Karla has written the first book in a new series called My Super Science Heroes published by Sourcebooks.
The first book, Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence, uses a novel storytelling approach to bring this historical figure to life for readers, both young and old. Written and illustrated as a dynamic superhero story, this book introduces children to Marie Curie as an important scientist whose greatest achievement was not the discovery of radium and polonium, nor having earned two Nobel Prizes, but rather for her extraordinary power – the power of persistence.
Booklist says, “A fun, engaging take for kids who may not realize they’ve got the power to be science lovers.”
Kirkus — “This is a fact-filled, admiring examination!”
This looks so FUN, Karla, how did you come up with idea to give scientists “superpowers”?
I responded to a call for submissions put out by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (a global nonprofit association of researches and scientists). MCAA wanted to partner with an author to create a book about Marie Curie. The idea was that the book would be a source of funding for the science association’s many research initiatives. I was very excited about the proposal and the work MCAA does, and I wanted to find a way to partner with them on this initiative. So I began by doing extensive research about Marie Curie. The more I read about her life, a common theme began to stand out: what made this woman so remarkable was not just what she accomplished, but more precisely how she achieved what she did.
Marie faced a tremendous amount of challenges throughout her life (starting from a very young age). While most of her biographies ultimately focus on her great discoveries, it seemed to me that the more interesting story was her remarkable persistence in battling these many difficulties. Her persistence almost seemed to be a ‘super power’ without which she wouldn’t have accomplished anything! I immediately knew this would be my focus – not what she did, but who she was and how that trait enabled her to succeed. This also struck me as an exciting way to bridge a connection between a famous scientist and a young reader embarking on the study of STEM for the first time. In other words – the link was a key trait that both Marie and the readers have in common: persistence.
By framing this narrative as one of a super hero, I was able to to leverage a number of familiar storytelling tropes and structures that children know and enjoy. It was also a compelling way to show (vs tell) the antagonistic forces she faced in her life and how she ultimately defeated them. For example, her nemesis: Mr. Opposition, starts off quite large and intimidating (he has yellow eyes and fangs). As the story progresses and Marie persists, Mr. Opposition shrinks and loses his frightening characteristics. Children do not need to be told that she vanquished him, for they can see the transformation happening directly. All in all, it seemed fitting that such a strong and accomplished woman should be deemed a super hero.
Thus was born, the My Super Science Heroes series.
I proposed the story to MCAA and my proposal was selected as the winner. I began working with the science association and the incredible illustrator – Annalisa Beghelli – to put together the book. Initially, we were going to crowdsource the book but before the campaign was even over, Sourcebooks had found out about the series and wanted to partner with us to bring it to life. On April 7th, 2020 the book was born and we couldn’t be more delighted about this tremendous collaboration.
Since you are using a fictionalized story, how much of your book is based in fact?
Everything about Marie’s life in the book is true, including the opposition she faced in reaching her goals. The only part that is fictionalized is how we represent that opposition.
How did you get involved in writing about science? Do you have a background in it? Or have you just been interested in science for a long time?
Though I am keenly interested in many scientific areas of study, I have always felt very intimidated by STEM and never though of myself as scientifically-capable. Indeed, this was one of the reasons I wanted to write a book that made it easy for young readers to relate to scientists. I wanted them to see that one didn’t need to be a genius or Nobel-prize worthy in order to love science. Rather, traits like persistence and curiosity are the hallmarks of scientists around the world.
What would you love kids to take away from this series?
Thank you for asking this question. There are a few things I would love for children to take away form this series:
(1) What defines us isn’t what we ultimately achieve, but who we are in the pursuit of our dreams. Marie is a super hero not because she discovered Radium and Polonium, but because she was persistent.
(2) Stories can be told in many ways. We do not need to be constrained to one particular “narrative.” For instance, just because Marie was a scientist doesn’t mean her life story must be told as a non-fiction biography. It can also be told as a super hero tale! In the same way, we get to decide what kind of story we want our life to be.
(3) We all battle antagonists throughout our life. It helps to know that even our heroes have struggled with the same challenges we face and, more importantly, that we share the same ability to overcome those challenges.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
The Marie Curie Alumni Association has been instrumental in bringing this book to life. A portion of all proceeds go to help support the many research initiatives run by the MCAA. Also, they have created a wonderful 40-page Experiment Guide which can be found on my site, here, as well as a page dedicated to the My Super Science Heroes series.
Check out Karla’s website here
One last thing – stay tuned for the next book in the series: Alan Turing and the Power of Curiosity where Alan Turing faces off against his nemesis: Miss Enigma (Jan. 2021).
That sounds amazing, Karla. What a STEM-tastic series! Thanks for being on the blog.
And for you lucky readers, Karla has offered to giveaway one signed copy of her new book. To enter, just leave a comment below or Tweet about this post and Tag @mixedUpFiles and Karla (@KV_Writes) on Twitter. The more times you tweet, the more chances you have to win!