STEM Tuesday–Activity Books– Interview with Nancy Castaldo
Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go, Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’re visiting with STEM Tuesday contributor and prior interviewee Nancy Castaldo. An award-winning author, Nancy has a long list of books for kids, including activity books, such as Deserts.
Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano:
Please tell us about Deserts and your purpose for writing it.
Nancy Castaldo: I began my children’s writing career with a series of nonfiction activity books that centered around the exploration of the natural world. Deserts followed the popular, Sunny Days and Starry Nights, and was published along with Rainforests, Oceans, and River Wild.
My first introduction to the desert environment came as a child. Deserts fascinated my dad and he shared that fascination with me. I can still remember standing in the desert and watching the iguanas basking on the rocks. As a lover of all reptiles and amphibians, I became an instant fan. Of course, there are many types of deserts around the world and each has its own flora and fauna. I wanted my readers to discover them along with me.
CCD: Can you share a favorite aspect of the book? What about a favorite bit of information about deserts?
NC: While I enjoyed bits of every desert, much of what I wrote about the American desert returned to me last year during my visits to Arizona. I spent weeks vacationing and researching there and found that chapter of the book rising up in my thoughts daily. Hiking in Saguaro National Park only reinvigorated my love of this majestic cactus species. Seeing the petroglyphs with a Native guide in Canyon de Chelly brought Navajo history alive.
CCD: Other than introducing the desert habitat to readers, were there any other themes you wanted to explore in this book?
NC: As an environmental educator, I strive to inform and inspire my readers about the natural world. In this book, along with my books on rainforests and rivers, I wanted my readers to expand their knowledge and perceptions about these ecosystems. Readers might think all deserts are hot or that monkeys live in all rainforest jungles, or that all rivers flow fast. In these books, they’ll find that our world is wide and these ecosystems differ from their perceptions in spectacular ways.
CCD: In your mind, what makes a great activity in a nonfiction children’s book?
NC: Activities that are easy to follow with simple materials can allow readers to explore ideas on another level. Plus, they are fun!
CCD: Looking over the activities in Deserts, I’d say you nailed the activities on all of those points. I particularly appreciated the way you brought in activities (and text) that help readers get a sense of how people and culture thrive in the desert. The still, sand painting, and kachina doll activities are some examples.
CCD: On a different note, this book goes back a while. How have you as an author changed? What has stayed the same?
While this is one of my older titles, I still have educators reaching out who are using it in their classrooms, especially during this pandemic. I still love including activities and additional ways my readers can engage with my topics in all my books. Whether it is a pizza recipe in my picture book, Pizza for the Queen, or a how-to on hosting a seed swap in my young adult The Story of Seeds, activities can provide a jumping off point for readers young and old.
CCD: It’s interesting to note that your love of activities as a way to help readers engage has stayed with you throughout your career. Speaking of your career…Deserts is one of your earlier books. Imagine you were going to revise Deserts now. Given any changes in you, publishing, schooling, or the world at large that may come to mind for you right now, what might you want to change about Deserts?
ND: I’ve been able to provide photos for many of my books recently. Although I love Betsy’s illustrations, I’d love to supply photos for a reboot of this title if possible.
CCD: Oh, that would be gorgeous–even though I agree that Betsy’s illustrations are lovely. Either way, it’s a wonderful book. Thank you for all of your work helping kids explore STEM ideas and activities, and thank you for the interview.
Looking for more STEM activity books? Check out the entire August 2020 STEM Tuesday booklist!
Win a FREE copy of Deserts
Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. (Scroll past the link to the previous post.) 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.
Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also serves as Regional Advisor Emeritus of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2020 title is THE FARM THAT FEEDS US. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com.
Carolyn DeCristofano, a founding team member of STEM Tuesday, is also a children’s STEM author and STEM education consultant. She recently co-founded STEM Education Insights, an educational research, program evaluation, and curriculum development firm which complements her independent work as Blue Heron STEM Education. She has authored several acclaimed science books, including Running on Sunshine (HarperCollins Children) and A Black Hole is NOT a Hole (Charlesbridge).