by Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison
Kristen Nordstrom is the debut STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) author of Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature, illustrated by Paul Boston (Charlesbridge Publishing, July 2021). The picture book profiles ten real-life scientists, engineers, and designers who copy nature to create amazing new technology. Thank you, Mother Nature!
Kristen teaches biomimicry and other topics to elementary-school students in a gifted science program, and is a member of NSTA, the National Science Teaching Association. She has written innovative curriculum, and has been honored with two writing awards from SCBWI for outstanding STEM manuscripts. Kristen took a moment from her busy schedule to answer some questions for the Kite Tales blog.
ANN ROUSSEAU SMITH: Congratulations on your new book Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature, illustrated by Paul Boston (Charlesbridge Publishing, July 2021). Can you explain the biomimicry approach to invention?
KRISTEN NORDSTROM: Biomimicry is the process of studying nature, making discoveries, and then mimicking nature by applying these discoveries to inventions that solve problems and help people. For example, Nakatsu Eiji, who lives in Japan and designs some of the fastest trains on the planet, had a serious noise problem. Every time one of his bullet trains emerged from a tunnel, it made a sonic boom that could be heard for miles around. Well, Eiji was a bird watcher and observed kingfishers quietly diving into water with hardly a splash. Eiji wondered if this diving bird’s beak was the secret to their diving success. Eiji and his team tested and tested and tested and finally discovered that the kingfisher’s beak cuts smoothly through air and water. Eiji and his team mimicked the shape of the kingfisher’s beak and created a new nose for their train. This new train cuts smoothly through air and emerges quietly from tunnels.
ARS: As a debut author, can you share some of your path to publication?
KN: I’ve been a teacher for over twenty years in the public school system, and prior to Common Core, the wide-spread availability of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics) non-fiction for elementary students was not as plentiful as fiction. So, I used to comb the newspaper to find stories to adapt for my students. It was during that process that I discovered my love of writing, SCBWI, and my focus on science and nature. Mimic Makers, my debut picture book, emerged from a collection of studies I researched to help my students tap into the power of biomimicry and nature’s sustainable ideas.
ARS: Are you looking forward to using your book Mimic Makers in your own classroom?
KN: Oh I’ve been using it, and will continue to use it in my own classroom. My dream is to inspire and support other teachers to use my book and curriculum ideas to bring biomimicry to young students everywhere.
ARS: Eiji Nakatsu, Japanese bullet train engineer, spoke at your school. Was this before or after he had become one of the subjects of your book?
KN: After Eiji and his wife Noriko visited our school, CA State Channels Islands, and the Otis School of Design (thanks to a Japanese Foundation Grant), I decided to develop this idea into a picture book.
ARS: Any advice for other writers of science-based books?
KN: Keep on writing. STEAM books are for everybody because they help young people understand the world around them. Also, current research indicates that to inspire young girls and underrepresented groups to pursue STEAM careers, we have to start early.
Thank you, Kristen!
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Images provided by Kristen Nordstrom and the SCBWI Central-Coastal Region.