STEM Tuesday– Architecture– Interview with Nancy Castaldo!

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

Today, I’m delighted to interview a founding member of STEM Tuesday, Nancy Castaldo!

Nancy’s most recent book is an exploration of a very cool topic – green buildings! And not painted green. No, these buildings are growing, thriving, and . . .  breathing!

BUILDINGS THAT BREATHE: GREENING THE WORLD’S CITIES takes young readers on a journey around the world to discover ecological, sustainable architecture practices such as incorporating trees and other forms of native vegetation into buildings.

Why design buildings that breathe? Because it’s healthier – for humans, wildlife, and the planet. And, these buildings are beautiful!

Learn more about Nancy’s research and writing process:

cover Buildings That Breathe

Andi Diehn: What a great title – what sparked the idea for this book?

Nancy Castaldo: As an Italian-American, I have Italian news stories on my radar. I was excited when I came across the story of Bosco Verticale in Milan. In addition, I studied architecture in graduate school after all my earlier science studies. This project dovetailed with both of those interests. I wasn’t sure what direction the book would take until I attended the United Nations Forum in Urban Forestry in Mantua, Italy in 2018. The book formed out of that participation. I had the opportunity to meet with so many global leaders in urban greening.

AD: Boeri refers to a “new Renaissance” when talking about the future of cities. What does he mean by this?

NC: The Italian Renaissance was a period of recovery from disasters that occurred in the 14th century and a period of tremendous innovation. Milan was home to Leonardo da Vinci, a Renaissance master of innovation. Boeri, the architect for Bosco Verticale, is calling for the opportunity for tremendous innovation in the world’s cities today. His design and his collaborations in Milan and elsewhere are at the forefront of that innovation.

AD: The story of Seneca Village was fascinating – why is it important to remember the people who lived there before the land became Central Park?

NC: Seneca Village and the dissolution of it is important to everyone everywhere. It is an historical example of social injustice that went on and that still occurs in gentrification projects. The residents of Seneca Village that were displaced had their lives disrupted just as many still do today.

green skyscraperAD: Boeri’s vision of a building that incorporates trees and essentially becomes one great tree that “incidentally houses humans” is a real shift from our traditional way of thinking of architecture as serving humans—these buildings serve the land. Why do you think that shift is happening now?

NC: Cities need to be made more livable for residents and healthier for our planet. Urban greening projects do both. The shift is important to combat human-caused climate change that damages our planet and individual health. Cities produce three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions along with many other pollutants. As city populations increase, so do those emissions. We can do better. Urban greening is one big tool in our toolbox.

AD: You write about Boeri’s team members and their backgrounds, including Laura Gatti and Emanuela Borio. Is it important to have many voices contributing to the plans? Why?page from Buildings That Breathe

NC: Everyone has their own specialties in creating such extraordinary, innovative designs. All contribute to the project’s success. I’m hoping that young readers, of all genders, will find inspiration from these individuals in STEM careers.

AD: I had no idea that growing trees and bushes on buildings was so complicated! What are some of the things the designers have to consider?

NC: The book describes how the team had to deal with issues of wind and weight on the structure and its trees. When groundbreaking projects like Bosco Verticale are constructed, lessons can be learned for all buildings going forward.

AD: In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announced that we’d be crossing a critical global warming threshold in the 2030s if we didn’t make major changes—how do books like yours help younger generations understand the climate situation?

NC: I hope that Buildings That Breathe can not only inform my readers but inspire them to think about other creative solutions to our global climate crisis. I’ve included ways readers can also get involved in their own communities throughout the book and in the backmatter.

AD: I love the idea of making our living spaces more welcoming to wildlife and birds. How do we balance the benefits of living near and among animals with the possible risks?

NC: Coming to the realization that humans and wildlife are all sharing the same spaces on the planet is the first step. Respecting those creatures that inhabit our world comes next. Learning how to live with wildlife can be a fulfilling and a healthy way to enhance our lives. Do your homework. Think of things like adding bird feeders and native plants to yards and terraces.

AD: I like how you discuss modern innovations alongside ancient technology like sod roofs. What can we learn from looking at old ways of doing things?

page from Buildings that Breathe

NC: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. That old adage is often true. A look back at traditional solutions might inspire how we develop new ideas, like green roofs.

AD: I love the story about people celebrating rooftop gardens and posting their pictures to social media. Why is this kind of connection an important part of combatting climate change?

