“What inspired you to write science books for babies?”

Young reader

Photo credit: Dr. Nehemiah Mabry

Since the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series came out in October 2016, this is the question I’m asked most often. Fortunately, it’s also the easiest to answer!

Back in 2010, The New York Times ran the article “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” It attributed a drop in picture book sales to the choice some parents were making to bypass picture books for their very young children in favor of more “sophisticated” reading material. I was discussing the article with friends and wondered aloud, “What do these parents want, quantum physics for babies?”

The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was an idea with potential. But when writing books, inspiration is only the beginning. Here’s the story of how the Baby Loves Science series came together in three (not so) simple steps:

1. Start with Science

It’s a good thing that I enjoy a challenge, because I spent nearly a year researching before I could even begin writing. I knew I needed to understand the science well enough to explain it in very simple terms. From a long list of possible topics, I picked seven to really focus on with, you guessed it, more research. The topics I ultimately chose to write about were those I could relate to common childhood experiences or observations.

2. Make It Accessible

I’d previously written picture books, but envisioned this project as a series of board books for babies and toddlers. Was this a realistic goal? Once again, I hit the books and spoke with professionals to learn all I could about early literacy and how babies acquire language, because I wanted my series to be age-appropriate.

Interestingly, the most effective way to make abstract ideas more accessible is to present them within the context of a story. Listening to a story activates the language processing center of a child’s brain and helps make the information more memorable. (This is true for adults, as well.) Taking it a step further, when the story is told from the point of view of a character the child can relate to, areas of the brain literally “light up” as if they are experiencing events right along with the character.

How amazing is that?

So, while concept books have their place in baby’s first library, I’d need to take a different approach. I decided that the best way to structure my books was in the form of a story, told through an appealing main character, and related to a familiar real-world experience or observation. I was especially happy to discover that this scientifically supported structure just happened to align with my experience as a children’s book author!

3. Make It Irresistible

As soon as Irene Chan signed on to illustrate, I knew these books would be adorable. The beautiful babies featured on the covers and throughout each book practically leap off the page, adding another layer of interest for even the littlest listeners.

You may have noticed that babies love to look at pictures of faces, and especially faces of other babies. It turns out there’s science behind that, as well.  “Babies are hardwired to recognize faces, which helps them connect with their caregiver early on,” says Michael Frank, a brain and cognitive sciences researcher at MIT.  So, even before a baby understands the meaning of the words in the text, they are practicing their focusing skills on the bright, colorful illustrations. It’s no wonder that parents report their babies are drawn to these books like little hummingbirds to nectar!

The Baby Loves Science books only appear to be simple in their writing and design. In reality, they’re the result of collaboration between an entire team that works very hard to ensure they are accurate, age-appropriate and irresistible to our young audience – because we believe they deserve nothing less.

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!

 

I cannot wait to head to sunny LA for this amazing event! My appearance just happens to be on Earth Day, and also the same day as the March for Science – so you can be certain we’ll be celebrating the ways that science helps us protect our planet!

My “Smartypants Science Celebration” is appropriate for all ages – grownups may learn a thing or two, as well!

Science for Babies?

Why it’s important for parents and educators to encourage babies’ natural curiosity, right from the start

Among the many hot topics in education today, “STEM” seems to be leading the pack. Incorporating more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) into school curriculum has been recognized as a priority, and that’s great. But many professionals believe that in order to prevent achievement gaps down the road, STEM education should begin even earlier – with infants as young as six months.

baby-933559_1280

According to Roberto J. Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, “Research indicates that as early as infancy, young children start developing and testing hypotheses for how the world around them works. They understand probability and make predictions. They take in information from trusted sources around them, and use that information to guide their behavior. And all that begins in the first year of life.”

As the author of the Baby Loves Science series of board books, my goal has been to learn as much as I can about science, and also about how parents and caregivers can turn everyday experiences into fun, informal learning opportunities for their little ones.

This February I attended the Early Childhood STEM Conference in Pasadena, organized by The Children’s Center at CalTech. I was fascinated to learn that innovative early childhood educators are providing babies and toddlers with opportunities for STEM exploration through simple activities such as stacking blocks and rolling balls.

Yes, activities such as these are excellent introductions to science.

In fact, STEM is everywhere – watching a bird fly, floating boats in the bathtub – even in dropping crackers from a high chair and watching them fall, baby is experimenting with gravity and physics. By spending time together observing and talking about the science in everyday moments, parents and caregivers contribute to a child’s future success in school, and in life.

I was delighted to discover that President Barack Obama has placed a priority on STEM education. I also had an opportunity to hear Dr. Russell Schilling, Executive Director of STEM in the Office of Innovation and Improvement, speak on engaging children in STEM beginning in the early years. So when a call came from The White House in search of related programs and commitments, I was eager to share details about the ways Baby Loves Science fits into their exciting new initiatives.

Over the coming months, I’ll be posting links to additional research and resources for parents, caregivers and educators, including activity guides for the Baby Loves Quarks and Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering books. Let’s all commit to inspiring our littlest learners with the joy of curiosity. #STEMstartsEarly

A Few Updates…

I’m super-excited to announce that the Baby Loves Science family will be expanding! In addition to Baby Loves Quarks and Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, both coming out on October 4, two new titles are in the works for 2017. Can you guess the topics? I’ll be announcing those here soon, so check back!

If you’ll be attending Book Expo America (BEA) in Chicago, stop by the Charlesbridge booth where I’ll be signing copies of Baby Loves Quarks on Friday, May 13 at 10:00 a.m.

Hope to see you there!

New Year, New Blog!

I’ll be posting updates about my new books and appearances here, so stay tuned!