Posts Tagged animal superpowers

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — Interview with Author Bridget Heos

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Bridget Heos, author of Stronger Than Steel It’s a fascinating look at biologist Randy Lewis’s work to create spider silk from genetically modified goats. Heo’s research combined with Andy Comin’s photography makes for compelling reading. Could we one day build stronger bullet proof vests? Are we one step away from duplicating the feats of Spiderman?

* * *

Christine Taylor-Butler: Bridget, I met you before you published your first book. Now you have 100 children’s books under your belt. That’s a huge accomplishment in this industry. But you didn’t start out as a writer. Can you tell me a bit about what you were doing before you dove into children’s literature?

Bridget Heos: I was an English major in college. Before I changed careers, I taught English, reading and religion at a Catholic school. I’d also been a social worker. But I’ve loved reading and writing since I was a child and eventually moved into freelance writing.

Christine: Your background in teaching helped with your transition to children’s publishing but it’s unusual to see people gravitate to science in nonfiction. Where did that come from?

Heos KidsBridget: The science part came from my son’s love of nonfiction. I read to my children all the time, but fiction didn’t engage him. At first I thought he was a non-reader. But at the library he would immediately go the nonfiction section. He loved that world. So I thought, how can I support that? Plus, I’m curious. One day I thought, “We live on a planet that has everything we need.” I would see an insect and think “ugh!” But then I started reading about them and it made me see the world in a different way. So I began writing. It changed my life and I began to relive the magic of stories. I was already writing for newspapers and magazines, but now I was passionate about writing books that would engage children.

Christine: So what was your first book?

Book_Jay ZBridget: My first book was a middle grade biography on rapper Jay-Z (Shawn Carter). That was was back in 2009. I saw an email inviting local authors to write for an editor at Rosen. I applied and was hired. Shawn Carter has such a great story. I remember spending a lot of time on it because it was my first book. I’m a journalist so I knew it had to be right. After that, I wrote more biographies. But when I had a choice, I preferred to write science books. Those were the types of books my son liked to have read to him. Even so, writing about a famous person as a first book is a show-stopper.

Christine: And then your career took off!

Bridget: I think it was partly luck and good fortune. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the business and how to make money at it. I loved writing so much I was willing to write anything. Children’s literature felt like a good fit and I began writing a lot of nonfiction. I emailed 20 publishers trying to be a good sales person. Workman hired me to write workbooks.

Christine: You also wrote: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae. I remember thinking that was such a clever homage to the human series for expectant mothers and packed with so many facts. Of the sequel on marsupials, Kirkus Reviews said, “Never once dropping the pretense that this is written for pouched mammals, this manages to be both entertaining and informative.

Heos Kids What to expect

Bridget: Yes! That was first book I sold that paid royalties. I went to the library at University of Missouri – Kansas City and checked out huge books.  When I write about science I have to learn it first. I do a lot of research. It makes up for me not being the best science student when I was younger. I chose the topic because my son loved insects. But as with all things, by the time the book came out he’d moved on World War II. The book was followed by What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings (Crocodiles) and What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys (Marsupials).

Christine: The series is out of print now, but maybe a saavy editor will bring it back into print for eager readers now that engaging STEM and nonfiction are increasing in popularity. And especially since Kirkus loved them. They’re a hard reviewer to please.

Bridget: Yes. The books came out ten years ago and the timing might have been early for the information trend we see now.

Christine: Before we get to Stronger Than Steel, I’m going to take some artistic liberties and stray over to fiction for a minute. Can you tell us how Mustache Baby came about? It has so many good reviews and it was the winner of the 2017 Colorado’s Childrens Book Award.

Mustache baby

Bridget: Mustache Baby was my first fiction book. I had wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I had put the dream aside until, one day, I found a box in the attic. I realized that I’d had that dream but didn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t live with the idea that I didn’t at least try to do something about it.  but my true dream was to write fiction. I had no idea on how to proceed. People have this impression that to be a writer you have to be this beautiful serious writer, but that’s not how I am. When children were younger, I began telling them a story that had been in my head about baby who was born with a mustache that showed if he was a good guy or a villain. It made the kids laugh so I decided to write it down.

“Occasional badness has never been so good.”

You never know what you’ll get in the delivery room, and something isn’t quite right with this new baby. . . . Heos’s offbeat tale muses on the possibilities, playing off parental hope and panicky nightmares.”
—New York Times Book Review

The book’s sole purpose was for kids to have fun. I wrote several drafts and agonized over them. Then I mentioned it who gave me ideas then  sold to Daniel Nayeri who was at Houghton Mifflin at the time. Daniel brought on the illustrator Joy Ang. Her illustrations brought a new dimension to the story. There are now 5 books in the series. By the way, Daniel just won the 2021 Printz for his own book: Everything Sad is Untrue.

Christine: So tell me about Stronger Than Steel. I am fascinated by golden orb spiders and use them as one of the plot points in my series. I had not met anyone else in kidlit that researched them until this book so I was riveted.

Stronger book coverBridget:  I’d seen an article about spider goats and the scientist researching them. My former agent had another client who was doing a scientist in the field book and walked her through the process of proposing a book. It book was acquired by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. That series is fun because the publisher also commissions a photographer. Andy Cumin and I traveled to Wyoming to meet with the scientist, Randy Lewis . Then Andy and I traveled to Utah State where the project was moving. It was good that we had that time to do the research. It involves learning about molecular biology. The team walked me through the process.

Christine: The goats are genetically altered to carry a gene from golden orb spiders.

Bridget: The science is fascinating. Spider silk is stronger than the Kevlar in a bullet proof vest. But you can’t farm spiders. They’re territorial. So the solution was to use goats. Randy took the gene from the spider and combined it with the DNA that creates milk in goats. I got to see the process first hand, how the team works with the goat’s milk to get to the spider silk protein. The scientists filter the milk and get it down to the protein which is a powder, then they combine the powder with a chemical. I watched the silk emerge from the process.

Spider silk

Christine: So what are the scientists doing with the silk?

Randy LewisBridget: They’re interested in it because of its toughness. In a technical sense, it’s hard to break (compression strength) and it’s stretchy (tensile strength). They’re hoping it would be a fit for fly fishing lines. The appeal is that the silk is stronger than most man made materials. But for some projects, the stretchiness is still a problem – like for bullet proof vests and parachutes. One of the other fascinating things, though, is that the spider silk can be used in the human body to repair ligaments and bones.

The book was so much work and I did so much agonizing over it. As a former journalist I wondered, “Did I get it right?” Randy read it to make sure I had not made any factual errors. I do a lot of school visits so I talk to students about the science I learned. Kids are amazing and absorb the information. They wonder if there could be a Spiderman just like there are spider goats.

Christine: So could there be a real Spiderman one day?

Bridget: You never know. The scientist isn’t raising the goats any more, Now he’s focused on comb jellies and the sticky stuff they use to catch their prey. But writing the book was a great experience. Children’s books have taken me to many states I’d never been before.

Christine: So what’s up next for you? Any books coming out we should be watching for?

Triceraopposite Treemendous Santa JawsGood Knight Mustache

Bridget: I have several books coming out in 2021: Triceratopposites, illustrated by T.L. McBeth. It’s about a dinosaur that does the opposite of what his parents say. It’s a sequel to Stegathesaurus. There’s also Treemendous: The diary of a not yet mighty oak illustrated by Mike Ciccotello. It’s the story of an oak tree from acorn to tree. Santa Jaws comes out next. It’s a rhyming book about a Christmas shark. And, or course, the next installment in the Mustache Baby series: Goodnight Mustache Baby.


Win a FREE copy of Stronger Than Steel

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.

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Bridget HeosBridget Heos is the prolific author of more than 100 books for children. Most are nonfiction. A former teacher and journalist, she lives in Kansas with her three sons, daughter, a basset hound and a cat.

