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STEM Tuesday– Evolution– Book List

Evolution has shaped — and continues to shape — our world in countless ways. The titles on this month’s list explore both the scientific and social impacts of evolutionary theory (including two books launching in spring 2023!).

 

cover image of "Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth," featuring the earth on orange background

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler, illustrated by Kevin and Zander Cannon 

This is a brilliantly illustrated graphic novel, perfect to get students engaged on the topic of evolution in a comical and accessible way. It introduces intrepid alien scientist Bloort-183 (from The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA) as the alien visits earth and unravels the fundamentals of the evolution of life on earth. In addition to the humor, the text is informative and factually correct, starting with earth’s primordial soup and then venturing inside modern humans.

 

 

 

book cover featuring a jungle scene. Text reads "Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, Young Readers Edition, Adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” adapted by Rebecca Stefoff 

Charles Darwin’s famous theory of natural selection shook the world of science to its core, challenging centuries of orthodox beliefs about life itself. Darwin published his treaty, entitled On the Origin of Species, in 1859, and author Stefoff does a great job of capturing its essence in an accessible way for young readers, and also examines the treaty through the lens of modern science. The book includes contemporary insight, photographs, illustrations, and more.

 

book cover of "How to Build a Human," featuring a sketch of the human body

How to Build a Human  by Pamela Turner,  illustrated by John Gurche

How did we become who we are? This book examines an age old question but does so with incredible humor and wit. Turner uses milestones of human evolution to engage young readers, where she breaks down the evolutionary steps in comical ways such as “stand up” and “smash rocks.” In addition to being funny, the text is well written and informative. It’s perfect for middle grade and up, with plenty of thoughtful insights for older readers and extensive resources for those who want to explore further. Who knew that evolution could also be funny!

 

cover of the book "Evolution" featuring a multicolored chameleon on white background

Evolution: How Life Adapts to a Changing Environment with 25 Projects by Carla Mooney, illustrated by Alexis Cornell

This book explores the theory of evolution, its history, how we think it works, examples of creatures that evolved in response to specific circumstances, and what this might mean for the future of our planet. The text is well written and includes “Did You Know?” sections detailing informational concepts. Each chapter ends with information on “Good Science Practices” and a thought provoking question, as well as an activity allowing students to apply the concepts discussed. Perfect for young readers who wonder about things like why humans walk on two legs or why fish have gills.

 

copy of the book "When the Whales Walked," feauturing a land animal at the top, on top of whales and fish in an ocean environment

When the Whales Walked: And Other Incredible Evolutionary Journeys by Dougal Dixon, illustrated by Hannah Bailey 

The first in a series of five, this book won Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12 by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council in 2019. It allows readers to step back in time and discover a world where whales once walked, crocodiles were warm-blooded, and snakes had legs. The focus is on animals and how they came to be the version they are today, and the fascinating text is paired with annotated illustrations, illustrated scenes, and family trees.

 

 

 

cover image of "Amazing Evolution" featuring many different animal species in a circle

Amazing Evolution: The Journey of Life by Anna Claybourne, illustrated by Wesley Robins

With gorgeous illustrations and clear scientific explanations on every page, this book celebrates the wonder of evolution in our world. It provides both a big-picture perspective about how life began as well as an up-close look at how specific structures, like hands and eyeballs, developed over time. The final section, called “Amazing Adaptations Fact File,” highlights some of the planet’s most awe-inspiring species.

 

 

cover of the book "One Beetle Too Many," featuring an illustration of Charles Darwin peeking through leaves at insects

One Beetle Too Many: Candlewick Biographies: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

From his childhood in England to his travels around the world, Charles Darwin loved being outside, observing nature, and collecting specimens. Kathryn Lasky’s illustrated biography is fast-paced and fun, filled with sensory details from Darwin’s adventures and discoveries. Readers will love following along with Darwin as he asked questions, looked for evidence, and ultimately developed his theory of evolution. 

 

 

 

 

book cover of "Charles and Emma," featuring silhouettes of a chimpanzee, man, and woman

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

This young adult book is a love story about Charles Darwin and his devoutly religious wife, Emma Wedgwood. Their marriage epitomized the tension between science and faith, with Emma both supporting her husband and fearing for his eternal soul as he published his groundbreaking theory. Heiligman’s narrative weaves in primary sources from the couple, giving readers a firsthand glimpse at how the Darwins made sense of their work and marriage. This book was both a National Book Award finalist and Michael L. Printz Honor book.

 

 

 

 

cover image of "The Monkey Trial," featuring a photograph of three men

The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle over Teaching Evolution by Anita Sanchez (to be released in March 2023)

During the summer of 1925, the small town of Dayton, Tennessee, took center stage in a national battle over science, religion, civil rights, and education. At the center of the chaos was John Scopes, a high school teacher who had violated a state law by teaching his students about evolution. In this engaging nonfiction story about the Scopes Monkey Trial, Sanchez captures the zeitgeist of the town as it became overrun by reporters, lawyers, scientists, fundamentalist Christians … and even a few chimpanzees! With its memorable cast of characters and straightforward explanations of the legal and philosophical principles underpinning the case, this book would make a great conversation starter among young readers.   

 

 

cover image of "Evolution Interrupted" featuring a rhinoceros on a green background

Evolution Under Pressure: How We Change Nature and How Nature Changes Us by Yolanda Ridge, illustrated by Dane Thibeault (to be released in May 2023)

This unique book examines how humans are accelerating the process of evolution around the world. From farming to poaching to urban development, Ridge explores the phenomenon of “not-so-natural selection” and its impact on the environment today. She integrates perspectives from biology, sociology, and anthropology, challenging readers to think about their presence and impact in the world around them. Each chapter contains practical suggestions for individual action, discussions of systemic solutions, and profiles of environmental changemakers.

 

 

 

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This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Author Lydia Lukidis

Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children. Her titles include DEEP, DEEP, DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023) and THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award. A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books. Another passion of hers is fostering a love for children’s literacy through the writing workshops she regularly offers in elementary schools across Quebec with the Culture in the Schools program. For more information, please visit www.lydialukidis.com.

 

 

 

author Callie DeanCallie Dean is a researcher, writer, and musician living in Shreveport, LA. She writes stories that spark curiosity and encourage kids to explore their world. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CallieBDean.

Interview with Merrill Wyatt and giveaway of her latest mystery, Tangled Up in Nonsense

Merrill Wyatt is the author of Ernestine, Catastrophe Queen, and Tangled Up in Luck. Her newest, Tangled Up in Nonsense, (Margaret K. McElderry Books, release date November 29) has young detectives Sloane and Amelia trying to crack a case that happened over a hundred years ago. Set in a creepy mansion during a peony competition, Sloane and Amelia work together to piece together the clues to attempt to find out who kidnapped a dog and where millions of dollars are stashed. The Kirkus review raves, “A warmhearted, very funny, madcap caper.”

Merrill Wyatt

Welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, Merrill!

It is such a pleasure to interview an author who lives in my backyard. (Well, not quite, but you live here in my city of Toledo.) Speaking of backyard, Tangled Up in Nonsense is your second novel that features Northwest Ohio in the plot. What made you choose our beautiful area as the backdrop for your mystery?

There’s so much history and mystery in this area! Not only was Toledo a major stop on the
Underground Railroad, it was a hotbed of crime in the 1920s and 1930s. As in major robberies,
hidden gambling dens, gangster shootouts from speeding automobiles, and bootlegging – so much
bootlegging. If you were into crime in the 1920s, Toledo was the place to be. Which is why Sloane
and Amelia are searching for Bootleggin’ Ma Yaklin’s Missing Millions.

Young sleuths Sloane and Amelia run into all kinds of nonsense as they try and solve several mysteries nearly a hundred years ago; who kidnapped a bootlegger’s dog and where is the two million dollars that disappeared around the same time. What, or who inspired you to create this plot?

I’m a big animal lover, so animals frequently pop up as minor characters in my books. The bootlegging piece is straight out of Toledo’s history. If you talk to anyone who was alive during the 1920s or 1930s, they all have stories to tell you about gangsters and bootleggers. There’s a restaurant just down the street from where I live – I could walk to it – and one time, my dad casually said, “That was a big gangster hangout back when I was a baby. Licavoli and his guys went there all the time.” Licavoli was a major Toledo gangster with ties to other gangs all over the country.

Sloane and Amelia are rather fearless. What scares you?

Everything! Dolls creep me out – yet I love dollhouse miniatures. I can’t explain that. There’s a scene in Tangled Up in Nonsense in which Sloane and Amelia go upstairs to check out an attic in the middle of the night. As originally written, it swung between creepy and hilarious as Amelia convinced Sloane that there was probably an army of haunted dolls on the other side of the attic door. I had to cut a lot of that out because – even though it was funny and creepy – it slowed down the plot too much. There’s still a little bit of it in there, though. I couldn’t bring myself to cut out everything. I mean, if I was in the attic of a one-hundred-year-old mansion, I would definitely be worried about haunted dolls. We once had raccoons break into the attic of our very-normal house, and all the thudding and bumping woke us up in the middle of the night. But neither my husband nor I had the courage to go upstairs and check it out until it was daytime.

The mystery resolves around a time that many young people may not be that aware of…Prohibition of alcohol and bootlegging as a result. What drew you to this time frame? Are there history lesson tie-ins with the topic?

My grandmother could remember that time period very clearly, and even my parents have memories of what Toledo was like not long afterward. It really was the city’s big, shining moment. A lot of the city’s beautiful, older neighborhoods like Old Orchard, Ottawa Hills, West Moreland, and a lot of the developments along River Road date to around that time. Plus, the downtown area was gorgeous during that time. If you google “Toledo 1930s”, you’ll be able to see all these stunning buildings that are no longer with us.

If you’re looking for history lessons, a lot of the federal policing structures took shape around this time. Without Prohibition and the bootlegging that resulted, you wouldn’t have the FBI. That came directly as a result of all the crime Prohibition caused. And speaking of the FBI, one of its early directors once referred to Toledo as the most corrupt city in the country! Apparently, the mayor and the police knew they had all these gangsters living here, but they didn’t care because it brought business to the city! Also, this is when the police first got police cars. They didn’t really have them before the 1930s. But the gangsters did, and so the police would be trying to chase after them on horseback as the bootleggers drove off in cars. It didn’t work well.

 The shenanigans of the various characters reminded me of some of the Three Stooges’ antics, which my kids loved when they were younger. What slapstick comedians did you have in mind when creating the characters?

You know, I loved The Three Stooges when I was a kid too! There’s just something timelessly funny about physical comedy. I was definitely thinking of them as I was writing this. And to be honest was definitely inspired by a lot of the slapstick comedy you see on Disney and Nickelodeon shows, too. I watched so many of those with my daughter, and you can tell they are inspired by the Stooges, too. I would also add Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. You can find their movies on YouTube, and they still hold up well even a hundred years later. Slapstick comedy is timeless.

I know you work full-time, are married, and have a teenage daughter. How do you balance it all? What does your writing process look like? Are you a plotser or pantser…do you plot out your storyline, or fly by the seat of your pants in writing your novels?

I start with a general plot and try to map out as much as I can. As you mentioned, I’m super busy every second of every day. I have to snatch the writing time whenever I can get it. Having a well-mapped-out plot helps with that. That being said, sometimes I’m really detailed in that process and sometimes my notes include things like, “and then something happens. Figure it out later.” Other times, once I start writing, I find that the story very naturally progresses in a different path than I thought it would. If that seems to be working, I try to follow it as much as I can while still bringing it back to my main goal. Typically, when I start writing, I have a clear beginning and a clear end. I sometimes refer to the middle as the “soggy middle” or the “squishy middle” because it’s the part that changes the most. 

I know that writing fiction requires research, and I imagine you studied the Stranahan home which served as the inspiration for the mansion where the peony competition takes place, as well as Prohibition. Could you share your research techniques with readers?

You can do a lot of research online. I usually start with just general searches, reading blogs and looking at a lot of pictures. Images definitely inspire me. After that, I start to get more detailed. I’ll only focus on online library archives and historical societies because they are more factual and trustworthy. The Lucas County Library has a terrific collection of online photographs that include details about them. Next, I’ll go to the library itself and start pulling books. The Main Library in downtown is absolutely fabulous, with incredibly knowledgeable librarians. I also went to the Stranahan Mansion at Wildwood, which is open to the public year around, though the best time to go is at Christmas when it’s decorated for the holidays. If I could, I’d be like Amelia and dress up as Nancy Drew. In fact, when I was writing Tangled Up in Nonsense, I checked out “Nancy Drew clothes” on Pinterest – and that led me down a wormhole that it took hours to get out of. I almost ended up with an adorable cloche hat and houndstooth cape. But they were sold out, sigh.

Is there a third mystery in the works?

There is! It’s called TANGLED UP IN MAYHEM, and it takes place at Cedar Point. Sloane and Amelia are hired to investigate a lost time capsule. They’re thrilled that someone actually wants to pay them for their detective work – until both their nemesis Mackenzie and a ghost show up to stop them.

Thank you for your time, Merrill!

Merrill has agreed to give away a complimentary copy of Tangled Up in Nonsense to a random winner. To enter, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEM Tuesday — A River Runs Through It– Author Interview

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

Today we’re interviewing Patricia Newman, author of the new book A RIVER’S GIFTS: THE MIGHTY ELWHA ROVER REBORN, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. “An illuminating glimpse at the Elwha River and its gifts…Beautifully illustrated and informative,” says Kirkus in a starred review.

Andi Diehn: I love how this is a story of scientific progress told alongside the story of a culture, the Strong People, who witness the destruction of their river and work for its return. How did you find a balance between discussing the engineering of the dams and story of a people?

Patricia Newman: When I write about the environment, I always discover a wonderful overlap between science, history, culture, and current events. This connection to all parts of our lives draws me to nature writing. That said, I do have to make some decisions regarding the pacing of the story—some details are omitted while others are expanded upon. During the research phase of A RIVER’S GIFTS, I took my lead from my experts who co-mingled science and culture. In this region, it is impossible to talk about the Elwha River without also considering its cultural significance.

AD: What inspired you to write this particular story?

PN: My husband came home from work one day with a book idea after a conversation with one of his colleagues. After 38 years of marriage, my husband has developed exceptional book-idea antennae! The story had it all. Nature. Environmental justice. Water (a happy place for me). A conservation success story. All those pieces and their assorted layers made this idea a go.

AD: You do a great job describing the tension between some forms of progress – such as electric lights in homes and businesses – and the adverse effect of that progress on the natural world. What are some other examples of progress versus environmental health?

PN: I remember an economics professor in college explaining the term “opportunity cost”—what we give up by choosing one thing over another. Life is filled with opportunity costs. I don’t blame the early Elwha River settlers one bit for preferring a life with electricity over a life without it. I grumble when my electricity goes down for a few hours! But we also need to include nature into our calculations when we make decisions.

For instance, at the time the Elwha Dam was built, Washington had a law stating all dams must include fish ladders to allow salmon to pass. For some reason, government officials waived this law for Thomas Aldwell, builder of the Elwha Dam. Why? No one knows. And in hindsight, this waiver is particularly maddening because the law was written with consideration for nature.

Including nature in our plans probably won’t be the easiest or cheapest solution. Look at gas-powered vehicles. They’re convenient. They’re fast. But they come with an enormous opportunity cost. We’re sacrificing clean air and clean water. Our temperature is rising because excess CO2 left over from burning fossil fuels clogs the atmosphere. Arctic ice is melting as the ocean warms. Heat waves, fires, and droughts dominate the news.

Way back, we chose leaders who prioritized progress over nature. Now, when we elect new leaders, we need to consider balancing progress and nature to live more sustainably.

Patricia Newman

AD: Are there other dam dismantling success stories? Any examples of dam dismantling gone wrong?

PN: Dams themselves aren’t evil. They provide a clean source of energy for millions of people, but they do come with consequences. River flow and flood patterns change. Fish populations change. Changes in the river channel change the surrounding forest. Dams are man-made structures that interfere with the natural functions of nature, functions we often don’t fully understand.

Every dam removal is a success story because we return a river to its free-flowing state to manage flooding, resupply the water table, manage wildlife populations, and nourish the ecosystem. Nearly 1,800 dams have been removed in the U.S. since 1912. I don’t know of any dam removals gone bad, but I do know of several projects that, like the Elwha River Restoration, are taking years of legal wrangling and governmental maneuvering.

AD: These illustrations are both gorgeous and scientifically fascinating! Why did the team think it important to add labels to the different species?

PN: I’m glad you like Natasha Donovan’s work. She is Métis and lives in the general area of the Elwha River, so she was able to create from her heart. In her art I can hear the river flow and feel its power.

In my original proposal, I provided lists of trees, plants, and wildlife for possible spot illustrations in the margins. I thought readers would feel the scope of this project if they knew about the vast array of biodiversity being saved. Art Director Danielle Carnito had the brilliant idea to add the labels directly to Natasha’s illustrations. The small but informative labels gave Natasha a lot more room for her gorgeous art.

spread from A River's Gift

AD: Why include real photographs of the dam being built and dismantled, not just illustrations?

PN: As a nonfiction author, “real” is important to me. Illustrations seemed a better fit for A RIVER’S GIFTS overall because the book begins back when the river first formed tens of thousands of years ago. But I worked from photographs. My research files are loaded with photos that show a sense of time and place. I think the photos provide a telling look at the size of these dams and the engineering magic that occurred to build them.

AD: One of the takeaway lessons from this book is that it’s never too late. We can undo past mistakes once we know better, such as dismantling dams. Why is this important to explore in children’s literature?

PN: We are all under attack by environmental headlines that spew gloom and doom. That’s why I write about our CONNECTION to nature. I want my readers to understand how it sustains us and how our habits affect it. With understanding, comes a sense of gratitude for nature and all its gifts. With gratitude comes action. And with action comes hope. Nature will heal itself if we move out of the way. We just need to learn which way to jump.

 

Patricia Newman is an award-winning author of nonfiction books for children.

Natasha Donovan is an illustrator with a focus on comics and children’s illustration.

Today’s host, And Diehn, is an editor at Nomad Press and has published 11 nonfiction books for kids.