[This article appears in the Winter 2010 issue of NASW ScienceWriters Magazine]
Celebrating Science Writing for Children North of the Border
by Shar Levine
Visit a local library or book store and you’ll find that science occupies a fraction of the children’s section compared to fiction and picture books.
In an effort to change the way that teachers and librarians view science, a children’s science writers’ festival called Celebrate Science was held in Vancouver on Sept. 25 at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum on the campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC). Co-organizers of the inaugural half-day event were myself and Jo-Anne Naslund from the UBC Faculty of Education. Together we gathered a group of noted writers from the Children’s Writers and Illustrators of BC Society as well as an editor of a children’s science magazine.
Another key element in festival planning was to a tie-in to a fund- raising event for the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC). This association meant prominent pre-event placement on the book centre’s website which has thousands of followers. It also provided sponsors with tax receipts issued by the CCBC. And, finally, authors who spoke at the event received coverage in the CCBC magazine.
Sponsorship with the university and the Faculty of Education provided mailing lists and other marketing opportunities. Naslund contacted a network of teachers, librarians, students, and literacy organizations throughout the province and across the country. This meant festival advertisement in all target markets—most notably every school and library in Vancouver—at no cost.
The goals for Celebrate Science were simple. The festival allowed attendees to meet science writers, learn about their books and their philosophy towards science literacy, and to share new techniques for teaching science in the classroom. Of utmost importance, we wanted to help teachers and librarians to enjoy science and to find new ways of introducing the subject to their students. Keynote speaker was Jaymie Matthews, an entertaining, astropaparazzo perhaps best known for a quote that became a headline in Discover magazine: “Exploding Star Contains Atoms from Elvis Presley’s Brain – Scientists Confirm the King of Rock & Roll Lived in Another Galaxy 170,000 Years Ago!”
Celebrate Science was a paperless event with event information —including “Science in a Swag Bag: Experiments you can do with Materials Taken from the School Cafeteria,” along with a video and all the materials necessary to perform the activities—and a list of the Best Canadian Science Writers for Children as selected by Canadian Science Writers contained on a memory stick.
An additional highlight of the festival was wine tasting for the panellists at the Wine Research Centre at UBC. The centre, which is not open to the public, features a cupboard containing some famous graffiti: The signatures of six Nobel laureates. The event even paid homage to the scions of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple tree: Not far from the Beaty Museum are seven Flower of Kent trees, grown from a cutting of that famed apple tree in Cambridge, England.
Next year’s Celebrate Science will be bigger and better. We hope to involve more writers and illustrators and have a national sponsor. Those interested in more information about the event or who would like to participate, please contact Shar Levine (firstname.lastname@example.org).