“What if I had a giant pen to connect the dots in the sky?”
That is exactly what a young Joan Marie Galat hoped for as she sat transfixed by the night sky as a child in a snow fort that she would build in her Alberta backyard.
In the absence of a giant pen, she turned to writing. Sharing the stories of the stars with young readers through her array of science and non-fiction titles, Galat toured Australia in April 2019 promoting science and literacy with her most recent books “Dark Matters: Nature’s Reaction to Light Pollution” and “Dot to Dot in the Sky: Stories in the Clouds”.
At just age 12, Galat became a published author in a local Sherwood Park newspaper, writing a weekly column about birds and answering questions from the public. With her mother as her sub-editor, she followed her passion for science and writing and took her first steps towards becoming the internationally awarded science author she is today.
One of Galat’s great motivators to publish children’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) literature came from her experience growing up as a child interested in science. During her youth, Galat turned to books at the local library to help her decipher the constellations that she would observe from her snow fort or out the window on long car journeys.
“I could find the dippers, and Orion, and some of the other constellations, but I was never positive of many of the other constellations so I went to the library and took out astronomy books” she told Canada Down Under.
“They were not meant for kids my age!”
She eventually learned light pollution was obscuring some of the stars she was searching for and interfering with her view of the universe. In her latest book, she combined her background in ecology and life sciences to publish “Dark Matters: Nature’s Reaction to Light Pollution” looking at light pollution from a different perspective.
“I think as young people and adults learn how wildlife is impacted, they will care,” she said,
“They will care about the astronomy, but they will especially care about the animals.”
Having published more than 20 titles, Galat’s books motivate children and young adults to discover the world around them through topics such as astronomy, meteorology, engineering, ecology and mythology, inspiring them to think beyond what they can see because “our environment doesn’t stop at the top of the trees”.
Despite her efforts, Galat knows that “not every child is going to grow up to become a scientist, or technologist, or an engineer, or mathematician”. She hopes, though, that the fun and accessible nature of her non-fiction writing will encourage her readers to apply STEM skills such as critical thinking and deductive reasoning to develop broader life skills.
“If you want young people to grow up and be able to discern from facts and fake news, and interpret media correctly and with a discerning eye, they need to know what non-fiction looks like,” she explained.
“They need to know what leads scientists to a conclusion. They need to understand that process so that they can question things and make decisions that help them lead good lives.”
She does hope though that science literature like her own will encourage girls and women to pursue STEM education and careers.
“We all benefit from having female role models, and when you see somebody else do something that is your same gender, then you think, ‘Oh, I can do that too’, and that’s important for women as they have a lot to contribute.”
When Galat made her first trip to Australia in 2013, she says researching the Milky Way was a “profound experience” for her, and has affected the way she thinks about her connection to the environment.
“Everything in three quarters of the sky was unfamiliar” she said.
“When I looked to the North, all the stars that I know, the patterns were upside down. I didn’t realize how tied I was to my own setting and how it made me feel connected to my own world.”
She will continue to travel Canada and the world researching the night sky and sharing her passion for science and literacy, because for her, “the night sky is free entertainment. It’s something that everyone can enjoy”.