Monday, May 16, 2022

Writing Begins with a Question ~ by Roberta Gibson

What does it take to write STEAM books for children?

First, it takes curiosity. 
Almost every day, a question pops into my head. Can you grow the seeds inside a kiwi fruit you buy in the grocery store? Do ant larvae make sounds to call to the workers inside the dark nest? What causes iridescent clouds?

Then it takes effort.
Many times other people have had the same question and the answer is a mouse click or trip to the library away. For example, iridescent clouds — which glow with pastel colors like the surface of a soap bubble —show up when clouds are full of small, uniform ice crystals or water drops that diffract light waves. 

eventually one may sprout!
Sometimes the answers aren’t clear, but the questions are too expensive or time consuming to investigate. I recently found a scientific article about Myrmica ant pupae that can make noise by stridulating. At this moment, however, I’m not in the position to test whether the larvae different kinds of ants can stridulate. Perhaps someday I’ll interest an expert in this question. 

The lucky few are questions that beg for an experiment or test. If you are curious about kiwi seeds, save some seeds from a kiwi fruit and try to germinate them. If that doesn’t work out, get some commercial seeds —for a control to show that your method works— and design an experiment. 

I wondered recently what happens when you drop bird feathers one by one from the second floor. Do tail feathers sail differently from wing feathers than soft down feathers? Turns out that wing feathers tend to helicopter. Cool!

I absolutely love this hands-on fiddling aspect of STEAM and youngsters do, too.  

Now here’s the secret sauce:  keep a journal. 
Every time you have an idea, or do an experiment, write it down. Draw illustrations to help you remember what you did and what happened, plus take tons and tons of photographs. 

When the question or idea leads to more and more questions, and if the topic just won’t go away, then the journal entries may grow into a book. 
Nothing is better than that.
Thank you for joining us today, Roberta.  Last year I reviewed Roberta's picture book, How to Build an Insect. We also got together to chat about bugs over on the GROG Blog. You can visit  Roberta's website here and make sure to drop by her wonderful blog, Growing with Science.


  1. Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this series. It was so much fun! And just in case anyone was wondering, although they take quite a long time to germinate (over a month), kiwi seeds will grow pretty well once they get started.

  2. What a wonderful post. We should all be doing this kind of thing with kids and grandkids. It would be such a gift for them and for us. Thanks for this.