Bill Gates: Impatient Optimist

“Sure, working to eliminate childhood infectious diseases was complicated, but complexity had never stopped Bill. The first half of his life had been good preparation for the second half. Some people thought he was being arrogant. Bill saw his ideas as fearless thinking. Why set limits on what you think you can achieve?”

Since the founding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, global health and vaccine development has always been a priority for Bill Gates.

Last month, Gates wrote on his GatesNotes blog about COVID-19 and the scientific advances needed to stop it. Since then, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $250 million directly to fight the pandemic and pledged that his foundation would give its “total attention” to this unprecedented crisis.

The Foundation’s past global health focus has been on the eradication of HIV, malaria and polio. Now, it has shifted resources almost entirely to work on COVID-19, even to the extent that their non-health related work, like K-12 schools and higher education, has changed to examining how they can help facilitate more effective online learning.

It’s been a long and varied journey for Bill Gates. He has now spent more years as a philanthropist than a technology visionary, and the work he is undertaking may, in retrospect, be even greater than his innovations at Microsoft.

Gates would be the first to admit that tackling COVID-19 is daunting, but daunting tasks usually made him work harder and think smarter. He also believes in the power and rippling effect of individual commitments and choices—something vitally critical to our collective success in this pandemic.

Kids, as well as parents and teachers, can find more inspiration as well lots of background history and science about Bill Gates in my new picture book, Think Smart, Be Fearless: A Biography of Bill Gates, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger and published by Sasquatch Books.

The world is lucky that he has never been easily deterred and remains an “impatient optimist” in his ambitious goals. As I write in the book, “Bill wasn’t afraid. He knew the answer was out there somewhere. He just needed to find it.”

 

Audio Readings: Chasing at the Surface

Parents and teachers: To entertain, inspire and instruct children during the Covid-19 crisis, I will be posting audio readings throughout the month of April of the chapters of my middle grade historical novel CHASING AT THE SURFACE. The book, for readers ages 9-12, grades fourth to seventh, was inspired by an actual event that occurred in Dyes Inlet, WA and is the Winner of the 2016 National Outdoor Book Award, Children’s category.

The first 10 chapters are accessible now at this link, along with PDF downloads of an orca genealogy chart and map of Dyes Inlet, WA, the location of the book. Inquisitive kids can email me any questions at sharon@sharonmentyka.com and I will periodically post answers here. Enjoy! #SCBWIConnects

COVID 19: Parent / Teacher Learning Resources

To help inspire and instruct children during the COVID 19 crisis, I’ve created a read aloud video of my picture book biography of Bill Gates: THINK SMART, BE FEARLESS. You can access it at this link, along with this educator’s learning guide. With the extensive back matter material including additional bio, timeline of computer history, and glossary, this material is appropriate for children in first to fourth grades, ages 5-9.

Students are welcome to email me questions and I will post answer here periodically. Wash your hands and stay safe!

 

School Visits: Making History Come Alive

Albuquerque, New Mexico is celebrated for its red and green roasted chilies, fall hot-air balloon festival, and 120 years of microbrew pubs. It’s also where technology visionary Bill Gates got his start, which is why I was recently in the city—visiting schools and talking to students about my new picture book biography “Think Smart, Be Fearless: A Biography of Bill Gates,” just out from Sasquatch Books.

In 1975, Gates was a pre-law student at Harvard when he and Paul Allen spent eight weeks writing and selling a modified version of BASIC software to Ed Roberts of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Roberts had designed and built the Altair 8800, a small personal computer kit and was marketing it to “hobbyists” for about $400. The Altair had no keyboard, no screen, 4kb of memory (compared to today’s smartphones which have about four million times that amount) and most importantly, no software to tell it what to do, draw, or count.

When Gates and Allen wrote the software for the Altair 8800—and it worked!—Roberts bought it on the spot. With the grudging support of his parents, Bill took a leave of absence from Harvard and cofounded “Micro-soft” with Allen, which they ran in Albuquerque for several years until moving the company to Bellevue, WA in 1979.

The first to third graders in the three schools I visited in Albuquerque knew none of these little details, but thanks to the efforts of their excellent librarians, they recognized the name Bill Gates and knew he had accomplished something important in the city where they lived.

What I love the most about visiting schools and talking to students about the topics of my books—whether it’s anti-bullying, orca pods, or Bill Gates—is how wonderfully open and ready they are to absorb and learn new things. Yes, writing about the life of Bill Gates for children is an ambitious project. But here’s a secret—and the kit-lit writers out there already know this—children’s books are all philosophy books in disguise.

I believe kids are inspired by big ideas, big stories. Even when they don’t understand all the details or the minutiae, the core ideas still resonate with them. At age eight, they may not fully understand the abstract concept of philanthropy or how Gates has made a commitment to give away 95% of his wealth in his lifetime, but when we talk about it in terms of having one dollar bill in your pocket, they get the “big idea” that if they made that commitment, it would mean they’d be giving away 95 cents and keeping only 5 cents. To me, that’s the power of storytelling.

Talking to kids about the life and accomplishments of Bill Gates is so much fun because it means we can talk about technology, philanthropy, fitting in (or not fitting in), following your dreams and more! Here’s a sample of some of the great questions they asked.

Why did he name the company “Microsoft”?
How did Bill Gates get to be so smart?
Were his parents mad at him for leaving school?
Why didn’t he stay in Albuquerque?
Is he with you here now?
Is everything in your book, even the silly parts, true?
Were the old computers as big as my desk?

The respective librarians chimed in with some questions of their own about primary sources, and what we can learn from reading about the lives of accomplished people, but my favorite experience from my Albuquerque visit has to be the story of one fourth grade boy. When it was announced that I’d be visiting his school, this student requested special permission to be excused from his math class to listen to my presentation. His librarian shared with me that he had been visiting the library for the last two years “asking if there were any new books on Bill Gates.” Before my talk began, he marched right up and introduced himself. Was this the book, he asked? Did it tell the story of the whole life of Bill Gates? Could he see it? Could he see it NOW? I wrote him a special note in the copy of his book that he was taking home. It was truly a moment to warm my heart, that I’ll always remember.

Visit bonus: I saw a roadrunner.

Thank you Albuquerque Public Schools and Manzano Day School for hosting me! And special thanks to Bookworks, Albuquerque for planning and helping me with book sales.

Happy Birthday Think Smart, Be Fearless!

Happy Birthday to me!

My new children’s book biography THINK SMART, BE FEARLESS: A BIOGRAPHY OF BILL GATES is out today from Sasquatch Books!

This is such a positive story to research and write. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen. I look forward to sharing it with you. Kids and families welcome!

University Book Store, Seattle on Saturday, October 19, at 1:00 pm.
Phinney Books, Seattle on Saturday, November 16, at 3:00 pm.

Think Smart, Be Fearless Book Launch!

My new children’s book biography THINK SMART, BE FEARLESS: A BIOGRAPHY OF BILL GATES
will be out on Oct 15th from Sasquatch Books and is available now for pre-order from your local bookstore.

How do fearless ideas begin? Travel along with young Bill Gates on his life’s journey full of curiosity, discovery, hard work, and most important, fearlessness—the inability to see limits. The book invites young readers to pursue their passions and awaken a sense of ambition and responsibility for others as they grow.

I’ll be doing two Seattle launch parties and I would love to see you there!
Kids and families welcome!

University Book Store, Seattle on Saturday, October 19, at 1:00 pm.
Phinney Books, Seattle on Saturday, November 16, at 3:00 pm.

Women Writing the West

If you’re looking for a great YA read, I want to share with you Becoming Beatrice—a wonderful book written by a my fellow Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA alum Frances Wood. The book was just selected as a 2019 WILLA Award finalist! Named in honor of WIlla Cather, one of this country’s foremost novelists, the annual award is selected by librarians and honors outstanding literature featuring women’s stories set in the west.

Becoming Beatrice is a beautifully written historical fiction novel that is intimately relevant for readers today. The
conflicts and challenges that Wood’s determined protagonist Beatrice faces—racism, gender equity, and the timeless urge to determine one’s own destiny—give this story an immediacy that will certainly capture the attention of today’s teens who are valiantly struggling to find their own place in the world. 

Buy this book for your favorite teen.