Posts Tagged Author Interview

STEM Tuesday — Coding– Interview with Janet Slingerland

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

 

Many of us on the STEM Tuesday team work hard to showcase the often unsung heroes writing books that spark the imagination of young readers. But it is not often that we get to celebrate one of our own. Today we are interviewing Janet Slingerland – author Coding Creations, Coding 123 and Video Game Coding. Janet is a STEM advocate whose books have covered a wide range of non-fiction topics for k-12. The subjects include plant development, atoms and molecules, nanotechnology, military vehicles and more.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Janet, You are a kindred spirit. We both grew up reading, writing and conducting science experiments as kids. What was the most ambitious experiment you tried as a child? Was there praise and encouragement or were your parents (like mine) a bit flabbergasted?

JJanet and butterflyanet Slingerland: When I was growing up, I did a little bit of everything. I wrote really bad poetry, played lots of instruments (everything but strings and percussion) and sang, wandered around the woods, did theater, played sports, and read A LOT. When I was really young, I remember making mud pies and performing “experiments” at the dinner table. I’m sure you can guess what my parents thought of those experiments. I’m not sure I ever got really ambitious with science experiments after that. I fell in love with math and physics in high school – that propelled me into engineering school.

CTB: Women in children’s literature aren’t often acknowledged for our technical backgrounds. You earned a degree in electrical engineering and wrote computer software before becoming a writer. Tell us a bit about that journey. What it was like writing subroutines for submarines (and other machines)!

Janet: I’mCoding 1 2 3 not sure I really knew what I was getting into when I went to engineering school. I loved physics and math, but the science and math I had to learn in college was at a level I had never imagined! It was in college that I wrote my first computer program. Programming (or coding) combines learning another language with logical thinking – two things I’m pretty good at. (I was almost fluent in Spanish when I graduated from high school – unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of it since then.)

When I graduated from college, I entered the Edison Engineering Program at General Electric Aerospace.  The location I worked at was originally an RCA/Victor facility – where they once made Victrola phonographs. It still specialized in communication systems, so I ended up working in both coding and codes. I programmed computers inside things like submarines, telephones, and airplanes. The programs I worked on supported secure communications – things that used cryptography to make the communications unintelligible to anyone spying on them.

I found the work incredibly rewarding. I still remember the first day we got our secure telephone system working in the lab. We were talking back and forth, and it sounded like we were just talking over a regular telephone. We spent several days convincing ourselves that our voices were being encrypted and decrypted – old encrypted systems would warp the voices so it was obvious you were not talking on a normal phone.

CTB: When I was learning coding, it was Fortran, then PL1. Computers were room sized. That was a long time ago. How much has coding changed since you were in the field? Ever think of diving back in?

Janet: My first programming language was also Fortran – Fortran 77, to be exact. My college year was one of the first that wasn’t required to program a computer using punch cards. (It was fun to see those in the movie Hidden Figures.)

Fortran example

Example of Fortran 77


When I was working, I programmed primarily in assembly language and C. Assembly language doesn’t read like a normal language. It’s designed at a very low level. Grace Hopper was one of the visionaries who felt that a computer language should read in a way that you could tell what the programmer was intending for the computer to do.

I know coding has changed a bit since I first learned it. There are a lot more languages out there, running on a lot more platforms (like cell phones and e-readers/tablets). But I think at its core, coding hasn’t changed much at all. Logic really doesn’t change over time, and a coding language is really just a tool coders use to communicate with a computer. It’s easy to learn a new tool once you know the basics.

I do sometimes feel the desire to get back to coding. There is something very satisfying in starting with just an idea and building up code that brings that idea to life.

CTB: Your books cover a wide range of topics. Why did you make the switch from engineering to writing books about STEM?

Janet: I’ve always loved books and reading. It turns out, I also always had a love of writing. I was often the person (or one of the people) who wrote the documentation for our work – whether that was a lab in school or a project at work.

I found being a woman in the field of engineering/coding to be very challenging. When I was pregnant with my 3rd child, I struggled a lot with the work environment. When he was born, I found the joys at work were too few compare to the struggles. I started following my second love – writing. My background in math, science, and engineering, and my endless curiosity made writing STEM a natural fit.

CTB: So one advantage of writing in STEM is that you are never bored. It’s a major component in the development of just about everything.

Janet: So true! I have yet to find a subject that wasn’t totally fascinating once I started learning about it

Coding Creations CoverCTB: For purely selfish reasons I was fascinated by your book, Coding Creations, which covers Scratch, a free coding language for young people developed by my alma mater. I had not realized MIT’s Media Lab had a Lifelong Kindergarten Group division. Did you have an opportunity to experiment with Scratch while writing the book?

Janet: Absolutely! The first thing I had to do for Coding Creations was to decide on what computer language we would use. I tried out a few, including Scratch and Python – two free coding languages. (I didn’t want money to be a barrier that would keep a curious kid from learning about coding.)

A lot of people dismiss Scratch because it is a block coding language. Each command is represented by a block you connect together to build a program. Scratch doesn’t let you put the blocks together in a way that won’t work. In traditional coding languages, you have to use the proper syntax – you need to spell commands correctly, give them the correct inputs, and use the proper punctuation – in order for it to work. Sometimes, a simple error in syntax can take a long time to figure out.

Scratch example

Scratch 3.0

When I was working with Scratch for the book, I realized it’s actually a very powerful language. It has some limitations, but there are ways to work around most of them. It also works on many different platforms. You don’t even need to download it onto your computer – you can work with it online, if you have a reliable internet connection. That means you can work on your code from different computers if you have to.

My kids used Scratch when they were in school. One of the things that frustrated them is that they were given a lot of time to “play around.” Unfortunately, they didn’t really know much about coding and didn’t feel comfortable playing around with it. My goal with Coding Creations was to introduce readers to Scratch so they would be comfortable playing around with it. Not only did I want to give them a taste of what they could do with it – animation, music/sound, drawing, and coding – but I wanted them to see what other resources were available from Scratch so they could explore more on their own.

Video Game CoverCTB: For students interested in video games as a career, your book on Video Game Coding might serve as a launching point for exploring careers. At my daughter’s college, for instance, students in the video games division had a 100% rate of employment at graduation. If you had to do it again, would you code video games? Or better, what’s your favorite if you play them?

Janet: I wrote the Video Game Coding book mainly because I have a son who is interested in coding – specifically in video game coding. I wanted to learn how video game coding was similar to and different from the coding I did. As I suspected, the basics are pretty much the same, but there are differences in the details – and, of course, in how fun the end result is.

I think a lot of young gamers imagine video game coding to be a very glamorous career. While I’m sure it has its moments of fun and glamour – it’s like all other programming careers. It’s a lot of work and long hours.

All of my kids are big gamers. My favorite video games are puzzle and word games. I’ve tried playing games with my kids, and it’s pitiful – I have no idea what I’m doing. If it’s a game where you lose lives, I die VERY quickly. I could probably get into something like Animal Crossing (one of my daughter’s favorite games), but I honestly prefer to read.

Secret Life of Plants coverCTB: One of the things I love about your website is that you include resources to pair with each book. For instance, for your graphic novel on The Secret Life of Plants, you list not only links to science experiments, but a plant detective game, and the world carrot museum. Whats one of the most unusual or fascinating resources you encountered?

Janet:  That’s a really tough question. In addition to writing, I do a lot of work with scouts. When my daughter was younger, I was a Girl Scout leader. Now, I’m a Scouts BSA merit badge counselor. For that and for STEM Tuesday, I’m always looking for new ways to engage with or learn about things.

MoleculariumThere are a few things that pop into my head as being unusually compelling – and the World Carrot Museum is definitely up there. Another is the Molecularium Project – which was put out by one of my alma maters, Rensselaer – https://www.molecularium.com. It’s like a video game where you can explore molecules.

