STEM Tuesday — Geology — 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 recently released OUTDOOR SCHOOL: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting. In a shining starred review, Kirkus says it’s a “stellar guide that engages readers with rocks, minerals, fossils, and shells.”

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting?

Jennifer Swanson: I wrote this book because the publisher reached out to me to ask me to write it. That happens sometimes when you are a STEM nonfiction author. The publisher comes up with an amazing idea and then they look for an author to write the book. Why did they ask me? Well, probably because of my background as an author of STEM books for kids, but also because I am a huge fan of science and the outdoors. I grew up with a creek in my backyard and practically spent my entire childhood running around outside along the creek, climbing trees, tromping in the forest, and much more. Writing this book was awesome! because it helped me to relive my childhood in a lot of ways.

There is a whole Outdoor School series! Check out the other two amazing books: Outdoor School: Hiking and Camping by Jennifer Pharr Davis and Haley Blevins, and as you know, Outdoor School: Animal Watching by Mary Kay Carson. If you have kids who love the outdoors, these three books are a must. Kids of all ages will find themselves armed with tons of maps, tips, and tricks to explore the outdoors like never before. If you want to continue the fun, draw images of what you see, organize the collections that you gather, and get to the library to look for more fun books about these topics.

MKC: The book is billed as “The Definitive Guide” and is 440 pages. What was researching it like?

Jennifer: As I mentioned before, I spent  my childhood outside, so I guess you could say that I’ve been researching this book my whole life. But to be more specific, with a book this long, there is a lot of research. I got very familiar with adult field guides of rocks, fossils, and shells (those are very big books, if I do say so myself). And then I wrote the experiments and actually did them. I mean you have to make sure they will work, right? The writing part took a lot of time, as did the editing. We had to go over each illustration to make sure it accurately represented every rock, fossil, and shell in it. Plus, I added in some safety notes throughout as well as suggestions for where to go to find all of these amazing objects to add to your collection.

MKC: Were you a rock or shell collector as a kid? Are you still?

Jennifer: Yes! I collected them all, or tried to anyway. I had a ton of rocks as a kid and shells, too. I never did find a dinosaur fossil, though. Isn’t that the goal of every kid? But I did get close (sort of). I found a cow skull when I was eight. It was the prize centerpiece of the science club I had in my garage. As an adult, I don’t collect as many rocks, fossils, or shells, as I realize that they are important parts of the ecosystem. So while I look for them, I usually leave them in place in the wild.

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

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 35 children’s books, including Brain Games, Super Gear, Astronaut-Aquanaut, and Save the Crash-test Dummies. A self-professed science geek, she started a science club in her garage when she was 7 years old. When not researching cool STEM stuff or writing about it, you can find her walking along the beach with her husband and her dogs, looking for shells.

Jennifer:  Like all my books, I write my books for kids who love science, engineering and the outdoors. For me, writing STEM/STEAM books is about having a conversation with a young reader. It’s about getting them excited about the topic so that they get curious, ask questions, and want to explore more on their own. I love including fun facts so that my readers say, “Wow! I didn’t know that.”  The target audience is kids ages 10-14 years, but really it’s a great book for kids of all ages (yes, that means adults, too). If you love the outdoors or just want to get more familiar with it, this book is awesome for just that!

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project?

Jennifer: Right now I’m working on my new book, Saving the Amazon which features a team of scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago who work to help countries decide if a certain part of the land in the Amazon should be conserved for national parks or protected lands. The team goes into an area and  inventories everything! from the animals that creep on the land to the birds that fly in the trees to the fish in the waterways, plus the plants and people that live there, too. It’s a fascinating process and one I’m honored to be able to tell kids about. My process is to interview each scientist/expert on the team, look through photos, papers, and other resources they have and then to visit the Field Museum for onsite research. For me, this is one of the most exciting parts about writing the book– doing the research and interacting with the scientists. The book will be published by Charlesbridge Publishing in 2023. I’m so excited about 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 Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, 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. Such a cool book! I always wanted to collect rocks but I would only find the same pebble concrete street rocks lol! Love the interview! 🙂

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

  2. I still collect rocks and shells now as an adult. I have jars filled with them decorating my bathroom. I still want to find a dinosaur fossil someday. Thank you for the interview–your next project sounds incredible and interacting with these scientists does sound fun. Thank you for the chance to win a copy of your book.

  3. It looks like I need this book to help ME – the creek behind my house has offered many cool fossils over the years! Congratulations to Jen Swanson for motivating us to discover the world beneath our feet!

  4. This would be perfect for our trip to Zion National Park in a few weeks!

  5. What a great interview! I loved hearing about your process and would have loved this book as a kid!