STEM Tuesday — Pets — Interview with Author Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

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 Jodi Wheeler-Toppen about her just-released book CAT SCIENCE UNLEASHED: Fun Activities to Do with Your Feline Friends. School Library Journal says: “This book will be a delight to children who love cats and want to learn more about them using hands-on experiments.”

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Cat Science Unleashed.

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen: Cat Science Unleashed is a book of science-based activities to do with your cat. The activities are fun–make your cat a toy that also tests her sniff-skills, find out how well your cat knows her territory, test her hearing and her night-vision, for example. They’ll show you cool things about your cat’s anatomy, physiology, psychology, etc. A lot of the activities also help you learn about the peculiarities of your special kitty–there’s a personality test, for example, where you can see how your cat compares to thousands of cats from around the world.

MKC: Developing cat-based activities must have been challenging!

Jodi: I wrote this book as a pairing to go with Dog Science Unleashed, which I also wrote. And I can tell you, the cat book was more of a challenge! For the dog book, my friends would drop their dogs at my house for the day and I would try activities with them (because I wanted to see how they worked with a variety of pups). But cats are so attached to their territories–it would terrify most cats to be dropped off at a strange house with a stranger. So I had to go to them and coax them out from under the bed or on top of the refrigerator or whatnot and try to engage them in my activities. It often worked best if I got the cat’s favorite person to try the activities while I watched.

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen is a former high school science teacher, with a Ph.D. in science education. She’s passionate about presenting science as exciting, suspenseful, and understandable. The author of more than a dozen science books for children and teachers, she also has a series on teaching strategies and activities from the National Science Teachers Association Press. Visit her at

I got in trouble with one of my friends. I tested her three kittens for their paw preference by placing butter in a jar and watching how they got it out. She says that now, every morning when she makes toast, one-two-three little faces pop up over the countertop demanding butter! Sometimes an experiment would go great with one cat and then I’d never get it to work again. There was this fun one where I cut out detailed silhouettes of an angry cat and a peaceful cat and taped them to the wall. One pair of kitties gave great responses, arching their backs at the angry cat and rubbing against the peaceful one. But then I could never get another cat to respond, so I didn’t put it in the book.

MKC: How would you describe the approach you took to writing this book?

Jodi: I tried to work backwards from the science to the activities. So I looked for science ideas that were super cool or seemed important if you were going to understand your kitty. Then I thought, what is the craziest way we could look at this? What could you do with your cat that would be really fun or funny or would make Princess Fluffy super happy? I want it to be fun, for kids and their cats. I also want people to come away amazed at their purrfect pets!

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Jodi: I was a high school science teacher and I am still very involved in STEM education through writing and staff development. Life circumstances made it difficult for me to stay in the classroom, so writing is a way I can still teach. Plus, it’s so much fun to take a topic and think about what’s really cool, what would people really get a kick out of about this, and focus there. So much more fun than having to always stick to the education standards!


Win a FREE copy of Cat Science Unleashed!

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 The Tornado Scientist, 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. Sirius, Rigel, and Orion are so looking forward to reading your book—/ well having your book read to them.

  2. Oh, this sounds like so much fun! We have a dog, so maybe I need to do some testing of the dog version…..

  3. Books like this are my favorite to research and write–to make science and math books fun for readers and to get them to know how science and math is part of their everyday lives.

  4. I’m proud to say I’m the mom of 4 Cats, all with different personalities 🙂

  5. Cat science?!!! I must have this book. I adore felines and love STEM. It’d be the perfect complement to my classroom.

  6. This is one book that I’d definitely (!!!) be reading and implementing at home with my two cats!! Looks fabulous, and my fifths will love it!

  7. This looks like a really fun book!

  8. Hi Jodi! We were at the Highlights Foundation Nature Writing Retreat together way back when. These books look lovely! And what fun research!

  9. I would love to try some of these activities in my cat. Very interesting. Thank you for the chance to win a copy of the book too.