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Contest Question: How do you explain energy to an 11-year-old? Answer: Bug the lazy babysitter

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - Hannah Holt reads a book with her four children at her home in Hillsboro. Holt says reading to her kids helped inspire her young career as an author.Hannah Holt is early in her career as an author of children's books — her first two are set to publish in late 2018 and early 2019 — but she has a head start in her ability to connect with kids.

Holt, a Hillsboro resident, recently won an award from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at the World Science Festival in New York City. The contest, The Flame Challenge, presented competitors with a simple question: How do you explain energy to an 11-year-old?

Holt is a mother of four, including an 11-year-old son, and said she immediately thought back to her physics class at Lake Oswego High School and the examples the teacher used to explain potential and kinetic energy.

The traditional example shows a ball at the top of a ramp. The higher the ball, the more potential energy it has. Once the ball begins rolling down the ramp, it picks up kinetic energy.

"My 11-year-old is transitioning from having a babysitter to being independent, so I thought it would be fun for [the 11-year-olds] to have a story about a babysitter who didn't have energy," Holt said.

Holt's story centers around a babysitter on a couch and an 11-year-old's attempts to move them. The sitter has potential energy while sitting on the couch and kinetic energy if they're pushed off the couch, but is there a way to give them lasting energy? Try adding chemical energy, like a sandwich. Electrical energy might work if the kid scuffs his or her feet on the carpet, or the hero can blast the babysitter with sound energy, like loud music from speakers.

"I had [my 11-year-old] read the story and he gave feedback on the parts he thought weren't good," Holt said. "We changed a few things around."

The process has been a fun one, Holt said, and she never expected to win anything.

"I felt like so many good people entered, whether or not I was picked was a matter of luck," Holt said. "I feel fortunate; I drew a lucky straw. I read all the finalists, and they were all really excellent."

Her children have been an inspiration for her path as an author as well. Holt majored in civil engineering at Brigham Young University, but never found a good balance between her job and her home life. She moved to a job editing technical courses for Brigham Young.

"I started reading a lot more when I had kids," Holt said. "Initially, reading a lot of (children's books) made me interested in writing more of those types of stories."

Holt's first book, Diamond Man, is a biography of her grandfather. The second book settles into a niche she said she struggled to find in children's literature.

"It's about a father's love," she said. "It's a nonfiction story celebrating the best dads in nature and the animal kingdom. Mothers get a lot of attention, but we need really great examples of dads."

The June 4 award came with a $1,000 cash prize, but Holt said she hasn't figured out what she'll do with the money — maybe something nice for her parents, who flew into town to look after Holt's inspirational bunch.

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