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 Rosemary Mosco, author of Science Comics: Solar System: Our Place In Space. This hilarious STEM-filled graphic novel starts in the imagination of its two character, Sara and Jill who design the spaceship “Unbored.” It is crewed by their intrepid pets, Riley, Fortinbras, Pepper and Mr. Slithers. The science is both approachable and decodable for even the most reluctant reader. It’s a must-have for classrooms looking to expand their libraries.
“…Like having a Time Life Science Library in comic books. Which is awesome!” —Popular Science
Christine Taylor-Butler: Rosemary, you grew up in Ottawa, Canada surrounded by nature. I love that you say you can walk into the woods and find 20-30 hilarious things to use as comic prompts. But how does that work if the subjects are far away in the solar system?
Rosemary Mosco: That’s a good question. I’m trained as a naturalist and science writer, but not as an astronomer. At first, I was nervous about tackling this subject matter. But then I realized that my background made me a good choice for this book – I’m already so enthusiastic about science, and I’m trained to explain complicated concepts in simple terms. So, every fact and discovery I shared was something I took pains to fully understand, and something that I’d found honestly exciting as a layperson! The key is enthusiasm, I think, and the rest just follows.
CTB: The graphic novel is filled with fun but factual information about each planet as well as the sun. It might surprise readers to know there is as much science in this book as more traditional nonfiction for kids. How long did it take to do the research? Any fun fact left on the cutting room floor?
Rosemary: I can’t remember how long the research took me, but it was many months! I think I would have loved to dive deeper into the possibilities for life on other worlds. My background is in biology, so that’s what gets me really excited – where we might find life, and what it would look like! The recent discovery of possible life in the Venusian clouds just fired off my imagination in all sorts of ways.
illustrator: Jon Chad
CTB: You are known for your humorous field guides but for this book you collaborated with illustrator, Jon Chad. Was it hard to come to a meeting of the minds on the finished product?
Rosemary: Jon Chad is both a consummate professional and just an overall funny, nice person. We were friends right away. His attention to detail is incredible! I really felt like we built this book together, passing ideas back and forth. I think that’s the best way to make a comic book.
CTB: The two girls are named for two real life women scientists, Sara Seager an astrophysicist and Dr. Jill Tarter an astronomer. What lead you to those women as inspiration?
Dr. Sara Seager
Dr. Jill Tarter
There are so many amazing women scientists in the world, but most people can only name one or two scientists, and they tend to be men. I wanted to highlight these two remarkable people. Sara Seager spends her time discovering planets outside of the solar system. That’s her JOB. How amazing is that? Jill Tarter has spent her life tirelessly questing for intelligent life from other planets. Why don’t we give TV shows to these women?
CTB: One of the characters is a person of color. Was it a conscious decision to make the book more inclusive?
Rosemary: That’s a good question. Unless I’m specifically trying to convey a particular message, I leave elements like character design up to my artists. I like to give them as much freedom and creative space as possible, and I scan their art to try and figure out what they want to draw, so I can make the script just as much theirs as mine. Jon drew the character that way and I thought it was a great choice. Anyone can be a scientist. We need to break down the barriers that prevent everyone who wants to be a scientist from achieving that dream.
CTB: You’ve said that if you could go anywhere in space, you would travel to Jupiter’s Moon, Europa. Why that location?
Rosemary: That’s such a good question. The moons of our solar system are, in my opinion, so much more amazing than our planets! Europa is fantastic, with a front seat view of beautiful Jupiter. It’s the smoothest object in the whole solar system. It’s covered in a beautiful cracked crust of frozen water. Under that ice is, very probably, an ocean. I love to imagine what creatures swim beneath the ice.
Caño Cristales Photo by Moterocolombia
CTB: I think I’m in love with another of your books, Atlas Obscura, which was on the NYT’s bestseller list. It’s filled with wonderfully quirky facts about the world. Which of the locations surprised you most when researching
Rosemary: It’s so hard to choose. I’d probably say Colombia’s Caño Cristales, this sun-soaked, rainbow river that’s colored red and green by plants found nowhere else. It’s beyond beautiful. I’ve never been to Colombia and I really, really want to visit this river someday.
CTB: In preparing for this interview I found myself distracted by the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Science Theory videos (BAHFest). They were hilarious. You were a judge in 2019. Was there a specific bad science theory that stood out? What bad hypothesis would you love to present if you were a contestant. (Side note – I really REALLY want that trophy!)
There were so many good presentations at that event! I remember Jerry Wang’s proposal
for a naval warship transported by chickens. It had so many sly jokes. This event is wonderfully ridiculous. If I could be a presenter, I’d probably want to present something about urban nature. Maybe I’d argue that pigeons distract city-dwellers from the overwhelming ennui of existence?
CTB: Your humor and art gives people so much joy. Any advice for budding artists in the classroom who might see your work and be inspired to create their own?
Rosemary: Do it! Find something funny, sketch out a comic, and make one! You have your own unique perspective, humor, and talent, and the world would love to see what you make. You can change the world without being serious all the time. There’s space for humor in activism and change.
CTB: Is there anything new coming out that we should keep our eyes out for?
Rosemary: I’ve got a picture book about butterflies coming out in April, 2021 through Tundra. It’s called Butterflies Are Pretty… Gross! and it’s a book about how butterflies are more than just pretty – they’re also ecologically fascinating and disgusting! I have a few other books on the horizon, too. Stay tuned!
Win a FREE copy of Science Comics: Solar System.
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.
Rosemary once drew a poster showing every snake in North America. It took six months and the help of six herpetologists.
She credits her pet birds for helping her write by taking the keys off her keyboard and pooping on the floor.
“I learned early on, if you attach a joke and you make it funny enough to pretty much any fact in the universe, people will share it just because of the joke, and then the facts will tag along and people will learn things….” Rosemary Mosco
Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT nerd and author of Bathroom Science, Sacred Mountain: Everest, Genetics, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM inspired middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and/or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram