On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Kojo For Kids welcomes author Gregory Mone to the show on Monday, December 21 at 12:30. Listen live by streaming the show on this page or by tuning in to 88.5 FM in the Washington, D.C. region. Kids can call in with questions at 800-433-8850.
Gregory Mone used to create elaborate treasure hunts for his nieces and nephews birthdays, once going so far as to bury the treasure under water. He was such a fun uncle that when his young relatives asked him to write a tale about pirates looking for treasure, he did.
That story became his first book for kids, Fish, and a Scholastic best seller.
Since then Mone has written a slew of action and adventure tales, including the Jack and The Geniuses series with Bill Nye The Science Guy. And Bill Nye isn’t the only science celebrity to call upon Mone to write with him. Astronomer Neil de Grasse Tyson asked Mone to co-author Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry. And Mone’s got a new book coming out about a kid raised underwater, Atlantis: The Accidental Invasion.
Gregory Mone joins us to talk about writing stories, writing about science and — because he’s actually authored a whole book about it — what Santa would need to do to visit every house on Earth in one night.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Gregory Mone Author; @gmmone
KOJO NNAMDIA pirate who hates to fight, a stowaway on the Titanic, a girl raised in the mythical, undersea world of Atlantis. These are all characters from books of Gregory Mone, an author loved by kids for his adventure stories on land, sea and even under the sea. But he's also known for his nonfiction, especially the way he explains science in really clear and fun ways. That's why the famous astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson asked him to co-author "Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry," and why Bill Nye the Science Guy asked him to co-author his "Great Big World of Science" book.
KOJO NNAMDIToday, we're going to talk about Gregory Mone's books, including his fiction and nonfiction. And even if you haven't yet had the pleasure of reading one of his stories, you can still ask him about science. He's written about everything from robots to climate change to what it would take for Santa to visit every kids' house in one night. Gregory Mone, welcome to the program.
GREGORY MONEWell, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIGregory, before we start talking about your books, let's talk about when you were a kid. Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
MONESo, I was born on Long Island, a short train ride from New York City. And I had two older sisters and an older brother, so I was the youngest of four.
NNAMDIWell, born in Long Island, that explains one thing, the NBA ambition. Tell us what you liked to do as a kid.
MONEWell, I was laughing a little bit about, you know, I heard your wonderful interview with Jacquelyn Woodson from a couple weeks ago. And I wonder if -- I know this Kojo for Kids program hasn't been on forever, but I was kind of surprised that you had two children's authors in a row who dreamed of being NBA basketball players when they were little. (laugh) So, that was my goal. I never thought of, you know, writing books when I grew up.
MONEAnd then, unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I saw a video of myself running one day, and it was in a football game. And I looked like I had cement shoes on, and I kind of ran like a duck. And I realized, I don't think this is going to be in my future.
NNAMDIYou were a reader, though. What were your favorite books?
MONEI was a huge reader. Both my parents are big readers and my sisters and my brother, as well. And I read, really, everything, and I do remember, though, you know, I love Roald Dahl, and then one of my all-time favorites was "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. But, you know, really kind of omniverse taste. I would read sports almanacs just to read about statistics, you know, and who scored what and who averaged how many rebounds in a given season and things like that. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, I'm happy to say that my Washington Wizards actually won a preseason game on Saturday night. (laugh)
MONE(laugh) That's right. That's right.
NNAMDIThat's how boring life has become. (laugh) You mentioned your siblings. Did they play different roles in your life?
MONEAbsolutely. You know, they're all great siblings. Now, my two sisters were kind of my buddies and, you know, they'd help me make up stories, and they were always entertaining me and keeping me busy. And then my older brother, well, he was 10 years older than me. And I firmly believe when I was seven or eight years old that he was a ninja. And he certainly didn't dispel this myth, you know. He set up a ninja training course in our basement.
MONEAnd so, I started to believe maybe I was secretly a ninja, too. And, you know, kind of like seeing myself running and having duck feet, I got in a harmless little fight with my best friend, as boys do. And my best friend happened to have his good arm, his right arm in a cast, and so he only had one arm, his left one. And he still managed to destroy me in a fight. So, once again, I realized I probably wasn't going to be a ninja, either.
