Posts Tagged book clubs

STEM Tuesday– Invasive Species — Writing Tips & Resources

Looking at Language

When it comes to studying the use of language, this month’s topic “invasive species” is a prefect. Just take a look at the word “invasive.” What emotions does it conjure? In what other contexts have you heard that word used? Would you consider the term to be objective or subjective?

In the STEM disciplines, educators work hard to help students understand the value of objectivity. We all want engineers designing bridges to take an objective approach to measurement! When studying the natural world, objectivity helps us uncover truths unhampered by personal biases, emotions, and beliefs.

But no human is perfectly objective. To promote better practitioners of STEM, we must help students develop the intellectual tools to think critically about their own and other’s biases. An inquiry into the language used in STEM books is a great way to introduce that. It’s also a great way to learn more about writing STEM texts.

Reading STEM books we gain more than facts; we have opportunities to understand communication strategies as well.  Through studying these texts, we can learn to parse out bias in statements. When we extend our personal study with discussion, we can explore more complex topics such as perceptions of others, understanding nuance, and author’s purpose.

Titles Talk

Take a look at just the titles:

  • Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species, by Sneed B. Collard III
  • Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem, by Kate Messner
  • Invasive Species In Infographics By Renae Gilles

Read each title and jot down a few words about the feelings it evokes in you.

Do different titles evoke different emotions? If so, try to identify the words that led you to those reactions?

Take a look at their table of contents. If you don’t have access to the physical books, you can view table of contents here for Science Warriors, here for Tracking Pythons, and here for Invasive Species In Infographics. List the emotion that comes to mind as you read each chapter title. Do you notice any patterns?

Digging Deeper

Now, select one book to dig into. Feel free to select one from this month’s list or a nonfiction title of your choice.

“What” questions to ask:

  • What words in the text evoke emotions?
  • Create a list of emotional words from the text and rank them on a spectrum from strongest to weakest. Compare your list to that of someone else also studying the same text. Discuss your differences.
  • Does the emotive language always support the same point of view?

“When” questions to ask:

  • In which parts of the sentence/paragraph/chapter/book is emotive language used most frequently?
  • Can you spot any patterns in the use of emotive language (location, sequencing, etc.?

“Why” questions to ask:

  • Why might an author use emotive language in this passage?
  • Pick a few words that strike a chord in you. Why does that word cause that reaction?

“How?” questions to ask:

  • How obvious is the emotive language?
  • How did the author use language to support a premise?
  • How could you re-write a sentence to be more objective?


Balancing it Out

Now that we understand how authors are intentional in their use of specific words, let’s think about other techniques. Opinion, bias, and subjectivity are expressed or balanced using techniques that reach far beyond word choice. What other techniques did you notice in this book? Were specific techniques are used to balance bias or convey objectivity?


Your Turn

  • What is your opinion about this use of emotive language?
  • Is it warranted?
  • Was the author “fair” in their use of language?
  • Is your response based on your opinions about the topic?

Thanks for getting curious about the use of objective language in STEM books!

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 –Invasive Species– Book List

Tracking Pythons : The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save An Ecosystem by Kate Messner

This book takes readers out on a python patrol where we meet a team of scientist studying the invasive snake. Readers also meet other invaders of the Florida Everglades. There’s technology (radiotracking), python CSI, snake autopsies (called necropsies) and a wonderful series of sidebars highlighting “How to Catch a Python.” Great photos and a Most Wanted invasive species list add interest.

Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species by Sneed B. Collard

Each of the four chapters focus on scientists studying invasive species. We meet brown tree snakes and zebra mussels, red fire ants taking over Texas, and the Melaleuca (paperbark) tree that was brought to the US and planted to stabilize soil. We see scientists doing field research and working on biological controls for invasive species. Includes a “Guide to Stopping Invasive Species.”

Invaders From Earth Series by Richard Spilsbury

There are six books in the series, highlighting threats from invasive reptiles and amphibians, plants, insects, mammals, birds, and fish and other marine species. Individual spreads detail specific organisms, highlighting how one species native to one area can be an unwelcome invader across the globe. End chapters go into mitigation and things kids can do.

Invasive Species in Infographics by Renae Gilles

Divided into four sections, this book focuses on what invasive species are, the damage they cause, and how to control them. The book models different ways of presenting information visually, using pie charts, bar graphs, timelines, flow charts, and annotated maps

Nature Out of Balance : How Invasive Species Are Changing the Planet by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox.

This book opens with a discussion of what invasives are and how they travel from one place to another. Two chapters look at ecosystems in balance and out of balance, the importance of biodiversity, and how scientists are studying invasive species. The final chapter explores whether – and how – we may want to rethink the word “invasive” and offers ideas for what we can do. Sidebars feature a who’s who list of invasive all-stars, from Asian carp to Zebra mussels.

Alien Invaders: Species That Threaten Our World by Jane Drake & Ann Love

Each examination and image of an invader and their devastating effects worldwide is accompanied by a sidebar listing their alias, size, homeland, method of invasion, and line of attack. Besides the commonly known invaders, such as the starling, rat, and Kudzu, the book examines humans, walking catfish, yellow crazy ants, water hyacinth, mosquitos, and avian flu. Detailed sections on “Who Cares?,” “Volunteers,” and “Lessons Learned” expand the information into actions everyone can take to prevent, control, or help eliminate invaders.

Plants Out of Place (Let’s Explore Science) by Courtney Farrell

First, we learn what native plants are and their role in the food chain. Following chapters discuss introduced plants and how invasive species threaten the balance of ecosystems. Sidebar “mini field guides” include descriptions and range maps for some species of interest. In addition to discussing control methods, the author shows alternative uses, such as using kudzu vines to weave baskets.

Invasive Species (Ecological Disasters) by Lisa J Amstutz

Beginning with the exploration of an ecological plague in Australia – of European rabbits, the book demonstrates the varied effects and subsequent difficulties of eradication of invasive species. Using a conversational voice, photographs, and great sidebars, it examines (1) ways invasive species arrive – introduction (dandelion, goats), hitchhiking (small pox, rats), and escapees (pythons, pets); (2) circumstances that enhance their survival – Island effect, climate change & lack of predators; (3) specific examples or invasive land animals, plants, and fish; (4) the techniques and the cost of elimination and containment; and (5) prevention and citizen efforts. Strong back matter and sources notes round out this book.

What Is The Threat Of Invasive Species? (Sci-Hi: Science Issues) by Eve Hartman And Wendy Meshbesher

After defining invasive species and how they invade an ecosystem, the book evaluates the cost to native species and environments around the world from numerous plants, mammals, fungus, birds, amphibians, insects, and water invaders. It includes a detailed world map of invasive species and their effects. As well as “What Can You Do to Help?” and “Topics to Research” sections.

Animal Invaders (Let’s Explore Science) by Amanda F Doering

Focusing primarily on the US and Hawaii, the book briefly reviews habitats then discusses where invaders come from, the harm they do, and various methods tried to control them. As well as “Did you Know?” sections, this photo illustrated book contains maps, graphs, and diagrams.

Crab Campaign: An Invasive Species Tracker’s Journal by J.A. Watson

Five kids spend a summer in Maryland learning about and tracking the Chinese Mitten Crab. An invasive species that has actually been spotted in the Hudson River. As a Science Squad doing a community science project, the kids raise community awareness, research, track, and document their searches and ultimate discoveries. An engaging informational fiction.


 STEM Tuesday book list prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich writes about science for children and their families, from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Visit her at

Maria Marshall is a children’s author, blogger, and poet passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. She’s been a judge for the Cybils Awards from 2017 to present. And a judge for the #50PreciousWords competition since its inception. Her poems are published in The Best Of Today’s Little Ditty 2017-2018, 2016, and 2014-2015 anthologies. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she bird watches, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at

STEM Tuesday– Award-Winning MG STEM Titles– Your Turn: A Wish for 2022

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

Normally this would be the time of the month when I would choose an author from a list identified by our STEM Tuesday team and conduct an interview. This month’s theme was award winning books but I’ve been on both sides of that equation. So I decided, as we head into 2022 to do something different. I want to issue a call to action for those who don’t get awards instead.

Over the past two years authors I interviewed for STEM Tuesday have taught me about spider silk made from genetically modified goats, women who were denied a spot in the astronaut program despite performing better than their male counterparts, and implicit bias in archeology that may skew what we know about ancient civilizations. One author/illustrator judged an MIT contest showcasing implausible scientific ideas. Another learned to dive with a photographer in order to better understand the nature of ocean conservation. And while the world knows about the women showcased in Hidden Figures, one author published a book about fifty additional African American women whose STEM contributions changed the world.

If I were to ask you to name the above authors, would you be able to do it without looking at my interviews? That’s my concern in a nutshell. A select few of these authors have been recognized with awards, but most have not. Nonfiction is a staple for helping young readers develop executive functioning and learn more about the world around them, but the authors are not often celebrated in proportion to their contributions to children’s literature. Even with awards, most authors are still struggling to become household names let alone achieve financial stability.

Writing STEM is hard. The research often rivals an academic research paper. Many of us write for magazines, textbooks, trade publishers and educational publishers. What is often true is that authors need to log a lot of hours in the library, speaking to experts and researching in the field to determine how to best present the subject matter in a way a student can understand. In a sense, we have to do a deep dive to understand the material before we can explain it coherently to someone else. Unique to children’s publishing there are additional rules to follow. There’s an art to working within those constraints. I’ve been asked to do planet books of 4,000 words for upper elementary students and recast those same facts for a beginner readers using only 300 words. It’s not just the word count but the choice of words. For instance, with younger students we have to be mindful about sentence length, how many multisyllabic words in a sentence, and words common for that reading level and Lexile range.

After the books are printed and in circulation, awards are tricky. For every author that receives recognition, there are many equally skilled authors that don’t. And remember, the industry celebrates winners, not runners up. A different committee, on a different day, might have picked a different book entirely from the same pile. I know, because I’ve been on a number of awards committees. There are epic battles and painstaking discussions before a consensus is reached.  I’ve also noticed that the attention paid to award winning fiction authors is sustained much longer than for nonfiction authors. Those awards often translate into more work for fiction authors and higher compensation but not necessarily for their nonfiction counterparts.

I’ve been luckier than most of my peers in this respect. I’ve published more than 90 books for children and have more under contract. So I wanted to raise my voice to challenge the readers of this blog to change the nature of the game. The industry pays attention to where the money is flowing. Publishing pays attention to social media chatter and reviews. You can help my STEM peers by doing the following.

Once a month:

  1. Check out a book (or two) from the library. If you need a place to start, we have great recommendations on our STEM Tuesday site. Books that are checked out stay in circulation longer.
  2. If you’re in a school district, consider adding a book to the school library or classroom. I know budgets are small, but even one book is a boon for that author.
  3. Write a review. It only takes five minutes. Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble.
  4. Give a shout out to an author whose work you admire. Try to pick someone who isn’t getting a lot of marketing support from publishers. The ones the awards committees didn’t announce. I’m all for boosting underdogs. That shout-out will make an author’s day.


Win a FREE copy of the book of your choice.

It’s the holiday season so let’s do something positive to start 2022.

This month, instead of me telling you who I found fascinating…this time you tell me.

What nonfiction book have you loved?

What’s next on your wish list?

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!


Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of many nonfiction books for kids. You can read about her philosophy  on STEM in this article for the Horn Book. Christine has recently finished a short story for a speculative anthology on Marie Curie’s teen years (2023), a children’s afrofuturism book for Benchmark Publishing set in the Trappist-1 solar system (it exists, look it up!), and a new nonfiction series not yet announced. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram