August 1, 2019

Experiment Like Nikola Tesla

Welcome August's blogger, author Amy O'Quinn!

I am excited to guest post on the Hands-On Books blog today. It’s a privilege to be here! My second book, NikolaTesla for Kids: His Life, Ideas, and Inventions, with 21 Activities (published by Chicago Review Press), was released in early July—and it was so cool to hold all that hard work in my hands at last. Better yet, I am thrilled to finally be able to share Nikola Tesla’s amazing life story with my readers!

Nikola Tesla was a man WAY ahead of his time, and many considered him to be somewhat of a mad scientist. And while it’s certainly true that he was extremely quirky and eccentric, he was a visionary in so many ways. Using the rotating magnetic field, he created the alternating current supply system we still use today. He also helped design the world’s first hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, and he came up with innovative plans and ideas for other inventions, such as a remote-controlled boat, fluorescent tubes, neon lights, and the bladeless turbine. He is now acknowledged to have invented the radio ahead of Marconi, and he also experimented with wireless energy. In fact, many of the technological gadgets we take for granted today can be traced back to Nikola Tesla’s ideas and inventions! He truly wanted to make a difference in the world and help humankind.
After Tesla’s death, his belongings and papers were suspiciously confiscated by the U.S. government and sent back to his homeland in the Balkans. Because of the Cold War, western journalists had no access to any of his work—and the knowledge of his contributions to the fields of science and technology slowly faded away. While the names of Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and other inventors of Tesla’s time have been remembered and honored, Nikola Tesla’s name was largely forgotten. Until recent years, he has been denied all the recognition he deserved. However, this is finally changing, and Nikola Tesla and his work are finally being applauded and celebrated. I sincerely hope that my book will help others discover, or at least learn a bit more, about one of the greatest inventors of all time.

Nikola was fascinated with magnetism from a very young age, and two of my favorite activities in the book center around this amazing force! Try one of the activities below for yourself.

Thanks for reading and please come visit me at!

July 14, 2019

Happy 50th Apollo 11 Moon Landing!

We're thrilled to have author and Chicago Review Press editor Jerome Pohlen guest-posting in celebration of his recently released—and very timely—book, THE APOLLO MISSIONS FOR KIDS: The People and Engineering Behind the Race to the Moon with 21 Activities. Enjoy! 

Next week (July 20) marks the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon. I chose to write about Apollo—not just Apollo 11, but every mission—because my father and three of my uncles worked on the program. I understood the basics of the story before I started, but writing the book have me a fresh appreciation for this remarkable engineering achievement, and the brave and bold people who made it a reality.

One of my favorite activities from the book asks readers to calculate the relative distance between the Earth and moon using a simple model. It starts with a given: If the Earth was the size of a basketball, the moon would be about the size of a tennis ball in comparison. But how far apart would the two be on this same scale? As it turns out, the distance to the moon is roughly 10 trips around the Earth’s equator—not very far, right? Readers measure the basketball’s “equator” and multiply by 10—it’s 25 feet! And to get a sense of that distance, readers are asked to hold these two balls that far apart.

June 3, 2019

Writing About Robert E. Lee

At Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Lee's home before the Civil War

by Brandon Marie Miller

I have a new YA (Young Adult) biography coming out on June 11, Robert E. Lee, The Man, The Soldier, The Myth (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill & Kane Press). It's my first book in three years, which seems a lifetime in publishing. With Lee (and statues of Lee) so constantly in the news it's been a difficult book to write, but I hope a timely one.

I wanted to know who Lee was beyond the four years of Civil War that define him in history. What was his character, both strengths and weaknesses? Why has a myth of Robert E. Lee taken the place of the man? What was his family story? What about his long military career as a West Point graduate and army engineer? I needed to let Lee's own words explain his beliefs about slavery, emancipation, his racism. My journey took several years, reading books, articles, historic documents, and Lee family letters.

Most fun of all was traveling to places important in Lee's life. Come along for a quick tour of some of places I visited!

I visited three Civil War battlefields on this trip. This photo is from Manassas National Battlefield Park, where Lee won a victory at the end of August 1862. I also visited Antietam battlefield, witness to the single bloodiest day in American History, September 17, 1862. Lastly, I visited Petersburg, site of a nine month siege (summer 1864- spring 1865)  that forced Lee toward surrender at Appomattox Court House. I also visited Fort Pulaski National Monument where Lee had his first job out of West Point, a young army engineer building a new fort on Cockspur Island, Georgia.

Arlington House, on a foggy morning. The house was built by Mary Custis Lee's father, a grandson of Martha Washington, and was home to Lee, his wife, and seven children. Occupied early in the war by Union troops, federal officials turned Arlington into a national cemetery in 1864 to prevent the Lee family from ever returning to their  home after the war.

Lee's birthplace, Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Family scandals here marked Lee's youth.
The parlor in the McLean House, where Lee surrendered to Grant, April 9, 1865. This is a replica of the marble-topped table Lee signed his letter of acceptance of Grant's terms.
Lee served as president of Washington College after the war. (Washington and Lee University today) His office has been left virtually untouched from the afternoon he left it, suffering a stroke later that evening. Lee died October 12, 1870.

The President's House at Washington College, designed and built by Lee, is still used today. He included features designed for his wife, who was confined to a wheelchair with crippling arthritis.
ACTIVITY: For my book launch I've created a wordsearch game based on Lee's life. I hope you'll read the book to find out more, and see why these words mattered in Lee's world and in our nation's history.

May 4, 2019

Why Knot Plant a Knot Garden?

 With my new book MUMMIES EXPOSED! arriving on May 7, it's been a busy time . It's spring, after all, and I need to get outside to clean up after Old Man Winter and get ready to plant flowers.

 I'll get you a mummy activity come fall. In the meantime, how about planting a flower-and-herb version of an Elizabethan knot garden?

Like Elizabeth Tudor, England's Queen Elizabeth I?  Of course you can. Why Knot?

There's an excellent example of a knot garden here in the U.S. at the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. There, head gardener Jeff Lewis cares for the twining shrubs that look like knots, and he plants the spaces in between them with herbs in spring.

Jeff shared a wonderful photo of this garden in early spring, when it’s easy to see “the bones” of the garden before lush green herbs take over in summer. Go on over to their website at

It takes years to establish a knot garden like this one, but you can create an updated version to grow in just one summer. All it takes is a bit of space, bedding plants, a digging tool, fertilizer, and regular watering.  
Here's a waterwise example from the Cooperative Extension website:

 From Elizabeth I: the People's Queen comes this activity. It's knot a problem, I promise!
Photo credit: Double Down Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0