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Author Spotlight: Robert Black

We’re pleased to announce that beloved author Robert Black’s three historical novels have been freshly re-issued, just in time for summer reading! Unswept Graves, Liberty Girl, and The Eyes of the Enemy are all wonderful stories that teach about—and humanize—historical events and time periods, making them real and relevant to readers today.

But Robert Black is also the author of our award-winning mathematician biography series Mathematical Lives and the mathematical fiction series Mathematical Nights. How does an author who’s so good at writing historical fiction also excel at writing math fiction and math biographies? We decided to ask Robert Black. Here, he shares a few facts about his background, his books, and some other fun facts in this quick interview!

Interview with Robert Black

You’re primarily known at Royal Fireworks for your math-based books, from the Mathematical Lives biography series to the Mathematical Nights adventure fiction series. You began with historical fiction, however. What inspired you to write your three historical fiction novels when it’s math that seems to be your first passion?

RB: Actually, I began with comedy back in the 1980s, when I wrote for Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That On Television. And I always thought I would write science fiction and fantasy. You’ll note that the Mathematical Nights series has a bit of both comedy and fantasy to it, as well as math. But I never expected to write historical fiction until I read the memoir my grandmother had been writing. When I read her account of being a girl during World War I, and especially about the friendship she had with the Black girl Maggie who cleaned the apartment house where her family lived, I just knew it was a story I had to write. That’s where Liberty Girl came from.

I’ve always loved researching things. When I was a kid, my grandmother (the same one Liberty Girl is based on) and I did Saturday morning library trips. She’d do her genealogy research, and I’d go look up whatever I was interested in at the time, and then we’d go out for lunch before heading home. So maybe I was destined to write things like historical fiction and biographies.

You were recently a guest on the Breaking Math podcast. What was that experience like?

RB: It was fun! I had to prepare a bit for it, going back over the Mathematical Lives books to make sure I remembered all the best parts. Rereading the two blog posts I recently did for Royal Fireworks helped with that, too. The host Sofia was friendly and knowledgeable. There was one historical figure from the story of Pascal and Fermat, Marin Mersenne, who made some mathematical contributions of his own. I mentioned him without pointing that out and wondered if Sofia would recognize him. Sure enough, she did. And some of her questions made me think about the series in ways I hadn’t really considered before, like how much each mathematician relied on a network of friends and colleagues to make his or her own discoveries.

You’re headed out to the Great Homeschool Convention in Ontario, California, next week. What has been your experience with the homeschooling community as an author?

RB: I’ve been to the Great Homeschool Convention several times now, and it’s been good to meet both the parents and the kids. There are several different types of homeschooling families, and I want to learn more about what each type needs or is looking for. I’m still fairly new to the community, but Dr. Kemnitz and the rest of the Royal Fireworks team have been helping me catch up.

Tell us three fun facts about Robert Black.

RB: Okay, here goes:

When I was in middle school, I did volunteer work at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, helping to care for the animals in the Natural Sciences exhibits. One day the Today show was shooting an episode at the museum and caught me on camera in the petting window, introducing a group of kids to Ralph the boa constrictor.

When I was in ninth grade, I accidentally set off a model rocket in my French classroom. Luckily no one was hurt, but it was years before they replaced the ceiling tile with a hole in it.

My parents were both math teachers at my school, and my mom was also the coach for all the math contests the school entered. One time she could only take two students per grade to a contest, so she decided to choose them by giving us a test. I didn’t take it seriously enough, thinking there was no way she wouldn’t pick me, and I only placed third. So she left me at home! And was right to do it, too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to help our audience get to know you better, Mr. Black!

Make sure to check out all of Robert Black’s work, including his online course Mathematical Curriculum Writing for Kids, as well as that by the rest of our talented authors!

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