STEM Tuesday

Happy 2nd Anniversary STEM Tuesday! Celebrating with Librarian Extraordinaire Betsy Bird

Hello STEM Tuesday enthusiasts!

Can you believe we’ve been doing this blog for TWO YEARS now? YAY! We are all so excited to have this opportunity to highlight the BEST in STEM/STEAM titles for middle grade and YA books.

What better way to celebrate our blog than to have an interview with the awesome librarian who inspired me to start this whole blog in the first place, Betsy Bird.

 

Elizabeth (Betsy) Bird is a children’s librarian at the Evanston Public Library in Illinois. In 2006 she started  A Fuse #8 Production, which was picked up by School Library Journal in 2008, where it is housed today. She currently reviews for The New York Times, Kirkus, as well as on her own blog. She has also written articles for School Library Journal and Horn Book Magazine. Along with her sister, Kate, they run a weekly podcast about books. You can listen to it  on Soundcloud. 

 

The story goes, Betsy wrote a post in her Fuse 8 blog in 2016 which gave suggestions for how to build a “perfect nonfiction blog”. Here is the link. After reading it, I was like – YES! This is what I want to create for STEM/STEAM books… and STEM Tuesday was born.

 

To celebrate our wonderful two years, I asked  Betsy a few questions about STEM/STEAM books and nonfiction:

What do you look for in a great STEM/STEAM book?

The first thing I ask is — Is it fun?   Books about STEM/STEAM should be FUN for readers. Topic is also important. It must be interesting and intriguing. The best way for this is for the writer to use a unique approach to the topic.  The writing should show the passion of the author for the subject, ie. be engaging and exciting to draw the reader in. Design is also key. I look at books to see if they have too many words, or if the book has a fun approach to illustrations. Above all, the book must be accurate! That means no fake dialogue and a works cited section so that readers can look up the sources used.

One of my favorite books  is  The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman which has no fake dialogue but is great and such a compelling read.

 

What types of STEM/STEAM books do you see your readers looking for? 

Librarians typically prefer narrative books, but I see a lot of young readers who prefer expository STEM/STEAM books. They seem to gravitate towards the facts and trivia in these type of books. Kids love to learn something new and then repeat the facts to their friends.

 

Any topics for STEM/STEAM books that you don’t see but wish were out there?

Absolutely. It may seem strange, but I would love a book on Mexican wrestlers.  Math books are also greatly in need! It can be a nonfiction book about math, or even a fiction book with a normal kid who likes math.  More STEM/STEAM picture books for the really young.  But pretty much any new STEM/STEAM book that fits into the category of what I look for above is welcome.

Any STEM/STEAM activities that you do with your patrons? 

I am not involved in the programming of these activities, but here at the Evanston Library we do have a Summer STEM camp that is partnered with the local school district. The idea is to focus on robotics and coding to focus on encouraging girls and students of all backgrounds to get interested in STEM classes and possibly careers for the future.

Finally, can you name three of your favorite STEM/STEAM books?

Wait, Rest, Pause by Marcie Flinchum Atkins  (Millbrook Press)

The text in this book is great for both lower and upper readers. It’s just tons of fun!

 

Creepy and True: Mummies Exposed by  Kerrie Logan Hollihan (Abrams BFYR)

Every mummy you ever wanted in one complete, mildly horrific, place!

Follow Your Stuff: Who Makes It, Where Does It Come From, How Does It Get to You? by Kevin Sylvester (Annick Press)

It examines five different things you have with you and breaks down where it came from, how much it cost to make, etc. Really great stuff here!

 

Thanks so much for joining us today, Betsy. STEM Tuesday is thrilled to have you. Look for Betsy in her new podcast about picture books coming soon! And don’t forget to check out her book The Great Santa Stake Out illustrated by Dan Santat

 

BUT WAIT, THERE’s MORE!

Don’t forget about our 2nd annual CoSTEM Contest! There is still time to enter! As a reminder, here are the details:

Contest Rules:

  • This contest is open to all school-aged students, ages 5 and up.
  • Submit a jpeg of yourself or  your class dressed as your favorite STEM book.
  • Be sure to let us know the title and the author of the book.
  • The book must be for readers ages 8 and up.
  • All submissions are due by midnight EST November 8th, 2019. (no exceptions!) 
  • Submissions MUST come from an adult who will grants us permission to post this image on the Mixed Up Files website.
  • All images will be judged by the STEM Tuesday team. We will be looking for creativity, subject (how close you are to the theme of the book), and authentic (how exact is the STEM theme displayed)
  • Winners will be posted on the STEM Tuesday blog on November 14th, 2019.
  • Send your images to the following email:  stemmuf@gmail.com

!!!!!PRIZES!!!!

1st Place —  Receives 5 autographed STEM Books + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift card

2nd Place — Receives 3 autographed STEM Books + $15 Barnes & Noble Gift card

3rd Place—   Receives 2 autographed STEM Books +$10 Barnes & Noble Gift card

 

 

Pick out your book and pull together your costume now. We can’t wait to see all your entries. Thanks for celebrating TWO WHOLE YEARS of STEM Tuesday posts with us. GO STEM!

 

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Jennifer Swanson is the creator and administrator of STEM Tuesday. She dreams of one day running away to the Museum of Science and Industry- then maybe she could look at all the exhibits and try out all the gadgets without competing for them with her kids. An author of thirty-five nonfiction science books for kids, Jennifer’s goal is to show kids that Science Rocks! She lives in sunny Florida with her husband, three kids and two dogs. When not writing she’s on the hunt for fun science facts.

STEM Tuesday –Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More! — Interview with Author Jennifer Swanson

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 Jennifer Swanson, author of Save the Crash Test Dummies.  Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it an “innovative blend of history, technology, and engineering…insightful fun. STEM at its best.”

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about your new book.

Watch the book trailer on YouTube!

Jennifer Swanson: The idea for this book came when I was writing another book — about electrical engineering. I did a section on the self-driving car and I was hooked. I wanted to ride in one, very badly. I sent email after email to Google asking if I could ride in one. Of course, I got no response. But that didn’t stop my interest. After all, I survived three teenage drivers, surely I could survive a self-driving car. 🙂  Anyway, I began to think, practically everyone rides in a car every day. I bet they don’t even think about how safe it is– OR how it got that way. Enter the crash-test dummies. We couldn’t live without them. Literally. Having them has helped engineers to save many, many lives. I knew then that I had to find a way to introduce the crash-test dummies to kids.

MKC: Any fun finds while researching the book?

Jennifer: I read a lot of car manuals and watched a LOT of videos of crashes. It was pretty cool. I do have to say my favorite moment, though, might have been when I came across the old crash-test dummy commercials that I remember watching as a kid. They are so fun! Here is a YouTube link to one of them if you want to check it out.

MKC: Do you choose to specifically write STEM books?

Jennifer: I have loved science my whole life. After all, I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. My mom gave me a microscope and I used to collect leaves and flowers to look at under it. Gradually, my interests grew and I spent hours in the creek behind my house, making compounds with my multiple chemistry sets, and began dreaming of becoming a doctor one day. While that didn’t happen, I did get my B.S. in chemistry from the U.S. Naval Academy and my M.S. Ed in K-8 science education. Now I’m not just a science author, but also a middle school science teacher for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

MKC: What approach or angle did you take to writing this book?

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 35 nonfiction books for children. Her passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge) which was named an NSTA Best STEM book of 2017. She has presented at multiple SCBWI conferences, National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the World Science Festival and the Atlanta Science Festival. Visit her at jenniferswansonbooks.com.

Jennifer: When I write about technology and engineering I try to find a unique entry point, one that is FUN and unexpected. For this book, I really wanted to write a book about self-driving cars, but that seemed a bit, well, blah. I mean I find the engineering and technology that makes a self-driving car exciting and interesting, but not everyone does. So I asked myself how I could make this book interesting to people who maybe wouldn’t normally pick it up to read. The idea came to me after watching an old-time crash-test dummy commercial on TV. While on a walk with my husband, I made the comment that if we all went to self-driving cars, we wouldn’t need any more crash-test dummies. He responded by agreeing, saying you’d probably save alot of crash-test dummies. then. WHAM! That was it! Save the Crash-test Dummies, the history of car safety engineering. What a unique way to tell this story. Not only that, when I tell people the title, they usually smile (always a good sign). You see, finding a way to make engineering intriguing and complex topics easy to understand in my goal in my books.

Who did I write this book for? The kid who has TONS of questions about how the world works. That’s who I write all my books to. After all, I still am that 9-year-old kid that was full of curiosity and spent many hours devouring encyclopedias and nonfiction books at the library. Research ROCKS!

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process?

Jennifer: My writing process is to find the hook for the book first. Usually that is in my title. For example, I wanted to write a book about nanotechnology and sports, so I titled my book SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up. For my book comparing Astronauts and Aquanauts, I titled it (of course) Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. When the hook to your book is in your title, people understand what the book is about right away. The second part of making a book is to find the structure. I ask myself, “what is the best way for this information to be presented?”. Then I read widely and look at a lot of mentor texts. Eventually I set on a structure. After I have those two things, I dive in into the research and write.

Win a FREE copy of Save the Crash Test Dummies!

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 –Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More! — Writing Crafts & Resources

 

Getting into Character

Planes, trains, automobiles, and more – this month’s look at transportation books might seem a bit impersonal, characterless, emotionless. When I looked closer, though, I found all kinds of characters. Let’s spend a few minutes examining how authors infuse character in these books about more technical topics.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBiography is an obvious approach, one taken in Elon Musk: And the Quest for a Fantastic Future. Following one individual’s life, author Ashley Vance shows us the development of his passion, the technical challenges he conquered, as well as the human challenges he dealt with. The results are an in-depth look at the skills needed to develop advanced transportation systems such as spaceships and electric cars.Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

When tackling a topic such as the Titanic, which incorporate so much human tragedy, utilizing character is a natural fit. In Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, author Deborah Hopkinson interweaves individual’s stories to convey the magnitude of this event.

But even in a book with a much more technical focus, such as Who Built That? Bridges by Didier Cornille, space is given to including character. A single paragraph at the beginning of each chapter presents a brief expository bio before the chapter dives into the history and a step-by-step look at how each specific bridge was constructed.Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgUse of character isn’t limited to actual human characters. Take a look at Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jennifer Swanson and you’ll see how inanimate dummy characters play a role in conveying the mechanical and historical content.

Why did each of these authors use character? I’m thinking deeper than the obvious answer: to draw the reader in. I’m comparing and contrasting how they presented these characters. The placement in the sequence of the text, the words used to describe the characters, the impact of character development, or lack of it. In analyzing this, I’m considering how I’ll use character in future writing to present topics that appeal to a wide variety of readers.

 

Try It Yourself:

  • Compare the first two pages of the first chapter of two books. Titanic and Elon Musk work well. Highlight every word or passage that characterizes the humans. Which techniques do these authors use? How similar or different are they? Consider why.
  • Now focus on a single book, Save the Crash-test Dummies, is ideal for this exercise. Scan the book for places where the nonhuman characters are characterized. Where is that in the sequence of the book? Can you find examples of characterization in places other than the main text?
  • Think about characterization in expository versus narrative text. Look for examples of each in this collection of books. Find an example of expository characterization (as in Who Built That? Bridges) and rewrite that is narrative. Yes you probably have to make it up; that’s okay for an exercise. Find an example of narrative characterization and rewrite that as expository. Which was harder? Why? How would making that change to the text impact the larger piece of writing?


Heather L. Montgomery writes books for kids are wild about animals; she’s learned to bring characterization into her works. Her recent Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill follows an inquisitive narrator who visits scientists who use roadkill bodies to make discoveries. Her Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis under the Waves characterizes juvenile marine creatures to tell the story of how they each grow up.


THE O.O.L.F. FILES

Podcasts are great forgetting your regular dose of science. Here are some great ones for kids and adults:

  • Science Friday: In-depth looks at current science research. These stories dive deep into questions that are at the forefront of our minds. Their website has episodes sorted by topic (health, math, energy) as well as further reading and resources for each episode.
  • Brains On! Science Podcasts for Kids: From American Public Media, this podcast is perfect for kids and curious adults. Each week it focuses on a different fascinating question such as: How do elevators work? What is dyslexia? How do ants and spiders walk on walls?
  • WOW in the World: in this high-energy podcasts produced by NPR, the hosts take you on an imaginative trip, a journey into the wonders of the world. Inside brains, deep into the ocean, or far out in space. Perfect for the whole family.
  • Tumble Science Podcast for Kids: Hosted by a science reporter and an educator who are also parents, this podcast asks questions, shares mysteries, and interviews real scientists. Episodes include: The Secret Senses of Plants, Earth Rangers, and What Would Happen if There Was No Moon?