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Cheryl Bardoe on Harnessing the Power of Literary Nonfiction for STEM

Nothing Stopped SophieWhen I visit schools, I often ask students to share, by a show of hands: Who likes to write? Who loves math? Who is interested in sports? Who likes art? Who is interested in science?… The younger the students, the more likely they are to raise their hands for almost everything. As a writer, I hope to create books that encourage students to see the world as full of possibilities. Literary nonfiction offers a unique path to this goal, and one that is particularly compelling in STEM topics.

 

Humans are wired to engage with story. Evidence for this ranges from paleolithic cave paintings, to the epic of Gilgamesh that was chiseled into stone 4,000 years ago, to contemporary research where neuroscientists track the brainwaves of people listening to stories. Humans are also innately curious, and we yearn to make our mark on the world. Literary nonfiction represents the intersection of these powerful instincts. As an author, I weave information into a narrative in the hopes of helping young readers make connections that broaden their knowledge and inspire them to ask more questions.

 

My latest book, Nothing Stopped Sophie, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, demonstrates how literary nonfiction can engage young readers with STEM topics. Growing up during the French Revolution, young Sophie Germain overcame many obstacles to teach herself math and develop a formula that could predict how materials would vibrate. Her work began a path of inquiry that eventually made it possible to build modern skyscrapers and impressive bridges all over the world.

 

Is Nothing Stopped Sophie a story about math or physics? The answer is, both. It is also about history. And it is about one woman who dared to pursue what others said was impossible. My goal is to offer readers many hooks into any story. Some readers will be brought in by Sophie’s unwavering quest to learn, despite women not being allowed to attend college. Others will be captivated, as Sophie was, by the mysterious patterns that salt forms on vibrating metal plates. And yes, some readers do love math. Nonetheless, we don’t need to understand the intricacies of Sophie’s equation to relate to her passion.

 

Cheryl BardoeIn the book, I describe Sophie’s triumphant equation as being “as precise and eloquent as a poem.” This is because mathematicians themselves often describe their work in terms commonly applied to poetry; they strive for solutions that are elegant and beautiful, with ideas distilled to the purest form. My hope is to recreate for readers the sense of excitement that scientists and mathematicians feel about their work and to open a window into how they approach big questions. Imagine if we viewed the quadratic equation as a graceful, insightful expression of universal truth, just like when we hear the words of Shakespeare or Robert Frost. How might such connections open up interests and possibilities for young minds?

 

I like to share with students my own journey in this area. When I was younger, I used to think that nothing could ever interest me about sports. Many students are visibly shocked by this confession. Now I understand that inspiring stories are everywhere—as long as I open myself up to noticing and appreciating them. Literary nonfiction helps readers do this in STEM subjects by highlighting the significance, exhilaration, and human endeavor behind the modern advancements that are so easy to take for granted.

 

This interdisciplinary approach to writing parallels the heart of STEM initiatives. Educators encourage children to explore the world around them, synthesize information from many directions, and figure out how to make something happen. It’s natural for people to eventually specialize in fields of study and careers. Yet our lives are richer, and opportunities greater, when we preserve our youthful instincts to raise our hands and proudly declare, “Yes! I’m interested in everything.”

 

Little, Brown and Company to Publish SHADE: A TALE OF TWO PRESIDENTS by Pete Souza

A NEW BOOK OF PHOTOGRAPHS CONTRASTING THE TRUMP AND OBAMA ADMINISTRATIONS FROM THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHER AND #1 BESTSELLING AUTHOR

New York, NY — May 23, 2018

Reagan Arthur, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Little, Brown and Company, announced today the upcoming publication of Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, by Pete Souza, the Chief Official White House Photographer for President Obama and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Obama: An Intimate Portrait. Michael Szczerban, Executive Editor of Little Brown and Company, acquired North American rights from David Black, of David Black Literary Agency. The book is slated for publication October 16, 2018.

When Pete Souza left the White House in 2017, he didn’t know what it meant to “throw shade”—but he started doing it almost immediately on his personal Instagram account, posting his photographs from the Obama years with captions that vividly define the contrast between the Obama White House and President Trump’s administration. Media organizations caught on and couldn’t stop talking about Souza’s posts, with New York magazine calling them “a master class in shade,” CNN describing them as “a silent, social media, shade-throwing protest told in visuals,” and Politico naming him “King of Instagram Shade.” Souza’s following on Instagram has since grown to nearly two million people. He has also become a potent force in American life, offering incisive political criticism alongside powerful reminders of the best our country has to offer.

Shade is a portrait in contrasts, telling the tale of two presidencies through a series of powerful visual juxtapositions—with Souza’s unforgettable images of President Obama delivering new power and meaning when framed by tweets, headlines, quotes, and other material from the first 500 days of the Trump administration. The book responds to fan demand for a book that captures Souza’s voice on Instagram, and will include more than one hundred photographs that did not appear in his previous book. More than a sharp compendium of clapbacks, Shade is a touchstone to an era of greater integrity in our politics. Souza’s work is a stirring reminder of the highest American values we share, giving us the courage to stand up and speak out for what we believe in.

Reagan Arthur said, “We could not be more delighted with the success of Pete Souza’s number one bestseller Obama: An Intimate Portrait—and we’re thrilled to be publishing his new book of extraordinary photographs and commentary just before the midterm elections this year. In addition to throwing shade, this book shines a light on the presidency and on our individual roles as citizens, reminding each of us how much our votes and voices matter.”

Michael Szczerban said, “It is a joy and an honor to continue Little, Brown’s creative partnership with Pete Souza, the bestselling American photographer of the twenty-first century, with this timely and important book. Shade will demonstrate the power of his photographs to tell compelling stories, express consequential ideas, galvanize our emotions, and encourage us to act. I can’t wait to share it with readers.”

Pete Souza said, “During the past year, I have been as distressed as anyone by the lies and hate emanating from the current administration. I began to use my personal Instagram account to throw shade at what was happening in the White House. Since then, I’ve been inspired by the comments I’ve received from many people who have posted on Instagram, sent me emails, or talked to me at my speaking events around the country. Many have suggested that I package my photographs and commentary into a book. As that idea becomes a reality, I am excited to once again partner with Little, Brown on this endeavor.”

About the author:
Pete Souza
was the Chief Official White House Photographer for President Obama and the Director of the White House Photo Office. Previously Souza was an Assistant Professor of Photojournalism at Ohio University, the national photographer for the Chicago Tribune, a freelancer for National Geographic, and an Official White House Photographer for President Reagan. His books include the New York Times bestseller The Rise of Barack Obama, which documents the president’s meteoric ascent from his first day in the United States Senate through the 2008 Pennsylvania presidential primary, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Obama: An Intimate Portrait. Souza is currently a freelance photographer based in Washington, DC, and is a Professor Emeritus at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication.

About Little, Brown and Company:
Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. Founded in 1837, Little, Brown has long been recognized as a publisher committed to publishing fiction of the highest quality and nonfiction of lasting significance. Hachette Book Group is a leading trade publisher based in New York and a division of Hachette Livre, the third largest trade and educational publisher in the world. HBG is made up of eight publishing groups: Little, Brown and Company; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; Grand Central Publishing; Perseus Books; Orbit; Hachette Books; Hachette Nashville; and Hachette Audio. For more information, visit hbgusa.com.

Pop Quiz – How well do you know Nora Ephron’s classic movies?

Women Who Rock – the women, the women writers

Introduction & Editor’s Note by Evelyn McDonnell

 

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