STEM Tuesday — Epic Achievements and Fantastic Failures — Interview with Anna Crowley Redding

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 Anna Crowley Redding about GOOGLE IT: A History of GoogleThe book received a starred review from Booklist, saying, “Redding does an admirable job of chronicling Larry and Sergey’s amazing successes and will inspire young people to follow in their ingenious footsteps.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did Google It come to be?

Anna Crowley Redding: This book was the brainchild of my incredibly talented and brilliant editor, Holly West. We are both excited about technology and the human stories behind tech. The more we talked, the more excited I became and dove into the research immediately. We knew from the start that this should be a fun look at exactly how this company came to be and that, of course, begins with the dreams, ideas, hard work, and failures of two students. Starting with that focus in mind, I have to say it was really delightful peeling back the onion layers of Google. That’s not to say that there aren’t serious or poignant parts of this story, there truly are. And exploring those aspects really allowed the book to demystify this huge company and the people behind it. From losing a dad, to coming to this country as a child refugee, to constant rejection, and then controversy, the personal struggles and triumphs are as much a part of the story as the technology.

MKC: Do you have a favorite aha! discovery or surprise finding you’d like to share from your research?

Anna: As far as aha! moments, there were many, but two stand out. First, reading about artificial intelligence and machine learning changed the way I think about our future and it changed the way I teach my own children about the future. As a society, we are the candlemakers standing at the dawn of electricity. That’s how big these developments are and it made me realize anew the importance of critical thinking, communication, and flexibility. These are the skills every child needs for our future. While a big change like that can be scary to think about, it can also be super exciting and fascinating. Another bit of research that changed the way I think was learning about failure, Google’s failures as a company, and the failures of people who work there… and most importantly, how THEY view failure––as a key ingredient to success. When you look at failure as an intellectual exercise, as a tool for improving your effort, as getting you closer to the solution for the particular problem you are trying to solve, well then it becomes far less personal and emotional. Your journey becomes very much about the process itself instead of a focus on instant perfection. One of Google’s attitudes about this is: fall in love with the problem, not the solution. This changed the way I approach my work, parenting, and just about everything else. It’s a concept I also actively teach my kids.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Anna: My background is in journalism, starting with television news. And as a TV news reporter, so much of current events touches STEM. From stories on ice-storms, plane crashes, environmental pollution, medical stories, crime, public policy and more––they all involve STEM. And using technology itself to gather and report the news is essential. That experience has kept me perennially interested in all things STEM. As an investigative reporter, that’s where I fell in love with research. The process of digging and digging is something I truly enjoy. And the common thread with every story is storytelling itself… how do I take these facts, this science, or tech and talk about it in a way that is as compelling as it is informative. As far as choosing STEM topics for writing books, I love stories about big thinkers and risk takers and naturally STEM fields are full of those stories. Sometimes when we think about STEM, it can be easy to focus on the STEM topics or products themselves, rather than how people connect to these subjects. The human aspect of STEM is what I find endlessly fascinating. Enormous problems are being solved and that requires personal and intellectual bravery. I find that very moving. It really is rewarding to tap into that part of STEM. And hopefully, in taking that angle, young readers can see themselves in these fields, in these careers, solving the problems they deem worthy.

Before diving into the deep end of writing for children, Anna Crowley Redding’s first career was as an Emmy-award winning investigative television reporter, anchor, and journalist. The recipient of multiple Edward R. Murrow awards and recognized by the Associated Press for her reporting, Anna now focuses her stealthy detective skills on digging up great stories for young readers — which, as it turns out, is her true passion.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Anna: When I was writing this book I thought a lot about my older brother as a kid. His room was full of Star Wars posters and toys. He loved Lost in Space. Every book that Elon [Musk] adored as a kid, so did my brother. So my writing goal was to write a book that my brother might have picked up and been inspired by. For Google It, it was important to recreate the world that needed Google. That meant going back to the past in a relatable and sometimes funny way to think about life before Google. What types of phones did we use? How did we get to the library if we didn’t have directions? It really was a different world, recreating that for young readers in a relatable way was, for me, an essential ingredient in bringing Google’s story to life. Hopefully that will allows students to think about today’s tech and problems the same way and challenge themselves to take these problems on–– (whether political, technological, artistic, whatever they find interesting!)

MKC: You’ve also written a book about Elon Musk, correct? What’s the appeal of entrepreneurs and inventors?

Anna: Elon Musk’s life is fascinating. Young readers are going to love diving into his back story and understanding what drives him and how he got where he is today. In ELON MUSK: A Mission to Save the World, I spend a lot of time on who Elon was as a child and as a reader. The science fiction and comic books he read as a child were his refuge from school bullies, from a complicated home life. Ultimately those stories inspired him to ask big questions, examine the world’s biggest challenges and do something about them. And when I tell you he read, I mean he read every science fiction book he could physically put his hands on. At the comic book shop, he read every comic book in the store! Flash forward to today, Elon has changed the game for electric cars. His company, SpaceX, has revolutionized rocket technology and is making plans to colonize Mars. Even though Elon often courts controversy (or controversy courts him), his work and the way he approaches problem-solving, his tolerance for failure in the course of reaching a goal––is fascinating. I hope that readers will themselves in his story, that they see their own seemingly unattainable dreams as worthy pursuits.

Win a FREE copy of Google It

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 Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday
STEM books ENGAGE. EXCITE. and INSPIRE! Join us each week as a group of dedicated STEM authors highlight FUN topics, interesting resources, and make real-life connections to STEM in ways that may surprise you. #STEMRocks!
  1. I am interested in reading this book myself! After that, I’m sure my junior high students would like it to be available in our library. Thank you!

  2. Science and research were my favorites things to do growing up. I’m so grateful to the many authors who have chosen to write STEM books for our children. Thank you!

  3. I’m always lookiingfor ways to integrate into instruction. This book sounds like a winner!

  4. GOOGLE IT! sounds like a fascinating book! I always enjoy reading the backstory about how various titles were conceived. And especially interested in Google’s outlook on “failures” plus the concept of falling in love with the problem. Kudos-sounds like a winning book!

  5. This looks so awesome!! Perfect summer read!

  6. As someone who uses “google” as a verb, I’m excited to find out there is a book to help me get to know the human side of this story. I’m intrigued! Thanks for the chance!

  7. This book sounds like a great way to learn about google and how it started up. Many kids think google has all the answers! Would love to put this book into my classroom.

  8. This looks like such an interesting book. I really think I’d like the section about “Google’s failures as a company, and the failures of people who work there… and most importantly, how THEY view failure––as a key ingredient to success.” What a wonderful lesson for us all!

  9. This will make a great read and resource for a school report. I’d love to see more books like this geared towards middle graders.

    • You’re our winner, Amber! Look for an email soon! Congrats.