Posts Tagged Mary Losure

STEM Tuesday Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them – In the Classroom

Cool Inventions and the People Who Create Them

For this In the Classroom feature, I’m taking a broad view of the idea of “invention,” and including similar processes, such as discovery (science) and engineering, although each is unique.I’ve also tried to give a broad range of possible activities–some of them hands-on STEM experiences, others more literary, imaginative, or whimsical, to help you ignite the type of passion and curiosity that your students will be reading about in this month’s books.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMind Your (and Your Students’) Metaphors
You can explore metaphors and our perceptions of discovery, while learning about a whole range of innovators, with Joyce Sidman’s Eureka! Poems about Inventors (illustrated by K. Bennett Chavez).

Especially with older students, you can begin by conducting the survey described and discussed in Kristen C. Elmore and Myra Luna-Lucera’s work, article, “Light Bulbs or Seeds? How Metaphors for Ideas Influence Judgments About Genius,” which examines how specific metaphors about discovery influence our perceptions of the not just of the process, but, perhaps surprisingly, of the discoverers and value of their achievements. After students respond to the survey (resources are provided in the article), let them in on the whole study and discuss their own responses in light of the researchers’ findings.

Then crack open Eureka! While enjoying the poems and thinking about the inventors, also of looking for the ways in which design, discovery, and invention are portrayed. In any poem, does Sidman seem to see the inventor’s experience as  a “light bulb moment” (as the book’s title suggests), or as a process of  “nurturing seeds?” Perhaps something else? Overall, does Sidman’s view of invention seem to favor one metaphor or the other? (Keep in mind that you can continue this discussion with respect to other books from this month’s list.)

Of course, after students read the stories in Eureka! it makes perfect sense for them to write their own poems about:

  • Their own experiences of discovery or engineering insight
  • Other innovators featured in this month’s books–Elon Musk or Isaac Newton, for example.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgDream Big—Really Big (and Then Maybe Engineer Something)

Readers of Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk & the Quest for a Fantastic Future will surely notice something that really makes Elon Musk stand out: his mission-driven ambition.

This guy dreams big.

Many people– including engineers and inventors–hope to make the world a better place; Musk wants to save humanity. This kind of high-impact calling can be a great motivator for future engineers and other innovators. Capitalize on the excitement of the Musk’s vision with one or more of these ideas:

Encourage Daydreaming!

  • Invite your students to take a cue from Musk and envision something that would be really important to the well-being of people around the world. Begin a discussion with a grand question: If you could invent anything to make the world a much better place for everyone, what would you invent?


  • Follow through with a brainstorming session around this question, encouraging students to think about ideas that might not seem realistic or possible right now. (If the class has already read the book, you can remind students that Musk’s ideas might not have seemed feasible at first, and, in fact, that lots of people have scoffed at his ideas.)


  • Keep a running dream-list posted in the classroom and return to it from time to time. Invite students to keep “Dream Books,” where they focus on one or two ideas (or more) and write and sketch about how the dream might become a reality through some technology.


  • You can expand on this idea by holding your own school version of the National Academy of Engineering’s “E4U” contest—minus the $25,000 grand prize– which (apparently) was last held in 2016. While the national contest is not open now, students can follow the contest rules to create 1-2 minute videos that aim to highlight a mega-engineering project related to one of their big dreams and, in the words of the contest guidelines, “expand the way people think about engineering and how it is involved in solving large-scale global challenges.” Check out winning entries, guidelines that you can use or adapt, and an explanatory (if outdated) video at the E4U contest site. Whether you run this as a contest or a showcase, this is a creative way to help students connect to Musk’s work and the importance of STEM in our world

Join Musk on His Mission (Sort Of)

For a more concrete experience, lead your students through engineering projects with connections to SpaceX rockets and Tesla’s electric cars, such as those featured in these resources from Design Squad Global:

Musk is all about the future. But there’s plenty of excitement in the past. Just check out the likes of Isaac Newton, whose experiences can add a bit of magic to how we think of early science and engineering.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgExplore a Little Magic with Isaac Newton

From the outset of Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d, author Mary Losure explains to readers that in Isaac Newton’s time, some of what we now understand through science, such as chemical reactions and optical effects,  seemed a lot like magic.

They still do.  Have fun with this idea and explore the magical effects of our everyday world!


  • Adapt additional resources to create inquiry-based, surprising, and delightfully magical lessons. (Notes: I named these activities to spice things up; you won’t see these activity names in the resources. Also, see the safety reminder, below.)

Spirit Writing?

Cast a Colorful Spell (magic trick begins at about the 7-minute mark)

Cast a Colorful Spell 2

Refraction Action: Disappearing Coin

Liquid Refraction Action 2: Liquid Invisibility Cloak!

Vanishing Glass (See Item 1 in the linked resource.)


  •  Finally, to continue the science-is-magical theme, and for a bit more fun and a creative literacy extension, you might have students write and perform scripts for a magic show, each student team building a story or act that uses one of the chemical reactions to create the “magic.”

As I find every month when I contribute to STEMTuesday, the books on the list inspire many more lesson ideas than space will allow. What inspires you? Leave a comment sharing new ideas or comments on what you see here!

*Safety Reminder: The magic/science activities are generally safe, but in the classroom, you should always be sure to follow the guidelines for safety and for modeling safe use of all chemicals. Check with your local science curriculum coordinator or the National Science Teachers Association Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops.

portrait of author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofanoSTEM Tuesday–In the Classroom contributor, author, and STEM education consultant Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano writes about science and technology/engineering for kids.  Running on Sunshine: How Does Solar Energy Work? –a book for early readers released this month–celebrates the innovative spirit and challenges behind engineering solar technologies, and received a starred review from Kirkus.

Indie Spotlight: The Red Balloon, St. Paul MN


Sue Cowing for MIXED-UP FILES:  Since it’s founding twenty-eight years ago, the Red Balloon Bookshop  ( has become famous among writers and readers as a top-notch children’s book store.  Today we’re talking with the shop’s new owner, Holly Weinkauf.

MUF:  Minneapolis-St. Paul must be a community of readers to sustain so many bookstores!  What is the Red Balloon’s particular appeal to those readers do you think?
HOLLY: Red Balloon Bookshop is in Saint Paul.  Even though Minneapolis – Saint Paul is really one big city, people who live here have strong neighborhood loyalty.  And fortunately we are in a community that supports the arts and literature and supports local businesses.

screenshot_684We are in a beautiful and very walkable neighborhood (when it’s not below freezing!) We provide great storytimes, author events and many other fun ways to engage kids and grown-ups with books.Our customers know they can come here to discover new books or find old favorites.  They know that when they come in we will be happy to help them find what they are looking for, make suggestions, and have a great conversation with them about books or anything else.  Everyone at Red Balloon loves connecting people of all ages with books.

MUF: What was it like to take over the reins of such a well-known and beloved shop?  What plans do you have for its future?
HOLLY: Exciting and a bit overwhelming.  I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn.  When I became the owner I knew and still know this is what I want to be doing.  Red Balloon is a combination of all of my passions – books and stories, children, families, community and small independent business.

A Hobbit celebration

A Hobbit celebration

While Red Balloon is well known and has strong community support, I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t know about us. Usually those are people who are new to the Twin Cities. One of the things we’ve been working on is letting people know we are here, reminding people we are here, and letting them all know that we have new energy at the store.

I’m excited to build on the strong bookstore community that Michele Cromer – Poire and Carol Erdahl began 28 years ago.  Red Balloon will continue to be a welcoming and inspiring place for everyone who loves children’s and YA books.


