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STEM Tuesday — Brain/Psychology — Author Interview

We are delighted to welcome Tanya Lloyd Kyi to the blog today.

Tanya Lloyd Ki

Tanya Kyi is the author of more than 30 books for children and young adults. She writes about science, pop-culture, and places where the two overlap. Tanya has worked in the past as a graphic designer, an editor, and a dishwasher. (She considers herself entirely qualified for that last one.) Her favourite color is blue, her favourite food is cheese, and her favorite book is A Wrinkle in Time.

Her book:

This is your brain on Stereotypes

Discusses the brain science behind stereotypes. It’s very intriguing!

Blurb: An essential overview of the science behind stereotypes: from why our brains form them to how recognizing them can help us be less biased.

From the time we’re babies, our brains constantly sort and label the world around us — a skill that’s crucial for our survival. But, as adolescents are all too aware, there’s a tremendous downside: when we do this to groups of people it can cause great harm. Here’s a comprehensive introduction to the science behind stereotypes that will help young people make sense of why we classify people, and how we can change our thinking. It covers the history of identifying stereotypes, secret biases in our brains, and how stereotypes affect our sense of self. Most importantly, it covers current research into how science can help us overcome our biases, offering hope for a future where stereotypes are less prevalent and the world is more fair for everyone.

 

Received a starred review from Kirkus as well as other praise:

A must-read primer for change.―Kirkus Reviews, starred review

… fascinating …―Booklist

A worthwhile purchase … that will help readers recognize, understand, and eradicate stereotypes.―School Library Journal

Alongside Drew Shannon’s colourful illustrations [Lloyd Kyi] encapsulates key sociological and scientific research on racism and stereotyping.―New York Times

 

Thanks for joining us today, Tanya! This is such an intriguing topic, how did you come up with it? 

One afternoon, I listened to a Hidden Brain podcast about implicit bias. That evening, my husband called from Edmonton, where he was giving the keynote speech at a conference. My husband is Asian Canadian and when he’d arrived at the conference venue, he’d been mistaken for the custodian. I thought… aha! That was implicit bias at work. I did some sleuthing to see if there was enough research about the topic to fill a children’s book, and there was so much fascinating material! I could have written three books on the subject.
 

Can you give us a short explanation of how science and stereotypes are related?

 

What do you see when you picture a senior citizen? What about a ballet dancer? Or an environmentalist? You probably picture an old grey-haired lady, maybe doing some knitting. You might imagine a girl in a tutu and a bearded guy in sandals. But those are generalizations. There are plenty of tennis-playing seniors, male ballet dancers, and suit-wearing environmentalists. Stereotypes live in the same place in our brain where we store implicit memory — things we know without necessarily remembering how we know them. You understand how to use scissors, you know the grass is green, and you believe ballet dancers wear tutus. Relying on our implicit memory for scissor use is fine, but when we allow our brains to supply us with snap-judgement images about people, we can be led astray by our own assumptions.
We don’t always realize we have biases (or maybe we hide them!), so scientists have to be tricky in order to study them. Sometimes they pretend to be studying something else, while actually watching what choices we make. Or they might ask us to make choices quickly, so we don’t have time to hide the stereotypes we hold. One of the most famous tests of bias is one developed by Harvard, and you can take it yourself, online. It’s called the Implicit Association Test.

 

Can you give us a sneak peek of one or two of the activities that you have in your book to help people understand their own ways of thinking?  

 

There’s so much we can do to combat the stereotypes in our own brains. That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to write this book. If kids notice gender bias in toys, they can email the toy companies. If they want to make their school a more accepting place, they can volunteer to create a display of diverse books in the library. But one of the most researched things in all of stereotype science is called the contact hypothesis. A psychologist named Gordon Allport came up with the idea in the mid 1900s, and studies have been done in hundreds of countries since then. The contact hypothesis says that if you hang out with people who are different than you, you will hold fewer stereotypes. So the very best way to combat stereotypes? Make all sorts of friends!
 

What do you want young readers to get out of your book? 

 

I’d love young readers to begin to recognize biases in the world around them, and to understand that they have the power to make change. You don’t have to get a university degree to combat stereotypes; you just have to pop by a GSA meeting at school, or redecorate your school computer lab in gender neutral themes, or pick up a book about characters who live in a different part of the world.
 

Do you have any tips for writers who want to break into nonfiction children’s books? 

 

Information books for children have changed dramatically in the last decade, so don’t rely on your memories of your own school library shelves. Head to a local bookstore and check out the ways writers, illustrators, and publishers are using new formats and forms to capture kids’ attention.
 

What are you working on now? 

 

I’ve just released a middle-grade novel called Emily Posts (published by Penguin Random House) and I have a picture book coming out called When You Meet a Dragon (illustrated by Udayana Lugo and published by Orca Books). While these aren’t information books, they were both inspired by research. Emily Posts is about a young influencer who encounters censorship while podcasting about the climate crisis, and When You Meet a Dragon is about the power of community to overcome existential, dragon-sized problems.

 

Thank you for having me, Jennifer! It’s an honor to be featured on your site.

 

You’re so welcome, Tanya. I loved learning more about how this book came to be, and I’m sure our readers did as well.

 

You can find out more about the book– and Tanya— HERE  –> https://www.tanyalloydkyi.com/
Jennifer Swanson author
Jennifer Swanson is an award-winning children’s author and podcaster. You can find her at her website https://jenniferswansonbooks.com/,
or her Solve It! for Kids podcast website www.solveitforkids.com   or on Pinterest, or X and IG @jenswanbooks.

Interview with Author Cathy Carr and Book Giveaway!

Cathy Carr is the author of the award-winning novel, 365 Days to Alaska, which is a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Bank Street Best Children’s Books of 2021.

Readers will fall in love with Cathy’s latest book, Lost Kites and Other Treasures (Amulet Books), just released on February 6.  The main character,  Franny, is passionate about making artwork out of collected scraps and various objects. Franny’s creativity serves as an outlet as she navigates challenges with friendships, and her relationship with her grandmother, Franny’s legal guardian. At the heart of the story are hidden secrets about Franny’s mother, who abandoned her years before. It was a joy to enter Franny’s world, as she pulls together scraps of hope throughout her journey.

When she is not writing, Cathy loves to cook, garden and take hikes in nature, all the while collecting found materials for art projects. Cathy lives in New Jersey with her husband, son and “scrappy” cats, Nutmeg and Ginger. Cathy took time away from her busy writing schedule to offer a bit of background on Lost Kites and Other Treasures.

 

Please share your inspiration for creating Franny (Frances), the main character.

When I was in my late twenties, some friends of mine had a little girl who was an absolute hellion. I loved her, but she was a handful. She had a hair-trigger temper, she cussed, she had a habit of trying to kick men in the crotch (I left that out of my book), and she had flyaway white-blonde hair—which is the reason why Franny is blonde. She grew up to be a completely reasonable, healthy adult. She was my most direct inspiration for Franny, but many other bits and pieces inspired me too—my father’s troubled childhood, for one.

You explore a variety of aspects of mental illness, and specifically, bipolar disorder, from stigma to symptoms to effect on loved ones, What prompted you to write about this important topic?

It’s common. And for many people, it’s still a taboo subject. People are often startled when I speak about it openly. And, man, do a lot of them have their own tales to share. I have a clear memory of standing on our side porch while the guy who came to read the meter told me all about his schizophrenic daughter. He and I are still friends on Facebook. The mother with OCD, the cousin with bipolar, the uncle who had serious problems but would never see a psychiatrist because that would mean he was “crazy” —I’ve heard so many stories over the years. I didn’t see that common experience reflected in the fiction I was reading for kids, and I thought it should be reflected.

Franny is an artist, using found objects to create her work. Some of the characters appreciate her creativity, others, not so much, initially. What do you hope readers will take away from her artistry?

If Franny’s example inspires kids, or adults, to start a creative habit, or restart one that they’ve put by or neglected, that would make me happy. One thing I love about Franny’s artistry is that she just keeps on making because it gives her pleasure and purpose; she doesn’t stress too much about whether it’s good. This reminds me of something one of my friends said when my first book came out and I was fretting about sales or reviews or something, one of those stressful things writers have no control over. She said something along the lines of, “You wrote this book. It’s a good book. There’s a lot of you in it. It’s out in the world now, so get busy and start working on the next one.” Such excellent advice.

Throughout your story, Franny is faced with challenges to her friendships, including both physical separation and emotional separation due to betrayal of trust. You’ve portrayed relationships realistically, including the fact that Franny is also human and makes some mistakes along the way, which she admits to. Could you offer what you wanted to relay to young readers through these relationships?

Perfection is an unrealistic standard. We all mess up. And no one can be everything to everyone. If your toilet is overflowing, Franny’s friend Ruben is the guy to call. In other circumstances, not so much yet. He still has a lot of growing up to do. So, it’s important to give each other some grace. It’s also important to give people room to grow. People really can change. Sometimes I think we lose sight of this, especially under the influence of social media, which encourages us to form ruthless judgments of people based on 280-character tweets. Not a lot of room for nuance there.

Lost Kites and Other Treasures explores dysfunction within family relationships as well, from Nana’s secrecy about Franny’s mother’s illness, to the impact on Franny’s uncle of his sister’s illness and his response to the situation. Franny asks Ruben and friends whether their families ever fight, and what the outcome of those arguments are. Please offer insights into these relationships and situations in your story.

Life is complicated. Human relationships are complicated. I think both Nana and Uncle Gabe have been sort of worn out and worn down by the problems of Franny’s mom. What can help us under those circumstances, I believe, is community. Once Nana has that, she can start figuring out a better way to deal with her daughter’s troubled history. This is why Franny asks Ruben whether his family ever fights. If it’s just something that happens in your family, it feels awful and shaming. To know that it happens in pretty much everyone’s family lets you know you’re not alone. As for Tate’s claim that his parents never fight, some people need to portray themselves and their families as innately superior. This is often because of insecurity, but it can really be annoying to the rest of us.

I believe your story offers hope and personal growth as themes, from Franny’s hope that Nana will change in some of her stubborn ways, to Nana’s admission that even as an adult, she can be wrong in how she has behaved, in what she has communicated and, often, not. Could you please elaborate on these themes?

I think hope is important in middle-grade fiction. It’s important to communicate to our readers that a mistake isn’t the end of the world, that people’s characters aren’t set in stone, and that sometimes people behave the way they do because of circumstances you’re not aware of.

I loved how Miss Midori helped Franny’s artistic light shine, and how as an educator, she was a champion for Franny. Sadly, Franny didn’t feel that way about one of her other teachers. Care to expand on this?

It’s a common part of the school experience—the teacher you just don’t like! You don’t get them. They don’t get you either. Often it’s just two personalities that aren’t in very good sync. It’s such a common part of the middle-grade years I think it’s important to reflect that reality. On the other hand, a good teacher is a real gift, and that’s a common experience too. Mr. Burns is actually based on a math teacher I once had. I never heard him raise his voice. To this day, I have clear memories of how kind he was, especially to us geeky kids who weren’t the most socially successful.

Without giving away the ending, I loved how you didn’t tie everything up with a tight, shiny bow, but rather, true to Franny’s nature, wrapped the story up in scraps of hope. Did you consider ending the story otherwise?

“Scraps of hope”: I love that expression. No, I wasn’t tempted to write a sweet ending. Bittersweet is more my style. I try to emphasize hope and positivity in my writing for middle-schoolers, but I also work to be realistic. New problems and trials will arise, the way they always do. Nana and Franny are on the verge of having a new home at the end of the book, but there will be toilets to unclog and kitten pictures to sort through, because that’s life.

Lost Kites and Other Treasures is your second middle-grade novel, Can we look forward to other MG titles? What are you working on now?

Yes! Right now I’m working on my third novel, about a middle-grade girl in North Carolina. It’s still a rough draft, but there will be more complicated friendships, more struggles toward empathy, more family fights, and at least one pet chicken.

Thank you, Cathy, for offering insights into Franny and her world in Lost Kites and Other Treasures. To learn more about author Cathy Carr, visit her website here. For any questions or comments, feel free to reach Cathy at cathycarrwrites@gmail.com.

Cathy has offered a free copy of Lost Kites and Other Treasures through a random giveaway. Enter the Rafflecopter below. (Note entries only from continental United States.)
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Embrace Your Secret Artist

Some time ago, a friend from grade school texted me a photo of an old news clipping he had found among his grandfather’s papers. It was a group photo of my friend and I and a couple of other kids who had won our fourth grade art contest. I was surprised at how clearly I remembered that day and the days the leading up to it when we worked on our pieces. All the time spent deciding what to make, trying to get the lines right, choosing the colors, and my own surprise that it was shaping up to be a pretty decent picture. I also remember that winning was a total shock, since I never thought of myself as particularly good at art. I even remember the prize – a Nestle Crunch bar – my very first, and how I doled it out to myself, eating little pieces of it for days to prolong the joy.

What I don’t remember is why I quit drawing and coloring and making art after that. Why I don’t have a single memory of art making after that day other than a vague sense of being really miserable in a middle school drawing class years later.

Which is why I’m a little surprised to find myself now, after all of these years, picking up pens and colored pencils, and even watercolors again. Mostly, I’m doodling. Drawing funny little cartoon animals, trees, and swirls of watercolor that sometimes look like something you’d see in the world, but mostly look like a blend of colors.  Safe, small snippets of artish somethings that are (dare I say it?) kind of fun.

Which got me thinking that there must be some other kid (or adult) out there who might be looking for a kind of fun, totally safe way to play around with those pens and crayons and paints again. So, I decided to take a look at some fun art books for kids. Books that might help you or someone you know embrace the secret artist inside.

 

Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media-For Budding Artists of All Ages by Susan Schwake (Author) Rainer Schwake (Photographer)

Art Lab for Kids is a refreshing source of wonderful ideas for creating fine art with children. This step-by-step book offers 52 fun and creative art projects set into weekly lessons, beginning with drawing, moving through painting and printmaking, and then building to paper collage and mixed media.

Each lesson features and relates to the work and style of a contemporary artist and their unique style. The labs can be used as singular projects or to build up to a year of hands-on fine art experiences. Grouped by medium, the labs are set up loosely to build skills upon the previous ones; however, you can begin anywhere.

Have fun exploring:

  • drawing by creating a whimsical scene on a handmade crayon scratchboard.
  • painting by using watercolors and salt to create a textured landscape.
  • printmaking by using lemons, celery, mushrooms, and other produce to make colorful prints.
  • paper by creating an expressive self-portrait using pieces of colored tissue paper.
  • mixed media by making insects from patterned contact paper and watercolor pencils.

Art Lab for Kids: Express Yourself: 52 Creative Adventures to Find Your Voice Through Drawing, Painting, Mixed Media, and Sculpture by Susan Schwake 

Art Lab for Kids: Express Yourself contains 52 brand new original art projects that will draw out each young artist as they discover their style, document their thoughts, and build confidence in their unique perspective. Each lesson asks questions and offers personal choices while encouraging diverse approaches and creative thinking.

One of the most important gifts we can give children is to nurture their creativity and allow them to express themselves freely. There’s no better way to express yourself than through creative art projects. This is especially true for children because it gives them an outlet to explore their developing interests and strengths.

The Colorful Beasts project, which incorporates discussion of endangered animals with the Blue Rider art movement, asks children to use torn colored tissue paper and glue to create an expressive representation of a favorite vulnerable animal. In I Built This City, children imagine and build their own cityscape using columns of newspaper text to make buildings on top of a watercolor painted background, and detailed with marker.

Many projects include varying examples and executions of the activity to illustrate and reinforce the open-ended nature of the labs, inspiring children to embrace and share their own voice.

Give children the great gift of creative self-exploration with Art Lab for Kids: Express Yourself.

 

 

All the Things: How to Draw Books for Kids by Alli Koch

Fun 5-minute drawing lessons for kids ages 6-12

Perfect for budding artists and kids who have never drawn before, this beginner drawing book will teach your kid how to draw cool things in no time! Author and professional artist Alli Koch’s kid friendly, mini drawing lessons will help your child practice their basic art skills and teach them how to draw with confidence. This book is perfect for kids 8-12, but kids as young as 5 will be able to easily follow along as well. From cupcakes, to unicorns, to cars, and cats, your kid will be drawing all sorts of things that they’ll want to show off to their friends, or color afterward and hang on their room! No experience required!

  • Easy-to-Follow Instructions: Simple steps and diagrams from start to finish
  • 42 Cool Projects: Learn how to draw an ice cream cone, fruit, castle, spaceship, cactus, airplane, animals, and so many more cute and cool things!
  • Layflat Binding: Making it easier for kids to keep the book open as they follow along
  • Perforated Pages and Premium Paper: Easily removable pages that are thick and sturdy
  • 9 x 9 Size: Big pages so your kid has no problem seeing each step

 

Scavenger Art: Creative challenges for curious kids by Lexi Rees (Author) Molly O’Donoghue (Illustrator)

Scavenger hunts are fun.

Drawing is fun.

Put them together for SCAVENGER ART!

This unique art-based activity book includes 52 scavenger hunts designed to

  • encourage curious minds
  • spark creativity
  • practice mindfulness
  • develop drawing skills

 

Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell 

A stunning and timely creative call-to-arms combining four extraordinary written pieces by Neil Gaiman illustrated with the striking four-color artwork of Chris Riddell.

“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”–Neil Gaiman

Drawn from Gaiman’s trove of published speeches, poems, and creative manifestos, Art Matters is an embodiment of this remarkable multi-media artist’s vision–an exploration of how reading, imagining, and creating can transform the world and our lives.

Art Matters bring together four of Gaiman’s most beloved writings on creativity and artistry:

  • “Credo,” his remarkably concise and relevant manifesto on free expression, first delivered in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings
  • “Make Good Art,” his famous 2012 commencement address delivered at the Philadelphia University of the Arts
  • “Making a Chair,” a poem about the joys of creating something, even when words won’t come
  • “On Libraries,” an impassioned argument for libraries that illuminates their importance to our future and celebrates how they foster readers and daydreamers

Featuring original illustrations by Gaiman’s longtime illustrator, Chris Riddell, Art Matters is a stirring testament to the freedom of ideas that inspires us to make art in the face of adversity, and dares us to choose to be bold.

 

I hope you feel inspired to grab some supplies and make some art. If you have any great resources or books to help all of us embrace our secret artist, please share in the comments.