Writing

STEM Tuesday — Polar Ecology– Writing Tips and Resources

 

Squeezing It In

When you spend several years researching a topic, you end up with reams and reams of phenomenal facts. How are you ever supposed to cram it all in to one short book? Well, for starters, you don’t. Instead, you get choosy about what info you use, only opting for facts that support the main point of your book, but also, you get creative with ways to squeeze information in.

Let’s take a look at how writers, illustrators, and design teams use the edges to educate. By edges, I mean all of that extra information frequently found in a nonfiction book. Information in the epitext: backmatter, front matter, cover, footnotes, sidebars. captions, etc. We nonfiction nerds have awesome options that fiction folks don’t often play with. Now, an author or an illustrator is not always in charge (many of those decisions are made on the publisher’s end), but we can be strategic in our use of epitext.

For today, let’s set the front matter and backmatter aside and focus exclusively on matter placed on the main pages of the book.

I whipped out a few books from this month’s STEMTuesday list and will share features that jumped out at me and questions I immediately had. You probably might not have all these books at your disposal, but consider doing the same with a pile of books near you.

MAPS

Lost in the Antarctic: The Doomed Voyage of the Endurance, by Tod Olson, page 80. Black and white; the title uses the word “fate” which gives an ominous connotation; the legend allows the map to convey a narrative. Questions: What information on the map is also included in the text? What information is left out of the text? Did the inclusion of the map allow the author to trim content from the text? What content is important to include in both the text and the epitext?

Ice Scientist: Careers in the Frozen Antarctic, by Sara L. Latta, page 15. Color illustration; the lack of color within the photo makes it stand out; minimal information provided on the map. Questions: Why does the caption repeat the key information with only minor additions? Does comprehension of the text rely on support from this image?

Polar Explorers for Kids: Historic Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic with 21 Activities, by Maxine Snowden, page 76. A two-color image; many geographical locations identified; no legend or title; use of bold and italics; located at the beginning of Part II of the book. Questions: Why is there no title or legend? Is this map being used differently than the others which support text on a single page? Do the marked locations match the timeline as follows and/or the content from upcoming chapters ?

DIAGRAMS

The Polar Bear Scientist, Peter Lourie, page 22. Colored regions overlaying a photograph; a long caption; diagram overlays another photograph. Questions: Does the content in the extra long caption offer an aside to the main text or does it directly support the main text? If browsers stop to engage with the diagram, would they be drawn into the main text, and if so, where would they start reading? The top of that page, jumping in mid-story, or would they flip back to the beginning of the section or chapter? How can I use diagrams strategically to suck readers in? Should that be a goal? When writing the text for a caption, should I aim it at the browser or the person reading the full text? What are some strategies I can find for these different approaches?

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, Sally M. Walker, page 20. An infographic; caption is integrated into the graphic; labels clarify the components of the graphic; seems to be connected to text which is actually an extended sidebar. Question: Did the author developed the concept for that infographic or find a related image elsewhere and use it for reference? If this infographic were not included, would readers understand the text?

Polar Explorers for Kids: Historic Expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic with 21 Activities, by Maxine Snowden, page 19. Four separate images included; black-and-white; on a page with numbered instructions. Questions: Are these illustrations sequential? If they support the instructions, why aren’t they numbered? When writing a how-to piece, how critical is it to include text to support sequential illustrations?

SIDEBARS

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed, Sally M. Walker, pages 60-61. An extended sidebar that covers a full spread; encapsulates an entire story; because it does not fall between sections of the main text, it creates a fissure in the reading experience (one paragraph is orphaned on the following page). Questions: Are there tricks a writer can use to avoid a sidebar splitting up the main text?

Where Is Antarctica? By Sarah Fabiny, pages 88-89. An extended sidebar; expository timeline; alliteration used in the title. Questions: How frequently does the writing style and or voice of the sidebar differ from that of the main text? In a single book, are the sidebars all expository, all narrative, or a mix? Does this list provide a summary of the main text, provide information not in the main text, or provide something else?

Ice Scientist: Careers in the Frozen Antarctic, by Sara L. Latta, pages 30, 58, 71. Repeated sidebars with similar content; different word lengths; each of these includes parallel information such as definition, education required, and standard income. Questions: Are standardized sidebars more frequently used in certain series? By certain publishers? How frequently is this kind of feature used in trade publications? What impact would it have if this information were provided in chart or list form instead?

Being Intentional with Info

Analyzing the features of these informational texts helps me consider how to strategically use epitext in my manuscripts. My response as a reader to different styles, lengths, and approaches gives me insight into the impact these features have. It helps me understand their effect on reader comprehension and/or enjoyment of STEM books.
What impacts do specific types and styles of these nonfiction features have on you?

 

Heather L. Montgomery finds crafty ways to cram info into captions, sidebars, and footnotes. To read riotous footnotes full of fun, facts, and fecal forensics, check out her most recent middle grade STEM book Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other.

Learn more at www.HeatherLMontgomery.com 

STEM Tuesday — Coding– Writing Tips and Resources

Conditional Statements

Welcome to the STEM Tuesday Coding Revival & Traveling Medicine Show! Grab a great book from the STEM Tuesday Coding recommendation table, have a seat and let the power of coding revive your STEM soul. Can I get a “Hallelujah!”?

Citation: George R. Brunk II 1950’s Revival Photographs. Theron F. Schlabach Photograph Collection (HM4-378 Box 1 Folder 4 photo). 

Our simple and elegant design looks at coding through fresh eyes and is inspired by the universal power of the coding embedded in our daily lives. 

Coding is two-fold. We mainly associate coding with the writing of computer programs, but coding also means classifying or identifying something by assigning it a code. I like to preach coding as being the logical breakdown of a process or event. Coding is a way of thinking. 

Coding, on one hand, is computer programs and video games and special effects and entertainment. The scope of computer coding reaches far and wide into almost every aspect of modern life. Alexa is Alexa because Alexa’s software codes it to be Alexa. Banks, governments, law enforcement, education, sports, etc. all increasingly rely on the power of code.

Coding also exists outside the electronic world. 

Coding is biological. Coding is chemical. Coding is physical. 

Coding is animal, vegetable, and mineral.

Coding spans from describing how atoms interact to how our entire universe behaves.

Now that’s truly a hallelujah thought!

Conditional statements

If/then, hypothesis/conclusion, cause/effect are conditional statements. Thinking in code requires using conditional statement tools. Thinking within the logic of a conditional statement helps break down a process which leads to an understanding of that process.

If this happens, then that happens. If this doesn’t happen, then that happens. 

A simple tool with so much power. A way to look at the world and attempt to understand it. The knowledge of the human race is built upon conditional statements. The knowledge waiting to be discovered will most certainly be found by observing if this happens, then that happens.

Simplify & design

Once one knows how something works, the process and the design, and the logic can be extrapolated to other things. Build a better building by studying the steps (coding) termites use to build a mound or the organization of chemical bonds in a crystal. One of the coolest things in molecular biology I’ve been reading about is DNA origami. Molecular scientists are using the predictive binding inherent between the nucleotide bases of the DNA genetic code to fold DNA strands into molecular tools for a wide range of processes, from drug delivery systems to micro-robots. 

Better design comes from a better understanding. Better understanding comes from thinking like a coder!

Steps to Code

A. Observe!

     Watch something happen. Pay attention to what is happening and record what is seen.

(There’s an almost indefinable book first released in 1969 called, Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon. The book combines culinary science, philosophy, religion, and economy in a stream of consciousness style as the author prepares four meals for eight from one leg of lamb. The entire second chapter is about observing an onion. How it’s packaged, designed, and executed to produce a wonder of nature and of flavor. That’s next-level observation!)

B. Break down the parts.

     Take the observations, place them in order.

C. Study how the parts fit and how they work.

     Come up with ideas (hypothesis) of how to get from part A to part B. 

D. Mimic.

     Try out your idea. If it works, then move forward. If it doesn’t work, then try something different.

E. Repeat. 

     Iterate until you imitate.

Logic muscle  

Coding requires healthy logic muscles. Living life through a coder’s lens takes practice and discipline. The logic muscles need work. Practice daily and code your world! Observe. Observe. Observe. 

Thank you for attending the STEM Tuesday Coding Revival & Traveling Medicine Show! We hope you feel the coding inspiration flowing through your veins. On your way out, don’t forget to grab your complimentary bottle of Dr. Swanson’s Patented Problem-Solving Elixir! It is guaranteed, organic, pure STEM with a touch of STEAM for added flavor.

Go out and code, my friends! 

See the world through new eyes!

By Unidentified U.S. Army photographer – Image from Historic Computer Images, Public Domain.

 

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

 


The O.O.L.F Files

The Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files this month branches out into the world of coding. As I said in previous O.O.L.F. Files, all roads lead down the rabbit hole of curiosity and inquiry. Have fun sliding down your rabbit hole of curiosity and inquiry! Just remember to come back and do good work.

Bioinformatics: Where code meets biology by Daniel Bourke

Code.org

Code.org® is a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science in schools and increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups. Our vision is that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer science as part of their core K-12 education. They also sponsor the Hour of Code event.

Best Coding Tools for Middle School from Common Sense Education

Coding in Astronomy

I never really thought much about the relationship between astronomy and coding until a few years ago. But when you think about how the immense amount of data generated by modern telescopes collecting electromagnetic wave spectrum from distant galaxies, that data needs to be organized and analyzed. Astronomy and coding. It’s a no-brainer-relationship.

DNA Origami

 


Middle-Grade Mysteries, Spy, & Sci-fi stories featuring South Asian Characters: Interview and Giveaway with Sheela Chari

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I’m pleased to welcome Sheela Chari, author of the new mystery series, The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel, for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.

                                   

Hi Sheela, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

Thank you for having me—it’s great to be back! Years ago, I was one of the original members, and I loved interviewing other writers! These days, writing, teaching, and being a parent has taken over much of my time. But it’s definitely fun to be in this familiar space again.

 

About THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel follows Mars Patel and his pals on their quest to find their missing friend, Aurora, who might be part of a chain of other disappearances around the world leading back to billionaire inventor, Oliver Pruitt. It’s a story filled with conspiracy theories, deceptive adults, and enterprising kids who know how to rely on technology and each other to solve problems.

Mars Patel was originally produced as a podcast mystery drama series for kids by Gen-Z Media.

Now, it’s also a middle-grade novel and series written by me!

When I was invited to write the novelization, I was asked to take an audio-drama and re-envision it in written form. I had to really think about who Mars, Caddie, JP, Toothpick and the rest of the characters were, and the stories of their lives not captured in the podcast. It was a lesson in character study and plotting, and even rethinking everything I knew about dialogue. In the book, you will find a traditional story littered with emails, texts, podcast transcripts, and other asides to capture the same chatty dynamic of the podcast. It was really my wish to reflect the very interesting, funny way that young people talk to each other today both online and IRL (that’s “in real life” for the uninitiated).

On Mars Patel identifying as an Indian-American spy kid

Representation have always been important for me. It’s the reason that I wrote my mystery novels, Vanished and Finding Mighty, which both feature Indian-American detectives, and are rooted in my experience of growing up Indian-American. I also make an effort for the other supporting characters in all my books to reflect the diversity and inclusiveness I see and cherish as a part of being an American immigrant. The Mars Patel series is a perfect representation of these ideals. Not only that, Mars gets to do those very things that ALL kids should be seen doing in novels: sleuthing, pranking, laughing, messing up, apologizing, doing better, taking risks, and growing up.

 

                                                         

 

On how reading mysteries was an integral part of your childhood

When I was young, I would pore over Nancy Drew books in my library and at home. Not just the stories themselves, but also those wonderful interior illustrations and cover art, observing how Nancy Drew, and her loyal friends, Beth and George, transformed from book to book. To me, they were heroes and old friends, and even the way I met my own best friend (we found each other in the Nancy Drew aisle of the Iowa City Public Library). From then on I would graduate to other mysteries and spooky stories (Lois Duncan comes to mind!). But I do believe this idea of mystery-solving and friendship finds it roots in those Nancy Drew mysteries and a shared love for them with a close friend.

On drawing inspiration from your own life when writing this book

The original podcast hints at a story set in the Northwest. I went a step further and set the book in Washington State, where I lived when I was in middle school and high school. Mars’s fictitious town of Port Elizabeth is based on all the trips I made to Seattle and the Puget Sound as a young person. So writing the book was truly a trip down memory lane for me. I also went on a recent vacation to visit an old friend in the Puget Sound, and it was very inspiring. I used all kinds of details — taking the ferry across the water to Seattle, that particular quality of rain, clouds, and occasional sun, the up-and-down hills, the inky waters of the Sound —to help me describe Port Elizabeth. It was so much fun!

On immersing yourself in a MG sci-fi with corporate conspiracies

Yes, in this story there are bad guys, surveillance, and a conspiracy to hoodwink kids. Even so, for me, Mars Patel is about looking to the future, where anything is possible, even a chance to start over as a society. It’s a book that celebrates technology, space travel, and innovation. Not to say there aren’t threats — Book 1 starts with a Code Red scene in school. Later books in the series take on the urgency of climate change. Even so, the story has always given me a surprising and upbeat way of looking ahead, of knowing that kids growing up now will have the mindset to invent and think differently. Thank goodness.

Sheela Chari is the author of FINDING MIGHTY and VANISHED, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. Her latest middle-grade novel, THE UNEXPLAINABLE DISAPPEARANCE OF MARS PATEL, based on the Peabody-award winning podcast, is out this October from Walker Books US, an imprint of Candlewick Press. Sheela teaches creative writing at Mercy College and lives in New York.

Want to own your very own signed copy of The Unexplainable Disappearance Of Mars Patel? Enter our giveaway by leaving a comment below! 

 

You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be announced here on October 16, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US only) to receive a signed, personalized book.