Tag Archives: science

Interview and Giveaway with Science Author Patricia Newman

I’m so excited to welcome Author Patricia Newman to the MUF blog today. She writes SCIENCE books!  YAY!

Patricia (middle) is shown here with Lilian Carswell (L) and Brent Hughes (R).  Photo credit:  Elise Newman Montanino

 

Author Patricia Newman has written several titles that connect young readers to scientific concepts, including Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of a starred Kirkus review; Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Green Earth Book Award winner; Ebola: Fears and Facts, a Booklist Editors’ Choice selection; and the upcoming fall 2017 release, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. In her free time, she enjoys nature walks, the feel of dirt between her fingers in the garden, and traveling. She lives in Northern California with her husband.

Patricia is here to share her newest book,

Sea Otters: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem (Millbrook Press, 2017)

 

Why do you write science books? 

I like the way science connects to nearly all aspects of our world. For instance, in Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem I show kids how saving endangered predators can benefit our air, our water, and our food supply. In my opinion, for kids to be successful in the 21st century, they will need to become global citizens who look at the bigger picture. Science can help us do that.

 

How do you choose your subjects for your books?

In the case of Sea Otter Heroes, the subject chose me. I was invited to the David Smith Conservation Research Fellows Retreat in April 2015 by Chelsea Rochman, one of the scientists that I featured in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She thought her colleagues might be interested in learning more about communicating their research to children.

 

I conducted a day-long writing workshop, and somewhere in the middle, marine biologist Brent Hughes and his mentor Lilian Carswell (the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator with US Fish and Wildlife) approached me to see if I would be interested in writing about Brent’s sea otter discovery. He explained to me that he’d discovered a trophic cascade in which sea otters, the apex predator in an estuary off Monterey Bay, restored the natural food chain and healed the ecosystem so it could perform functions that benefit us. The more I spoke with Brent and Lilian, the more I liked the idea. Everyone thinks sea otters are adorable, and every kid knows about food chains, but Brent had found an amazing twist that most kids wouldn’t know about.

 

You seem drawn to eco-friendly topics. Is that something that you are passionate about? 

Yes, without a doubt. We have only one planet. It sustains us in so many ways. The ocean produces nearly 75% of our oxygen, it feeds us, and it entertains us. In a world where concrete is king, I think kids (and adults) benefit from getting closer to nature. In the current political climate, I want to persuade kids to love nature before they are corrupted by “alternative facts.” Caring is key because we protect what we love.

 

Tell us a little about how you do your research. How much time do you spend? What type of sources do you look for?

Nonfiction requires digging, and like my colleagues I dig through scientific journals, online sources, books, magazines, and newspapers. I also interview scientists conducting amazing research, and if I’m lucky I take a field trip to visit their labs. For Sea Otter Heroes, I spent a day on Brent’s research boat enjoying the sun on my face and the crisp ocean breeze, watching pelicans dive and sea otters crack open crabs with a rock. There are definitely worse jobs!

 

Why is back matter useful for readers?

As a researcher, I love back matter because it contains all sorts of gems. But for kids, I hope it extends the reading experience. When a novel or a fictional series ends, we have to say good-bye to beloved characters, but nonfiction science back matter lays more research, more videos, and more books within a child’s reach and encourages continued inquiry—the basis of all science.

 

Anything that you are working on that you would care to share? Other books that we can look for from you soon?

Photographer Annie Crawley (from Plastic, Ahoy!) and I team up again for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue (Millbrook Press, Fall 2017). We had a great time with this book, traveling to three different zoos, getting up close and personal with the animals, and fighting a fierce Colorado blizzard. The book features three endangered species—orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos—and shows how zoos protect them and their wild habitats. Annie and I are excited to introduce our readers to the three scientists that we interviewed. The two women and one man are amazing role models for kids.

For fall 2018, think elephants.

 

Do you do school and/or Skype visits? Why do you think these are helpful to students?

I visit schools in person or virtually every year. Author visits motivate kids to apply themselves to reading and writing. We introduce them to a variety of literature—some of which is bound to pique their interest. Authors also show kids what real revision looks like and that writing takes perseverance. I tell students that writing is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but even in the face of rejection I refuse to give up on myself. What child who shares a piece of writing with me or asks about writer’s block or struggles to put ideas on paper wouldn’t benefit from believing in him/herself?

If you want to learn more about Patricia’s books or just drop her a line, you can find her on Twitter @PatriciaNewman  or visit her website at http://www.patriciamnewman.com/  to check out some of her other amazing science books:  

 

 

 

 

It’s Time for a Giveaway!!    Patricia’s publisher, Millbrook Press/Lerner, has generously donated a copy of her Sea Otter Heroes book. For a chance to win, leave a comment below about your favorite animal!


Jennifer Swanson is an award-winning author of over 25+ science books for kids. Visit her at her favorite place to explore the world around her www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com

 

 

Picture Books and the Middle-Grade Reader

Think of picture books and often we envision a toddler on a parent’s lap, listening and pointing. Or a pack of preschoolers sitting criss-cross applesauce on a colorful rug, heads tipped up to see the pictures while their teacher reads aloud. Or maybe a first grader, sitting alone with a book, intently studying the words in a picture book, their eyes darting from picture to text and back again, making connections and feeling their confidence swell.

Oh, there’s usually no debate surrounding the place of picture books in the lives of the youngest readers and prereaders. But something often happens around second grade, somewhere around the time chapter books are mastered, and the role of the picture book is diminished, if not eliminated.

By the time readers reach the middle grades, picture books are often nonexistent or scoffed at. “You’re too old for that book,” I heard a parent tell a fifth or sixth grader at a bookstore. “You can read harder books than that.”

And, yes, I’m sure that young reader was perfectly capable of tackling longer texts, but picture books have so much to offer readers of all ages. Let’s take a look at some new picture books that middle-grade readers could not only enjoy, but that could spark a deeper level of learning and understanding.

pb older reader

Picture Book Biographies Picture book biographies are everywhere and can serve as an excellent visual and literary introduction to someone middle-graders may never encounter anywhere else..

pb william hoy story

The William Hoy Story: How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Jez Tuya, Albert Whitman, 2016.

pb to the stars

To the Stars!: The First American Woman to Walk in Space by Carmella Van Vleet and Kathryn D. Sullivan, Illustrated by Nicole Wong, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books to Address Social Issues  Civil and human rights issues such as homelessness, poverty, equal opportunities, or segregation can be difficult for the middle-grader to grasp, and yet these problems exist in their communities, families, and in the ever-present media. Often a picture book can open the door to discuss more complex topics at an appropriate level.

pb separate never equal

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, Abrams, 2014.

pb marvelous cornelius

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, Illustrated by John Parra, Chronicle, 2015.

Picture Book Origin Stories Older readers love to ask deep questions: Like where did doughnuts come from? and Who invented the super-soaker, and Why? Origin stories can inspire young inventors to dig deeper into science and become problem-solvers themselves.

pb Hole Story of Donut

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

pb whoosh

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Don Tate, Charlesbridge, 2016.

Picture Books for Content Areas  Math class is probably the least likely place you’ll find middle-graders reading picture books, but there are some great reasons to put picture books into the hands of young mathematicians. And scientists. And paleontologists. And astrophysicists.

pb boy-who-loved-math

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham,  Roaring Brook, 2013.

pb blockhead

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese, Illustrated by John O’Brien, Henry Holt, 2010.

Picture Books to Address Environmental Issues Upper elementary and middle schoolers hear phrases such as “global warming” and “our carbon footprint,” but explaining just exactly what these mean can be challenging. It’s likely they are already a part of a “reduce, reuse, and recycle” initiative, at school or at home. Picture books can help them understand how they might do more.

pb One_Plastic_Bag_Cover_Miranda_Paul1

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, Millbrook, 2015.

Picture Books as Art Study The youngest readers look at the pictures in a picture book. Older readers can study them. They can understand how illustration contributes to the story-telling, how a picture book is a visual experience as well as a literary one. Older students can discuss how the artist’s choice of style, media, and color palette create mood and pace. This can be done with every picture book, any picture, all picture books, fiction or non. But, I’ll leave you with one that makes me smile, and I think any middle-grader would smile after reading it, too.

pb maybe something beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell, Illustrated by Rafael López, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Michelle Houts is the author of four books for middle-grade readers. Her first picture book, When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike (Ohio University Press, September 2016) is the biography of Emma Gatewood, the first women to walk the Appalachian Trail alone in one continuous hike.

A scientific defense of science fiction

One day when I was growing up, over dinner at a friend’s house, his parents told me they’d read some of the stories I wrote for fun. They thought I had real talent. I might even be a published author someday — if only I would stop wasting my time with all those spaceships and aliens.

I know it was meant as helpful advice but still, I was caught unprepared. I had never before considered time spent reading or writing the stories I loved to be a waste of time. I had certainly never considered my favorite genre to be inherently inferior to “more serious books.” And I absolutely rejected the implication that books on speculative topics couldn’t be as well crafted as any others.

Heinlein, Clark, Asimov, L’Engle, Wells, Norton, Bradbury, and Verne were just a few of the luminaries who happened to not be sitting at the dinner table with us that night, so it was up to me alone to defend the honor and integrity of science fiction. But I was twelve or thirteen at the time, and just mumbled something into my spaghetti.

My favorite defense these days is to imagine that we have a time machine that we can use to visit the somewhat distant past, after the invention of fire but before wheels, airplanes, and smartphones.

When our Neolithic ancestors weren’t searching for food, fighting the elements, or fending off predators, they spent their free time asking questions about the world around them.

Question: How old is the world?

Our Neolithic ancestors could ask around, but not even the oldest of the tribal elders could remember back to the start of the world.

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: What is the world made of?

Our Neolithic ancestors could break chunks of stuff into tiny specks of stuff, but there was no telling what those specks were made of.

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: How far up does the sky go?

Our Neolithic ancestors could throw a rock upward from a hilltop or tall tree without hitting anything, or estimate the height of a soaring bird, so at least a little higher than that.

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: Why do things fall?

Our Neolithic ancestors could observe that things always fall downward when you drop them. Except when you catch and release a bug. So what do the bugs know that people don’t?

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: Where did all the animals and plants come from?

Our Neolithic ancestors were familiar with the wide variety of forms that life takes on Earth. Some forms were similar to others—were they designed that way? If so, by whom? Was the creation of life an ongoing process, with new kinds of plants and animals still sometimes popping into existence? There were no answers.

Answer: Nobody knows.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for our Neolithic ancestors to have so many fundamental questions about the world and so few definitive answers.

To fill the gaps, ancient peoples made up stories that were speculative but plausible, given the best-available contemporary understanding of science. Or to put it another way, every ancient culture on Earth independently developed the genre of science fiction.

These early sci-fi stories were told them around the communal fires and passed them down across the generations. They inspired the process of imagination, speculation, and experimentation that helped advance civilization forward to modern times.

Those stories presaged and created the modern world. So let’s look at those questions again, this time with all the collected knowledge of the Internet Age.

Question: How old is the world?

We now know that modern humans have been around for 200,000 years on a planet that’s 4.5 billion years old in a universe that’s 13.8 billion years removed from the Big Bang—but what happened before that? One leading scientific theory is that there was an era of cosmic expansion that took place before the Big Bang, but how far back in time does that go? And what, if anything, came before cosmic inflation?

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: What is the world made of?

We now know that all objects in our world are made of atoms that appear on the periodic table of elements, that those atoms are made of electrons that orbit a nucleus of neutrons and protons, and that those particles are made from quarks and other elementary particles. But can quarks break down even further? Are there additional elementary particles we haven’t found yet? What is the nature of the dark matter that makes up most of the matter in the universe? What is the nature of dark energy that makes up more of the universe’s energy balance than all the dark matter and baryonic matter combined?

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: How far up does the sky go?

We now know how far Earth’s atmosphere extends and the distances to the moon, sun, planets, and all the stars that we can see. We know that the observable universe extends 46.5 billion light years in every direction. But what lies beyond that? Does it go on forever? Does it wrap back on itself like the screens of an old arcade game? Do all parts of the universe have the same physical constants?

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: Why do things fall?

Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity explains a lot. Albert Einstein’s theory explains more, including the gravity waves that were only just confirmed in February, 2016. But is there a theory that explains everything we observe about gravity? Is there a particle that carries gravitational energy the way photons carry light? Is there a reason why gravity is so much weaker than the other fundamental forces?

Answer: Nobody knows.

Question: Where did all the animals and plants come from?

We now know about genes encoded in DNA, and that all the species we see evolved over billions of years from the same one-celled ancestor, but where did that first ancestor come from? How does non-life first become life? Were the elements of life seeded from space or did they arise entirely on Earth? How rare or how common is the development of life on other worlds in our galaxy and across the universe? Did life ever exist on Mars, or does it now exist elsewhere in our own solar system?

Answer: Nobody knows.

For all the progress we’ve made, we still can’t definitively answer any of these fundamental questions about the nature of our universe. We still have gaps to fill with stories that we now tell, now in books and new media, but still meant to be passed down across the generations.

Speculative fiction is still needed as much as ever to inspire the process of imagination, speculation, and experimentation that will take us forward to the next level of knowledge.

And that is why I’m still wasting my time with all those spaceships and aliens.

Greg R. Fishbone is the author of the Galaxy Games series of sporty science fiction from Tu Books and Spellbound River Press. This article first appeared on the From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors group blog in June, 2016.