Activity Books

STEM Tuesday — STEM Activity Books– Author Interview

STEM Tuesday–Activity Books– Interview with Nancy Castaldo

 

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go, Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re visiting with STEM Tuesday contributor and prior interviewee Nancy Castaldo. An award-winning author, Nancy has a long list of books for kids, including activity books, such as Deserts. 

 

Picture of the book cover for Deserts by Nancy Castaldo

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano:

Please tell us about Deserts and your purpose for writing it.

Nancy Castaldo: I began my children’s writing career with a series of nonfiction activity books that centered around the exploration of the natural world. Deserts followed the popular, Sunny Days and Starry Nights, and was published along with Rainforests, Oceans, and River Wild.

My first introduction to the desert environment came as a child. Deserts fascinated my dad and he shared that fascination with me. I can still remember standing in the desert and watching the iguanas basking on the rocks. As a lover of all reptiles and amphibians, I became an instant fan. Of course, there are many types of deserts around the world and each has its own flora and fauna. I wanted my readers to discover them along with me.

 

CCD: Can you share a favorite aspect of the book? What about a favorite bit of information about deserts?

NC: While I enjoyed bits of every desert, much of what I wrote about the American desert returned to me last year during my visits to Arizona. I spent weeks vacationing and researching there and found that chapter of the book rising up in my thoughts daily. Hiking in Saguaro National Park only reinvigorated my love of this majestic cactus species. Seeing the petroglyphs with a Native guide in Canyon de Chelly brought Navajo history alive.

 

CCD: Other than introducing the desert habitat to readers, were there any other themes you wanted to explore in this book?

NC: As an environmental educator, I strive to inform and inspire my readers about the natural world. In this book, along with my books on rainforests and rivers, I wanted my readers to expand their knowledge and perceptions about these ecosystems. Readers might think all deserts are hot or that monkeys live in all rainforest jungles, or that all rivers flow fast.  In these books, they’ll  find that our world is wide and these ecosystems differ from their perceptions in spectacular ways.

 

CCD: In your mind, what makes a great activity in a nonfiction children’s book?

NC: Activities that are easy to follow with simple materials can allow readers to explore ideas on another level. Plus, they are fun!

In DESERTS, readers learn how to make a solar still to collect water in the desert. Illustration: B. Kulak

CCD: Looking over the activities in Deserts, I’d say you nailed the activities on all of those points. I particularly appreciated the way you brought in activities (and text)  that help readers get a sense of how people and culture thrive in the desert. The still, sand painting, and kachina doll activities are some examples.

 

CCD: On a different note, this book goes back a while. How have you as an author changed? What has stayed the same?

While this is one of my older titles, I still have educators reaching out who are using it in their classrooms, especially during this pandemic. I still love including activities and additional ways my readers can engage with my topics in all my books. Whether it is a pizza recipe in my picture book, Pizza for the Queen, or a how-to on hosting a seed swap in my young adult The Story of Seeds, activities can provide a jumping off point for readers young and old.

CCD: It’s interesting to note that your love of activities as a way to help readers engage has stayed with you throughout your career.  Speaking of your career…Deserts is one of your earlier books. Imagine you were going to revise Deserts now. Given any changes in you, publishing, schooling, or the world at large that may come to mind for you right now, what might you want to change about Deserts

ND: I’ve been able to provide photos for many of my books recently. Although I love Betsy’s illustrations, I’d love to supply photos for a reboot of this title if possible.

CCD: Oh, that would be gorgeous–even though I agree that Betsy’s illustrations are lovely. Either way, it’s a wonderful book. Thank you for all of your work helping kids explore STEM ideas and activities, and thank you for the interview. 

Looking for more STEM activity books? Check out the entire August 2020 STEM Tuesday booklist!

Win a FREE copy of Deserts

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below.  (Scroll past the link to the previous post.) 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!

Photo of DESERTS author Nancy CastaldoNancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, 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 empower her readers. Nancy also serves as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2020 title is THE FARM THAT FEEDS US. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com. 

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photo of author and STEM Tuesday contribuor Carolyn DeCristofanoCarolyn DeCristofano, a founding team member of STEM Tuesday, is also a children’s STEM author and STEM education consultant. She recently co-founded STEM Education Insights, an educational research, program evaluation, and curriculum development firm which complements her independent work as Blue Heron STEM Education. She has authored several acclaimed science books, including Running on Sunshine (HarperCollins Children) and A Black Hole is NOT a Hole (Charlesbridge).

STEM Tuesday — STEM Activity Books– Writing Tips & Resources

Sometimes, when there’s so much uncertainty in the world (like now) it’s nice to have a set of rules or instructions to follow. Honestly, having fewer choices is one reason I love writing nonfiction. We can’t just make up plots and main characters; we must stick with the facts and harness our creativity to turn those facts into compelling true stories.

This month’s booklist includes a host of STEM activity books, found here, all of which fall into the category of “how-to” books. As I looked through the books, I noticed each offered detailed rules or procedures for making or building items or conducting experiments. And each activity contained the following elements:

  • A list of supplies and/or equipment needed
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Pictures showing the process

So how can we apply this “how-to” process to our writing? By embracing poetry, of course! Most poetry requires we follow certain rules. And some special poetry forms involve using materials like books, newspapers, markers, and more, just like our STEM how-to books. Fun, right?

Here are two simple, hands-on poetry forms to try.

Blackout Poems (erasure poetry)

No Angle by Austin Kleon

Supplies/tools needed:

  • old newspaper, magazine, or a page from a discarded book
  • pencil
  • markers

Instructions:

  1. Scan through one page of your newspaper or book, looking for interesting words that might spark a poetry idea. Lightly circle them with your pencil.
  2. Now look for other words connecting your circled words. Remember, you won’t be able to reshuffle or reorder the words. You can only use what’s available to you in the order it appears reading left to right, down to up. Circle those new connecting words with the pencil.
  3. Now go back with a marker and circle all the words for your poem.
  4. Color or blackout all the remaining words on the page, so only your chosen words remain. You can even draw interesting shapes and designs over the remaining words if you like.

Here’s a step-by-step how-to video from Austin Kleon showing how he made the poem above.

Spine Poems (found poetry)

Supplies/tools needed: Lots of books!

Instructions:

  1. Stack up books, one on top of the other, so you can read the spines.
  2. Starting at the top, read down through the spines, letting the words from each title become a line of poetry.
  3. Rearrange books as necessary until you have a poem you like.

Enjoy following these hands-on poetry “how-tos.” And here’s hoping limited choices spark unlimited creativity.

O.O.L. F (Out of Left Field)


Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She’s the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, Fall 2021), along with 25 other nonfiction books for kids. Find her at kirsten-w-larson.com or on Twitter/Instagram @KirstenWLarson.

STEM Tuesday — STEM Activity Books– In the Classroom

It’s August and the countdown to school has started. For many students and teachers, going to school may look a little different this year. Some students may be learning in the classroom, while others learn at home. And some students may be doing a little bit of both. No matter where you’re learning, you can use these great books to spark a lasting interest in science and STEM.

The books we’re highlighting this month are all STEM activity books. They are a great starting point for different science activities and discussions in the classroom and at home.

Calling All Inventors!
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Do your students know about scientist and inventor Temple Grandin? In this book, kids can learn from a master inventor by reading her personal stories and trying a few of the book’s 25 hands-on projects. Throughout the book, Grandin shows readers what it’s like to see the world through an inventor’s eyes, questioning and testing how the world works. You could have kids do a few of these projects and then present their results, either in person or in a virtual classroom. You can even have students think like Grandin and come up with their own project or invention!

Want to learn a little be more about Temple Grandin? Take a look at this Colorado State University article about Temple Grandin’s life.

Let’s Build!

If you want your students or kids to learn about engineering – try this fantastic book:
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This book has activities to explore important principles of engineering, such as forces and motion; liquids and reactions; shapes and structures; and light and sound. You can explore gravity by building a working model of a tower crane. You can study the range of colors in light by building a spectroscope. Maybe assign a different project to small groups of students. Have them demonstrate their project to the class. How does it work? What engineering principle(s) does it show? How is this principle used by scientists in the real world?

Take a Walk Through the Jungle

For younger kids, Rainforests is a great activity book that teaches kids about tropical and temperate forests and how we can help preserve them.
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The book also has lots of information about the creatures of the rainforest. The book begins with several chapters about the layers of the rainforest – the forest floor, the understory, the canopy, and the top layer. Perhaps have each kid choose an animal or plant that lives in the rainforest and write a few sentences about it and how it survives in the rainforest.

Kids will learn about the rainforest in different parts of the world. Try some of the book’s activities such as creating a jungle journal in Africa or communicating with message sticks in the South Asian and Malaysian rainforest. Ask the kids: How are the rainforests in different parts of the world similar? How are they different? How can we work together to conserve and protect them?

Have fun with all of the hands-on STEM and science activities in these books! It’s a great way to bring science into your classroom – no matter where it is this year!

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Carla Mooney loves to explore the world around us and discover the details about how it works. An award-winning author of numerous nonfiction science books for kids and teens, she hopes to spark a healthy curiosity and love of science in today’s young people. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three kids, and dog. When not writing, she can often be spotted at a hockey rink for one of her kids’ games. Find her at http://www.carlamooney.com, on Facebook @carlamooneyauthor, or on Twitter @carlawrites.