Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Happy Holidays

For the next couple of weeks, I'll be taking a break from Celebrate Science to cook and clean and celebrate the season. I'll be back on January 7, 2019. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Paula Yoo

My first nonfiction children’s book happened by accident. Or so I thought.
In 2002, I stumbled upon an article about Dr. Sammy Lee. I learned he was the first Asian American to win a gold medal in diving at the Olympics.

I had never heard of Sammy Lee before. The article fascinated me. Distracted, I fell into a rabbit hole as I devoured information about this world-renowned athlete.

As a Korean American, I was inspired by Sammy Lee’s triumph over racism. I wished I had known about him when I was growing up. His positive story would have helped me cope better with the many painful incidents of racism I experienced as a child and teenager.

When I discovered that no children’s book had ever been written about Sammy Lee, I decided to write Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story.

An early reader advised me that my manuscript might not have a chance with mainstream publishers. After all, according to statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, out of 3,150 children’s books published in 2002, only 46 (1 percent!) were written by Asian Pacific Americans and only 91 (less than 3 percent!) were about Asian Americans. (The statistics for other diverse groups were just as sparse.)

I ended up submitting my manuscript to Lee & Low’s annual “New Voices” contest for writers of color. To my shock, it won!

Lee & Low published Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds in 2005. That year, out of the 2,800 children’s books published, 60 were written by Asian Pacific American authors and 64 books were about Asian subjects/characters. The statistics were still deplorable, but I was delighted that MY book was part of that 2 percent.

That inspired me to write more children’s biographies of important Asian historical figures. I suddenly had a mission—to make sure our community was represented, to make sure our stories and our voices were heard.

This led to two more picture book biographies—Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low, 2009) about Asian American film star Anna May Wong and Twenty-two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (Lee & Low, 2014) about Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

CCBC statistics from 2017 show that out of 3,700 books published, 274 were written by Asian Pacific Americans and 310 were about Asian people/issues. That’s still less than 10 percent of all books published. We still have a long way to go.

Statistics are just as grim in our educational system. The absence of Asian American history in our school curricula, along with the erasure of Asian Americans in the media and in Hollywood, has far-reaching and disturbing implications on how white people and other non-Asians view them. It leads not only to ignorance and racism, but also to the treatment of all Asians as the perpetual foreign “Other.”

All of this drives my mission—and passion—to chronicle the important contributions Asian Americans have made in our country. I am currently working on a YA narrative nonfiction book about Vincent Chin to be published in 2020 by Norton Young Readers. It describes how the 1982 beating death of a Chinese American man by two white autoworkers in Detroit galvanized the Asian American civil rights movement.

As I look back on my writing career, I realize my first nonfiction children’s book did not happen by accident. It was fate. I will continue to write nonfiction in the hope that the struggles endured by Dr. Sammy Lee, Anna May Wong, Muhammad Yunus, and Vincent Chin will never happen again.

Paula Yoo is a children’s book author and TV writer/producer. Her upcoming YA nonfiction book about Vincent Chin will be published by Norton Young Readers in 2020. Her other books include the YA novel Good Enough (HarperCollins 2008), Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story (Lee & Low 2005), Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story (Lee & Low 2009) and Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank (Lee & Low 2014).


Friday, December 14, 2018

My 17 Favorite STEM Books of 2018

Last year, around this time, I decided to post my 10 favorite STEM books of the year. But guess what . . . I ended up with twelve. I just couldn't narrow it down.

This year, I promised I'd be stricter with myself. But, once again, it was so, so hard.

What’s the solution? I’m picking 17! Three of my favorites appeared on my #SibertSmackdown list a couple of weeks ago:

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez, illustrated by Felicita Sala;

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy

Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth by Carrie Pearson, illustrated by Susan Swan

Today, I’m sharing 14 more. Some of these aren’t eligible for the Sibert, and some are middle grade titles. (The #SibertSmackdown activity focuses on picture books.) And one of them is fiction!

I recommend adding all of these titles to your collection. The are well written, full of kid appeal, and most importantly of all, scientifically accurate.

Bonkers About Beetles by Owen Dewey

Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and Their Kids by Heather Montgomery, illustrated by Stephen Stone

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzlaez

Cute as Axolotl: Discovering the World's Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating, illustrated by David deGrand

Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong

Following Baxter by Barb Kerley

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Road Kill by Heather Montgomery

Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Hooray for Celebrate Science!

Just in case you haven’t noticed the shiny gold medal that’s now displayed in the right-hand column of this blog, I’m delighted to announce that Celebrate Science has recently been named a Top 25 Nonfiction Blog for Book Writers and Readers. Woo-hoo!

This honor is bestowed by Feedspot, a service that can help you track all your favorite blogs, news sites, youtube channels, and rss feeds in one place, which makes checking your favorite sites as easy as checking your email.

To come up with the list of honorees, blogs were ranked based on following criteria:

—Google reputation and Google search ranking

—Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter, and other social media sites

—Quality and consistency of posts

—Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

Congratulations to The Nonfiction Detectives blog, which is also on the top 25 list.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Patricia Newman

In my Sibert Honor acceptance speech for Sea Otter Heroes, I mentioned a teacher who once defined nonfiction as the facts and fiction as the heart. I’ll be honest; she hurt my feelings.

Written like a mystery, Sea Otter Heroes explores the idea that we don’t know what we don’t know. Marine biologist Brent Hughes connected the dots to discover endangered sea otters are responsible for the health of a seagrass ecosystem. Seagrass sequesters carbon, provides a nursery for our food supply as it matures, and calms the waves that pound our coastlines. Now consider the new White House proposal to gut the Endangered Species Act. Without protection, sea otters and the benefits they provide could be lost to us and future generations. I want my readers to understand the effects of our actions.

My books—part biography, part science adventure—tell inspiring true stories of scientists who make a difference. I hope these stories empower children and show them their voices matter, which the Common Core might tempt readers to identify as the author’s purpose. But my purpose goes beyond “persuade, inform, or entertain.” Just as fiction authors write about themes that resonate with them, so too do nonfiction authors. My themes first have to light my fire with a personal connection, a narrative, and a Wow! factor.

Standing in front of the soon-to-be
completed performing arts center. The
blue arrow points to me.
I was raised to care for myself, my family, and my community. My husband calls me a professional volunteer. Building a performing arts center at my kids’ former high school is my latest project. Time commitment:  ten-plus years.

Hopping my way to victory
on July 4th sack race
As a kid, I spent a lot of time outside. I played kickball in the street, hiked, ice skated, built snow tunnels, rode my bike, fished, planted trees, and sailed on Malletts Bay (hello fellow Vermonters). I collected bugs and pressed fall leaves for my season-deprived friend in Florida. I even read outside.

Me (right) examining the skull of a long-dead
elephant with a guide in Kenya
Outside was part of me. Clearly there’s a connection between my love of the outdoors, my urge to volunteer, and my string of environmental titles. But there’s more to it. Like fiction, nonfiction comes from emotion. For me, that usually means feelings of injustice and confusion. Injustice over problems such as mountains of marine debris or elephant and rhino poaching. Confusion over how my time (and money) might be most effective.

My challenge is to simultaneously tell the truth, inspire, and offer hope for myself and my readers. In my books hope is synonymous with science.

I used to volunteer for the San Diego Zoo, and traveled to Kenya on a safari led by one of the zoo’s geneticists. During the trip I became fascinated by elephants’ social relationships and cognitive capabilities. Eavesdropping on Elephants explores the value of listening to them in order to save them from extinction. I’ve added QR codes to the narrative to bring kids into the forest to see and hear the elephants as the scientists did. The closer kids get to the wild the more they will care.

As a zoo volunteer, I understood how zoos promote conservation, but many people don’t. Zoo Scientists to the Rescue braids together three fascinating success stories about endangered species and the zoo scientists who protect them. The scientists go to incredible lengths to save orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos, but they started out as kids who loved animals. Readers identify with that. One mother wrote to say, “My son is now more than ever convinced that he wants to study lit a fire in him with this book. For that, I am grateful!”

Ultimately, my books meet an emotional need within me. But if they also resonate with readers, I know kids have found the heart I’ve woven through the pages.

Patricia Newman writes books that inspire kids to seek connections to the real world. Titles such as SEA OTTER HEROES, EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS, and NEEMA’S REASON TO SMILE encourage readers to act and use imagination to solve problems. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, her books have received starred reviews, two Green Earth Book Awards, a Parents’ Choice Award, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. Her author visits are described as "phenomenal,” "fantastic," "mesmerizing," "passionate," and "inspirational." Visit her at

Friday, December 7, 2018

“It reads just like fiction.”

I’m delighted to see a noticeable uptick in the number of nonfiction books being reviewed online by educators. That’s progress! Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart—and the hearts of so many young readers.

But as an unabashed nonfiction lover, perhaps even a nonfiction cheerleader, the joy in my heart instantly plummets, becoming a twisted knot in my stomach, whenever a nonfiction book review includes the words, “It reads just like fiction.”

What exactly does that mean?

I think the reviewer is intending these five words as a compliment, but let me ask you: What’s wrong with a nonfiction book reading like nonfiction? After all, that’s what it is.

Don’t we want kids to take pride in who they are?

Don’t we encourage students to celebrate their differences?

Shouldn’t we treat the books they read with the same respect?

Please remember that the language we use affects the way children think about the world and about themselves. It’s so, so important to honor and encourage the reading choices of all students.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

20 Great Expository Nonfiction Read Alouds

The following list includes some of my favorite expository nonfiction titles that are perfect for sharing in 10 minutes or less.
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and T.S. Spookytooth (Millbrook Press, 2013)

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014)

Creature Features: Twenty-Five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Daylight Starlight Wildlife by Wendell Minor (Paulsen/Penguin Random House, 2015)

An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006)

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson and Gennady Spirin (Holt, 2013)
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg (Greenwillow, 2017)

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian and Barbara Hirsch Lember (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000)
Just One Bite by Lola M. Schaefer and Geoff Waring (Chronicle, 2010)
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward and Steve Jenkins (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, 2014)
Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton (Candlewick, 2017)

Move! by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell (Boyds Mills Press, 2014)

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith and Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree, 2011)

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs by Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis (Peachtree, 2018)

Rodent Rascals by Roxie Munro (Holiday House, 2018)

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer (words & pictures, 2017)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman and Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)

With a Friend by Your Side by Barbara Kerley (National Geographic, 2015)