Home >> A Issues >> Chat >> Wire Side Chats

Search form

Author Makes Science Readable, Enjoyable

Finding the textbooks her children brought home uninspiring, Joy Hakim combined her skills as an educator and journalist and began writing texts. Her book, The Story of Science, is a flowing narrative of the evolution of science. Included: A description of the science text.

After stints as a teacher and a journalist, Joy Hakim decided to combine her education and researching skills and write textbooks she hoped would pull young people into subjects. Her book, The Story of Science, published by Smithsonian Books, is the first of a six-part narrative series about the evolution of scientific thought and some of the great minds of science.

Before writing textbooks, Hakim worked as a newspaper writer and editor in Norfolk, Virginia. Prior to that, she taught fifth grade, special education in a middle school, and American literature in a community college.

Besides The Story of Science, her books include the ten-volume A History of US (that's "us" as in all of us) and Freedom: A History of US (companion to the 16-episode TV series narrated by Katie Couric).


Joy Hakim

Education World: What inspired you to begin writing textbooks?

Joy Hakim: When I saw the textbooks my kids brought home from school, and listened to their anguish about having to read them, I decided to see what I could do. I was a newspaper writer who had been a teacher. I thought it was a good mix.

EW: What do you think are the primary ingredients for a good textbook?

Hakim: I don't much like textbooks. The very word is a pejorative. I think of the books I write as anti-textbooks. They are story-based. They are narratives. Ideas are woven into the tales. This book happens to have sensational pictures and illustrations, which pleases me a lot. And it won't break your back if you put it in a backpack.

EW: Why did you decide to write science textbooks after your history series? What kind of research did you do to write The Story of Science?

"I don't much like textbooks. The very word is a pejorative. I think of the books I write as anti-textbooks. They are story-based. They are narratives," says Joy Hakim, author of The Story of Science.

Hakim: I write to learn. Like many educated Americans, I thought of myself as scientifically illiterate. So I dove into science out of curiosity. I was astonished at how exciting the field is and how much I had missed by not knowing more. I now believe you can't claim to be educated unless you have a basic knowledge of science. As to my research, I am a trained journalist. Research is what I've done most of my adult life. So I read a lot of books and then went to experts and asked questions. Because I write for young readers, the best people want to help me. Some fabulous physicists and chemists and mathematicians read the manuscript and offered opinions.

EW: The text often reads like a history book. Has anyone complained that it is "light" on science?

Hakim: Like most learning, science education demands a dual approach: ideas and participation. My books are not light on science; they are heavy on its ideas. But that's not enough. A team at the Johns Hopkins University is doing a "minds on" component, which will include lots of imaginative activities and solid participatory work. I find that science instruction in this country is apt to focus on the "hands on" and neglect the ideas behind the discipline. We're trying to do both.

EW: What do you hope students gain from using The Story of Science?

Hakim: I hope students will learn to love science and find it as exhilarating as I do.

EW: What kind of feedback have you received from teachers about your books?

Hakim: I've had wonderful feedback from teachers and, even better, I have several hundred letters from kids who mostly tell me they like to read the books. That's a main goal: getting students to read and think. One teacher told me my history books have changed the way her students write. The informal style seems to give them permission to be themselves. Another teacher (in an inner-city school) says these books make concepts understandable. That also was my intent. I hope the books are fun to read, that they expand intellects, and that my young readers will use them as a springboard to many more books.

This e-interview with Joy Hakim is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.



Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2007 Education World

Originally published 10/21/2004; updated 02/15/2007