Phet LogoI also love PhET – https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations. This site is filled with simulations that illustrate just about every math and science concept you can think of. For instance, here’s one that shows how people see color: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision . It shows that seeing color actually involves more that one science – it involves the physics of light and the biology of the human eye.

CTB: People often conflate STEM with pushing young people into careers in coding. Your book Sports Science and Technology was an excellent example of how STEM is used everywhere, including careers that might dovetail with a person’s real interest. For instance, part of helping a gymnast improve their skill is understanding physics. What one thing fascinated you as you researched sports related applications for STEM?

Sports Technology CoverJanet: I think we need to stop thinking putting things in bins. People think they’re either artsy or mathematical. They’re either sporty or sciencey. There are crossovers in everything.

My father was a gym teacher. Growing up, I played field hockey, volleyball, and track and field. I also marched in marching band. It amazed me that people didn’t view it as a sport – it was just as physically demanding as the other sports I participated in.

I think what fascinated me the most while researching my Sports Science books was how old the idea of sports science is. These ideas started long, long ago, when gladiators were fighting in the Roman coliseum. What’s kind of amazing is how long it took for those ideas to catch on in modern-day sports.

CTB. What’s next on the horizon for Janet Slingerland? Any upcoming books or projects we should be watching out for

QuietvsLoud coverJanet: A few years ago, I wrote a 12-book series about the weird creatures in the world. The books were delayed, and then 2020 happened. I hope I get to see them in print before too much time goes by. I have another book coming out in 2021 from The Child’s World called Quiet vs. Loud. This book helps young readers learn about the physics of sound.

There are a few other books I’m working on. Hopefully, I’m able to get some publishers as excited about them as I am. I call one of them a SHTEAM book – it adds history to science, technology, engineering, art, and math – all related to an object so common people barely notice it anymore.

CTB: Thanks, Janet, for taking time out to talk to us!

Win a FREE copy of “Coding Creations” or “Video Game Coding”.

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!

Janet Slingerland studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Drexel University. She has written many science books for children, including The Secret Lives of Plants!, which was named a Top 40 YA nonfiction book by the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association. Janet lives in Mount Laurel, New Jersey with her husband, three kids and a dog named “Rocky.”

To learn more about Janet and her books, please visit www.janetsbooks.com. You can follow her on Twitter @SlingSong. Or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/janetsbooks
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Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT engineering nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and more than 70 other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram

Author Spotlight: Christine Kendall… plus a GIVEAWAY!

Let’s give a warm Mixed-Up welcome to Christine Kendall, the NAACP Image Award–nominated author of the MG debut, Riding Chance (Scholastic, 2016). Christine’s sophomore novel, also published by Scholastic, The True Definition of Neva Beane, came out in September and was lauded by Lesa Cline-Ransome as “an inter-generational story written with humor, heart, hope—and the power of self-discovery.

Here is a summary of Neva Beane:

Being twelve isn’t easy, especially when you’re Neva Beane. She knows she’s beautiful and smart, but there are so many confusing signals in everyday life about, well… everything, including the changes taking place in her preadolescent body; her relationship with her best friend, Jamila; and her admiration for the social activist on the block, Michelle.

Mom and Dad are on tour in Europe and Neva and her brother, Clay, are left at home with their traditional grandparents. The household descends into inter-generational turmoil and Neva is left with what comforts her most—words and their meanings. While the pages of her beloved dictionary reveal truths about what’s happening around her, Neva discovers the best way to define herself.

And here’s a summary of Riding Chance:

Troy is a kid with a passion. And dreams. And wanting to do the right thing. But after taking a wrong turn, he’s forced to endure something that’s worse than any juvenile detention: He’s “sentenced” to the local city stables, where he’s required to take care of horses. The greatest punishment has been trying to make sense of things since his mom died, but through his work with the horses he discovers a sport totally unknown to him—polo. Troy’s has to figure out which friends have his back, which kids to cut loose, and whether he and Alisha have a true connection.

