Invasive Species

STEM Tuesday– Invasive Species– Interview with Author Lisa Amstutz

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 Lisa Amstutz, author of Invasive Species. The book is part of the “engaging and informative” Ecological Disasters series, according to School Library Journal.

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write Invasive Species?

Lisa Amstutz: This book was an assignment from an educational publisher as part of their Ecological Disasters series. Because of my background in ecology, this one felt like a great fit, and I was excited to dig in! For those who aren’t familiar with this market, some educational publishers hire writers to produce series for them instead of reviewing projects submitted by authors/agents, as most trade publishers do. These series are designed in-house and are highly targeted to the school curriculum. Authors are given a set of guidelines that includes things like word count, reading level, a general outline, number of sidebars, etc.

MKC: The book is so well researched! Did you discover anything especially surprising?

Lisa: The thing that surprised me most was how many invasive species were imported on purpose. For example, the nutria was brought to the United States between 1899 and 1930 by fur farmers. When the market collapsed, farmers released the animals into the wild. Kudzu, aka ‘the vine that ate the South’, was imported in 1876 as an ornamental plant and even promoted by the Soil Conservation Service to prevent soil erosion from the 1930s to 1950s. Today, both are damaging ecosystems. Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson when it comes to moving species out of their natural habitats.

MKC: Do you have a least-liked invasive species? 

Lisa: The brown marmorated stinkbug (at left) is my current nemesis, as it has an annoying habit of moving into my house in the winter!

MKC: For whom is the book written? How does the writing style reflect that?

Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 books for children. She has also written for a variety of magazines and newspapers. In 2021, she joined Storm Literary Agency as an associate literary agent. Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. She specializes in topics related to nature, sustainability, and agriculture. Lisa lives on a small farm with her family. Find her online at

Lisa: Because it is targeted to schools and libraries, this book provides a broad and straightforward overview for kids exploring this topic on their own or for a research project. Photos and sidebars add interest. As always, I tried to use engaging language, concepts kids can relate to, and fun facts to hook the reader and draw them into the topic.

MKC: Do you choose to write about STEM books? Is STEM your background?

Lisa: I have a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. After working in my field for a few years, I realized I liked writing about science even better, and as a bonus I could work from home. I love exploring new topics and sharing that excitement with kids. I’m also passionate about helping readers connect with the natural world and learn to care for it.

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project and how you’re tackling it?

Lisa: I’m at the very beginning stages of a new project at the moment. After choosing a topic from my long and very random list of ideas, I’m currently gathering information and resources online and through my local library. For a longer project like this one, I use Scrivener or OneNote to easily record and categorize information. I always footnote as I go, so it’s easy to go back and double check facts. For me, this part is the most fun—I love learning new things!


Win a FREE critique by author and agent Lisa Amstutz!

The lucky winner receives one critique (query letter, picture book manuscript, or first 10 pages of a longer manuscript or project). Enter by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– Invasive Species — Writing Tips & Resources

Looking at Language

When it comes to studying the use of language, this month’s topic “invasive species” is a prefect. Just take a look at the word “invasive.” What emotions does it conjure? In what other contexts have you heard that word used? Would you consider the term to be objective or subjective?

In the STEM disciplines, educators work hard to help students understand the value of objectivity. We all want engineers designing bridges to take an objective approach to measurement! When studying the natural world, objectivity helps us uncover truths unhampered by personal biases, emotions, and beliefs.

But no human is perfectly objective. To promote better practitioners of STEM, we must help students develop the intellectual tools to think critically about their own and other’s biases. An inquiry into the language used in STEM books is a great way to introduce that. It’s also a great way to learn more about writing STEM texts.

Reading STEM books we gain more than facts; we have opportunities to understand communication strategies as well.  Through studying these texts, we can learn to parse out bias in statements. When we extend our personal study with discussion, we can explore more complex topics such as perceptions of others, understanding nuance, and author’s purpose.

Titles Talk

Take a look at just the titles:

  • Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species, by Sneed B. Collard III
  • Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem, by Kate Messner
  • Invasive Species In Infographics By Renae Gilles

Read each title and jot down a few words about the feelings it evokes in you.

Do different titles evoke different emotions? If so, try to identify the words that led you to those reactions?

Take a look at their table of contents. If you don’t have access to the physical books, you can view table of contents here for Science Warriors, here for Tracking Pythons, and here for Invasive Species In Infographics. List the emotion that comes to mind as you read each chapter title. Do you notice any patterns?

Digging Deeper

Now, select one book to dig into. Feel free to select one from this month’s list or a nonfiction title of your choice.

“What” questions to ask:

  • What words in the text evoke emotions?
  • Create a list of emotional words from the text and rank them on a spectrum from strongest to weakest. Compare your list to that of someone else also studying the same text. Discuss your differences.
  • Does the emotive language always support the same point of view?

“When” questions to ask:

  • In which parts of the sentence/paragraph/chapter/book is emotive language used most frequently?
  • Can you spot any patterns in the use of emotive language (location, sequencing, etc.?

“Why” questions to ask:

  • Why might an author use emotive language in this passage?
  • Pick a few words that strike a chord in you. Why does that word cause that reaction?

“How?” questions to ask:

  • How obvious is the emotive language?
  • How did the author use language to support a premise?
  • How could you re-write a sentence to be more objective?


Balancing it Out

Now that we understand how authors are intentional in their use of specific words, let’s think about other techniques. Opinion, bias, and subjectivity are expressed or balanced using techniques that reach far beyond word choice. What other techniques did you notice in this book? Were specific techniques are used to balance bias or convey objectivity?


Your Turn

  • What is your opinion about this use of emotive language?
  • Is it warranted?
  • Was the author “fair” in their use of language?
  • Is your response based on your opinions about the topic?

Thanks for getting curious about the use of objective language in STEM books!

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s TreasuresLearn more at

STEM Tuesday — Invasive Species– In the Classroom

Nature can fall out of balance when invasive species enter a new ecosystem. What happens to that ecosystem and its native species when that happens? This month’s STEM Tuesday theme focuses on this important issue and how scientists are studying the effects of invasive species. Here are a few books from our STEM Tuesday list and ways to explore more in the classroom.

Tracking Pythons : The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save An Ecosystem by Kate Messner

This book takes readers out on a python patrol where we meet a team of scientist studying the invasive snake. Readers also meet other invaders of the Florida Everglades. There’s technology (radiotracking), python CSI, snake autopsies (called necropsies) and a wonderful series of sidebars highlighting “How to Catch a Python.” Great photos and a Most Wanted invasive species list add interest.

Classroom activity: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to save the Everglade ecosystem by removing invasive species and encouraging people to report sightings of invasive species. Have students visit the website page about making a report: Ask students to research the invasive species of Florida and then create a report using the elements necessary to make it a credible one. Students can share their reports, adding some information about why that species is causing harm to the Everglades ecosystem.


Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species by Sneed B. Collard

Each of the four chapters focus on scientists studying invasive species. We meet brown tree snakes and zebra mussels, red fire ants taking over Texas, and the Melaleuca (paperbark) tree that was brought to the US and planted to stabilize soil. We see scientists doing field research and working on biological controls for invasive species. Includes a “Guide to Stopping Invasive Species.”

Classroom activity: Have students choose an invasive species from the book to study more. Then ask them to create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the species’ native habitat to its invaded habitat. How are the two habitats different? How are the two habitats similar? Ask students to consider why that invasive species found the invaded habitat so hospitable and discuss with the class.


Alien Invaders: Species That Threaten Our World by Jane Drake & Ann Love

Each examination and image of an invader and their devastating effects worldwide is accompanied by a sidebar listing their alias, size, homeland, method of invasion, and line of attack. Besides the commonly known invaders, such as the starling, rat, and Kudzu, the book examines humans, walking catfish, yellow crazy ants, water hyacinth, mosquitos, and avian flu. Detailed sections on “Who Cares?,” “Volunteers,” and “Lessons Learned” expand the information into actions everyone can take to prevent, control, or help eliminate invaders.

Classroom activity: Ask students to research an invasive species not found in the book. Then have them create a profile of the species, just like what is in the book. The profile should include an image, alias, size, homeland, method of invasion, and line of attack.


Plants Out of Place (Let’s Explore Science) by Courtney Farrell

First, we learn what native plants are and their role in the food chain. Following chapters discuss introduced plants and how invasive species threaten the balance of ecosystems. Sidebar “mini field guides” include descriptions and range maps for some species of interest. In addition to discussing control methods, the author shows alternative uses, such as using kudzu vines to weave baskets.

Classroom activity: See if students can find an invasive plant species right in their own backyard or neighborhood. They should research invasive species of their area and then go on an invasive plant species hunt. Students can take a photo of the plant or sketch it in a journal. Then they can document the place where it was found and the number of plants found at the location. After a few finds, students can share their invasive species journal with the class.



Here are a few more general invasive species activities to try:

Hope these activities and resources get your students excited to learn more about invasive species!


Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at