By Nisha Ajmani
Stephen Kramer's eyes were opened to how beautiful a book can be when he started including photography in his work.
Kramer '76 began writing children's books when he and his wife, Christine (Berto '76), moved to the Navajo Indian Reservation in northeast Arizona. They taught at a junior high school near Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Living in a remote area gave Kramer the chance to seriously explore and spend time writing children's fiction and non-fiction.
It wasn't until moving off the reservation that Kramer had his first success with the sale of a children's science book titled "Getting Oxygen." Nine months later, his second book, "How to Think Like a Scientist," sold to the same company. Kramer then hit a dry spell. "One misconception people have is that once you sell your first book it will always be easy to sell others," he said.
Five years after his second book was published, Kramer, who is now a fifth-grade teacher near Vancouver, Wash., sold his third book, "Avalanche," to a company that requested he turn his original idea into a photography book. As a result, he started working with various photographers to produce his books. "Working with photos made me think more carefully about a book's appearance," he said. "I began considering the visual appeal of topics as well as their scientific interest."
A complete list of Kramer's books can be found on his website. The books are available through any bookstore.
Kramer has published eight photo-illustrated books since 1987 on scientific topics such as caves, lightning and tornados. His newest book, "Hidden Worlds," is about a Hawaiian scientist who takes remarkable pictures of tiny objects through his microscope. "Hidden Worlds" has won many awards, including the "John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers" award and recognition as a "Notable Book for Children" by the American Library Association.
Mixed in with Kramer's photo books is "The Dark Zone," a thick black-and-white cartoon book about the adventures of a group of science-loving kids called The Black Hole Gang. Kramer said his own childhood inspired him when writing this book because the clubhouse, equipment and friendships are things he would have dreamed about as a fourth- or fifth-grader.
Along with the book, Kramer created a Website based on The Black Hole Gang characters (www.blackholegang.com). The purpose of the Website is to give elementary school teachers a safe, productive spot to introduce their students to science on the Web. "The Web can be a frustrating place for elementary-aged students," said Kramer, "because searches so often lead them to sites that are too difficult for them to read and understand. The Black Hole Gang Website links were all chosen because of their kid-friendly content and reading level."
Kramer said he has many great memories of his science professors at PLU. "The field biology staff David Hansen, John Main and Richard McGinnis had the same interests I did, and they inspired me with their love of biology." Dennis Martin, in particular, had a big impact on his training as a biologist. He guided Kramer through selecting a graduate school and encouraged him to consider Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
"Living in Flagstaff and doing research in Arizona opened my eyes to the wonders of desert biology," Kramer said. "It was also the start of a lifelong interest in the Southwest, which provided the ideas for my books about lightning and storm chasers."