Transportation

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?

STEM Tuesday –Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and More! — In the Classroom

 

This month’s theme looks at transportation–something students might think as ordinary. But as the books we’re highlighting show, plaines, trains, and automobiles have rich histories and lots of science going on.  They’re perfect starting points for different science activities and discussions in the classroom. Here are a few to try.

 

Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jen Swanson, illustrated by Tamika Grooms
Explore how autos are made even safer by using crash-test dummies for design. An entertaining look at the history of car production, as well as the science and engineering behind these machines we can’t seem to live without.

  •  Make a timeline of the evolution of the car bumper.
  • Research the science behind how car bumpers absorb energy from a crash. Have students design the ultimate car bumper, listing what it can do during a crash and labeling its parts on a drawing.
  • Have students imagine a crash-test dummy’s perspective of being tested in a car crash. They can make a comic or write a story about the dummy’s experience.
  • Watch “The Physics of Seat Belts” video from the Smithsonian Channel and ask students to list three reasons why seat belts are important. Have them make a public safety poster about why it is important to always wearing a seat belt when riding in a car. They should include their reasons on the poster.

 

 

Milestones of Flight: From Hot Air Balloons to Space Ship One by Tim Grove

Grove gives readers a look into transportation history and science in this book. Illustrated with photographs, documents, and diagrams from the Smithsonian’s collection.

  • Did one inventor make flight possible? No, like many inventions, the ideas developed from one inventor to another. Ask students to pair up and discuss how two different inventors added to the history of flight.
  • Who was Charles Lindbergh? What did Robert Goddard do?  This book is filled with interesting people vital to the development of flight. Students can pick one and research that person. Then have them act as their character, wearing a costume if they’d like, and tell the class who they are and what they did related to the history of flight.

 

 

Green Transport: Exploring Eco-Friendly Travel for a Better Tomorrow by Rani Iyer  

More on eco-friendly alternatives as transportation industries strive to create green options. This comprehensive title explores traditional energy sources and their impacts, alternative fuels, and mass transit issues as cities move toward more sustainable solutions.

  • Vehicles contribute to climate change, but what else affects the climate. Let students explore the causes of global warming on this site: https://eo.ucar.edu/kids/green/warming5.htm
  • Have students create a train development timeline, listing the fuels used by different trains throughout history and how they affect the environment.
  • Ask students to imagine transportation of the future and have them design a plane, train, ship, or car that runs on clean fuel that does not harm the environment. Have them describe what this fuel is and how it makes their futuristic vehicle run.

 

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Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. Her award-winning and star-reviewed books have been named a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, a 2015 Book of Note from the TriState Review Committee, a 2011 Editor’s Choice for School Library Connection, and Junior Library Guild selections. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can.