Author Q&A: Melissa Rooney- Eddie the Electron Moves Out
The balloon has popped and Eddie is free! Free to explore and embark on the adventure he's always dreamed about. Eddie zooms through the atmosphere and sees the different atoms that make up the air we breathe. His adventure shows him how rare Helium atoms, like his, are. Through his memories, he teaches readers about Helium gas, from its explosive creation to it's many uses. As he teaches, Eddie comes to realize that Helium is not only a rapidly disappearing resource, it's one that is vitally important to our world! Journey with energetic Eddie and learn about his life before being trapped in a grocery store balloon. See how far he has traveled from his home in the Earth’s crust all the way up to outer space, where he looks down on the giant marble called Earth. Eddie the Electron Moves Out is the sequel to the exciting and informational book, Eddie the Electron. Students, parents, and teachers will learn how important helium is to our world, while being reintroduced to the science of atoms.
The sequel to Eddie the Electron is almost here! We spoke with author Melissa Rooney, Ph.D. about how her education and experience with children inspired her to write the Eddie series, and how it fits within her vision for children's education. Eddie the Electron and Eddie the Electron Moves Out are wonderful additions to your early reader's education and for STEM teaching.
AJ: What inspired you to write about electrons?
MR: Since elementary school, I have written long letters and kept a writing journal of one kind or another. I also have been collecting children’s books since before I even contemplated having children. (I once worried that my bookshelf would scare my future husband.) So I decided to go to a Liberal Arts College and major in English. However, my mother was a single parent who insisted on the importance of being able to support myself and my family, which required a practical education. So I decided to major in Chemistry as well. Because there were so few women in the field and because I would get paid to get my degree, my undergraduate Chemistry professors encouraged me to go into Analytical Chemistry, which involves the development and use of instruments and methods for very specialized scientific applications. I joined an electrochemistry laboratory at UNC, where I made and used tiny carbon electrodes to measure the electricity produced by neurotransmitters in brain tissue. The neuroscience was the carrot that kept me in the program. After graduate school, I took a postdoctoral position in Melbourne, Australia, delaying the dreaded ‘real’ job for another four years. I gave birth to my daughter just before returning to the states in 2002 and am fortunate to have been home with my kids ever since. To supplement my husband’s income (he’s a chemist too), I nannied other toddlers, tutored Chemistry, and became a contract editor for scientific writing. I also continued to meet with my Ph.D. advisor for coffee. He urged me to come back to work for him, eventually making me an offer he thought I couldn’t refuse. When I finally admitted that I hated lab work and by no means wanted to return to academics, he asked me, insistently, how I was going to put my degree to use. I told him I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, he gave me a deadline, and so was born Eddie the Electron.
AJ: What would you say to parents about the importance of what Eddie will teach their children?
MR: Wow, I think Eddie has so much to teach children, but I’ve narrowed it down to four big ones, in order of priority: 1) You don’t have to understand everything to be interested in and inquire about it, and you should never be intimidated by something you don’t understand. Thinking about the things we don’t understand is what leads to discovery, and that’s what sustains our human world. 2) Big words, scientific or otherwise, are not scary; and kids and parents should not avoid using them. Our brains learn by repetition. This is how we build vocabulary. And we need to start building scientific vocabulary when our kids are babies—regardless of their perceived abilities and backgrounds—if we expect them to be comfortable with scientific concepts when they are introduced to them in school. 3) Atoms truly are amazing things. Even people with Ph.D.’s in Chemistry and Physics don’t completely understand them. But don’t let that frustrate you. That is the magic of science. It took me until I was 35 years old, long after graduate school, to appreciate this magic. This should not be the case for our children. 4) As for the specific content of the book: Our entire world is composed of tiny solar systems. It’s that simple (at least for now). Just the thought of this alone intrigues kids as well as adults, and we don’t think about it often enough. In addition, I think it’s very important that kids understand, at least on a basic level, how electrons and electricity are used to power our cars, iPhones, computers, ovens, refrigerators, etc. so that they respect and understand this magic that is costing us our natural resources. That said, if your children enjoy the pictures and the plot, that’s enough. Their brains are absorbing the words and ideas without even realizing it.
AJ: What is your favorite part of Eddie the Electron Moves Out and why?
MR: My favorite part is actually the endnotes because they are so scientifically accurate and took me so long to compile. Adults often see the endnotes as too complex for an elementary student, but the kids see those little numbers as a kind of secret adult code that they want to figure out, at least to the extent of finding the numbers and locating their entries at the back of the book. This is important. Too often readers ignore footnotes and endnotes, and they are sometimes the most interesting parts. Just knowing what end/footnotes are at an early age will increase the chances that children will pay them more mind moving forward. Parents will likely have to help explain it, but the information in Eddie’s endnotes really is most interesting, even for first and second graders.
AJ: What is your favorite element on the Periodic Table?
MR: I don’t have a favorite element, but I do have a favorite molecule: H2O. Water. It seems so clear and simple, yet water is the source of life on this planet as well as a great source of change and destruction. Water is capable of tremendous chemical reactions and is a great conductor of heat and electricity. Vaporization, Precipitation, Solidification, Sublimation—all of these processes are particularly intriguing for water molecules, thanks to their magical dipole moments (or charge separations). Shoot, over half of our bodies are made up of water, prompting author Tom Robbins to wonder if “human beings were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another.” As such, the protection and preservation of our water resources is very important to me, which is why I serve as an Associate Supervisor for my local Soil and Water Conservation District. Water is also the basis of my next children’s book, The Fate of the Frog.
AJ: Tell us about how you began teaching science to kids.
MR: When I was a teenager, I worked in the church nursery and preschool and babysat whenever I could. I loved interacting with younger kids, especially toddlers and preschoolers, who were so trusting and loving and inquisitive. Since then, I have become amazed at the extent to which babies and young children seek mental stimulation, how many incredible details their fresh brains absorb every millisecond, and how frustrating this can be for their parents and caregivers. When my kids started school, I became a regular volunteer, working one-on-one with academically or behaviorally challenged kids and bringing hands-on scientific activities to classrooms. I eventually became part of a program called CAPS (Culture and Arts in the Public and Private Schools), by which schools contract with visiting artists to bring curricula-relevant activities into classrooms, after-school programs, and summer programs. The first of these programs centers on Eddie the Electron.
AJ: We love that your goals are to simplify and teach what could be considered complicated subject matter to young children. Can you tell us more about this mission, and how you have seen children respond?
MR: The older I get, the more I am certain that we, as a society, underestimate our children’s interests in what we consider ‘complicated’ scientific subjects. In every public book reading, festival, or workshop I have done, it’s not the kids who think the subject matter is too hard for them. It’s the adults. The first year I participated in the NC Science Festival, a professor asked me how I thought we might get and keep young people interested in science. We agreed that we need to 'start 'em young', expose them to scientific vocabulary and inquiry regardless of whether we think they’re old (or smart) enough to understand. So, in the simplest terms, my mission is to bring scientific vocabulary, concepts, and thought to those children who aren’t regularly exposed to it. On a deeper level, I also believe that we underestimate our children’s ability to understand many scientific concepts, robbing them of the opportunity to learn about these things when they are most open-minded and interested. I am confident that the sooner we expose our children to these ideas, the less intimidated they will be by them in the future. Again, whether or not they understand everything is beside the point. What’s important is whether or not they are interested. As for the response of the children—they are totally down with it. I have never held a book event or workshop that ended when it was supposed to or at which children did not have to be ushered away by their parents or teachers. One time, a group of kids even told their parents they’d rather stay with me than go get ice-cream! I lived for two months on that compliment. :-) I get just as much inspiration from the kids as they do from me and Eddie. They are unabashed in their inquiries and very truly interested, and this is what gives me hope for our future.