Blending Science and Story


Karen Gunnison Ballen (photo below) is a children’s science writer and an Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL) graduate. She has authored Seven Wonders of Medicine (cover at left), which TFCB published last year. I asked Dr. Karen to write a few words about some exciting recognition she just received. So, from Karen:

karen ballen Writing for kids allows me to combine my passions: writing, teaching, and science. I’m honored that one of my articles (“Foiled!”) was selected this year to receive a Magazine Merit Award from the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Researching and writing this article for Cricket was an educational and deeply moving experience for me.

“Foiled!” is about two Polish doctors who risked their lives to trick the Nazis into believing that their villages were experiencing a typhus epidemic during World War II. Afraid of acquiring an illness that could decimate their army, the Nazis largely avoided the area, sparing many residents from imprisonment and likely death.

Initially I found it challenging to write an article with so much hard science in a way that children could understand. Editing the piece with the help of the Cricket editors was a great experience. They helped me blend the “story” aspects with the science involved.

I first learned about this story from a sidebar in a microbiology textbook. (I moonlight as a microbiology instructor at the University of Minnesota.) I have always been awed by the courage these men showed, and as a scientist, I am impressed by their ingenuity in finding a way to create false positive results in the test for typhus. I was pleased to share the story with Cricket readers.

Check in next week for more from TFCB!