One Writer’s Journey

December 1, 2017

Strong Nonfiction: One Way to Nurture the Passions of Young Readers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:54 am
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Yesterday, I read a publishing blog about writing STEM steries to nurture girls to pursue their interests in STEM.  While I agree it is essential to nurture girls, I’d like to think of us nurturing all young learners.

Growing up in the 1970s, I was always encouraged to pursue my interests. My grandad was a mining engineer.  I had my own sample sack that I carried when we went on walks.  If I fancied a rock, I picked it up.  Back at home, I got a science lesson.

My father taught electronics at Ranken Technical Institute.  I helped him build a television when I was 7.  I know I was 7 because I was home from school with the chicken pox.  I helped him sort transistors and various parts and read the directions out loud to him.  That may not seem like much but let’s be real.  I was 7.

He encouraged me to do every science thing I ever wanted to do.  I built rockets.  I took chemistry and physics in school.

But I also embroidered and drew.  I read voraciously and absorbed history everywhere we went.  I remember being surprised, as an adult, the first time someone told me that girls my age had not been encouraged to study science.  The statistics back that up, but it was not my personal experience.

I was lucky.  My parents encouraged me to learn about what fascinated me.  A full range of topics were available but nothing was denied to me.  Nothing was forced on me.  Except ballet.  I do remember being coerced into take years of ballet.

Let’s definitely keep writing great STEM books.  But let’s also write great books about history.  And about the arts.  Let’s fill in the gaps and make an attempt to nurture all of our children.



September 13, 2017

In-search-of-ideas: Mining Everyday Mysteries at the Library of Congress

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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I get a wide variety of updates sent to my in-box and that variety includes the Library of Congress.  Not too long ago, I saw that the library had a series called “Everyday Mysteries.”

Take minute to check this out.  Although it is described as “Fun Science Facts from the Library of Congress,” there is a bit of history as well.  Not that it is divided into science and history.  Instead it is divided, more or less, by discipline.

Agriculture includes:

Biology includes:

The list goes on and on and includes Botany, Chemistry, Geography, Home Economics, Physics and more.  Follow the links, read the material and you could be set for ideas for well over a year.

Working my way back from the “Everyday Mysteries,” I quickly found Science Reference Services.  The home page of this division included a link to the new reference guide, “ENTOMOPHAGY: Human Consumption of Insects for Food.”  As with other LOC reference guides, this one includes an overview as well as lists of general resources and specialty resources on the topic.  Not interested in Entomophagy?  You can find a complete list of the guides here.

I also found a link to the science division blog, Inside Adams.  How is it that I’ve been reading the general blog for years as well as the Folklife blog but knew nothing about the science blog?  Sometimes I embarrass myself.

Any time you are in need of a science based idea to spur your writing forward, take some time to explore the Library of Congress.  In addition to digitizing historic materials, they are also constantly adding new offerings to help students, teachers, and writers find interesting material.

For more on the Library of Congress, check out this post on their teacher’s guides and other materials organized and made easily available for teachers.


April 4, 2014

Smart Media: Science in Fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:51 am
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I have to admit that I’m loving the smart media that I’ve encountered lately.  That’s not an official term but it’s what my son and I call movies, tv shows and books that have brainy characters and science or something else dreadfully academic.  And, in this case, dreadful is good.

What especially thrills me about the smart books that I’ve just read is that both of the main characters are girls.  Both girls have female main characters delving into science, specifically genetics, to solve a crime that everyone else believess is a coincidence.

In the first book, Kate Messner’s Wake Up Missing, the main character is receiving genetic treatments for a concussion and gets suspicious when another young patient fails to make an appearance.  Pair this with someone else’s radical personality change and an overheard phone call (No, we aren’t going to tell anyone that she’s developed a tumor) and she realizes that something is up.

In the second book, Janie Chodosh’s Death Spiral, the main character is the daughter of a heroine addict.  She knows her mother was clean when she died but everyone else thinks it is just wishful thinking.  Then mom’s best friend, also trying to get drug free, calls her and then disappears.  She realizes that the treatment uses genetic science to combat addiction but keeps pushing to find out more about the symptoms mom was showing in the end.

I love seeing these strong female characters and actual science in a work of fiction.  The first is middle grade and science fiction;  I know that some of what Messner proposes is possible but not all.  The second book is definitely YA; not only are the character’s in high school but there’s a lot more with the birds and the bees although it is all quite tame. Hey she’s dealing with heroine addiction, isn’t that edgy enough?  This one might be contemporary fiction but I’m not sure because I don’t know if all that the author proposes is currently possible.

What other books have you read that incorporate a serious dose of science?



December 7, 2012

What We Don’t Know about Science

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:35 am
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A lot of the nonfiction writers I know write science of various kinds.  Let’s just say that we all spend quite a bit of time kvetching about what our fellow U.S. citizens don’t know about science.  So, of course, when my friend Charlotte Mielziner posted this, I had to pick through it.

Wow.  We didn’t do great but I was expecting a lot worse.

Science writers.  We need them.  Thank you to everyone who does the hard work to get facts out there for young readers!



June 25, 2010

Writing Science

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:24 am
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I recently read two posts on the INK blog that have left me thinking about how we write science specifically, but nonfiction in general, for children.

The first was “Struggling with Academic Texts” posted by Melissa Stewart.   Stewart discusses:

  • The effect of No Child Left Behind on science teaching (it has reduced the amount of time given to science curriculum).
  • The resulting need to integrate science learning into language arts curriculum.
  • The fact that today’s students are struggling to read academic level texts.
  • That nonfiction texts for children today are farther removed than ever from academic texts.
  • Whether or not there is something superior in academic style writing when it comes to imparting fact or if it is simply the act of writing about something that helps solidify your thinking on it.

The second was “What’s Good for the Gosling. . .” posted by Susan E. Goodman.  Goodman discusses:

  • Her work teaching in Lesley University low residency MFA program.
  • An exercise she does with elementary school students where she has them rewrite an encyclopedic dry text on brown bats.  They worth through it based on facts in the original that each of them found fun or exciting and selecting a setting that invokes the feel they want the piece to have.  Choosing strong images and verbs are also part of the exercise.
  • Adapting this exercise for her MFA students.

What conclusions have I drawn?  Not many.  So far I have mostly hunches, thoughts and niggling bits, but they are:

Academic does not have to mean boring, but often academic writing is both dull and unclear.

I had a professor who insisted that half of the point behind how academics write was to intentionally “obfuscate the meaning, thus mystifying their power.”  IE, they were intentionally unclear because it makes them seem powerful.

Nonfiction of my youth was dull as dishwater but not academic.  So I’m not sure that I agree that what is published today is, by necessity, less academic.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it has very little to do with making it more interesting.  Kelly Milner Halls writes interesting nonfiction that also communicates the science very clearly.

I guess I do have a conclusion or two.  I think you can write scientifically accurate work that is interesting.  Making something interesting doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but it could mean using a word that an academic might not choose.  Not necessarily the wrong word, but my tenure isn’t riding on word choice.  Respect your reader.  Assume that they can understand complicated things.  You simply need to be brainy enough to find a way to explain it.  It may be fiction, but Douglas E. Richards explains the fourth dimension in Stranded.   It isn’t an academic text but I understood it at least in part.  Our goal should be to communicate accurate facts.  If we can make them entertaining as well, so much the better.

Thoughts?  Comments?


September 24, 2009

Science and Science Fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:20 am
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moonI’ve had the great fortune to be chatting with Doug Richards.  Doug  has a masters in molecular biology.

What does that have to do with writing?  Specifically with writing for kids? In addition to writing for National Geographic KIDS magazine, Doug writes science fiction.  He loved reading it when he was a kid and he wants to give young readers today great books that open up the world of science.

Doug must be doing something right because his books, THE PROMETHEUS PROJECT – TRAPPED and THE PROMETHEUS PROJECT – CAPTURED, have both been listed on Missouri State University’s list of Best New Books to Engage Students in Math and Science.  Check out the full 9 page list here .

For my part, I’m always impressed by authors who can combine fiction with a strong nonfiction element, who can teach without seeming to preach for their cause.  Check out some of the books on this list to see how these authors do it. Me?  I’m starting with a series called The Prometheus Project.

Still not convinced?  Considering that you are reading this, you might be interested in Doug’s article, “Once a Knight is Not Enough,” about the importance of the Web for science and education.  It is on the website of The Naked Scientists (a science radio program through England’s BBC.  You can also check out an interview Doug did for “This Week in Science.”  His bit starts at minute 31 on the podcast.

Read and listen and then think.  How can you pull your passions for the world around you into your fiction?


March 10, 2009

Writing Excellent Nonfiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:18 am
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Since it makes no sense to reinvent the wheel, instead of trying to write my own essay on writing nonfiction for kids, I’ll direct you to Fiona Bayrock’s piece, “Cool Science, Where Are You?” on the Charlesbridge blog. 

Fiona shares tips on how to make your science writing engaging and kid friendly, which generally also makes it just plain interesting.

Great job, Fiona!


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