STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday– Checking Your Health — Book List

History is filled with interesting tales of mysterious illnesses. These books feature the stories of the science and discovery behind medical mysteries and also some new medical threats facing the world today. These books intrigue readers who love mysteries, science, and healthcare.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow

Many think of the plague as a disease that killed many people in Europe, but it also came to America. A man died of the bubonic plague in America in 1900. This book tells the story of America’s first plague epidemic. Pair this book with the historical novel Chasing Secrets: A Deadly Surprise in a City of Lies by Newbery Medalist Gennifer Choldenko, a medical mystery abut the plague.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Pandemic: How Climate, the Environment, and Superbugs Increase the Risk by Connie Goldsmith

Goldsmith’s new title shows the links between climate, the environment, and disease. Are we creating unnecessary risk with unsustainable environmental practices? A timely and important look at the possibility of a world-wide health crisis.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Ebola: Fears and Facts by Patricia Newman

From 1975 to 2013 this deadly disease killed about 1,500 people. If that wasn’t bad enough the numbers jumped to six times that number in 2014. Read about this disease and the heroic people who helped stop its spread. Particularly relevant in the wake of the newest outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Science Comics Series — Plagues: The Microscopic Battlefield by Falynn Koch and The Brain: Ultimate Thinking Machine by Tory Woolcott and Alex Graudins

This graphic novel/comic series is perfect for reluctant readers and budding scientists. These titles contain a fictional premise wrapped around scientific facts.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow

Readers will discover a little known epidemic that struck the United States in the early 20th century and how preventative measures changed the way we eat. Includes 100 archival photos, scientific investigations, and the real-life stories of victims of this mysterious illness.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

This fun, informative graphic novel about the human body is perfect for young biology students. A master of ceremonies leads readers through a theatrical revue of each system within the body. Clever!



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse by Catherine Reef

This biography tells the story of a compassionate, remarkable nurse, whose modern methods of nursing became the standards of today. Did you know she also defied the Victorian mores of her time?



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

This award-winning title invites readers to discover the epidemic that spread through Philadelphia.  Pair it with Laurie Halse Anderson’s historical fiction Fever 1793.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank, plus Breakthrough: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy  

These two titles give readers a look into how dedicated doctors and scientists have impacted life for millions of people.


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by:

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the Green Earth Book Award and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She enjoys sharing her adventures, research, and writing tips. She strives to inform, inspire, and educate her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of  a Sibert Honor Award for Sea Otter Heroes and the Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment. Visit her at

STEM Tuesday– Deep Space and Beyond– Interview with Author Alexandra Siy

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 Alexandra Siy, author of this month’s featured deep space book, Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space. The book is a “soundtrack” that takes readers on an epic journey into interstellar space thanks to NASA’s Voyager program and its twin robotic space probes.

The author’s enthusiasm for Voyager’s accomplishments shines through her words: “Planets dance around the Sun. Moons and rings dance around the planets. And the Voyagers danced around them all, taking pictures, collecting data, and transforming how humans see and understand the solar system.”  Voyager’s Greatest Hits received a starred review from School Library Journal, calling it “An engaging and captivating STEM title.” The book was also chosen for NSTA’s Best STEM Books 2018.

Alexandra Siy is a science writer and photographer for kids who thinks that science is fun, artsy, and cool. She’s written many books that combine science and art through imagery that reveals both microscopic and far away worlds.  She also visits schools and libraries nationwide, sharing her passion for science, books, and photography.

Mary Kay Carson: What inspired you to write Voyager’s Greatest Hits?

Alexandra Siy: Back in 2005, I was following the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity for my book CARS ON MARS. One day, while trolling the NASA website I read about a record album flying through space. What?!

Launched back in 1977 on the Voyager Planetary Mission, the “Golden Record” instantly captured my imagination. What was on it? How do you play it? Why was it made? Did scientists really think there are aliens out there who might someday find it? Where is it right now? One question lead to another—and suddenly I was researching the heliosphere, plasma waves, gravity assist, the interstellar medium, and termination shock. At that point, the Voyagers were far beyond the outer planets, but they were still on a mission. Now called the Voyager Interstellar Mission, the twin spacecraft were speeding toward interstellar space, and I wanted to hop onboard. But the only way to go was to write a book.

Voyager’s Greatest Hits was inspired by the Golden Record. It was fun weaving the titles of pop musical recordings from the past forty years into the narrative’s chapter titles and subtitles. A book is the voice of the person writing it, and Voyager’s Greatest Hits became my personal journey to the cosmos. “I’ve been flying with the Voyagers ever since,” I wrote in my author’s note. “And now, so are you.”

MKC: Could you share a favorite research moment or finding?

Alexandra: Although I interviewed several scientists while researching Voyager’s Greatest Hits, my favorite moment was not my interview. It occurred on December 3, 2013 (which was my birthday). I discovered the interview online over a year later. Voyager Project Scientist, Ed Stone, who I’d come to know only through research, was on the Colbert Report talking about “humankind’s greatest—and certainly most extensive—journey of exploration.” When Stephen Colbert floated across the stage in a spacesuit and presented Ed with NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, Ed was genuinely surprised. His passion for science, exploration, and discovery was as engaging as his great big smile. Check it out the Colbert interview and the fun award presentation.

MKC: Why do you write STEM books?

Alexandra: I have a lot of questions. I want to know things. I majored in biology in college because I literally wanted to know what life is—the reason for it, and how and why it exists. This question of life, which is the ultimate existential question, bothered me a lot. When I realized I would not be finding the answer in upper level bio courses, I signed up for classes in Shakespeare and Writing Poetry. I minored in writing and eventually discovered that nonfiction writing is “thinking on the page,” as Philip Lopate described it in his 2013 title, To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. When I write, I come to understand.

Writing STEM books is a holistic approach to understanding. I like to say I write STEAM books because I incorporate art into all of my titles. Primary source scientific imagery is also artistic expression, and I love fusing science and art in books for young readers.

MKC: Any book recommendations for fans of Voyager’s Greatest Hits?

Alexandra: A Wrinkle in Time, the novel by Madeleine L’Engle. In her 1963 Newberry Medal acceptance speech L’Engle concluded: “A book too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” Mary Kay Carson’s outstanding Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt. And for the 2019, 50th Anniversary of the first lunar landing check out Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.

Win a FREE copy of Voyager’s Greatest Hits!

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 this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow space geek and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson


STEM Tuesday — Deep Space and Beyond — Writing Craft & Resources

Interesting Intros

If you are like me, by the time you’ve read the first page or two, you’ve already decided if you’ll finish a book. The beginning, the intro, the hook, those are crucial to a reading experience.

blank page, book, textbook, university, wisdom, writingSo crucial, in fact, that when a nonfiction author writes a book proposal (an overview, outline, comparable books, audience information, author platform, etc.) the writing sample that accompanies the proposal almost always includes the introduction. Editors don’t ask to see the chapter that will require the utmost skill in handling technical information – in the space books featured this month that could include trajectories, subsystems, eight letter acronyms, and numbers too large for the human brain to grasp. They don’t ask to see the conclusion chapter – the one that is likely to require the greatest artistic ability to tie up the loose ends of in-depth concepts, inspire the reader, and launch them into further inquiry. No, editors want to see the introduction. The one that requires both art and craft, wound together skillfully enough to hook a young reader.

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So, how do successful writers begin? Let’s take a look at the choices made by Mary Kay Carson, Elizabeth Rusch, and Catherine Thimmesh in Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt, Impact: Asteroids and the Science of Saving the World, and Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon.

Setting the Mood

The first spread of Mission to Pluto is filled with a photo, a room packed with adults waving American flags and cheering. Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThe text is all about setting the scene. Author Mary Kay Carson could have chosen just about any detail:

  • the phones clicking pictures
  • the type of stick the flags were attached to
  • the hair styles of the individuals

But instead she picked details that accentuated her subject matter:

  • a nine-sided mission patch
  • a robotic spacecraft
  • a dwarf planet

She selected characters such as Bill Nye, the Science Guy, whose inclusion emphasized the magnitude of the occasion. And, she chose a quote (“Now we’re finally going to find out what really…”) that focused a spotlight on the mood in the room – a mood of anticipation. Thanks to the author’s skill, the text oozes that mood and lures me into flipping that page.

Building Anticipation

When you open Impact, you’ll be gazing deep into the starry sky. Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgLike Carson, Rusch puts us right into a scene. From the text, we get concrete information like the date and location (a Russian city) but we get much more. People are “bundled up tightly;” they “crunched their way through the snow.” When I read “At 9:20 a.m.” – not “That morning” or “Sometime that day” – my readering radar goes off because that specificity is a clue that something is about to happen.

In the next bit, the words: “a strange bright point” followed by mysterious smoky trails tell us just enough to imply impending action. Not yet willing to give away the action, Rusch then artfully turns our attention to a class of fourth graders. Who’s the intended audience of this book? Fourth graders. Brilliant. Only then, when the scene is set, the anticipation built, and the relatable characters introduced, only then does the author unleash the action.  “Duck and cover!” Eager to know what happens to these kids, we flip the page.

Using the Unexpected

Team Moon begins with a full-page, labeled image of the flight path of Apollo 11. Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgBecause the path is not nearly as straight forward as I had anticipated, my finger immediately starts tracing the white and then the blue lines and purple arrows. That image is coupled with a simple intro “The Dream . . . ” and a teaser “And the Challenge . . .” which has me charging forward to learn more.

The next page is not at all what I had expected, either. There is no traditional introductory sentence, no watered down overview of the lesson we are about to receive, no generalizations what-so-ever. Instead there is an unexpected photograph (black and white, a crowd of men huddled around a tv set), lots of specific verbs (dominate, transmit, clicked), and language that gushes with enthusiasm (flat-out miracle, wonder of wonders, flush with anticipation).

Applying These Lessons

Close reading of these introductions has me reflecting on my own writing. Could I make use of more specific verbs? How can I build the anticipation? Which of the many characters in a science story will be the best hook for my target audience? I’m grateful for mentor texts such as these.

By Heather L. Montgomery

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are WILD about animals. She reads and writes while high in a tree, standing in a stream, or perched on a mountaintop boulder.



The Out Of Left Field files this month focus on nonfiction kidlit resources. Readers and teachers, if you have any interesting resources to share, please leave them in a comment below. The Nonfiction minute offers a searchable archive of 400-word essays written and read by nonfiction kidlit authors. Each is accompanied by lesson suggestions. Nonfiction author Melissa Stewart offers fabulous nonfiction reading resources, nonfiction writing resources, revision timelines and more. Don’t miss her blog! 100 great science books for kids!