Common Core & NGSS

STEM Tuesday — Pair Up! Comparing Nonfiction Titles — Booklist

This month, we take a look at pairs of books that focus on the same subject or theme. Readers can compare and contrast how authors have each approached these fascinating stories to craft their nonfiction middle grade books. In some cases authors have taken a different approach in organization and in others a different point of view. Reading both will provide more details and information on each topic, and also show that all authors find their own way into each story.

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Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary, unwittingly spread the deadly disease as a cook. Read two nonfiction titles that tell this amazing story.

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow tells the investigative story behind the tale. 

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti approaches the story as a biography. 


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The history of chocolate is important to both science and history. These two authors have provided books that delve into chocolate’s origins and its history as the confection we love.

Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg 

The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist


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If learning about scavengers (and the important part they play in the food chain) is up your alley, then these two new titles are for you.

Rotten:  Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez will be released in January of 2019 and delves into all kinds of decomposers. 

Death Eaters:  Meet Nature’s Scavengers by Kelly Milner Halls also focuses on decomposition and provides lots of interesting photos.   


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThese three titles focus on our waste and where it ends up. Eco-justice readers will be inspired by all three.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns focuses on how ocean currents move debris around

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman follows a team of scientists who study the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time.

This Book Stinks! Gross Garbage, Rotten Rubbish, and the Science of Trash by Sarah Wassner Flynn dives deep into the cycle of trash.


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These two titles provide a look at how dogs use their perfect sniffers to help us.

Poop Detectives: Working Dogs in the Field by Ginger Wadsworth focuses on conservation canines.

Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and their Noses) Save the World by Nancy Castaldo introduces readers to all kinds of sniffer detection dogs. 


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Two great volcano titles for geology units.

Eruption: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives by Elizabeth Rusch deals with the science of eruption. 

Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns focuses on the aftermath. 


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Budding naturalists will love learning about how apes are studied in the wild with these two titles.

Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes by Pamela S. Turner

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, 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 and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips. She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of  a Sibert Honor Award 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 in 2018:  Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at


STEM Tuesday–Checking Your Health– Interview with Author Gail Jarrow

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 Gail Jarrow about her Deadly Diseases Trilogy: Red Madness, Fatal Fever, and Bubonic Panic. Both Red Madness and Bubonic Panic are among this month’s featured health and medicine books. Gail is an author of nonfiction books for ages 8-18 about science and history (and the history of science). Her books have received many honors, including the YALSA Award Nomination for Excellence in Nonfiction, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, Outstanding Science Trade Book, a NSTA Best STEM book, the Jefferson Cup Award, the Eureka! Gold Award, an Orbis Pictus Recommendation, as well as Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal Best Books and VOYA Honor Book distinctions.


Mary Kay Carson: How did these books come about?

Gail Jarrow: It all started with a chance discovery in the Cornell University library stacks.  While researching scurvy for a magazine article, I spotted a shelved book on pellagra written by a Cornell professor I had met. Even though the book wasn’t about my topic, I took it home to read because I knew her. I was fascinated by this forgotten nutritional deficiency disease that had once affected millions of Americans, and I sensed it would make an interesting story for young readers. But pellagra turned out to be one of those ideas you file away until you can figure out how to approach the subject. I didn’t figure it out for a dozen years. After online databases made it easier to access old medical journals and hundreds of newspapers from the early twentieth century, I saw a way to write Red Madness as a medical mystery using the experiences of doctors and pellagra victims. As part of my pellagra research, I used U.S. Public Health Service reports from the early 1900s.  I came across many entries about typhoid fever and plague, two other epidemic diseases that the Public Health Service was trying to control then. That was how Fatal Fever and Bubonic Panic were born from Red Madness, completing the Deadly Diseases trilogy. It goes to show that new ideas can be hiding anywhere and it pays to be receptive to them.

MKC: I have to ask, which of three deadly diseases—plague, typhoid, or pellagra—would you least like to suffer from? 

Gail: These diseases all have nasty symptoms. But without question, I would NOT want to contract plague. It is the deadliest of the three. We have effective antibiotics for plague today, but the survival rate is decent only if you’re diagnosed early on. If you have pneumonic plague, your chances diminish drastically. Antibiotics work against typhoid, though scientists are seeing more antibiotic resistance. Yet even before we had those drugs, the majority of typhoid victims recovered. Pellagra is easily treated with diet change or niacin supplements.

MKC: These books were quite a journey through primary sources. Do you have a favorite finding?

Gail: Of all the intriguing information I uncovered, my favorite had to do with typhoid fever. I discovered that the epidemiologist who tracked down Typhoid Mary had—four years earlier—helped end a typhoid outbreak in Ithaca, New York, where I live. He determined that the likely source of that outbreak was a creek not far  from my house. Finding connections to your own life makes history and science come alive. When I write for young readers, I look for ways to connect the book’s content to their lives. For example, in Fatal Fever, I included specific details about the physical effects of typhoid on college students in Ithaca, some of whom died during the 1903 epidemic. I found these case studies among infirmary records and other local archival material. Because the victims were teens, I hoped this would help my readers relate to a disease they probably knew nothing about.

MKC: Any further reading recommendations for fans of the Deadly Diseases Trilogy?

Gail: To add a few to the STEM Tuesday Checking Your Health list: Suzanne Jurmain’s Secret of the Yellow Death deals with medical sleuthing. John Fleischman’s Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science would grab young readers. I really enjoyed Poison by Sarah Albee and How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg, two books that use humor to explore medical topics.

Want to know more about Gail Jarrow and the Deadly Diseases Trilogy?


Win a FREE copy of BUBONIC PANIC: When Plague Invaded America!

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 this week is Mary Kay Carson, author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson


STEM Tuesday– Checking Your Health — Writing Craft and Resources

Heath is an absolutely fascinating subject. Health-related media surrounds our daily life. The reasons are fairly simple as health affects everyone and is something everyone can relate to. Children’s literature is no exception. Health-related topics make great kid lit!

Microbes are my jam. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, microbiomes are things that attract my attention every time. I caught the fever in college. As strictly a cell biology student, I wandered down the hall one semester to take an elective from the microbiology section. I liked it and took another. Then another. Pretty soon my cell biology emphasis was a thing of the past and I switched lanes into the world of microbiology. Viruses especially grabbed me. The simplicity of their construction. The intricate ways they infect and replicate inside of the host cell. It was the perfect marriage of cell biology and infectious agent. Fast forward thirty years to my day job as a research microbiologist. The group I work with studies the interaction of pathogens with the host cell. Our primary focus is how bacteria intricately switch on and off the host inflammatory defensive response to their survival advantage. It’s a fascinating story to observe how pathogens go about affecting health. 

Microbes make great STEM health topics. Look back at our book list for this month. Microbe heavy! Today we are going to take a look at how health fits into the craft of STEM literature and some resources to learn or stay informed about health topics.



Health fits into just about any type of nonfiction. Using Melissa Stewart’s fantastic nonfiction book family tree, try to think of health-related middle grade or middle reader books you can put into each category. If you really want to burst my TBR budget, add your list of books in the comment section below.

  • Traditional
  • Browseable
  • Active
  • Expository
  • Narrative

When writing health nonfiction for middle grade, the key is in the details and how to best use them.

  • Is the topic better suited as a straight up informative text?
  • Do the details and the facts lend themselves to a narrative structure? What’s their story?
  • Is the topic loaded with activities which help illustrate and teach the information?
  • Is the topic wide-ranging enough to allow for many separate facts to be included?

Allow the facts to help dictate what the best way to tell a health-related STEM nonfiction story.  But where can one find the facts and details about a topic which interests them? That’s where the research comes in, right? Where do you start research? By finding solid resources.


Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

Back in those college days, my virology and pathogenic microbiology professor had a standing assignment due every Friday. We had to turn in a summary of at least two articles in the latest MMWR bulletin from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We’d race over to the library to check the shelf to see if the latest version of the pamphlet arrived yet. What’s MMWR, you say? The Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. With online access now in the digital age, it’s a weekly update from the CDC on what’s making Americans sick or causing death.

World Health Organization

World Health Organization (WHO) has a great website to find information, resources and exceptional commentary on world health. It’s always good to keep a healthy eye on what’s going on around the world. In a global economy, where one can travel great distances in short amounts of time, health issues halfway around the world can still be threats.

National Institutes of Health 

The NIH is a slice of science and health nerd heaven. The grants, the news, the health reports, the grant funding, the databases for researchers, etc. It’s nearly impossible to write in one STEM Tuesday blog post about all the information on the NIH website. I use PubMed and GenBank at least twice a week at my job. (Confession. I sometimes get sucked down the PubMed rabbit hole while searching for research papers; like the time my labmates and I spent half a day talking about a medical pathology journal paper titled, Death by Greyhound.)


There are all kinds of newsletters one can search for to provide information on health and health issues.

Johns Hopkins Health & Wellness Newsletter

The Biotechniques daily news updates are one of my favorites daily email newsletters. The email updates cover interesting molecular science in a variety of disciplines from around the world. Plus, their Biotechniques journal is free!

Death Toll Comparison Breakdown

I ran across this Death Toll Comparison Breakdown post from Tim Urban’s Wait But Why blog that is possibly the most informative graphic ever about health and comparative death tolls of various historical events. 

Nothing to fear but fear itself…

Heath can also be used to invoke fear and create a culture of fear. Think about conversations going on right now in our society:

  • Exercise and weight loss
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Vaccines
  • Cancer
  • Emerging pathogens – Ebola, Zika, Bird Flu

The more science we know behind our health problems and issues, the better we can analyze, identify, and reduce the fear factor associated with the health issues. Information fights fear. Observe, verify, and then pass information on. Once we get past the fear, we can focus on solutions to those health issues. 

Check your health!

Health is one of those common concerns for humanity. It affects so much of our lives. It’s a good idea to learn as much as possible about the way our bodies work and how they interact with our nature and environments. STEM nonfiction can be a powerful tool in developing this understanding. Health concerns can be scary. Knowledge can overcome this fear which can lead to overcoming the health concern. Knowledge is power within the health realm. 

Improve your health and go check out some STEM health titles. Or write some health-related nonfiction books on whatever fascinates you. There’s something out there for every taste—even for that someone who is interested in studying how we taste!

Mike Hays, Microbiologist III


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field files this month focus on the….

I’m hacking the O.O.L.F. File this month for a little self-promo. But it’s self-promo with a purpose. Me and 38 science friends have joined Dan Koboldt in an information-packed book from Writer’s Digest Books called, PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION. The release date is set for October 16, 2018.

It’s an awesome resource for writers and educators with experts explaining the nuts and bolts of science topics, including health. There’s also an introduction written by Chuck Wendig. (Yeah, that Chuck Wendig!)

Here’s a look at the section titles in PUTTING THE SCIENCE IN FICTION:

  • Research Labs, Hospitals, And Really Bad Ways To Die
  • Genome Engineering: It Never Ends Well
  • The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky
  • From Zero To Sixty (Legs, That Is)
  • Things To Know For When Skynet Takes Over
  • Earth And Other Planets. Yes, Pluto Counts!
  • Sometimes, It Really Is Rocket Science
  • Star Wars And The Far Future

My two contributions to the anthology are “The Science of Jurassic Park” and “Zombie Microbiology 101”.

You can also check out Dan’s Science In SciFi, Fact in Fantasy blog series for even more awesome science content from real-life experts. The blog is a great place to learn something new or to learn science for your writing.