STEM Tuesday– Deep Space and Beyond– Interview with Author Alexandra Siy

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 Alexandra Siy, author of this month’s featured deep space book, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space. The book is a “soundtrack” that takes readers on an epic journey into interstellar space thanks to NASA’s Voyager program and its twin robotic space probes.

The author’s enthusiasm for Voyager’s accomplishments shines through her words: “Planets dance around the Sun. Moons and rings dance around the planets. And the Voyagers danced around them all, taking pictures, collecting data, and transforming how humans see and understand the solar system.”  Voyager’s Greatest Hits received a starred review from School Library Journal, calling it “An engaging and captivating STEM title.” The book was also chosen for NSTA’s Best STEM Books 2018.

Alexandra Siy is a science writer and photographer for kids who thinks that science is fun, artsy, and cool. She’s written many books that combine science and art through imagery that reveals both microscopic and far away worlds.  She also visits schools and libraries nationwide, sharing her passion for science, books, and photography.

Mary Kay Carson: What inspired you to write Voyager’s Greatest Hits?

Alexandra Siy: Back in 2005, I was following the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity for my book CARS ON MARS. One day, while trolling the NASA website I read about a record album flying through space. What?!

Launched back in 1977 on the Voyager Planetary Mission, the “Golden Record” instantly captured my imagination. What was on it? How do you play it? Why was it made? Did scientists really think there are aliens out there who might someday find it? Where is it right now? One question lead to another—and suddenly I was researching the heliosphere, plasma waves, gravity assist, the interstellar medium, and termination shock. At that point, the Voyagers were far beyond the outer planets, but they were still on a mission. Now called the Voyager Interstellar Mission, the twin spacecraft were speeding toward interstellar space, and I wanted to hop onboard. But the only way to go was to write a book.

Voyager’s Greatest Hits was inspired by the Golden Record. It was fun weaving the titles of pop musical recordings from the past forty years into the narrative’s chapter titles and subtitles. A book is the voice of the person writing it, and Voyager’s Greatest Hits became my personal journey to the cosmos. “I’ve been flying with the Voyagers ever since,” I wrote in my author’s note. “And now, so are you.”

MKC: Could you share a favorite research moment or finding?

Alexandra: Although I interviewed several scientists while researching Voyager’s Greatest Hits, my favorite moment was not my interview. It occurred on December 3, 2013 (which was my birthday). I discovered the interview online over a year later. Voyager Project Scientist, Ed Stone, who I’d come to know only through research, was on the Colbert Report talking about “humankind’s greatest—and certainly most extensive—journey of exploration.” When Stephen Colbert floated across the stage in a spacesuit and presented Ed with NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, Ed was genuinely surprised. His passion for science, exploration, and discovery was as engaging as his great big smile. Check it out the Colbert interview and the fun award presentation.

MKC: Why do you write STEM books?

Alexandra: I have a lot of questions. I want to know things. I majored in biology in college because I literally wanted to know what life is—the reason for it, and how and why it exists. This question of life, which is the ultimate existential question, bothered me a lot. When I realized I would not be finding the answer in upper level bio courses, I signed up for classes in Shakespeare and Writing Poetry. I minored in writing and eventually discovered that nonfiction writing is “thinking on the page,” as Philip Lopate described it in his 2013 title, To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. When I write, I come to understand.

Writing STEM books is a holistic approach to understanding. I like to say I write STEAM books because I incorporate art into all of my titles. Primary source scientific imagery is also artistic expression, and I love fusing science and art in books for young readers.

MKC: Any book recommendations for fans of Voyager’s Greatest Hits?

Alexandra: A Wrinkle in Time, the novel by Madeleine L’Engle. In her 1963 Newberry Medal acceptance speech L’Engle concluded: “A book too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” Mary Kay Carson’s outstanding Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt. And for the 2019, 50th Anniversary of the first lunar landing check out Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.

Win a FREE copy of Voyager’s Greatest Hits!

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, fellow space geek and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson


Marcus Emerson’s The Super Life of Ben Braver

I’m thrilled to have indie author Marcus Emerson join us here at The Files. Within the indie community, Marcus is a bit of an inspiration. His books often top the charts and his Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja series has over 2,500 Amazon reviews! I knew it would be invaluable to have him here as there’s much to learn from his success as an indie author.

My name is Chase Cooper, and I’m a 6th grade ninja. It’s my first day at a different school and the only person I know is my cousin, Zoe (but she might be a little too cool for me). I was just another scrawny kid until a group of ninjas recruited me into their clan. It was a world of trouble I wasn’t prepared for, which is why I kept this diary (or “chronicle” as my dad would call it) – to warn other kids about the dangers of becoming a ninja. They say history is destined to repeat itself… well, not if I can help it. Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja is a funny thriller that’s entertaining for kids, middle school students, and adults.


Amie: Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files, Marcus! We’re so excited to have you here. Your publication journey is inspiring and I’m excited to share it with our readers. So let’s start with the basics. What inspired you to want to write MG books?

Marcus: It started with Recess Warriors – I wanted to create a comic book, but I wanted to create a comic book that I wouldn’t have to hide from my 3-year-old (at the time) daughter, so that meant no realistic violence, foul language, or anything of the sort. I was working on it for several hours a day at the kitchen table, and she would constantly sit with me during that process.

Once that was finished, I realized that MG was where my heart was the whole time so I just kept going. I can’t see ever writing anything outside of that.

Amie: I believe writing is a calling. Once you find your genre, it almost feels like a betrayal to write outside of it. So you wrote Recess Warriors and had a finished manuscript. Why not find an agent or publisher? Why choose to self-publish?

Marcus: I love working, especially on creating stories. If I could, I’d work all day on just that and nothing else, which was the reason why I chose to self-publish. I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted people to read my stories so I got to work and put them out. I was never against finding an agent or against traditional publishing – I just wanted to work without thinking about anything but the work, and self-publishing allowed me to do that.

Amie: There’s a lot of waiting in traditional publishing and, understandably, there can be some lag time between book releases, so I can appreciate the desire to create and publish on your own timeline. Indie authors tend to sell mostly ebooks. Are your sales mostly digital or physical books?

Marcus: I’m selling a lot more physical books these days. I’m definitely not an expert on why that’s the case though. I suspect more people like having physical copies in their hands? Personally, I do. I’ve probably bought a handful of ebooks in my life, but I’ve got a thousand physical books on my shelf.

I like a book where I can jot notes down on the paper, tear out pages and pin them up for reference, stick post-its in the margins, fold an edge to mark my place, to toss on the couch and know it’s waiting for me when I need it, and to stack on my bookshelves as beat up trophies.

My first love is actually comics, and nothing beats a physical comic book in your hands.

Amie: Unlike other indie authors who write for older audiences and can market directly to them, middle grade readers don’t always purchase their own books.  How were you able to reach this younger audience?

Marcus: takes care of all that for me. Parents shop the site, see that my books are popular or are recommended in the “customers also bought” section. I really don’t do much (if any) marketing at all.

Amie: That’s great! Amazon is essential to the indie author. Diary of a 6th grade Ninja is your first self pubbed middle grade book, correct? Ninjas are always popular for this age group, particularly boys. Do you think this has had some influence over the popularity of your books? 

Marcus: Correct. NINJA was my first self pubbed book. Ninjas are timeless. I’m 37 years old, and I grew up loving the Ninja Turtles, and kids today are still growing up loving those same turtles. I’m sure being part of pop culture definitely helped my books connect with young readers. 

Amie: I’m a *little* older than you but I recall my siblings watching TMNT. I can definitely understand the timeless kid appeal. From here you went on to write additional series, including The Super Life of Ben Braver. Was this also self-published? How did the popularity of your Ninja series affect the follow through sales of your other books? 

Ben Braver is an ordinary kid. All he wants to do is finish his summer watching awesome TV shows and eating his favorite candy. But when some kid screams for help, Ben, like his favorite comic book heroes, tries to save the day. Let’s just say it ends badly. But it does lead him to a secret school where kids with super abilities learn to control thier powers. Ben’s never had any powers—and never thought he could be special. So when he’s offered a spot at the school, Ben realizes this is his chance to become the superhero he’s always dreamed of.

Marcus: BEN BRAVER is not self-published. It’s published through Roaring Brook Press. It’s been out for a few months now and the response has been great, but I’m not exactly sure if the success of NINJA has anything to do with it.

Amie: You’re now represented by an agent. Tell us a bit about how you found your agent. Why’d you decide to seek representation?

Marcus: So one day I got an email from an agent (Dan Lazar at Writers House) who had read DIARY OF A 6TH GRADE NINJA. He thought the book was really fun and wanted to have a phone call with me. At the time, I was buried in my own work, writing and drawing another book in the NINJA series, so his email kind of slipped my mind.

Fast forward to several months later when I started getting inquiries from foreign countries about publishing the NINJA series in different languages. Foreign taxes and laws and all that was too staggering for my brain to understand, so I emailed Dan back for advice, which he generously offered, and I’ve been working with him and the awesome folks at Writers House ever since.

Amie: Fantastic news on both to your foreign rights interest and to your representation! Since some of your books have now been picked up by a publisher, what are your marketing plans? How have they changed?

Marcus: My marketing hasn’t changed too much, except that I’m trying my best to maintain a social media presence. It’s kind of exhausting for me and inevitably leads me back to burying myself in work because that’s what I love anyway.

Amie: Tell us a bit about your transition from indie to trad and what that’s been like.

Marcus: Self-publishing is a lonely process, for me at least. I outline alone. I write alone. I edit myself, then my wife edits, and then a third person edits. I make the final draft alone. I draw alone. And then I release the book quietly and wait for fans to start reviewing. This process takes 2-3 months per book.

Traditional publishing is much more friendly and a team effort. I outline with my editor and her assistant. I write a first draft. I work on illustrations while they edit. We have phone calls about the first draft and then I work on the second draft based on those notes. I work on covers with designers and the sales team while the second draft is edited. I sharpen the third draft. The book is laid out by the designer. We sharpen the layout until it’s nearly perfect. The book gets printed as an Advanced Reader Copy. The book is sharpened further until it’s perfect. The final book is ready and printed and released. This process takes almost 2 years, and I have a wonderful team of people at Roaring Brook Press working hard to make sure the book is the best it can be.

Amie: What do you like most about being an indie author? What’s the worst thing? Will you continue to self-publish?

 Marcus: Most? I get to write what I want. Worst? The stress of writing what I want. There’s nobody to tell me “That’s a bad idea,” or “This part sucks,” or “This part is almost good.” I’m extra hard on my self-pubbed stuff because of that.

I think self-publishing will always be there for me, like my own playground for story telling experiments – nothing major – just small ideas and thoughts.

Amie: Any other books you’re working on?

Marcus: Right now I’m working on the sequel to Ben Braver (actually I’ve been working on it for the last year and a half).

Amie: Spaghetti and meatballs or bean burritos? Snow pants or swim trunks? Dinosaurs or unicorns?

Marcus: Bean burritos! It’s like a meal wrapped in a blanket. I can’t walk while eating spaghetti and walking while eating is very important to me. It’s the most important thing of all.

Swim trunks, because snow pants make too much noise when you walk in them, and I don’t need all those people looking at me when I’m eating my burrito.

Dinosaurs! Because how cool would it be to strap a saddle to one and fight crime while riding it?? But on the other hand, it could be pretty cool to fight crime on a unicorn, too. This question is too hard. Pass.

Amie: Haha! These are the best answers ever! I can’t help imagining you in noisy snow pants, eating your meal-wrapped-in-a-blanket while fighting crime from the back of a unicorn. Thanks for the visual. And thanks so much for joining us at The Files, Marcus. Best of luck to you with Ben Braver as well as all of your other titles. 


Marcus Emerson is the author of the hit Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja   series, The Super Life of Ben Braver, and Recess Warriors. His career   started in 2nd grade when he discovered Garfield. He grew up playing   Super Mario Bros., watching Thundercats, and reading comics like   X-Men, and Wildcats. He lives in Iowa with his wife and children.

If you’d like to win a copy of The Super Life of Ben Braver just fill out the rafflecopter form below. We’ll select one lucky winner!

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Books to Help You Survive Summer Vacation- #Giveaway!!

Here we are about a month or so into summer vacation. How’s it going? Are you still excited to not have to drive your kids to school, pack their lunches, and drag them out of the bed in the morning so as not to be late? Good!  OR are the days starting to feel really loooonng and never-ending? Like you have nothing to do all day but be the cruise director for your kids? If you feel like the former– awesome! If you feel like the latter, don’t worry. You are not alone. When my three kids were young, summers sometimes seemed to stretch forever.

What’s a parent to do?  For one thing we got our kids BOOKS!  Books are awesome! They are fun for reading, but also for doing activities. We bought each kid a math workbook and had them do problems to keep their skills up. (It was also a great incentive for them to get some videogame or TV time) 🙂 If you’re looking for some FUN ways to do that, check out these Big Fat Notebooks by Workman Publishing.


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The BIG FAT NOTEBOOK™ series is built on a simple and irresistible conceit—borrowing the notes from the smartest kid in class. There are five books in all, and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History. Inside the reader will find every subject’s key concepts, easily digested and summarized: Critical ideas highlighted in neon colors. Definitions explained. Doodles that illuminate tricky concepts in marker. Mnemonics for memorable shortcuts. And quizzes to recap it all.

The best part is that they read as if they are written by a kid. Kids will LOVE them!


If Games, Puzzles, and Mazes are more your kid’s game, then check out this AWESOME new book by Mike Lowery, also by Workman Publishing.

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Pure interactive fun between two covers A book that begs to be doodled in with 96 wacky prompts, games, and crafts, and adorable creatures to boot, The Kid’s Awesome Activity Book is packed with activities that take delightful twists and turns, inviting kids to design, draw, and dream–and encouraging creativity on and off the page. Enter an ancient cave to decode a mummy’s message. Find your way through a beehive maze. Write a song for a cat rock band. Design a personalized spaceship–and so much more. Plus, plenty of goodies to return to again and again for hands-on play: paper dolls, finger puppets, bonus stickers, and a giant pullout poster designed to kindle curious minds and active imaginations.

A great boredom-buster for travel or rainy days, and a fun birthday or holiday gift. From the author and illustrator of the Doodle Adventures(R) series and based on the Kid’s Awesome Activity Calendar, the book showcases Lowery’s inimitable quirky style and humor that clicks with all ages–get the whole family in on the fun.

This is TONS of fun for kids and it will keep them occupied for hours. (which means you get to dive into a book yourself!)

Want to win them all? Enter below.

(And hang in there, school is only a month or two away…) 🙂

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