Dare to STEAM

Surrounded by a fortress of picture books, three women took the dais to a round of applause louder than what’s typically heard in this Glen Ellyn meeting room. Instead of local citizens gathered to hear from their city council, the room was full of educators and librarians from across DuPage County ready to hear from three best-selling childrens’ authors. And not just any childrens’ books, either: these ladies write books designed to encourage kids of all ages to be interested in STEAM.

Injecting a Love of STEAM into Curricula and Play

STEAM. Every current educator knows what it stands for (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture/Art, Mathematics). They also know they are to place more focus on it in their classrooms. But for kids who aren’t ready for titration, or even times tables, how do they get them excited about the subjects in an organic way?

That’s where the evening’s panelists came into play. First was Sarah Aronson, author of Just Like Rube Goldberg, whose non-fiction account of Goldberg’s life as a picture book introduced her to the world of writing STEAM. Second was Andrea Beaty, author of Rosie Revere, Engineer and other picture and chapter books about The Questioneers, a fictional classroom of STEAM loving kids. Finally, the panel included Ruth Spiro, author of the Baby Loves series, which breaks scientific concepts down to the earliest reading levels. All of them spoke on their creative process, the inspiration behind their work, and the intersectionality among STEAM, children, and literature.

Scientists aren’t about having answers, they’re about asking questions.

All three authors noted that children naturally have the inquisitive minds of scientists, and they write to encourage that instinct. “Kids are really good at asking questions,” Spiro observed. She wants to make sure that her books reflect curious kids, with adults in their lives who model that curiosity. Beaty echoed that sentiment, remarking that “not knowing is the greatest thing in the world. Scientists aren’t about having answers, they’re about asking questions.” 

Unlikely Origins

Proving that creativity and innovation aren’t hampered by background, the women shared their journeys to become childrens’ book authors. Spiro was a magazine writer with no background in the sciences, while Beaty studied biology, not literature. Aronson described her career as a physical therapist who began writing on a dare. But each of them found parallels between their work then, and their work now.

“Story arcs are similar to the scientific method,” said Spiro. “My books are grounded in childhood experiences,” which helped her bridge the connection from reviewer of childrens’ books to a writer of STEAM books for children.

For Beaty, it was about seeing a story within her own children. After observing that her son loved building things, from school projects to simply stacking jam containers at restaurants, she thought more children should be encouraged to do the same. That became the foundation of her research process: observing the kids around her, as well as the ones her illustrator, David Roberts, draws into her stories.

On the other hand, Aronson’s biography of the famed inventor, Just Like Rube Goldberg, required meticulous research to not only earn its nonfiction status, but also meet the approval of Goldberg’s granddaughter. She explained that she had to “learn the research process as [she] did it.” She clearly succeeded, earning Goldberg’s granddaughter’s blessing and rave reviews from the literary community.

Failure is Fantastic

But what if Aronson hadn’t gotten the go-ahead to publish? Or if she had, what if no one had read the book? Well, in Aronson’s own words, it would’ve been okay, since “failure is amazing.” The other authors immediately agreed. Spiro commented that we have to teach our kids that failure is a part of life, and that “it’s safer to read about a character who’s failing” than to admit to their own failures. Beaty added that expectations need to be set for kids that sometimes things fail, or just don’t go well. In those cases, it’s not about the fact that there was a failure, but rather that there is now another chance for success. She tries to emphasize perseverance in her characters, so kids can see that failing is okay, as long as they keep trying.

For Spiro and Aronson, the main concept they wanted their audience to take away was that persistence and determination is what matters when it comes to kids in STEAM. Beaty summarized her message as being okay with who you are. Aronson concurred, commenting that “sometimes the last person we’re kind to is ourselves.”

Supporting Independent Bookstores

After she finished signing copies of her books which were purchased from the Bookstore of Glen Ellyn, Spiro suggested that the event was only the beginning of how the three authors could collaborate with Innovation DuPage. “There are many more events we can do, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Beaty was quick to agree. “It’s an exciting endeavor,” she commented, “I love seeing how my books connect with people.”

The three authors are proof that when people of different backgrounds reach outside of their comfort zones to explore concepts in new ways, innovation happens. And in this case, that innovative thinking is being passed down to the next generation.

Innovation DuPage organized the panel to support The Bookstore of Glen Ellyn and to promote new ways for educators and parents to engage innovative STEAM training. STAY TUNED as Innovation DuPage continues to support and engage the community with its next panel, “Kids, STEM, and Games”.

by Laura Zimmermann

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