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STEM Tuesday — Sustainable Living — Interview with Authors Sue Heavenrich & Chris Mihaly

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’ve the pleasure of interviewing Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich, co-authors of Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought. Kirkus called it an “optimistic introduction for those who want to ‘take a bite out of climate change'” by eating bugs, weeds, and invasive species!

Mary Kay Carson: What is Diet for a Changing Climate about? 

Chips topped with roasted Japanese beetles are the perfect snack while reading Diet for a Changing Climate.

Sue Heavenrich: Between climate chaos, habitat loss, poverty, and hunger, we’re facing a bunch of environmental and societal challenges. It can feel overwhelming, so we wanted to provide some tools for kids and their families to help meet these challenges.

Christy (Chris) Mihaly: We humans sit at the top of the food chain. So we wanted to discuss rethinking what we consider food. What if we ate “invasive” species, like periwinkles and lionfish?

Sue: What if we substituted crickets and other insect protein for meat? Or, instead of spraying dandelions with poison, we ate them?

Chris: The fact is, if enough of us changed what and how we eat, we can improve the health of our communities and our planet.

MKC: How did the two of you come to write it?

Sue: I started thinking about eating insects many years ago while in my garden. I was knocking Japanese beetles off my bean plants and into a bucket of soapy water. When I looked at the thick layer of beetle bodies bound for the compost pile, I bemoaned the waste of all that insect protein. My next thought was: I wonder if they are edible. Soon I discovered that not only are many insects edible, but people all over the world eat them. I began scribbling ideas for a children’s “field guide to eating insects.”

Chris: Around that same time I was interviewing a local environmental activist for a magazine article. This young woman was an entomophagy (insect-eating) advocate who hosted public bug-munching dinners at which she emphasized the environmental and nutritional benefits, as well as the tastiness, of eating insects. I began researching the topic and learned about the UN’s longstanding advocacy of entomophagy – and I was hooked. We’ve been critique partners for many years. The summer of 2014 we both attended a nonfiction conference. I told Sue about a proposal I’d submitted to one of the conference editors: “Entomophagy ABC’s.”

Sue: I’m like, “No way! I’m working on an entomophagy book.” We decided to collaborate.

MKC: I have to ask, how many of the critters in the book have you personally eaten?

Chris: We begin the book by presenting more traditionally palatable food items: dandelions and other weeds, lionfish filets and other tasty invasive animals. As for eating insects, I’m a more recent (though willing) convert. I’ve done the crickets and the beetles, and a few others.

Sue: I remember picking chokecherries and elderberries with my mom in Utah. When I was in high school I discovered Euell Gibbons (Stalking the Wild Asparagus) and field guides on edible plants. I experimented, cooking up dandelion greens and mashing – and leaching – acorns for pancakes. Now I gather wild greens for quiche and purslane and edible flowers for salads. Eating insects happened by accident, and usually while camping. While working on the book, I began integrating bugs into my diet. Those little green caterpillars on the broccoli? Extra protein for the stir fry. A carpenter ant invasion became an opportunity to experiment with frittata recipes. Hint: they are sweeter than I expected! And those Japanese beetles? A friend taught me how to roast them and sent me a good recipe for marinade.

Chris: Sue dedicates the book to her husband, who, she notes “does not know about the ants in the frittata yet.” Hah.

MKC: What challenged or most surprised you both while researching the book?

Chris: We were surprised by how many people already eat invasive species and insects. We hadn’t realized the extent of entomophagy and invasivore Facebook groups, websites, associations, restaurants, courses, conventions, cooking events, and more. We also were struck by the grave environmental and economic problems presented by invasive plant and animal species—as well as by industrial farming.

Sue: A major challenge was the recipes. Dandelions and weeds weren’t a big deal, but eating crickets and Japanese beetles took a leap of faith. So we reached out to more experienced folks who shared their recipes, and then we tested a few. The other thing was an ethical conundrum. I love insects, so we spent a lot of time discussing and researching humane ways to catch and kill bugs. Freezing turns out to be the best, and easiest, way.

MKC: To whom did you imagine yourself writing to while drafting the book?

Sue: As we worked on this book I thought about what 6th-grade me would have wanted to know. We also wanted to include hands-on activities to get readers engaged.

Chris: We wanted to counteract the feelings that so many kids (and adults) have of being powerless in the face of climate change. So we show that changing what you eat can make a difference.

MKC: How does co-authoring a book work, exactly?

Sue and Chris practice what they write about!         • CHRISTY MIHALY (at right) studied law and environmental policy, and practiced environmental law for twenty-plus years. She writes for kids about science, history, government, nature, technology, and other stuff. Her most recent release is Free for You and Me: What Our First Amendment Means. www.christymihaly.com                                                            • SUE HEAVENRICH (left) has a master’s degree in biology. She has studied ants and cockroaches, and now collects data on pollinators as a citizen scientist. Sue writes about nature and books at ArchimedesNotebook.blogspot.com and her picture book, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly comes out in February.

Sue: From the beginning, we viewed this book as a joint project. I think the most important thing is that each of us was willing to put our ego aside and focus on creating the best work we could. It helps that both of us are familiar with collaboration, me as a biologist and Chris as an environmental lawyer.

Chris: When you think about writing with a colleague, at least before covid-19, there’s a good chance you imagine meetings at the local café. Since we live 345 miles apart, we used email and phone. We scheduled regular conversations to go over plans, set goals and deadlines, and keep the lines of communication clear.

Sue: We made lists and divvied up tasks. We wrote alternating chapters, and then shared first drafts of chapter sections via email. Then each of us revised what the other wrote. This helped us develop a consistent voice for the entire book. I remember thinking that by collaborating we could each do half the work.

Chris: Ha! I figure that doing it together required twice the work that writing solo would have required. But we feel our book is all the better for it.

Sue: All those phone calls played another important role, too. They gave us a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. Drinking coffee and talking about the dog, the dishes, the kids… and then the BOOK. We did some of our best brainstorming over phone lines.

MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?

Sue: I write about STEM for kids and their families to encourage them to go outside and explore the world. To solve a problem, to try something and, if it doesn’t work, figure out what happened and how to fix it. STEM, for me, is just an excuse to play. I was lucky to have parents who supported my curiosity. They sent me to science camp, took us to national parks, rock hunting, star-gazing … and tolerated the skeleton collection I had in the garage. In fourth grade I begged for a microscope for Christmas – and got one!

Chris: I have always loved nature. One reason I write STEM is to share that love with kids. My background is in environmental science and policy – I tend to want to jump to that next step, taking action to help the earth. That’s what Sue and I did with this book—exploring concrete ways that kids who care about the environment can act on their concern.

Win a FREE copy of DIET FOR A CHANGING CLIMATE

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

THE SILVER BOX ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery: Interview with Award-Winning Author Margi Preus

Welcome to my interview with Award-Winning Author, Speaker, and Educator Margi Preus! We’ll explore her latest release THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery – book 3 in the series. Margi’s stories hold breathtaking and bold journeys such as found in her books Heart Of A Samurai and Village Of Scoundrels.

The Book📚

THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery

The Silver Box ~ An Enchantment Lake Mystery

by Margi Preus

In the final Enchantment Lake mystery, Francie’s search for the truth about her mother—and herself—plunges her into danger during a North Woods winter.

Everything depends on a small, engraved silver box. If only Francie can follow its cryptic clues to the whereabouts of her missing mother she may finally understand the truth about who she really is. But one ominous clue after another reveal that Francie possesses something so rare and so valuable that some people are willing to do anything to get it. When her pursuit leads her into the snowy north woods, It is only to find out that she, herself, is being pursued.

BOOK 1 & BOOK 2

 

The Interview🎙️

It’s wonderful to have you join us here on the Mixed-Up Files, Margi. Let’s begin with your young self. What was she like? Did she enjoy reading? Writing? Was she adventurous?

Young Margi had the independence of Francie (the protagonist of The Silver Box) if not the bravery. As the last of six kids who spent summers at a lake cabin along with dozens of cousins, I had a prodigious amount of freedom and independence. I roamed around like a stray (mostly wet) dog all summer. So, yes, adventure was a big part of life. There was plenty of reading. I like to think I wrote, but I recently found my childhood diary, which is 99%empty, so probably not. However, I used to make up plays with my friends which we would perform for unsuspecting relatives.

Sounds like a wonderful childhood. It also gave you lots of material to write about, I’m sure. (Flannery O’Conner from your answer below😊)

Readers have watched Francie, your main character/modern-day sleuth, grow over the course of the previous two books in THE SILVER BOX Series. Why will young readers be drawn to her?

I imagine that Francie’s life of independence—kind of a more grown up, somewhat more serious Pippi Longstocking—would be appealing to kids. She lives on her own and makes her own decisions—not all of them good ones. She also gets herself into some hair-raising adventures. As a kid I would have been drawn to all of those things.

What do you hope readers learn from Francie’s journey?

I don’t presume to know what, if anything, readers will learn or gain from any of my books. I would be thrilled even if it is simply to have an enjoyable reading experience—one that makes them want to read more!

That would be a wonderful takeaway!

This series has been described as a great read for fans of Nancy Drew and those who enjoy cozy mysteries. What makes this series and THE SILVER BOX: An Enchantment Lake Mystery as its final book, unique? Were you sad to finish it?

I think the setting is one of the unique things about these stories, and it’s been fun to write a book set in a place I know so well, which is northern Minnesota lake country. And it’s been fun to live vicariously through Francie’s dangerous adventures. (Especially when you know she’s going to make it out somehow or other).

Haha! Yes, I’m sure.

It is always sad to leave a character you have grown to know and love. But she is graduating from high school now and it’s a little like sending a kid off to college.

A More Personal View🦋

Your books all have a sense of timelessness about them. How do you believe you accomplish this?

Thank you! And I have no idea! I do try to avoid slang for the most part, mainly because it’s impossible to stay current, but also because it does have a tendency to date a piece of writing. Our constantly changing technology is also a challenge. If you’re writing a story set in contemporary times, you have to acknowledge our ever-present phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices, but fortunately, there are plenty of places in the Enchantment Lake area where cell service is spotty—and of course the cold weather drains batteries rather quickly, so our heroes often have to solve their problems the old fashioned way: resourcefulness, bravery, quick-wittedness.

On your website, you mention being inspired by family members and their stories. Who have you used specifics of their stories and turned them into something unique for your characters and the world they live in?

I suppose most characters have some elements of people we know. None of my characters are direct one-to-one matches to anyone in particular, most are built of a combination of various traits and characteristics of people I know or imagine. I used to say that the somewhat loopy great aunts in the story were based on my own aunts and my mother—I have recently realized that, actually, maybe I am one of those dotty old aunts myself!

I’m sure you’re a wonderful aunt!

You had a lot of ‘odd’ jobs before you began writing for young readers. How have those experiences helped you become a writer and how can aspiring writers look to their current circumstances or situations and turn them into writing fuel and material?

Wasn’t Hemingway a big proponent of having a lot of experiences so you had something to write about? But then there was the genius Emily Dickinson who never went anywhere. And Flannery O’Connor famously said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

So, far be it from me to offer advice about whether to live large or stay home and write, but I personally am glad for all my experiences and my many very “odd” jobs. Although I don’t know that I have written specifically about any of my oddball work experiences, they have given me a wealth of experience, introduced me to a wide swath of humanity, and no doubt broadened my horizons.

This is such a wise and insightful answer. It’s really making me think.💡 Thank you!

What have been your biggest obstacles when a story idea came upon you and what have you found helped you the most in overcoming them?

The obstacles are familiar to all writers:  doubt that your idea, that what you’ve written, and that what you’re about to write has any merit. That challenge rears its head pretty much on a daily basis. The way forward is, as Robert Leckie advised, to “go up and shoot that old bear under the desk between the eyes.”

For Our Teachers and Authors🍎🏫🎒

What is your favorite aspect of in-person or virtual school visits and how can authors be more accessible to students? Do you have any favorite online platforms or activities you use during your visits?

Thanks for asking about virtual visits, which I have done through Skype and more recently Zoom and Crowdcast, but would use whatever platform the school or group is using. Of course I love the energy of being with a whole room or auditorium full of kids, but I am looking forward to doing more virtual—and interactive—visits. Some things I’ve done lately include creating a story together, and a virtual treasure hunt.

Ooh . . . creating a virtual story with students for your visit. Now that sounds like something students would love!

I am currently working on developing a game to accompany The Littlest Voyageur (Holiday House 2020) which would be great for any group reading that book or studying the fur trade. (Read-aloud chapters of The Littlest Voyageur are available on my YouTube channel.)  I am also planning a Zoom conversation with some of the people I interviewed for Village of Scoundrels (Amulet/Abrams, 2020) which I will record and make available as a resource to accompany that book or for holocaust studies. As for The Silver Box or any of the mysteries, I think it would be very fun to construct a mystery with students, which would give us a lot of opportunity to talk about story construction, building suspense, developing characters, and all kinds of other good stuff.  Of course, I am also available to talk about writing and my books in general

In this world that seems so upside-down, what reading and writing advice can you share with our teachers and librarians?

All I really want to say to teachers, librarians, and parents is thank you. Thank you for hanging in there and for taking care of the kids. Please take care of yourselves, too! We appreciate you. And if you really want some reading/writing advice, email me with your specific questions. Seriously.

💚💚💚

Inquiring minds are super excited to hear what they can expect next from you. Please share!

Thanks for asking! I have a couple of picture books in the pipeline. They won’t be out any time soon—but 2020, the pandemic year, was my year for books—I have three out this year: Village of Scoundrels, The Littlest Voyageur, and The Silver Box— thank you anyone for noticing!!

And thanks for taking this time to check in with me, Mixed Up Files!

Picture books . . . Yay! You have so much work releasing soon. So exciting! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and writing self with us. You are inspiring.

The Author

Margi Preus is a New York Times bestselling author of books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor–winning Heart of a Samurai.Author Margi Preus Among her other novels are Village of Scoundrels, Shadow on the Mountain, West of the Moon, and The Bamboo Sword, as well as the previous two books in the Enchantment Lake series, Enchantment Lake and The Clue in the Trees, which were published by the University of Minnesota Press and received the Midwest Book Award and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award. She lives in Duluth.

Find Margi: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Love learning about authors? Here’s a recent author interview in our MUF archive.

The Giveaway

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Kids on the March – Cover Reveal

Cover Reveal Kids on the March

It’s Cover Reveal Saturday … and today we’re getting a sneak peek at the cover for Kids on the March (Algonquin), by Michael G. Long.

Seriously, I’m such a fan of this subject, I can’t even with the suspense. I’m going to reveal this cover right now…

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal Kids on the March

Wait, what?

Just kidding. The real reveal is coming shortly, I promise. But I couldn’t resist having a little fun with the fabulous app Mindy Alyse Weiss showed me, the Blur Photo app. Good, right?

But before we see the real thing, we’ve got some goodies. An excerpt from Kids on the March, followed by a quick interview with author Michael G. Long.

Kids on the March Excerpt:

“Today, we march, we fight, we roar!”

Delaney Tarr, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, spoke those powerful words at the student-led March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2018.

“We know what we want, we know how to get it, and we are not waiting any longer!” she declared. The crowd thundered its support.

Many of the marchers on that chilly spring day were elementary, middle, and high school students from across the country. Called together by the Parkland students, they had gathered at the nation’s capital to protest for gun control legislation.

As Tarr continued her speech, countless kids raised their protest signs high: what do you like more, guns or kids?; protest guns, not kids; and #enough is enough!

