Meet Olivia Van Ledtje “theLivBit”—a Nine-Year-Old with a Big Heart and a Lot of Grit!

When I first met Olivia Van Ledtje a.k.a. "theLivBit," we bonded immediately over our passion for sharks and our idol, the “shark lady” Eugenie Clark. It didn’t take me long to realize that this nine-year old has some special gifts, a BIG heart, and a whole lot of grit!

A year ago Liv started creating selfie videos, called LivBits, to share her favorite books as well as important messages about life. A few of my favorites include, “It’s better to love each other than judge each other” and “Never let anybody tell you who you are; never let anyone dull your shine.” Liv has already created over 75 videos, which she shares through her “mom-monitored” Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo accounts.  

Now Liv is also presenting at conferences and schools. She is empowering kids and bringing together educators, students, and authors all over the world with her strong voice, energy, and positivity. She is an amazing role model for all of us—an example of how to use social media for good. I couldn't wait to chat with Liv about her journey and her dreams!

HL: Liv, thank you for showing the world that kids can teach us! What inspired you to start LivBits?

Liv talks with 3rd graders at Eli Pinney school in Dublin, Ohio

Liv talks with 3rd graders at Eli Pinney school in Dublin, Ohio

Liv: LivBits is a super special project that helps me share my thinking with the world. I started making my Bits as a way to deal with some tough things that were happening in school. I want to show kids that we can teach each other and we can use books to inspire our thinking. I think books can change the way people think about life. I know that happens to me. When I read fiction, I think about ways I can learn from the character’s challenges. When I read informational text, I love to read about people who make a difference in the world.

I started thinking about the idea of grit from reading books about strong women, especially women like Maria TallChief, Rachel Carson, and Eugenie Clark. Grit is a quality that makes you push through things that are hard. I’ve only been doing LivBits for one year, but I have learned that hard experiences can actually give your heart new things to consider. A lot of times, my Bits are about what’s going on in my heart, and making my Bits is a way to help my brain understand my heart better.

Recently I started blogging so that’s another part of my LivBit work. I am trying to share my ideas through my writing, and it’s not always easy, but I like what I have written so far. I try to take my ideas from Twitter and Instagram and blog about them so that my followers can see another side of my LivBit life. I’ve gotten some really encouraging feedback on my blog posts, and that makes me want to write more. I am learning how to be a better writer and thinker through my blog.

HL: I love that you find strength and role models in the books you read! It must be fun meeting some of your favorite authors and talking about their books.

Liv with Peter and Paul Reynolds

Liv with Peter and Paul Reynolds

Liv: I have lots of favorite authors, like Peter and Paul Reynolds and Susan Verde. I just love books that have powerful messages for my life and the things I love and for the world. Also, I like authors that know how powerful social media is and tweet to fans like me! It’s like the best day ever when an author tweets to me. The day that Mo Willems tweeted out about meeting me was one my BEST days ever! He said I was a force to be reckoned with! I will remember for my whole life that THE Mo Willems, the author of the first books I remember reading all by myself, took a minute to tweet to me.

My favorite fiction book is Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson because it’s about strong girls and I like to use her words in a hashtag: #TougherStrongerFearless. When I am worried about something, I say those words over and over again in my head. Victoria was also the first author on Twitter that ever tweeted back to me. I will never, ever forget how much my heart exploded when I saw her tweet to me. It made me feel like my tweets mattered to the world.

My favorite nonfiction book is YOUR BOOK, Swimming with Sharks! I read a biography about Eugenie Clark and when I saw your book, I was so happy that her story was also put into pictures! I think more kids will be able to understand how amazing Eugenie is as a scientist and champion for sharks! If I could say one thing to Eugenie, I would say thank you for teaching people that sharks are important to the world and thank you for showing the world how powerful girls can be to science.

LivBit about El Deafo by CeCe Bell

HL: Thanks, Liv! It’s been super fun connecting with you over our love for sharks and Eugenie Clark❤️ How does it feel to connect with people ALL OVER THE WORLD?

Liv: I use social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter to share my LivBit work. Using social media has been a super powerful way for me to share my work. I have teachers all over the world who follow me, retweet me, and collaborate with me on LivBit projects. It’s like Twitter and Instagram are HUGE classrooms and my LivBit work is something that makes the class more joyful! I have such an amazing audience when I post online, and it makes me feel proud that people look forward to my posts and tweets.

HL: Many of your LivBits inspire us to never give up on our dreams. What is your big dream?

Liv and Kristin Ziemke

Liv and Kristin Ziemke

Liv: My biggest dream is to have a happy life! I hope that someday I can work with sharks and teach people about conservation and how important sharks are to the ocean. I want to work with people who are smart, love the ocean, and want to share their passions with others. I hope I can make a difference by traveling and learning and loving what I do. I hope little girls will say, “Liv makes learning fun, I want to be like her!”

I have two people who I want to be like when I grow up. One is a writer for teachers and she believes in kids so much. Her name is Kristin Ziemke. She helped me spread the word about LivBits around the world, and she also understands my crazy side and doesn’t mind it too much. The other is Dr. Lisa Hoopes at the Georgia Aquarium. She is an expert in fish nutrition and she spent time with me and inspired me to really focus on one thing about sharks that can make a difference. If I can be like Kristin and Lisa, I would be super happy in life!

HL: How did you become interested in sharks and why do you love them so much?

Liv: When I was in 2nd grade there was a big bin of books all the about the ocean. There was one book in there about sharks and it looked like a book that kids didn’t really like. I took the book for independent reading and I just dug right into it! One of the boys in my class told me that sharks were bad and I just knew that was not true. That book inspired me to want to read more and more about sharks. It’s kind of like sharks spoke to me. I went on a trip to the St. Louis Zoo and I got to actually touch and feed Bamboo and Nurse sharks. I also got to talk to the scientists about how they take care of them.

I just knew I needed to study and learn and be a voice for the sharks. I would look on my Twitter for places and people who were doing great things for sharks, and I would learn even more. A teacher my mom knows sent a book home with her all about Eugenie Clark and I read it in one night. It was an old book, but I didn’t care because it was such an awesome story about her work. I dream of being like Eugenie because she made a difference for the oceans AND for girls who want to be in science discovering important things.

On social media, I follow lots of scientists and organizations doing important work for sharks. I love being a member of the Gills Club because they do events to remind the world that girls can be fierce in science. OCEARCH is another organization who has made a huge difference in my learning. I follow their tagged sharks on Twitter, and I even have a favorite one, her name is Helen. Helen is a Great White shark and she has helped me grow my thinking about so many things. She helps keep me safe on Twitter by being part of my digital tribe. My tribe is a group of followers who will keep me safe if any goobers try to comment or retweet me in an unkind way. I feel so lucky that I have followers who believe in the LivBit message and work with me to keep my message going in positive ways and who are shark experts!

HL: What’s on the horizon for LivBits?

Liv: I have a lot of exciting things coming up for LivBits! I am traveling to California for the national ASCD conference where I get to share with teachers and principals about LivBits and using technology with kids. I am the kid keynote speaker this summer at Alan November’s conference Building Learning Communities (BLC17) in Boston and I get to stay at the PARK PLAZA HOTEL! LivBit takes over the Plaza! I am going to be doing some special writing assignments for a great organization, and you will be able to see those on a major website. Of course, I am looking forward to doing things with you for #TeamGenie! I hope that we can work together to share Eugenie’s mission to save sharks.

Liv on the Chicago Art Institute Steps

Liv on the Chicago Art Institute Steps

HL: I can’t wait for our #TeamGenie projects! Wow you are busy!! I don’t know how you have the time for anything else, but I heard you are also incredible at ballet??

Liv: I am a very serious student of ballet. I have two ballet intensives this summer. One at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago for three weeks and one in NYC at American Ballet Theater for two weeks. Sometimes when I watch sharks swim, I think about how graceful they are and get inspired! Ballet makes me feel strong and challenged in ways that grow my confidence. I hope that all my ballet training will make me the best SCUBA diver around because I can’t wait to go SWIMMING WITH SHARKS!

Learn more about Liv at, and be sure to connect with theLivBits on Instagram, Vimeo, or Twitter (@thelivbits)!


10 Nonfiction Picture Books about Brave Women Conservationists

Today is #nf10for10 day—the day folks share their favorite nonfiction picture books. I can't wait to see everyone's recommendations! During the past few years I have been working on several conservation-themed picture books and in the process have become passionate about protecting our environment. So here are 10 nonfiction picture books that celebrate brave women conservationists who worked tirelessly to protect and save our natural world and its inhabitants. I've included the book that I wrote:). And please visit here to see other terrific nonfiction picture book recommendations. A big thank you to Cathy MereMandy Robek, and Julie Balen for hosting! 

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with Chimps by Jeanette Winter
Jane Goodall has dedicated her life to observing and protecting Chimpanzees.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul
Isatou Ceesay found a way to recycle plastic bags and transform her community.

The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins and Jill McElmurry
Pioneer and activist Kate Sessions helped San Diego grow from a dry desert town into a lush, leafy city known for its gorgeous parks and gardens.

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prevot
Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to lead women in a nonviolent struggle to bring peace and democracy to Africa through its reforestation. 

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola
A pioneer in the field of oceanography, scientist Sylvia Earle has spent her life studying the ocean and working to protect it. 

Rachel Carson and her Book That Changed the World by Laurie lawlor
Environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke people up to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Alice Rumphius, the Lupine Lady, longed to make the world more beautiful and scattered lupine seeds everywhere she went.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle
Born in the 1600s, 13-year-old Maria Merian had a passion for butterflies and other insects, studied their habits and their life cycle, and disproved centuries of scientific belief.

A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss by Toni Buzzeo
As a scientist, nature photographer, and animal activist, Cynthia spent years learning everything she could about elephants and shared these beautiful animals with the world.

Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark by Heather Lang
Eugenie Clark dedicated her life to studying sharks and replacing people's fear with facts. She proved to the world that these magnificent fish deserve our respect and protection.