Q&A with Christine Kendall

MR: So glad to have you with us, Christine. Welcome to the Mixed-Up Files!

CK: Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

MR: I can’t tell you which of your novels I enjoyed more, Riding Chance or The True Definition of Neva Beane. They are both wonderful in such different ways. I know you wrote Riding Chance because you were inspired by a story on NPR (more on that later), but what prompted you to tell Neva’s story? Were you like Neva growing up? 

CK: It warms my heart to hear you enjoyed both books as I consider them companion novels. They’re both coming of age stories that take place in current-day Philadelphia. The True Definition of Neva Beane isn’t memoir but, like Neva, I paid a lot of attention to words as I was growing up, and I came to understand their power pretty early on.

One of the things that prompted me to write the book is my fascination with how young girls are seen, and how those notions about who they are may or may not align with how they define themselves. This is important because the period in a girl’s life when she moves from early childhood into adolescence is magical, but it can also be very confusing. People read girls differently as their bodies develop and often make judgments about them based purely on their physical selves. I wanted to explore those issues. Once I had the Neva Beane character I thought about other issues she may be confronted with in today’s world. That led me to think about her political awakening and various ways a person can make a positive contribution to their community.

Body Positivity in MG Fiction

MR: Speaking of Neva, it’s clear from page one that she has a strong sense of self, particularly when it comes to her changing body. She feels beautiful in her first bra, a “glorious white cotton status symbol,” and admires herself in front of the mirror until she’s “dizzy.” I love this scene because it’s such a gorgeous display of girl power and body positivity. Was that your intention when you wrote the scene—to encourage tween girls to take pride in their changing bodies? If so, what role does body positivity play, or should play, in MG fiction?

CK: I’ll confess that I wrote Neva Beane’s “mirror scene” based on memory. I was eleven years old and, unbeknownst to me, I was seen admiring myself in front of a mirror by one of my brothers. Well, of course, my brother almost died laughing and I was humiliated. I spent hours trying to figure out why I felt that way before I realized there’s no shame in acknowledging your own beauty. I just hadn’t expected to be seen in that moment by anyone else. I think many young teens have experienced moments like that and I wanted them to know that I see them and their beauty. Body positivity is an issue for boys as well as girls and MG fiction is a good place to explore it.

What’s the Good Word?

MR: As above, Neva Beane is obsessed with words and finds great comfort in them. In fact, her most beloved possession is a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. What is it about words that fascinates and comforts Neva—and maybe you, too?

CK: Words have power. Neva Beane is fascinated by them because she sees how they can be used to elevate or to wound. I share that fascination and wanted to show how Neva’s ability to analyze words brings her comfort especially when she is in the midst of confusing situations. I also wanted to provide a concrete example of how a person can use words to elevate. Neva chooses that path at the end of the book.

Work to Ride Program

MR: Turning our attention to Riding Chance, I know you wrote the book because you were inspired by a story on NPR about a program called Work to Ride, where inner-city kids work with horses and learn how to play polo in exchange for stable chores. Can you tell MUF readers a bit about the program and how it inspired you? Also, what kind of research did you do in order to make the polo-playing scenes realistic? I’m guessing you weren’t a horseperson prior to writing the novel…?

 CK: You’re right about my not being a horseperson before I wrote Riding Chance. I hadn’t planned on writing a novel. I was simply inspired when I heard the wonderful story about how kids in a mentoring program in Philly won a polo national championship in 2011. It was such an incredible story about what can happen when young people are given opportunities to explore and develop themselves in new ways.

I had to do a lot of research including taking horseback riding lessons, studying the game of polo, going to polo matches, and learning about the powerful bonds between humans and animals. I was fortunate in that there were a couple of horsepeople in the critique group I was a member of who were more than happy to offer constructive criticism. I learned quite a bit and really enjoyed the process.

Themes in Christine’s Books

MR: I noticed that loss and abandonment is a theme in both of your novels. In Riding Chance, Troy is grieving the death of his beloved mom; in Neva Beane, Neva feels as if she’s been cast aside by her best friend, Jamila. Neva also misses her musician parents while they’re on tour in Europe. What is the message you’re trying to convey? Resiliency? Grit? Something else?

CK: You hit the nail right on the head with resilience. I think it is such an important skill for young people to develop. Life can be difficult at times and we need to believe we can work our way through tough situations. One of the ways people develop resilience is by not being afraid to take reasonable risks. We will not always succeed at everything we try but even our failures provide opportunities to learn and to become more confident.

Ch Ch Changes…

MR: Before writing Riding Chance, you were in the legal profession. What prompted you to make the switch from the law to writing? Can you tell Mixed-Up Files readers about your path to publication? Was it a steady canter or a wild Headless Horseman-style gallop? (I know… 🙂)

CK: I like the visual of a Headless Horseman-style gallop especially since my path to publication was somewhat unusual. As you mentioned, I had a career before I became a writer. I worked with large law firms in the areas of  attorney recruitment, associate relations, and diversity and inclusion. I enjoyed my legal career but I got to the point where I wanted to do something more creative. I had always loved books and reading so I took a big step, talk about taking a risk, and left my job to focus on writing.

After about a year of sitting at home by myself struggling with picture book manuscripts I took a writing workshop with an editor from Scholastic, the amazing Andrea Davis Pinkney. She saw my fascination with Philly kids playing polo and encouraged me to use that as inspiration for a novel. It took me three years to research and write and revise but, in the end, she wanted the book.

This Writer’s Life

MR: What your writing process like, Christine? Do you have a specific routine? Writing rituals?

CK: I don’t have a specific writing routine, but I often need something like music to move me from real life into the fictive world. I love jazz so I may listen to that while I’m working. I also read my work aloud as I go along and I write with my whole body. What I mean is I get up and sometimes act out what my characters are doing so I can describe their actions accurately. Needless to say, I write at home. I don’t think people would put up with me in other places.

MR: Finally, what’s next on your writing agenda, Christine? Care to share a bit about your latest project?

CK: I’m working on another MG novel. I wrote a short story a few years ago that doesn’t feel like it’s finished even though it’s been published. I’m expanding that story into a longer work.

MR: Oh! Last thing…

No MUF interview is complete without a LIGHTNING ROUND!

Preferred writing snack? Popcorn.

Coffee or tea? Tea.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or Oxford English Dictionary? Merriam-Webster.

Favorite word? Milieu, although I don’t think I used that word in Neva Beane.

Mister Ed or Mister Rogers? Mister Rogers.

Zombie apocalypse: Yea or nay? Nay.

Superpower? Ability to find humor in most any situation.

Favorite place on earth? Mashomack Nature Preserve on Shelter Island, New York.

You’re stranded on a desert island, with only three items in your possession. What are they? A book, my eyeglasses, and a flashlight.

MR: Thank you for chatting with me, Christine—and congratulations on the publication of The True Definition of Neva Beane. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I know MUF readers will too.

And now…

A GIVEAWAY!!!

For a copy of The True Definition of Neva Beane, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files’ Twitter account–for a chance to win! 

CHRISTINE KENDALL grew up in a family of artists, the fourth of six children, where everyone studied the piano along with one other instrument. She still feels sorry for the neighbors. They woke up one morning and found themselves living next door to a flute, two clarinets, a French horn, a cello, a set of drums, and always, always somebody on the piano. Christine wasn’t any good on the piano or the clarinet, but she loved writing. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals and her debut novel, Riding Chance, was nominated for a NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work for Youth/Teens. The True Definition of Neva Beane is her second novel. Christine lives in Philadelphia where she co-curates and hosts the award-winning reading series, Creative at the Cannery. Learn more about Christine on her website and follow her on Twitter.

