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B’nai Mitzvah books + a giveaway!

My bat mitzvah reception was held at Roma di Notte, an Italian nightclub in Midtown Manhattan. Described by New York magazine as the perfect spot for an “after-hours rendezvous,” the club boasted an impressive collection of Roman statues, medallions, and urns. Hidden caves, or “grottos,” insured ultimate privacy for lovers indulging in “a romantic nightcap.”

Mystery of the White Gym Socks

Why my parents chose this particular venue to fête my coming of age as a Jew is beyond me. Another mystery is why I wore a pink floor-length dress best suited for a five-year-old flower girl at a fancy wedding. Or why my mom allowed me to wear white gym socks with my patent-leather T-straps.

Turning the Tables

Another thing I don’t get? Why I didn’t claim my rightful place at the head of the kids’ table instead of way down at the end, next to my dorky cousin Jordan. (I dare you to find me in the picture, below.)

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

These details aren’t important, of course. I’m telling you this because, to be brutally honest, it’s all I can remember about my mitzvah. The day went by in a blur.

Sure, I have photographic evidence of the event, courtesy of my shutterbug cousin Keith, and I know I read from the Book of Leviticus, which details how and when religious offerings should be made to God. (I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say I learned more about animal sacrifice than a 13-year-old old should ever know.) Other than that…? Nada.

That’s why, when I was asked to write a short story for the upcoming Jewish MG anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories, out from Albert Whitman & Company on April 19, I chose not to borrow from my own bat-mitzvah experience. I had too many unanswered questions, and no one to answer them for me. Fiction felt more real—and more immediate—than anything my memory could provide.

With that in mind, here’s a collection of middle-grade novels that feature characters preparing for a b’nai mitzvah. Their fictional memories are way more reliable than mine. 🙂

PLUS don’t miss a chance to win a copy of Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories if you enter the giveaway. Scroll down for details! 👇👇👇

B’nai Mitzvah Books

Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson

Ari Fish, who’s in the throes of studying for his bar mitzvah, believes in two things: his hero-Wayne Timcoe, the greatest soccer goalie to ever come out of Somerset Valley—and luck. So, when Ari finds a rare and valuable Wayne Timcoe trading card, he’s sure his luck has changed for the better. Especially when he’s picked to be the starting goalie on his team. But when the card is stolen—and his best friend and the new girl on the team accuse each other of taking it—suddenly Ari can’t save a goal, everyone is fighting, and he doesn’t know who, or what, to believe in. Before the team falls apart, Ari must learn how to make his own luck—and figure out what it truly means to be a hero.

The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Seventh-grader Caroline Weeks has a Jewish mom and a non-Jewish dad. When Caroline’s nana dies around the same time that Caroline’s best friend, Rachel, is having her bat mitzvah, Caroline starts to become more interested in her Jewish identity.

The Long Trail Home by Kiersi Burkhardt and Amber J. Keyser

Rivka can’t wait to get away from her family for the summer. Since that terrible day last year, she wants no part in their Jewish community. At least at Quartz Creek Ranch, she feels worlds away from home among the Colorado scenery, goofy ranch owners, and baby animals. Other parts of Quartz Creek, however, are too familiar, including the unsettling wave of anti-immigrant threats to ranch workers. On a trip to the country, Rivka is also surprised to learn the history of Jewish pioneers in the area. When she and her defiant cabinmate, Cat, face disaster in the wild, Rivka will need to find strength deep within her to help them both get home safely.

The Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie

Karma Cooper is a seventh grader with thousands of followers on SnappyPic. Before Karma became a social-media celebrity, she wasn’t part of the in-crowd at Merton Middle School. But thanks to one serendipitous photo, Karma has become a popular poster on SnappyPic. Like most kids at MMS, her smartphone—a bejeweled pink number Karma nicknamed Floyd—is like a body part she could never live without. But after breaking some basic phone rules, Karma’s parents take Floyd away, and for Karma, her world comes to a screeching halt. Can Karma learn to go cold turkey and live her life fully unplugged?

My Basmati Bar Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend, Ben-O―who might also be her boyfriend―and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown, Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.

Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido

Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew . . . ish. Not that she really thinks about it. She’d prefer to focus on her favorite pastime: baking delicious food. But when her best friend has a beyond-awesome Bat Mitzvah, Hannah starts to feel a little envious …and a little left out. Despite her parents’ firm no, Hannah knows that if she can learn enough about her own faith, she can convince her friends that the party is still in motion. As the secrets mount, a few are bound to explode. When they do, Hannah learns that being Jewish isn’t about having a big party and a fancy dress and a first kiss—it’s about actually being Jewish. Most importantly, Hannah realizes that the only person’s permission she needs to be Jewish is her own.

This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan Long Shang

Twelve-year-old David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy. That includes his friend, Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate: David’s best friend, Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turns south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems.

Echo Still by Tim Tibbitts

Twelve-year-old Fig’s life at school is perfectly normal: He’s sure his science teacher hates him, his dad is forcing him to attend Bar Mitzvah classes because his mom would have wanted it, and he’s just been passed over for the football team in favor of Gus Starks, a ball hog and a bully. And, as if Fig’s life needed one more complication, his grandmother Gigi is unexpectedly coming to stay with him and his dad for a while. As Gigi helps Fig navigate the obstacles of school and a tough football season, Fig comes to understand some important things: about his religion, about his family, and about Fig himself.

Pink Slippers, Bat Mitzvah Blues by Ferida Wolff

After her Bat Mitzvah, all Alyssa wanted to do was dance. She loved the practice sessions at the studio. And she loved performing. But suddenly there were so many other pressures. The persistent but sympathetic rabbi wanted her to join the confirmation class. Alyssa’s best friend was very sick and needed her badly. And if Alyssa missed another dance rehearsal, she would be thrown out of the Nutcracker. If only she could decide what to do.

And last but not least…

Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz

What does it mean to become an adult in your faith? Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their b’nai mitzvah. And whether celebrating with a lavish party or in reception room A with an accordion player, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there’s something in this anthology for every reader, regardless of their faith.

Giveaway!

For a chance to win a copy of COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIEScomment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 3/25/22; U.S. only, please.)

Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Company). An active blogger for the popular MG website, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-grade AuthorsMelissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

STEM Tuesday — Diversity in STEM– Interview with Ella Schwartz

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 Ella Schwartz, author of STOLEN SCIENCE: Thirteen Untold Stories of Scientists and Inventors Almost Written out of History.  

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about your book Stolen Science.

Ella Schwartz: Stolen Science is the story of thirteen scientists and inventors who performed ground breaking work but did not get the credit they deserved. I know first-hand just how hard it is for women to be successful in the field. We’ve made great strides in recent years, but time and again women and marginalized groups have had to claw their way to success in the sciences, only to have their discoveries stolen from them – and that’s not fair! I set out to write Stolen Science to finally give credit where credit is due!

MKC: Why did you choose to write the book? 

Ella: Picture a scientist in your head. Chances are, that scientist is white, male, and often dead. As a woman with a background in science and engineering, I very rarely got to see someone who looked like me represented in my field. That’s what I set out to fix when I began writing Stolen Science. I feel deeply that children today need to see diversity represented in the sciences. Young girls, children of color, and immigrants must be inspired by example to pursue STEM fields. I set out to write Stolen Science with that goal in mind.

MKC: Stolen Science features lesser-known individuals, many who lived in the 1800s. How did you learn about them?

Ella: When I began researching this book, I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I knew there was probably plenty of scientists who had performed brilliant work that never got the credit they deserved, but I never expected just how many stories I’d uncover! Some of the stories from the 1800s were tricky to research, but thankfully these stories are beginning to come to light. For example, Mary Anning is one of the scientists I feature in the book. I’m pleased to see a lot of recent publications on this fierce and brave scientist.

MKC: It sounds like you spent some quality time in research archives and libraries. Do you have a favorite discovery you’d like to share?

Ella Schwartz writes fiction and nonfiction books for young readers. She is always asking questions and trying to learn new things. The books she writes are for kids who are just as curious as she is. Find out more about her and her books at www.ellasbooks.com.

Ella: The research for this book was, at times, intense! One of my favorite stories in the book is on Jo Anderson, an enslaved man who invented the mechanical reaper that became the backbone of the industrial revolution. There hasn’t been a lot of research on Jo Anderson so telling his story required me to dig deep into research. I knew this was a story that deserved to be told and I was honored to tell it. But I also knew this was a big responsibility. I had to get the story right. I’m very grateful to the staff at the Wisconsin Historical Society for sharing original letters and documents on Jo Anderson that helped me form the true story of this incredible man.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books? Is it your background?

Ella: I do have a STEM background! I received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering and have had a twenty+ year career in cybersecurity. When I’m not writing, I work as a cybersecurity professional on federal government initiatives. I started writing STEM books because a writing mentor once told me “write what you know.” That seemed to make sense at the time. But I kept on writing STEM books because I truly feel STEM must be open for everyone. It doesn’t matter what your gender, color, background, or religion is. STEM is for you.

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Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado ScientistAlexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

STEM Tuesday– The Impacts of Our Changing Climate– Interview with Christy Mihaly

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 interviewing Christy Mihaly, author of Barefoot Books Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery. It’s a fascinating look at the many ways water forms the basis of life on our planet and how climate change impacts that. Kirkus Reviews said, “Oceanic in scope—but clear and refreshing.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Christy, you write for children but before that change in career you went to law school and spent several years helping to protect the environment as an environmental lawyer. Those are tough issues. How did you develop the passion for that work?

Christy Mihaly: I’ve always loved being in nature. My grandmother was a serious backyard naturalist who shared her love of birds with me—I remember she had a record (vinyl!) with recordings of bird songs and would play it and listen to the calls and tell me which was which bird. She constantly worried about threats to wildlife and the need to protect wild places; she cared deeply about environmental protection.

In school I loved studying biology, ecology, and natural science, and grew to be a committed environmentalist. I remember collecting trash in a local park on the first Earth Day. I was active in the Girl Scouts, which gave me the opportunity to explore some of Earth’s wild places. As a teen one summer I spent ten challenging days paddling along the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Maine with a Girl Scout camp. Then, this east coast girl was accepted for a national scout program in Wyoming, and visited Grand Teton National Park. Wow! I was stunned by my first glimpse of the beauty of the west.

My college major was policy studies with a concentration in environmental studies. I remember an ecology course in which we modeled different and related animal populations, demonstrating the interdependence of the species. I learned more about various challenges facing the environmental movement. Then when I took an undergraduate course in environmental law, I was hooked. I was fascinated with the various creative ways that people were using legal theories to defend wilderness and people’s right to a clean and healthy Earth. I realized: This is what I want to do!

CTB: Your family relocated to Spain for a year which was full immersion. What was it like navigating local customs and getting up to speed on the language quickly?

Christy: Yes, that was ten years ago. And oh my gosh, what a pivotal year. It was challenging, stimulating, and inspiring! And exhausting, did I mention exhausting? When we first arrived, I felt like a complete outsider, a bumbling incompetent. I’d taken Spanish in college but I remembered only the basics. So had this horrible sense of being inarticulate. People looked at me as if they thought I wasn’t too bright.

Plus everything – from the traffic circles to the laundry to the supermarket check-outs – was different from what I was used to. I just had to laugh at myself and hope that if I smiled enough, people would be patient with me. I asked questions. I met people. One day as I was riding the metro, a young woman introduced herself to me and we ended up becoming good friends. Slowly, things got better. One day the kind woman at the bakery where I shopped said, as she counted my change, “Your Spanish is getting better.” How exciting was that!

It was a year of bonding for the family as we went through all this together. We leaned on one another as we explored the country. My daughter progressed from knowing basically no Spanish to being the most fluent Spanish speaker in the family. And I loved that she got to live in a new culture, and to realize deeply that just because we do things a certain way in the United States does not mean our way is better.

CTB: While in Spain, you say your head was swimming with ideas for children’s stories and you sold your first story. What was it about?

Christy: I had left my lawyer job with the idea that it was time to get into gear on my long-deferred plans to write for kids. I didn’t know how I would get started, but yes, living in a new place triggered questions about everything. Curiosity is probably one of the most important qualities we bring to our writing – and suddenly I was curious about so many things. And I thought American kids might also find so much of Spain intriguing.

So … that year I published my first piece of writing for kids. It was unpaid and appeared in an online magazine that no longer exists. I was thrilled! It was a short story based on our experiences in Spain. I wrote it as an epistolary tale, in e-mails between a girl in the U.S. and her best friend who moved to Spain.

That year also led to my first paid article. It was in AppleSeeds magazine (also discontinued, is there a pattern here?). I submitted a query, which was accepted, about the Pinzon brothers of southern Spain. As every school child in Spain learns, the Pinzon brothers were a prominent seafaring family in the fifteenth century, and without their expertise and leadership on the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus’s explorations wouldn’t have succeeded. I researched the heck out of that 200-word article, traveling to Palos de la Frontera to attend the “Pinzon Days” festival, reading (in Spanish) materials collected in the local library, and studying artifacts in the museum that is the former home of the Pinzon brothers. I also took tons of photos, some of which I submitted for the illustrator’s reference. I was having fun and learning so much.

CTB: Once you returned to Vermont, you kept writing and sending out stories.

Christy: I did. I joined SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I signed up for conferences. I attended workshops. I wasn’t sure I considered myself a writer yet. I still needed to figure out how to make a living at this writing thing. I needed to learn more about the craft and the trade. Gradually, I did.

CTB: Now you have two books out that include discussions of climate change: Barefoot Books Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery, and Diet for a Changing Climate, which you co-wrote with Sue Heavenrich.

Christy: I’ve found that if I’m writing about environmental topics, I can’t avoid addressing climate change. That was certainly the case in the most recent book, Water. I couldn’t write a comprehensive guide to the planet’s water without touching on both the ocean’s role in climate, and the effects of climate change on the ocean, rainfall patterns, and water supplies.

Sue Heavenrich and I visited STEM Tuesday to talk about DIET with Mary Kay Carson, here: https://fromthemixedupfiles.com/stem-tuesday-sustainable-living-interview-with-author/.

In addition to the two climate-related books you mention, I’ve written about climate change in several books for the educational market. For example, in my series “Shaping the Debate,” one of the titles is “Defining and Discussing Climate Change.” (Rourke Educational Media, 2019.) And in writing series nonfiction about national parks, animals, and renewable energy, I have had to deal with climate change and its impacts.

CTB: Barefoot Books Water: A Deep Dive of Discovery is done in multiple own voices from all over the world. That’s pretty innovative (and much needed perspective). Where did the idea come from? Did you get to travel to any of the places covered in the book?

Christy: The publisher, Barefoot Books, conceived of “Water” and went looking for a qualified author. They publish many multicultural picture books and they’re well known for their beautiful, oversized nonfiction books like Barefoot Books World Atlas and Barefoot Books Solar System. They wanted to add Barefoot Books WATER to this line.

I am so glad that Emma Parkin, the brilliant and delightful editor for the project, got my name. We had a Skype call and immediately hit it off. I was intrigued with her ideas. As Emma explained, although there are many children’s books about the ocean, marine animals, and other water-related topics, Barefoot Books wanted to create something that centered water’s role on Earth.

I shared with Emma my work on water conservation projects from Tahoe to Vermont. My experience meshed well with the notion of a compendium for kids exploring the power and wonder of water. I wanted to write something lyrical and poetic as well as scientifically accurate.

Together we developed a vision for this book to include science and social justice, history and stories. I loved the idea of including tales from global storytellers, traditional stories and legends to highlight the magical, mystical side of water. I also love the “behind the stories” feature included in the book’s back matter, which tells kids the story of each author, their backgrounds, and their thoughts about water.

But no, I couldn’t travel while writing this book. I wrote it entirely during the pandemic, starting in March 2020.

CTB: Kirkus Reviews gave it a starred review, calling your approach “intriguing.” They particularly loved your use of alliteration citing the passage “Glaciers are “massive, mountainous mounds of ice..”) Water is such an essential part of life on Earth. What surprised you most when researching this book?

Christy: I was surprised how difficult it was to explain some water basics – its molecular structure and why it’s so good at dissolving things, for example – simply, accurately, and clearly for our target audience. Luckily we had expert reviewers, both in child development and science.

Another surprise: I loved learning how some marine animals can drink salt water without getting dehydrated because their kidneys are adapted to handle the salt.

Sometimes, I knew a general fact (e.g., manufacturing uses a lot of water) but was surprised by some of the specifics (1 cotton t-shirt: 660 gallons; 1 smart phone: 3200 gallons).

And I was surprised and saddened to read recent research about the effects of climate change on the ocean … and how changes in ocean currents (the global conveyor belt) are disrupting weather patterns.

CTB: You include activities for readers to try while explaining conservation and the impact of climate change on water sources. What process did you use for your research that might help young readers understand how authors approach writing nonfiction?

Christy: My first step in this project was reading broadly. As I read, I looked for facts and aspects of water that would be most interesting to kids. What would make kids wonder? What would surprise and intrigue them? And what are the concrete details that really bring the story home?

In deciding what to include and how to present it, we gave a great deal of consideration to the book’s design. The artist, Mariona Cabassa, and the entire team at Barefoot Books deserve credit for this. We had extensive discussions about the most engaging ways to present information.

For example, how to show the quantity of water on the globe: 326 million trillion gallons. We looked at illustrations of buckets, swimming pools, and the like, but finally decided that for a figure that large, just showing it with all those zeroes was effective: 326,000,000,000,000,000,000. We went through a similar process for many aspects of the book. And we created the friendly talking-water-drop character to provide quick fun facts throughout the book. This was one way we sought to make the book accessible to younger kids as well as middle grade readers.

As I researched, I flagged topics that kids could explore through hands-on activities. For example, try dissolving different substances in water; or get outside with a magnifying glass and see what life you can find in a pond or a puddle. In one activity, I asked kids to think about the work involved in carrying a family’s water. The activity suggests filling a water bucket to carry and figuring out how many buckets of water their family would need in a day. Here’s an extension of that activity, for a class or other group of kids, building on information in the book which appeared on author Patricia Newman’s LitLinks blog. This gets more deeply into the social justice theme of the book. (And the inequity of the world’s global water supply is of course exacerbated by the climate crisis.)

Finally, I find that when kids see a problem, often their instinct is to act, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what water-steward steps we could suggest for kids to take. Those are sprinkled throughout the book.

CTB: What do you want readers to come away with after reading this book?

Christy: An appreciation for the magic of water! This ordinary everyday substance is in fact so extraordinary. And how vital it is to all living things. And I hope kids will feel a desire to protect this treasure for everyone. My approach was to focus on how wondrous water is, but without glossing over all the water-related challenges.

This is similar to what Sue Heavenrich and I did in our Diet for a Changing Climate book. We wanted to help young readers think actively about the climate crisis but without overwhelming them. Our approach was to encourage kids to think creatively and notice how their choices about what foods were on their plates could help make real change in the world.

CTB: What’s next on your horizon? Any new books coming out we should watch for?

Christy: Yes! Thank you for this question – I’m expecting three books in 2022. (And one of them relates to climate change.)

The Supreme Court and Us, coming March 1, is a kid-friendly introduction to the U.S. Supreme Court, its history and role. (Illustrated by Neely Daggett, pub. Albert Whitman.)

Patience, Patches shows up in April. This fictional tale, narrated by Patches the dog, follows the disruption (and rewards) when a baby joins the family. (Illustrated by Sheryl Murray, pub. Dial/PRH.)

Ultimate Food Atlas: Maps, Games, Recipes, and More for Hours of Delicious Fun. A Nat Geo Kids book that the talented science writer Nancy Castaldo and I co-wrote, it’s due to release in September. It’s stuffed with fun facts about food, geography, and agriculture … and we talk about climate change, too.

CTB: I want to thank Christy Mihaly for being such a passionate advocate for the environment and for young readers. Enjoy!

Win a FREE copy of Barefoot Books Water:

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!

Christy Mihaly is a nature lover, former lawyer, and poet. She has written more than 25 children’s nonfiction titles on topics from hayfields to free speech to food. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of California, Berkeley, Christy is passionate about environmental education, has chaired the board of the Vermont River Conservancy, and is a regular volunteer in local elementary schools as an environmental educator and reading mentor. She writes for kids because she believes that our best hope for the future is raising young people who love to read, and giving them the knowledge and skills to lead.

Christy’s books have been included on the Green Earth Book Award shortlist, Bank Street Children’s Best Books, and Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections. She lives in Vermont, where she enjoys walking her dog in the woods and playing cello (though not simultaneously).

To learn more about Christy and her books, please visit www.ChristyMihaly.com. You can follow her on Twitter @CMwriter4kids 

Christine Taylor-Butler

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of more than 90 books for children including Save The Tigers part of a new animal conservation series by Chelsea Clinton. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi/fantasy series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram