Image: Domino Data Lab

Too often, Ryan Kelly, a marketing exec surrounded by data scientists at Domino Data Lab, struggled with explaining what he does for a living. It became a greater issue for Kelly when he was at a loss to describe his career to family and friends. He was inspired with how best to clearly explain what he did and to generate the enthusiasm he felt about it: He wrote the ebook “Florence the Data Scientist and Her Magical Bookmobile.”

Now, just in time for Math Awareness Month, the book is officially available for free and will hopefully spark excitement about data science careers to young readers. Its April 6 launch also features an at-home activity sheet and, for educators, a classroom “Daily Do” lesson plan, created by the National Science Teaching Association. Learners from kindergarten through fifth grade who complete and submit the activity sheet will be entered into a sweepstakes to win a $5,000 college fund contribution and a new Chromebook computer.

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Kelly wrote the book, but also solicited advice from his colleague at Domino Data Lab. “Florence the Data Scientist and Her Magical Bookmobile” centers around Beatrice, a girl who loves reading, science, dragons and swings. When a mysterious bookmobile drives down her street, Beatrice is intrigued to find its driver Florence knows exactly what books will delight each neighborhood child. But how? Beatrice spends the day recording and analyzing each of her friends’ responses to Florence’s questions, discovering—and falling in love with—the magical predictive power of data science.

Developing an early interest in STEM is important, Kelly said. “Waiting isn’t an option. Research has shown that if you delay exposing a child to STEM until high school or even college they’re at a massive disadvantage to stick with it. It can feel ‘forced’ and foreign to them. On the other hand, young children are incredibly confident, eager to learn and have tons of energy. They’re ready for a challenge. And research tells us that when you let your child take control of their own learning initiatives they will reap the benefits and confidence of foundational critical thinking skills in the long-term.”

Kelly’s daughter shares a name with the book’s lead character, but even though Bea is still a toddler, she “loves to figure out how things work,” Kelly said. “She will disassemble locks, latches, nuts and bolts then put them back together. You can introduce STEM concepts to children under one and ‘engineering’-type activities seem to be a great place to start.”

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He looked, but “there are barely any children’s books on data science, especially for early readers. We have a week-long event at Domino Data Lab, and I came up with the idea of writing the world’s first-ever digital children’s book about data science at something we call a ‘hack-a-thon,’ a week-long event where employees break up into dynamic, nimble teams and think up big ideas to solve tough problems. That was last August.”

“We took the project from concept to launch in seven months, which everyone in the children’s book industry told me would be near-to-impossible. But I work at a scaling tech company, so I’m used to moving a bit quicker than ‘normal’ speed.”

Kelly had no prior experience so he consulted with published professionals and chatted with data scientists who were also parents. “Of course, I tested the story out on Bea and my mother, who is an elementary school teacher,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we were helping education professionals and parents support kids who want to learn more about data science.”

He found that “Parents really struggle with how to get their children involved in STEM. Many have anxiety around it and low confidence in their understanding of the concepts themselves.”

“By no means is this book a silver bullet,” he said. “But I wrote it because I struggled immensely describing what a data scientist was to my friends and family when I started working at Domino. And I immediately felt the pain that other parents and data scientists must go through.” Kelly said it was critical that the book centered around a young girl and a strong woman. “Beatrice discovers data science in everyday life when Florence comes to her street. And introducing children to STEM through characters they identify with, in real-world scenarios outside of the home and classroom is a powerful and easy way for parents to start to get them interested in the topics.”

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Kelly said he was most surprised with “the difficulty of making the story rhyme. The book is in a ‘rhyming-pattern’ which adds to its whimsical nature. I can’t compete with all of the Thidwicks, Loraxes, Happy Hunches, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Green Fish, but the rhyming was worth the painstaking effort.”

Domino Data Lab co-founder and CEO Nick Elprin added, “Data science is now one of the most in-demand professions with the potential to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. But there’s an enormous shortage of data scientists. I shared this book with my own young children, and it immediately captured their imaginations. By exposing children to this field early on, we can help ensure that we’re able to meet the challenges of the future head-on.”

This article was updated on April 7, 2021 to describe Ryan Kelly’s job.