Posts Tagged children’s books

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– Interview

I’m delighted to interview Julie Knutson for STEM Tuesday! Julie and I have worked together on three books and each time she impressed me with her super-thorough research and passionate curiosity of whatever topic she was writing about, whether that was globalism, World War I, or Marie Curie!

The Science and Technology of Marie Curie explores Curie’s life and work—not only the discoveries she made while working with her husband that made them both famous, but also the work she continued after his death. For example, did you know Curie developed a transportable X-ray that was used in World War I to help surgeons avoid unnecessary surgery on the battlefield?

Let’s learn more about this amazing woman who made great scientific strides during a time when women weren’t always respected (or funded) as much as their male colleagues.

 

Andi Diehn: What fascinated you about Marie Curie to write a whole book about her?

Julie Knutson: At the beginning of the research process, I came across personal details about Curie’s life that really drew me into her story. From her attendance at an “underground” Polish university at a time when women were banned from higher education to her embrace of the cycling craze of the 1890s, I came to see Curie as a complex, multi-faceted human with varied interests and commitments. This pushed me to want to learn more about her not simply as a scientist, but also as a person very much of her time and place.

Marie Curie book coverThe end result of that research? This book!

AD: Curie was making incredible strides during a time when women weren’t always welcome in the scientific community – why is it important for us to learn about her work and life now?

JK: Curie’s life offers us so many lessons, one of which is the importance of surrounding yourself with people who encourage and foster your interests and talents. Family, friends, mentors, teachers, classmates, her spouse: the “village” around her allowed her to defy the conventions and norms of her time and place. I hope this example encourages young readers to form and join their own networks rooted in shared curiosity!

Marie and her daughters

Marie Curie and her daughters

AD: Your book has lots of activities – why include activities in a nonfiction book for kids?

JK: Observing, questioning, hypothesizing, experimenting, analyzing, drawing conclusions . . . these are the cornerstones of the scientific method. The activities in this book prompt readers to actively practice this process. This builds not only a “lived” understanding of complex topics like atomic structure, but also solid habits of mind that they can carry with them as young scientists.

WWI ambulance

A petit Curie, a portable radiology system used on battlefields during WWI.

 

AD: I was surprised to learn about Curie’s role during World War I. What do you think her work with portable X-ray machines shows us about her character?

JK: One of Curie’s guiding principles was “Science in the Service of Humanity.” Throughout World War I, Curie’s actions reveal her as a person who not just professed this mantra, but really lived it. At the beginning of the war—when Paris was invaded—she secreted a vial of radium from her lab to safety in a town 375 miles away, protecting this critical resource. After suspending her research, she coordinated a fleet of mobile X-ray units, which were used to identify the sites of bullet and shrapnel wounds, as well as broken bones.

Here, we see Curie identify a problem and use her knowledge and skills to solve it . . . in the process, saving countless lives in the process.

AD: If you could share one thing about Marie Curie’s life with everyone you know, what would it be?

JK: There’s so much more — beyond the Nobel Prizes — to learn from Curie’s life and story; I’d encourage readers of all ages to delve into it! She’s a figure of endless depths, who exceeds the honors and accolades for which she’s best known.

Marie Curie comic strip

***headshot of author Julie KnutsonJulie Knutson is an author and educator with a wide-ranging background in history and the social sciences. She holds an undergraduate degree in cultural studies from NYU, a master’s degree in Political Sociology from The London School of Economics, and additional post-graduate degrees in education and art history from Rice University in Houston. Julie’s passion for global citizenship, world history, and human rights stems from these formative academic experiences and from her time as a classroom teacher.

Julie is an active member of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), having served as the Chair of its Middle School Teacher of the Year Award in 2018. She also maintains membership in Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Andi Diehn***

Andi Diehn grew up near the ocean chatting with horseshoe crabs and now lives in the mountains surrounded by dogs, cats, lizards, chickens, ducks, moose, deer, and bobcats, some of which help themselves to whatever she manages to grow in the garden. You are most likely to find her reading a book, talking about books, writing a book, or discussing politics with her sons. She has 18 children’s nonfiction books published or forthcoming.

Agent Spotlight: Jonathan Rosen at The Seymour Agency

Hi Jonathan, I’m so excited to interview you for our Agent Spotlight here on the Mixed Up Files, the blog you yourself started and have watched go from success to success over the last 10 or so years. You recently made the jump to agenting as well, joining The Seymour Agency, so now we get to tap your brain from the “other side!”

Jonathan Rosen, literary agent at The Seymour Agency

Can you tell us a little about your path to becoming a literary agent?

Jonathan:  Hi Meira,

Thanks for asking me!

Being an agent is something that I had thought about doing for a while. So, at the end of 2021, I spoke to my agent, Nicole Resciniti about it, and she thought it was a good idea. So, mid-year of 2022, I started learning the ropes and announced shortly afterwards.

People who follow you on social media will quickly see your sense of humor. Is that something you look for in authors to represent?

Jonathan: I’ll always have a soft spot for humor in anything, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a humorous story in order for me to be interested in it.

People will also see how much a fan you are of retro popular culture. Do you bring that to the table as an agent?

Jonathan: I will say that I’m very interested in anything pop culture related. I handle a lot of nonfiction as well, and a lot of it is grounded in the pop culture realm.

What most struck you when you made the jump from author to author AND agent?

Jonathan: A few things. Not that I didn’t know it, but I got to see for myself just how busy agents are. It really is a lot of work. A lot of reading, research, and working on things for clients. It really keeps you busy. Another thing that struck me is just seeing things from the other side. Learned a lot of things.

Knowing what you know now as an agent, what do you wish you would have known when you yourself were querying, and then as a pre-published author on submission, and then as a published author?

Jonathan: Proper submission format or etiquette. You’d be surprised at how many generic queries you get. Even with addressing it as Dear Agent. Just making sure everything is done right. Your query, your submission should be in great shape as well. Have even received queries, that say, It really starts getting good on page 6. Then, why doesn’t it start there? Don’t sabotage yourself.

What MG books influenced as a child and what are you loving that’s out there now?

Jonathan: My favorite books as a child were the Choose Your Own Adventure books. I just devoured them. As far as what’s out there now, there are so many that I do love. Won’t name specifics, but there are many that I read and admire.

Photo via empireonline

As much as it’s important not to “write to trends” it’s interesting to see what trends or themes emerge in publishing. What trends are you seeing in children’s publishing: is anything over the hill now and what do you think might be on the horizon?

Jonathan: I don’t speak of trends. I am a firm believer that you should just write what you want and if it’s good, a home will be found for it.

Can you tell us a little about your own MG work?

Jonathan: I still am writing MG, and have several stories planned, but currently have been working on an adult book. Have other stories that I want to tell.

What’s the best way for people to find out more about you as an author and what you’re looking for as an agent?

Jonathan: As an agent, you can check my bio on SeymourAgency.com, my MSWL wishlist, or just query me. I really do have a variety of tastes. I’m interested in so many different types of things, so take a chance.

As far as my work as an author, besides my website, Houseofrosen.com, I guess we’ll find out more about my work when my own agent submits it to editors. Have a few things in the pipeline that I’m excited about. 😊

Jonathan, it was so great to speak with you and get your insights–thank you!

Jonathan can be found on Twitter at @houseofrosen

 

 

Interview with James Ponti – Author of CITY SPIES: CITY OF THE DEAD

I had the good fortune to interview James Ponti, author of the CITY SPIES series, this week. James’s fourth book in the series, CITY SPIES:  CITY OF THE DEAD comes out February 7.

I’m ashamed to admit that I am a little late to the CITY SPIES game, but I can’t wait to jump in and read them all.

 

Please tell us a little bit about your latest book, CITY SPIES: CITY OF THE DEAD.

It starts with a heist, which is so much fun to write. The City Spies have to break into the British Museum and steal something for the government. (Which means I had to figure out how to break into the British Museum.) In the process, they get swept up in a massive cyber-assault on venerated London institutions like Parliament and the Underground. To thwart the attack, they have to journey to Egypt and look for answers in the tombs among the Valley of the Kings. I wanted a story with elements that were up-to-the-minute modern alongside those that were ancient and mysterious. And mummies. I wanted mummies.

And, not for nothing, the fact that it involves breaking into a museum late at night can be traced directly back to the one book that found its way into my heart when I was a young reader. A certain book that shares its name with this website!

 


This series is incredibly popular. Colby Sharp of Nerdy Book Club said, “Books like this are why kids love to read,” which is high praise. What inspired you to write these stories and/or these characters?

First of all, I nearly fainted when I heard Colby say that on his video. My goal was to write a series that young me would’ve wanted to read. I was an extremely reluctant reader, so I keep that in mind when I work on the books. I tried to include the elements that grab me most as a reader – mystery, humor, adventure, and family. The actual idea was spurred by a trip my wife and I took to visit our son when he was studying in England for a year abroad. We went to London and Paris and had an amazing time. That trip and those elements came together to make City Spies.

 


Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?

I wish I had a process, but it seems to change all the time. Sometimes a story starts with characters and other times a plot. City Spies started with a setting. But for me, I really need those three ingredients before I can start cooking.

Right now, I’m finishing the first draft of City Spies 5, which comes out in 2024. Five books into this series, I still have to find all of those elements, but I also have to make sure they don’t seem too similar to what happened in the previous books. The main character changes from book to book, so with City Spies I start with who’s going to be the lead. Then I figure out what amazing location I want to write about. Then I try to work out a mystery/mission that feels organic to the combination of the two.

As for research, it’s extensive. For recent books, I’ve had long interviews with the former deputy director of the CIA, a leading Egyptologist, and a praying mantis expert who works for National Geographic in the Amazon. (My job is really fun that way.) I try to visit the locations when that is feasible. (I.e., when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic.) And the best part is when I get special tours. My wife, editor, and I got to look around the behind-the-scenes area of the New York Public Library to research a big action scene in book 5. It was FANTASTIC!

 


We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell our readers about teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?


I was blessed with great teachers from elementary school through college. My Mount Rushmore includes Herman Prothro (elementary), Dale Tyree (jr. high), Judith White (high school), and Abraham Polonsky (college). Judy White was my eleventh grade English teacher and she was amazing. She saw potential in me and pushed me as a writer. She encouraged me. She wrote notes to me in the margins of my work. She circled the opening paragraph of a paper I wrote about Robert Frost and next to it wrote “WOW!” That singular wow helped get me through self-doubt for years. She was also the hardest grader of any teach I’ve ever had and that was just what I needed.

I kept in touch with her after school and as I began my writing career. Unfortunately, she passed away before this success came along. She would’ve been over the moon about it. I love her so much, that I’ve used her name as the name of a teacher in virtually every book I’ve ever written. I just want her to be part of it.

 

What makes your books a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers or parents use it with young readers/teens?

 

I come from a family of teachers and always write with them in mind. My wife teaches high school and told me that I had to do things for teachers that are free and require little set-up time. I try to live up to that challenge. My website is very educator-friendly and Simon & Schuster is setting up a Digital Classroom Dossier that has anything and everything teachers could use in a single location. I asked a bunch of educators what would be useful and we’ve got curriculum guides, videos, worksheets, downloads, links, interviews, graphics, you name it. They’re all just a single click away.

As for using City Spies in the classroom, in addition to the dossier, it’s important to know that virtually everything in the books is real. I research inside and out so that if you’re reading about an Egyptian tomb, the Great Wall of China, or Muir Woods in California, your students can go online and explore further. I put in tons of facts that I find interesting hoping it sparks interest for readers and educators. I also try to incorporate core subjects in each book. Math classes can look at codes and patterns. A science teacher can talk about the different technologies, old and new that the team uses. I always connect historic events and true to life people with the adventures they’re on. And, in addition to the reading in the books, I try to include literature. There’s an entire throughline about poetry and Robert Burns in two of the books.

All of us at Mixed-Up Files are huge fans of independent bookstores. I see that you are going on a 10-stop tour of independent bookstores across the country. Do you have a favorite Indie that you’d like to give a shout out to?

I could never pick a favorite Indie. I visit them all the time. My wife and I did a vacation to Boston last summer and managed to squeeze in fourteen indies while we were there. Overall, in the last few years, I think I’ve been to nearly one hundred of them. They are the lifeblood of our industry and I love how each one has its own distinct flavor with different quirks and qualities that make them what they are.

 

Can you give us a hint about what we can look forward to next from you?

I’m going to write City Spies at least to book 6 (and hopefully more), so that’s exciting. Book five has a jet-setting mission that takes the team to Venice, Washington, and New York. I’m also writing the first book in a new series.  It’s called the Sherlock Society and it’s a mystery series featuring multi-generational family in South Florida. The first one comes out next year and I am so excited about it! (I hope readers will be too.)

 

James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award–winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, DC; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. His books have appeared on more than fifteen different state award lists and he is the founder of a writers group known as the Renegades of Middle Grade. James is also an Emmy–nominated television writer and producer who has worked for many networks including Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, PBS, History, and Spike TV, as well as NBC Sports. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. Find out more at JamesPonti.com.

 

 

 

Thanks so much to James for taking the time to talk with us.

CITY SPIES: CITY OF THE DEAD releases February 7 and is available at bookstores everywhere.

You can see more purchase options at:  Simon & Schuster.

 

Are you a CITY SPIES fan? Are you about to be? Let us know in the comments below.