The Backstory: THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS
The Backstory welcomes nonfiction superstar, Jennifer Swanson, with her book THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2021). Read on to learn how Jennifer merged her love of sports and STEM into her writing and for the chance to win a copy of THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your book.
I think the book copy explains it best: “ Every sport -- from baseball to basketball, to football and soccer, to wrestling, tennis, and lacrosse -- involves a bit of science, technology, engineering, and math. You can't throw a ball without Newton's Law of Motion, and you can't calculate a player's stats without math. And every type of sports equipment -- a helmet, cleats, shoulder or knee pads -- were designed with the latest engineering and technology.
The Secret Science of Sports breaks down normally difficult STEM concepts like forces of motion, gravity, algebra, and even neuroscience, in a language kids can -- and will want to -- understand.”
I am completely hooked and I know my students will be as well. STEM and sports are a winning pair that will work to unite students of varied interests while showing them the integration of STEM topics in a meaningful way.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
I grew up with 3 brothers and a father who loved sports. It was natural that I would as well. After all, I spent most of my days playing baseball in the backyard with my brothers, shooting hoops in the driveway, swimming laps in the pool for swim practice, running, hiking, biking, etc. You name it, I’ve played the sport. It only seemed natural that I write a book about something I know and love. That meant combining my love of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) + Sports = STEM Sports Book.
I love that you found a way to combine two interests that you are passionate about. As a result of your book, there will be a whole crew of students who will not be able to throw a football or shoot a soccer ball without thinking about science. And perhaps this will make their curiosity and wonder grow as they look at other aspects of their lives.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS?
I knew from the start that I wanted to write a book where kids DO things. Science is best when it is in action, being experienced. I also wanted to cover all aspects of STEM, not just science. So I decided to split the book into four sections- one for each letter in “STEM”. As for the examples, well, I tried to cover as many sports as possible. Since I’ve participated in practically all of them (except surfing), I wrote from my own experience. Of course, I did a lot of research as well. But I tried to make this a book that kids would take outside with them. To the baseball fields, the basketball courts, the tennis and soccer fields, and yes, even to the swimming pool.
That is such a great way to structure the book. While the sports are important and a hook, this organization puts an emphasis on STEM components and lets kids see the range of topics covered within each of the four disciplines of STEM.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
Oh, that’s easy-- everywhere I go. I like to tell students that science is all around you. It really is! I get ideas from reading articles, watching TV, and just looking around me. I am still that 9-year-old curious kid who wants to know how things work. There is very little in STEM that doesn’t interest me or make me want to learn more. The key to using these ideas in a book, however, is to find the right “HOOK”. So, I spend a lot of my time taking an idea and turning it upside down, inside out, and all around until I find just that point where anyone - even someone who may not like STEM- would say “Hey, that’s really cool!”
You hit the nail on the head about finding the right hook. Anything around us can be an inspiration, but it is finding the perfect entry point that is the challenging part. And I love how you use this concept as a means to make STEM content that is accessible and enjoyable for everybody.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
There are so many to name, I don’t know where to start. Probably the one book that got me into writing STEM-themed middle grade books was Carolyn DeCristofano’s A Black Hole is NOT a Hole. This brilliant book takes some very complex information and explains it in a funny and informative way. As for others, I read a lot of the Scientist in the Field books, for biographies, I love Laurie Wallmark’s books about women in STEM. And of course, Sarah Albee’s books are chock full of information and smart somewhat snarky language. They are awesome!
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
A good internet connection! Quiet. I like to work with little distractions, no music or noise because I write about some very technical topics so I really need to concentrate on the scientific or engineering and design papers I’m reading. Of course, that doesn’t apply to my dogs, who interrupt me constantly to go outside or come back in. :)
The internet and quiet are both important for focus and productivity. The dogs on the other hand...let's hope they make up for their interruptions with cuteness and snuggles.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I am currently working on a new middle grade STEM book in conjunction with The Field Museum in Chicago. An amazing group of scientists there work in collaboration with countries in South America to help preserve the Amazon rainforest. This one is published by Charlesbridge Publishing.
I also have my first STEM picture book coming out in 2022 with Reycraft Books. It is a concept book that encourages readers to take a look at the impact they want to leave on the planet.
I love these concepts! Congrats to you on these forthcoming titles! I will be eagerly awaiting the release of each. I especially love the message of the picture book. Our children need books that inspire and empower them to take action and see themselves as agents of change. Helping them see how their choices impact our planet is a great starting place.
Where can people connect more with you?
You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @jenswanbooks or @kidssolve (my podcast) Facebook is https://www.facebook.com/Jennifer-Swanson-Books-254158324961
Readers, please give Jennifer a follow on social media and if you are or know of any teachers in your life, send them over to Jennifer's Solve It! for Kids podcast and check out the website, here. It is packed with podcast episodes, and simple, yet engaging challenges to get your students thinking and involved with STEM topics.
Be sure to pick up your copy of Jennifer's latest, THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS, and for a master class in STEM and nonfiction writing, don't forget to check out the other 45+ nonfiction books Jennifer has published.
Jennifer thank you so much for joining us on The Backstory. It has been a pleasure learning about your process and the inspiration behind, THE SECRET SCIENCE OF SPORTS.
Jennifer is generously giving away a copy of The Secret Science of Sports to one lucky winner. (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT JENNIFER SWANSON
Science Rocks! And so, do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 45 nonfiction books for children. A self-professed science geek, Jennifer started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. Jennifer excels at taking complex facts and making them accessible, compelling, and humorous for young readers. You can find Jennifer through her website www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.