RAVEN BOYS and their girl fans, with author Maggie Stiefvater

MUF: What do customers see and experience when they walk into The Red Balloon?  On the days between events, the browsing days, how do you go about connecting customers with books they will love?
HOLLY: We make a point of welcoming everyone who walks through our door.  We have a well -lit and colorful space with fun displays.  To connect people with the right books, we talk with them and we have shelf talkers and displays highlighting particular books for certain readers.  When a regular customer comes in, we often know what sorts of things he or she will like and we can show them what’s new.  We also send out a monthly newsletter with our events and a few book reviews and we connect with people on Facebook and Twitter sharing interesting book related info.screenshot_677

MUF: How do you “curate” the books you sell in your shop?  What do you keep an eye out for?
HOLLY: This is something we’re constantly working to get a better handle on.  We look at each section, what’s selling and what’s not, what do we have too much of what do we need more of…. and what do we know our customers like.


William Alexander reads from GHOULISH SONG

MUF: We’re authors, so we just have to ask: what titles, fiction or nonfiction, do you and your staff most often recommend these days to middle-graders who come to The Red Balloon?
HOLLY: All of us who work at Red Balloon have our favorites and what we recommend changes depending on who we’re talking to and what’s new.  But most recently we’ve enjoyed selling William Alexander’s books.  Not only is his story a great story, a debut local author wins the National Book Award, but all of us at the store who’ve read Goblin’s Secret and Ghoulish Song have really enjoyed them.

MUF: Over the years, some of the most exciting children’s authors have appeared at The Red Balloon, and many of their books have made their debuts at your shop. In a few weeks you’ll be hosting the launch of an exciting new book of novel-like nonfiction called Wild Boy by Fairy Ring author Mary Losure, right?

WILD BOY publication party, Saturday April 13th at 2 pm.

WILD BOY publication party, Saturday April 13th at 2 pm.

HOLLY: We are definitely looking forward to celebrating Mary Losure’s book!  Events like these are another way we help connect people with books and have those terrific book related conversations.  Amy Oelkers, our Events Coordinator, does a great job of adding something special and unique to each of our events.

I truly enjoy the events we do with local authors and illustrators. It’s great to see grown-ups and kids excited about our local talent (we have a lot!) The local authors and illustrators often have a number of family and friends who come to the events and that definitely adds to the community feel of Red Balloon.

MUF: What are your plans for World Book Night, April 23rd?  What other organizations and community events does The Red Balloon get involved in?
HOLLY: We have a few givers who pick up their books at Red Balloon and we will have a reception for them.  We partner with many, many community organizations throughout the year.  This month we worked with an organization called Success Beyond the Classroom for an amazing “Young Authors” conference.  In April we will be working with the Minnesota Youth Reading Awards to promote the Maud Heart Lovelace Award.

MUF: We encourage our Mixed-up Files readers, especially those who live in towns without an independent bookstore, to make children’s bookstores a day-trip destination.  For those visiting The Red Balloon from out of town, are there family-friendly places nearby where they can get a bit to eat after browsing?  Anything else unique in the neighborhood they should be sure to see?screenshot_671
HOLLY: We are in a terrific day-trip destination neighborhood. Our beautiful, historic neighborhood has lots of great shops.  Bread & Chocolate is a few doors down from us with sandwiches, cookies, coffee, etc. Grand Ole Creamery is nearby for ice cream, Tru Berry for yogurt, and Creative Kids Stuff for toys.  You can learn more about our shopping district at

Downtown St. Paul is just a few minutes away with both the Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

MUF:  Thank you so much, Holly, for taking the time to visit and answer questions about your shop.  Readers, have you been to The Red Balloon? heard about it? think you’d like to go?   Please leave comments here for Holly  and other readers and/or share some children’s bookstore experiences.  Notice I don’t have to say independent children’s bookstores, because they’re all independent!


Sue Cowing lives in Honolulu and is the author of the puppet-and-boy novel YOU WILL CALL ME DROG (Carolrhoda 2011, Usborne UK 2012)