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Girls As the Universe's Most Powerful Forces: An Interview with Author Maria Marianayagam

"Sometimes, as girls, we may feel invisible, yet we too are so powerful."

As a child, Maria Marianayagam loved math and science, fascinated by the work her engineer father did and always supported by him in her interests. Following in his footsteps, she pursued a career in engineering herself, but when she started her first year, she was shocked by how few girls there were in her university classes. Wondering if other girls hadn't received the same encouragement she had to pursue a science career, Marianayagam decided to change that.

These early experiences filled with curiosity, discovery, and a passion for STEM are now the inspiration behind Marianayagam's new picture book, The Amazing Power of Girls: Meet the Universe's Most Powerful and Invisible Forces! Throughout the lyrical story, which is beautifully illustrated by artist Skylar White, Marianayagam personifies physical forces as girls with distinct personalities, drawing parallels between their powerful attributes and the admirable qualities of girls and women. From gravity, portrayed as grounded and down-to-earth, to magnetism, depicted as charming and compelling, each force celebrates the strength, resilience, and potential of girls everywhere.

Marianayagam, a former chemical engineer who rediscovered her love for children's books after becoming a mother of two daughters, hopes that her new book will inspire and empower young readers, especially girls, to recognize their inherent power and ability to shape the world around them. The engaging story encourages girls to embrace their unique qualities and to understand that, like the forces in the book, they cannot be forced into anything, but they can be powerful agents of change. As Marianayagam states, "There are little forces of nature everywhere who will be inspired, informed, and absolutely delighted to see themselves in this empowering narrative."

A Mighty Girl spoke to Maria about the inspiration behind the book, the thought process behind personifying each force, and what she hopes Mighty Girls will take away from her book.

Our Interview With Author Maria Marianayagam

Can you start off by describing your new picture book The Amazing Power of Girls for our readers?

Of course, thank you for having me on A Mighty Girl! The Amazing Power of Girls is a STEM-based, girl-empowerment picture book that personifies girls as the forces of physics — gravity, buoyancy, magnetism, and more. It uses language that works to doubly describe what a force can do while also sharing the qualities of a girl!

In it, you personify physical forces such as gravity, magnetism, and buoyancy as girls with distinct personalities and attributes. What inspired you to create this unique and empowering narrative for young girls?

I have loved math and science since I was little. My dad is an engineer and my mom is an accountant, so a love of STEM was fostered from a very young age. I also vividly remember when my grandpa taught me and my sister about gravity — we must have been four and five years old! When I grew up, I decided to follow in my dad's footsteps and become an engineer myself (my sister did, too!). When I started my first year of engineering, however, I was shocked by how few girls were there with me. In fact, some of the women's restrooms in my engineering faculty were just old closets turned into bathrooms as an afterthought!

I wrote The Amazing Power of Girls because I wanted to help change this pattern — research shows that if girls are introduced to STEM concepts early (like I was), they are far more likely to be interested in these subjects in the future. I've always loved the adage "I am a force" and the idea that we are unstoppable. In thinking about the phrasing, it made me wonder what it would look like if we were actually forces — forces of physics. I loved the play on words and as I started writing, I was inspired to continue using these play-on-words to simultaneously explain forces while empowering girls to pursue STEM.

The book draws parallels between the qualities of the personified forces and the admirable attributes often associated with girls and women. What message do you hope young readers, especially girls, will take away from this comparison?

I decided to focus on forces because not only are they a major part of physics, but they are truly amazing — they are invisible and yet so powerful. And sometimes, as girls, we may feel invisible, yet we too are so powerful. I hope that girls can realize that just as every force has its own unique purpose in the world… so does every girl. They can do anything. They are forces that can change this world.

As an author committed to empowering girls through your work, what advice would you give to young girls who may be struggling with self-doubt or feeling limited by societal expectations?

I firmly believe that girls have the power to change the world, but oftentimes, they're the ones who feel more self-conscious and less confident than their counterparts. They can be afraid to try because they don't want to fail or embarrass themselves. Or perhaps they don't want to try because they've been fed the narrative that science and math are extremely difficult and only for the elite geniuses. The reality is girls are just as capable! I would encourage all girls to try — maybe they'll like it, maybe they won't — but they won't know unless they push themselves!

Illustrator Skylar White created the artwork for the book. Can you share your impressions of the book's artwork and what it conveys to you?

The artwork in this book is truly a masterpiece in and of itself. Skylar's art is truly breathtaking and it not only conveys the science but also the different personalities of the girl forces! She did an incredible job with this book.

Can you describe your favorite page or spread in the book?

It's really hard to pick one spread! But I think my favorite is buoyancy — I love how it transitions from the shore into the water, how it showcases the balance of work and play: trying to clean the ocean and also relaxing on the water.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your new book?

While this book showcases science, it also uses a lot of literary devices: double entendres, idioms, puns, and personification. I love encouraging kids to write their own poems, personifying themselves are a scientific concept, and trying to use language that applies both to themselves and the concept. It's a fun exercise! Also, there are lots of resources available on my website: coloring sheets, posters, word searches, a fun personality quiz (What force are you?), and more.

Finally, can you share a few of your favorite picture books starring Mighty Girls?

Some of my absolute favorites are Rosie Revere, Engineer, Cece Loves Science, The Most Magnificent Thing, and basically every picture book biography in a Mighty Girl's blog post Ignite Her Curiosity: 60 Children's Books to Inspire Science-Loving Mighty Girls.

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