STEM Tuesday Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them – Interview with author Mary Kay Carson

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 author Mary Kay Carson who wrote this month’s featured cool invention book, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids: His Life and Inventions 

Find out how Alexander Graham Bell invented not only the telephone, but also early versions of the phonograph, the metal detector, airplanes, and hydrofoil boats. This Scottish immigrant was also a pioneering speech teacher and a champion of educating those with hearing impairments, work he felt was his most important contribution to society. Bell worked with famous Americans such as Helen Keller and aviators Glenn Curtiss and Samuel P. Langley, and his inventions competed directly with those of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers.

May Kay’s books include  a number of titles in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s award-winning SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series, including  Park Scientists and The Bat Scientists, an ALA’s 2011 Notable Children’s Books for Middle Readers. Her book Exploring the Solar System was the 2009 recipient of the American Institute ofAeronautics and Astronautics Children’s Literature Award and the State Library of Ohio selected Beyond the Solar System as a CHOOSE TO READ OHIO book for 2015 & 2016. Visit her at  or on Twitter at @MaryKayCarson

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JAS: Thanks for joining us today, Mary Kay. This is a fabulous book! I love how you found such a unique trait to describe this historical figure. I mean, everyone knows that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, but not many know why. Can you tell us how you discovered this fact? And also why you used it to create your whole book?

MKC: In today’s terms, we’d call Alexander Graham Bell a third-generation speech therapist. Bell’s father and grandfather worked with people trying to overcome speech impediments like stuttering or pronunciation struggles because of hearing impairments. Alexander Graham Bell was born into a family where the proper mouth position for making the sound of S was dinner table talk. Bell naturally went into this line of work, as well. Growing up with a mother who couldn’t hear gave him a deep understanding of both the isolation of the hearing impaired as well as a motivation for understanding how sound is made, transmitted, and perceived.

JAS: How did you come up with all of the activities? And why did you choose to add activities to your book?

MKC: I knew Alexander Graham Bell For Kids would include activities as a title in the Chicago Review Press “For Kids” series, all of which have 21 activities. It’s actually why I thought the book would be such a good fit for the series. Bell’s experiments, investigations, and inventions run the gamut from sound and light to flying machines and sheep genetics. The telephone invention alone lends itself to activities about electricity, sound, vibrations, and batteries. I’ve written four other books in this series with activities and Alexander Graham Bell For Kids was by far the easiest to come up with activities for. He was a wellspring of ideas.

JAS: The use of original sketches of Bell’s inventions are really great. How difficult was it to get permission to use them?

MKC: The Library of Congress has a huge Alexander Graham Bell archive, much of it digitized and in the public domain. It includes laboratory notebooks, invention blueprints, journals, personal letters, and photographs. It’s a real treasure trove of primary source material.

JAS: Why do you think learning about inventors is a so important for kids?

MKC: One of my favorite Bell quotes is: “The inventor is a man who looks around upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world.” To me, Bell’s description of an inventor actually describes young people in general. Most see the world as overdue for upgrades and improvements. Many have ideas on how to make things better, too. Being able to envision something different is the first step to inventing. Whether we’re talking about tackling a changing climate or designing a fun video game, it all starts with “What if…”

JAS: How would you suggest a teacher use your book in the classroom?

MKC: There are quite a few ways teachers can use the book in the classroom. The biography itself is instructive on how life experiences shaped the inventor that Bell became. The primary source material is cited and resources given for older kids who want to dig deeper into Bell’s life and legacy. Some of the activities in the book are simple enough for even kindergarteners to explore sound and light. Other activities are more open ended and challenge students to think of and execute an idea of their own.

Buy a Copy of the Alexander Graham Bell book

Praise for Alexander Graham Bell: “Many of the activities featured throughout the chapters, such as making an ear trumpet and feeling sound vibrations, use materials readers likely have at home, fairly easily giving them a taste of the devices used during Bell’s time and illustrating properties of sound. Avid readers can also pursue activities that require special purchases, such as seeing sound and making a pie-tin telegraph. Numerous black-and-white photographs of Bell and his family, period scenery, and artifacts immerse readers in the world of this prolific inventor, from his free-roaming childhood through his adulthood as a teacher of the deaf, an inventor many times over, and a family man. Children who enjoy exploring different symbolic communication codes, historical sciences, and inventions will find much to dig into in this detailed volume.

Thorough and well-rounded. (timeline, resources, glossary, notes, bibliography)”–Kirkus


Win a FREE copy of the Alexander Graham Bell book!   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! 

Hosting this week is Jennifer Swanson, fellow science nerd, and author of Astronaut Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact and other nonfiction books for kids. @JenSwanBooks

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. The combo of story and activities create an authentic and enjoyable learning experience for kids.

  2. Would love this for my amazing readers to encourage thinking and tinkering!

  3. Just added this book to my “to read” list. Looks awesome.

    • You are our randomly chosen winner!!!!!

  4. It’s great to introduce readers to aspects of this inventor they aren’t familiar with. The more they learn, the more they will crave learning.

  5. I majored in science in college and I still didn’t know all that about Alexander Graham Bell. What a great book, you did a lot of research and it shows!

  6. This one looks great! My students love our inventor unit. This looks like another great title to add!
    Thank you!

  7. Great post! Alexander Graham Bell was a fascinating guy! Thanks for teaching us all about him!