Tuesday, July 25, 2023

#AuthorInterview with Mona R. Semerau, author of Ranbir

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Trix Lee-Rainwater is talking with Mona R. Semerau, author of Ranbir: A Seven-Year-Old's Introduction to Higher Mathematics.
FQ: Mathematical fiction, particularly for young readers, is not one of the more common genres readers might stumble upon. What inspired you to write a mathematically-based book? Do you have a background in mathematics or a related field?
SEMERAU: I have no background in math, and in fact if anything should qualify me to write this story, it’s that, like Buck, I’m not at all good at math. But I do have an appreciation for the beauty and symmetry of numbers which have helped shape our understanding of the Universe, and unlock its many secrets.
FQ: What were the specific challenges you faced in balancing the imaginative elements of the story with the educational aspects of mathematics?
SEMERAU: Kids make up stuff as they go along. I put myself into the mind of a seven-year-old, which follows its own peculiar logic, and inserted what I needed to justify the details of the story as it developed. What fun! The math and the zaniness of Buck’s imagination all followed a logical path.
FQ: How did you decide which concepts to include in this book? Were there some topics that you wanted to include but, because of space limitations, had to exclude?
SEMERAU: I was amazed at how much material I could put into a book less than 100 pages long.
FQ: I liked the tangible representation of popcorn, styrofoam, and fluff bunnies to explain decimals and fractions. Can you tell us more about your thought process behind these choices?
SEMERAU: Buck imagines Ranbir doing hard time, in which he is tasked with moving all the numbers on the left side of the decimal point to the right of the decimal in order to make everything equal. While Ranbir insists this is impossible – and explains why – he suggests another solution in the hopes of lightening his sentence. His friend Buck at first is just as mystified as those who should know better, but the idea begins to take hold. Here the math perfectly coincides with the storyline.
FQ: Keeping a book on target for young readers can be a challenge. One way is to be sure the language/dialogue is correct, which I believe you captured perfectly (hooky things, squishy scales). How hard was it to capture that? Did it require research, perhaps hanging around kids, speaking to them about math, or...?
SEMERAU: No. I just remembered I was a kid myself once, the way I looked at the world in terms of how I understood it at the time.
FQ: What do you hope young readers will take away from reading the book in terms of their perception and appreciation of mathematics?
SEMERAU: I actually have in mind not kids, but adult educators who will read the book and take from its ideas. I would hardly expect this to be used as a textbook, but the visual concept I think would be ideal in a classroom full of distracted students, and the Ranbir slide rule would make a fun art project.
FQ: Getting children excited about mathematics and other STEM fields can be a challenge. How can we help get children involved and, more importantly, excited about these topics?
SEMERAU: What I hope to convey through Ranbir is the conviction that kids at a very young age can be introduced to concepts way beyond their grade level, without the expectation of mastery at this time. But now their minds are better prepared to absorb the material later on in their educational experience. Math needn’t be abstract, hard, or esoteric. It’s for dumb kids, too.
FQ: Your first book, Forces, sounds intriguing. I noticed it’s been miscategorized by some as YA, but you state that it is for a more mature audience. Would you tell our readers a little about it?
SEMERAU: Forces has the literary feel of fantasy with a hint of the graphic novel, an immersive experience which builds on the sense of wonder, pure and simple. There is no magic in it, nothing supernatural; rather, ‘science wears a jester’s mask’ in a mythological imagery unique to the story itself. It is not to be plowed through to learn what happens at the end, but savored, the wordcraft appreciated in the telling.
FQ: Speaking of Forces, I notice that, like Ranbir, it is about STEM topics. So many readers, even adults, have a fear of mathematics and other science topics. I believe that fear is really a misunderstanding, not realizing how beautiful mathematics truly is. Do you think books like Forces and Ranbir, which incorporate fictional adventures wrapped around math/science, can help people overcome that fear/misunderstanding?
FQ: Do you have plans to write another mathematically based story? Or will your writing talents take you in another direction?
SEMERAU: Another book is not forthcoming at this time. However, Atmosphere Press is helping me set up a website www.ranbirsliderule.com which I hope will become a springboard for introducing math on a count-on-your-fingers level. Forces will be featured in it as well, so there’s some of your science. I’m not sure how far this will go, but this is an investment in an idea, I think worth the risk.

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