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“He became completely Peter Odemwingie”

“A Rover’s Story” was born from the empathy of a little girl

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“R2-D2 was one of my favorite characters as a kid,” author Jasmine Warga said of the little animated robot from the Star Wars franchise.

But it wasn’t until her youngest daughter, Juniper, asked a startling question that Warga was inspired to create her own robot character, a Mars rover she named Resilience (nicknamed Res). Warga’s novel “A Rover’s Story” follows Res’s adventures, from his assembly in a NASA lab to his journey to Mars, where he collects data to help humans better understand this nearby planet.

Juniper’s question came as the family (including Warga, her husband, and eldest daughter, Lillian) watched the launch of the latest rover, Perseverance, in July 2020. As everyone cheered and cheered, 3Juniper, 1, asked, “Mom, do you think the robot is scared to leave home? »

“What an imaginative act of empathy,” Warga told KidsPost over the phone from his Chicago-area home. “She really put herself in the perspective of the robot and wondered what it might be thinking and feeling, and that gave me the idea ‘to make the rover a main character.

Because the book was largely written during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, Warga had to do most of her research at home. She based Res on the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers and the things they had encountered on Mars, and she learned a lot from NASA’s Rover program website (mars.nasa.gov/mer) and from the memoirs of Curiosity’s chief engineer.

In the summer of 2021, Warga and her daughters got to see a model of the Mars rover when they visited the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. After imagining and writing about a rover’s thoughts and feelings for so long, seeing the model “felt a bit emotional,” Warga said. “It was like seeing a friend.”

In pursuit of wonder and curiosity

As a child, Warga was intensely interested in stories and writing. She loved the novels “Ella Enchanted” and “The Giver”. And she remembers that her mother had read “Charlotte’s Web” to her when she was a child, a book that she in turn shared with her daughters.

Growing up in Ohio with an immigrant father from Jordan, she often felt like she was trying to find her place. “I never felt like I had one foot in a world,” she said. She often felt out of place when visiting her father’s Middle Eastern family in Jordan and at his mostly white public school in Cincinnati.

She drew on those feelings to create “Other Words for Home,” a verse novel about a girl who emigrates from Syria and tries to find a place for herself in the United States. The book won a Newbery Honor in 2020.

Warga’s new novel explores those same feelings. Res, too, must figure out how to survive in a new place. Even though he’s a robot, “Res is probably my most autobiographical character,” Warga said with a laugh. “Res worries, and I worried a lot when I was a kid.”

Visiting schools, Warga has found that young people are fascinated by what is being discovered on Mars and the dangers faced by Res and Fly, his friendly drone companion. Students are intrigued by the engineering skills required to build these robots. And they’re curious about scientists Rania and Xander and their work with Res, and about Rania’s daughter, Sophie, who writes to the rover.

Science and writing require the same mindset and skills, Warga likes to tell his young audience. She is a writer who also taught sixth grade science. “Scientists and writers seek wonder and curiosity,” she said. “They are attentive to the world and share what they learn with others.”

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