Las Musas is pleased to wish a happy book birthday to Karla Valenti, author of Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence!
Marie Curie is widely known for her achievements in physics and chemistry. But is she also a superhero?
Karla Valenti answers that question by presenting a twist on the typical biography of Marie Curie, highlighting the perseverance and tenacity required for her to achieve success. Much to the delight of young readers, the story of Marie Curie’s life is juxtaposed with the tale of Super Evil Nemesis, a creature determined to stop Curie and the spread of knowledge. He sends his most devious minions on a mission to discourage Curie, who must use her brains and determination to fight against all the obstacles thrown in her way.
Adrianna Cuevas interviewed Karla, the author of this engaging, informative, and inspiring biography.
AC: Karla, will you tell us about the journey to publication for My Science Superheroes: Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence?
KV: This book actually has a really unique journey (and is a testament to both the power of persistence but also how important it is to be open to any and all opportunities). I was living in Europe at the time and heard about a call for submissions by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (a global community of scientists and researchers). They wanted to partner with an author to create a picture book about Marie Curie that the MCAA could sell as a fundraising source. I had never written a biography or a nonfiction piece so I was hesitant to submit anything. However, I thought this would be a great way to push my creative muscles. So I started thinking about how I could tell Marie's story in a way that had never been told before and one that would excite readers, invite them to see science in a different way.
As I researched Marie's life, it became clear that the common thread, and one of the main reasons for her success, was her persistence. Marie encountered all number of challenges, both in her personal and professional life. She had plenty of opportunities to walk away. But she didn't. Her persistence was like a super power that enabled her to ultimately achieve great things. Thus was born the idea of showcasing Marie Curie by focusing on her traits (her super powers) as opposed to her accomplishments. To put it another way, I wanted to show readers that Marie Curie was interesting not because of what she did, but who she was. I wanted readers to understand that being a scientist doesn't mean you have to make big discoveries. Rather, it's about being persistent and curious and courageous in your thoughts.
So I wrote a book about Marie Curie as a super hero, with a super power (persistence). Her obvious antagonist had to be a force of opposition (enter Mr. Opposition). I sent it in and the MCAA folks loved it! I won the bid and began working with them to make the book a reality. We chose the brilliant Annalisa Beghelli to illustrate the book, and the initial plan was to have a crowdsourcing campaign to raise the funds to pay for the "making of" this book.
We encountered a number of obstacles along the way, but we all believed so strongly in this project that we never allowed ourselves a moment to doubt that it was worth fighting for. To our great delight, our persistence paid off. Not only did we exceed our fundraising goals by 20%, but before the campaign was even over, Sourcebooks had found out about the book and made us an offer for world rights! And now, here we are, beyond excited for the publication of the first book in the My Super Science Heroes series. It's been a real privilege to be a part of this journey.
AC: What do you hope readers take away from the story of Marie Curie?
KV: I actually have a few takeaways I would love for readers to consider:
(1) We get to decide the type of story we want our life to be. One of my concerns in writing a story about a historical figure in a super hero narrative style was that people would think we were being dismissive or not taking science seriously enough by framing Marie Curie as a super hero. However, why must we constrain historical figures to one specific genre? Why not refer to remarkable female scientists as heroes?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we do the same thing in our own lives - trying to conform to a specific social idea about what is the appropriate story for us to tell about ourselves. By telling Marie's story in a completely different way than what is traditionally expected, I encourage readers to think about how they can break with the lens that defines their stories as well.
(2) What matters about our life is not what we accomplish, but who we are. It is easy to think that we are valued by our successes, our awards and accolades. I want readers to see that the true value of a person is not what they ultimately achieve, but who they are during that process. This goes hand-in-hand with understanding that our "power" doesn't originate from receiving medals or Nobel Prizes. Rather, it is born form the forces we embody to cross that finish line, to solve that problem, to make that discovery. Marie was powerful not because she discovered radium and polonium, but because she persisted in reaching her dreams.
(3) Being a scientist is not about making brilliant discoveries. Yes, many scientists do, including Marie. But she was a scientist long before she made those important discoveries, and what made her a scientist was her love of science, her persistence in trying to understand the world around her. Science can be very intimidating to readers (young and old) who think they must be brilliant mathematicians or gifted thinkers in order to explore a love of science. I want to make science accessible to the those readers by showing them that they have something in common with Marie - a love of science and the power of persistence.
AC: Are there more books planned for the My Super Science Heroes series? Do you have any other publications coming up?
KV: There are! The next book is due out in Jan 2021 and will feature Alan Turing and the Power of Curiosity. Super Evil Nemesis sends out a new minion, Miss Enigma, to try and defeat Alan in a story full of intrigue and secret messages to decode.
I have another picture book (not part of the "My Super Science Heroes" series) coming out in 2022 with Chronicle and two MG novels with Knopf. The first novel, Loteria, takes place in Oaxaca City, Mexico and features Life and Death playing a game of chance in which a girl's destiny hangs on the balance. Throughout the book, Life and Death debate free will vs determinism as their philosophical arguments unfold in the young girl's life. Loteria is due for publication in 2021. The second novel is tentatively scheduled for 2022.
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