A short while later, Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, also spoke. She said, “I have a dream that enough is enough and that this world should be a gun-free world, period!”

Marchers who had studied her grandfather in history class probably recognized that her words echoed Dr. King’s most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” which he gave to 250,000 protestors at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

When we think of protests in US history, we often call to mind Dr. King and his adult colleagues. But do you know that many participants in the 1963 March on Washington were kids? Do you know, too, that several months before the March on Washington, thousands of young Black people marched against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama? Do you know that this was not the first time in US history that kids marched for justice?

Sixty years earlier, in 1903, child laborers marched from Philadelphia to New York to protest the dangerous working conditions in textile mills.

Even this early march was not the first of its kind.

Young people have led or participated in numerous marches throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Whether they led or followed, the kids in these historic marches were tough, bold, and brave. Some of these marches occurred in the face of violence, and others in relative safety, but all of them required courage.

The marches in which kids have participated are all deeply connected. They have sought to establish peace, justice, and freedom for all. Each has attempted to fulfill the civil rights identified in the US Constitution. Each has tried to hold the nation accountable to the beliefs and principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

As leaders and participants, kids have fought on the front lines of virtually every important march for first-class citizenship throughout US history. When democracy was threatened, kids were there. When people on the margins needed a voice of protest, kids were there. In some cases, kids were there, marching and chanting, long before adults even thought about protesting.

You, too, can march. If you don’t like a law that causes suffering, or if you would like a new policy that could help create a better world, you, like the kids in this book, can stand up. You can straighten your shoulders. You can throw back your chin. And you can shout what young people have been shouting for decades: “Let’s march!”

Interview with Kids on the March Author Michael G. Long

 

MUF: What’s your favorite element of the cover design?

Take a close look at the faces of the young activists, and you’ll see my favorite part of the cover: that beautiful display of pure passion in their fight for peace with justice. The image comes from a photograph taken at the historic March for Our Lives, a nonviolent protest against gun violence in our schools. Although I still get sad, and angry, about the event that fueled this protest—a horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida—I also get chills when I look at the faces of the young people who stood up when adults failed them and organized their very own international protest for safe schools. What passion and power! It’s so inspiring for me to see kids standing up, speaking out, and protesting for other kids. I love that.

MUF: Did you do any political organizing as a child?

As a kid, I was not a political organizer. But when I was about ten years old, I sat at my family’s dining room table and wrote the Pennsylvania governor a letter expressing my opposition to the death penalty. That was probably the first time I protested for an issue I cared about so deeply. There wasn’t anything dramatic about it; it was just a simple act of using a pencil, lined white paper, and a stamped envelope. But that small act was a way for me to share my voice, and it set the stage for my later participation in numerous sit-ins, marches, and rallies for social justice. By the way, the governor sent me a reply, and I recall how thrilled I was that he’d heard my youthful voice and respected it enough to correspond with a kid who couldn’t vote at the time. I’ll never forget that.

MUF: Any personal reflections on youth activism?

Writing Kids on the March is my way of protesting the unfortunate exclusion of youth activism from our books and classes on US history. As a young student, I read history books that were organized by wars and presidents. Where were all the kids? Well, I later discovered that all the kids missing from my history books were helping to lead, organize, and support virtually every social movement that has secured and advanced the basic human rights we now enjoy. Kids have been at the vanguard of almost every social justice movement in US history. Today, my personal heroes aren’t US presidents or military generals; they’re the kids in this book, young people who care so deeply that they feel compelled to stand up, speak out, and protest for the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. They’re leading us through the chaos of this new century, and I’m delighted to play a supporting role by sharing their voices.

((Like reading about socially conscious kids and political activism? See our booklist here.))

The Real Reveal

Okay … now I know your appetite is whetted, and you’re ready for the real reveal … drum roll, please!

Ta-da!

Kids on the March

Kids on the March will be available in spring of 2021.

About Michael G. Long

Michael G. Long

Michael G. Long is the author and editor of many books on civil rights, peaceful protest, and politics. Kids on the March is his first book for younger readers.