NC: Good news should be spread, don’t you think? It’s one of the best uses of social media. Let’s hope it will inspire action and change.

AD: You include a discussion of pros and cons in most chapters – why is it important to look at innovations from all different sides?

NC: All voices need to be heard. In that way, solutions can be addressed. Everyone’s voice matters. And we all know that “there is no free lunch.” Solutions are not always 100% risk free. We should acknowledge that and attempt to make the best decisions going forward to mitigate any from Buildings That Breathe

AD: I like that you discuss green architecture happening in lower-income areas, and the problem of eco-gentrification. How are innovators addressing the need to reach all populations, not just the wealthy? How might they work with existing neighbors to ensure no one is forced out of their home for the sake of green building?

NC: This is a huge topic, but one that needs to be addressed. I included it because all stakeholders in urban projects need to be considered. Sadly, not all city neighborhoods have the same amount of parks and greenery. More parks are needed to even this out and create healthy places for all city residents. In addition, residents who suffer from eco-gentrification projects need to have their voices heard and their properties considered. Suggestions for how readers can attend public forums and ways to turn your community green are included in Buildings That Breathe.



Nancy Castaldo has written award-winning books about our planet for over 20 years from New York’s Hudson Valley. Her love of reading and writing outdoors began in her childhood, when she wasn’t searching for frogs, turtles, and salamanders, and climbing trees. Her curiosity led her to study science. As an environmental educator, Nancy combined all of those interests. She still enjoys spending her time exploring in the wild as she did while researching over two dozen books and many articles.


Andi Diehn grew up near the ocean chatting with horseshoe crabs and now lives in the mountains surrounded by dogs, cats, lizards, chickens, ducks, moose, deer, and bobcats, some of which help themselves to whatever she manages to grow in the garden. You are most likely to find her reading a book, talking about books, writing a book, or discussing politics with her sons. She has 18 children’s books published or forthcoming.

STEM Tuesday– Architecture– Writing Tips & Resources

What do you see when you picture an architect? They might be sketching building plans using rulers, protractors, and pencils. Or they might have finished their design and now have their plans rolled up and tucked under their arm. Are they making a model of their building projects? Long before the construction process begins, architects are busy planning and designing what the finished building will look like. And it often takes a lot of trial and error.

This is an image or an architect's building plan

Writers also spend a lot of time planning and designing their work. As part of the process, they decide what structure their writing will take. Will the writing be a narrative with a main character, setting, and conflict? Is it a “how to,” which uses a sequential, step-by-step structure?  Or does this piece of writing have description structure? Like creating a building plan, choosing writing structure is full of trial and error and experimentation.

Let’s look at some of this month’s books from the Architecture Book List to see how authors have structured their writing.


Narratives focus on a main character and follow a chronological structure. This month’s book list features several narratives, including MAYA LIN: THINKING WITH HER HANDS by Susan Goldman Rubin. The first chapter begins with May Lin’s birth, and each chapter traces her projects in chronological order, ending with her “What is Missing?” project – her latest. Along the way, Lin encounters obstacles as she struggles to achieve her dreams. If you look at other biographies of architects from the book list, you’ll see a similar pattern.

Narratives frequently use the “story spine” popularized by Pixar to organize them. The story spine starts with “Once upon a time…” introducing the main character and their world before the inciting incident, the moment everything changes. And it ends with “the moral of the story is…” which shows what the main character learned from their journey. Writers can use the story spine to both preplan and revise their narratives.  You can learn more about the elements of the story spine here.

How To (Step-by-Step Structure)

ADVENTURES IN ACHITECTURE FOR KIDS by Vicky Chan uses a “how to” structure. If you’ve ever cooked or baked using a recipe, you’ve encountered how to structure before. How to books give step-by-step instructions for doing or making something. They may include a list of ingredients or materials. Then the steps are in the exact order they need to be completed. If you choose this structure, think about what the reader must do first, second, third, and so on. Your writing will probably even include those words as cues.

Expository Books (Description structure)

In expository books, authors describe or explain something to the reader. Since the ideas are not necessarily presented chronologically or step-by-step, writers have to organize their ideas in a logical way that readers will understand. In HOW WAS THAT BUILT? Author Roma Agarwal describes how various structures are built from the bottom up – literally. The first chapter, “Building Flat,” focuses on foundations, the bottom of the building. Chapter Two is “How to Build Tall,” focusing on the framework for building skyscrapers like beams and columns and the machines used to do so. “How to Build Long” focuses on bridge-building, “How to Build a Dome” describes dome construction, etc.

In description text structure, a writer’s chapter headings and subheadings can reveal their plan.  For example, in Nancy Castaldo’s BUILDING’S THAT BREATHE, the first subheading in chapter one is “city life” where she explains the problems of city living, including pollution and traffic creating carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. This comes immediately after the opening hook, which describes a treescraper designed by Stefano Boeri.

Next up is the subheading “planning for change.” There she explains how scientists, planners, and architects met in 2018 to discuss the urban greening idea and how architect Stefano Boeri focused on trees. In “why trees?” she covers why trees are an ideal source for greening designs. “Is there a downside?” explores issues like allergies and other drawbacks from greening cities. The final subsection “The Green Builders” explains more types of green building. Then Castaldo moves to the history of green building in the next chapter. 

Throughout the book, Castaldo’s ideas unfold logically, giving the reader just the information they need at just the right time, as if anticipating reader’s questions. She also builds upon what readers already know and what have learned previously in the book.

Look at other expository books in this month’s book list, like WILD BUILDINGS AND BRIDGES by Etta Kaner, illus. Carl Wiens to see how other writers have used description structure their writing.

Your turn

What’s the best structure for your writing? There’s no right or wrong answer. Remember, writers don’t always see their structure from the start. Sometimes it just takes rolling up your sleeves and jumping in, drawing and erasing your plan, just like an architect. You can use this month’s books as your mentor texts.

For an overview of text structures, see this handout from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

About the blogger—–

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Learn more at

STEM Tuesday– Architecture– In the Classroom

From an early age, children are fascinated with building. Whether it’s with wooden blocks, LEGO bricks, or Magna-Tiles, kids love to create.  For many, this enjoyment doesn’t wane as they get older. My thirteen year old son’s favorite pastime is building his own LEGO MOCs (My Own Creation). Many incredible books have been written to inspire budding architects and demonstrate how their passion can be turned into an art form in the real world using STEM. These books can be used as a springboard for classroom discussions and activities.


Wild Buildings and BridgesWild Buildings and Bridges: Architecture Inspired By Nature by Etta Kaner and Carl Wiens

This books shows young readers how many architects look to nature to find organic ways to solve building challenges. It features a greenhouse inspired by termite towers, a conference center inspired by an armadillo, and apartments made out of recycled shipping containers. The book also highlights the people behind some of the designs. A handful of activities are included to get young architects building.

Classroom Activity: Have students choose one of the architects mentioned in the book, including Koen Olthuis, Frank Gehry, or Frank Lloyd Wright. Research this person to find out what other buildings they’ve designed. What inspired them? What challenges did they face? What makes their buildings noteworthy?


Maya LinMaya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin

This book introduces students to Maya Lin, an incredible artist, architect, and environmentalist. Told in chronological order, each chapter highlights one of her designs and is named after the medium she used to create it. Young readers may be surprised to learn that she designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when she was still in college! Photographs and design sketches interspersed throughout the text will give students a more intimate look at this accomplished woman.

Classroom Activity: Give students an even closer look at Maya Lin by sharing an interview with her. In In Conversation with Maya Lin, Maya reflects on her life and ongoing work and how her childhood shaped her commitment to the environment. In Maya Lin: WONDER Artist Talk, Maya talks about the importance of the natural world in her art, architecture, and memorials.


Adventures in Architecture for KidsAdventures in Architecture for Kids: 30 Design Projects for STEAM Discovery and Learning by Vicky Chan

This book will soon become one of the most popular books in your classroom. Students will enjoy trying out some of the many awesome building challenges, like making a house for a cat out of corrugated cardboard, twine rope, and glue or creating a structure that can withstand extreme weather conditions using water, flour, salt, and sand. Each activity uses common household items and incorporates math, history, engineering, and/or natural sciences. And students will learn that architecture is about more than just making buildings; it’s about solving some of our world’s most important problems, like climate change, pollution, and social inequality.

Classroom Activity: Take students on a Virtual Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio Taliesin West. Here, they will see the form and function of building materials he used and learn more about organic architecture.


Hopefully, these books and activities will inspire your students to design, build, and create.



Jenna GrodzikiJenna Grodzicki is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction children’s books. Her books include Wild Style: Amazing Animal Adornments (Millbrook Press 2020) and I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Millbrook Press 2019), the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction Category. Jenna lives near the beach with her husband and two children. In addition to being a writer, she is also a library media specialist at a K-4 school. To learn more, visit her website at