Women In STEM (Math & Science) – Author Interview with Laurie Wallmark, and Giveaway

 Today we’re interviewing Laurie Wallmark, author of Numbers in Motion, and several other titles.



This book features the STEM topics of mathematical equations and science, and how Sophie Kowalevski became the first woman in the world to receive a doctorate in mathematics that required original research and inspired a generation of mathematicians.

Sophie was also the first to hold a university chair in mathematics, and the first to be the editor of a major scientific journal.


  1. Tell us about Numbers in Motion and what inspired you to write the story of Sophie Kowalevski.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved math. Why? Because it’s fun! Although several of the people I’ve written about before have been talented mathematicians, they were recognized in different fields. I thought it was time to share a woman mathematician’s story with kids.


2. How did you do your research for this book? How did you organize all the information you learned about Sophie?

I researched her life through books and professional journal articles. A book that was especially helpful was written by Sophie herself, A Russian Childhood.

I use the program OneNote to organize all my research. I have a separate tab for each book, each of which includes a section for notes and for quotations. It’s very important to be able to go back to your notes and find the source for what you’ve written. In addition, I have tabs for my bibliography, a timeline of Sophie’s life, and, while I was researching and writing the book, an ever-expanding list of possible scenes to write.



3. How do you envision teachers and librarians using this book in classrooms?

The true value of picture books is that they can be used on so many levels. To start with, there is of course the text and illustrations of the story. Especially in a book like mine that takes place in another time period, there are many possibilities for discussing how the world has changed.

In addition, most nonfiction picture books, including mine, include some basic back matter such as a timeline and a bibliography. Numbers in Motion also has three more pieces of back matter. My author’s note tells how, in addition to being a mathematician, Sophie was also a writer. Next, for students (like me!) who might want to know more about Sophie’s math, I explain in more detail the problem she solved–the rotation of solid bodies. Finally, I include how Sophie Kowalevski’s name was transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet. This presents a great opportunity to discuss how people’s (possibly even some of their classmates’) names might be spelled different ways when written in our Roman alphabet.


4. Can you suggest three questions related to women in mathematics for student discussions?

  1. Why do you think we haven’t heard of as many woman mathematicians as men?
  2. Do you think woman and girls have the same natural ability in math as men and boys?
  3. Do you think there are any women working in mathematics today who have made important discoveries



5. What do you want readers to take away from Numbers in Motion?

Sophie loved math and overcame many obstacles to pursue her studies. I think the big take away from Numbers in Motion is it’s worth pursuing your dreams, even if other people say you can’t or shouldn’t.

To read more about Laurie and her work, click here.


Want to own your very own copy of Numbers In Motion? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 


You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on April 13, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive the book.




5 Weird Facts I Learned About the Ocean by 11-year-old Grace

Welcome, eleven-year-old Grace (main character in Alice Kaltman’s new middle-grade novel, The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh). Thanks for stopping by MUF to tell us all about the ocean. And thank you to your creator, Alice Kaltman, for offering to give away a copy of your story!

Enter the giveaway below. 

The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh

The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh by Alice Kaltman

5 Interesting/Fun/Weird Facts I Learned About the Ocean by Grace Minnaugh, main character in The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh by Alice Kaltman

I guess you could say I, Grace Minnaugh, lead a decidedly double life. When I’m on land, I’m all girl, but when I’m fully submerged in seawater I’m all mermaid. I only discovered my mermaid self when I moved to California from Ohio, where there isn’t a puddle of seawater anywhere except maybe at aquariums, so you can imagine my surprise when I first transformed.

I learn new things about life underwater every time I take a dive. Some of these oddities are particular to me, myself, and I as a mermaid, and some are honest to goodness facts that sounds too fantastical to be true. Here are my top five ocean-y shares:


  • I breathe fish-style underwater, with magical gills that pop out from behind my ears once I’m in mermaid mode. Breathing with gills is awesome. I take sips of water through my mouth, and exhale the water through my gills. My gills dissolve the oxygen from the water (The O in the H2O), and pump it through my blood to my cells. My gills feel like little curtains flapping behind my ears. Ticklish, but not annoying. It’s a relaxing tickle, more like a scalp massage.
  • I adore dolphins. Even before I became a mermaid I thought they were the most amazing animals on the planet. Did you know that merpeople and dolphins share a very cool power, aside from being lovable and super friendly? We both navigate through the water using a technique called echolocation. We emit bio sonar waves from our foreheads that rebound off creatures and plants and tell us how far away and how big they are. This is a crucial skill to have when we’re about to encounter a hungry Great While or Tiger Shark. Usually those guys leave us alone, but when they’re particularly peckish, our flesh-eating shark friends can be a tad unpredictable. Better to use echolocation and find a hiding place to chill for a while then be a shark’s midday treat. Interesting sidebar: Dolphins have gigantic foreheads, which human scientist have decided to call melons, because, duh, they look like melons, but we merpeople have much more attractive, normal-sized foreheads.
  • Some merpeople, but not all, can swim really fast, like faster than a speedboat fast. I’m one of those lucky ones. I wish you could see me kick my monofin as rapidly as possible, while the water courses through my gills, and my hair streams behind me like a sail. I suppose you’ll have to read “The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh” to find out more about this particular mer-superpower. I can’t even describe how stupendous it feels.
  • One of my favorite sea species of all times is the sea slug. Those little creatures store up sun rays like plants and illuminate like little blobs of sunshine underwater! Sea slugs are particularly handy—if slippery— to have around when you’re fluttering through a super dark underwater cavern many meters under the surface. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nearly gotten lost, but for those little babies lighting my way. My all time favorite type of sea slug is the Flabellina polaris, or Tanglewing. It is covered with tendrils tipped with light, like a magical illuminated feather; beautiful, but super slimy to the touch so beware!
  • Lastly, I’m not sharing this to be a mer-Debby Downer, but rather, to alert you to something you can do to help save our oceans: One of the most spectacular living entities underwater are the many, many species of coral. I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful they are—the shapes, the sizes, the awe-inspiring colors, and how important they are to the ocean ecosystem. But coral reefs are being destroyed all over the globe. It really stresses me out. One thing that kills coral is when humans use non-reef friendly sunscreen and swim with that stuff sprayed or glopped all over their bodies. These products are super bad for coral, in a variety of ways. You can read more about it here, but in the meantime, tell your parents to just buy mineral sunscreens, especially lotions containing non-nano zinc dioxide as the primary active ingredient. Everything else is poison!
Alice Kaltman, author of The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh

Alice Kaltman, author of The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh

About The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh by Alice Kaltman 

Eleven-year-old Grace Minnaugh is not a fan of big changes. She’s miserable during her first weeks in the seaside town of La Toya, sulking like a spoiled brat. Her family embraces the California lifestyle and Grace decides to embrace the seductive beauty of the sea. One fateful morning, while taking a predawn swim, she is caught in a thunderstorm. Without the ocean skills to survive, she’s sucked below the surface, convinced she will drown. Instead, a new life begins. Gills rip open from behind her ears and her legs fuse together to form a fishtail. Grace Minnaugh is a mermaid, and a gorgeous one at that. On land, Grace is still the same walking, talking social misfit she’s always been. But in the salty sea, she’s an underwater marvel. Grace decides not to tell a soul about her flip-floppy double life, but things get complicated when Grace befriends Alfie DeCosta, a kid who’s obsessed with finding an elusive shipwreck off the coast of La Toya. Grace knows exactly where the shipwreck is. But she can’t tell Alfie about it, or can she?


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A Chat About GLOOM TOWN by Author Ronald L. Smith & An Engaging Challenge For Readers!

Hi Everyone! How are you all doing? Social distancing and self-confinement is not something any of us expected to be doing, right now. Such an abrupt change to our lives can make us feel withdrawn and lonely. But there are ways to combat that feeling of isolation. One way is through reading and writing. Just as exciting is doing that with others through the internet. If you scroll to the bottom of this post, you’ll find a little creative exercise I created for you to do. Those who participate will have a chance to win a prize!

But don’t scroll yet! Take a peek at my next creepy book spotlight and what the author has to say about his writing journey. It’s seriously an amazing, creepy middle grade read.


by Ronald L. Smith

A delightfully creepy novel from a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner imbued with magic and seafaring mythology. Lemony Snicket and Jessica Townsend meet Greenglass House, with a hint of Edward Gorey thrown in.

When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

Another delightfully creepy tale from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award–winning author Ronald L. Smith.


Hello Ronald! It’s such a pleasure to have you visit us. Let’s begin with an area most readers are curious about: What is it about writing stories that makes it all worth it for you?

Selfishly, it’s a dream come true to do this for a living.  I feel very lucky to have such a cool job. But what’s really rewarding is knowing that kids will read my books and (hopefully) like them.

Did any book(s) from your childhood influence or encourage you to . . .

    1. Want to read more?


    1. Become a writer?

                    Yes. One of my favorite books as a kid was The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Elanor Cameron. I also loved Ray  Bradbury, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. All of these books fired my imagination and set me on a path of becoming a writer. 

How do you think authors, librarians, teachers, and parents can encourage a love of reading in middle schoolers?

I think they’re all doing a fantastic job. There has to be a story for every kid. The librarians and teachers are on the front lines in suggesting books that will appeal to every one of them, no matter their background. Also, it’s not just books. Comics, graphic novels and poetry also help kids become better readers of novels. So don’t discourage any kind of reading at all!

So very true!

Describe for us the town in which you set Gloom Town and why this story had to be told there?

Hmm. Well, I write organically, and just kind of discovered Gloom Town as I was writing it. I wanted a locale that felt out of time. Kind of like 19th century England but with odd details in the mix as well. The seaside setting was a surprise to me, but once that came to me I really began to love it. Ships, mariners, the docks—it all came together to create a setting I really loved.

I love how the town revealed itself to you as you were writing the story.

What was your favorite part of the story to write?

I like the creepy stuff, so it has to be Lord Foxglove and his minions!


What makes your main character Rory different from other characters you’ve written?

He has a lot on his shoulders and will do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. He is bright and confident, brave and curious. His home life is different from that of my other characters. His mom is a singer, and her friends are artists and performers, so he has grown up in a creative, avant-garde community.

Why will middle schoolers relate to Rory and/or your other characters in Gloom Town?

Hopefully, they’ll see a bit of themselves in these characters and experience every bit of joy, fear and happiness that they do!

What do you hope readers will take-away with them after reading this story?

Be brave. Fight for your family. Don’t take a job at a spooky mansion.


Food advice: What’s your favorite writing snack?

I don’t really have one. I take a break at noon for lunch. I usually have some tea in the afternoon. But if I had to answer I’d say anything salty and crunchy!

Writing advice: What do you do when the writing just isn’t flowing?


Walk away for a while. Read someone else’s novel. Take a walk and clear my head.

One favorite idea-generating method you use is . . .?

Sometimes when I get stuck I imagine that the book is a film. What would happen next if this were a movie, I ask myself. Sometimes it works, Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sounds like a pretty effective method.

Care to share a favorite middle grade book of yours?

His Dark Materials from Philip Pullman and The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. All the best to you, from your Mixed-Up Files family!




Ronald L. Smith is the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award-winning author of Hoodoo, The Mesmerist, The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away, Gloom Town, and Black Panther: The Young Prince. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.




Dear Readers, thank you for joining in to learn more about Ron’s mysterious story of GLOOM TOWN! Are you ready for your home-schooling exercise? Create your own fictional town – Name & a brief Description – in the comment section below along with your Twitter handle for a chance to win a copy of GLOOM TOWN! I can’t wait to see what you come up with! Giveaway runs from today until April 1st, (US only). Winner will be announced via Twitter.