MONEBut, you know, the other thing they did is -- and this is my parents, as well -- we spent a ton of time in the ocean. My brother was an ocean lifeguard, and my sisters were lifeguards, and my dad was a lifeguard. So, we were always kind of in and out of the ocean, which is probably why my books end up centering around the water so much. (laugh)
NNAMDIWell, you're a swimming guy yourself. We'll talk a little bit more about that later, but allow me to defer to Chloe and Arie, who are nine and five years old, respectively. Chloe and Arie, you're on the air. Who's going to be doing the talking?
CHLOEHi, Kojo. My brother will be asking the questions.
NNAMDIHi, Chloe. It's your turn now, Arie.
ARIECan humans live in other planets?
NNAMDIYes, we can hear you.
MONEOh, she said, can humans live on other planets?
NNAMDICan humans live on other planets? Great question. Gregory Mone, your turn.
MONEThat is a really good question, and, actually, it's one of the questions we explore both in the book with Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye's "Great Big World of Science." And the answer is, not really, the way we are set up right now. You know, we could set up bases and have suits on and, you know, find out ways to cultivate crops and everything. But we'd have to bring a lot with us if we were going to go live on another planet or another moon. We could potentially do it, but it would be a lot of work.
MONEWhich is one of the reasons, I think, it's really, really important to appreciate this planet we have here, because it is set up pretty well for humans. Now, of course, we have our problems, but it's a pretty nice place to live compared to Mars or Jupiter or somewhere like that.
NNAMDIAnd thank you very much, both Chloe and Arie, for your question. Gregory, though you eventually came to write books for kids, the first book you wrote was for grownups. But kids might find the idea of it interesting. Tell us about "The Wages of Genius."
MONE(laugh) So, yes, kids do find this idea interesting, and that in itself always interests me. So, I had worked in a series of jobs coming out of college, and I couldn't really find what I wanted to do. And, at one point, I had a very, very boring job, but I worked with some strange and interesting people. And I would go home at night and write stories about all these people. And I started to whip them together and realized that I might have something that's starting to look like a book. So, I kept working on it and working on it.
MONEAnd, eventually, I came up with this idea about a guy who works in an office, but he thinks he's the reincarnation of Albert Einstein. So, he kind of thinks he's like the smartest person in the world. And he's constantly trying to compare these little things that are happening in his life to the big things that happened in Einstein's life. Now, yeah. So, it's a little bit of an odd book, but kids do love that idea. Because I think, you know, a lot of people you meet maybe secretly believe they might be the next Einstein, you know.
NNAMDIYeah, and if you've worked in offices, you've probably run into quite a few of them. (laugh)
NNAMDIYou tried to write a second book for adults. How did that go?
MONEIt went horribly, you know. (laugh) You know, I thought when you get a book published and you're young I figured, okay, well, maybe I'm a genius, too, and whatever I write is going to be absolute magic. But I found now -- I think my 14th book just came out, and it is not getting any easier to write a book. It's still hard, every time. And, you know, I've probably written two or three other books that I just couldn't get quite right.
MONENow, this second book, I was struggling with so much of it, it took me two or three years, and I just wasn't getting anywhere. And that's when I had this idea to decide to try something completely different. So, at the time, I was kind of -- I didn't have kids of my own yet, and so I was kind of the cool uncle, (laugh) and I used to do these treasure hunts for my nieces and nephews.
MONEAnd every time one of them had a birthday, I would set up a treasure hunt. But before the birthday, they'd come to me and they'd say, hey, Uncle G, you got to make this one better than the last one, you know, because it's my birthday now, so it's got to be cooler than the last one.
MONESo, I got more and more involved every time, until this one year, I think they had to solve 12 different riddles before they finally found a treasure map that led them out into the Long Island Sound, where they had to dive down in about eight feet of water, pull up a treasure chest that I had sunk down there, and bring it into shore. And when they came in, they turned to me and they said, Uncle G, you've got to write a treasure hunting story now. You can't do any more of these adult books.
NNAMDIWow. Having made his dive into eight feet of water, it's about time for you to write a book. And thus, we had "Fish," which is the story of a pirate named Maurice who doesn't like to fight, as a result of your keeping writing, and writing mainly for kids. Your fans have been asking for a sequel to "Fish" for quite a while. Is that ever going to happen?
MONEYeah, so that actually is going to happen. We just decided last year, so I'm pretty excited about it. And it's going to come out -- and this is -- you know, in the adult world, this doesn't seem too far away, the year 2023, but in the kid world that might as well be 1,000 years from now. So, it's sort of strange news to break, because they get excited and then I tell them, well, it's going to be a couple years. And they get heartbroken and they, you know, why can't we have it now? (laugh)
NNAMDIOur guest is Gregory Mone. He's the best-selling and award-winning author of "Fish" and many other adventure and science books for kids. Gregory, in addition to your fiction writing, you specialize in explaining science in ways that make it fun and understandable. But you say that you and science got off to a pretty rough start. What do you mean by that?
MONE(laugh) Well, we did. So, you know, when I grew up, I had a great group of friends, and we were kind of a mix, where we loved sports and we loved competing in sports. But then we also loved competing in school and trying to get the best grades and everything. And so, we were this, you know, kind of odd mix of jocks and nerds at the same time. And I say nerds in a very complimentary way, because I am one.
MONENow, right around sixth grade, you know, there was an advanced science class, and I didn't get in. And I was absolutely heartbroken that I wasn't in advanced science. And I thought, well, that's it. I'm not interested in science. I'm not going to pursue it. And, so, yeah, we got off to a little bit of a rough start. And I was embarrassed, too, because my grandfather was a chemist, and my uncle. And so, you know, I had it in the blood.
NNAMDIWhat changed to bring you back to science, and what do you say to kids who think they're not good at something like math or science?
MONEWell, I say, don't believe that because you don't -- one of the things I've learned in talking to a lot of scientists is -- and this really fascinated me. I try to ask them -- you know, I ask them about their work, but I also try to ask, what does it take to be a great scientist? And, you know, for this recent book I did with Bill Nye, "The Great Big World of Science," we interviewed more than 75 different scientists and asked them this question: What does it take to be a great scientist?
MONEAnd none of them say you have to be smart. (laugh) Yeah, right? What they all say is, you have to be curious. You have to be willing to ask questions and look at things and try and understand how they work. So, for me, that's actually how I came around to sort of falling back in love with science, which was just purely curiosity, walking around the world trying to understand how things work. Walking out at night and looking at the stars and thinking to yourself, geez, what's happening there, you know. And is there life on other worlds, like Chloe and Arie had asked earlier. Well, they had asked if we could survive, but similar question.
NNAMDIHere is 10-year-old Nome in Washington, D.C. Nome, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NOMEI was wondering, would we be able to move our solar system to, like, a different galaxy, or maybe reverse its order?
NNAMDIGregory Mone, that's a challenge for you.
MONEThat's a big one. That sounds like that could be a comic book in the making. Nome, I think you should write a story about that one.
NNAMDIYou might be onto something, Nome.
MONEYeah. But I think it would be very difficult, from a physical perspective, to actually move a whole solar system. Well, actually, the solar system is moving through the universe as we speak, but it's also a pretty nice solar system. It's a good place to live, so I don't know that we want to run away.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Nome. You mentioned Bill Nye. You've co-authored several books with the Science Guy who had a hit television show in which he explored science with kids. We consider ourselves friends of Bill Nye Science Guy because, well, he grew up here in Washington, D.C., (laugh) and he's been a guest on this show, including joining us for Kojo for Kids. How did you get to write the "Jack and the Geniuses" series with him?
MONEWell, that's kind of a strange story. I actually -- you know, all of my -- a lot of my work ends up revolving around the ocean, and that includes this series with Bill Nye as well, "Jack and the Geniuses." I was out in Los Angeles for work, reporting another story for this magazine, "Popular Science." And I was in a coffee shop early one morning and I looked up and I saw Bill Nye sitting at the table across from me. And I was very surprised, and I knew who he was and so I had to go over and introduce myself and tell him that I love writing about science.
MONEAnd we started talking, one thing led to another. I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but we got onto the subject of surfing. And Bill was telling me that he was trying to learn how to surf. And I'm a lifelong surfer and I love surfing, so I offered to give him a few lessons. And so, the next day, we made a plan, and we actually went out surfing together. And it was absolutely hysterical, because the whole time we were out there, instead of really trying to surf, Bill was just talking about the science and the physics of the waves and the climate and weather.
MONEYeah. So, it was a great experience and, you know, we stayed in touch. And a little while later, he came back to me and he said, hey, Greg, you know, I'd love to sort of spread my love for science and technology in a new way and, you know, maybe through some adventures and novels of the kinds that I used to read when I was a kid. And I said, well, that's a great idea, Bill, you should do it. He said, well, that's the problem. I don't know how to write a novel. So, what if we did it together?
MONEAnd so, we threw around a few ideas, and one of the things I brought up was these kids that I had written about, real-life kids who built amazing stuff in their own homes and basements and sort of just building robots and submarines and things out of spare parts. And so, we made kids like that the focus of the book. And the book ends up -- it revolves around these three kids who basically use science and technology to solve mysteries.
NNAMDIBut why did you decide that Jack should not be a genius?
MONEWell, because it's boring if everybody's a genius, you know. And I also wanted Jack to reflect that core idea that I keep hearing from scientists that you don't need to be a genius to be a great scientist or to be a great thinker. So, Jack's the curious one. He's the one who never stops asking questions.
NNAMDISo, will there be more books in the "Jack and the Geniuses" series?
MONEThere will not. We are asked about them all the time, but I've gotten myself busy. I've fallen into Atlantis, as you mentioned earlier, and so that is where all my creative energies are going right now. This new book that's coming out in April, "Atlantis, the Accidental Invasion."
NNAMDIGregory, you also write "Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry" with Neil Degrasse Tyson, who might just be the most famous astrophysicist in the world. How did you get to write a book with him, and what was it like working with him?
MONEWell, he is a very intense intellect and a very, very nice guy. I'm not really sure how I was picked. But somehow or another, he heard about me, and he had seen my work, and he's friends with Bill Nye, too. And so, we had an initial conversation about what I would do, you know, with his book and how I'd try to make some of the things that he wanted to talk about more approachable or kids. And he just kind of gave me the thumbs up and the go ahead.
MONEAnd we had a great time working on the book together though. And, like I said, he's a very intense intellect. And, you know, I don't usually worry about -- well, yeah, it was a wonderful experience. It was really neat. (laugh)
NNAMDII'm curious about the title "Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry." I didn't think astrophysics -- by the way, what is astrophysics?
MONEWell, it's basically the study of stars and galaxies and how they work. And so, it's not so much where they are, as how everything works.
NNAMDIWell, I didn't think that the study of planets and galaxies, etcetera was something you could do in a hurry. (laugh)
MONE(laugh) No. That's a very good point. Maybe it's not something you should do in a hurry. But, you know, all of these stories and these ideas, they can be digested in short form. And I think the core idea behind the book is, look, we're going to give you these great stories and these huge ideas in a small, easy-to-digest package.
NNAMDIKaren, 13 years old, wants to know if anything cool is happening soon in the galaxy that we could see for ourselves.
MONEOh, wow. Well, right this week, we have an alignment that's pretty exciting, but unfortunately here -- this pretty cool planetary alignment. But where I am it's been super foggy, and I'm a little bit heartbroken. And then my son tells me that we need to go to Canada for the next eclipse in a few years, which happens on his birthday. But you know what I think? There's always something exciting happening up there when the night sky is clear. So, I'd just try and get out there and check it out.
NNAMDIKeep looking, Karen.
NNAMDIYou wrote another book called "The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve." You wrote this for grownups, though you've said that a lot of people added that maybe you should have written it for kids because a lot of kids wonder about the science related to Santa. You figured out, for example, how long it would take Santa to get to every kids' house in the world. Could you tell us a little bit about the science of Santa Claus?
MONEWell, you know, it should almost be -- the book should almost have been titled "Sympathy for Santa." Because when I think about this annual mission that he does and visiting every single house that he needs to visit, you know, what I figured out is he definitely would need to travel at the speed of light, which is very, very fast. But that the problem is when he's moving -- even if he's moving that quickly and sort of zipping from house to house as fast as a photon of light, he would experience time in the same way as we normally do. So, for him -- you know, what for us might be a few hours, for him would be about 190 years, every Christmas night. So, I feel bad for the guy, because that's a lot of work to do.
NNAMDIIndeed, it is. You also discuss, in the book, how Santa, contrary to popular belief, does not decide that kids are either naughty or nice. Can you explain?
MONEWell, I think, you know, every kid has some good in him, right? So, I don't know that Santa would be the one that would fully judge these things himself. So, in my view -- and, look, I don't know everything about Santa Claus. I'm just working on what's I've reported and what I've learned through analysis. But I don't think he leaves that question up to himself.
NNAMDIYeah. You think he consults with Mrs. Claus on that one?
MONEI think she probably knows a little bit more about these things. Absolutely.
NNAMDIWell, we can find out some more about that if you happen to read the book. I'd like to get back to your adventure stories for a moment. You wrote a book called "Dangerous Waters" about Patrick, a 12-year-old boy who gets a job on the Titanic, the biggest ship in the world when it was built, known as the unsinkable ship. The Titanic, of course, famously sank on its first voyage. What made you want to write this book? Are you fascinated by the Titanic, like Patrick?
MONESo, I am fascinated by the Titanic. I was also on a sinking ship one time. My dad and I went fishing when I was 20 years old. And we were in a very thick fog, and our boat hit another boat. And our fishing boat actually sank, and luckily, the captain and my father and I climbed off and got onto the other boat, and everyone survived safely. But, you know, this is a very different experience. We were just a couple of us, versus the thousand-plus people on the Titanic. But ever since that, I got more fascinated by Titanic. And so that's kind of what prompted me to want to write that book.
MONEBut, as you might have noticed, you know, all these books end up centering -- you know, the adventure books end up centering, in some way, around the ocean. And that's where I'm going with the next one, as well.
NNAMDIThe next one, of course, is "Atlantis: the Accidental Invasion," correct?
NNAMDIFascinating. Tell us a little bit about it.
MONEWell, this one, it's funny. You know, this one sort of brings in a lot of the science writing I've done with Bill Nye, as well, about climate and the oceans and how the oceans work. And I got this idea because I was walking on the beach one day and I saw a whole bunch of plastic on the beach. And I thought -- I don't know why this connection happened, but I thought, geez, if Atlantic existed, those people would be really upset with us. (laugh)
MONEAnd so, I started to sort of think up this world, and I had this idea for a book, not just about people from the surface, you know, sort of discovering Atlantis, which is always the standard story. But the story also focuses around an Atlantian girl who lives in Atlantis and has been told all her life that there's no world outside Atlantis. And she wants to find out if there's really life on the surface.
MONESo, she kind of ventures up to the surface to try and find people up here. The Atlantians call them sun people, while at the same time, a father and son are trying to journey to Atlantis to find out if the world is real, and they bond with each other.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Wow. I've afraid that's all the time we have right now. A lot of your stories are based in water, of course. You used to be a champion swimmer, New York State champion swimmer yourself. Gregory Mone, thank you so much for joining us.
MONEThank you. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd we have an answer for Karen on her question. Karen, you can spot the rare Jupiter Saturn conjunction today in the night sky. So, there's something for you to do. Kojo for Kids with author Gregory Mone was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our segment on presidential pets was produced by Kirk Gardinier.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow, how has the D.C. jail handled the coronavirus pandemic, and what's being done to keep people safe? We check in with the director of D.C.'s Department of Corrections. Then we talk about what reading and writing means for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. And we'll hear from a volunteer group that sends books to D.C. inmates. That all starts at noon, tomorrow. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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