Susan Gerbic: Hello, Bailey! So nice to meet you, if only over email. I’m really looking forward to meeting you in person at CSICon this year. You will be speaking on Saturday, October 19, in the 11:00 am timeslot. I think this is your first skeptic conference and hope it won’t be your last. Please tell readers more about yourself.
Bailey Harris: Hi, Susan! It’s great to meet you and I look forward to meeting you in person at CSICon in October! It is such a privilege for me to have the opportunity to speak at CSICon this year, and I can’t wait to spend time with people at the event. I was invited to speak at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s annual conference in California last year and had so much fun, so I am really excited about CSICon this year.
I am a thirteen-year-old advocate for science education, human rights, and freethought. This activism was inspired by a passion for science that I really started feeling as a very young child. My parents raised me in a secular home where we were taught humanist values, and their love of science has been contagious.
The story of how I have become an activist really starts when I was eight years old. My family was watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey together on a Sunday evening. In this episode, Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about how everything in our world, including our bodies, is made of stars that have exploded over billions of years. I was so excited by this idea and how this shows that we are connected to everything on Earth! I ran up to our family computer and started writing a book with the original title Book of Truth (I live in Utah, so this was my answer to the Book of Mormon that many people were pushing on me constantly at school as they lovingly told me that I was going to go to hell for not believing in Jesus). My dad found me after the episode was over and asked me what I was working on. I told him that I was writing a book because I wanted everyone to know how amazing it is that we are all made of stardust. This book ended up being published in 2017 under the title My Name Is Stardust.
Gerbic: You have written the two books My Name Is Stardust and Stardust Explores the Solar System. I expect that both of these books will be available for purchase at CSICon and hope you will be available to autograph them? I see that your third book, Stardust Explores Earth’s Wonders, will be released June 25 on Amazon.
Harris: Yes! CSICon will have all three of these books available in their bookstore at the conference and there will be a signing event after my talk.
Gerbic: I understand that in Stardust Explores Earth’s Wonders there is a special guest character whose father is well known in the skeptic community. Michael Shermer’s son Vincent will be asking Stardust questions about the Earth’s wonders. That is very cool. How did that happen? I suppose Vincent is too young to understand how awesome that is?
Harris: Michael Shermer started supporting me even before the first book was published. We sent him the text of the book with some early illustrations and he loved the idea that we were working to help children understand how special it is that we are all made of stardust. A scientist named Dr. Eric Meikle, former project director at the National Center for Science Education, actually came up with the idea of introducing a skeptical little brother into the third book in the series. We knew that Michal Shermer had a son, Vincent, and we thought that it would be a nice tribute to him for us to illustrate Vincent into the book as this skeptical little character. Michael Shermer and his wife were very excited about this, and our illustrator has used actual pictures of Vincent to develop this character. We even included Vincent’s favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Bear, in the book. He is too young to understand at this point, but we hope that this is very special to him someday.
Gerbic: You have received book reviews not only from Michael Shermer but also from Dale McGowan, who is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, and Dan Barker who is author of Mere Morality and Maybe Yes, Maybe No. Those are some big endorsements. But I’m wondering if you have met the man that inspired the first Stardust book, Neil deGrasse Tyson? If not, I’m sure he would love to talk to you about your books.
Harris: We have been amazed by the support from so many influential scientists and influencers in the secular community. It is a real tribute to how much this community really cares. My mom and dad were especially excited for the endorsement from Dale McGowan because they say that Parenting Beyond Belief is their parenting bible. I met Dan Barker over the phone when I did an interview with him on Freethought Radio. His endorsement will actually be on the back cover of the new book and I am very grateful for his kind words.
I would absolutely love the opportunity to meet with Neil deGrasse Tyson to let him know that his words inspired me to write My Name Is Stardust. We’ve reached out to him but have never been able to make the connection. Maybe someday!
Gerbic: I see that your sister Elle is also writing her first book, Wonderful Earth. She was inspired to write her book after watching you at book signings. She started to write the book on a flight home to Utah from a family trip to China. I’m wondering how much you think traveling has inspired you to become an author.
Harris: I am so excited for Elle. She is the same age that I was when I started writing My Name Is Stardust. She has tagged along with me and my parents as we have toured around the country with my Stardust books and she has always talked about writing her own book. I think that this is such a great example of how people, even little girls, are able to do amazing things when they feel that the sky is the limit.
My mom always tells us that traveling the world will open up our minds, and I think that she’s right. My parents make this a priority for our family and teach us that experiences are much more valuable than possessions. I can remember the first time that I traveled to New York and watched people from all around the world living within a few square miles. Hearing all of the languages and seeing such diversity really opened up the way I think about the world.
Gerbic: In your first book, you mention that your favorite creature is a Tiktaalik. I’d not heard of it before you mentioned it. I had to look it up on Wikipedia, and it is a very interesting creature. Your father mentions in the FFRF interview that you both used Wikipedia as a resource for the artwork. I run an International Wikipedia editing team that focuses on science, so my ears always perk up when I hear that Wikipedia is useful to people doing research.
Harris: Just thinking about Tiktaalik makes my heart jump! My dad is a science fanatic, and I grew up learning about cool things in evolution like Tiktaalik, the fishapod.
My dad pushes me to do all of the research for my books before he gets involved, so he opened up Wikipedia for me when I was little because it was such a simple place for me to find a lot of information in one place (he didn’t want me typing in random words in Google). Most of the pictures that we used as inspiration for our illustrations in the first book were copied and pasted out of Wikipedia.
Gerbic: I’m looking forward to meeting you and your family at CSICon. I have written an article with tips about attending your first CSICon, and I hope it is helpful to you. Remember everyone is very friendly and we are excited to meet you and learn about your work. Don’t forget that Saturday is the Halloween party, 1950s theme, so you better get to stitching your poodle skirt.
Harris: Thank you very much for your support and for taking the time to do this interview. We look forward to meeting you as well. Thank you for the CSICon tips! My family loves dressing up for parties, so we’re really looking forward to dressing up in our 1950s best! See you in October!
This interview has been lightly edited.