Author tells students to chase curiosity News, Sports, Jobs

NILES — Award-winning author Candace Fleming made her way to the Mahoning Valley this week to talk to local students about how nonfiction books can change lives, and the importance of curiosity.

Fleming has written more than 40 books for children and young adults. Her works include the Los Angeles Times Book Prize honored “The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of the Russian Empire;” Boston Globe and Horn Book Award-winning biography, “The Lincolns;” the bestselling picture book, “Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!;” the Sibert-Award-winning “Giant Squid;” and “Boxes for Katje.”

The author, who is involved in the Youngstown State University English Festival, visited third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Niles Intermediate School on Thursday. When meeting with the fifth-graders, she started her talk explaining how knowledge can travel through nonfiction books.

“Nonfiction can change the world,” Fleming said. “People can read your book and you can inform them about horses. You can teach them about finances — if you’re into that. You can make them care about mythology. That’s why I love nonfiction.”

Fleming told the students the stories behind many of her books. She started off with the story of Amelia Earhart, which she called the biggest mystery in history.

Since fifth grade, Fleming said she has been obsessed with Earhart. So, she traveled to Purdue University to look at Earhart’s artifacts, which her husband gave to the university library after her disappearance. She found letters, invitations, Earhart’s lucky bracelet and even her fifth-grade diary, which Fleming said in big letters on the front, “Do not read!”

“Do I open it anyway?” Fleming asked the students.

“Yes,” they yelled back.

“You bet I do,” Fleming said. “It’s called research you guys!”

Fleming also found Earhart’s fifth-grade report card, which revealed when she was the same age as the students, she was called Milly, not Amelia.

“Amelia Lost: the Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart” hit the shelves in 2011. Fleming took the chance to tell the students that unlike when she did research for this book, the students are very lucky, because if they want to look at Earhart’s archives, they don’t have to travel all the way to West Lafayette, Ind. They can now look online, because Earhart’s records, as well as many other records, are online.

The author also talked about the time she saw a giant squid eyeball that was the size of a soccer ball, which resulted in the 2016 book “Giant Squid,” and the time she got to be present for the first-ever computerized tomography (CT ) of a polar bear, which resulted in the 2022 book “Polar Bear.”

To conclude her talk, she told the students about the series of events that led to her book, “The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamen’s Tomb,” which was released in 2021. Fleming said King Tut has been a bigger fascination for her than Earhart. She had always heard of the curse of King Tut, but did not believe it herself. She wanted to get to the bottom of why some people did.

Through her research, she found out the curse was started in 1923 by reporters. When the tomb was discovered by Howard Carter, the reporters weren’t allowed inside, but still needed an interesting story, so Fleming said they wrote about the curse based on several unfortunate occurrences that happened right around the time the tomb was opened.

Out of all the explanations for the curse, one of which includes a theory that a moss or fungus in the tomb was making people sick, Fleming said she found the most compelling explanation from a mathematician she met through her research. He did the math to find out if there really was an abnormal amount of people with bad luck after visiting the tomb. He found that out of the thousands of people who have trekked through the tomb since its discovery, only about 50 have claimed bad luck because of it, making the “curse” really just a coincidence.

Students were captivated when Fleming told them about the opportunity she got while researching King Tut. She got to go to Cairo, where she learned how to read hieroglyphics and went on an archeological dig.

While in Egypt, she got the opportunity to go into a room that had recently been discovered in the desert. It ended up going to an empty room with paintings on the walls, but said this chance really informed her book.

“I got to understand what Howard Carter must have felt like going down the stairs to King Tut’s tomb, not knowing what he was about to find,” Fleming said.

She encouraged students to dig into what they are interested in and trust in the process. She said she doesn’t think she is a good writer, but is a very good rewriter, so her work typically takes a handful of drafts.

“Curiosity always leads to a good book,” Fleming said.

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