CSI – Forensic Science and Anthropology

STEM Tuesday– CSI – Forensic Science and Anthropology- Interview with Author Chana Stiefel

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 Chana Stiefel, author of FINGERPRINTS: Dead People DO Tell Tales.

Mary Kay Carson: How’d you come to write this book?

Chana Stiefel: Enslow Publishers was doing a series on True Forensic Crime Stories and the editor contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book about fingerprints. I was instantly intrigued–mainly because I was a fan of the TV show CSI, I’d never written about forensic science before, and was excited to take out my magnifying glass and dig into the research. That’s one of the best parts of being a science writer: You often get to research and write about topics you know very little about–until you feel like a mini expert.

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MKC: Did your exhaustive research lead to some interesting finds?

Chana: Oh my goodness, yes! Fingerprints are so fascinating. Did you know that…

  • No two people on the planet (not even identical twins) share the same fingerprints. This has made fingerprints a great tool for solving crimes since the early 1900s.
  • Fingerprints develop as a baby grows in its mother’s womb—by the 19th week of development! The variety of patterns of fingerprints is determined both by genes and the movements of the fetus’s fingers inside its mother. Tiny movements affect the growth of dividing skin cells on each finger.
  • Fingerprints may have evolved to increase friction (for instance, helping early humans grip tools).
  • As we grow and age, our fingerprints stay the same! That’s why a fingerprint might help solve a crime years after it’s committed.

I could go on and on! Ever since writing this book, I have never looked at fingerprints the same way. So think before you spray Windex on that mirror or countertop! 🙂

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids about exploding volcanoes, stinky castles, and other fun stuff. Recent non-fiction titles include ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (National Geographic Kids, 2018), which was selected as a Top Ten YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers in 2019. Chana’s next picture book, LET LIBERTY RISE (Scholastic, 2021), illustrated by Chuck Groenink, is the true story of how children helped build the Statue of Liberty. Chana loves visiting schools and libraries and sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. To learn more, please visit chanastiefel.com and follow @chanastiefel on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram.

MKC: Do you choose to specifically write STEM books?

Chana: I’ve always been passionate about science and nature and I love to share my interests with kids. After college, I earned a Master’s in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting at NYU School of Journalism. (That’s where I met the awesome Mary Kay Carson and many other talented science writers.) While there, I got an internship down the block at Scholastic’s SuperScience Blue, an elementary science magazine (also a Mary Kay hangout) and later became an editor of Scholastic’s Science World, a biweekly science magazine for middle schoolers. Since then, I’ve written several STEM books on tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as books on wild weather and cool scientists. Last year, my book Animal Zombies and Other Bloodsucking Beasts, Creepy Creatures, and Real-Life Monsters was published by National Geographic Kids.

MKC: Who did you write this book for?

Chana: This book is geared toward middle school and up. I hope to spark kids’ interest in forensics by making the science as interesting and relevant as possible. For example, many schools are using fingerprinting to have students securely sign in. Theme parks have also used fingerprinting to ensure that season passes are only used by the purchaser. I also wanted to include plenty of information so that readers could debate the merits of fingerprint science. It’s not foolproof. Many innocent people have been wrongly convicted based on fingerprint evidence. Also, some people feel that creating a national fingerprint database invades privacy. (ie, Who has access to your fingerprints? At what point does a process that increases security invade privacy? Are you willing to give up some privacy in order to stay safe?) Finally, I included various jobs related to fingerprint science that might intrigue readers, including crime scene technicians, fingerprint examiners, and so on. In general, my goal is to open kids’ eyes to the wonders of the natural world and help them see how science plays a role in our daily lives. Sometimes the coolest facts are on the tips of your fingers!

Win a FREE copy of FINGERPRINTS: Dead People DO Tell Tales!

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 is Mary Kay Carson, author of The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– CSI – Forensic Science and Anthropology- Writing Tips & Resources

Trace Evidence of an Author: Point of View, Purpose, and Voice

In many ways, Locard’s Exchange Principle is the bedrock of modern forensic science. According to Locard, when two things come into contact with each other, like a suspect and a crime scene, they transfer materials. This explains why a suspect leaves behind trace evidence like fingerprints, hair, and fibers from their clothes while picking up tell-tale mud on their boots.

When we write, a similar exchange takes place. As authors, we leave fingerprints all over our work, especially in the purpose we choose, the point of view we take, and the voice we pick. Don’t believe me? Grab your tweezers and magnifying glass and let’s analyze the evidence.

Author’s purpose and point of view

The first, and perhaps, obvious way writers leave traces of themselves is through their purpose and point of view. Two authors writing about the same subject may have different purposes. The first may want to persuade you, while the other wants to inform. Even if two authors have the same purpose, their approach to the subject (in other words, their point of view) is as unique as their DNA. This includes what facts they choose to include or leave out and the conclusions they draw from the evidence.

Let’s take a closer look: This month’s book list features two books about the discovery of the Kennewick Man, a 9,000-year-old skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River in Washington: MYSTERIOUS BONES by Katherine Kirkpatrick (illustrated by Emma Stevenson) and THEIR SKELETONS SPEAK by Sally M. Walker and Douglas W. Owsley. As an exercise, read the jacket flap copy and study the table of contents for each book. What does each tell you about the author’s purpose and point of view? Do the authors cover exactly the same topics or do you see a difference? Do you think their purpose and points of view are the same? If not, how do you think they will differ? Does one point of view more closely match your own?  



Authors also leave traces of themselves in terms of the voice they choose for a piece of writing. Is the voice humorous? Poetic? Energetic? Formal? Informal? The voice should help the author achieve their purpose and communicate their point of view. Try this activity: Compare a paragraph from MORE ONE-HOUR MYSTERIES (Mary Ann Carr) with Carla Mooney’s FORENSICS: UNCOVER THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY OF CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION. How would you label the voice of each? What elements of the writing led you to that choice? Hint: Look at things like word choice, punctuation, length of sentences. More informal or humorous voice might rely on shorter sentences, more exclamation points, and more informal language. 

Your Author Fingerprints

Now, look at a piece of your own nonfiction writing. What’s your purpose and point of view? How would you describe your voice? Why? Is your voice a good match for your purpose and point of view? If not, pick another voice and revise your work.

And don’t forget, Locard’s Exchange Principle is a two-way street. Even if a piece of writing doesn’t work out the first time, every time we write we pick up new skills. That means all our writing leaves its imprint on us, helping us develop and grow as writers.


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, February 2020), CECILIA PAYNE: MAKING OF A STAR (SCIENTIST), 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.


This month, the Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files provides links to learn more about forensic science, voice choice, and much more.

  • Learn more about Locard’s Exchange Principle at Science Struck.
  • The Crime Museum is another fun place to explore Locard’s Exchange Principle and related topics.
  • Need some help deciphering voice? Melissa Stewart has one of the best videos around about The Voice Choice in writing. 
  • Looking for some online brain teasers and mysteries for your students? Check out Squigly’s Playhouse.
  • One-Stop English has a fun “murder in the classroom” mystery activity for students.

STEM Tuesday– CSI – Forensic Science and Anthropology- In the Classroom

This month we’re investigating forensics and the science of crime scene investigation. Today, investigators rely on science to tell the story of a crime. High-tech cameras snap detailed crime scene pictures. Microscopes allow scientists to examine and identify the tiniest pieces of evidence. Understanding DNA and blood typing has created ways to tie a suspect to a crime scene without an eyewitness. Today, no one needs to catch a criminal in the act in order to solve a crime. The tools and techniques of science allow investigators to track down a criminal long after he or she has left the crime scene.

The books we’re highlighting this month show how science is used in crime scene investigations to find out what happened at a crime scene. They are a great starting point for different science activities and discussions in the classroom. Here are a few to try:

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Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA by Bridget Heos
Crime scene investigation is not new; early detectives discovered ways to test for poisons, and conducted autopsies to determine cause of death. Over the years, crime-solving tools have become more sophisticated as technology improves. This book examines evidence from prints to ballistics, blood spatter to DNA and more.
• Make a timeline of the evolution of forensics and crime scene investigation.
• Discuss how changes in forensic science have changed the way investigators solve crimes today. Have students research a famous unsolved crime from the past (such as the Zodiac killings, the Whitechapel murders, or the Marilyn Sheppard murder) and discuss how modern forensic methods might have made a difference in solving these crimes.


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Fingerprints : Dead People Do Tell Tales by Chana Stiefel
Fingerprints are unique identifiers. Not even identical twins have the same fingerprints. This book explains the techniques scientists use to collect fingerprints and to identify criminals, and contains stories about how fingerprints helped solve real crimes.
• Have students examine their own fingerprints and find the marks and patterns that make them unique. Ask them to figure out how many of each type of fingerprint pattern they have among all 10 of their fingers. Have them compare their results with classmates.
• Have students try to lift fingerprints from a clear, hard surface. Have them sprinkle cocoa powder over the surface and gently brush. Next, have students place a piece of clear tape on the fingerprint and gently peel the tape off to lift the print. They can also experiment lifting fingerprints using different surfaces and powders.
• Have students attempt to match fingerprints taken from their classmates. Have them look for the patterns and characteristics that make each fingerprint unique.

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Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland by Sally M. Walker
Forensic scientists use their knowledge of human remains to help solve mysteries of remains found in colonial-era graves near Jamestown, Virginia. Using science, they help recreate the lives of a ship’s captain, an enslaved African girl, and more.
• Ask students to discuss what it means to be a forensic anthropologist. How does the job of a forensic anthropologist differ from that of a crime scene investigator?
• Often forensic anthropologists do not have an intact body or skeleton to examine. Instead, they build a picture of the victim with on a few bones as clues. Have students research how forensic anthropologists use the humerus bone (upper arm) and the tibia bone (inner leg) to predict the victim’s height. Have them test the correlation between height and bones by taking measurements from their classmates. Have them create a formula to predict the height from the length of a tibia or humerus bone. Then have students test their formula with measurements from another group of volunteers.
• What have forensic anthropologists added to our knowledge of the past? Have students choose and research a famous forensic anthropologist. Ask students to pair up and discuss how two different forensic anthropologists added to our knowledge of the past.


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.