BRUNSWICK — As a middle school teacher, Katie Coppens knows that sometimes the silliest questions are the ones most worth answering. 

That’s why the Brunswick author’s newest book, co-written with astrophysicist and Brunswick native Grant Tremblay, tackles some of the silliest, most out-of-the-box questions her students could come up with. 

Brunswick author Katie Coppens. Contributed photo

“What do Black Holes Eat for Dinner? And Other Silly yet Totally Smart Questions about Space” answers some burning questions, like, what happens if an astronaut burps? What would happen to a spider on the moon? Does it really rain diamonds in the universe? What happens to pee in space?

Some of the answers are shocking, Coppens said, some are kind of gross, and others get a little grim (the spider does not fare well in the moon scenario), but they work toward one goal: they “make space come alive.” 

“What do Black Holes Eat for Dinner?” is Coppens’ seventh children’s book, following the Maine-based science adventure series “The Acadia Files” (for which she was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award) and two guides, “Geology is a Piece of Cake” and “Geometry is as Easy as Pie.” 

Her books focus on making science easy and digestible (sometimes literally) for kids, and the most recent is no exception, but it’s the first she has co-written and her first about space. 

“Space is a topic that I feel like is so big and there’s so much unknown about it,” she said. “As I grew more confident in children’s book writing, I wanted to explore that.”

But the book “isn’t a space book about our solar system,” and it’s not filled with questions she could google the answer to, like “what is the biggest planet in the galaxy?” She needed a real scientist to answer real questions.

Astrophysicist and author Grant Tremblay and his daughter, Adelaide. Contributed photo

She turned to Tremblay, her husband’s lifelong best friend, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and former NASA Einstein Fellow.  

In her existing friendship with Tremblay, who had recently published his own book, “Light from the Void” about Chandra X-Ray Observatory’s 20th anniversary, she found the perfect writing partner. 

Coppens gathered the questions from her students, and sent them to Tremblay, who answered them scientifically. Then, she went in and “translated” the answers so they would be more digestible to, say, a fifth grader. 

The book is written as a humorous conversation between “reader,” who is asking the questions, and the author, who is answering them, and while it flows, it can also be tangential at times— something Coppens said she likes, because “that’s what kids do.

For his part, Tremblay, knew right away what black holes eat for dinner (essentially, “a ton of very hot gas,” but there are “a lot of subtleties to it”), and didn’t need to do much research to answer the other questions, but was impressed by what the students came up with. 

“It’s almost always children who have the best questions about the universe,” Tremblay said, calling their questions “Science in its purest form.”

With each question and answer, Coppens said even she, a science teacher, found herself learning something new. 

“I found myself surprised, entertained and kind of shocked,” she said. “I think space is such a fascinating topic, and there’s so much to be learned.” 

“What do Black Holes Eat for Dinner? And Other Silly Yet Totally Smart Questions About Space” is available July 1.

“We go so much farther in-depth in terms of physics than anything I had learned about space,” she added, something that could easily be too dense for a child.
That’s where her background as a teacher came in handy, and she was able to break down some of the information in a way that’s familiar.

“That’s what I do all day long, try to take science content in a way that’s fun, engaging and memorable,” she said.

The first draft of the book, tentatively titled “Space Made Simple,” answered some of the same questions, but was a little more textbook. 

The final version is one Coppens said would be fun for parents to read to their kids, but could also be used as a classroom aid. 

But there’s a lot to learn in its pages beyond how far you could kick a soccer ball on the moon or what would happen to your pee in outer space (for the record it would boil and then freeze). Coppens hopes the books will teach kids about the enormity of the universe and the importance of asking questions and thinking deeply. 

“Every kid is fascinated by space,” Tremblay said. As we grow, we can get “pulled down to Earth by the rigor of daily life” and lose sight of that wonder of living on “one tiny little rock spinning in this vast cosmic ocean,” that children have. It’s part of what makes children such “great scientists,” he said. 

“What do Black Holes Eat for Dinner?,” published by Tumblehome Learning, is available July 1. 

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