Monday, March 11, 2019

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Jennifer Swanson

Today we continue the Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep series with an essay by author Jennifer Swanson. Thank you, Jen.

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved science! Curiosity about the world has fueled my passions throughout my life.

Some of my earliest memories are examining grass and flowers under a magnifying glass and climbing trees to see things up close. It only made sense that I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old.

I was that kid that was always asking questions. “Why does this tree grow so tall but the one next to it doesn’t?” “Why does this flower have five petals but that one has 50?” “Why does my brother have brown eyes but my eyes are green?”

I probably drove my parents and teacher nuts with all of my questions. But the drive to understand how the world works, how everything fits together is deep inside me. It’s central to both my personal and writing life.

My quest to discover how things work led me to major in chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy, where I also learned engineering and technology. I was hooked! It’s probably why many of the topics I write about tend toward the “-TEM” part of STEM.

As I was writing Brain Games: The Mind-Blowing Science of Your Amazing Brain, I wanted to know, “How does the brain work?”  That’s a simple question, but one with a very complicated answer. So I broke up each chapter into smaller questions.

How does your brain think?

How do memories and emotions work?

How does your brain make your body move?

For most people, science is best learned through DOING not just reading, so each chapter includes awesome activities to that SHOW the reader how their brain works.
Including activities and experiments in my books comes naturally, too. It reminds me of my many days as a kid working with the boxed chemistry labs that I got for my birthdays.

One of my most recent titles stemmed from a question I had during a conversation with my editor. We were talking about how astronauts train, and I wondered if aquanauts train the same way. After all, space and the deep ocean are sort of similar environments, aren’t they?

WOW! What a question. I had to find out.

I dove deep into research (something I love) and the result was Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. This is one of my favorite books because it’s the culmination of my long-held curiosity about both space and the ocean.

My two childhood heroes were Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, and Sally Ride, the first female U.S. astronaut. At certain times in my life, I wanted to be either or both of them. While writing this book, my research took me UP into space (like Sally Ride) and DOWN into the ocean (like Jacques Cousteau) as I learned the most fascinating answers to (almost) all of my questions.
Like most curious people, I don’t limit myself to certain topics. I ask questions about pretty much everything. From the emptiness of space and the vast ocean, to the tiniest of structures that provide us with brand new technology. What am I talking about? Nanotechnology!  

Nanotechnology is the science of the microscopic. It’s used to create some of the strongest materials on the planet…and almost every kind of sports equipment you can think of!
Growing up in a household of three brothers and a father who loved sports, I succumbed to the inevitable and ended up playing and loving sports myself. It’s a deep-seated love born out of many hours of sitting on bleachers watching my brothers’ baseball games, football games, and golf matches. But it’s also the result of my own experiences running track, swimming, and (trying to) play softball.

My love of sports and my desire to know how things work merged during the 2008 Olympic Games. When Michael Phelps and his teammates debuted full-body swimsuits and proceeded to break more than 125 records, I was fascinated. I wanted to know HOW they did that. Research led me to nanotechnology and the result was Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up.

If you pick up one of my books you will inevitably find that it answers a BIG question. One that I have about how the world works, one that I hope my readers have too. As I’m writing, I imagine my 7-year-old self, back with that microscope in my garage, discovering new and wondrous things. I put that same sense of accomplishment, the joy of figuring things out into each book I write.

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of more than 35 nonfiction books for children, including Brain Games (NGKids), Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge), and Geoengineering Earth's Climate: Re-setting the Thermostat (Lerner), which received a Green Earth Book Honor Award. She is the creator of the STEM Tuesday blog and has presented at numerous NSTA conferences and the World Science Festival. Find Jennifer at


  1. Thanks, Melissa and Jennifer. I ask lots of questions, Now to search for and find the answers. Love this post!

  2. Thanks Melissa and Jen for a great post!

  3. Her Astronaut and Aquanaut book sound interesting.

  4. Great article Jen! The Aquanaut/Astronaunt book is a fabulous concept!

  5. Your books help readers of all ages answer these questions and keep us curious. TY, Jen.

  6. Thanks for the GREAT article. How many triangles are in the picture. I could only count 13. How many did I miss? ??

  7. Your energy and love for science and writing about it comes out as clearly in this blog post as it did at your Highlights presentations! I can hear your voice. Thank you. :)
    16 triangles?