Posts Tagged Giveaways

STEM Tuesday– Invasive Species– Interview with Author Lisa Amstutz

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

Today we’re interviewing Lisa Amstutz, author of Invasive Species. The book is part of the “engaging and informative” Ecological Disasters series, according to School Library Journal.

Mary Kay Carson: How did you come to write Invasive Species?

Lisa Amstutz: This book was an assignment from an educational publisher as part of their Ecological Disasters series. Because of my background in ecology, this one felt like a great fit, and I was excited to dig in! For those who aren’t familiar with this market, some educational publishers hire writers to produce series for them instead of reviewing projects submitted by authors/agents, as most trade publishers do. These series are designed in-house and are highly targeted to the school curriculum. Authors are given a set of guidelines that includes things like word count, reading level, a general outline, number of sidebars, etc.

MKC: The book is so well researched! Did you discover anything especially surprising?

Lisa: The thing that surprised me most was how many invasive species were imported on purpose. For example, the nutria was brought to the United States between 1899 and 1930 by fur farmers. When the market collapsed, farmers released the animals into the wild. Kudzu, aka ‘the vine that ate the South’, was imported in 1876 as an ornamental plant and even promoted by the Soil Conservation Service to prevent soil erosion from the 1930s to 1950s. Today, both are damaging ecosystems. Hopefully we’ve learned our lesson when it comes to moving species out of their natural habitats.

MKC: Do you have a least-liked invasive species? 

Lisa: The brown marmorated stinkbug (at left) is my current nemesis, as it has an annoying habit of moving into my house in the winter!

MKC: For whom is the book written? How does the writing style reflect that?

Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 books for children. She has also written for a variety of magazines and newspapers. In 2021, she joined Storm Literary Agency as an associate literary agent. Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. She specializes in topics related to nature, sustainability, and agriculture. Lisa lives on a small farm with her family. Find her online at

Lisa: Because it is targeted to schools and libraries, this book provides a broad and straightforward overview for kids exploring this topic on their own or for a research project. Photos and sidebars add interest. As always, I tried to use engaging language, concepts kids can relate to, and fun facts to hook the reader and draw them into the topic.

MKC: Do you choose to write about STEM books? Is STEM your background?

Lisa: I have a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. After working in my field for a few years, I realized I liked writing about science even better, and as a bonus I could work from home. I love exploring new topics and sharing that excitement with kids. I’m also passionate about helping readers connect with the natural world and learn to care for it.

MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project and how you’re tackling it?

Lisa: I’m at the very beginning stages of a new project at the moment. After choosing a topic from my long and very random list of ideas, I’m currently gathering information and resources online and through my local library. For a longer project like this one, I use Scrivener or OneNote to easily record and categorize information. I always footnote as I go, so it’s easy to go back and double check facts. For me, this part is the most fun—I love learning new things!


Win a FREE critique by author and agent Lisa Amstutz!

The lucky winner receives one critique (query letter, picture book manuscript, or first 10 pages of a longer manuscript or project). Enter by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email.

Good luck!

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– Tectonics: Volcanoes, Ring of Fire — Interview with Author Katie Coppens

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

Today we’re interviewing Katie Coppens, author of Geology is a Piece of Cake. It’s a “truly delicious, hands-on way to study science in action,” says Kirkus Reviews.

Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Geology is a Piece of Cake. How did the book come about?

Katie Coppens: I’m a middle school science teacher who uses analogies to help my students understand concepts. One of the analogies my students have enjoyed is learning the difference between a rock and a mineral through cake; where minerals are like the ingredients for cake and the cake is like the rock. Year-after-year, I kept expanding cake examples to a range of concepts in geology, such as fossil formation and plate tectonics. My students benefited from these analogies and the ideas kept coming. Then, I thought of the title for a possible book, Geology is a Piece of Cake, and it all went from there. I started writing, baking, taking photos of cakes, and developing recipes for kids to do that have geological thinking embedded into them. Using this hands-on method is fun and helps concepts resonate!

MKC: Care to share a favorite research experience?

Katie: My children were two and four years old when I wrote the book. For months, I was baking and testing recipes and my kids and I developed a love of baking together. They also became accustomed to having cakes for dessert because it was important to taste test the cakes that had recipes in the book. When I finished writing, my kids were disappointed that the daily desserts stopped. They were delighted when I wrote the companion book Geometry is as Easy as Pie, which teaches math concepts through pie and pie recipes.

MKC: How would you describe the book’s approach?

Katie: Cake is a great hook for kids (and adults!)! It’s a hands-on, delicious way to better understand geology. In addition to teachers’ use in the classroom, parents have also enjoyed making the recipes with their child and learning together. Out of all of the cakes, I think the extrusive molten lava chocolate cake (at left) is the most fun. It represents an extrusive igneous rock and when you cut into it, the chocolate lava flows out!

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Katie: I was imagining my 6th grade students with every step of writing, which is why I dedicated the book to them! I kept thinking about the questions they ask and they were my inspiration behind writing the book in a question and answer format. One of my favorite moments as an author is when readers reach out to me and with this book, I’ve received emails with photos of the cakes kids have made with their geological thinking! I have a YouTube channel that includes a fun video that some of my students made when they baked a cake from the book.

MKC: Do you choose to write about STEM books?

Katie: I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and have written eight STEM-themed children’s books. I’m also an advisor of my school’s STEM club. My favorite part of STEM is that it encourages creative and critical thinking!


Katie Coppens is an award-winning middle school science teacher who lives in Maine with her husband and two daughters. She’s written eight STEM-themed books for kids and writes a column for the National Science Teaching Association’s Science Scope magazine called “Interdisciplinary Ideas.” Her goal in both teaching and writing is to encourage curiosity and make learning fun. For more information on her books, go to or follow her @Katie_Coppens on Twitter.

Win a FREE copy of Geology is a Piece of Cake!

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!

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 — Animal Superpowers — Interview with Author Bridget Heos

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 Bridget Heos, author of Stronger Than Steel It’s a fascinating look at biologist Randy Lewis’s work to create spider silk from genetically modified goats. Heo’s research combined with Andy Comin’s photography makes for compelling reading. Could we one day build stronger bullet proof vests? Are we one step away from duplicating the feats of Spiderman?

* * *

Christine Taylor-Butler: Bridget, I met you before you published your first book. Now you have 100 children’s books under your belt. That’s a huge accomplishment in this industry. But you didn’t start out as a writer. Can you tell me a bit about what you were doing before you dove into children’s literature?

Bridget Heos: I was an English major in college. Before I changed careers, I taught English, reading and religion at a Catholic school. I’d also been a social worker. But I’ve loved reading and writing since I was a child and eventually moved into freelance writing.

Christine: Your background in teaching helped with your transition to children’s publishing but it’s unusual to see people gravitate to science in nonfiction. Where did that come from?

Heos KidsBridget: The science part came from my son’s love of nonfiction. I read to my children all the time, but fiction didn’t engage him. At first I thought he was a non-reader. But at the library he would immediately go the nonfiction section. He loved that world. So I thought, how can I support that? Plus, I’m curious. One day I thought, “We live on a planet that has everything we need.” I would see an insect and think “ugh!” But then I started reading about them and it made me see the world in a different way. So I began writing. It changed my life and I began to relive the magic of stories. I was already writing for newspapers and magazines, but now I was passionate about writing books that would engage children.

Christine: So what was your first book?

Book_Jay ZBridget: My first book was a middle grade biography on rapper Jay-Z (Shawn Carter). That was was back in 2009. I saw an email inviting local authors to write for an editor at Rosen. I applied and was hired. Shawn Carter has such a great story. I remember spending a lot of time on it because it was my first book. I’m a journalist so I knew it had to be right. After that, I wrote more biographies. But when I had a choice, I preferred to write science books. Those were the types of books my son liked to have read to him. Even so, writing about a famous person as a first book is a show-stopper.

Christine: And then your career took off!

Bridget: I think it was partly luck and good fortune. I spent a lot of time trying to understand the business and how to make money at it. I loved writing so much I was willing to write anything. Children’s literature felt like a good fit and I began writing a lot of nonfiction. I emailed 20 publishers trying to be a good sales person. Workman hired me to write workbooks.

Christine: You also wrote: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Larvae. I remember thinking that was such a clever homage to the human series for expectant mothers and packed with so many facts. Of the sequel on marsupials, Kirkus Reviews said, “Never once dropping the pretense that this is written for pouched mammals, this manages to be both entertaining and informative.

Heos Kids What to expect

Bridget: Yes! That was first book I sold that paid royalties. I went to the library at University of Missouri – Kansas City and checked out huge books.  When I write about science I have to learn it first. I do a lot of research. It makes up for me not being the best science student when I was younger. I chose the topic because my son loved insects. But as with all things, by the time the book came out he’d moved on World War II. The book was followed by What to Expect When You’re Expecting Hatchlings (Crocodiles) and What to Expect When You’re Expecting Joeys (Marsupials).

Christine: The series is out of print now, but maybe a saavy editor will bring it back into print for eager readers now that engaging STEM and nonfiction are increasing in popularity. And especially since Kirkus loved them. They’re a hard reviewer to please.

Bridget: Yes. The books came out ten years ago and the timing might have been early for the information trend we see now.

Christine: Before we get to Stronger Than Steel, I’m going to take some artistic liberties and stray over to fiction for a minute. Can you tell us how Mustache Baby came about? It has so many good reviews and it was the winner of the 2017 Colorado’s Childrens Book Award.

Mustache baby

Bridget: Mustache Baby was my first fiction book. I had wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. I had put the dream aside until, one day, I found a box in the attic. I realized that I’d had that dream but didn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t live with the idea that I didn’t at least try to do something about it.  but my true dream was to write fiction. I had no idea on how to proceed. People have this impression that to be a writer you have to be this beautiful serious writer, but that’s not how I am. When children were younger, I began telling them a story that had been in my head about baby who was born with a mustache that showed if he was a good guy or a villain. It made the kids laugh so I decided to write it down.

“Occasional badness has never been so good.”

You never know what you’ll get in the delivery room, and something isn’t quite right with this new baby. . . . Heos’s offbeat tale muses on the possibilities, playing off parental hope and panicky nightmares.”
—New York Times Book Review

The book’s sole purpose was for kids to have fun. I wrote several drafts and agonized over them. Then I mentioned it who gave me ideas then  sold to Daniel Nayeri who was at Houghton Mifflin at the time. Daniel brought on the illustrator Joy Ang. Her illustrations brought a new dimension to the story. There are now 5 books in the series. By the way, Daniel just won the 2021 Printz for his own book: Everything Sad is Untrue.

Christine: So tell me about Stronger Than Steel. I am fascinated by golden orb spiders and use them as one of the plot points in my series. I had not met anyone else in kidlit that researched them until this book so I was riveted.

Stronger book coverBridget:  I’d seen an article about spider goats and the scientist researching them. My former agent had another client who was doing a scientist in the field book and walked her through the process of proposing a book. It book was acquired by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. That series is fun because the publisher also commissions a photographer. Andy Cumin and I traveled to Wyoming to meet with the scientist, Randy Lewis . Then Andy and I traveled to Utah State where the project was moving. It was good that we had that time to do the research. It involves learning about molecular biology. The team walked me through the process.

Christine: The goats are genetically altered to carry a gene from golden orb spiders.

Bridget: The science is fascinating. Spider silk is stronger than the Kevlar in a bullet proof vest. But you can’t farm spiders. They’re territorial. So the solution was to use goats. Randy took the gene from the spider and combined it with the DNA that creates milk in goats. I got to see the process first hand, how the team works with the goat’s milk to get to the spider silk protein. The scientists filter the milk and get it down to the protein which is a powder, then they combine the powder with a chemical. I watched the silk emerge from the process.

Spider silk

Christine: So what are the scientists doing with the silk?

Randy LewisBridget: They’re interested in it because of its toughness. In a technical sense, it’s hard to break (compression strength) and it’s stretchy (tensile strength). They’re hoping it would be a fit for fly fishing lines. The appeal is that the silk is stronger than most man made materials. But for some projects, the stretchiness is still a problem – like for bullet proof vests and parachutes. One of the other fascinating things, though, is that the spider silk can be used in the human body to repair ligaments and bones.

The book was so much work and I did so much agonizing over it. As a former journalist I wondered, “Did I get it right?” Randy read it to make sure I had not made any factual errors. I do a lot of school visits so I talk to students about the science I learned. Kids are amazing and absorb the information. They wonder if there could be a Spiderman just like there are spider goats.

Christine: So could there be a real Spiderman one day?

Bridget: You never know. The scientist isn’t raising the goats any more, Now he’s focused on comb jellies and the sticky stuff they use to catch their prey. But writing the book was a great experience. Children’s books have taken me to many states I’d never been before.

Christine: So what’s up next for you? Any books coming out we should be watching for?

Triceraopposite Treemendous Santa JawsGood Knight Mustache

Bridget: I have several books coming out in 2021: Triceratopposites, illustrated by T.L. McBeth. It’s about a dinosaur that does the opposite of what his parents say. It’s a sequel to Stegathesaurus. There’s also Treemendous: The diary of a not yet mighty oak illustrated by Mike Ciccotello. It’s the story of an oak tree from acorn to tree. Santa Jaws comes out next. It’s a rhyming book about a Christmas shark. And, or course, the next installment in the Mustache Baby series: Goodnight Mustache Baby.


Win a FREE copy of Stronger Than Steel

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!


Bridget HeosBridget Heos is the prolific author of more than 100 books for children. Most are nonfiction. A former teacher and journalist, she lives in Kansas with her three sons, daughter, a basset hound and a cat.

To learn more about Bridget and her books, please visit  You can follow her on Twitter @bridgetheos

Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Disasters Alert!, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Her article: When Failure Is Not An Option: Connecting the Dots with STEM appears in the Nov/Dec 2021 edition of The Horn Book. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram