Interview and Giveaway

A.M. Morgen’s fascinating debut novel “The Inventors at No. 8” published this week. Here’s a summary:

Meet George, the third Lord of Devonshire and the unluckiest boy in London. Why is George so unlucky? First, he’s an orphan. Second, unless he sells everything, he’s about to lose his house. So when his family’s last heirloom, a priceless map to the Star of Victory (a unique gem said to bring its owner success in any battle) is stolen by a nefarious group of criminals, George knows that there is no one less lucky-or more alone-than he is.

That is until Ada Byron, the future Countess of Lovelace, bursts into his life. She promises to help George recover his family legacy, and is determined to find her own father along the way–all in a flying machine she built herself. Joined by a mischievous orangutan and the long-lost son of an infamous pirate, Ada and George take off on a cross-continent journey through the skies that will change their lives, and perhaps the world, forever.

And now a few words from  A.M. about the phenomenon of automotons!

Before I started writing my debut novel, Inventors at No. 8, I didn’t know what an automaton was. Now, I’m mildly obsessed with them! And judging by the number of kid’s books that feature automatons, I’m not the only author who finds them fascinating.

If you’re not yet familiar with what an automaton is, here’s a brief description: An automaton is a non-electronic machine shaped like a human or animal that follows a pre-determined set of movements. Basically, it’s the clockwork version of a robot. If you had a jack-in-the-box as a kid, then you’ve played with a very simple automaton. Complex automatons have been made that can play musical instruments, write letters, and draw pictures.

Fictional portrayals of automatons can be an interesting indication of how society is reacting to advances in technology. Most often automatons are associated with steampunk or Victorian fiction, but because they have been around for over a thousand years, automatons could be part of any setting from ancient Greece to the present day. These machines can help set the tone of a story depending on whether they are amusing or helpful or sinister.  

Have I piqued your interest in automatons? If you’re looking for a great STEM project to do with kids, there are kits you can buy to make your own wooden automatons. Or, you can read about them in books like these:

The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

This book has lots of gears and lots of creepiness. 13-year-old Natalie lives in a small Missouri town in the early 1900s where she loves tinkering on automatons and riding the very fast bicycle her father built for her (the boneshaker). When a traveling medicine show arrives in town, Natalie is intrigued by its perpetual motion automatons. But the show has also brought something sinister, and Natalie seems to be the only who can stop it before it’s too late.

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

This book has three main characters whose stories become intertwined. Frederick is an apprentice clockmaker in an American steampunk city in the late 1800s. He needs a head to finish off the body of the automaton he’s made. Together with Giuseppe, a street musician, and Hannah, a maid, the three new friends find the perfect head for Frederick’s automaton and bring it to life.

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

Cogheart is set in a steampunk version of Victorian London. Lily and her fox automaton, Malkin, set off on a search to find Lily’s missing father, a genius inventor. They are joined by the son of a clockmaker as they all try to stay one step ahead of creepy silver-eyed men. The book is full of mystery as well as fun inventions like steam-powered zeppelins.

The Fate in the Box by Michelle Lovric

In this fantasy version of Venice in the late 1700s, automatons perform most tasks for the idle wealthy. It’s the job of the poor to wind up the automatons every night while the rich sleep. The city is ruled by Fogfinger, who uses his knowledge of clockwork to spy on citizens and keep them in line. As part of his reign of terror, every year, one Venetian child is chosen to meet the Fate in the Box, an automaton which decides if they live or die. This year, a few children band together to put an end to Fogfinger once and for all. This is the fourth of Lovric’s series of novels set in Venice that begins with The Undrowned Child.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

You won’t find a book with more automatons than this one. It’s pretty much stuffed from basement to attic with them…literally. The main character in this beautifully illustrated novel lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s where he keeps the station’s clocks running. One day he finds an old automaton in the ruins of a museum inside the station and tries to fix it. The automaton is based on a real automaton called “The Writer” and many of the details of the book are inspired by the life of Georges Méliès, a pioneering filmmaker who used automatons in his live shows and movies.

A.M.’s bio: 
A.M. Morgen comes from a long line of engineers and researchers but chose to pursue literature over the laboratory. To her family’s surprise, she has managed to make a decent living as an editor with her English degree. In her spare time, A.M. enjoys taking long walks in the forest, trying out new hobbies (then abandoning them), and complaining about her mean cat. Despite what you may think, A.M. is not a morning person.

To be eligible to win a copy of “The Inventors at No. 8”, please leave a comment below!

STEM Tuesday All About Conservation – Interview with Author Nancy Castaldo

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 author Nancy Castaldo who wrote this month’s featured conservation book, Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Find out how seven different animal species from around the world were saved from extinction by hard-working scientists and environmental activists in this book. Nancy Castaldo has used her experience as an environmental educator to create award-winning 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 2017 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 loves sharing her excitement about nonfiction with readers and fellow writers. Visit her at, on Twitter at @NCastaldoAuthor, or on Instagram at @naturespeak.

Mary Kay Carson: How did this book come about?

Nancy Castaldo: When I was young I had nightmares of creatures going extinct. I was terrified of losing any endangered species. I still am, but I know that my younger self needed to see hope and learn about the helpers. I wanted to give those stories to my readers. I wanted them to see that we all can make a difference, that every endangered species doesn’t go extinct because of the helpers. And that no matter where you live or how old you are, we all have the ability to join in the bucket brigade. I hope that Back from the Brink does that for my readers.

MKC: Could you share some highlights of doing research for Back from the Brink

Nancy: Every place I visit for research and photography has been life changing for me. This book, like the others for Houghton Mifflin such as Sniffer Dogs and The Story of Seeds, has taken me to places I only dreamed of visiting. I am a herper at heart, meaning I love reptiles and amphibians. Spending time with the tortoises and marine iguanas in the Galapagos was heaven. Another favorite experience was spending time with the dedicated California condor researchers in the Sespe Wilderness area. Part scientist and part adventurer, these biologists work tirelessly to conserve the condor population, despite continued threats to the birds from lead poisoning and micro-trash litter. It was a joy to enter their world.

MKC: Do you have a STEM background?

Nancy: I do have a STEM background. I completed a biology/chemistry double major in college and was president of the science club. At the same time I was also the co-editor of my college’s literary magazine. I was highlighted when I graduated in the college’s view book with the title, Creative Combinations. I’m still combining, having then went on to get a master’s that focused on children’s literature. Science, writing, and photography are all my passions. I love writing STEM books. I was a curious kid and I love writing for curious readers. I strive to inspire, inform, and empower my young readers because I believe they are our hope for the future. Our world needs them now more than ever.

Purchase Back from the Brink!

MKC: Any recommendations for fans of Back from the Brink?

Nancy: I’m hoping that readers will become inspired and empowered with the success stories in Back from the Brink and want to learn more about these creatures and other endangered species. There are many wonderful fiction and nonfiction books that can continue the experience. I’ve included many in the Learn More section of the book, including Dorothy Patent’s The Buffalo and the Indian, Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, and Jazynka Kitson’s Mission Wolf Rescue. While these books are great reads, I really hope that my readers will step out into the wild and discover some of these creatures first hand. I list places throughout the country for outdoor, natural sightings in my book.

Praise for Back from the Brink:

  • “[Castaldo] offers solid, meaningful suggestions for young readers […] including many, many learning opportunities: things to watch and read, organizations to investigate, websites and parks to explore. Challenging but important reading for the intended audience.”–Kirkus, STARRED review
  • “Readers will be moved by Castaldo’s appreciation for these animals.”–Booklist, STARRED review

Win a FREE copy of Back from the Brink!   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!

Hosting this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow animal lover, science nerd, and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson