August Author Spotlight: Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano

Q&A with children's book author and STEM education consultant Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
 

Our author spotlight this month is on Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, whose book The Sun and The Moon is featured in the Wonderkin Astronomy Box and on our list of "Eight Great Books About Astronomy To Support Nature Based Learning." 

What is your favorite outdoor childhood memory?

Woods, a meadow, sand hills, boulder fields, and ponds surrounded my neighborhood and formed my primary playscape. My friends and I wandered and played all over! Sometimes my older brother and I would check out the salamanders, pill bugs, and other critters living under half-rotted logs, or catch pollywogs (tadpoles) or turtles, taking them home to watch for a few days.

A unique experience also stands out for me. I must have been around eight or nine. I was roaming the woods alone—something normal for my time and place—and took a turn off a path in the woods. I trekked a short while and suddenly came upon a big, grassy, sunlit meadow that my friends and I had never before encountered. The sun shone brightly in a blue sky with a few white clouds, and the grasses stood tall. I felt like I had just discovered a secret, new world. Just remembering that surprise fills me with a surge of excitement and wonder.

What inspired you to become an author?

Reading was a joy that I shared with several friends, and that led us to write our own stories. It was a form of play. My big sister, about five years older than I, was also creative, and when she was in sixth grade, she wrote and performed a poem for a public speaking contest. This inspired me to try when I finally reached the sixth grade.

A few teachers also encouraged me (and others) to write. For example, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gamma, set aside Thursday mornings for creative writing. It was so exciting to start with a prompt and follow my imagination into a story, especially because a couple of classmates also immensely enjoyed writing. We would respond to each other’s work. I’m sure having an actively engaged audience helped nurture my appetite for being an author.  Later, in Grade 7, Mr. Malin (gently but steadily) pushed me to improve my writing, and Mrs. Serra in Grade 10 suggested we keep portfolios and enter contests.

From an early age, I also enjoyed the concrete experiences related to books and writing, including the ritual of carefully cracking open a new book and deeply inhaling its scent, all fresh ink and glue. I liked running my fingers along the pages, enjoying the smooth texture of a glossy page or the nubby feel of a matte finish. I reveled in the physical act of writing out words and handling different types of paper and pens. I was drawn to the sound and meaning of language and would explore words with a dictionary and a thesaurus. All of this kept me connected to the world of writing.

Yet, I didn’t really think writing was going to be something I could or would end up doing for a job. I studied science and ethics in college and then went to work for science museums. In my jobs, I wrote a lot of lesson and activity guides for adults and for kids, and found myself vaguely hoping to write science for children someday, but with no fully formed intention of pursuing that option.  Luckily, all of these background experiences put me in just the right spot at just the right time with just the right preparation to receive invitations to write my first two books. Both grew from exhibit projects that connected to my work. 

What was the most interesting thing you learned while researching The Sun and The Moon?

"The Sun and The Moon" is featured in the Wonderkin Astronomy Box

I think learning about water on the Moon was most interesting. It is so amazing that it’s there—and that scientists were able to figure this out! I had casually heard about the discovery of lunar water before I researched the book, but this was the first time I really paid attention—and that stirred up lots of questions. Scientist Bradley Thomson was willing to talk with me about it, and his enthusiasm fueled my interest even more.

Another type of learning also happens when I write. It has to do with paying attention—focusing in new ways on information that may be familiar. Often, I gain a new appreciation for whatever I’m writing about. I might understand something in a new way or experience an emotional learning, a sort of  full, wow moment. For example, while writing The Sun and the Moon, I found myself fascinated by the interconnectedness of the Sun, Moon, and Earth over huge distances, something I grasped more fully as I tried to help readers understand the distances involved and imagine the ways in which we would experience the journey that is in the book.

Tell us a little about the work you do around STEM education. What's the achievement that you're proudest of?

My career in science and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education has given me the opportunity to try out lots of different roles, including consulting as a co-founder of Blue Heron STEM Education. In this role, I spend much of my time working with teachers to help them dig into STEM concepts and get a feel for “doing “ STEM.  I also help them plan their lessons and curricula. When I’m in my Blue Heron role but not working with teachers, I develop curricular support materials—engineering or science units, for example, that teachers can use in their classrooms. Of course, my school visits as an author are another form of STEM education, and I value the chance to make connections with children and their teachers, while offering thought-provoking and creative opportunities.

I am proud that I have been able to meaningfully contribute to projects that make the right kinds of differences in STEM education, and that I have been a part of providing adults and kids opportunities to explore, think, and create independently. Sometimes the projects I have worked on with others have changed how children see themselves and their futures. That’s so powerful! I am also grateful to be able to do this kind of work. I get to apply my creativity toward positively impacting others’ lives, and I get to collaborate with engaged, interesting, and deeply caring people.

What is your favorite children’s book?

One favorite? That is just too hard a question.

I have a special soft spot for Winnie-the-Pooh, which I read as an adult (with my husband, aloud). I appreciated the language and characters, and I enjoyed the memories of loving Pooh as a child. However, I also realize that part of my connection to this book stems from the way my husband and I were able to share the experience of reading it. So much of reading can be a social joy!

A contemporary, nonfiction favorite is Giant Squid by Candace Fleming. The language is gorgeous. It’s also informative and it reveals the wonder and mystery of science. In addition, Eric Rohmann’s art is lovely and a great match to the text.

Finish this sentence: “Spending time in nature makes me feel…”

…like some deep and vital part of myself opens up. Joy, fascination, curiosity, and creativity often begin to flow. I leave the experience refreshed and peaceful, yet excited to act.

 

Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano divides her time between writing children's books and working with teachers, schools, districts, museums, business, and other organizations on STEM Education, through her consulting organization, Blue Heron STEM Education.

Learn more at www.carolyndecristofano.com