Summer is still here and you might be running out of activities for the young people in your life. Whether you are looking for projects to tie-in with your homeschooling curriculum or just want a fun STEM project to pass the time on a hot summer day, these titles will inspire you.
Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson
Try your hand at a Darwin-inspired activity with this book by Kristan Lawson. It’s a great title to pair-up with Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma.
Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kerrie Logan Hollihan
Activities are a great way to learn the principles of physics. Read this one with a snack of apple slices.
Awesome Snake Science! 40 Activities for Learning About Snakes by Cindy Blobaum
If the pandemic has changed your summer travel plans, discover some new places in the US and abroad with these two titles by Nancy Castaldo that include, STEM activities, folktales, and recipes.
Destroy This Book in the Name of Science by Mike Barfield
The Brainiac and Galileo editions of this series are meant to be literally pulled apart.
Smithsonian: STEM Lab by Jack Challoner
Readers will find 25 activities to excite their imaginations. Great illustrations accompany each activity.
Calling All Minds: How To Think and Create Like an Inventor by Temple Grandin
Learn from a master inventor through personal stories, acts, and inventions. Readers will come away inspired!
Recycled Science: Bring Out Your Science Genius with Soda Bottles, Potato Chip Bags, and More Unexpected Stuff by Tammy Enz and Jodi Wheeler-Toppen
Readers see how to recycle stuff around their homes and then use it for science projects and experiments. Entertaining and informative.
Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments by Jerome Pohlen
Learn all about one of the greatest inventors in history through text and 21 activities to try at home.
Alexander Graham Bell for Kids: HIs Life and Inventions with 21 Activities by Mary Kay Carson
Your cell phone may be lightyears away from Bell’s first phone, but his invention changed our lives forever. Find out more and try the great activities in the book.
Extreme Garage Science for Kids! by James and Joanna Orgill
If you followed the author’s You Tube channel, you’ll love the activities and projects in this book. Readers can try their hand at drawing on water, removing the iron from their Cheerios, and even more.
Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook
The title says it all. Inside this book is what students need to rock that chemistry class.
Also by Jennifer Swanson — Explore Forces and Motion! With 25 Great Projects and Bridges With 25 Science Projects for Kids
Get ready for some hands-on physics with these two titles from Nomad’s Explore Your World series.
STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by
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 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at www.nancycastaldo.com.
Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that empowers young readers to act on behalf of the environment and their communities. The Sibert Honor author of Sea Otter Heroes, Newman has also received an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award for Eavesdropping on Elephants, a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy!, and a Eureka! Gold Medal from the California Reading Association for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. Her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can use writing to be the voice of change. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com. Stay tuned for her upcoming Planet Ocean – spring 2021.
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 Bullard, author of We Need Sharks (The Animals Files). It’s a fascinating look into the mysterious life of sharks, the important role they play in Earth’s ecosystem and the conservation efforts underway to prevent their extinction.
Christine Taylor-Butler: Lisa, you are the prolific author of more than 100 books for children. In your bio, you suggest you found your calling when, as a 5th grade student, you sent a letter to the local newspaper about the plight of baby seals. What concerned you about the seals and how did it feel to see your name in print for the first time?
Lisa Bullard: Thanks so much for asking me to share my “origin story” as a published writer! The day that letter was published really was a life-changing day for me. Looking back, I don’t remember any of the details about why I wrote it—maybe it was a school assignment, or a suggestion from my mom, who was a huge animal lover? But what I do clearly remember is the huge feeling of pride that came with seeing my name in print and knowing that people all over town would read the words I’d written. I decided that day that I wanted to be an author when I grew up. I’d been writing since I could first sort the letters of the alphabet into actual words—I wrote stories, poems, songs, comic strips; I even attempted a mystery novel. But what changed for me with that 5th-grade publication was the understanding that writing isn’t just something we do to entertain ourselves. Writers also have readers! And writing as a career choice means we get to use words to persuade people to take action, or to learn something new, or to enjoy a good story.
As soon as I got home from school that day, I decided to practice being a “real” writer. In my 5th-grade brain, that translated to me deciding I needed a glorious signature full of swoops and swirls and curlicues. I was sure that when I became famous, I’d need a very distinct autograph. But as I now tell kids during my school visits, if your plan is to someday sign your name over and over, don’t make it complicated: instead, make it as simple as possible! It always takes me longer than it should to sign my books at events because my signature is way too fancy. Of course, as a grownup writer of very modest name recognition, I also find it funny that rather than practicing my story-writing to prepare for my writing career, my 5th-grade self instead decided to practice “being famous.”
CTB: You started your career as Marketing Director in publishing. Was it a tough transition to switch to the other side of the aisle and become a full-time author?
