2020 was Stephanie Anne Box’s breakthrough year.
In early June, the kindergarten teacher at Pecan Park Elementary in Ocean Springs sent a writing sample to an editor at Rourke Educational Media. Within a week, she had a contract to write her first book for the publishing house.
“I had waited over two decades to hear the news that I was indeed going to be published,” says Box, who has lived on the Coast for almost 18 years. “I was so surprised; it seemed like a dream!”
The culmination of that dream is Box’s nonfiction children’s picture book titled “Ayanna Howard” — the seventh book in the successful “Women in Science and Technology” series. Box got to work immediately researching Howard — an educator and innovator who has contributed significantly to the areas of artificial intelligence, computer vision and robotics.
Howard was intrigued by robots from a very young age. As a child, she watched “The Bionic Woman” and knew she wanted to help people by building robots. She rose to the top of the male-dominated field and built her dream one part at a time.
“In work for hire, the company gives you the title they want you to write about,” Box explains, “but it was ultimately up to me to find out as much information as I could about this wonderful scientist.”
The book is geared toward first- through fourth-graders, but Box hopes all children will read it.
“It serves as an inspiration to keep reaching for more answers in everything we do,” she says. “STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) is in every aspect of learning. As a teacher, it drives everything I do!”
During her career of 22 years, Box has taught several grades in public and private schools. She was named Pecan Park’s Teacher of the Year in 2017, and in 2020, she was a nominee for Ocean Springs School District Star Teacher.
Her ambition to be an educator dates back to childhood, when stuffed animals were her pretend pupils. Her love of writing started at a young age, too — and she recalls filling pads of paper and spiral notebooks.
“Everywhere you look, there’s a story in each person, in each living thing,” Box says. “Find it, and write about it!”
The author and teacher, who belongs to The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, has another contract with Rourke to write a four-book nonfiction series about space. That project will release in fall 2021. In the meantime, she’s also hoping to find a traditional publisher for her other books.
“This book is just the beginning for me,” Box says.