think, practically everyone rides in a car every day. I bet they don’t even think about how safe it is– OR how it got that way. Enter the crash-test dummies. We couldn’t live without them. Literally. Having them has helped engineers to save many, many lives. I knew then that I had to find a way to introduce the crash-test dummies to kids.
MKC: Any fun finds while researching the book?
Jennifer: I read a lot of car manuals and watched a LOT of videos of crashes. It was pretty cool. I do have to say my favorite moment, though, might have been when I came across the old crash-test dummy commercials that I remember watching as a kid. They are so fun! Here is a YouTube link to one of them if you want to check it out.
MKC: Do you choose to specifically write STEM books?
Jennifer: I have loved science my whole life. After all, I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. My mom gave me a microscope and I used to collect leaves and flowers to look at under it. Gradually, my interests grew and I spent hours in the creek behind my house, making compounds with my multiple chemistry sets, and began dreaming of becoming a doctor one day. While that didn’t happen, I did get my B.S. in chemistry from the U.S. Naval Academy and my M.S. Ed in K-8 science education. Now I’m not just a science author, but also a middle school science teacher for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.
MKC: What approach or angle did you take to writing this book?
Jennifer: When I write about technology and engineering I try to find a unique entry point, one that is FUN and unexpected. For this book, I really wanted to write a book about self-driving cars, but that seemed a bit, well, blah. I mean I find the engineering and technology that makes a self-driving car exciting and interesting, but not everyone does. So I asked myself how I could make this book interesting to people who maybe wouldn’t normally pick it up to read. The idea came to me after watching an old-time crash-test dummy commercial on TV. While on a walk with my husband, I made the comment that if we all went to self-driving cars, we wouldn’t need any more crash-test dummies. He responded by agreeing, saying you’d probably save alot of crash-test dummies. then. WHAM! That was it! Save the Crash-test Dummies, the history of car safety engineering. What a unique way to tell this story. Not only that, when I tell people the title, they usually smile (always a good sign). You see, finding a way to make engineering intriguing and complex topics easy to understand in my goal in my books.
Who did I write this book for? The kid who has TONS of questions about how the world works. That’s who I write all my books to. After all, I still am that 9-year-old kid that was full of curiosity and spent many hours devouring encyclopedias and nonfiction books at the library. Research ROCKS!
MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process?
Jennifer: My writing process is to find the hook for the book first. Usually that is in my title. For example, I wanted to write a book about nanotechnology and sports, so I titled my book SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up. For my book comparing Astronauts and Aquanauts, I titled it (of course) Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. When the hook to your book is in your title, people understand what the book is about right away. The second part of making a book is to find the structure. I ask myself, “what is the best way for this information to be presented?”. Then I read widely and look at a lot of mentor texts. Eventually I set on a structure. After I have those two things, I dive in into the research and write.
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