Posts Tagged science

STEM Tuesday — Pests that Bug Us — Book List

Leeches, bedbugs, and plagues! These books focus on some of the plants, pests, and parasites that share our home and, in some cases, our body.

Bugged: How Insects Changed History by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton

This book is filled with “death, disease, and disgusting details…” There are bugs that swarm, bugs that devour crops, and bugs that transmit plagues. There are also stories about insects that have built entire industries (think: silkworms, honeybees). The author even provides a “TMI” warning for some sidebars, so squeamish readers can avoid the grossest (and coolest) stuff.

Itch!: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch by Anita Sanchez

To understand why things itch, we need to understand how skin reacts to stings and bites. This book includes the usual buggy suspects as well as plants with spines, needles, and poisons. Readers will learn how to identify poison ivy, how fleas leap, and how bedbugs talk to each other and they’ll find non-toxic alternatives for treatment.

Infestation! : Roaches, Bedbugs, Ants and Other Insect Invaders by Sharon L. Reith

Ants! Cockroaches! Bedbugs! To get to know these pesky invaders you’ll have to become an insect detective. This book shows how to follow the clues and fight back without reaching for the poison first. Text boxes include Invader Facts and cool extras.

Bizarro Bloodsuckers by Ron Knapp

Mosquitoes, lice, leeches … just thinking about these little bloodsuckers gives some folks the shivers. But these tiny vampires aren’t trying to be disgusting – like any other creature, they just want to live. Each chapter focuses on one kind of organism, including a couple that don’t bother people at all.

What’s Eating You? Parasites – The Inside Story by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton

You are a habitat to (potentially) more than 430 kinds of parasites! Text, accompanied by graphic panels, explores the lives of ticks, fleas, and other parasites that live on your body surface, the tapeworms, hookworms, and roundworms that live inside you, and some of the defenses your body uses against them.

Plagues and Pandemics (History Smashers) by Kate Messner

A mix of conversational text and graphic panels takes readers on a world-wide tour of the best-known plagues and pandemics from ancient times to our current era. Highlights include the black death, smallpox, cholera, polio, Ebola, SARS, and Covid 19. The final chapter explores how to prevent the next pandemic.

Micro Mania: A Really Close-Up Look at Bacteria, Bedbugs & The Zillions of Other Gross Little Creatures That Live In, On & All Around You! by Jordan D. Brown

The mantra of this book is: you’re never alone. It introduces the microbes that live on your arms and legs, and some of the pests that live with us. Chapters have light-hearted titles, such as “You and Trillions of Your Close Personal Friends” and topics include foot fungus, farts, and the five-second rule.

Inside the World of Microbes by Howard Phillips

After exploring the basics of genetics and a brief survey of microbiology and scientists from 1665 to 1970, the book explores the beneficial, detrimental, fascinating, and extreme characteristics of bacteria, archaea, protists, and viruses. Full of stunning photos, many microscopic, and diagrams, as well as further reading and a list of U.S. and Canadian organizations.

The Case of the Flesh-Eating Bacteria by Michelle Faulk, PhD

Using an investigator’s voice and side cameos of crime detective Annie Biotica, this engaging book establishes the symptoms (“crime”), the microbes involved (suspect), and the tests and treatments for flesh-eating bacteria, pinkeye, ringworm, chicken pox, and measles. It includes microscopic photos, diagrams, and three additional cases for the reader to solve.

Little Monsters: The Creatures That Live on Us and in Us by Albert Marrin

Detailed photographs of these “creatures” and their effect on our bodies, accompany a conversational discussion of mosquitoes, mites, fleas, lice, worms, and the parasites or hyperparasites (parasites of parasites) that inhabit them. And highlights many scientists whose dogged tenacity and experimentation enabled the discovery (and in some case treatment) of these parasites. A final chapter offers ways to avoid parasites.

Sick! The Twists and Turns Behind Animal Germs by Heather L. Montgomery, illustrated by Lindsey Leigh

Humorous comic illustrations pair with a light-hearted, engaging narrative to take a deep dive into bacteria, fungi, and viruses and the scientists who’ve discovered amazing things about them. In learning how chimpanzees battle worms and stomach distress, frogs and ants fight against fungi, and a gator’s blood cell’s kill bacteria, they are finding possible applications and startling examples of symbiosis. Throughout, a bespectacled brain in a baseball cap, the “word nerd,” offers definitions and explanations and tons of “fun facts” and “not so fun facts” sidebars add to the fun.

And don’t forget American Murderer: The Parasite that Haunted the South by Gail Jarrow, a scary tale about hookworms that we featured back in October.

This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich, author

Sue Heavenrich, who writes about science for children and their families on topics ranging from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Visit her at

Maria Marshall, a children’s author, blogger, and poet who is passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she watches birds, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at

STEM Tuesdsay– Award-winning STEM/STEAM Books– Interview with Sarah and Richard Campbell

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

Today we’re interviewing Sarah and Richard Campbell, creators of Infinity: Figuring out Forever by Astra Young Readers.


Infinity cover

This picture book is a fascinating look at the concept of infinity told in a way that resonates with young children. The Booklist review said, “….the authors take a complex abstraction and make it accessible to young readers through non-technical descriptions, relatable examples, and full color, original photos that effectively reinforce the text..

Bank Street Cook Prize Silver Medalist
Bank Street Best Book of the Year
Eureka! Nonfiction Silver Honor Award (California Reading Association)
Finalist, Bank Street College of Education Cook Prize
Texas Library Association Texas Topaz Nonfiction Reading List

 * * *

Christine Taylor-Butler: Before we get to your books, tell our readers a little about yourself:

Sarah Campbell: I was as journalist so I went to journalism school. I graduated from Northwestern and then got a Rhodes Scholarship to study in Oxford. I met Nelson who was ahead of me. When he graduated, he got a job in London while I finished my degree. After that he uprooted himself to move with me to Mississippi.

I worked for daily newspapers. Then stepped away from that when I had children. They’re grown now. My oldest, Graeme went to MIT and married an MIT grad. He’s a computer scientist. My middle child, Nathan, is the catalyst behind Nathan’s Pet Snails for Highlights. He just defended his PhD but credits that work for his success. My youngest son, Douglas, is a software engineer.

Richard Campbell: I’m Chief Financial Officer at a community development financial organization

CTB: How did you get into writing books for children?

Sarah: I wanted to continue to write, then found myself reading children’s books. I had 3 boys and this would allow me to keep writing but be involved with how my boys were learning about the world.

wolfsnail cover

I wrote about a predatory snail my son found in the backyard. Highlights asked if I would do a book on it. It took about 6 years to get the article to come out. But the book was out in about a year. It was a Theodore Seuss Geisel honor winner. So the publisher decided to do the Fibonacci book, then the Fractal book. The idea for Infinity came from the team, and I was reluctant because of the issues around finding the illustrations.

The photographs are really a huge part of what I do as a creator. There were certain children’s literature classes about how the pictures and words can’t stand alone. It’s not a simple matter of write a text and find stock images. It’s a marriage of the two. In the conceiving of the idea, you have to have both in mind.

Mysterious Patterns cover Growing Patterns cover






Christine: I really appreciate that Richard is so involved despite having a full-time job. Richard, how do you fit in the time to do your photographs and web design?

Richard: I’m a little bit of a tech geek. So the web design stuff were things I enjoyed playing with. On the photograph stuff, it was stuff they both enjoyed doing. Sarah would say, “we have to get the photographs done this weekend,” as she was working on the book. And there are many photos that didn’t make it into the book. We spent a whole weekend on a melon getting cut up, or an orange.

We drove up to find parallel lines. One weekend, we got up at the golden hour (sunrise). There’s an app called The Photographers Ephemeris which will tell you when the sun will rise anywhere in the world. I would find the straightest road in the middle of nowhere and use the ephemeris to find out when the sun would be rising. We chose Highway 61, north of Hollandale, Mississippi.

Infinity roadsideOne Saturday we got up at 4 in the morning and it was about 90 minute drive. We took a stepladder with us. There was not much traffic, but there was some. We put the stepladder in the middle of the road, then a car would come down and I’d have to climb down. I wanted to get as clear as possible. I was waiting for the cars to stop. and Sarah would yell “There’s a truck coming!”

Sarah: We made sure the photographs got done that weekend. One of the things that was really nice – he could schedule a job

CTB: Infinity was written for younger children. Was it difficult writing something so short?

Sarah: Some of the concepts in the main text had to be shifted to back matter. The back matter is a great way to extend the audience and that’s a place to put the enrichment. Writing about Infinity for the youngest readers is driving home the concept of “always one more.” It was tricky. We didn’t count the number of drafts we went through to nail the concept.

“Thinking about infinity is fascinating.

Send your brain in search of something that never ends.

See what comes to mind.”

One of my positions is that I’m not a mathematician. Some writers come at this as STEM and people assume I’m STEM too. But despite not having a math degree I had a really strong curiosity about math. I took calculus in college but it wasn’t my passion. Even so, because I’m so interested, I’ll read about it. I have a big bookshelf about math, infinity, patterns. So I have a drive, but it doesn’t come easily or naturally. My journalism background helps me explain it to a layperson: skills to read the books and dealing with a difficult concept and then finding a way in for a young reader.

Infinity sidewalk chalk pattern

CTB: So you’re not writing rhyming books or poetry.

Sarah: No. One of my commitments was that my books also be about math. Something a mathematician would recognize. I wanted to tickle the intellect and advance the conversation about patterns and math.

Casey students fractals

Students at Casey Elementary working on fractals.

For example, I can use the fractal book (Mysterious Patterns) to talk about a particular kind of shape at different scales. But when do we learn about the most basic shapes? We learn about circles and squares, cubes and cones. I was able to say, at the most basic level, that a fractal is a shape. I’m trying to find the prior knowledge a kid has to start explaining this new concept.


Kids love infinity and they think it must be something really really big. But the idea of having one more is not always about something being unlimited. I also handle the idea of, “it’s just beyond.” If you make infinite takeaways, for example, slicing the orange in the book.

Infinity was fun, but a lot of hard work. The idea of thinking about the things that kids think about when exploring infinity. I would say, “How would you photograph infinity?” and kids would talk about faith and stars.

CTB: Sometimes you create videos to go with your books.

Sarah: Yes, if you want to know about how we came up with the ideas for Infinity, we created an acceptance video for the 2023 Cook Prize awards because of Covid. The video handles a lot of the questions around how we settled on specific photographs. We took many that didn’t work and we explain why:

Click here for 2023 Cook Prize awards video

If you would like to learn about fibonacci numbers, try this trailer:

CTB: What are you doing now?

Sarah: I went back to full-time work 4-1/2 years ago. I’m not finding the same time to write. But this job has other rewards. I am now Deputy Director of Programs and Communication at the Mississippi Departmet of Archives and History. The department oversees the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History as well as other historic sites. It’s fun. There’s a lot of learning that goes into a new job and content area. I thought I knew the history of Mississippi but now it’s a crash course on the colonial period, the reconstruction era, etc.

I’m waiting for the muse to strike for my next book. I’m a little more realistic about my time now that I’m working. But if I’m struck by the right idea, I could see doing another book.

“Defining infinity is difficult.

But there is one thing people do every day that leads to infinity—counting.

No matter what large number you name, there is always a larger number.”

Highland Bluff Elementary


Sarah Campbell

Sarah C. Campbell is an award-winning author and photo-illustrator. Her critically-acclaimed first book, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator (Boyds Mills Press), was named a 2009 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book and made the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s 2009 Choices List. Her newest book, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, was published in March 2010. Her writing and photographs have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Highlights for Children, and Highlights’ High Five. Visit

Richard Campbell headshot

Richard P. Campbell is co-photographer with his wife Sarah C. Campbell of the acclaimed children’s nonfiction books Wolfsnail, Growing Patterns, and Mysterious Patterns, as well as the photographer of some of the photos in Infinity. During the day, Richard is chief financial officer for Gulf Coast Housing Partnership.


Author Christine Taylor-Butler

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, a graduate of MIT and author of The Oasis, Save the… Tigers, Save the . . . Blue Whales, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM based middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram. She lives in Missouri with a tank of fish and cats that think they are dogs.

STEM Tuesdsay– Award-winning STEM/STEAM Books– Writing Tips & Resources

What makes an award-winning book?

This month, we’re spotlighting award-winning STEM/STEAM Books. The selected titles are a diverse bunch, covering a variety of topics, book categories, and age ranges. Yet the books all have one thing in common — they have tapped into their creators’ curiosity and passion. These books reveal that an author’s connection to their topic can create some incredible nonfiction.

Author connections

What kind of connections do these award-winning authors have to their books? Let’s look.

Cover for Outdoor Schoo: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting

Tapping into personal interests: Jen Swanson, author of Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting said, “I grew up with a creek in my backyard and practically spent my entire childhood running around outside along the creek, climbing trees, tromping in the forest, and much more. Writing this book was awesome! because it helped me to relive my childhood in a lot of ways. (Read the full interview here.)

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, author of Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research, said something similar in her book’s author’s note: “Writing this book about wildlife scientists was a childhood dream come true.” In an interview with Lydia Lukidis, Pagel-Hogan recounted all the wildlife she brought home as pets as a kid.

Tapping into cultural identities: According to her website, Braiding Sweetgrass author Robin Wall Kimmerer is “a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.” Her book grew out of not just her professional background, but also her cultural background and indigenous beliefs about nature and our connection to it.

Tapping into curiosity. Sue Heavenrich, author of Funky Fungi isn’t a trained mycologist but tapped into her curiosity to write her award-winning book. Sue said, “My interest was piqued when I interviewed mycologist Kathie Hodge about an insect-infecting fungus for an article in a local newspaper. She took me on a fungus-looking walk, and showed me her workspace at her lab. That article never got published, but it made me think about fungi in a different way.” (Read the entire interview here.)

Funky Fungi book cover

Helping students connect to their writing topics

Students have the best chance of crafting high-quality informational writing when they connect with their essay topics. Here are some tips for helping your students forge connections.:

  • Whenever possible, give students a choice of informational writing topics, and encourage them to explore those they are most passionate about or interested in.
  • Help students explore who they are connected to: their families, communities, culture, schools, and more. A valuable tool for this is to construct Heart Maps, a tool created by Georgia Heard. You can learn more about Heart Maps and using them to inform student writing here.
  • As Sue Heavenrich’s experience shows, sometimes all it takes for students to connect with their writing is to provide some information about the topic to spark their curiosity. By definition, we have to know something about a topic to be motivated to learn more. You could spark student curiosity by providing nonfiction picture books to give a taste of a topic or by sharing primary source material like videos or historic photos. Ask students to write down what they notice, what they wonder about, and how they could learn more. (Read more about this process here.)

Informational writing on any topic can sing when writers can tap into who they are when they write.

This is an image of Kirsten Larson.

Kirsten W. Larson is the author of Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle). She also recently released, Reimagining Your Nonfiction Picture Book (Both/And) for adult writers. Kirsten lives with her family near Los Angeles. Find her on social media @kirstenwlarson or at