STEM Tuesday– Astronauts and Space Travel — Interview with Author Tanya Lee Stone

STEM Tuesday–Astronauts and Space Travel– Interview with Author Tanya Lee Stone


Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Tanya Lee Stone, author of Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream It’s a fascinating look at the early days of astronaut training where women were barred from participating despite, in some cases, possessing superior skill levels. The New York Times Book Review said, “Stone’s carefully researched book makes the point that in the 1950s and ’60s there were ’13 women who… had the Right Stuff’ – but were the wrong sex at the wrong time.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Tanya, you are one of the most accomplished authors in the field with more than 100 books under your belt. One of your superpowers seems to be telling compelling stories of lesser known historical figures whose contributions have left an indelible mark on society. For example, you wrote about Ilan Ramon, the first and only Israeli astronaut to date. What lead you to his story?

Tanya Lee Stone: Gosh, that book was written in the beginning of my career, before I was choosing my own topics. His story was so compelling that I dove right in.

CTB: In researching Ilan Ramon you came across private research that was conducted decades prior (1961) to determine if women were qualified to go into space. That snippet of information lead to writing Almost Astronauts – which earned you the American Library Association’s  Sibert Award. Do you find that your book research leads you to other serendipitous topics for future books?

Tanya: Yes. It was in doing the research for the Ilan Ramon book that I discovered a snippet of information about Jerrie Cobb–and that led me to write Almost Astronauts. That happens to me a lot. I’ll get lost in the library, immersed in research, and uncover all kinds of fascinating things that plant seeds in my brain for future books. I think I was writing about Elizabeth Blackwell (Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?!) when I fell in love with Ada Lovelace and later wrote Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?!

CTB: You have a journalistic tenacity when it comes to tracking down primary sources, sometimes calling the person or their families to obtain photos, letters and journals. You speak of taking the time to gain their trust. How long does it take you, on average, to do the research for your books?

Tanya: Every book is really unique. It depends on how difficult it can be for me to find everything I need. The more obscure the story, the harder the job. Courage Has No Color took me 10 years to research and write because I was determined to track down as many of the men (or their family members) as I could to find primary sources such as letters, journals, and photographs to allow me to tell that story.

CTB: That’s a huge learning lesson for aspiring writers and students who believe primary resources are books written by other people about a particular subject.

Tanya: The time is well worth it; I consider it an honor and a privilege to shine a light on these stories–especially while some of these extraordinary people are still living!

CTB: What surprised you most in researching Almost Astronauts?

Tanya: What surprised me most is what still surprises me–that these women, who paved the way for every woman in the space industry today, are still not household names. I hope this book gets made into a film someday so it will have a much wider audience. Can’t you just see Reese Witherspoon as Jerrie Cobb?

CTB: Randolph Lovelace, the scientist conducting the tests, noted women were lighter and would take up less space on a mission. He calculated the difference in cost at $1,000 per pound compared to men if women were sent to space. That’s significant savings in 1960’s dollars. And yet NASA didn’t find it a compelling reason to open the program to women?

Tanya: Nope. Shocking, right? And Lovelace thought for sure that was going to be the fact that would make him a hero. So disappointing.

CTB: Nineteen women were tested. Thirteen successfully completed the testing, in many cases performing better than their male counterparts. Despite their proven skills, women were shut out of the astronaut program until 1978. You’re careful to explain the era in which these events occurred. Still, did it surprise that both John Glenn and Scott Carpenter both testified in Congress against having women in the program?

Tanya: Yes, it did surprise me–and it angered me. But what surprised me even more was that Jackie Cochran did the same thing to them! So much for the sisterhood, eh?

CTB: What do you want readers to come away with after reading your books?

Tanya: I write books about things that I have a strong emotional connection to, or passion for–whether that connection is positive or negative. The kind of thing that makes me say, “Wow, I can’t wait to share that with readers–that’s so cool, or that’s so interesting, or that’s so unjust!” So what I hope is that readers are as intrigued by the stories as I am, because they are the reason I’m sharing the story in the first place.

CTB. What’s next on the horizon for Tanya Lee Stone? Any future projects you want our readers to watch for?
Tanya: Absolutely! My next partnership with the brilliant illustrator Marjorie Priceman will be Remembering Rosalind: Rosalind Franklin and the Structure of DNA. This is our third book together–I’m ecstatic!

CTB: Note to readers. This book is well worth checking out. There’s a shocking revelation at the culmination of the women’s fight to be recognized.  I promised not to reveal it here but it helps explain what made this book so popular with awards committees. The author’s ability to tell the story of breaking barriers in the women’s own words makes for a compelling narrative, as does the discussion of the time period in which the events takes place. Enjoy.

Win a FREE copy of Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream.

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!


Tanya Lee StoneTanya Lee Stone is an Assistant Professor at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, teaching in the Professional Writing Program.  She started her career as an editor in New York. After moving to Vermont in the late 90s, she started writing. She is best known for telling true stories of unsung heroines, with themes of empowering girls and women threaded throughout her work, such as Girl RisingAlmost Astronauts, Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors?! and Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?!  Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Horn BookThe New York TimesSchool Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

Awards and honors include an NAACP Image Award, the Robert F. Sibert Medal, Golden Kite Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book, Bank Street’s Flora Stieglitz Straus Award, YALSA’s Excellence in Nonfiction, NCTE Orbis Pictus Awards, NPR Best Books, and many state awards.  To learn more about Tanya and her books, please visit You can follow her on Twitter @TanyaLeeStone
Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

AGENT SPOTLIGHT with Tracey Adams of Adams Literary!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today! I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Tracey Adams, co-founder of Adams Literary several times, as well as take workshops given by her. I have to say, she couldn’t have been nicer! So, I’m pleased to let all of you get a chance to meet her here at Mixed-Up Files.

JR: Hi Tracey, thanks for joining us today! 

TA: Thanks for having me, Jonathan!

JR: To start, could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an agent and also about Adams Literary?

TA: Ok, so waaaay back (promise I’ll make this short!) my family owned a printing company in New York City which was founded in 1837. It started in Brooklyn and ended up in Tribeca, which was a neighborhood of printers in Manhattan. I grew up visiting the printing presses in that basement, and with huge reams of paper in the house for creative projects. We say we have ink in our veins. In college, I learned of a publishing internship, and I figured it was something like printing but with reading for work! And it was. I interned throughout college and then worked in marketing and editorial. My dream was to have my own children’s imprint. But publishing was becoming increasingly corporate in the 90s, and I decided to see what it was like to work at a literary agency. I discovered much more flexibility for working mothers, along with what I loved most – working with authors and being a part of the book-making process. That’s how I became an agent. After my husband, Josh, graduated business school with a specialty in marketing, we went into business together and founded Adams Literary. It’s our middle child, and will be sweet 16 in April!

JR: That’s amazing. Incredible to have a company founded in 1837. I’m glad I asked to interview you, and learn something new! What was the first book you sold?

TA: At Adams Lit—oh, I don’t even have to think. On our first day in business, my dear friend Deborah Brodie at Roaring Brook Press made us two offers: one for Kathleen Johnson’s DUMB LOVE and one for Charlie Price’s DEAD CONNECTION. She meant the world to me, and I miss her.

JR: One of the things I really respect about you, is you’ve used your social media to call out antisemitism. I know I’ve spoken to many Jewish authors who have been frustrated in the past by a pushback against Jewish-themed books. Been told there’s no market for it. I’ve also been told by people to make things “Less Jewish”. Have you noticed any change in that recently?

TA: Fistbump, Jonathan. Thank you, too, for calling out antisemitism. Honestly, I get more of a pushback regarding texts being “too religious” for mainstream houses, regardless of faith. We know smaller houses which specialize in Jewish and Christian themes. But we also know many editors at the large houses who don’t shy away from Jewish content. I’m proud we just sold a picture book about Shabbat, and please check out Anne Blankman’s just-released THE BLACKBIRD GIRLS.

JR: I definitely will, and am also looking forward to the picture book about Shabbat. What do you enjoy the most about your job? 

TA: It is very rewarding when I’m able to tell a debut author they have their first offer. That moment means so much, and to deliver that news is a tremendous honor. The other part that helps me through administrative stuff is the fan letters from young readers. That’s why we’re all doing this, right? For me, it’s all about the kids and reaching them in some way.


JR: I agree. There’s an incredibly warm and satisfying feeling to hear from kids, the actual readers, who tell you they loved your book. And speaking of books, what sort of books do you look for?

TA: We like to say “timely and timeless.” Marketing guru husband came up with that one, and I’m sticking with it. I’ve always said that if a book makes me laugh, cry, or dream about it, I’m all in. That’s my bar. Also: unputdownable. And writing that is so gorgeous that I must read it slowly, to savor the words.


JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

TA: It’s really important for me to be in the loop, to know what’s going on, even (especially) once my authors are communicating with their editors, publicists, etc. This is because international publishers and Hollywood are always checking in, and I need to know where we are. So I’m always copied on correspondence, even if it’s just me chiming in with a “Go, team!” reply. But when my authors are writing, I let them be and eagerly await what’s to come.

JR: What’s going on in Middle Grade? 

TA: Editors are very eager for middle grade! And of course there’s a huge boom in the graphic format right now—kids can’t get enough (I’ve got one of these kids).


JR: I’ve got one as well. What advice can you give to authors?

TA: Read a ton in your genre. Attend as many SCBWI events as you can. Find a really great critique group (this is easier said than done—but so important). And persevere in honing your craft!

JR: Great advice. Critique groups can be really helpful. What was your favorite book as a child?

TA: As a picture book reader, I was obsessed with Richard Scarry books, the Hoban’s FRANCES books, P.D. Eastman’s BIG DOG, LITTLE DOG, and Little Golden Books like SCUFFY THE TUGBOAT and THE LITTLE RED CABOOSE. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking. And my dad read the Pooh books to me. As a middle grade reader, Katherine Paterson’s BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA made me a lifelong reader. I was a huge LITTLE HOUSE fan, and then of course everything Judy Blume and Paula Danziger.

JR: I LOVED Richard Scarry books! Read them over and over again. Favorite movie?

TA: As a kid, I loved movies like Escape to Witch Mountain, The Dark Crystal, The Secret of NIMH. As a teen (and forever), anything John Hughes. An all-time favorite is Almost Famous. I’m a sucker for anything coming-of-age.

JR: You named soooo many of my favorites! I recently rewatched Escape to Witch Mountain, and it brought me right back to childhood. What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

TA: Playing outside. But you know what? It’s March 2020, and we’re all playing outside.

JR: Good point. Important question, you’re a big Carolina Panthers fan, so what’s your prediction for them this year?

TA: Oh, Jonathan. I don’t know this team at the moment. I’m still bitter about losing Cam, but I’ll rally. 8-8? RUN CMC! Keep Pounding! (That is also my heartfelt answer to the question above about advice to authors.)

JR: Also good advice. And if it makes you feel any better, I’m a Jets fan, so I never expect any success at all. How can people follow you on social media?

Twitter: @adamsLiterary, Insta: adamsliterary.


JR: Tracey, thanks so much for taking the time to speak to us today! 

TA: Jonathan, you made me laugh and you also got me out of thinking about * everything else * happening in the world right now. Thank you. Everyone be safe and well!

American Dog: Brave: An Interview with Author Jennifer Li Shotz

I’m excited to have had the chance to interview Jennifer Li Shotz, author of the bestseller Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine. This book was made into the 2015 movie Max. Jennifer has written many other dog books, as well as a new series titled American Dog. Two of those books, Brave and Poppy, are coming out on April 7 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers).

Before I begin my interview, here is a brief description of American Dog: Brave:

Brave is a stray dog surviving on the streets after a hurricane in San Antonio, Texas. He’s skittish and starving, but when he encounters 12-year-old Dylan, everything changes. Dylan is having a tough time himself and feels like he and Brave can help each other—if Brave doesn’t destroy his mom’s new couch or ruin Dylan’s friendships first.

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer. I enjoyed reading American Dog: Brave. I am a dog person myself, so I especially loved the story. Being the author to so many books featuring dogs, I’d love to know your connection. Did you grow up having dogs? Why such an interest?

Dog lovers, unite! Though I just want to start by saying that I’m also very much a cat person—I don’t discriminate. Cute and fluffy is cute and fluffy. My son is super allergic to cats, though, so we’re a dogs-only household.

Believe it or not, I only had dogs for a very brief period in my childhood—maybe a year or so—but it was during a really tough time when my parents first separated. I was about 7 years old I think. The dogs’ names were Mork and Mindy (look them up, kids—nanu nanu!), and they were the light of my life. I still remember lying on the floor with Mork, who was a big yellow Lab-retriever mix. I’d put my head on his belly and tell him all kinds of things, like whether I was feeling sad that day or the latest divorce updates, as if he were my oldest friend in the world. In response, he’d blast me on the cheek with some sweet puppy breath, and our BFF status was sealed. Those moments of feeling so connected to him and safe with him are what made me a dog lover for life.

Now my family and I have a 3-year-old rescue mutt named Vida. She was a stray in Puerto Rico who was brought to New York by an amazing organization. She’s the sweetest, goofiest, snugliest, and most unbelievably stubborn dog you’ll ever meet. She can open baby gates and our front gate with her snout, and she once stole an entire pork roast off the counter. Don’t tell her this, but I don’t mind her antics, because I know she’s a friend to my kids the way Mork and Mindy were to me.

I always find it interesting what ideas shape a story. You incorporated many interesting topics in your book: the stray dogs in Texas, the aftermath of a hurricane, the Blue Lacy, and ranchers. Were any of those jumping-off points for this story?

Any of those things could be interesting on their own, but I’m less interested in the thing itself and more curious about how a child experiences or sees it. That’s the jumping-off point for every story. Whether it’s epic or mundane, anything can stir up intense feelings for a young person.

So, let’s say it’s a big natural disaster, like a hurricane. How would an 11- or 12-year-old feel when the wind is louder than a freight train and the roof is rattling so hard it feels like it’s going to get sucked up into the air? How about after that event is over—does the world feel like a safe place anymore? Grownups are shaken too, of course, and in many ways kids are more resilient than we are, but the experience is very different and unique for them.

How would a young person feel encountering a sweet, sad stray dog on the street? A grownup might think, well, that dog is breaking my heart, but we don’t have room for it in the house, or I can’t afford the vet bills and the food, so I have to walk away. But a kid? No way—a kid’s whole being gets invested in that dog as soon as their eyes meet. That’s what drives my curiosity—and the story!


Great point (us writers are taking notes). I love how each book in the American Dog series is set in a different state. How do you pick which state to start with?

Every state has its own fascinating mix of geography, history, local identity and culture, and native or prominent dog breeds—we just had to pick someplace to start! Texas was an easy choice because 1) Texas is awesome, 2) there are so many different cultures and experiences and such rich history there, and 3) the Blue Lacy is a really cool dog that’s not very widely known. It seemed like a setting that could offer lots of storylines and ideas—and it was!


Which has been your favorite to write and why?

Hmmm, that’s a hard choice because I love them all, but I’ll go with American Dog: Poppy because I’m a native Californian and I love and miss my home state so much. Hopefully the book captures some of the essence of California life. Also: surfing dogs. What could be bad?


Which has been the most difficult to write and why?

Difficult isn’t quite the right word, but American Dog: Star, which comes out in the fall, was the most challenging of this new series. The main character is a boy with dyslexia, and it was so important to me to capture his experience in a way that felt real and true. These days there are definitely more opportunities for kids with learning or other issues to see themselves in a book or story, but they’re still somewhat rare, and it’s important to get it right.


Can you share with us some of the fun things you did or places you went for research for any of the books in this series?

Have you Googled “surfing dogs” lately? I’ll never get all those hours of my life back, but it was worth every second. Go try it now—trust me on this one.


Wow! Fascinating! Thank you, Jennifer for sharing so much about your new series. American Dog: Brave and American Dog: Poppy are both available on April 7.

JENNIFER LI SHOTZ is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Max: Best Friend. Hero. Marine., about the coolest war dog ever. She is also the author of the Hero and Scout series. A senior editor for Scholastic Action magazine, she lives with her family and Puerto Rican rescue dog, Vida, in Brooklyn. For the occasional tweet, follow her @jenshotz.