Lisa: A lot of what happens during the publishing process is mysterious to authors. I’ve also discovered that many writers are daunted by having to market their books. So I feel really fortunate to have an insider’s perspective on those things from my publishing career. There was an adjustment period, however. I was still working in publishing while my first couple of books were going through the publishing process (at a different publisher). Some authors are very demanding (just like there are demanding people in every profession, I’m sure). So when I first shared the news that I was going to have a book published, some of my coworkers looked a bit horrified, warning me not to become a “diva.” Hopefully I succeeded in avoiding that when I transitioned over to writing full-time.
CTB: So let’s talk sharks! My first introduction to them was in the movie, Jaws. After that I was scared to go back into the ocean. But your book, We Need Sharks, shows their importance to Earth’s ecosystem. What lead you to write about them?
Lisa: My books have come about in different ways. In some cases, I’ve dreamed up a concept, written a manuscript based on that, and been fortunate enough to sell it to a publisher. As an example, that’s how my mystery novel Turn Left at the Cow came about. But in the case of many of my nonfiction books, including We Need Sharks, the process has been different: they were work-for-hire projects assigned by educational publishers. That means that I have a working relationship as a freelance writer with publishers or packagers who focus on the kinds of books that are especially popular in school libraries. They identify a need in their marketplace, and then approach writers with a concept for a book or series based on that need. If I agree to take on the project, then my job is to write the book based on their guidelines, which specify details such as the key idea, reading level, word count, back matter, and kind of research expected. The process is different than when I come up with the concept myself, but I’ve discovered it can be really satisfying. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together, having to figure out how to meet all the guideline demands while still creating a book I hope kids will love to read.
The good news is that this process feeds my personally inspired book projects as well. I always learn so many fascinating things about the subjects I write about, and those facts often lead to new writing projects! In fact, a big inspiration for Turn Left at the Cow was an animal called the walking catfish. I stumbled across it while researching a nonfiction series. This strange creature manages to survive out of water, and it provided a fantastic metaphor for my fictional character, a kid who feels very much like a “fish out of water.”
CTB: Was there anything that surprised you while researching your book?
Lisa: Probably the biggest surprise for me in writing We Need Sharks was something I hadn’t thought about prior to writing this book, and that’s how tough it is for scientists to research ocean animals. They’re difficult to study for reasons that are now obvious to me. That’s why oceans remain a frontier of science.
CTB: You suggest that some shark species are “top predators” which means other animals don’t hunt them. The exception is human beings, is that right?
Lisa: Even great white sharks, the fearsome creature that epitomizes sharks for many people, are sometimes preyed upon by orcas. But generally, yes, sharks are much more likely to be the predator than the prey—with the notable exception of their interactions with humans, when sharks are much more often the prey.
CTB: Now the United Nations is working with countries to create shark sanctuaries to protect them from extinction. Are those measures working?
Lisa: Shark sanctuaries are just one of the measures people are taking to protect sharks. For example, there has also been important progress in educating people about and regulating against the practice of shark finning. But as I mentioned above, ocean animals are difficult to study in the wild, and that makes it hard for scientists to measure current shark populations—which means we don’t know the whole story about whether preservation measures are working.
CTB: Were you able to consult with experts when researching the book?
Lisa: Talking to subject experts has provided some of my most interesting research moments over the years. For example, I was able to talk with a crane operator when I was researching a book about construction cranes, and he gave me the best quote ever: he said that the crane operator is known to the rest of the construction workers as the “king of the sandbox.”
But as was the case with We Need Sharks, work-for-hire deadlines are often very tight, and there’s simply not enough time built into the process to track down interview subjects and conduct interviews. In those cases I make sure that the research materials I use are sources created by experts, such as museums, universities, and research institutions. Fortunately in some cases, editors have subject experts review my manuscripts to make sure that I’ve gotten the facts right. I’m always grateful when that’s the case, as it was for We Need Sharks.
CTB: I often tell students that our jobs as writers are very similar to their work on homework assignments. You open the book with such a powerful paragraph to pull the reader in. What would you like children/students to know about writing engaging nonfiction?
Lisa: Because the books I write are often for very young readers, many of them are also very short. That means that there just isn’t room for me to fit in all of the facts I learn through my research about the topic. So I’ve come up with two basic rules to determine what information to include. First, I figure out what I think a reader must know to gain a true basic understanding of the topic. Then I decide on a couple of “fun facts” to include—the kind of things that aren’t the most critical pieces of information, but that are real attention-grabbers. These high-interest facts move readers into “discovery mode,” where they’re excited to learn. I hope that combination helps readers absorb all the information I’m presenting and be motivated to learn even more. So for all the student authors out there, I believe our job as writers is to inspire readers to actively wonder about the world!
This also means that my friends and family are used to me testing random facts in the middle of dinner to see if those facts are, indeed, attention-grabbing; like “Did you know stock car drivers have to climb in through the window because there are no doors?” Or, “Did you know that scorpions glow a neon-aqua color under ultraviolet light?”
CTB: What’s up next for you? Any books on the horizon we should be looking out for?
CTB: Lisa, thanks for being such a great guest on STEM Tuesday and for providing pearls of wisdom for writers of all ages wanting to peek behind the curtain of our industry.
Thanks for talking with me, Christine, and thanks, everyone, for sharing today’s Writing Road Trip with me! I hope that you’ll be inspired to keep reading, keep writing, and keep wondering!
Win a FREE copy of We Need Sharks
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!
Lisa Bullard is the author of more than 100 books for children including nonfiction, fiction, and writing guides. Recent books include We Need Bees, Tides, and the Go Green series. Her book Turn Left at the Cowwas nominated for a number of state reader awards and was chosen as a Junior Library Guild selection. To learn more visit Lisa at https://www.lisabullard.com and follow her on Facebook.
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 Sally Walker, author of this month’s featured botany book, CHAMPION: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree. Among its favorable reviews is one from Kirkus, calling it, “A compelling, inspiring true story of a species rescued from extinction through decades of determined innovation.”
Mary Kay Carson: Why did you write Champion?
Sally Walker: I’ve known part of the American Chestnut tree’s story since I was in high school. My biology teacher assigned a leaf collection project. We could only include trees native to New Jersey, where I lived. Any tree was okay, with the exception of the American Chestnut tree, because, he said, it was extinct. My father, however, knew that wasn’t true. It turned out that American Chestnut tree was my dad’s favorite type of tree. And he knew they were not extinct: Their roots still survived in New Jersey forests (and in other states) and gave rise to new sprouts. These saplings grew for 10 or so years, and then succumbed to the chestnut blight. Even so, the roots continued to send up more sprouts. My dad and I visited a forest not too far from our home. A half-hour trek into the woods, and we found a chestnut sapling. I was thrilled to be able to add one of its leaves to my leaf collection project.
There’s nothing I enjoy more than a good mystery, and the story of the American Chestnut tree is like a Russian Matryoshka doll: mystery within mystery within mystery. I channeled my inner Nancy Drew and hoped readers would join me as I hunted for clues. Clues that would explain why American Chestnut trees died, and clues that would lead to a solution that would restore the trees to health. I wrote the story for people, young and old, who, like me, enjoy spending time outdoors. Who like wondering about the natural world. And who listen to the songs that trees sing.
Sally M. Walker has brought science to life in more than 20 books for young readers, including Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and Blizzard of Glass. Her research has seen her corresponding with experts in archaeology, geology, forensic anthropology, and genealogy, interviewing scientists, and touring the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, where she saw the H.L. Hunley and her artifacts. Walker lives in DeKalb, Illinois. sallymwalker.com
MKC: Could you share a memorable moment—or two—from your research for Champion?
Sally: My most thrilling chestnut experience occurred while I was visiting England. Castanea sativa, the European Chestnut, thrives there. The massive trunks of several-hundred-year-old chestnut trees are unbelievable. Seeing them—and hugging one—let me imagine how very majestic the American Chestnut trees growing in our forests had been before the blight killed them.
When I first walked into the American Chestnut Foundation’s orchards, in Virginia, I was astounded to see many hundreds of young chestnut trees. Healthy, lush with leaves. A flash of blue caught my eye—an indigo bunting landed in one of the larger trees. I felt as though I’d entered a magic kingdom. AND THEN I LEARNED HORRIBLE NEWS! The team I was working with would be inoculating the young trees with the fungus that gives American Chestnut trees the blight. Some of the trees we inoculated would have some resistance to the blight, but most of them would die. But I did my job, knowing that the young trees that lived would become parent trees for new blight-resistant generations.
MKC: Did you set out to write a STEM book?
Sally: I don’t choose to write STEM books. I write about what interests me. Finding fossils and cool rocks. Watching insects, animals, and fish. Understanding how a submarine rises and sinks. When I am gardening, using a stick and a small rock to help me shift a larger rock to a new place. I guess most people would say this is science—the “S” in STEM. But for me it’s simply the way I was raised. My parents encouraged me to ask question, exploring the world to find answers, and experiment. To use my mind and imagination.
I have a college degree in geology and archaeology, but that was from before the term STEM was invented. I studied those areas because they are incredibly fascinating and fun, full of puzzles and mysteries. What I love about STEM is that it shows kids that science, technology, engineering, and math are interrelated. As they learn, students can draw connections among the fields and see how each part affects the other, often in a way that relates directly to some aspect of her or his life. STEM creates a network.
MKC: Any recommendations for readers who enjoyed Champion?
Sally: Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet by Nikki Tate and Treecology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Trees and Forests by Monica Russo are nonfiction, while End of the Wild by Nicole Helget and Wishtree by Katherine Applegate are fiction.
Win a FREE copy of CHAMPION: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree!
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.
Your host this week is fellow tree freak Mary Kay Carson, author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson
From the Mixed-Up Files is the group blog of middle-grade authors celebrating books for middle-grade readers. For anyone with a passion for children’s literature—teachers, librarians, parents, kids, writers, industry professionals— we offer regularly updated book lists organized by unique categories, author interviews, market news, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a children's book from writing to publishing to promoting.