Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’re interviewing Sneed Collard, author of HOPPING AHEAD OF CLIMATE CHANGE: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival. The book follows scientists as they study snowshoe hares and other animals that change their coat colors each winter as they adapt to shorter winters brought on by climate change.
Mary Kay Carson: How did Hopping Ahead of Climate Change come about?
Sneed Collard: This book actually has an instructive background in patience and timing. I first got a contract for this book for Houghton Mifflin’s well-known “Scientists in the Field” series, and planned to travel to Bhutan to follow Scott Mills and other scientists as they studied animals that changed their coat colors every year. The year was 2008, the dawn of the Great Recession, and unfortunately I was unable to get the permissions I needed to travel and work in Bhutan so the entire project just fell apart. As it turned out, that was a good thing, because Professor Mills was just beginning his work on coat-color-changing animals and I really wouldn’t have had much to say about his work at the time.
Around 2014, however, I happened to run into Prof. Mills again and asked him what he’d been working on. He enthusiastically shared results of his recent research looking at the impacts of climate change on snowshoe hares, and I thought, “Oh, well now is the time to write this book.” By this time, I’d also started my own publishing company, Bucking Horse Books, and I thought, “Rather than go through the multi-year process of trying to get a contract for this book, I am just going to write and publish it myself.” It was one of the best moves that I’ve made.
MKC: Could you share a favorite research moment?
Sneed: One of the really fun things about this project was the opportunity to go into the field in Montana with Prof. Mills and visit his research laboratories, then located at North Carolina State in Raleigh. During several trips, I had the opportunity to watch Prof. Mills track radio-collared snowshoe hares as well as take blood samples and tag them. On my last visit with him, we headed into the woods near Seeley Lake, Montana. Scott had set out cages the night before and we hit the jackpot, capturing a number of snowshoe hares. One of the last was a young hare, or leveret. Scott coaxed the leveret into a burlap sack while he took a blood sample and tagged it. Then, I stood a few yards away ready to take a photo as he released the hare back into the wild.
“He’s going to go fast,” Scott warned. When he opened the sack, though, the hare didn’t run away. Instead, it just sat in Dr. Mills’ lap for about twenty seconds. Then, it hopped toward me and posed for another twenty seconds while I fired photo after photo.
“Wow,” Scott said. “They never do that. I think it was doing that just for you.” One of those photos, by the way, ended up on the title page and page 54 of the book.
MKC: What are you working on now?
Sneed: So a passion I have shared with my sixteen-year-old son, Braden, for the past five years is birds. (Follow their birding blog at www.fathersonbirding.com.) I am constantly thinking about bird diversity and biology, and the survival issues faced by many birds. This has resulted in a number of recent books including Fire Birds—Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, Woodpeckers—Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs, and my newest picture book title, Birds of Every Color, which features photos by both Braden and myself. To study birds, scientists and ordinary citizens spend a huge amount of time counting birds and it was suggested to me that this might make a good topic for a book. Braden and I started our research by participating in recent Christmas Bird Counts in our area, but I also plan to participate in a variety of other bird-counting programs held in various places and at various times of the year. It’s one of those books where I probably won’t know exactly where it’s heading until I’ve completed my research, but I think it will turn into an engaging series of stories about birds and bird studies.
MKC: Do you have a STEM background?
Sneed: Science has been a part of my life since my earliest memories. Both of my parents were biologists, and I vividly remember going out catching crickets with my mom or digging through tidepools with my dad while they were still students at U.C. Santa Barbara. I must have gotten the gene because I didn’t hesitate to declare a marine biology major at U.C. Berkeley before going on for a master’s in scientific instrumentation at U.C.S.B. I realized, though, that there were probably enough scientists to save the world. The bigger problem was the immense gulf between what scientists know and what the general public—including politicians—understand. I think it was this gap that helped push me into a writing career.
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Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson