STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Natural Disasters — In the Classroom

STEM Tuesday
This month, we’re exploring natural disasters. In my reading, I explored a few different types of disasters.

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The Science of an Avalanche (21st Century Skills Library: Disaster Science)
by Carol Hand (2015)

This book does a good job of covering the science behind avalanches. This is a rather traditional NF book that looks at different kinds of avalanches, ways to prevent them, and how people are rescued from them.

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Extreme Earthquakes and Tsunamis (When Nature Attacks)
by John Farndon (2018)

This is a browseable book with lots of images to explain where and why earthquakes and tsunamis happen.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgHurricane Harvey: Disaster in Texas and Beyond
by Rebecca Felix (2018)

This book introduces readers to hurricanes through the lens of one devastating hurricane: 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.


While there are many ways these books can tie into other lessons, I found myself focusing on data analysis and communication. I also wondered about science experiments related to the topics and found a few that are easy to explore either at home or at school.

Map It Out

Each book includes a list of the most extreme occurrences of the natural disasters it covers. Map out these locations on a national or global map.

To take this even further, think about how to convey more than just a location. How would you represent different types of disasters, when they happened, and the severity of each event?

Sometimes, an area is hit with multiple disasters at the same time. How do you communicate data on multiple disasters in the same place at the same time? This happened in 2020. To read about the issue and how communicators dealt with it, check out this write-up:

You don’t need to restrict yourself to the information contained in the books. There are lots of other resources out there for exploring natural disaster data, predictions, and mapping. This site covers many different types of hazards: Links to specific types of natural disasters are listed below.

Pick an idea you want to convey with the data. Would you like to show the most severe events in a specific state, region, or country? How many events do you want to show? What time period do you want to cover? Are you focusing on one specific location or type of event? Do you want to see trends over time?

The information you want to convey should drive how you will show the data. Make sure to include a key and whatever other information a reader will need to interpret the data you are showing.

Earthquake Mapping

The U.S. Geological Survey has this website, dedicated to data and information related to earthquakes:

Map out the largest earthquake events logged in the past month. Practice searching for and looking at data by finding the earthquake nearest your home/school or in your state in the past year. (
Investigate earthquake hazard maps. What are they and what to they tell you? Here are a few places to look for answers.

Avalanche Mapping

Here are a few resources where you can explore avalanche data/mapping.

Hurricane Mapping

To explore information and mapping for both current and historic hurricanes.

Tsunami Mapping

For information on tsunami mapping, check out these sites.

Explore The Science

Each book talks about the science behind the natural disasters. Explore this further by conducting a science experiment. Practice science communication skills by documenting the experiment. Make sure enough information is included so that another scientist could replicate it.

To explore liquefaction, which can happen during earthquakes, check out this experiment.

This activity recreates a tsunami in a 2-liter bottle.

Make a Seismograph

Scientists detect earthquakes using sophisticated seismographs. There are lots of different ideas for making a basic seismograph at home or in the classroom. Here are a few:

Bonus Ideas

Make Artistic Waves

Woodcut print of a giant wave above several small ships, by Japanese artist Hokusai

The Great Wave is a famous woodcut print by Japanese artist Hokusai. While not necessarily depicting a tsunami, it does show a giant wave. There are lots of different ways to explore the art of the great wave. Here are a few:

Learn About Mr. Tornado

PBS’s American Experience has a program about Ted Fujita, aka Mr. Tornado. It is a very interesting show about the man behind the F-scale used to classify tornadoes.


author Janet SlingerlandJanet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website:

STEM Tuesday — Natural Disasters — Book List

STEM Tuesday


Natural Disasters occur all around the world. Knowing how to prepare for them is important. But learning the science behind them is fun! So many books exist on natural disasters – this list is just a small piece of the iceberg.

Disaster Strikes

Five Epic Disasters (I Survived True Stories #1), by Lauren Tarshis – These are stories about the resilience of ordinary people who survived disasters. Experience the Children’s Blizzard of 1888, the Titanic, the Boston molasses flood, the 2011 Japanese tsunami, and a tornado. At the end of each story is a “disaster file” filled with facts and author’s notes.




Extreme Weather: Surviving Tornadoes, Sandstorms, Hailstorms, Blizzards, Hurricanes, and More! by Thomas M. Kostigen – What makes this book more than a catalog of disasters are the sidebars and activities. Each section contains a list of how to prepare and what to do during the weather emergency. Hands-on activities highlight how to make a rain shelter, collect rain in water barrels, ride a mudslide, and more.



Earth, Wind, Fire, and Rain: Real Tales of Temperamental Elements by Judy Dodge Cummings This narrative evaluation of five of the deadliest natural disasters in the U.S., (1) 1871 Fire Tornado in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, (2) 1888 Great Blizzard in New York, (3) 1889 Flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, (4) 1906 Earthquake/Fire in San Francisco, California, and (5) 1935 Dust Storms, also examines the human actions and reactions that made them worse.





Hurricane Harvey: Disaster in Texas and Beyond, by Rebecca Felix – Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in August 2017. Between the wind and rain, it was one of the costliest disasters in US history. Chapters detail the storm’s impact, daring rescues, and the aftermath. Photos, maps, and sidebars accompany text, and back matter includes a “what to do” section.



Rising Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Our New World, by Keltie Thomas; illus. by Belle Wuthrich and Kath Boake W. – From sunny-day flooding in Florida to Hurricane Sandy, cities are seeing more seawater in their streets. Sections highlight coastal areas around the world, keeping the focus on climate change.






The Science of an Avalanche (Disaster Science), by Carol Hand – The first chapter tells the story of a historic avalanche. Following chapters go into what causes avalanches, what happens inside an avalanche, affects of a changing climate, and avalanche prevention.




Avalanches (Earth in Action), by Wendy Lanier – You expect avalanches in ski resorts, but not in your backyard. And yet snow slides happen in places where people live. This book opens with the story of the Cordova, Alaska avalanche in 2000. Other chapters discuss where avalanches happen, forecasting them, and strategies for living with them.





The Tornado Scientist: Seeing Inside Severe Storms by Mary Kay Carson – This engaging book, loaded with captivating science, photos, and illustrations, follows scientist Robin Tanamachi and her storm chasing meteorology team as they track tornados, have harrowing misses, and ultimately seek an earlier way to identify tornados and save lives. Includes detailed information on the current status of the science, the study of raindrops, and the devastation of historic tornados.



When the Sky Breaks: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and the Worst Weather in the World by Simon Winchester  – A fascinating evaluation of the history, formation, development of the categorization standards, and devastating effects of tropical storms and tornadoes. As well as nature’s “continued upper hand” when it comes to the weather.


Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code by Amy E. Cherrix  – Opening with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, it evaluates hurricane formation, NASA’s efforts to decode & predict hurricanes, the creation and use of the Global Hawk drone, the political and physical costs of hurricanes and cyclones, and what it takes to be a successful scientist. It includes remarkable photographs, practical suggestions, and resources.





Extreme Earthquakes and Tsunamis (When Nature Attacks) by John Farndon – In a browsable format, stunning photographs of the science and effects of earthquakes and tsunamis combine with maps, diagrams, and charts to explore some of history’s worst earthquakes and tsunamis. As well as a look at the science behind predicting them.



Preparing For Disaster, Engineering Solutions . . . Series (Rosen) – What is the role of engineering in natural disasters? Earthquakes: After exploring the science of earthquakes and subsequent soil liquification, this book examines the engineering elements of software, structural design, materials, and location necessary to construct and create earthquake resistant buildings. Includes a preparedness section and numerous additional resources. Wildfires: includes the engineering behind predicting, preventing, and using technology in dealing with fires. [Other titles include: Hurricanes, Floods and Tsunamis, & Droughts].


Extreme Wildfire: Smoke Jumpers, High-tech Gear, Survival Tactics, and the Extraordinary Science of Fire by Mark Thiessen  – This is packed with stunning photographs of wildfires around the globe and the firefighters who battle them from the ground and the air. It also contains accounts of the training and harrowing experiences of firefighters, the science between the different types of wildfire, the ecology and need for fires, suggestions for living (adapting) to wildfires, a glossary, and fun “how to” sidebars.






Earth Science Experiments (Experiments for Future Scientists) by Aviva Ebner  – Using household materials, 20 fun & interesting experiments explore natural disasters, climate, and geology. Each includes an introduction, list of supplies, safety notice, procedure, observation/recording graphs, and real life connections. A chart of the NCSC alignment is included.


STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Her most recent book is 13 Ways to Eat a Fly. Visit her at


Maria is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. And a judge for the #50PreciousWords competition since its inception. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at

STEM Tuesday– Celebrating Diversity in STEM– Interview with author Tonya Bolden

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 interviewing Tonya Bolden , author of Changing the Equation: 50+ Black Women in STEM. This game changing compilation profiles more than fifty women whose significant contributions to science often go unsung. School and Library Journal writes, “Bolden, a master of the collective biography, presents an impeccably-researched call to action, imploring black girls to fight the racial and gender imbalance that plagues the STEM field.”

One of the things that impressed me about our guest author is her passion for children and willingness to light the way for future generations. Her work breathes life into nonfiction subjects, providing young people (and the adults in their lives) with vivid examples to follow. In 2016, Tonya received the Nonfiction Award for Body of Work from the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC. for significantly contributing to the quality of nonfiction for children. I am frequently quoted for advocating we provide positive, uplifting books for young people of color. Tonya Bolden is an outstanding example of that in practice. Many of today’s diverse writers, including myself, walk along the path she blazed.

* * *

Christine Taylor-Butler: Tonya, with more than 40 publishing credits to your name you’ve had an amazing career in children’s literature. You once said you were surrounded by books as a child.

Tonya: I did. My parents didn’t complete their education but they had ambitions for me and my sister. They raised us to reach high. To dream big. We didn’t have a lot of money but they knew the value education would play in our lives and made sure we were surrounded by books.

CTB: Was there a particular book that stood out to you as a child?

Tonya Bolden: Yes. The Borrowers, by Mary Norton is one that comes to mind. It’s about little people who secretly live in a house and borrowed things they needed from the owners. There was just something magical about the story and it resonated.

CTB: You were originally uninterested in writing history or nonfiction, or even writing books for children. And yet you are known for writing insightful works in this genre. What changed your mind?

Tonya: While reviewing books for Black Enterprise, I realized that history could be told with passion and heart. If you added soul, nuance, texture and complexity those books could be as fascinating as fiction. I realized there was nothing wrong with history. What had been wrong was how it had been taught when I was a kid.

“I find that historical figures are more fascinating than things people conjure up.”Tonya Bolden, Indian Express

CTB: In various interviews you  talk about writing for children who don’t otherwise see themselves in literature. Who aren’t shown as belonging in the world. 

Tonya: Yes. I wondered, where are the books for children who are aspirational? The kids who want to travel? I wanted to say – especially to girls – so much is possible! A lot of children don’t dream big. After I wrote And Not Afraid to Dare: The Stories of Ten African American Women, that’s when I found my passion for writing for children.

CTB: You hold a Bachelors degree from Princeton and a Master’s degree from Columbia. It might surprise people to know that both degrees are not in history or literature, but in Slavic Languages and Literatures with an emphasis on Russian.  I’ve been advocating for children to learn more than one language. My daughters, for instance, studied Latin, Italian and Japanese. But there is often push back, especially in urban communities. Where did your interest come from?

Tonya: I was 17 when I made that decision. In high school, I fell in love with works by Anton Chekov. It might have had something to do with the fact that I grew up during the Cold War. I’ve always loved languages. I was the first in my family to go to college. Back then, there wasn’t as much pressure on young people because of college costs. You could dabble and follow your bliss. My parents didn’t pressure me to follow a certain career. Their philosophy was “Do whatever you want, but find a way to make a living at it.”

It’s so much harder today for young people to explore their interests in the same way. The stakes are higher because of the high cost of education. But it’s still important for young people to learn languages outside of their own culture and learn about the broader world around them.

Changing The EquationCTB: Your book, Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM is such an important addition to children’s literature. You cover an enormous amount of information. What did the research process look like? Were you able to speak with any of the women you included?

Tonya: It started when I wrote Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls. My research included a profile of Katherine Johnson. Most people know her as one of the original “Hidden Figures.”  After I wrote that profile I was curious to know more about black women in STEM so my research grew out of that curiosity.

PathfindersThere’s a saying, “When a student is ready the ‘teacher appears’.” I read newspapers, books, oral histories and conducted web research to identify people to profile. I was surprised by how much I was able to find when I searched for specific professions. I discovered so many women, I didn’t have room to profile them all.  There were a lot of outtakes. If I had the opportunity, this book would have featured more than one hundred woman but it would have been too big a volume for the industry.

“We still have this stereotype that STEM is for boys and men and that’s not true,” – Tonya Bolden, Amsterdam News

Rebecca Crumpler

Rebecca Crumpler

One thought behind the book – I wanted girls to see how wide the world is. Even in science. Not everyone is in a lab coat. I liked the idea of presenting a Black woman who is an astrophysicist. Or a robotics engineer. I wanted girls to know that if they were going towards something that is tough, that there were people who have done it before them. For example, the first woman in the book, Rebecca Crumpler, was a physician. If this woman could go to Medical school before slavery was abolished then anything is possible.

I was lucky to be able to communicate with a number of the women. They were all very generous with their time. Those women included Mamie Parker (Biologist), Aprille Joy Ericsson (NASA Aerospace Engineer), Pamela McCauley (Industrial Engineer), Ayanna Howard (Roboticist), Treena Livingston Arinzeh (Biomedical Engineer), Paula T. Hammond (Chemical Engineer), Lisa D. White (Geologist), Emma Garrison-Alexander (Cybersecurity), Aomawa Shields (Astronomer and Astrobiologist), and Donna Auguste (Computer Scientist–and more!).

CTB: What advice do you have for young people who might want to follow in your path one day.

Tonya: Read. Read. Read. Master the language in which you want to write. Knowing other languages also helps a writer. Know your own culture and other cultures. If you want to write professionally, be prepared for lean days. It’s hard to get into publishing. I started writing under “write for hire” contracts. That means I wrote books other people wanted done and I took the work I was offered. It was helpful because it kept me flexible and nimble. In the industry it became clear I was open to other people’s ideas and I was offered additional work. It’s harder to get published now. Back in the day, publishers nurtured “house authors”. You would write several books and be given time to find an audience. Now books have a shorter shelf life. If you don’t hit it out the park with that first or second book it may be Game Over! There was a time when publishers focused on helping to build a long-term careers. Having said that, perseverance is key. Follow your passion and don’t give up. A young woman once wrote me to say, “You may not know me, but you have paved a path for me in this industry, and I wanted to personally thank you.”

CTB: So in a way, you’re passing on the dream through your writing.

Tonya: Yes. Doors started to open for many of us in the 1960’s. We grew up hearing about giving back. The work that I do is my way of saying “Thank you” to those people who opened the doors for us. People like Fannie Lou Hamer, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Katherine Johnson, for example.

I always wanted to be useful. In elementary school, I thought I wanted to be a classroom teacher. But in a way that’s what I’m doing now. Teaching young people through the books I’m writing.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree

Dovey Johnson Roundtree

CTB: So what’s next for Tonya Bolden. Are there any books we should be looking for in the future?

Tonya: I have a new book coming out in June 2021: Dovey Undaunted. It’s the biography of Dovey Johnson Roundtree, civil rights attorney. She lived a life of service and was one of the first Black women to enter the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Dovey was born in Charlotte, North Caroline which is where my father was born. When I was a kid, our family would go down south to visit. I have so many vivid memories of Charlotte. This book seemed like a natural fit for me to write.

How to Build a MuseumAuthor’s note. Tonya Bolden is featured twice on our list this month. Her other book, How to Build A Museum: Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is a must read, featuring little known details about African American history. For those unable to make a visit to Washington, DC, this book is an important addition to your collection.

Changing The Equation

Win a FREE copy of Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM.

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!

Tonya Bolden

photo by Hayden Celestin

Tonya Bolden has authored and collaborated on more than forty books. Holding degrees from Princeton and Columbia Universities, she originally intended to complete a PhD and teach Russian literature. But her path lead elsewhere. Her first book for young people, an adaptation of the musical, Mama I want to Sing, lead to more contracts to write books for children. The rest is history. Her book, 33 things Every Girl Should Know was praised by Hillary Rodham Clinton in a speech on the 150th anniversary of the first Women’s Rights Convention. Her awards and recognition are too numerous to list in their entirety but include, the Childrens Book Guild Nonfiction award for her body of work, the James Madison Book Award, ALA’s Coretta Scott King Honor Award, NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award, ALSC Notable Book and multiple nominations for the NAACP Image Award. To learn more about Tonya, please visit

Christine Taylor-Butler headshot

photo by Kecia Stovall

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT educated STEAM nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram