Nic Stone is a New York Times Best Selling Author whose work I first experienced when I read her debut YA novel, Dear Martin in 2017. It became a book of my heart. One that I spoke of and shared widely because, for me, Justyce McAllister was just like my son and through its pages, Dear Martin echoed the cries of my heart for social justice and change. That’s what Nic does. She has a way of telling a story that pulls the reader in deep, to the point where they are fully engrossed as the journey unfolds; making the reader an intimate friend living out the experience alongside the characters.
In Clean Getaway the reader gets to buckle up as a passenger aboard G’ma’s RV with her grandson William “Scoob-a-Doob” Lamar, as the two venture off on an impromptu road trip with a grip of money, a treasure box, and a whole lot of family secrets. They’re sort of off the grid and William’s Dad grows more worried by the hour but G’ma is on a mission, crossing multiple state lines to see it through to the end. Along the way, Scoob learns about the Green Book and how it was once used to help keep Black travelers safe. They visited the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, made a stop by Medgar Evers home in Jackson, Mississippi, and made it as far as Texas before anyone could ever catch up to them. It may not have entirely been the clean getaway that G’ma was hoping for, but it was a trip that William “Scoob-a-Doob” Lamar would never forget.
Nic Stone nails Middle Grade and I am grateful to Jason Reynolds for inspiring her to go for it. Clean Getaway is relatable, funny, and heart-warming. The relationship G’ma and Scoob shared made me smile. I also appreciated the historical nuggets that are peppered throughout for our students to glean from. The chapters are short and at only 223 pages, it is the perfect length. Some Middle Grade books can be incredibly long and while there are many students who do borrow lengthy books from our library, most of my students are inclined to pick up the shorter reads. And with the cover art and interior illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile, this is the sort of book that they will be compelled to pick up. I will quickly add this book to our collection for our students to enjoy.
Christina Carter is an Elementary School Librarian (K-5), Wife to a Most Magnificent Husband, and Mother to 3 Beautiful teen and young adult Blessings, and yes, she loves to read!
The 2019-2020 school year represents her 7th year serving as a school librarian (Library Media Specialist); spreading the love of reading, encouraging exploration and discovery through research, and engaging students in lessons that spark their creativity. When she think back to her childhood, these elements were what made the library a very special place for her. She believes it is a launchpad by which we get to discover and pursue our dreams. Every day that she opens a book, she opens up a world of possibility.
Christina is active on social media (mostly Twitter & her blog) and is a member of #BookExcursion, a group of educational leaders who read, review, and promote books through social media and in their communities with an express purpose of sharing their love of reading with the families they serve. You can find her on Twitter at @CeCeLibrarian.
Hi Lee! I really appreciate you stopping by MG Book Village today to tell us about your upcoming book, THE GUARDIANS OF ZOONE (release date: Feb 25, 2020). I’m a HUGE fan of this series, but for those who aren’t familiar with the first book, THE SECRET OF ZOONE, can you give them a bit of a synopsis, please?
The Secret of Zoone is a story about a boy named Ozzie who feels stuck in his life—that is until a giant winged tiger (a skyger!) guides him through a door located in The Depths of his apartment building and takes him to the bustling nexus of Zoone, where a thousand doors lead to a thousand worlds in the multiverse.
One problem! The portal collapses behind them, which means Ozzie is stuck again . . . though, if you’re going to be stranded anywhere, it might as well be Zoone. As Ozzie figures out a way to get home, a new threat looms over the nexus—and it might just be up to Ozzie and his new band of friends to save Zoone and the entire multiverse.
Did you know when you wrote THE SECRET OF ZOONE that it was going to be a series, and do you have an idea of how many books there may be?
Actually, I first started this project by world-building the nexus of Zoone and populating it with different characters and creatures. I didn’t actually have a plot in mind at the very beginning. The plot grew as the world grew. I thought if I could build a compelling location, then it would be easy enough to run around in it. Because there are so many different worlds connected to Zoone, there is a lot of potential for adventure.
How did writing Book 2 differ from writing Book 1?
I find every book presents its own challenges, but Book 1 required a lot of groundwork in terms of the world building and also for me to figure out and establish a certain narrative style and voice.
Book 2 was easier because I knew my voice and characters really well. The challenge becomes what to do with those characters. I think readers want each book in a series to be similar enough to the first one so that they can have that sense of revisiting—but they don’t want the same old thing again, either. So, it’s a challenge of making the story significantly different and taking the characters in a new direction. Readers want to see characters grow, from book to book.
That’s certainly what I tried to do with The Guardians of Zoone. One of the main things I wanted to explore in this book is the relationship between Ozzie and his Aunt Temperance.
One of the things I most enjoy about this series is the creative world-building, and how Zoone is a gateway into many other worlds. Where do you find your inspiration for these worlds?
For me, writing has a broad definition. Many people think writing is just slaving away at a keyboard—but for me, that’s just one part of the process. I spend a lot of time in my brainstorming journal, doodling, mapping, diagramming, and sketching. I’m a very visual person, and have some illustrative background, so I find it easier to write once I’ve developed my characters visually.
I also build a lot of props. I imagine so many different things for my worlds—suitcases, creature eggs, keys, potions, jewelry—and I want to bring those things to life. So, I build a lot of props to go with my worlds. I think this helps me create more unique and interesting details for my books and, quite frankly, building and drawing is good thinking time for me. How many people have told me that they’ve worked out a plot problem while doing the dishes? For me, it’s while sculpting a dragon egg!
I also take a lot of inspiration from travel. As a writer, I am always “on.” When I travel, my brainstorming book and camera go with me everywhere and I just record whatever I find interesting (even if I don’t know WHY I find it interesting at the time, I still record it . . . because I know it will serve as fuel for me down the road).
Do you have a favorite character or relationship in this story?
A central part of Guardians is the relationship between Ozzie and his Aunt Temperance. In Book 1, she gets left behind and most of the things we learn about her are through Ozzie’s memory or perspective. In Book 2, his beliefs about that relationship—and about her, actually—are challenged. It was a lot of fun to explore that relationship and the character of Aunt Temperance in particular. If I had to pick a character that I’m most similar to, it would be her. Where she’s at in her life during the events of this book is inspired by the challenges I faced when I was in my late 20s. I was never in the circus like Aunt Temperance (just the circus of life!), but I did have major life decisions and crises to face during that time.
What is the most interesting feedback you’ve had from young readers about your writing?
I find that my characters and worlds tend to inspire artistic expression. I receive a lot of fan art from readers or I see a lot of photos of kids who decide to dress up as my characters. This past Halloween, a girl went as Fidget (the princess with inappropriately purple hair), which I thought was amazing. It’s great in general when kids choose to dress as any book character (as opposed to one from a movie)—and when it’s my own character, it’s very humbling. There was also a class that performed scenes from one of my books, which was also very exciting.
In a way, it feels full circle—because I begin the writing process by drawing and building, and that’s how readers respond.
Do you have a new project on which you’re currently working?
I may return to Zoone at some point, but right now I’m working on a new book that is due out with HarperCollins in Fall 2021. There is not too much I can reveal at this point, but I can say what I’ve already mentioned on Social Media, which is that it’s a book about magic brooms. Most people think fantasy plus brooms equals flying, but, in my book, brooms do what they are meant to do—sweep. It’s just that they sweep up a very particular thing . .
I’m so excited to hear about this, I can’t wait to read another story from you!
Now I’m going to ask a question near and dear to my heart because tomorrow is I Read Canadian Day: how do we spread the word about the wonderful authors and stories being created in Canada?
One of the great things about Canada is that we’re a tight-knit community. I see this in the kidlit author community— seems like everyone knows everyone—and if you don’t know someone, it’s only two degrees of separation. So, in that way, it’s easy to let the entire community know about an event like I Read Canadian Day, so that we can cross promote.
The bigger challenge is letting people in the general public know about all of our great Canadian books. So, my advice would be to embrace, shout about it, celebrate it as much as possible. Or, to put it another way: “Be like Kathie!” I so admire your devotion to and promotion of Canadian authors. If we keep talking about Canadian lit, then maybe we can get through to the general public.
I do think an important part of this is the perception of Canadian lit content. I have this feeling that the average person tends to hear the words “Canadian literature” and thinks of books that are overtly “Canadian” or are cherished classics, like Anne of Green Gables. Of course, these books should be continued to be celebrated—but Canadian kidlit has so much more!
In my opinion, a Canadian story isn’t one necessarily set in Canada, or one that expressly covers an aspect of Canadian history or culture (though, once again, I will emphasize that these types of books are important). To me, a Canadian book is one that is simply written by a Canadian—these books are automatically invested with our particular Canadian sentiment. For example, Jonathan Auxier’s GG-winning book, Sweep: A Story of a Girl and Her Monster takes place in Victorian England, but I think it really captures a Canadian sense of values. I think we need to keep promoting the diversity of Canadian literature that already exists—diversity of cultural voices, diversity of genres, diversity of types of story.
Personally, I’m passionate about I Read Canadian Day—and it’s not just because I’m a Canadian author, but because I also work as an educator and I want my students to learn about these great books. I am the co-founder and lead mentor for a creative writing program for kids (it’s called CWC) and as part of our weekly classes we have lit circles. To help celebrate I Read Canadian Day, our organization is asking all of our mentors to put Canadian books on our lists for the month of February. Of course, our classes routinely feature Canadian authors, but this is our way of drawing special attention to it.
What a fantastic answer, I’m so glad I asked you the question!
Where can our readers find you if they want to know more about you and your writing?
I’m on the main social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) and I also have my own website, leefodi.com, which features a lot of content for readers—especially librarians and teachers. There are book trailers posted there, along with teacher guides with some fun activities that can be rolled out in the classroom. Since I’m an educator myself, I take pride in my fun activities! I also have a newsletter that you can sign up for on my website—each newsletter features an activity, with handouts, that can be used in the classroom.
Thank you again so much for joining us today, and best of luck with your book’s launch. We should also let people know that THE SECRET OF ZOONE just came out in paperback, so if they haven’t picked up a copy yet, they can do so now.
Thank you so much for your support. I love the MG Book Village community. Writing can be a lonely enterprise, and MG Book Village provides one more way for me to connect with the larger creative world.
Lee Edward Födi is an author, illustrator, and specialized arts educator—or, as he likes to think of himself, a daydreaming expert. He is the author of The Books of Zoone and the Kendra Kandlestar series. Lee has also illustrated several picture books for other authors.
When he’s not daydreaming himself, he teaches kids how to put their own daydreaming to good use at schools and libraries, and through workshops with the Creative Writing for Children (CWC) society, which he co-founded in 2004. CWC was started to help immigrant kids to express their creativity through writing, and Lee is really proud of the work he does with students, helping kids from a range of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to tap into their creativity.
During his free time, he’s a traveler, adventurer, and maker of dragon eggs. HeI especially loves to visit exotic places where he can lose himself (sometimes literally!) in tombs, mazes, castles, and crypts. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, Marcie, and son, Hiro.
Hello, Deborah! Thank you so much for stopping by the MG Book Village to chat about your work! Before we get to your books, please introduce yourself to our readers.
I am thrilled to share with readers of the MG Book Village blog about my books and writing process.
I am an insatiable reader. I was born in Philadelphia and spent countless hours in the Free Library of Philadelphia growing up. One summer I set out to read every book in the children’s section. I remember that whenever I was deeply immersed in a book, which was nearly always, I did not hear anything around me even when my family kept telling me it was time for dinner!
I started writing in college at Cornell University. I had once wanted to be a United Nations translator, but after college I discovered that I was good at, and loved, writing about science topics for nonscientists. My work as a science writer and children’s author, including in my award-winning books Beauty and the Beak and Scientists Get Dressed, is like being a translator. My job is to translate complex concepts for the public, especially kids. One of the best things about what I do is that I am always learning, and each book opens up new worlds of discovery for me—which I can then share with readers anywhere.
This year marks 30 years since my first children’s book, The People Who Hugged the Trees: An Environmental Folktale, was published. I wrote it for my then infant daughter, to tell her a story of a brave girl who grew up to protect the environment. To this day it is read around the world. Just in the last two years, it has been included in school reading collections in South Africa and France.
And 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of my book Into the A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet which has sold a quarter million copies. I wrote it for my son when he was learning to write alphabet letters in the sand, on a beach by the Pacific Ocean. I am crazy about ocean animals and to me, the ocean and the alphabet each offers vast combinations of life and language.
Kids always want to know what my favorite children’s book is. Ever since I was in the middle grades, E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web has been my favorite, and still is! I remember to this day how the school librarian first showed us the book and started reading it to us. The book let me travel in my imagination to a world so different than my own growing up. The book also has many factual pieces of the natural world woven into its fictional story about the power of friendship and the power of words.
I didn’t realize then—and kids, teachers and librarians are often surprised when I tell them now—that the character of Charlotte the spider is a writer. She works a lot like I do. She thinks a long time before she writes, she writes when everyone else is asleep, she gets help from her friends, she checks her spelling, and she shows her words in the best light possible. Most importantly, she uses her words for good, to save the life of a friend. Her story reminds me again and again that words are powerful. They can teach, inspire, comfort, entertain, and change someone’s life.
You write both fiction and nonfiction. Is your process very different for the two? What are the similarities?
When I write fiction, like The Spelling Bee Before Recess, I can be silly and play with the facts, but in writing nonfiction I’m more serious. A similarity is that ideas for both fiction and nonfiction often come to me when I least expect them. Then I have to run to get a pen or get to the computer and put down the words pouring into my mind. I do a huge amount of research for both kinds of books. The more I know, the more I can weave into the story. My factual research helps me launch and build a story, whether nonfiction or fiction.
How do you typically choose a topic—and once you land on one, how do you decide whether to approach it via fiction or nonfiction?
Mostly it seems like topics choose me! I have had book ideas unexpectedly triggered by a single photo, or a sound, or a sentence in an article. The idea for Scientists Get Dressed came when my 9-year-old great-niece showed me a family photo of her mother Dr. Lucy Rose. In the photo her mother, a freshwater chemist, was wearing chest waders and standing in an icy stream to check her pollution testing equipment. “This is what Mommy does?” I asked in astonishment.
I began thinking about many other scientists I knew and had worked with, and what they wear. I had been fascinated that Janie Veltkamp, my raptor biologist coauthor of Beauty and the Beak, wears puncture-proof gloves for her work with sick and injured wild birds of prey. I discovered through further research that all scientists get dressed for the specific work they do and the places they do it. Scientists Get Dressed is about so many different, real scientists—and facts are so critical to their work—that the book had to be nonfiction.
Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle is a true story, but to recreate Beauty the bald eagle’s life before any humans came into contact with her, I had to borrow facts about bald eagles in the wild and use them to recreate Beauty’s experiences. One reason I wrote Beauty and the Beak is because it’s not just about a single rescued bald eagle, but also about how bald eagles were an endangered species, brought back from near extinction on the U.S. mainland by environmental conservationists and scientists. Because of their heroic efforts, kids across the country can see bald eagles soaring in the wild or even nesting in kids’ own neighborhoods!
You are here, primarily, to discuss a pair of your recent nonfiction books—Scientists Get Dressed and Beauty and the Beak—so let’s chat more generally about nonfiction. What does your process look like for creating a nonfiction book?
To create nonfiction I talk to lots of people about my topic. That’s one of my favorite parts of doing a book. For Beauty and the Beak, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to coauthor the book with Janie Veltkamp, who led the team that engineered Beauty the bald eagle’s pioneering, 3D-printed prosthetic beak. Janie has encyclopedic knowledge about eagles, and Beauty’s story was Janie’s own scientist story too.
To create fiction I draw a lot on memories, things I see, my senses, words of all kinds, and my imagination. I don’t talk to a lot of other people about fiction I’m writing until I’m almost finished. I have a lot of fun working through fiction ideas inside my own head. I take it as a very good sign if I laugh out loud while I’m writing fiction!
How do you conduct your research? Does it change from book to book?
One thing that doesn’t change is that I gather way more research than I can use for each book. But it’s amazing how all that research may contain one fact that my editor suddenly wants me to include, or facts that an illustrator can use for visual storytelling to go with what I write.
I do my research by reading, watching videos, looking at many, many photos, and listening to interviews, in addition to talking to experts. For Scientists Get Dressed I was in contact with scientists and photographers around the world. They could tell me about their firsthand experiences, from collecting frozen snow samples on a glacier to gathering burning lava samples on a volcano. Their excitement and insight helps me make reading my nonfiction books a richer and deeper experience for both kids and adults.
Do you have any general tips for young, aspiring nonfiction writers?
Photographs are a fantastic source of ideas and research. Nonfiction is so huge, you can write about almost anything that grabs your interest and imagination. Making sure your facts are correct can be challenging. You can’t just trust all the information you see on the Internet. Always try to use more than one source for your research, and compare your sources to see what they say that is the same or different.
Whenever I talk to kids at schools, I tell them they don’t have to write the beginning of a book first! If an idea comes to me that might be best in the middle or the end of a book, that’s OK. I do not start writing all my books at the beginning of the story.
Advice that kids and teachers really like: If you get writer’s block, change what you’re doing. If you’re sitting, stand up. If you’re staring at a computer screen, go take a walk instead. Make a drawing of your ideas first and then try to turn them into words. If you can’t think of a word, look through the dictionary or a thesaurus. Try writing with a writing partner. Hug a tree, bake cookies, listen to birds singing, read a book…All these can help you write. I know, because I have done ALL of them!
And my best advice for the writing itself— USE STRONG VERBS.
Now, let’s get to the books. Can you tell us briefly about Scientists Get Dressed and Beauty and the Beak?
Scientist Get Dressed looks through the unique lens of scientists’ clothing to spotlight how scientists—including some who are also engineers—suit up, gown up, gear up, and even dress up in costume to make new discoveries, save lives, and save the planet.
Beauty and the Beak is a true story capturing the STEM innovation and human compassion that gave Beauty the bald eagle a new, 3D-printed, prosthetic beak after her real beak was shattered by a poacher’s bullet.
Both of these books combine multiple STEM disciplines in unique ways—scientific concepts and scientists as people in the one, and engineering, 3D printing technology and wildlife rehabilitation in the other. Was this a conscious choice? Or is this a reflection of how the real world works?
Both books are reflections of how the real world works, and both look at the world of real scientists doing extremely challenging jobs. Scientists Get Dressed is built on the foundation that science as a whole is not just random facts, but connected knowledge discovered through human endeavor. Beauty and the Beak grows from the real life of an extraordinary animal rescued by an extraordinary scientist harnessing state-of-the-art technology.
Was there anything that didn’t end up being included in either of these books that you want to share with readers here?
Scientists Get Dressed was published just a few months before the first all-woman spacewalk in 2019. I would have loved to include photos of those two astronauts together, getting dressed for their historic work in space. Luckily, my very next book WILL include them! The book is titled Astronauts Zoom! and it will be published in early fall 2020, in plenty of time for the 20th anniversary, on November 2, of astronauts living continuously on the International Space Station.
What do you hope your readers—especially the young ones—take away from your books, particularly Scientists Get Dressed and Beauty and the Beak?
Kids often learn a lot about STEM without ever meeting a scientist or engineer, or seeing images of how and where STEM professionals do their amazing work. I want young readers to see in Scientists Get Dressed, Beauty and the Beak and Astronauts Zoom! that real people make the discoveries and progress that are changing our lives. And I want young readers to imagine themselves someday doing important and rewarding work.
Many of our site’s readers are teachers and librarians. Is there anything you’d like to say to them—in particular those who may consider adding your books to their classrooms and libraries?
A lot of my books have been in print quite a while, so I know they have a long shelf life! In light of this, I work especially hard to write my books so they are relevant and empowering not just today but in the future. I craft my writing so children can listen to, read from, learn from and be inspired by my books for multiple years as they are growing up. I also know that adults read children’s books, with kids and on their own. I read so many children’s books to my own kids—I want the books I write to engage adult readers as well.
Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
My author website www.deborahleerose.com includes free educational guides, interviews, a contact form and much more.
Hi Kit, and welcome to MG Book Village! Your debut middle grade novel, THE DERBY DAREDEVILS: KENZIE KICKSTARTS A TEAM, comes out on March 24th, and it’s one of my favorite debut novels of 2020. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please?
Hi Kathie! I’m so honored to be hosted by MG Book Village! I love reading the interviews with authors, and it’s surreal to now be featured among some of my literary idols. My background in children’s books was actually in academia, as I went to Hollins University for a master’s degree in children’s literature. Other MG authors such as Ali Standish and Nicole Panteleakos are fellow Hollins alums (and my actual classmates!). I submitted my first ever MG manuscript to a contest at Hollins and won a full critique with an editor at Houghton Mifflin, which gave me the confidence to lean into the traditional publishing path. I used to only write in stolen moments in the late evenings after work, but these days I make writing my full time job and I absolutely love it!
What was the process of writing this book like for you, and can you tell us a bit about it, please?
THE DERBY DAREDEVILS: KENZIE KICKSTARTS A TEAM was the fourth book I worked on, the second book with my agent, and I had no idea it would be the project to change my life! The cast of characters has essentially remained the same, though originally I wrote them as third graders in a chapter book series idea! The series was called THE FLANNELS, and it was about a quirky group of kids living in downtown Austin, Texas who did all sorts of things, including roller derby. But as we went along in the editing process, I realized that the roller derby scenes were the ones with juice, so we aged up the characters to lower middle grade and made the series all about derby! I absolutely love that the book is lower middle grade and features amazing illustrations by graphic novelist Sophie Escabasse. This is definitely the form the Daredevils were always meant to take, though I’ve never stopped loving these characters and their world in all the drafts I’ve written.
What are some of the influences that led you to write this story?
I was a middle school teacher for five years, and loved listening to the kids and getting to understand their humor and cadence in order to write characters and relationships that felt compelling and real. In that sense, some of my biggest influences have been my students as well as the junior roller derby players I’ve observed when attending local derby practices. But I also have many literary influences for this series. The American Library Association recently called THE DERBY DAREDEVILS a cross between the CLEMENTINE chapter book series by Sara Pennypacker and the graphic novel ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson, which made me squeal because both were mentor texts as I worked on KENZIE KICKSTARTS A TEAM. Another big influence for this series is the middle grade adaptation of the LUMBERJANES series by Mariko Tamaki.
Those are really great comparisons! I loved how your book hit a sweet spot that I don’t think we see enough of in middle grade literature.
What one thing have you learned from your publishing experience that you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself?
Oh! What a question. There are so many things I have learned from the publishing experience. I learned that letting my first project go was the key to expanding my capabilities as a writer… even though it took seven years to get there. I learned to trust my gut when it came to relationships with different people in the industry, and have found a place on the most amazing team of publishing professionals. I’ve made lots of mistakes along my journey, but the truth is, I wouldn’t go back and tell myself anything! I don’t want any butterfly effects! I needed to make the mistakes I made, and learn from them. I wouldn’t trade what I have right now for anything.
This is the first book in a series, can you tell us anything about what to expect in the future?
I would love to! THE DERBY DAREDEVILS is a series of rotating protagonists, which means each team member is going to get to tell their own story! Kenzie’s story is so, so important, because it’s the story of the team coming together. But I’m also incredibly thrilled to be diving deeper into the team’s shenanigans in later books! Shelly will be the protagonist of Book 2, THE DERBY DAREDEVILS: SHELLY STRUGGLES TO SHINE, which comes out on September 15, 2020! In her story, Shelly is searching for a way to stand out on the team as they approach their first ever roller derby tournament. She ends up discovering some really creative ways to use her artistic side on the track… though the Daredevils will encounter plenty of (literal) bumps and bruises along the way. That’s all I’ll say for now!
Excellent, I’m glad we don’t have to wait too long for the next book in the series! Where can we go to find out more about you and your writing?
You can learn more about Books 1 and 2 of THE DERBY DAREDEVILS series on my website, https://www.kitrosewater.com/ as well as find out information on book events and class visits. I’m hungry to do virtual and in-person school visits over this year. I would love to hear from interested teachers and librarians via my contact page! You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @kitrosewater for exciting new updates about the series and other projects I’m working on.
I wish you all the best this year with the exciting things that lay ahead for you!
Thank you so much! I think 2020 is going to be one of those life-changing, whirlwind years and I just can’t wait for March! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you, Kathie!
Kit Rosewater writes books for children. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spouse and a border collie who takes up most of the bed. Before she was an author, Kit taught middle school theatre and high school English, then worked as a children’s bookseller. She has a master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Books 1 & 2 of her debut middle grade series THE DERBY DAREDEVILS roll out in Spring and Fall 2020 through Abrams. Catch her online at kitrosewater.com or @kitrosewater.
Welcome to the MG Book Village bi-monthly blog feature, The STEM Tuesday Spin-Off. Members of the STEM Tuesday group at From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors will share a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) post that ties middle grade STEM books and the STEM Tuesday weekly posts to the familiar, everyday things in the life of middle graders.
We look around at the things in life we often take for granted. We peer behind the curtain and search underneath the hood for the STEM principles involved and suggest books and/or links to help build an understanding of the world around us. The common, everyday thing will be the hub of the post and the “spin-offs” will be the spokes making up our wheel of discovery. As my STEM Tuesday Craft & Resources cohort, Heather L. Montgomery often says, we’ll “Go deep!” on a common subject and take a look at its inherent STEM components.
Today, we will take a closer look at something that is always with us and is always affecting the life of the average 8-14-year-old.
The Hub: Waves
Waves, dude! They’re awesome. Riding a wave, either on a board or by body, is exhilarating. Throwing a rock into a calm lake or pond to watch the wave patterns is pretty entertaining and tossing in another rock or two to watch the wave patterns interact takes it to a whole new level.
Wave motion is pretty cool. The waves created by a sheet flapping in the breeze or the waves generated with a length of rope or a Slinky toy give us hours of entertaining observation. Waves provide both satisfaction from their aesthetic and their physical principles. In short, waves rock!
As cool as the above waves are, there are multitudes of waves in constant motion around us every day and we don’t even need to hit the beach to enjoy them. Some of these waves we notice, others we don’t. Yet these waves have a profound effect on our modern life every second of every day.
In today’s Catch a Wave Edition, we’ll talk about these sound and electromagnetic waves and introduce some spin-off resources to learn more and to dig deeper into STEM. There are waves all around us, light waves, sound waves, radio waves, microwaves, other electromagnetic waves, and, may I add, waves of middle-grade academic enthusiasm.
Spoke 1: Sound Waves
Sound waves are mechanical waves created by the vibration of a source. The vibrations create longitudinal waves consisting of regions of high pressure and low pressure called compressions and rarefactions that mimic the source vibration. A sound wave must travel from one place to another in a medium and cannot move through a vacuum.
The remaining Spin-Off Spokes are all transverse waves of the electromagnetic spectrum. One of the amazing things about electromagnetic waves is they are a single physical phenomenon that can be separated into types by the characteristic properties associated with their frequency and wavelength.
Electromagnetic wave shape is the more familiar wave shape of crests and troughs, called a sine wave. Transverse waves of the EM spectrum travel at the speed of light in a vacuum.
Spoke 2: Radio Waves
We are all familiar with radio. Turn it on, crank it up, and dance down the hallway on the way to the lunchroom. Radio rocks! Let me tell you, that box that plays our favorite tunes is only a mere sliver of the pure awesomeness of radio waves. Radio waves are the do-it-all, blue-collar, workman of the physical world. Sound, data, video can be pulsed (modulated) onto a radio wave carrier, transmitted great distances through an antenna and received by another antenna. A receiver then separates (demodulates) the original signal from the carrier wave and transmits it to an output device.
Let’s say I want to play my wicked new Dick Dale-esque surf guitar solo I’ve been working on to a friend who lives six hours away. First, I create the sound into a microphone by playing my new jam. The microphone transforms the vibration of the longitudinal sound wave from the guitar strings into an electromagnetic wave which then gets pulsed/modulated onto a radio wave or microwave. The message on the carrier wave is sent by my antenna great distances at the speed of light until it reached my friend’s antenna. The antenna catches my message, the electromagnetic wave is decoded/demodulated from the carrier and sent to a speaker where it is transformed back into a sound wave. Next thing you know, my friend is rocking out to my surf guitar solo. All is good in the world.
Look around your school or classroom, there are probably devices on the ceiling or on a table all around that are constantly modulating and demodulating data for your computers and Wi-Fi networks. MOdulating and DEModulating, MOdulating and DEModulating, MOdulating and DEModulating. (Isn’t “modem” an exceptional portmanteau of “modulator-demodulator”?) Did you know that’s what your modem does? Radio waves and microwaves are the carriers of modern life. Technology literally doesn’t go anywhere without them.
Spoke 3: Microwaves
Microwaves do more than make popcorn or heat up that frozen burrito. With higher energy and higher frequency wave than a radio wave, a microwave can penetrate obstacles that radio waves can’t. Some of the non-food functions of microwaves overlap with the functions of radio waves and the daily utility of these may surprise you. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, satellite radio, amateur radio, weather radar, and some broadcasting and communications transmissions, to name a few, are all microwaves. See what I mean? Microwaves make life better, and the bag of popcorn popped in two minutes is truly a bonus.
Spoke 4: Infrared Waves
Infrared is such a cool sounding word, science fiction level cool in my book. In reality, though, it simply means “below red”. Infrared waves are often associated with heat, especially the longer wavelength end of the spectrum. These heat waves are given off by fire, heat lamps, and the sun. On the opposite end, the shorter infrared wavelengths don’t give off much heat but do function in one of mankind’s greatest inventions—the remote control! Automatic doors, heat sensors, and night-vision technology are just a few ways we interact with infrared waves in our daily life. Now, where did I put that TV remote?
Spoke 5: Visible Waves
We are all familiar with the visible spectrum of electromagnetic waves. They’re the ones we can see and account for the rainbow of colors detected by our eyes. The different frequencies of visible waves are either absorbed or reflected by an object. If the reflected waves are at the longer wavelengths of the visible spectrum, 625-740 nm, the light is red. If the reflected waves are at the shorter end of the spectrum, 380-450 nm, the reflected light is violet. Everything we are able to see and the multitude of colors originate from the electromagnetic waves of the visible spectrum. You may also have heard about fiber-optic cables used for communication. Fiber optics contain light waves that carry data much like radio and microwaves. Without the visible wave spectrum, we would spend most of our time in the dark.
Spoke 6: Ultraviolet Waves
If the word “infrared” wasn’t cool enough for you, may I present “ultraviolet”? In reality, it’s just an awesome way to say “beyond violet”. Besides the level of word coolness, ultraviolet waves themselves are pretty dang awesome. UV waves are emitted by high-temperature objects, like stars, and help astronomers learn more about how the galaxies are put together. Just as “beyond violet” suggests a deeper shade of purple, ultraviolet waves have their own dark side. UV rays emitted by our sun are the cause of sunburns and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause cancer by changing our DNA.
Of course, there are also the UV rays of lower frequencies emitted from a blacklight bulb which we all know make the school dances spectacular events for white clothing clad individuals.
There are two additional wave types in the electromagnetic spectrum. These waves, however, are ones you really don’t want to expose yourself to on a regular basis.
X-rays are high energy waves naturally produced by high-temperature sources, like the sun’s corona. We may be more familiar with medical imaging equipment that uses the power of x-rays to view bone structure. There’s a good reason the radiology technician wears a lead apron for protection while performing x-rays—too much exposure to x-rays can cause serious health problems.
The second waves to avoid are gamma waves. Gamma waves are such high frequency/short wavelength they can pass through the empty space of a single atom! Unfortunately, they can also destroy living cells. Gamma waves are mainly formed by high energy objects in space and are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere. Lightning, nuclear explosions, and radioactive decay are sources on Earth that can produce gamma rays.
The final waves needing recognition are the waves of middle-grade enthusiasm and, in particular, the waves of middle-grade enthusiasm for STEM. Keep riding the STEM wave and asking questions about how our world works.
Hopefully, I’ve given you at least six good reasons to appreciate the physical phenomenon of waves. They may not be the easiest thing in the world to understand but they are absolutely fascinating.
Next time you switch on a radio or the TV or get your sprained ankle x-rayed at the hospital, think about all the invisible and visible waves swirling around us every second of every day. Appreciate the STEM-tastic wave. Have a great school year and remember this:
Be curious. Think about the world around you. Figure out what makes it tick and work to make it a better place.
CATCH A WAVE!!!
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.comand writer stuff atwww.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.
Sutton’s parents are divorced. She lives with her dad while her mom is in Antarctica, researching penguin migration. She’s a science-minded kid who’s dealing with programming issues, both with her mini-bot and in her own life. Luis lives with his mom, having lost his dad to cancer years ago. While his creative writing is fantasy driven (Star Wars and Harry Potter are favorites), he’s usually stuck in reality (indoors) due to his many allergies and an over-protective mom. They couldn’t be more different from each other, but their parents start dating and they have to navigate this new path neither expected to explore.
With themes of adaptation, possibilities, community, and finding home, my heart loves Sutton and Luis, and yours will too! My students will love that it’s told in dual perspectives with short (10 pages or less) chapters. It’s a must buy for your middle grade library. Publishes 4/14/20.
Katie Reilley is a fourth and fifth grade ELA teacher from Elburn, Illinois, and a proud mom to two amazing daughters, ages 14 and 10 who has been married to a wonderful husband for 18 years. She’s a member of #bookexpedition, a group of teachers, librarians and authors who read and review ARCs and newly released middle grade books. She’s also happy to be part of the #classroombookaday community, and loves to learn alongside her students and fellow educators. She has been teaching for twenty-two years, and her passion is getting books into the hands of her students. You can find her on Twitter at @KReilley5.
Hi Kerelyn! Thank you so much for doing your cover reveal with us at MG Book Village. Before we get to the new book, would you care to share a bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m Kerelyn Smith, a writer and avid reader of all types of books, especially fantasy, classic, literary, and children’s fiction.
I work as a software engineer, but I’m one of those weirdos who majored in English literature and then somehow stumbled my way into a career in tech.
I’ve lived all up and down the west coast of the United States and now live in the greater Seattle, Washington area. I love rain, wind, and fog and prefer large pockets to purses, boots to shoes, and sweatshirts to sweaters.
Mulrox and the Malcognitos is my first novel to be published, but I’ve been writing books for several years now, never intending to show them to anyone. Mulrox is my great leap out into the world.
What is this book of yours all about?
Mulrox and the Malcognitos is about an ogre named Mulrox who wants to be the greatest poet in the world. Unfortunately, all his ideas are terrible.
Then the worst thing he can imagine happens: his terrible ideas come to life. The malcognitos, as they are called, are annoying, wild, and troublesome, but worst of all, they need his help.
Mulrox soon finds himself on a quest to save the very ideas he loathes, accompanied by his sassy pet toad, quirky neighbor, and a hoard of mischievous bad ideas.
The book is raucous and fun, but Mulrox’s story is really about learning to find your voice and embrace your imperfections.
Having confidence and pride in myself without the need for external validation is something I continue to struggle with and I wanted to explore this subject in depth in this novel. I’m still a work-in-progress, but I’ve adopted the word “malcognito” into my daily life now so that when I make a mistake I’m embarrassed about, I just write it off as yet another malcognito. I hope the book will encourage others to go on to create many more malcognitos of their own.
How did you come up with the idea for the book? What was the inspiration?
The idea for Mulrox came from several smaller ideas. I wanted to write about an ogre poet, a character at odds with himself. I always love characters that seem to contain a contradiction, as they never quite fit in and there is always room to keep nudging and subverting the reader’s expectations.
The idea for the malcognitos has a strange origin. My partner had a wall-mounted blackboard, but when we moved we no longer had a place for it. Because of the new apartment rules, we had limited options about where to store it. We ended up wrapping the blackboard in a tarp and leaving it on the deck (do not try this). A few months later we went back to look at it and the front and back had molded through. We threw away the blackboard, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that mold. How the dust—these scattered and erased ideas—had turned into something else, something alive. Malcognitos.
In the original version of the book, all the malcognitos were made of scattered chalk dust, just like the ones out on my deck. I took that idea and ran with it, creating the worlds of Sounous and Veralby and all the creatures within them.
What do you hope readers, especially young ones, will take from the book?
I would like young readers to walk away with the courage to embrace their mistakes and imperfections. Perfection just doesn’t exist.
It takes bravery to put yourself out there. You won’t always get the response you want, and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep trying. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Your malcognitos are necessary and central to who you are.
And you never know, some of the best ideas come from the places you least expect.
Many of our site’s readers are teachers of Middle Grade-aged kids. Is there anything you’d like to say to them—in particular those planning to add the book to their classroom libraries?
First, thank you. I can’t say how much I appreciate the work that you do. I’m delighted by the things I’ve read from the people in MG Book Village—encouraging children to read what they want, promoting diverse voices, meeting children at their level — it’s amazing. I truly believe that reading books builds compassion, empathy, and understanding which are things we desperately need in this world. I also believe it helps to build courage. The courage to be the hero in your own story and stand up for what you believe in. What’s more important and magical than that?
Back to Mulrox. I’d love for the book to find its way into the hands of kids who are quieter, struggle with self-esteem or perfectionism, or are afraid to express themselves. I hope that Mulrox’s journey can inspire these readers to find strength within themselves.
I was so lucky early on to an amazing group of educators who encouraged and supported me, especially within the arts. One of the best things we did was to have a writers group as part of our curriculum. In our writing time, they encouraged us to focus only on the ideas and the story. We did not worry about sentence construction, spelling, or anything else.
If I had to pair a class exercise with Mulrox, it would be a free write, or perhaps a brainstorming session for the worst ways to solve a particular problem. Anything to free up the brain and get it thinking outside of the box. Having the courage to try something new, or be the first to throw out a messy idea is a skill that is valuable later in life. It’s something I use every day as a software engineer.
OK, let’s not keep folks waiting any longer… here it is!
Wow, I love the magical, whimsical look of it! Were you involved in the process of designing this cover?
I was! I spent over a year looking at different cover designers and illustrators and Matt Rockefeller was always at the top of this list. His covers are emotional, fun, and incredibly expressive. I love the light, colors, and sense of story in his work.
I was ecstatic when he agreed to work with me, and the process was far better than I could have imagined. Before contacting him, I had written up a detailed book brief, with things like a plot summary, key scenes, and character descriptions, assuming that he would base the cover off my notes. But Matt took the time to read my book and understand it and my characters. He then presented me with several thumbnail sketches, all of which were incredible. We picked one of these options and then went from there refining and swapping ideas. I think we ended up with something amazing.
What did you think when you saw it?
I was at work at the time and I almost burst into tears. It’s hard to express how amazing it is to see something you created, come to life through someone else’s eyes.
Matt Rockefeller is an expert at capturing the essence of a story. There are so many hidden details and little expressions that make the cover so much fun to explore. I think it also raises questions and draws you in. It takes someone special to create a cover like that. Matt is not only an incredible illustrator but also an amazing person. It was such an honor getting to work with him.
Where can readers find you online, and how can they learn more about you and your work?
Mulrox and the Malcognitos comes out March 29th and should be available from all retailers.
Thank you again for stopping by the Village, Kerelyn. I really look forward to reading it, and best of lucky with your book’s release!
Thanks so much for letting me share my cover with you and talk about Mulrox’s story.
Also, if anyone is interested in reading a digital ARC of Mulrox and the Malcognitos, please reach out to me through any of the methods above.
Kerelyn Smith is a writer of literary, speculative, and children’s fiction. By day she is a software engineer, but she gets up in the wee hours of the morning to write. She lives in Seattle, WA with her partner and dog, and enjoys hiking, gardening, and overcomplicating things. Mulrox and the Malcognitos is her first novel.