Welcome to our new virtual home!
This is where you’ll hear from each and every member of the steaMG Alliance as well as some distinguished guests. With this first post, I wanted to tell you all why I started this collective.
I believe in science. I believe in the power of knowledge. I know from my own research that the study of science creates better analytical thinkers, a more informed citizenry, people who are better stewards of our world. I’ve known all this for some time, but what I recently discovered was what originally led me to this love of science and technology. It was the feeling of awe.
It was awe that saved me as a child. It gave me something safe to chase after.
When I was in middle school my world was upended by the sudden death of my father. He was only in his mid-30s and the entire family fell into a state of shock. Like most children experiencing grief, I wanted nothing more than our lives to return to normal. I wanted my mother to be okay again. I wanted the family to be the same. I wanted to turn back time. I went to books for answers, because the library had never failed me before. A more practical, or dare I say grounded, twelve-year-old might have gone to the self-help and grief section, but no, I went straight to science fiction. I was a grand thinker and it seemed to me that the only solution to fixing my world was time travel. I read every book I could find in order to discern the truth from fiction. What if I could go back in time and warn my father about his congenital heart condition? What if time travel really existed and it was all a big secret?
“What if” is a powerful question.
I didn't discover the secrets to going back in time (well, not in the way I had hoped), but I did discover awe. Of course I had felt it before, when contemplating the stars and how many there were, or when looking into the eyes of a tiger at the zoo and experiencing that fleeting moment of cross-species understanding. I wasn't a stranger to awe. What I didn't know was that I could generate it—access it whenever I wanted. It came easily to me when reading sci-fi. I discovered Madeleine L'Engle and Ursula K. Le Guin. I read Carl Sagan and began begging my uncle for his old Omni Magazines. Awe gave me hope. Reading about the expanse of both our world and others made my problems feel smaller. It made me feel part of something bigger. It made life feel manageable.
As adults the more reading we do the more we understand our journey. It turns out that awe is a serious emotion, and researchers are just beginning to study it with the seriousness it deserves. Two Berkeley psychology professors, Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, began the first in-depth study of awe with a publication in 2003.
In their report they posit that there are two factors central to the experience of awe: the perception of vastness and the struggle to mentally process the experience. While that sounds harrowing, what they've discovered is that the experience of awe is associated with many positive outcomes. Subjects reported a feeling of having more time available, increased generosity, and decreased aggression. In some of their experiments, Keltner and Haidt took subjects into nature, river rafting and hiking, and tested their saliva for inflammation markers before and after. What they have found was that awe combats stress in an empirical way.
They also discovered that awe is universal. It’s experienced in every culture and results in the same facial expressions of widened eyes, an open mouth, “goose bumps” and an intake of breath.
I won't take you too far into the weeds of the study's findings (extra reading can be found in links at bottom of this post and I highly recommend those rabbit holes). What it all boils down to is that awe is a highly beneficial emotion and one that can create a more positive world for young and old.
As adults we can all too easily fail to remember what a scary place childhood can be. We grow up and out of it, and we forget the everyday confusion, sadness, and for some children, outright fear. Every child's life has these moments. Some experience far worse than others.
For a lot of kids, awe could indeed be the answer. And many studies out there say what takes root in the middle-grade brain tends to stay planted there, readily accessible through an entire lifetime.
Realizing how central awe was to my own reading, I re-examined my bookshelves. I didn’t see enough of the kind of books that saved me as a kid. It was hard to find the books that expanded the world in this way. If I asked people what middle-grade sci-fi books they recommended, they often referred me to the same five books or titles that were over twenty years old. All this is what led me to the people you see on our author page.
What do we as authors of middle-grade sci-fi, fantasy, and science-inspired fiction all have in common?
We inspire awe. Awe-thors are we.
I called around and I spoke to friends in the industry and realized I wasn't alone. We were inspired by variations on a theme, and we all wanted to see more sci-fi and STEM-inspired middle-grade books. So here we are. I hope you'll find us an excellent resource for providing you titles, learning materials, thoughts on writing, and news in the field.
We think it’s awesome you are here.
The Art and Science of Awe - Greater Good Magazine, Berkeley.edu
Why Emotions are Integral to Learning - Mind/Shift KQED
The Mind-Bending Science of Awe - SLATE -Atlas Obscura, Sarah Laskow
Goosebumps Never Lie: The Power of Awesome Experiences - CBC Interview