STEM Tuesday — Pollinators — Interview with Author Rebecca Hirsch

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 Rebecca Hirsch, author of WHERE HAVE ALL THE BEES GONE? Pollinators in Crisis. The book received a starred review from Booklist, saying Hirsch gives “a well-balanced and objective presentation” and that the book is “an important resource for all libraries.”

Mary Kay Carson: How’d you come to write Where Have All the Bees Gone?

Rebecca Hirsch: Around 2010 my children and I began volunteering at the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden, a big pollinator garden in my hometown in Pennsylvania. Our job was to plant and weed a small area. The Master Gardeners who ran the garden would come by and share with us an interesting flower or a plant that was really buzzing with bees. I noticed how excited they were about all the bees. Native bees were something I had not previously given much thought to. Once I started paying attention, I began to notice all the bees too, not only in the pollinator garden but also in my own backyard. Around the same time I began to see news stories about possible declines among native bees. Finally in 2017 I heard about the rusty-patched bumblebee becoming the first bee in the continental US to make the endangered species list. I took the plunge and pitched the idea to my editor of doing a book on bees, and got an enthusiastic thumbs up.

MKC: The book features such great interviews with bee scientists, experts, and others. Can you share a memorable research experience?

Rebecca: A favorite time was the day I spent with a group of high school students and their teacher at a local school. The students are slowly converting the lawns around their school into a series of pollinator gardens. Every year, a new group of students competes to design a new addition to the garden, then all the students help plant and tend the old and new parts of the garden. I visited on a day the students were outside working. These kids were sweating, getting dirty, and having fun. And they took such obvious pride in their garden. The school board has been so impressed, they keep funding new additions to the project. How can you be around something like that and not be inspired?

MKC: How would you describe the approach you took on this book—and why you chose it?

Rebecca E. Hirsch has published close to a hundred books for young readers, ranging from picture books for young children to nonfiction for teens. Her books have been NCTE Notable, Junior Library Guild, and the Children’s Book Committee/Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. Learn more at www.rebeccahirsch.com

Rebecca: I wanted my readers to grasp the importance of the pollinator issue, the urgency of it, but I didn’t want the book to come across as too gloomy. I wrestled a lot with questions like, How do I make readers grasp the immensity of this issue? How do I inspire them to care? I studied techniques of persuasive writing and discovered there’s a whole toolkit of techniques that writers can use. I read other inspiring environmental books, especially Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. If you open my copy of Carson’s book you’ll see lots and lots of my notes about her writing techniques scribbled in the margins.

MKC: Do you choose to specifically write STEM books?

Rebecca: In college I majored in biochemistry and went on to earn a PhD in molecular biology from the University of Wisconsin. After graduate school I spent a couple of years working as a postdoc in labs at UW and Penn State. I liked laboratory research well enough, but my favorite part of my job was doing scientific writing. I started writing science for children in 2008 when my own kids were devouring books on all sorts of topics. I was very impressed with the books they were reading, and I realized writing science books would be a way for me to use my scientific training and share my passion for science and nature with young readers.


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 Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday — Pollinators — Writing Tips & Resources


Title Talk

Creating the perfect title for a nonfiction piece is tough. In a few short words you’re supposed to convey the subject, approach, and audience — and be appealing. That’s a tall order. Honestly, I used to hate drafting a title but I’ve come to see it as an effective exercise.

Working and reworking a title at different stages of a project helps me nail down more than words for the cover. When I finally smile at a title I’ve crafted — and when that smile returns every time I dive in to revise — I know I’ve also got a handle on what my book is actually about.

Often though, even that title isn’t the final title. The editor, marketing team, others at the publishing house all have a say and sometimes one of them develops the final title.

[Note: This discussion is relevant for trade books. For books in the education market, the title is typically assigned ahead of time.]

So, how do you develop the perfect title? Lots and lots of work — and play! Here are some exercises to help.


Read these titles from this month’s list, paying particular attention to their structure:

Birds, Bees, and Butterflies: Bringing Nature Into Your Yard and Garden

The Pollinator Victory Garden: Win the War on Pollinator Decline with Ecological Gardening

Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies, and Other Pollinators

Summer’s Flight, Pollen’s Delight: Meet the Bees, Butterflies, Birds and other Creatures Who Keep Our World Green and Alive!

Pollinators: Animals Helping Plants Thrive

These titles use a traditional structure: a shorter title (indicating the subject matter), a colon, and a subtitle (fleshes out the topic or scope of the book). Check your shelves for titles that use this structure. Nonfiction writers are fortunate; we can use subtitles! Subtitles give us options. Providing additional clues through the title/subtitle combination can be a critical element in helping a book find the right readers.

What about titles that break from that traditional structure?

They may use questions:

Where Have all the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis

Consider what the use of a question does for the title. Prompt the reader to think? Provide an air of uncertainty? This particular title also introduces a level

of anxiety and capitalizes on the tension inherent in the topic.

Or imperatives:

Know Your Pollinators: 40 Common Pollinating Insects including Bees, Wasps, Flower Flies, Butterflies, Moths, & Beetles, with Appearance, Behavior, & How to Attract Them to Your Garden

What does that do?

Or need no subtitle at all:

Turn this Book into a Beehive


Standing Out

Now, look for literary devices which help a title stand out.

  • Alliteration, assonance, consonance like Astronaut Aquanaut: How Space Science and See Science Interact by Jennifer Swanson and Woodpecker Wham! by April Pulley Sayre
  • A play on words like The Whole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller and I See Sea Food by Jenna Grodzicki
  • Rhythm or rhyme like Joan Proctor, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez

What other devices can you find in titles you love?

Try adding a literary device to one of the titles listed above.


The Power of Play!

Amazing titles can come from play. Play with the language, play with the concepts, play with what your reader might be thinking. Here are a few examples: You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Burns, Something Rotten: A Fresh look at Roadkill by Heather L Montgomery, Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jennifer Swanson

                • Draft the most conservative title possible. Draft the most outrageous title possible. Which do you like best?
                • Reverse the words in one of your draft titles.
                • Combine opposites (over/under, fresh/rotten, etc)
                • Swap out a common word with something that challenges readers just a bit.


Tricks and Tips

Like any other skill, developing a finely honed title requires practice. Here are a few more exercises to round out your workout:


  • Listen to the words of friends, critique partners, strangers as they talk about your project or subject. Stockpile their words as fodder for your title.
  • Revise one of your titles using each of the literary devices listed above.
  • Jot down a title and develop a list of at least 10 synonyms for each word. Mix-and-match, paying attention to the rhythm of the words.
  • At random, select five non-fiction books and use their titles as models for yours.

Many thanks to the members of the NF for NF Nonfiction Children’s Writers Facebook group who suggested titles for this post.


Heather L. Montgomery writes STEM books for kids. She’s had fun with her recent titles:

Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other (Bloomsbury 2020)

Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis under the Waves (Lerner, 2019)

Bugs Don’t Hug: Six – Legged Parents and their Kids (Charlesbridge 2018)

STEM Tuesday — Pollinators — In the Classroom


Happy Summer! What a great time to get outdoors and immerse yourself in nature. But if you can’t do that right now, you can always use books to investigate the world. For teachers and parents who are looking at ways to engage their kids in science and STEM possibly virtually this fall, these books are the best way to get your kids some hands-on pollinator experience!

Many schools raise butterflies as part of their science curriculum. And why not? It’s fun and also a great way to see science in action. But you could raise butterflies in your house, too. This book tells you just how to do it.

Or you can also find information on the internet here at Save Our Monarchs.org

Why would you do this? First of all, it’s COOL! But also because it is a great way to learn about life cycles of organisms. The best part is at the end, you will have some amazing new butterflies to release into the world.





If you want to introduce your students/kids to all kinds of pollinators, check out this awesome book :

It has activities to explore beetles, butterflies, spiders, and other arthropods. WOW!  The book starts out by introducing the reader to the different bugs that are out there and then goes through ways to observe them safely. You can even create a bug net, and set up a a bug trap. like the one outlined below:


Image from the book Bug Lab for Kids by John Guyton (Quarry Books)



Be sure that when you capture the bugs, you observe them for a short time. Maybe keep a journal of what the bug does while you have it. How does it move? What does it eat? Does it interact with other bugs (assuming you’ve caught a few at a time).  Consider drawing the bug in your journal, too.

Consider coming up with your own experiment. For example, if you introduce a bit of material that isn’t in their environment, like a piece of paper or a strip of cloth, watch how they react to it. Do you think they will ignore it completely or perhaps they will appear to inspect it. Make a hypothesis and then observe the bug. Gather data by making notes and drawing pictures. Then come up with a conclusion. Was your hypothesis correct? Why or why not?



Finally, if you want to have your students or kids do an entire virtual experience with bees, have them read the Turn This Book into a Beehive!  book

It gives kids a peek inside the real life of a beehive, by explaining the individual bees and their jobs within the colony. How they all interact, and even explains how bees move about and make the buzzing sound. This book is TONS of fun. You could have kids do a few of these projects and then write up their observations. Or even, if you are doing a virtual science class, have them present the buzzers they made to the class.





image from Turn the Book Into a Beehive by Lynn Brunelle (Workman Publishing)



Perhaps assign every kid a certain bee in the colony and have them write a few sentences or a short paragraph about what they did that day. You know, a day in the life of a forager bee or a court bee… well you get the idea!





Whatever you do, have FUN with it! Kids will enjoy the hands-on aspect of these books and they will also be learning a ton of great facts along the way. Happy Sciencing!


Jennifer Swanson is the founder of STEMTuesday and the award-winning author of over 40 book for kids, mostly about STEM. A huge science geek, Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the Science all around them! You can learn more about her and book her for speaking engagements and school visits at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com