Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

10 Questions With Helaine Becker

Share |
10 Questions With Helaine Becker

Helaine Becker is the author of several award-winning books, including Secret Agent Y.O.U., winner of the 2008 Silver Birch Award, and Boredom Blasters!, which won the Silver Birch Award and was selected as a Children’s Pick by BookSense. Her latest book, Science on the Loose, was published this spring by Maple Tree Press.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, Science on the Loose.

HB:

I have always been interested in the sciences, so I tend to follow the scientific news and latest discoveries. I’ve always been amazed at some of the experiments people do – they are so out there! I thought it would be great fun to put the wackiest, most intriguing experiments together into a book for kids, and combine it with fun, easy to do experiments that are just as whacked.

OB:

Your book is filled with lots of neat experiments, such as "Aristotle's Crossed Fingers," "The Dominant Eye Test" and "Great Galloping Glop." How did you develop the experiments?

HB:

Not being a scientist myself, I don’t develop the experiments myself. Instead, I comb through research and books of all kinds to find examples of experiments that show the kinds of principles they are supposed to illustrate, and that people could do with very little effort or materials. Then I adapt them to make them easier or nuttier or clearer. Preferably, you can do the experiment right there and then, without even getting out of the Lazyboy. I also try to find experiments that have the "Kewl!" factor; when you try them, you are both shocked and amazed. If they make you laugh and run to show somebody else, even better. All of the experiments in Science on the Loose passed my own personal WOW! Test. I’m very immature.

"Aristotle’s Crossed Fingers" was described, in fact, by Aristotle, so it might be the oldest experiment in the book. It is great for revealing how our brains work by tricking us and taking shortcuts. It’s also totally freaky so you have to try it. It works best if you borrow a friend’s nose.

OB:

What's the most interesting feedback you've had on one of the experiments in Science on the Loose?

HB:

Certainly, the most popular experiment is the one where you figure out who passes more gas, girls or boys.

OB:

In addition to experiments, your book includes all sorts of engrossing facts. For instance, I was charmed to learn that the giant squids' eyes are 25 cm across, and that lima beans emit an odor when attacked by grubs. Where did you go about finding these facts?

HB:

When I do school presentations, I frequently tell students that a big part of a writer’s job is doing the exact same things they have to do when they write reports. Research, research, research! I spend a lot of time in the library or going through stacks of books, and yes, I surf the web. I have to make sure that my facts are correct, so sometimes that means going really deep to find the original source for the information. A lot of wrong or incomplete information is repeated over and over again all over the web and it does take a bit of a bloodhound nose to track the truth down.

OB:

What was your first publication?

HB:

I’ve written educational materials for schools and teachers for years, so my first publication goes back a long way. As far as books for children go, my first trade book was Mama Likes to Mambo, which was published in 2000 by Stoddart Kids. Unfortunately, that company went under shortly thereafter, so that book never really got out of the gate. It got great reviews, though, and one of the poems in it, "Sleepwalker’s Dilemma," is a huge favourite with kids. It starts out, “I woke up in a muddle in a middle of a puddle….”

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

HB:

A beach in Tahiti. Or the cozy chair and ottoman next to the window in my kitchen, with my puppy Ella lying at my feet.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

HB:

Ha! When I came to Canada in 1985, I knew very little Canadian lit. Then I wound up working at M&S and got a crash course in Canadiana! So I actually did have a "Welcome to Canada" booklist! Margaret Laurence, Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat…. For adults who wanted to get to know "old" Canada I’d start there, and add Atwood, Richler and Davies to the list. And I’d suggest Rohinton Mistry is a fabulous place to start for modern lit. A Fine Balance is on my list of best books ever.

In terms of children’s books, wow, Canadian writers are amazing. We have an incredible reputation internationally for producing the best books for kids anywhere in the world. I’d have to agree, even if my books weren’t in that category. I suggest people just head to the local book store and choose anything Canadian. You can’t go wrong!

OB:

What are you reading right now?

HB:

I usually have several books on the go at once. I’m reading Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, Richard Scrimger’s Into the Ravine, and The Martello Tower, a middle grade mystery novel by Jennifer Lanthier. Those had arrived at the top of a pile that also includes books by Norman Doidge, Rebecca Goldstein, Marsha Skrypuch and Mahtab Narsimhan. I’ve always been a bookworm. I have even managed to give myself two reading induced sports injuries. Last summer I had to wear little plastic casts on both hands to help heal tendonitis in both of my thumbs, which developed from my overenthusiastic use of paperbacks.

OB:

What advice do you have for young scientists?

HB:

If you want to find something out about a topic, dive in. Find out what already is known. As you learn, you’ll eventually wind up asking, a question for which there is no known answer. Ta da! It's got your name on it to solve! One day they might call your discovery the (your name here) Effect.

OB:

What is your next project?

HB:

I’m working on another science-y book about Insects that will be out in the Spring of ’09. It includes neato facts like one about the bug that can shoot burning hot acid out its butt at its enemies. I wish I could have done that when I was in grade school.

Science on the Loose
"This fun and brightly illustrated book will help explain some of life's curiosities with amazing activities you can do at home.... Curious minds will have a blast with Science on the Loose." - KidsBookshelf.com


Visit the Maple Tree Press website to read more about Science on the Loose by Helaine Becker.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad