Interview with a STEM Author: Kirsten W. Lawson
Updated: May 28
Hi STEM Sparkers! I'm excited because today we have an interview with author Kirsten W. Lawson who has written tons of nonfiction books for schools and libraries, and in particular has written a STEM book featuring Emma Lilian Todd! Here's a little bit more about Kirsten.
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE , illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, February 2020) and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, Fall 2021), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Her house is filled with LEGOs, laughter, and lots of books!
Kirsten, thanks for being on STEM Spark. I'm pretty excited about your new STEM book Wood, Wire and Wings which is about Emma Lilian Todd inventing an airplane. Could you please tell me a little more about the book?
WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek) is the true story of Emma Lilian Todd the first woman to design a working airplane on her own. Lilian Todd grew up in the age of invention, and was a self-taught engineer and inventor, even as a child. When she saw the first airplane designs at the turn of the century, she found them impractical and decided to build something better.
How long have you been writing and what inspired you to write a STEM book? I began writing for children in 2012, but before that I worked in Public Affairs for NASA. That means I was writing press releases, photo captions, website copy, and much more for NASA Aeronautics, Space Shuttle, and Space Station programs. You could say writing STEM books for kids was a natural fit. Are you working on current or new projects you'd like to tell us about? I can tell you a little bit about one STEM picture book I have in the pipeline, THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books). It’s a dual biography tracing the formation of astrophysicist Cecilia Payne and the formation of the stars she studied. That book will be out in a year or two.
What is the challenging part of writing? Is there anything challenging specific to writing about STEM? I think the challenges of writing for children and writing STEM are very similar. In both instances, I have to really understand complex topics in order to make them accessible to the reader. The fun is finding analogies, images, and other tools to get across difficult concepts.
What is the best part of writing? Well, the reading and research is fun. I always appreciate an excuse to become a mini-expert in whatever subject I’m writing about.. When it comes to putting pen to paper, the most fun part for me is when I hit on the perfect form/structure to tell the story. It often takes me so many tries to come up with unique ways of telling the story that fit the subject I’m working on. In WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I employed the idea of a pilot’s checklist to explain some of the steps in Lilian’s process. What fun fact(s) have you learned about STEM/your STEM book as you wrote? When researching WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I learned the Wright Brothers were so secretive about their work, many people didn’t realize they had flown successfully in 1903. The first national news story about them didn’t appear until 1906. Some actually thought Brazilian inventor Santos-Dumont was the first to fly. There were so many people working on the problem of flight in the early 1900s, for many years every airplane built was a unique design.
Thanks Kirsten for such a wonderful interview! I'd like to note that WOOD, WIRE, WINGS is beautifully written and an inspiring story, and I recommend buying it from your local bookstore's online, Barnes and Nobles online, or Amazon. You can also digitally request it from your local library. Kirsten, your STEM books are sure to inspire and spark the next generation in STEM! You can follow Kirsten on social media an her website:
Social media @kirstenwlarson (Twitter/Insta/Pinterest) Website: kirsten-w-larson.com
And happy STEM'ing as usual dear readers!