22 Apr 2011

Science: The Art of....Nuttiness?

Sure. Why not.

Let me introduce myself.

Helaine Becker, writer.

Or, as I was called by my sister when we were kids, "Insane Helaine." I think the nickname might have been prompted by my fondness for weird facts, like what whalers used to use for raincoats (the waterproof skin from a male whale's ahem), coupled with an obsessive-compulsive need to share said weird facts with everyone I met. The perfect matrix for becoming a kids' writer, no? 

My first job, at 16, was for a science education publisher, who happened to be my dad. My tasks included sweeping floors and filing, but I quickly promoted myself to staff writer. I specialized in adapting the already existing high school level material for republication for elementary readers. Read, understand, simplify. Easy peasy.

With a few credits under my belt, I landed writing jobs for other science publishers too. There was only one problem. As a determined non-science student, I never had much of a clue about the topic I'd be writing about. I learned as I went, and discovered that NOT knowing science was a benefit. It meant I was in exactly the same spot as my readers. If I couldn't understand something, neither would they. As a result, I was forced to really learn a topic, without relying on jargon or superficial explanations.

The next step, once I had the a-ha! moment, was to figure out how to explain complicated concepts in uncomplicated language. Deep Background as a lifelong bookworm helped there.

A career was born.

But let's not forget that nut factor. I simply can't take much in life too seriously, and that sly winky attitude kept sliding into my work. Not great for educational writing  or for text books. But perfect for funny science-themed kids' books, no?

My first science book for kids, Are You Psychic?, was therefore a sneaky one, one that took advantage of my quirky sense of humor. It gave kids the chance to explore whether or not they had 'woo-woo' powers, such as the ability to read minds or predict the future. But psst! - the book had it's own hidden agenda: to get kids to examine psychic phenomena critically, and test their own tendencies using scientific principles and procedures. I was awfully chuffed when it made the O.L.A.'s Best Books for Children's list, and was nominated for both a Red Cedar Award and an Information Book Award.

Other funny, funky titles soon followed: Science on the Loose, Secret Agent Y.O.U., Magic Up Your Sleeve,  and The Insecto-Files, which won the inaugural Lane Anderson Award for Science Writing for Children in 2010.

But we nuts can never rest on our laurels (do laurels even produce nuts?). I'm currently working on several other projects with a science theme.

One, tentatively called The Jumbo Book of the Ocean, will be published in Spring, 2012 by Kids Can Press. It will provide hands-on activities about the ocean and ocean animals, while examining the risks facing the ocean from global warming, deoxygenation and acidification.

I'm also working on a science/environmental themed kids' TV show for ATPN. It's called Planet Echo and we're into the second season now; my part is to create the nutterific segments called 'Dr. Greeny's Mad Lab.' It's been a ton of fun.  

When I post in this space, you can expect to find that same kind of nutty humor that I bring to my books. But my posts will also include some awesome facts and findings about the natural world, news you can use if you are a teacher, librarian, camp counselor or parent - anyone charged with helping kids explore and understand our world. You might read about cow farts, or jellyfish solar power. About how mole rats can smell food underwater, or how all that stuff they taught you in science class, like that the Gulf Stream keeps northern Europe warm, is dead wrong.

Looking forward to sharing more weird facts with you!

'Til next time,

Follow me on Twitter! www.twitter.com/helainebecker  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I'm always interested in everything that exposes kids to the wonders of the world, especially in books! I'll be keeping my eyes open for yours.