To learn more about Bridget and her books, please visit  You can follow her on Twitter @bridgetheos

Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Disasters Alert!, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Her article: When Failure Is Not An Option: Connecting the Dots with STEM appears in the Nov/Dec 2021 edition of The Horn Book. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — Writing Tips & Resources


Supercharge your Story

How do animals supercharge their bodies? Stupendous survival strategies you call adaptations! How do you supercharge your writing? Stupendous strategies you can snag from this month’s books! High energy text can be extremely effective. Sometimes that energy just spills out as you write, but sometimes it is tougher to come by. Fortunately, a few fine-tuning exercises may be all you need to take your writing from fizzle to sizzle!

Vivid Verbs

Sure your characters could just eat something, but take a clue from Kate Messner and have them smash, zap, sting or devour. Right in her title, Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Sting, and Devour, strong verbs show readers that the pages to come won’t be bland.

Put It in Practice:

  1. Identify a passage of text that is less than energetic.
  2. Highlight every verb.
  3. Replace at least half of those with stronger verbs. How?
    1. Think active. Play a movie of the action in your mind. Now run it again in slow motion or under magnification. What motion happens? What causes the action? What results from the action?
    2. Think auditory. Hear the sounds that might accompany it. Would any of those work to convey the action?
    3. Think analogy. If no action happens, come up with an analogy. “A tree has leaves” becomes “A tree holds leaves.”
    4. If all else fails: beg, borrow, or bend an idea until it works. Flip open Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour. Make a list of supercharged verbs from the page and work them into the text you are working with. Yes, this may require creative revision, but that’s what writers do!

Snappy Sounds

Strategic use of sound can make writing sing. Although excessive use of alliteration (repeated initial consonant sounds), assonance (repeated vowel sounds) or other devices can feel forced, the right balance will help the words ring true.

In the following text, note level of energy: “Tiger beetles are the fastest insects. They can go five miles an hour when pursuing food or mates. That is fast for a small beetle.” It includes facts and conveys the concept, but it sounds stagnant when compared to these lines from Insect Superpowers:

“The tiger beetle is the fastest of all insects. Some can run more than five miles per hour to chase after prey and potential mates. That might not seem superfast, but when you consider the tiger beetle’s size, it’s pretty impressive.”

Which words made the difference? Which sounds were successful?

Alliteration is fairly easy to notice, but don’t let the power of assonance slip by. In Eels (Superpower Field Guide) Rachel Poliquin takes advantage of strong verbs and assonance to turn a definition into  something more delightful: “Olenka is a nocturnal predator, which means she lazes her days away, curled up in her burrow at the bottom of the muddy river.” What other devices can you spot in there?

Put It in Practice:

  1. Find a piece of text that includes strategic use of sound. Page 7 of Melvin and Gilda Berger’s 101 Animal Superpowers would work.
  2. Highlight as many sound examples as you can. Make note of the location (within the sentence and within the passage) of the examples. Can you draw any conclusions from that?
  3. Re-write the passage eliminating the use of that device to see how that changes the reading experience.
  4. Re-write it, adding additional alliteration and assonance and note any differences it makes.
  5. Revise until you find a balance you like. Then, consider what variables affected your choice (pacing, content needing emphasis, availability of words,…).

Max Impact


Rachel Poliquin maximizes the impact of each example. “Slimetastic Safety Shield,” “Supersecret Lair of the Abyss,” Globe-Spanning Grit”? Sure those use strong words and put sound to work, but they go further. She stretches to the edges of what we call “nonfiction”—and we all know that young readers love to push the boundaries! Her language connotes that the topic is fun, the writing is playful, the reading will be joyful.

Here’s another example. In an author’s note at the beginning of Animal Zombies!: And other Bloodsucking Beasts, Creepy Creatures, and Real-Life Monsters, Chana Stiefel challenges readers with a dare. She labels readers as brave, she teases them with brain invasions, she hits home with monsters under their mattress. There’s not much more extreme than a zombie…

Put it in Practice:

  1. Generate a list of “extreme” words or phrases.
  2. Snatch words to add to your list by watching ads, reading headlines, surfing social media, analyzing clickbait, listening to kids chatting excitedly…
  3. Organize your list by mood/tone/energy.
  4. Use your list to push a piece of text toward a specific emotional energy.

When we read energetic writing it may seem like the writing process was simple, as if the words flowed out, but developing skills require training and finesse requires constant fine tuning. So . . . crush it! Every writing workout you complete builds your skills. Now is the time—grab a bunch of books, train your brain, and rev up your writing!

Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s TreasuresLearn more at

STEM Tuesday — Animal Superpowers — In the Classroom

Kids love learning about animals—especially ones with superpowers! Use these books from the STEM Tuesday list along with their classroom ideas to let students explore how animals use their amazing skills to survive in nature and help humans too.  

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope by Bridget Heos, photographs by Andy Comins

Can you believe that delicate little spiders can create something with such amazing strength that might someday be used to repair or replace human ligaments? Read all-about it in Heos’ Scientists in the Field title.  



Experiment with different kinds of materials to see which makes the strongest web!


  • thread, yarn, or thin stretchy cord
  • bowl
  • objects to put on top of your web (rocks, sticks, fake bugs)


  1. Have groups of students choose a type of string to use. Then ask them to wrap the string around the bowl to make a web over the open side. They should think about the pattern of their web as they wrap.
  2. Next tell students to test the strength of their web. Put objects all over their web. Are certain areas stringer than others? How many objects can it hold?
  3. Then ask students to test out a different kinds of string to make a new web. After testing its strength with different objects, ask them: Which web was stronger? Why do you think it was stronger?


Check this out!

The author’s classroom discussion and activity guide:  

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent  

Explore how dogs use their super sniffing detection skills to help humans.      





Dogs can smell scents from much farther away than humans. See how close you have to be to detect a certain smell.


  • jars with lids
  • cotton balls
  • strong scents (such as perfume, vinegar, coffee, onions, or vanilla extract)
  • measuring tape


  1. Soak some cotton balls with strong smelling liquid or cut up onions or other foods that have a strong smell.
  2. Put the stinky cotton balls or food in a jar—one smelly item per jar—and close the lids.
  3. Ask a friend to stand 15 feet away and then open a jar. Can your friend identify what the smell is?
  4. If not, ask your friend to slowly step forward, still smelling, until they can tell you what the scent is. Measure how far away your friend was before identifying the smell.
  5. Repeat with the other jars. Were some smells easier to identify from far away? Were some smells especially difficult?


Check this out!

TedEd video about how dogs “see” with their noses:  


Superpower Field Guide: Moles and Superpower Field Guide: Eels by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Firth

Discover the extraordinary skills of moles and eels in these two guides. Then explore the rest of the series. Poliquin and Firth have two other titles about beavers and ostriches.      




Some superpowers are hard to believe–like the eel’s ability to store and discharge electricity! They store electricity like a battery, so try making this battery with a lemon.


  • 4 lemons
  • 4 pieces of copper
  • 4 galvanized nails
  • 5 alligator clip wires
  • a light to power


  1. Roll lemons on countertop with your hand  to release the juice inside.
  2. Stick one nail and one piece of copper into each lemon.
  3. Use the alligator wire clip next. Attach one wire from an alligator clip to a nail in a lemon and the other wire to a copper piece in another lemon. Continue until all the lemons are connected.
  4. You should have one piece of copper and one nail that are not connected to wires. Connect the copper piece to the positive connection on the light. Connect the galvanized nail to the negative connection.
  5. Turn on the light and it should work with your lemon battery.


Check this out!

Superpowered Creature Creator post on the author’s website:


Further Resources

Check out these sites for more fascinating and fun STEM animal superpower resources:

Hope these activities and resources get your students excited to learn more about animal superpowers!




Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at