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  • Writer's pictureSuzie Olsen

Interview with a STEM Author: Songju Ma Daemicke

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Amidst this pandemic, I admit I'm one lucky STEM professional who gets to work from home and (when I have spare time) who gets to interview other authors who write amazing STEM books! This week I interviewed STEM author Songju Ma Damicke, and the timing of her interview is pretty serendipitous as she is the co-author of the book Be A Coronavirus Fighter (see below for more information).

Songju Ma Daemicke grew up in China, came to America to advance her education and became a software engineer. With new twin daughters, she rediscovered her love of children’s books. Her picture book Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant has won several national awards, including: Best STEM book and the Winner of CALA Best Book. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her family.

Let's give Songju a big STEM Spark welcome!

1) Hi Sonju! Thanks for being on the blog. How long have you been writing and what inspired you to write the STEM book Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant?

I have been writing since 2011 when I attended a free English class for foreign students in a local community college.

In 2012, my twin daughters, both violinists, played a beautiful piece for one of their recitals. The piece of music was called "Table Music for Two". It was written by Mozart for two players standing on opposite sides of the stand together sharing the same piece of music. One reads the music right side up and the other reads it upside down. The result is harmonious and beautiful! Mozart must have been thinking simultaneously of sounds, score, timing, order, and space.

I was totally blown away by the genius of Mozart. The music child prodigy Mozart reminded me of Cao Chong, the most famous child prodigy in China. I relayed to my family this beloved story about how Cao Chong weighed an elephant 2000 years ago without the use of a modern scale. They all loved it. I decided to share my favorite story about a Chinese boy and his creative thinking with young American readers by rewriting it as a children’s book.

2) Please tell us a little bit about the math book Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant.

Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant is a Best STEM book/A Mathical Honor /Outstanding Science /Notable-Social-Studies book that celebrates creative thinking. The book is based on a true story that happened two thousand years ago. One day, the Prime Minister, Cao Cao, received an exotic birthday gift, an elephant. He wanted to know exactly how much the monstrous beast weighed. The best solution of his learned advisers was to somehow build a giant scale. Six-year-old Cao Chong, Cao Cao's son, stepped forward with an ingenious idea. His solution was putting the elephant on a small boat on the water, marking the waterline, taking the elephant off and putting stones back in the boat until the mark was reached again, then weighing the stones, to determine the elephant's weight.

3) I see you also co-authored Be A Coronavirus Fighter with Helen H. Wu. Could you share a little bit about that and any other writing projects you've done and/or working on?

When Helen proposed to work with me on a Coronavirus project together, I embraced this opportunity to collaborate with a multi-talented author and illustrator on such a timely, meaningful, and important project.

The responsibility was huge, and the time was tight. We researched and read a lot of relevant materials and used the CDC's recommended practices as the baseline. The creative process was especially challenging as the epidemic situation was constantly changing. We worked hard together to deliver this project. We finished the text in two weeks. Helen did all the illustrations and designs in a week. The e-book was released on March 20th and was very well received. Many people around the world have contacted us requesting permission to translate it into their own languages. It is now available in 13 languages: French, German, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Danish, Norwegian, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and Turkish. With all the young virus fighters joining us, the world will win this battle!

My first published book, A Case of Sense, is also STEM themed. It is a part of the Creative Mind Series of Arbordale Publishing. All books in this series have a creative minds section, with STEM concepts related to the book and hands-on activities after the story. A Case of Sense involves the five senses. Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant is related to “sink or float” concepts.

My newest STEM project: Tu Youyou, the first Chinese woman to win a Noble Prize. It is scheduled to be released in the fall 2021 by Albert Whitman & Co.

4) What was one fun STEM fact you learned while working on Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant?

Pumice rock, a kind of volcanic rock, floats on water instead of sinking in water. It is made from the magma of an erupting volcano as it enters and cools quickly in water.

5) For others interested in writing books, in particular, STEM books, for kids, what is one piece of advice would you give them?

Try to be as curious as a six-year-old. The world is full of wonderful and amazing things. Keep your eyes wide open, observe and learn. If there are things you find fascinating and are interested in learning even more about, others will too.

That is great advice! Thank you Songju so much for being on the STEM Spark blog! And dear readers, if you're interested in one of Songju books (perhaps the timely Be A Coronavirus Fighter), please visit her website at Be safe take care of yourselves!

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