Two Ways to Write a Science Picture Book

Two Ways to Write a Science Picture Book 1024 576 Reader Views

by Lois Wickstrom, Author of Middle Grade and Children’s Picture Books

It’s not difficult to work a bit of science into any story – even a story about imaginary playmates. But what about writing a story that has a STEM focus? I’ve found two ways to focus on STEM and still create an entertaining story – not just a science lesson.

Start with a Folktale

The first method is to take a well-known folktale, such as Hansel and Gretel, and figure out a scientific way to give the story a better ending. Nobody believes that a trail of breadcrumbs will last very long in the forest. With all those hungry creatures, it will be gone in a few minutes. But, what if Hansel and Gretel are nature lovers who like feeding the forest creatures? What if they like to learn about the different types of plants and animals who live in the woods? Suppose Gretel is also an artist and sketches interesting plants that she sees, like the early botanists did? Could those sketches help her find her way home, again?

Or what if Hansel and Gretel aren’t the only ones who want to eat that witch’s gingerbread house? Suppose the forest animals want to eat it, too? Could Hansel and Gretel escape from the witch by offering to lead the animals away from her house? They are good at dropping breadcrumbs, after all.

Or maybe they could appeal to the witch’s vanity and offer to help her win a contest for the prettiest house in the woods? Emotions like vanity and greed are scientific topics, too.

Check out my solution to this dilemma in Saving the Gingerbread House, illustrated by Ada Konewki, published March 1, 2023.

Start with Science

Or there’s the more straightforward approach to developing a STEM story. Start with the science. My friend and illustrator, Francie Mion, loves katydids. We’re working on a series of books about the insects of Colorado and a mischievous girl named Loretta who cares about them. How would Loretta get a katydid? And what sort of mischief could it cause?

It turns out that most states have katydids, so we had one hitch its way with Loretta’s grandma from Florida to Colorado on a potted orange tree. We also let aphids hitch a ride. Loretta likes insects, so she didn’t want to kill the aphids, even if they were killing the tree. The katydid was hungry, and saved the tree. But it was still hungry. She wound up sharing her dinner with him by putting scraps on the ground around the orange tree.

So far, no drama – right? Just a day in the life of a hungry katydid. So we brought in a praying mantis. Those insects can create a fight-to-the-finish. Since the book is about katydids, we couldn’t let the mantis win. But we didn’t want to show the katydid winning, either. Francie and I discussed how to handle this for quite a few emails. We had Loretta taking pictures – but even she didn’t see how the battle ended. One moment she was rooting for the katydid. A few moments later, the mantis was gone.

Then it was time for Loretta to take her katydid and her orange tree to the school science fair. I don’t like to show a kid winning the science fair just because she was lucky enough to have a hitch-hiking katydid come to visit from Florida. So, I had the katydid escape to the outside world. All Loretta had to show for her adventure was her photos and her story. That’s plenty for an introduction to STEM. As the katydid escaped, it sang the famous katydid song “Katy Did.”  Loretta learned about katydids and orange trees, and the circle of life.

Check out the details in What Loretta’s Katydid Did, illustrated by Francie Mion, published March 8, 2023.

And next time you want to write a STEM story, consider trying one of these approaches.

About the Author

Lois Wickstrom earned her BA in biology with Chemistry and English minors. She is the creator of the Imagenie videos on YouTube and the Science Folktales series, which includes Chicken Little Investigates, and Huff…Puff…Grind! The 3 Little Pigs Get Smart. She is also co-author of Xenia Navarro and the Magic Ants, and the Nessie’s Grotto series. Her most recent books are Mr. Barsin’s Toy Emporium and Dream-Shifter, about a girl who becomes the animals she dreams about. This time, she’s an elk, and it’s elk-hunting season.. She has been married for 55 years, has two children and four grandchildren.



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