STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday — Spooky and Scary Science– In the Classroom


I admit it, I’m a wimp. There were some books on this month’s list that I didn’t even attempt. I read a book about yellow fever years ago, and it kept me awake at night. There was no way I was going to try tackling American Murderer.

I’ve also learned that you can’t always predict what’s going to make you squeamish. I researched different animals for a book series a few years ago. I thought the spider book was going to be a problem – it wasn’t. Turns out peacock spiders- and jumping spiders, in general – are super cute. I didn’t anticipate having a problem with walking stick bugs. They ended up sending shivers up my spine and getting visions of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom stuck in my head. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out this clip:

As you work with this month’s list, don’t forget that everyone has different phobias as well as different spook thresholds. Here are the books I read.

Zombie makers: True Stories Of Nature’s Undead
by Rebecca L. Johnson

This book explores what can cause a variety of animals to behave like zombies. This was definitely the creepiest of the books I chose to read this month. In addition to interesting info about zombie-makers, it’s got lots of photographs and information about the scientist who discovered and/or studied the creatures.


Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs
by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Robert Meganck

I love creative ways to convey facts. So, of course, I had to read this book. I loved learning about different types of spiders. I also enjoyed seeing all the different poetic forms used to describe them.


Yuck, You Suck!: Poems About Animals That Sip, Slurp, Suck
by Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Eugenia Nobati

Here’s another book that uses poetic form to present information. This one focuses on animals that suck, one that doesn’t (although people think they do), and another that has suckers but doesn’t suck.


Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) in the Real World?
by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Phil McAndrew

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but the title had me intrigued. Turns out, it mixes history, mythology, and science, which makes it a winner in my mind. It had some added bonuses, too, First, it has lots of variety – both in monsters and in the science covered. Second, all the science cast doubt on the existence of all the different monsters covered in the book.


As always, I can think of lots of great things to do along with reading these books. Here are a few that really struck a chord with me.

Explore Spiders

Spi-ku includes lots of different spiders. Pick one of them – or one of the many spiders not covered in the book – to research. Then create a poster or slide show to convey what you learned about it.

Print or color a life-size picture of the spider. (This might be difficult with the tiny ones.)

Find different ways to group and order the spiders.

Line them up from smallest to largest or vice versa.

Place them on a map of the world so you can see where they live.

Figure out their leg to body ratio (size of leg: size of body) and order them that way.

What other ways can you come up with?

Get Poetic

Both Yuck, You Suck! And Spi-ku use poetry to present information. I love that Spi-ku includes back matter that explains the poetic forms used in the book. I thought it would be fun to explore some poetry as an activity.

Turns out, there are some great resources for poetry.

First, I found a collection of Halloween related poems that – according to the Academy of American Poets – are good for young readers. Here’s that list, with links to the poems:

I found another post that provides a list of easy poetic forms, along with examples of each. This is from Teaching With Poetry and can be found here:

If that’s not enough, check out a list of 168 poetic forms, compiled by Robert Lee Brewer on Writer’s Digest: Each of these includes a link to a more detailed post about the poetic form.

So now that you have the details on different poetic forms, here’s the challenge. Pick a spooky, scary topic – perhaps something from one of this month’s books. Do some research on that topic. Then present what you’ve learned in a poetic form.

You might want to start by writing down words and phrases that capture the most important – or interesting – things you learned about your topic. Then reword and reorder those thoughts into your chosen poetic form.

Monster Ethics

While reading Monster Science, several ethics questions were raised. In several places, there were mentions of the ethics of genetic engineering. I also remembered having heard some controversy around HeLa cells.

Before delving into a specific topic, it might be good to talk about what ethics are.

There’s an interesting worksheet from Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs that looks at norms, morals, and ethics. That can be found here:

There’s also some good information on New Zealand’s Science Learning Hub:

On to the specific topics from Monster Science.

There is a whole section of the Johns Hopkins website dedicated to Henrietta Lacks: This includes a page called “Upholding the Highest Bioethical Standards”: This shows how things have changed between the 1950s – when Henrietta Lacks’ cells were taken – and today.

There are also questions about the ethics of genetic engineering. Here’s one summary of the ethical concerns of genome editing from the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute:

If you’d rather have a philosophical debate, how about discuss/debate the following.

What is a monster?

Are robots alive?

Or maybe there’s another topic in these books you’d rather sink your teeth into (pun intended).


Janet Slingerland is the author of more than 20 books for young readers. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out

STEM Tuesday — Spooky and Scary Science– Book List

Who needs a shivery, shuddery story about werewolves and zombies when there are truly scary things living all around us?

American Murderer: The Parasite that Haunted the South by Gail Jarrow

This book is about microscopic worms living in the soil… invisible vampires that enter your body through your bare feet, travel to your intestines, and stay there for years sucking your blood and draining you of energy. The focus is on Charles Wardell Stile, the scientist who discovered the worm and played an important role in educating the public on treatments and eradication. There are gross diagrams and photos of the vampiric worms and a not so subtle reminder to wear your shoes when you head out on Halloween night – or any time.

Something Rotten, A Fresh Look at Roadkill by Heather L. Montgomery

This book is not for squeamish souls; it is full of parasites, intestines, and bloody bodies. At the same time, it remains an entertaining and informative read. We meet David Laurencio, the archivist of the DOR (Dead on Road) collection at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History. Every specimen bears a toe tag with an identification number that references a file. A file filled with notes about where the animal was found, when, how it was killed, its gender, and DNA information. By mapping where animals are killed, scientists can learn more about where they live, what they eat, and whether they are migrating because of environmental changes.

Animal Zombies by Chana Steifel

Welcome to the Zombie Zone, where you’ll meet harmless ladybugs turned into monsters by parasitic wasps, zombie cockroaches and crickets and ants. You’ll meet plenty of other scary monsters, and the scientists who study these real-life bloodsuckers and body snatchers. But don’t worry – there’s a list of items you can stow in your very own Zombie Emergency Kit.

Zombie makers: True Stories Of Nature’s Undead by Rebecca L. Johnson

Zombies are real, and they’re closer than you think! Fortunately, the zombie-makers don’t (yet) attack humans. But they do take over the bodies of insects, spiders, snails, and rats. In this book you’ll meet the fungi, worms, wasps, and viruses that take over animal brains – and learn the science behind the story. And you might be inspired to do some zombie hunting in your own backyard!

Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs by Leslie Bulion

No matter where you are, there’s probably a spider lurking nearby. Some are busy weaving webs, others riding silk balloons through the air, and yet others on the prowl. In this book you’ll meet diving spiders, dancing spiders, and social spiders. You’ll learn how they kill and digest their prey, engage in foolery – and even how they become prey themselves. There are great tips on how to hunt for spiders at night plus a poetry guide for folks who want links to literature.

Yuck, You Suck!: Poems About Animals That Sip, Slurp, Suck by Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple

These poems highlight thirteen real-life suckers that live on our planet. You may even have been a victim of a vampire! Think about those mosquito bites and the yucky leeches that stuck to your toes when you went wading in a stream. Not every featured creature sucks blood; there are bees and butterflies (they suck nectar) and pigeons who can use their beak as a straw. Back matter includes a fun list of anatomical terms for parts that suck.

Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) in the Real World? by Helaine Becker

Despite all the stories, monsters aren’t real. But if they were … what science would guide the lives of vampire and bigfoot, zombies and werewolves and sea monsters? Beginning with Frankenstein, we look at what makes a monster, and explore whether you could bring the dead to life using electricity. [note: Using a defibrillator to restart a heart that’s been stopped for a few seconds is a far cry from bringing a corpse to life!]

Scary Animals (Gross and Frightening Animal Facts) by Stella Tarakson

Combining detailed photographs with speech bubbles and comic asides, this creepy book from Australia (where a fair portion of the animals can kill a human) examines common phobias – freaky spiders, giant snakes, and swooping birds – looks at spiky creatures, skulls and super strong jaws, mysterious murders (who knew sugar gliders were so violent), myths and missing species, and a host of spooky spaces where animals live. It includes a bit on genetics and a glossary.

Toxic: The World’s Deadliest Creatures by Ico Romero

After grounding the reader in the difference between poisons, toxins, and venoms, this boldly illustrated book explores poison dart frogs, unique venomous mammals, ocean stingers, snakes, fantastical fish and jellyfish, insects, spiders, and more. An excellent discussion on the career of a toxicologist, a fascinating guessing game (“Healthy, Sick or Dead?”), and a glossary round oud out this engaging book on deadly creatures.

Gory Details: Adventures From the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt

Though slightly older, the humorous, manageable chapters (5 to 7 pages), examine “gross, taboo, or morbid topics…up close, through the lens of science.” Including, whether dead owners would be eaten by their dog, maggot farming, head transplants, face mites, and the worst places to be stung. A few chapters like roach invasions and eye worms are not for the squeamish or to be read before bed. With interviews of scientists in each field, an index, and a detailed list of sources this is a great book to spark curiosity or jump start research into some scary, gory science.

Frightlopedia: An encyclopedia of Everything Scary, Creepy, and Spine-Chilling, from Arachnids to Zombies by Julie Winterbottom

Tucked among ghost stories, witches, vampires, and haunted houses are lots of short chapters about creepy crawly critters: slithery snakes, killer bees, Komodo dragons, rats, sharks, stonefish, and vampire bats. It’s a complete A-to-Z guide for everything spooky, beginning with Arachnids. What makes spiders so creepy? Maybe it’s their eyes, or the fact that they make sticky webs that cling to your arms. Not only does the author introduce a few arachnids, but she even provides instructions for a Halloween prank. There’s a “fright meter” at the beginning of each chapter (to let you know just how scary the stuff on the pages will be), lots of hands-on activities, and a chapter on how to be an “evil scientist.”


Scary Science: 24 Creepy Experiments: 24 Creepy Experiments by Shar Levine & Leslie Johnstone

If you want to make a shrunken head, some festering ooze, or alien barf, this book is for you! Each experiment lists materials you’ll need, what to do, and explains the science behind what happens. There are so many ways to make slimy, gooey polymers! As with any lab work, young scientists need to wear eye protectors, maybe a lab coat, and definitely pay attention to the warnings to not eat the experiments!

Gross Science Experiments: 60 Smelly, Scary, Silly Tests to Disgust Your Friends and Family by Emma Vanstone

The name says it all. With a conversational, and at times conspiratorial, voice, this book weaves history, science, jokes, and the scientific process throughout these easy and gross experiments. While some are even edible, others are guaranteed to induce cringes. It’s a great book for exploring scary, creepy science in a classroom or at home.

Oh, ick! : 114 science experiments guaranteed to gross you out! by Joy Masoff

From bacteria hotels to zits, this book is filled with ick-tivities, ick-speriments, and ick-splorations. They may not be scary, but they are guaranteed to be gross. Explore earwax and old eggs, garbage and farts, eyeballs, bad breath, and odious odors. Plus a guide on how to think like a Nobel Prize winner (hint: it’s all about experimental design).

This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich, author

Sue Heavenrich, who writes about science for children and their families on topics ranging 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 The Pie That Molly Made. Visit her at

Maria Marshall, a children’s author, blogger, and poet who is passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she watches birds, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at

STEM Tuesday — Robotics and Artificial Intelligence– Author Interview

STEM Tuesday– Robotics and Artificial Intelligence — Interview with Author Darcy Pattison

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Darcy Pattison, author of A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol It’s a fascinating look at the use of artificial intelligence and how a common board game was used to demonstrate that, in some cases, a computer might possess superior skill levels.

Kirkus Reviews calls it, “An enthralling, contemporary tale of man versus machine.”
AI Cover






Christine Taylor-Butler: Darcy, you’ve been in the business for quite a while and you’ve written everything from science fiction and fantasy to contemporary stories and science. When did you know you wanted to become a writer? Were there detours along the way?

Darcy Pattison: I have always been a reader! In sixth grade, I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS (the Harry Potter of my day), and even then, I thought about being on the flip side of the story. I wanted to write stories that people love to read. But I also grew up questioning everything so science writing is a natural fit for me, too.

CTB: You’ve been published by a number of trade publishers. What lead you to create Mims House?

Darcy: In the last twenty years, publishing has changed because of technology. The introduction of ebooks and print-on-demand services means that publishing a book is a low-cost investment up-front. It meant I could publish the books that I was passionate about and bring them to market myself. I had a long history in the industry and knew what pitfalls to avoid and where to focus attention. It’s been a hard journey, but I’m thrilled to be still publishing books of my heart.

CTB: Long before STEM was a trend in children’s literature, you developed a track record for writing well received nonfiction. Where did you get the idea for writing about the board game match between AlphaGo and Lee Sedol?

Darcy: A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol was written when I got interested in A.I. I’m always looking kid-friendly ways to approach a topic. When I realized this story featured a world champion board game player, I thought it would appeal to kids. This game was actually a pivotal game in the development of A.I Before this, programmers tried to write rules for artificial intelligence programs. For example, they might write a rule on how to identify a photo of a cat.

Sample rules:
A cat has a round face and triangular ears.
A cat has a tail.

It worked up to a point. But what if the cat is curled up sleeping? Or perhaps, it’s stretched out to run hard as it chases a rat? It required too many rules to deal with all the positions a cat might take, and all the exceptions to the rules.

Instead, artificial intelligence today works because we provide thousands of images to a computer program, a big dataset. Each image is labeled either CAT or NOT CAT. The program analyzes the images and creates its own mathematical formula for identifying a cat.

The AlphaGo program was the first time such an A.I. program was used to challenge a human in a complicated board game. Amazingly, it won four out of five times. Also amazing—Lee Sedol, the world champion, found a way to defeat the A.I. once. The series of games redefined our relationship to A.I.

Note to readers: A documentary about the AI program and the match with Lee Sedol can be found on Youtube: AlphaGo: The Movie.

Lee Sedol 1 Overhead of Go






CTB: The illustrations are so fun, as is the layout of the book. How did you find that illustrator?

Darcy: Yes, Peter Willis is amazing! He has illustrated ten books with me now because his distinctive digital collages are fun and funny for kids. I first saw his portfolio on, the Adobe social media program where artists display portfolios. Look for more about Peter Willis and his work here:

Meet the man





CTB: There’s a lot of concern now about AI eventually being able to do more than play games. But I love that you explain that even the phones in our pockets are partially fueled by AI technology. For example, I’m a frequent user of “Siri” and my Mac laptops as far back as OS9 were voice activated and had a digital assistant.  Did you have any “aha!” moments when researching this book?

Darcy: It was fascinating to dig into the discussion of A.I. technology. Understanding the difference in the two types of approaches to A.I. helps me make decisions about how I choose to use A.I. The rules-based approach was ultimately unusable because there are too many exceptions to any rule. When A.I. analyzes big datasets, though, it can mathematically account for exceptions. It’s a brilliant solution that means A.I. can tackle a wide variety of questions. For example, from a photo, it can predict if a mole is likely to be cancerous. Or, it can help create a chemical formula for a new medicine.

One problem with A.I. is that need for big datasets. Where will programmers find the data to feed into the program? Current lawsuits revolve around the allegedly illegal use of their copyrighted or patented information. Artists object to their copyrighted images being used to train A.I., and authors object to their copyrighted novels and writings being used to train A.I.

For me, that “aha” moment was understanding how current A.I. works. It’s easier to see how the programs can help my work or fit into a lesson plan when I understand that it’s trained on selected big datasets.

CTB: Your book ran into a roadblock at the US Copyright office. In scanning the text the office assumed the book was illustrated by A.I. rather than a real person. Can you tell our readers a bit about that experience? 

Darcy: The US Copyright has decided to check books to see if a book might include text or images created by A.I. I applaud this careful look at the books! However for my A.I. book, they asked if A.I. had been used to create the book. Just because the topic of the book is artificial intelligence doesn’t mean I used A.I. to create it! After I answered their question, they came back again and asked about this specific page of the book.

AI Example page

Here, the illustrator Pete Willis is demonstrating that some common objects are or are not based on A.I. programing. We know that artificial intelligence can be used for some cell phones, robots, and video games. But cats, ice cream and board games are not based on A.I. The US Copyright office specifically asked, though, if the images labeled “A.I.” had been created using an A.I. program.

“No,” I answered, “Peter Willis illustrated the entire book, even those labeled A.I.”

They accepted my answer and the book’s copyright was approved without any further questions.

CTB: I love that you call yourself, “Queen of Revisions” in your biography. Do you have any advice for young writers who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Darcy: Over the years, I have learned that I need to revise many times. When kids ask me how many revisions I do for a project, I answer, “Until it’s right.”

It’s not a matter of getting it right in three tries. It’s getting it right that matters.

If you want to write, read! Read everything you can, putting information and language into your memories so that when you need it, the words are there to draw upon.

CTB: Thanks for being such a gracious guest. What’s up next? Any projects or books you’d like readers to watch for?

Magnet coverDarcy: Peter Willis and I are collaborating on a new book, MAGNET: How William Gilbert Discovered that Earth is a Great Magnet. The story goes back to the middle of the 1600s when scientists were first figuring out what a magnet was. Gilbert gathered lodestones, natural magnetic stones, from around the world: from Greece came red and black lodestones; from Spain came white lodestones; Chinese lodestones were dark blood-red, while Ethiopian lodestones were amber or yellowish.

We follow the natural phenomena of stones that attract other stones as scientists start to unravel and make sense of the strange properties of the stones. Look for the book in April, 2024.



Darcy headshotDarcy Pattison is the author of science books for kids, writes award-winning fiction and non-fiction books for children. Five books have received starred PW, Kirkus, or BCCB reviews. Awards include the Irma Black Honor award, five NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books, three Eureka! Nonfiction Honor book (CA Reading Assn.), two Junior Library Guild selections, two NCTE Notable Children’s Book in Language Arts, a Notable Social Studies Trade Book, an Arkansiana Award, and the Susannah DeBlack Arkansas Children’s History Book award. She’s the 2007 recipient of the Arkansas Governor’s Arts Award for Individual Artist for her work in children’s literature. Her books have been translated into ten languages. Always active, before her tenth birthday, she (almost) climbed the Continental Divide, turning back at the last twenty yards because it was too steep and great climbing shoes hadn’t been invented yet. She once rode a bicycle down a volcano in Bali, Indonesia and has often hiked the Rockies. She recently hiked New Zealand’s backcountry for a taste of Kiwi life, and then strolled the beaches of Australia. On her bucket list is kayaking the Nā Pali Coast of Hawaii and eating curry in Mumbai. Follow her: @FictionNotes on Twitter and @DarcyPattison on Instagram.

author christine Taylor-butler

Photo by Kecia Stovall

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, a graduate of MIT and author of Save the… (Tigers, Blue Whales, Polar Bears)  with Chelsea Clinton and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM-based middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Christine was appointed as an MLK Visiting Scholar for the 2023-2024 academic year at MIT focused on STEM and children’s literacy. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter/X, @ctaylorbutler on Bluesky or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram. She lives in Missouri with a tank of fish and cats that think they are dogs.