Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Women’s History Month– Writing Tips and Resources

Begin at the End

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgTwo-time Pulitzer prize winner Jon Franklin, author of Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, writes “The story doesn’t pivot on the beginning, it pivots on the ending – so write that first.” I’ve discovered that the same trick works when I need to read like a writer.

Narrative, expository, opinion pieces – no matter the approach – informational texts are written to convey something. Be it a concept, a scientific process, personal growth, an abstract theme, a historical truth, whatever, the entire text builds towards it. So, if I want to understand the building blocks an author uses, it makes sense to read the conclusion first to know were the book is going.

Try it.

The books in this month’s list provide a perfect opportunity; they are all about women’s history and offer great comparison opportunities.

Pick up one of the books and read the final chapter – not the author’s note, or any of the back matter, but the chapter intended as the official conclusion. Ask yourself: What do I notice? Who are the characters? What is the tone?

Ask: What is the point of this book? List some questions that reading the conclusion first brings up.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI picked up Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, by Margo Lee Shetterly. I knew that the book was about multiple women who had an impact on space exploration, so what struck me was how the ending focused on one of the characters, Katherine Johnson. Why? I leafed through the rest of the book and saw that, although mentioned earlier, Katherine’ story doesn’t really begin until page 93. Why? This had me charging back to the beginning of the book to read straight through to figure out just how and why Shetterly built to that particular conclusion.

When thinking about the structure of a text, I try to sketch shapes as representations. In Hidden Figures would I find a triangular structure, pointing to Johnson? A chain of interlocked links? A circle where the conclusion brings us back to the beginning?

This is inquiry.

This is close reading!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgWith this shape idea in mind, I flipped to the end of Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins. The book is written in verse. The title of the last one was “The Wider World” which sounded like a conclusion, but as I read, I realized the entire verse was about one character. Where were the other two girls? How could this be a conclusion for the entire book?

Driven by that question, I read the book. I sketch three pillars; one for each story. Each stands independently, illustrating the life of one girl. But together those pillars support a bigger idea, a universal idea that the last verse just happens to illustrate perfectly. Now that’s skill: conveying a universal truth that a reader laps up before they even realize it!

Speaking of universal truths, Jon Franklin instructs “if those truths seem like clichés . . . so much the better.” That surprised me at first, but then I compare a few of the books and it starts to make sense. Universal truths are eternal truths, messages we have all heard before but still need to hear again and again.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgSupport Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI figured this collection of women’s history books will all hit on the same universal truths and might use very similar approaches. Again, those conclusions had something to teach me. In Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared To Dream, Tanya Lee Stone uses a brand new character and open ended questions to shine a light into the future of women in math and science. In Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, Mary Cronk Farrell uses reflection and a character who we met on the first page of the book.

When I picked up Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, I was intrigued to find the book concluded with “Your Turn.” This segment uses direct address and includes specifics on how to apply for a patent. An indirect challenge to the reader to get busy inventing!

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It wasn’t till I skimmed through the rest of the book, though, that I realized another gem of the conclusion. It took the book’s premise (female inventors) up a notch. It highlighted an inventor who was not only female, but also a young female. By that point I was totally jazzed to dig into the intro to see how Thimmesh set up the book for this romp through chocolate chip cookies, Liquid Paper, and space bumpers, leading us to the universal truth of the power of girls as inventors.

So, I challenge you. Pick up a book and begin at the end. You might be amazed at where I takes you!

Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids who are wild about animals. How does she conclude her books? With a story of a kid who discovered a new species, an insect who eats his sister and her own close encounter with the skin of a skunk!

Learn more at




Some authoritative works on crafting nonfiction:

Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner, by Jon Franklin, which focuses on crafting an effective structure for narrative nonfiction

The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality, by Lee Gutkind, in which the guru of creative nonfiction looks at the genre, immersion techniques, framing devices, essays, and more

Storycraft: The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, by Jack Hart, which provides a balanced look at topics such as structure, character, dialog, reporting and ethics

Anatomy of Nonfiction: Writing True Stories for Children, by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas, which dissects the research process and provides guidance on submitting to the children’s market


STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Women’s History Month– Book List

STEM TUESDAY from the mixed up files

Hurrah for Women’s History Month! In this book list, we showcase some of our favorite biographies about past female pioneers who blazed a trail in science, technology, engineering, or math. But biographies only scratch the surface. We encourage you to also dig into STEM titles that feature contemporary women working in STEM fields. Your children might discover a new role model or career!

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh

This updated collective biography has some new inventors to inspire young readers including,  Alissa Chavez, a Latinx teen who invented the Hot Seat to prevent infant deaths in hot cars; Azza Abdelhamid Faiad, an Egyptian teen who devised a method of turning recycled plastic into fuel; and Kiara Nirghin, a South African teen who came up with a way to fight drought using the absorbency of orange peels.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor

Read about six extraordinary scientists, including an ichthyologist, a cartographer, an anthropologist, a pharmacologist, and an astrophysicist in this informative collective biography.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Women in Science: 50 Fearless pioneers Who Changed The World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Check out this popular collective biography if you haven’t already. It is a great addition to your classroom science shelf and a wonderful resource.



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Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins

Jeannine Atkins beautifully tells the tales of Maria Merian, Mary Anning, and Maria Mitchell through verse.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

This multi-award winning title of Maria Merian’s life is exceptionally crafted with words and illustrations.  A must read!



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly

This edition brings an important story to young readers. A great selection for parent/child book clubs!



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell

Mary Cronk Farrell shines a light on the important World War II nurses in this biography. Exceptionally researched and well told.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Radioactive: How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling

Learn more about these two groundbreaking physicists contributed to the creation of the atomic bomb. This is a great companion book to Steve Sheinkin’s BOMB.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Marie Curie for Kids: Her Life and Scientific Discoveries, with 21 Activities and Experiments by Amy O’Quinn

This terrific hands-on biography brings Marie Curie’s life and science to young readers.



For a selection of titles that feature today’s female scientists, be sure to check out the following:

  • Scientists in the Field titles, including
    • Emi and the Rhino Scientist by Mary Kay Carson and Tom Uhlman
    • The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson
    • The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery
    • Sea Turtle Scientist by Stephen R. Swinburne
  • Zoology: Cool Women Who Work With Animals by Jennifer Swanson
  • Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact by Jennifer Swanson
  • Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel by Nancy Castaldo
  • The Plant Hunters by Anita Silvey
  • Three Patricia Newman titles: 
    • Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (with Annie Crawley)
    • Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation
    • Zoo Scientists to the Rescue (with Annie Crawley)
  • Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery
  • Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill by Heather L. Montgomery and Kevin O’Malley

STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of a Sibert Honor for Sea Otter Heroes and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. New:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at



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STEM Tuesday– Taking a Look at Climate Change/Earth Science– Interview with Sneed Collard

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 Sneed Collard, author of HOPPING AHEAD OF CLIMATE CHANGE: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival. The book follows scientists as they study snowshoe hares and other animals that change their coat colors each winter as they adapt to shorter winters brought on by climate change.

Mary Kay Carson: How did Hopping Ahead of Climate Change come about? 

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival was named a Junior Library Guild selection.

Sneed Collard: This book actually has an instructive background in patience and timing. I first got a contract for this book for Houghton Mifflin’s well-known “Scientists in the Field” series, and planned to travel to Bhutan to follow Scott Mills and other scientists as they studied animals that changed their coat colors every year. The year was 2008, the dawn of the Great Recession, and unfortunately I was unable to get the permissions I needed to travel and work in Bhutan so the entire project just fell apart. As it turned out, that was a good thing, because Professor Mills was just beginning his work on coat-color-changing animals and I really wouldn’t have had much to say about his work at the time.

Around 2014, however, I happened to run into Prof. Mills again and asked him what he’d been working on. He enthusiastically shared results of his recent research looking at the impacts of climate change on snowshoe hares, and I thought, “Oh, well now is the time to write this book.” By this time, I’d also started my own publishing company, Bucking Horse Books, and I thought, “Rather than go through the multi-year process of trying to get a contract for this book, I am just going to write and publish it myself.” It was one of the best moves that I’ve made.

MKC: Could you share a favorite research moment? 

Sneed: One of the really fun things about this project was the opportunity to go into the field in Montana with Prof. Mills and visit his research laboratories, then located at North Carolina State in Raleigh. During several trips, I had the opportunity to watch Prof. Mills track radio-collared snowshoe hares as well as take blood samples and tag them. On my last visit with him, we headed into the woods near Seeley Lake, Montana. Scott had set out cages the night before and we hit the jackpot, capturing a number of snowshoe hares. One of the last was a young hare, or leveret. Scott coaxed the leveret into a burlap sack while he took a blood sample and tagged it. Then, I stood a few yards away ready to take a photo as he released the hare back into the wild.

“He’s going to go fast,” Scott warned. When he opened the sack, though, the hare didn’t run away. Instead, it just sat in Dr. Mills’ lap for about twenty seconds. Then, it hopped toward me and posed for another twenty seconds while I fired photo after photo.

“Wow,” Scott said. “They never do that. I think it was doing that just for you.” One of those photos, by the way, ended up on the title page and page 54 of the book.

Sneed B. Collard III has written more than eighty award-winning nonfiction and fiction books for young people including Woodpeckers—Drilling Holes & Bagging Bugs; One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution, and his newest picture book Birds of Every Color. In 2006, Sneed was awarded the prestigious Washington Post-Children’s Book Guild Nonfiction Award for his body of work. Learn more about Sneed at his website

MKC: What are you working on now

Sneed: So a passion I have shared with my sixteen-year-old son, Braden, for the past five years is birds. (Follow their birding blog at I am constantly thinking about bird diversity and biology, and the survival issues faced by many birds. This has resulted in a number of recent books including Fire Birds—Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, Woodpeckers—Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs, and my newest picture book title, Birds of Every Color, which features photos by both Braden and myself. To study birds, scientists and ordinary citizens spend a huge amount of time counting birds and it was suggested to me that this might make a good topic for a book. Braden and I started our research by participating in recent Christmas Bird Counts in our area, but I also plan to participate in a variety of other bird-counting programs held in various places and at various times of the year. It’s one of those books where I probably won’t know exactly where it’s heading until I’ve completed my research, but I think it will turn into an engaging series of stories about birds and bird studies.

MKC: Do you have a STEM background?

Sneed: Science has been a part of my life since my earliest memories. Both of my parents were biologists, and I vividly remember going out catching crickets with my mom or digging through tidepools with my dad while they were still students at U.C. Santa Barbara. I must have gotten the gene because I didn’t hesitate to declare a marine biology major at U.C. Berkeley before going on for a master’s in scientific instrumentation at U.C.S.B. I realized, though, that there were probably enough scientists to save the world. The bigger problem was the immense gulf between what scientists know and what the general public—including politicians—understand. I think it was this gap that helped push me into a writing career.

Win a FREE copy of Hopping Ahead of Climate Change!

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!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson