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Texas Roots Grow a Love of Science in New Middle-Grade Book Series

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A new Texas-based series of books for middle-grade readers is making a literary splash in the Lone Star State and beyond. Serafina Loves Science! is racking up a fast-growing readership among kids who love science, adventure, and funny, relatable characters. Cara Bartek is the author, and her path toward publication is almost as exciting as the books themselves. Bartek hails from a famous Texas football family, and she received some valuable publishing advice from Jim Dent, author of The Junction Boys, a legendary book on Bear Bryant and Aggie football. (The fact Dent gave Bartek this advice from his prison cell just makes the story all the more interesting.) Bartek is also a Ph.D., a mother of two young daughters, and somehow even finds time to help her husband with a successful agricultural business.

The Serafina Loves Science! books are middle-grade fiction, aimed at eight to 12-year-olds. They follow the adventures of a charming 11-year-old girl named Serafina, who uses science to navigate the precarious rules of middle school life. The scientific method, Newtonian laws, quantum physics, and other science concepts serve as frameworks in Serafina’s mind for both understanding and solving challenges.

Video: Facebook/Cara Bartek

“The middle years—specifically nine through 13—they’re really tough for kids, at least they were for me,” said Bartek. “That’s when you’re squeezed between being a child and a teenager.” She hopes her books will “help kids deal with life issues first of all, then secondarily, get them interested and excited about science.”

The magic ingredient? These books are fun, with lively and often hilarious storytelling. And in the great “write what you know” tradition, Bartek sets her books in Texas. She grew up in the Houston suburbs and then moved to the small farming community of Wallis, Texas, when she was 10. Her father, Rolf Krueger, is a legendary Aggie and former professional football player who spent six seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. Her uncle Charles Krueger is another Aggie legend and played as a defensive tackle for 15 seasons in the NFL. Tom Landry once said of the man whose number was retired from the 49ers, “No one is able to gain running at Charlie Krueger.”

Texas Roots Grow a Love of Science in New Middle-Grade Book Series

Photo: Cara Bartek

With her childhood’s  Texas roots, Bartek’s educational pursuits were formed by witnessing the aftermath of her father’s football career—those bittersweet glory days. She followed his footsteps to Texas A&M University, where she earned a Ph.D. in Human Resource Development, intending to focus on sports psychology. Life brought her to a large oil and gas company, where she headed an employee development department. However, all the while she was nursing another, more literary dream: Bartek aspired to become a published novelist.

Struggling to break into a saturated market and collecting a mountain of rejection letters, Bartek was at a loss how to proceed. It was then she reached out to Dent, author of the most famous Aggie football book of all time—The Junction Boys: How 10 Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Champion Team.

Texas Roots Grow a Love of Science in New Middle-Grade Book Series

Photo: Serafina Loves Science!

Dent, to say the least, has led a colorful life. The author of several highly praised books, he’s also had troubles with the law. Bartek wrote to Dent while he was serving time in prison on charges related to a drunk driving conviction. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I write to him and tell him what I’m doing and see if he was any advice for me?’” Bartek explained. “And lo and behold, he wrote me back.” Dent encouraged Bartek to keep trying to find a publisher and that her writing was good. She stayed the course, and in October of 2018, her dream of becoming a published writer came true when Absolute Love Publishing in Austin released the first two books of the Serafina Loves Science! series: Cosmic Conundrum and Quantum Quagmire.

Describing the experience, Bartek used a perfect turn of phrase for a science-loving book author: “In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization is at the top. For a reader, for someone who loves books, what’s at the top of the pyramid is the ability to be a writer. This is the achievement of the highest level that I can hope for as a book lover. And it’s hugely satisfying,” she said.

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Photo: Cara Bartek

Even more important to her are the possibilities she hopes to open up to her readers. While scientific concepts are embedded in each book, Serafina Loves Science! does much more than simply empower kids to explore science. “My goal for Serafina is that she is relatable for other little girls. They can think, ‘Wait a second, Serafina likes the Newtonian laws, Serafina’s into quantum mechanics, so I don’t feel so strange liking those things.’ They can think to themselves, ‘People make fun of me at school, but here’s Serafina doing the same thing I am—and she’s awesome!’” And it’s that seed of recognition, that seed of being understood, that she hopes will give kids permission to explore their futures in the happiest of ways.

The first two books of Serafina Loves Science! can be purchased here and here. Visit Cara Bartek’s website for fun blog posts for kids, plus news about upcoming books, and be sure to follow her on Facebook and Instagram.