Why you should include STEM in your children’s books

The Australian Government is investing money in schools to increase student engagement in STEM subjects.

So what is STEM?STEM in schools

Science

Technology

Engineering

Mathematics

We need to get kids enthused about these subjects again… but what has this to do with fiction?

Book Links (Qld) hosted a panel discussion on STEM in literature, and it was such an inspiration!

Andrew KingSTEM – ENGINEERING

Dr Andrew King, author of the Engibear books explained the need to encourage more kids, and especially more girls, into the area of engineering. Through his books he challenges kids to think about the planning and processes behind building grand structures such as bridges. Andrew’s books are big hit with primary school kids!

How can engineering fit into children’s fiction?

  • Designing gadgets for spy thrillers
  • Craft technology for travelling to Mars
  • 3D printing plans for producing characters from your story
  • Paper crafts for younger readers
  • Robots. I mean, who doesn’t want robots in their story?!

STEM – TECHNOLOGY

children's books dailyMegan Daley, teacher librarian and book reviewer at Children’s Books Daily, explained the intention and benefits to ‘make-a-space’ projects in schools. Even in early years of primary school, children are learning to code, to create working circuits and to design their own apps. Stories focused on ICT (Information and Communication Technology) are not just appealing to teachers and schools, but include a topic children are comfortable and familiar with. You can go a bit further than just including an iPone in your story, you could provide QR codes for them to scan, or secret coding instructions for them to follow.

STEM – SCIENCE

Sheryl GwytherFacts in fiction. Kids love to know how and why things happen. Sheryl Gwyther is passionate about science and this shows in much of her children’s fiction. Sheryl talked about the way you can see kids’ brains switch on when you engage them with a story filled with scientific facts. Her Pearson publication, Ali Berber and the Forty Grains of Salt explains this compound to children within an entertaining tale. With sciences being a key focus in STEM for schools, it’s a good idea to look at ways you could include this in your children’s fiction.

Hot Topics for Science in Fiction:

  • Mars
  • Genetics
  • Enhanced Greenhouse Effect
  • Evil chemistry – highly reactive elements
  • Newton’s Law
  • Explaining superhero powers

STEM – MATHS

mathsnovel.comWait a minute. How could you possibly include mathematics in fiction and still make it fun? Associate Professor at QUT, Michael Milford, doesn’t just think it can be done, he’s produced a great example! Over at MathNovel.com, Michael introduces us to his exciting new series of thrillers that include maths puzzles in each chapter. I’ve already started reading, and I LOVE this. In chapter two, I actually pulled out a calculator to check the calculations. This sort of fiction will have kids so involved in the story and learning and practicing maths at the same time!

These thrillers are aimed at the older high school kids, but there’s no reason books aimed at middle grade or even picture books couldn’t include puzzles within the story.

Are you inspired to include STEM elements in your fiction now? Not only will you be turning kids onto important technologies for their future, but you’ll also open up your market to possibly include schools. What types of STEM topics appeal to you? I’d love to hear, how about some ideas in the comments?

Writing Mysteries for Kids – 10 Top Tips

how to write a mystery novelI get asked from time to time about writing mysteries for kids. There is obviously a lot of crossover in structure and content to writing mysteries for any age, but there are some special considerations to make when you begin writing mysteries with children or teens as your primary readership. Following are my top tips for tackling this challenging, but rewarding genre:

Writing Mysteries for Kids:

  1. Choose your readership—Are you wanting an early chapter book, a middle-grade novel, or a young adult mystery? In On Writing, Stephen King recommends picturing your perfect reader. Is your perfect reader a teenage boy or a ten-year old girl? Be specific. You could even write up a profile of your perfect reader.
  2. Young sleuth—Kids want to read characters their own age, or a few years older. In my middle-grade novel Dognapped?my main protagonist is 12 yr old Kitty Walker. My readership mostly includes 9-12 yr old girls who love dogs.sleuth or suspect
  3. Series or one-off?—It’s important to know if you’ll be employing your sleuth on a regular basis. If you will write a series, it’s important to have secondary characters with depth and a return-to location, even it it’s a ‘mystery van’.
  4. Detailed setting—Really, when writing mysteries your setting could be anywhere; at the young sleuth’s home, their school, or a soccer match. Try to have a point of difference about your setting though. Either make it somewhere quirky, or make it somewhere regular… but a little odd. I’ve set my Dog Show Detective series at various dog shows and training grounds, I’m also working on a historical teen mystery set in an outback town, and am plotting a mystery at a circus. Our young detectives should be hitting the pavement looking for clues, so as they wander about the locations, take the reader along for the ride. Use rich descriptions for your setting.
  5. More than one mystery—Your protagonist should be faced with a substantial mystery that threatens or affects the wider community. This could be a theft, assault, or yes, even murder. Most young adult mysteries will include a murder and many middle-grade mysteries do too. When writing mysteries for preteens, any murder will usually happen off the pages (the reader does not experience the murder and often does not even see the body), in a cozy mystery fashion. There is no hard and fast rule about death in children’s literature, but it’s best to make sure your title, cover page, or blurb let the reader (and their parent) know what level of violence is expected. The second mystery is a personal one for the protagonist. It could include a family secret, a moral dilemma or a smaller crime. Somehow your two mysteries will reveal themselves to be connected in the final pages.
  6. Suspects—You need a multitude of suspects for it to be a real whodunit. Your suspects should vary in personality and motive. Some should be very likeable and others the reader will despise. You should have at least three suspects, but probably no more than five or six as the reader could get confused. If you do lean toward five or six suspects, your first clue should eliminate a couple of those.
  7. Victim—When writing mysteries you need a victim who has depth, even if they never appear in your novel alive. If the victim elicits sympathy from your reader, this will be a hero story when the young detective finally gets justice for the deceased, if the victim was unlikable, this will be a tragic noir telling of a misguided action on behalf of the perpetrator. A List of Clues
  8. Clues—The clues move the story forward. You’ll need at least three genuine clues (three is always a nice number to work with), each one revealing something extra about the killer. Clues can be ambiguous at times and mislead us, large footprints in mud could be a man with big feet, or a child wearing their father’s shoes. Don’t make the clue so obvious that your reader starts to think the protagonist is a little bit stupid for not working it out. You’ll also need one or two red-herrings, these are the clues that appear to lead to the wrong suspect, but then we reveal the clue was unrelated to the original crime (and usually unveils another private secret of a suspect).
  9. Motive—You’ll need to come up with several motives. Each suspect should have their own motive for committing the crime, and the motives must be believable. A killer needs a motive for their act, but also a motive for the way they carry out the murder. Why would they use the gardening shears, or hide a body in a gym bag? Justify their choices. There are lots of motives you can employ when writing mysteries such as greed, revenge, fear, passion, faith, shame, power or fame. Don’t forget your young detective’s motive for solving the crime. Sure, kids are curious, but you should really push your sleuth into action. Perhaps they are being framed, or the crime involves someone they care about, or the school play can’t go on until the theatre director is found and your teen protagonist had finally landed a lead role in the upcoming show.
  10. Plot, plot, plot—Writing mysteries is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, every scene must fit together perfectly and move the story toward the surprising yet inevitable end. Once you know your main mystery, and you have your key clue, you can start to brainstorm for your minor clues and red-herrings. I use the method where I write dot points of anything that ‘could’ happen in this mystery. There is no particular order, whatever pops into my head. For a 25 chapter book, I’ll want at least 25 dot points (but I aim for more). I’ll then write each one onto an index card and start placing them in a logical order. Each of these cards are scenes. There may be some gaps where you’ll have to write scenes to get your protagonist from one spot to another, but basically, you now have a plot outline.

Resources for Writing Mysteries for Kids:

61gcLUzGutL      how to write mysteries      71A3xNtmlrL

Writing Courses:

James Patterson teaches writing

Mysteries for Kids:

buy books online      The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie      I am not a serial killer

Creating unique character descriptions – for costumes!

cosplay characterThink about your favourite books from your childhood and the characters you fell in love with. What did they look like? Got a clear picture of that character in your head? I’ll bet you do.

Unforgettable characters have unique physical indicators, or at the very least, an individual fashion sense. Just naming characters such as Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter, Miss Marple conjures up images of the character.

How do you know if you’ve created a memorable character description? Here’s an easy test.

Can fans dress up as your character?

creating unique charactersIf kids (or adults) can make a costume that depicts your character, then you know you’ve created a distinct image.

Unique Character Elements

Just a few examples…

Physical appearance: red curly hair, dwarf, hairy feet, long beard, wings, blue skin…

Changed physical appearance: scar, eyepatch, wooden leg, stitches, missing tooth…

Fashion: witch’s hat, cape, overalls, camouflage, houndstooth coat, fez…

Companions: small zombie dog, parrot, dragon, talking tree, little glowing fairy, white owl…

supanova_2014_cosplay_115_by_dark_merchant-d7mz8zxCan you revamp your character to make them more memorable?