STEM Tuesday – Diseases and Pandemics — Author Interview

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’ve the pleasure of revisiting Gail Jarrow, author of the highly acclaimed Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. Although this is a historical medical thriller its exploration of the opportunities and ethics of public health resonate in today’s COVID-19 reality.

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano: Thank you for joining STEM Tuesday again. I hope you are doing well during this pandemic. Fatal Fever takes readers to a time when typhoid fever outbreaks were not uncommon in the U.S. and elsewhere. What would you say the book is primarily about?

Picture of the cover of fatal fever. Gail Jarrow:  The book is part of my Deadly Diseases trilogy, which focuses on early-20th-century medicine.  I consider that period a turning point. After the acceptance  of  germ theory, scientists and physicians were looking for ways to prevent, treat, and cure diseases. I wrote Fatal Fever to explain how typhoid fever was tackled, and I chose Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary,  as a way to tell the story.

CCD: The opening scene, in which Mary Mallon seeks to escape from health officials and the police, is full of suspense. It’s a gripping beginning and it flows smoothly to the rest of the book’s structure. It makes me wonder how the book’s narrative arc took shape in your mind. Can you fill us on in some of that process?

GJ:  I think it helps readers to understand unfamiliar information, such as a disease, when I approach the subject through personal stories.  Because Mary Mallon was an asymptomatic typhoid carrier,  I couldn’t show the disease’s horrible toll by only telling  her story.  I found another way.  I discovered that George Soper (the sanitary engineer  who tracked her down) had helped to clean up a typhoid epidemic in my hometown of Ithaca, New York, in 1903.  Early in my  book, I use details about that episode to introduce readers to the biology of the disease, the ways it devastated the bodies of individual Ithacans, and the fact that there was no cure or treatment.  When Soper starts his search for Mary Mallon in New York City just three years later, the reader understands why he believes it is critically important to find her before she can sicken and kill others.

CCD: This book brings in various disciplines and topics –history, human rights and civics, and public health and the biology of disease all come into play. Yet it’s a tight story. Did you ever struggle with drafts that were too complex or too rambling a book for your readers?

GJ: My biggest hurdle is the jump from researching to writing. I’ve read thousands of pages of historical background, past and present scientific literature, and primary documents. From all that, I have to figure out the most engaging, accessible, and accurate way to present this knowledge in abbreviated form. One thing that often helps is to remember my days teaching middle-school science. If I were conveying this information to my students, how would I do it?  As I write, I keep an eye on vocabulary as well as sentence, paragraph, and chapter length. I read everything  aloud so that I hear how it sounds. I’m not afraid to slash my prose. When I hand my manuscript to my longtime editor, Carolyn Yoder, I always ask her to look for spots that drag or confuse.

CCD: How did you decide which scientific information to include and what to leave out?

GJ: I consider how much science background my typical readers probably have. Do they know enough that I can build on that foundation to explain new information?  I’m careful not to simplify so much that I make incorrect statements.  Sometimes, after reading many scientific papers and talking to experts, I realize that parts of the science aren’t settled. Depending on the topic, I might explain the debate. But if it’s too technical and in the weeds for my audience, I might not include that aspect. I ran into a different problem with my book about plague, Bubonic Panic. I came across a recent controversial hypothesis about the history of plague. Though intriguing, it was based on very weak evidence. If the evidence had been stronger, I might have mentioned the idea. But I decided it would be irresponsible to perpetuate what might turn out to be speculative balderdash.

CCD: I have experienced similar decisions in my own writing. Deciding which new ideas to include can be a tough call! Moving on…Obviously, as a book that features a dangerous infectious disease, there are parallels to our current COVID-19 pandemic. Which Fatal Fever themes and issues resonate most strongly for you as the world faces and attempts to cope with COVID-19?

GJ:  In my Author’s Note to Fatal Fever, which I wrote several years ago, I raised the issues that arise when a deadly, highly contagious, and untreatable disease strikes.  I was thinking about typhoid fever in 1900 and the plight of Mary Mallon when quarantines and contact tracing were part of the story. But what I wrote then applies to any epidemic:  What do we expect health authorities to do? What government actions would or should we tolerate? Does protecting a city/state/country override the rights and freedoms of an individual?  You can’t get any more relevant to COVID than that!

public health poster/cartoon

 The numerous historical images and documents in FATAL FEVER, such as this cartoon (Page 115), help to bring readers back to the early 20th century and better understand the tale and its context.

CCD: In Fatal Fever, you point out that science understanding that asymptomatic individuals can spread typhoid fever was new at the time when Mary Mallon was identified as a carrier. Today, we are facing a new disease, and information about its transmission has developed and evolved over the months. I wonder if you see anything in the story of Mary Mallon and her intersection with disease, transmission, and public health that might be of use in our individual and collective responses to COVID-19?

GJ: I personally learned several lessons from Mary’s case and typhoid outbreaks. People whose job it was to worry about public health (officials, medical personnel) had one agenda. People who had to make a living to support themselves and their families (Mary, other typhoid carriers) had a different agenda. The goals and needs of these groups ended up in conflict.  Compromises had to be found.  They have to be found today, too.

World Health Organization slide about how COVID-19 is spread.

An early 21st-century public health slide about how COVID-19 spreads. Note that as of this posting, WHO and the US Centers for disease control acknowledge that asymptomatic individuals can also spread the coronavirus. (Source: World Health Organization)

 

Another lesson is a hopeful one. The diseases I’ve studied from 100 years ago have been controlled and, in some cases, conquered.  We have witnessed amazing discoveries in COVID treatments and vaccines in nine or ten months. It took years, even decades, to make that progress with earlier diseases. Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents suffered through much worse times—disease-wise—than today, and they coped and survived. History gives us perspective.

CCD: I appreciate that hopeful, historical angle! As you explain in a short video on your website, you write about history. Yet science themes come into your books. What thoughts do you have about how these historical stories might impact readers’ relationship to science?

GJ: First, as I mentioned above, I think personal stories make scientific topics more relatable.

Second, the history of science shows that understanding and “theories” change as we gain more information. In the past, scientists and physicians  fervently believed in ideas that we now know were absolutely wrong, and the scientific/medical establishment criticized and ridiculed anyone who challenged those ideas. Two examples of 19th-century mavericks who are relevant today as we deal with antiseptics and handwashing: Lister and Semmelweis. Scientific views change. Careful observation and proof from unbiased tests are essential.

CCD: Stepping away from history—what’s new for you as an author, and what we can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?

The cover of Gail Jarrow's most recent book, BLOOD AND GERMS.

Gail Jarrow continues to write about the intersection of history and medicine. BLOOD AND GERMS is her most recent book.

GJ: In keeping with my interest in history and the evolution of medicine, this fall I launched my Medical Fiascoes series with Boyds Mills & Kane. The first book, BLOOD AND GERMS: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease,  came out last month. The second book, AMBUSHED!: The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield, will be published next fall, and it explores the way medical ignorance led to his death. I’m currently in the midst of research for the third book in the series.

CCD: This is exciting! I’m sure we all look forward to exploring more medical history with you as our thoughtful, informative guide, Gail. I want to thank you for your wonderful writing and for this interview. Stay well.

 

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Win a FREE copy of FATAL FEVER: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary!

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!

Photo of Carolyn DeCristofanoYour host is Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, founding STEM Tuesday contributor, STEM Education Consultant, and author of STEM books for kids. Her books include A Black Hole is NOT a Hole, Running on Sunshine: How Does Solar Energy Work?, and National Geographic Kids Ultimate Space Atlas.

 

 

 

Gail Jarrow is the author of nonfiction books and novels for ages 8-18. Her nonfiction books have earned numerous awards. Photograph of author Gail Jarrow