Creating a Successful "Girls with Grit" Book Club for Elementary Students—with Teacher Michelle Gajda

Recently I had the incredible experience of meeting with teacher Michelle Gajda’s Girls with Grit Book Club at Hawlemont Regional Elementary School in Charlemont, Massachusetts. What a dedicated teacher and an amazing group of girls! They were so excited to talk about the trailblazing women they had explored during their fall meetings. It became immediately clear that this book club not only inspired and empowered these students, it changed them in a meaningful way. So I asked Michelle to share with us the ins and outs of creating a successful book club for elementary students.

Meeting with Michelle Gajda and her Girls with Grit Book Club!

Meeting with Michelle Gajda and her Girls with Grit Book Club!

Why did you decide to start a Girls with Grit Book Club?
I have a passion for children’s books, women’s history and bringing the love of books and reading to children. I teach at a school with a very low socio-economical population. Our students have limited access to technology and certain life experiences that most children take for granted (i.e. going to the beach, visiting new places, flying in an airplane, continuing their education, etc). I wanted to find a way to broaden their horizons and have them realize all of the possibilities available to them in the world. I also wanted them to know that they were not limited by their surroundings or experiences. Reading about women who had accomplished all of those objectives, seemed like a great place to begin! A book club where we read solely for the love of reading and learning! I am also lucky enough to work in a school where our librarian, Mary Boehmer, has the same passions as I do, so I had her weekly support and help.

Who did you invite to join? When and how often did you meet?
Because I wanted the members of the book club to be able to independently read about the women of their choice each week, I invited boys and girls in grades 3-6. Our club this year ended up being all girls.

We met after school for one hour, once a week, for what was originally planned to be 8 weeks. Our members enjoyed it so much and we had so many more women we wanted to learn about that we extended it to 10 weeks! Next year, I will definitely plan to meet longerat least one and a half hours each week. Running the club during the first quarter of the school year worked well, since it didn’t compete with after-school spring sports or have any weather cancelations.

How did you obtain funding?
My school district is lucky enough to have an organization that offers teachers the opportunities to apply for grant money to help us offer projects and activities to our students that our regular school budget does not allow for (which is quite a lot!) I was awarded a grant for $240 to get the book club up and running. This was to cover the cost of purchasing some of the books and journals that we used. The rest of the book club was personally funded. If I had not already raised money online to fund an All-School Read project, I would have used online fundraising such as CrowdRise or GoFundMe.

Book club members create a giant "graffiti wall"

Book club members create a giant "graffiti wall"

How did you structure meetings?
My original plans were to “study” a particular topic/field each week, such as women of science, history, sports, education, environmental concerns, politics, civil rights, arts and culture, and adventure. Books would be grouped by topic/field so that each week, members would choose what woman they wanted to read about in that particular week’s field. I soon realized one “topic” often took up to 2-3 weeks!! 

Most of the books I had available to them were picture books so they were easily read in a shorter amount of time. I also had chapter books in my collection and the members were encouraged to take the books home with them to continue reading about any of the women who interested them.  Each week, I also planned activities for them. At the end of each meeting, all of the members came together to share what they had learned in their readings. This was often a time of great discussion and eye-opening moments!

Some of our activities included:

The girls  begin work on their "I Am" vision boards

The girls  begin work on their "I Am" vision boards

  • Each week after reading about their chosen “girl with grit”, I printed images of the woman they had learned about. The members glued them onto black paper silhouettes of themselves (that we made during our first meeting) and using a white colored pencil, wrote the woman’s name and what she was known for under the image. I wanted the girls to have a connection between themselves and all of the women who had blazed a path for them.
  • Each week, the girls added information to a journal. After they read about the woman they had chosen, they would draw a picture of the woman and add the statement: “Because of _______________, I can_____________. " For example: "Because of Mary Anning, I can become an archeologist and search for dinosaur bones.”  Again, I wanted them to see what doors have been opened to them.
  • During the week that we focused on female inventors, the members created a giant “graffiti wall” that was spray painted with black paint. Using metallic markers and glitter gel pens, they wrote the woman’s name, what they invented and drew a picture of it. They proudly presented their “wall” during an all-school meeting.
  • At the end of each meeting, the members looked through magazines and cut out positive words, phrases and pictures that they thought best exemplified them. They used these to create an “I Am” vision board from artist canvas, paint and modge podge.

What were the most successful elements of the club?
By far, the most successful part of our book club was our visit from Heather Lang! The members knew that one of our last meetings would be with an author who had written specifically about Girls with Grit. Teachers in the school each sponsored one of the members and provided them with one of Heather’s books that could be signed and that they could take home to add to their own personal libraries!

I could not have been prouder of how poised each member was during Heather’s visit! Their questions and contributions to everything Heather presented to them and discussed with them was so very satisfying. One of the members said “I can’t believe I actually own a book that is signed by an author who I got to speak with”. I know that her life was forever changed by that one event! I could see it in her eyes and it still gives me goosebumps thinking about it!!

Some book club members share their completed "I Am" vision boards

Some book club members share their completed "I Am" vision boards

How do you think the club impacted its members?
There was not a week that went by where one of the girls didn’t say, “I didn’t know that girls/women couldn’t do that?” One of the members is an avid baseball player and she was shocked to learn that girls were not always allowed to play baseball, either on a girls’ team (because they didn’t exist) or a mixed team (because it wasn’t allowed)! We had some wonderful discussions about the opportunities available to them now. Many of the careers chosen by the women were new to the members (shark scientist, ocean floor mapping, etc.)

It was also a wonderful learning opportunity for me! I was learning right alongside the members each week. When questions came up that were not answered in the books, we researched together and shared. There is something to be said about reading and learning simply for the love of it...and unfortunately, this is too often NOT the case in schools.

I can truly say that the members of the Girls with Grit Book Club learned so much that will stay with them from this after-school book club experience. One of the members gave me a very sweet Christmas card that said “I am so glad you are going to do the Girls with Grit book club again next year. I loved it so much”…from a teacher’s point of view, it doesn’t get much better than that! 

Interview with Best-Selling Author Andrea Beaty about Being Bold!

Andrea Beaty’s picture books are right up my alley! They are not only fun and clever, but they celebrate passion and perseverance in children. With two books on the New York Times Best Sellers List, it's no secret that people think her books are out of this world. And in fact one literally is--ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER is currently orbiting Earth aboard the International Space Station as part of the Story Time From Space program, How cool is that?!

And now Andrea and illustrator David Roberts have launched another winner. ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST shows the power of curiosity as our young protagonist Ada sets out to use science to understand her world by asking important questions like, "Why are their pointy things stuck to a rose?" and "Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?" And boy does little Ada create a lot of fun and chaos in her wake! 

Andrea's books reflect her own beliefs about determination and overcoming obstacles. She believes kids must follow their passions, and "[t]he only true failure can come if you quit." I was curious to learn how her own experiences informed these beliefs. Thank you, Andrea, for indulging my curiosity! 

Tell me about a time in your childhood when you challenged yourself to step outside your comfort zone? How did you overcome your fear or discomfort? 
The example of overcoming discomfort/fear that sticks in my mind is actually a time when I did NOT overcome it. When I was in high school, I studied French and Spanish and was very active in the foreign language club. We got to go to a regional conference and meet other kids studying languages. As part of the event, clubs put on skits for the other attendees. We came up with a skit and practiced, but when we got to the conference, we chickened out and didn’t perform it. I regret that. I think it would have been a great chance to have fun, build some confidence in performing in front of people, and challenge ourselves.

If I could go back and give my young self one piece of advice, I would tell myself to be bold. For most things, the downside of challenging yourself is so small compared to the upside. Now, I try to ask myself what will happen if I don’t succeed at something. Will I die? Highly unlikely. Will I be disappointed? So what? I’ll get over it! AND, I’ll learn from it and grow from the experience. I can certainly live with that!  

I often write “Be Bold!” in books that I sign for kids. I hope they will follow that advice. 

Did anything from your own experiences inspire you to write ROSIE, IGGY, and ADA? Who do you most relate to and why? 
I wrote IGGY because my son loved to build when he was a kid. I wrote ROSIE because I loved the girl who hid behind her bangs. I wrote ADA because she stands to the side, tapping her chin while the other kids are helping with IGGY’s bridge. She’s full of questions. I think I mostly relate to Ada for that reason. While I have very few answers, I’m full of questions. 

How do you approach goal-setting? 
I am more opportunity driven than goal oriented. I like to explore new things and get excited when something comes along that I haven’t tried before. It leads to great adventures, but sometimes is a little chaotic.

How do you manage obstacles and failure? Do you ever shy away from things that are hard? 
I always shy away from things that are hard. That’s part of being a life form. But, I manage to barrel through. It’s something I’ve gotten better about as I have gotten older. The best art really comes from those prickly, uncomfortable places you reach when you step out of your comfort zone.

Do you have any favorite STEM-related children’s books that you recommend for young readers?
This is really a golden time for picture books in general, but especially in the literary non-fiction (especially biography) and STEM-ish books. These books are just great stories for all kids and are marvelously illustrated. Many great titles deal directly with STEM, but there are lots which inspire kids to embrace their creativity and their passions. That’s really the most important thing.
Here are some of my favorite titles which do that:

What you are working on now and what’s next?
I am currently working on a set of fantastic project books to go along with these picture books. 

ROSIE REVERE’S BIG PROJECT BOOK FOR BOLD ENGINEERS comes out in April 2017! It’s full of engineering-based activities from brainstorming solutions to big, real-world problems to hands-on projects. To some straight-up silliness. It’s funny and awesome! It gives kids who have been inspired by ROSIE a chance to take action. IGGY PECK’s project book will be out in Fall 2017. 

Check out Andrea's other books, including Fluffy Bunnies 2: The Schnoz of Doom and Cicada Summer on

Judy Blume—Saving Kids with Books

Who is your author heroine? Who wrote that book that saved you or made you feel less alone or made you see the world and yourself in a different way?

My heroine is the extraordinary Judy Blume! As a child, I ate up her books. I saw myself in her characters, and I learned from the conflicts and struggles of Margaret, Deenie, Sheila, Linda, and Katherine.

I remember reading ARE YOU THERE GOD IT’S ME MARGARET in fourth grade. It was a secret read. A friend had somehow “acquired” the book, and we passed it around, reading it in private. Later we huddled together at recess and compared notes. It led to many more huddles where we now felt empowered to discuss and question taboo subjects, like puberty, sex, and religious beliefs. Judy Blume’s books made us feel less alone and less confused—able to explore our own identities.

Over the years Judy Blume's books have been challenged and banned for exploring “inappropriate” topics, but thank goodness she wrote the truth and didn't worry about what people thought. Deeply committed to children's intellectual freedom, Judy Blume has become a leader in the anti-censorship movement, always stressing the importance of offering kids a wide variety of books.

Books are an ideal way for parents and teachers to communicate with kids about topics, like discrimination, disability, bullying, and sexuality. Watch this awesome  Reading Rockets interview with Judy Blume about communicating through literature . . .

Judy Blume has always filled a gaping hole on bookshelves for kids  and is now filling bookshelves at her new bookstore, Books & Books Key West in  Florida!

For a future post I’ll be putting together a list of books that can create conversations with kids about important subjects, so please share any of your favorites in the comment section below!

Interview with Author Laurie Wallmark about Overcoming Obstacles and Supporting Girls in STEM

 Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine has earned exceptional praise, four starred reviews, and many awards. And what better person to write a book about the world's first computer programmer than the talented Laurie Wallmark, who faced and overcame her own struggles pursuing a career in STEM and later as a children's book writer. Just like Ada, Laurie is an example of what we can do if we persevere and follow our passions.

What drew you to pursue a STEM career?
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved math, and by extension, science. On Saturdays, I would go to the library and take out books on math. The fact that sometimes the math in these books was way above my level, didn’t bother me a bit. I kept reading and rereading until I could understand it. I also enjoyed reading biographies about mathematicians, people like Euclid and Fibonacci, Pythagoras and Euler. But I never found a biography about a woman mathematician. In fact, if it weren’t for a biography of Marie Curie, you’d never know that woman mathematicians or scientists even existed.

Tell me about any challenges and barriers you faced during your childhood or young adult years as you pursued a career in STEM, and what tactics did you use to overcome these struggles?
The biggest challenge I experienced in my school career was the expectation that girls wouldn’t be interested in or be good at STEM-related subjects. When it came time to choose courses for high school, my mother asked the principal about the availability of higher-level math classes. He asked her if she had a son or a daughter. When he heard I was a girl, he told my mother she didn’t need to worry about that, since I wouldn’t take any of the harder math courses. When I applied to college, the counselor never suggested I consider engineering. This is in spite of the fact that I ended up at a university with an engineering school. I think the reason I never gave up on STEM was because I was lucky enough to have encouragement from my parents. They didn’t believe my gender should limit me in any way.

What inspired you to begin writing for children? 
I’ve always enjoyed reading children’s books, especially middle-grade novels and picture books. One day, out of the blue, I had an idea for a novel. My degrees were in biochemistry and information systems, not creative writing, but that didn’t stop me. I’d just have to learn to write. And learn I did. I read craft books, took workshops, studied hundreds of children’s books, and eventually went on to earn an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

What drew you to write about Ada? What trait do you admire most about her? 
Writing about Ada seemed a natural fit for me. I teach computer science and Ada was the world’s first computer programmer. In Ada, I found a woman who overcame many obstacles. She was bedridden for three years, had an absent father and distant mother, and wanted to enter a male-dominated field in Victorian England. Ada didn’t let any of these deter her. She followed her dreams and became a professional mathematician.

What barriers do girls face today in STEM fields and what can teachers do to attract and retain their interest?
I think girls and other underrepresented minorities face three barriers to considering a career in STEM. STEM-related books, both fiction and nonfiction, can help children overcome all of these obstacles. 

  • Inadequate access and exposure: Because of circumstances beyond their control, such as living in a poorer school districts children may have inadequate access and exposure to STEM. If a child’s school can’t provide hands-on STEM activities, at least we can help her experience STEM through books about these subjects.
  • Prejudicial expectations: Many children have preconceived notions of about what they think a scientist or mathematician is supposed to look like. Books, by acting as both mirrors for stories about people like themselves and windows to the stories of others, can help combat the stereotypes driving these prejudices.
  • Lack of interest: Many children are never exposed to the creative, enjoyable side of STEM. Books that include STEM-related content don’t need to be dry and pedantic. Rather, they can show children all the ways that they can make STEM a part of their lives. Through books, children can learn that STEM is fun!

Can you tell us about what you are working on now and what’s next? 
I have a picture book biography coming out next year about another strong, smart woman in STEM. Grace Hopper was the first person to talk to computers in English instead of using only “1”s and “0”s.

*See last week's post Getting Girls to Stick with STEM for 12 of my favorite STEM children's books!

Getting Girls to Stick with STEM

Lucy feeding a baby squirrel at the New England Wildlife Center

Lucy feeding a baby squirrel at the New England Wildlife Center

Some people just seem gifted with the ability to crunch numbers, analyze data, or write code. My daughter Lucy concluded by fifth grade, “I don’t have a math mind.” I’ve watched her struggle with math-based classes. And it’s true, math doesn’t come naturally to her—writing does. But she longs to be a veterinarian. I felt for her . . . I was much more talented at math than writing. I remembered facing that choice: should I follow my strengths or my passion? 

In tenth grade Lucy began to express serious doubts and worries about whether she could be successful in a STEM field. I absorbed her frustration as she floundered over her science fair experiment and grappled with calculus problems. At the beginning of her senior year, she was so undone by physics, she was certain she would fail and never get into college. But with each failed experiment or approach, and the occasional failed test, there was progress, and I saw Lucy becoming more resilient and a little less frustrated. She came to the important realization that failure is inherent and essential in these classes. A failure can be a success—a way to rule something out. Lucy now knows that with hard work and positive thinking, no matter how impossible her math and science work seems, she can succeed. And I see her carrying over this resilience to  other aspects of her life, too.

Scientist Angela Duckworth has demonstrated that grit—the combination of passion and perseverance—is a better measure of success than IQ (watch her ted talk). And the great news is that kids can learn and develop grit. 

I’ve been delighted to see the recent increase in children’s books about women in STEM fields. Why not introduce kids to these role models and discuss how these women took risks, embraced failures, and forged forward? One of my favorite new books is ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE, by Laurie Wallmark, about an a 19th-century female mathematician and computer programming pioneer. Stay tuned for my next post—an interview with Laurie about her own experiences pursuing a STEM career and how Ada inspired her! 

Here are twelve of my favorites children's books about women in STEM fields. Please share yours in the comment section below!

Interview with Author Shana Corey on Facing her Fears and Finding Inspiration from Strong Women

Shana Corey’s books about strong women have always been among my favorite picture book biographies. Her lively writing, well-researched facts, and captivating voice make her books so accessible. I remember years ago reading PLAYERS IN PIGTAILS and YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER to my two little girls and how these true stories inspired all three of us to be more brave.

 So it’s such a treat to hear from the wonderful Shana Corey about how she faces fears and obstacles, and why she writes about strong women . . .

Tell us about a time in your childhood when you challenged yourself to do something outside your comfort zone? 
I was a somewhat nervous kid (I'm a somewhat nervous grownup to be honest) so pretty much everything was out of my comfort zone. I think that's actually why I'm so drawn to stories of people who have the gumption to bend the rules and raise their voices for change-that takes a lot of courage and it's something I really admire and respect. I did fall in love with theatre though in third grade (I got randomly picked to be an elf in the school play) and I fell so completely in love with it that I put aside my shyness and auditioned for everything I could after that. Auditioning was scary, but sometimes (maybe even most of the time) scary things are the things that are the most worthwhile, and many of my best childhood memories involve theater--both the goosebumps excitement of being on stage, but also the joy and fun of being backstage and part of something bigger than you.

What inspired you to write HERE COME THE GIRL SCOUTS! about Juliette Gordon Low? 
I've always been interested in Juliette Gordon Low because I was born in Savannah, Georgia where she began the Girl Scouts. And though I moved when I was a baby, I grew up hearing my mom's stories of being a girl scout there in the 1950s and I loved visiting the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace when we went back to Savannah. And I admired so much about Juliette Gordon Low. She was somewhat eccentric (there are hilarious stories about her-she once snuck out of a dinner party and went fishing in an evening gown!) and I love that she didn't feel she had to be like everyone else. I also really admire her ability to pick herself up and start something new-she started Girl Scouts in her 50s, after her marriage very painfully ended, at a time when women of that age-especially women without a husband behind them-would normally have been written off. I loved that that's when she decided to start the most meaningful chapter of her life, a brand new adventure that would help millions of girls have their own adventures!

Have the women you write about inspired you to do something or changed you in any significant way?
Absolutely! I think they've helped me see myself in a clearer way--the kind of person I admire, the kind of person I'd still like to be when I grow up and the kind of person I want to raise my children to be. It's possible that they've encouraged me to worry a little less about rules. And they've reminded me how real history is because I've had the fun through my books of meeting folks directly related to or affected by the events or people in the stories. I've spoken to women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (my book Players in Pigtails is about that league) and to relatives of Juliette Gordon Low and of the first Girl Scouts-it's inspiring to me to realize that these were real people making and changing history.

How do you manage obstacles and failure? Do you ever shy away from things that are hard?
Oy! This is a hard question. I am learning not to shy away from things that are hard. As mentioned earlier I loved being on stage as a child but public speaking when it's just me, not a character, has always been much harder. A low point, was in college when I once avoided a class I wanted to take because I knew there would be a lot of public speaking. That woke me up though-and I decided I absolutely wouldn't let that happen again. When I started publishing, I made it a point to do tons of school visits and I found that I absolutely love (love, love) talking to kids. I remember thinking early on that if I hadn't been a little scared of them initially, it would have been okay for me to say no to them and just not do them. But the fact that I was scared meant I needed to say yes, because otherwise-I would be letting that small worry run my life. And I'm so glad I did say yes because they've become one of my favorite parts of writing and I consider myself so very lucky to be able to go in to schools and talk to kids about books. 

From The Secret Subway.

Can you tell us about what you are working on now and what’s next?
I am also a children's book editor so that's what I spend most of my time on. But I have three new books out this spring. An early reader on Malala (talk about a girl with serious grit), a picture book-The Secret Subway that isn't about a girl-but is the true story of a guy with grit--changemaker Alfred Ely Beach, who built New York's first subway in 1870-a block long pneumatic subway-and he did it without permission! He was an inventor and the editor of Scientific American and as with the women I write about, he was able to think outside the box and bend the rules when he needed to, to get things done.  And then I also have an early reader coming out this May about Hillary Clinton-who is someone I have deeply admired since I was a teenager, so that's been very exciting for me.

Interview with Author Sue Macy on the Women Who Inspire Her and Finding Her Own Grit

I’ve always been a big fan of Sue Macy’s books about strong women, especially her sports titles. With multiple starred reviews, her new picture book biography, MISS MARY REPORTING: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber, is inspiring, informative, and entertaining. Imagine a time when women weren’t even allowed to sit in the press boxes at sporting events! 

Here’s what Sue Macy said about the inspiring women she writes about and finding her own grit . . .

Sue, what inspired you to write about Mary Garber?
As someone who’s written about sports quite a bit, I kept coming across Mary Garber’s name and byline. I filed it away, literally, by photocopying some of her articles, and figuratively, in the abstract list of people I might like to explore. When one of my editors took me out to lunch to discuss book ideas, I mentioned Mary and found myself getting increasingly excited when I spoke about her. That’s how I can tell I should write a book—if I start talking faster and realize I need to convince somebody how great the story could be. Fortunately, my editor, Sylvie Frank, was as excited about Mary as I was. Within six weeks of our lunch I had signed a contract, which is a record in my experience.

I admire Mary’s dedication in following her passion and relate to her because I’ve been doing that in my second career as a nonfiction author. (My first career was as an editor in educational publishing.) Mary found a way to be a sportswriter when very few women were doing that, and she was fearless in doing what she had to do to get the story.

I also admire her humanity, how she had no compunction about reporting on sports at segregated African-American schools, even though her newspaper didn’t usually cover them. And how she thought telling the story of the losers in a sports contest was as important as writing about the winners. Of course she was right, but our culture today is so focused on winning that it seems like a revolutionary concept.

Have the women you write about inspired you to do something or changed you in any significant way?
My first book, A Whole New Ball Game, was about the women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the women’s league from the World War II era. I spent over a decade getting to know the players before writing the book—I wrote several articles about them first. And they have proven to be great role models.

I still go to their reunions every year. I have watched them age with dignity and seen the challenges they faced at each stage of their lives. They’re about 25 years older than me, so it’s been an ongoing lesson about challenges I may face. Plus they’ve been my greatest supporters. When I completed a triathlon 10 years ago my inbox was flooded with congratulation e-mails from them. When my book, Wheels of Change, was a finalist for the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award in 2012, one of the players surprised me by flying to Dallas to see me receive my plaque. When my father passed away, I got piles of wonderful sympathy cards.

Every woman I’ve written about has had an effect on me in some way, but these women have truly changed my life. Every time I write another book, I think about how their initial encouragement started me on this path.

Describe a situation as an author when you had to dig deep and find your grit to overcome an obstacle or tackle something that was difficult?
A few years ago I got the opportunity to write a middle grade biography about Sally Ride. As someone who had greatly admired Sally, America’s first woman to travel in space, and who was shocked when she died of pancreatic cancer at age 61, I was honored to tell her story. I could relate to her because we were close in age—I knew firsthand the times in which she lived. And I was excited that she had been a champion tennis player in high school and college, since writing about sports and athletes is my specialty.

But Sally was a physicist and I never took physics. I was worried about trying to explain concepts I didn’t understand. So I called Nancy Finton, a former colleague from Scholastic who is a science writer and had even worked with Sally on two projects. Nancy was very encouraging and agreed to read my manuscript and pay special attention to the science I was trying to explain. She ended up asking me to clarify a few things, but it turns out I got most of it right.

When you write nonfiction, you often have to explain things you might not know much about, and it’s definitely an unsettling feeling. When that happens to me, I read as much as I can about the topic, try my best to explain it, and make sure I have someone read what I wrote who knows more about the topic than me.

Sue in a vintage Studebaker!

Sue in a vintage Studebaker!

What are you are working on now and what’s next?
In 2017 I’ll have two new books out. I’m just finishing a young adult book for National Geographic titled Motor Girls, about the intrepid women who defied expectations and conquered the automobile in the early twentieth century, through World War I. It’s a follow-up to Wheels of Change, which was about the impact of the bicycle on women’s lives in the 1890s.

And I’ve written a nonfiction picture book about Gertrude Ederle’s swim across the English Channel in 1926, which is being illustrated by Matt Collins. It’s our third book together for Holiday House. In a way it’s a return to my roots. One of the first sports stories I wrote was a play about Ederle’s swim for Scholastic Action, a reading magazine, back in the 1980s. As a swimmer, I find her achievement inspiring. She was the first woman and the fastest person to swim the Channel at the time.

How Eleanor Roosevelt Faced her Fears and Developed Grit!

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Most of us need to build our courage. We aren’t all born with grit! It turns out there are plenty of things we can do to develop grit in our children and ourselves. Research shows that kids who face their fears and take on tasks that are outside their comfort zone build courage and resiliency.

Eleanor Roosevelt struggled with fear as child and young lady. She was shy and awkward and terrified of speaking in public. She described fear as “the worst stumbling block anyone has to face. It is the great crippler.”

As Eleanor matured, she worked hard to address her fearful character by purposefully taking on tasks that gave her anxiety. “You gain strength and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face,” she once said. Eleanor became one of the most influential women in American history and an incredibly effective public speaker.

Let’s encourage our girls and boys to step outside their comfort zones.  I have to remind myself to do the same. It can be downright scary! It’s much less stressful to be complacent and to avoid things that seem difficult or scary. Ask your child or students about their fears and struggles. Then brainstorm a list of tasks or activities that can help them gain confidence. Small steps are always a good place to start. And don't forget to join in and let them see you addressing your fears. It's not easy, but the more practice we have stepping outside our comfort zones, the more brave and resilient we will become. 

Check out these picture books about Eleanor Roosevelt:

    Eleanor, Quiet No More       by Doreen Rappaport

    Eleanor, Quiet No More
      by Doreen Rappaport

Top Ten Picture Book Bios about Trail-Blazing Women #nf10for10

Hooray, today is #nf10for10 day! It's the day folks can share their favorite nonfiction picture books. So get your library card out, or if you're like me, give into your addiction and add to your collection. Since I write picture book biographies about brave women, and I'm exploring "Girls with Grit" on my new blog, I'm sharing ten favorite picture book biographies about trail-blazing women. And please visit here to see other terrific nonfiction picture book recommendations. A big shout out to Cathy MereMandy Robek, and Julie Balen for hosting! 

Here we go . . .

1. Tillie The Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle changed History

This is a fun, lively story about Tillie Anderson, who didn't care that bicycles weren't for ladies, and became the women's bicycle-riding champion of the world.

2. Mermaid Queen

I love the colorful illustrations and accessible text in this story about the courageous Annette Kellerman who overcame a crippling illness, confronted naysayers, and invented water ballet.

3. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement 

This lyrical first-person account shows us how a poor, uneducated woman became one of the civil rights movement's most inspiring leaders.

4. Who Says Women Can't be Doctors?: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell

A spunky and informative story about Elizabeth Blackwell, who never took no for an answer and proved that women could be doctors, too. 

5. What To do About Alice?

Who wouldn't like a story about a feisty girl (Alice Roosevelt) who broke the rules and turned every new experience into an adventure?!

6. When Marian Sang

I never tire of this moving story of Marian Anderson's triumph over segregation.

7. The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps

A beautifully-illustrated and well-paced account of Jane Goodall's years in the African forests studying chimps and working to protect these endangered primates and their habitats.

8. Eleanor Quiet No More

This story grabbed me right away with its stunning art and honest text, leaving me with a true understanding of this exceptional woman.

9. Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic

This book's suspenseful text and powerful art drew me in immediately and kept me on the edge of my seat.

10. Nothing But Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson

The rhythm of the text and energetic art are a perfect combination for this story about a tomboy who was "nothing but trouble" and became the first African American to win the Wimbledon Tennis Championship.

Introducing . . . Girls with Grit!

Alice Coachman Credit: Tuskegee University Archives

Alice Coachman
Credit: Tuskegee University Archives

If there’s one thing I've built as a kid lit writer—other than a stack of ideas, a heap of rough drafts, and large rejection piles—it’s perseverance! Without perseverance, it’s tough to make it in this business. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t born with a gritty, indomitable spirit, and I'm far from mastering it. In fact after years of rejections, I was discouraged and almost gave up on becoming a children’s book author. Then one day, while I waited to hear back from editors on my latest submission, I thought, why not try my hand at some nonfiction?

It didn’t take me long to find my first subject: Olympic high-jump champion Alice Coachman. I was drawn to her spirit immediately. She loved running and jumping, and nothing could stop her from doing what she loved. No shoes? She ran barefoot. No facilities? She tied together sticks and rags to make her own high jumps. Alice overcame poverty, segregation, racism, and gender discrimination. The more I researched Alice Coachman the smaller my pile of rejections looked. Alice inspired me. She motivated me to keep writing and revising and submitting. Whenever a new rejection arrived in my mailbox, I replayed a favorite Alice quote in my head:  “When the going gets tough and you feel like throwing your hands in air, listen to that voice that tells you to ‘keep going. Hang in there.’ Guts and determination will pull you through.”

Visiting Alice in 2012

Visiting Alice in 2012

Alice Coachman and many of the women I research have that special combination of passion, determination, perseverance, and resiliency which all add up to “grit.” Children's books are an ideal place for kids of all different circumstances to find their own role models with grit. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, these women show girls and boys what’s possible. They teach them how to dream and fight and fail and succeed. So my plan is to share stories, images, articles, classroom activities, author interviews, and books with strong female characters. Together, we can use children's books to inspire and teach our kids (and ourselves) to be brave!