An Encyclopedia of Great Ideas: Talking STEM with Jenny Jacoby
Do you know your Algorithms from your Brownian motion? How about your Coprolites? Thanks to the wonderful work of author Jenny Jacoby and illustrator Vicky Barker, you can discover these STEM concepts, and many more, in The Encyclopedia of STEM Words.
From those ABCs all the way down to X-rays, the terrifying Yangchuanosaurus and even the true definition of Zero, this encyclopedia is illustrated with fun and informative graphics and will fascinate science-lovers young and old!
We asked author Jenny Jacoby how she got into writing about STEM topics for kids, and what was involved in creating The Encyclopedia of STEM Words.
What does STEM stand for?
STEM stands for ‘science, technology, engineering, maths’. STEM as a term is talked about a lot in education circles because people realise that a grounding in these subjects is so important for all children, no matter what careers they might go on to have. Our world relies on technology now, and STEM will help us solve many of the big problems facing the world.
Why did you write an encyclopedia about STEM?
Although the subjects are so important, they can feel scary or off-putting to some children, so a friendly-looking encyclopedia that explains key concepts in an accessible way is our attempt to engage all children in STEM and also help them feel comfortable with some of the ideas they might be learning about in school. The entries make good introductions to people hearing the terms for the first time, and they can also reinforce understanding for older children.
One thing I love about the encyclopedia is that it shows how each topic relates to so many different topics. After I had written the whole book I felt I had a much deeper understanding of all the connections in the natural world.
How did you decide what words would go into the encyclopedia?
I worked with the publisher to make sure we had a balance of topics across different areas, from maths, chemistry and physics to palaeontology, astronomy, art and more! We had a spreadsheet to check there was at least one word for each letter of the alphabet, so thank goodness for X-rays and zero!
Were there any letters or topics that you found challenging to write?
One term in the original list that got cut was the Higgs boson. It took a lot of thinking for me to write a 30-word sentence that simply summed up what it was for children – and when I achieved that I was very proud!
Writing about the Big Bang was also a challenge. However, I soon found that the benefit of a topic being hard for me to understand or where I didn’t have prior knowledge is that it’s easier for me to find a way to explain it simply for children.
How did you get into writing about STEM topics for kids?
It feels like the fitting conclusion to the skills and interests I’ve developed since childhood. At primary school we were given a lot of freedom to write, and I was always making up stories, writing to penfriends, making comics for my friends… Then when I started secondary school the English lessons were so dry they took all the joy out of writing.
I carried on reading and writing for myself but my focus was taken by science because the science teaching at my school was really engaging. I remember having a lightbulb moment in one particular science lesson when I first realised that all the things we had been learning through the years linked up together to explain the world and ourselves. That felt quite thrilling.
I was very lucky to come across a university degree called Human Sciences, where you get a grounding in every science concerning humans, from genetics and biochemistry to geography and anthropology, and can then choose which areas to focus on. It was at university that I realised I didn’t want to work in a lab or research and that I was more suited to writing about science, humans and how the things we have discovered and created affect us as people.
After university I knew I wanted to work with books, and have worked in various different areas in publishing: writing activity books to tie in with TV and film characters, supporting scientific journal publishing and editing fantastic children’s fiction.
It’s a real joy to me to be able to bring these skills together in writing about STEM for children and then have amazing editors, designers and illustrators turn my words into very beautiful and engaging books.
The Encyclopedia of STEM Words is an A to Z showcase of 100 fascinating science, technology, engineering and maths concepts, organised in alphabetical order and with each term accompanied by colourful and engaging illustrations. Perfect for curious kids and budding scientists aged 8 to 12!
The Encyclopedia of STEM Words is available on our website and from all good bookstores.
You can also download a free STEM words poster for your bedroom or classroom.
Jenny Jacoby is an experienced editor and writer in various genres for children and adults. Jenny writes, edits, conceptualises and manages projects for publishers, magazines and children’s brands through to arts organisations and museums, with a particular background in writing about STEM topics for children. Jenny lives with her family in London, England.