Diversity

STEM Tuesday All About Conservation – Interview with Author Nancy Castaldo

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 author Nancy Castaldo who wrote this month’s featured conservation book, Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction.

Find out how seven different animal species from around the world were saved from extinction by hard-working scientists and environmental activists in this book. Nancy Castaldo has used her experience as an environmental educator to create award-winning books about our planet for over 20 years including her 2016 title, The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World, which earned the 2017 Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia. She loves sharing her excitement about nonfiction with readers and fellow writers. Visit her at nancycastaldo.com, on Twitter at @NCastaldoAuthor, or on Instagram at @naturespeak.

Mary Kay Carson: How did this book come about?

Nancy Castaldo: When I was young I had nightmares of creatures going extinct. I was terrified of losing any endangered species. I still am, but I know that my younger self needed to see hope and learn about the helpers. I wanted to give those stories to my readers. I wanted them to see that we all can make a difference, that every endangered species doesn’t go extinct because of the helpers. And that no matter where you live or how old you are, we all have the ability to join in the bucket brigade. I hope that Back from the Brink does that for my readers.

MKC: Could you share some highlights of doing research for Back from the Brink

Nancy: Every place I visit for research and photography has been life changing for me. This book, like the others for Houghton Mifflin such as Sniffer Dogs and The Story of Seeds, has taken me to places I only dreamed of visiting. I am a herper at heart, meaning I love reptiles and amphibians. Spending time with the tortoises and marine iguanas in the Galapagos was heaven. Another favorite experience was spending time with the dedicated California condor researchers in the Sespe Wilderness area. Part scientist and part adventurer, these biologists work tirelessly to conserve the condor population, despite continued threats to the birds from lead poisoning and micro-trash litter. It was a joy to enter their world.

MKC: Do you have a STEM background?

Nancy: I do have a STEM background. I completed a biology/chemistry double major in college and was president of the science club. At the same time I was also the co-editor of my college’s literary magazine. I was highlighted when I graduated in the college’s view book with the title, Creative Combinations. I’m still combining, having then went on to get a master’s that focused on children’s literature. Science, writing, and photography are all my passions. I love writing STEM books. I was a curious kid and I love writing for curious readers. I strive to inspire, inform, and empower my young readers because I believe they are our hope for the future. Our world needs them now more than ever.

Purchase Back from the Brink!

MKC: Any recommendations for fans of Back from the Brink?

Nancy: I’m hoping that readers will become inspired and empowered with the success stories in Back from the Brink and want to learn more about these creatures and other endangered species. There are many wonderful fiction and nonfiction books that can continue the experience. I’ve included many in the Learn More section of the book, including Dorothy Patent’s The Buffalo and the Indian, Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, and Jazynka Kitson’s Mission Wolf Rescue. While these books are great reads, I really hope that my readers will step out into the wild and discover some of these creatures first hand. I list places throughout the country for outdoor, natural sightings in my book.

Praise for Back from the Brink:

  • “[Castaldo] offers solid, meaningful suggestions for young readers […] including many, many learning opportunities: things to watch and read, organizations to investigate, websites and parks to explore. Challenging but important reading for the intended audience.”–Kirkus, STARRED review
  • “Readers will be moved by Castaldo’s appreciation for these animals.”–Booklist, STARRED review

Win a FREE copy of Back from the Brink!   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!

Hosting this week is Mary Kay Carson, fellow animal lover, science nerd, and author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson

 

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Interview with Newbery Winner, Erin Entrada Kelly

I recently had the pleasure of talking to 2018 Newbery Winner, Erin Entrada Kelly, about her her newest middle-grade novel You Go First, which hit bookstores this week. In addition to winning the Newbery for Hello, Universe, Erin has won many other awards for her middle-grade novels, including the 2017 APALA Award for The Land of Forgotten Girls and the 2016 Golden Kite Honor Award for Blackbird Fly. You Go First was a Spring Indie Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild Selection.

Erin was raised in Louisiana, but now lives in the Philadelphia area. She is a professor of children’s literature in the graduate fiction and publishing programs at Rosemont College. Erin is also a short story writer. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction and the Pushcart Prize. Erin has a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies and liberal arts from McNeese State University and an MFA in creative writing from Rosemont. Welcome, Erin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First let me say congratulations on winning the Newbery Medal and on the release this week of your fourth middle-grade novel. I know that you’re also an accomplished short story writer, and I’m wondering what attracts you to writing for the eight-to-twelve-year-old reader. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important phases of life. Tweens are not quite children, but not quite teenagers. At that age — particularly 11 and 12, which is the age of virtually all my characters — you’re looking for acceptance from your peers and trying to figure out who you are as an individual. Unfortunately, these two things don’t always go hand-in-hand. You want to be yourself, but you also want to fit in, so the pressure to conform is palpable. It’s a difficult age. It takes resilience to emerge unscathed. I remember being 12 as easily as I remember yesterday. That’s how weighty, difficult, and impressionable that phase was for me.

You Go First is such a heartfelt novel about two lonely kids who live far apart. What was the spark that gave you the idea to write about these two characters? Thank you! I wanted to write about two people who struggle with the pressures of middle school and tweendom while dealing with their unusual adult sensibilities. I love writing about underdogs and outcasts, and Charlotte and Ben are both of those things.

One of the many things I loved about You Go First was all the interesting facts at the beginning of Charlotte’s chapters. I pictured your head spinning with all of that wonderful knowledge. I’m curious as to whether you were like Charlotte and had been collecting these facts all your life or whether you looked them up specifically for the novel. Most of Charlotte’s “rabbit holes” were specifically researched for the book, but there were several that I already knew. I’ve traveled down many rabbit holes in my life. When I was a kid, I loved looking things up in the encyclopedia. This was before the internet, back when people actually had encyclopedia sets. I would sit down, pick a letter, open a page, and start reading.

One thing that struck me while reading the two point-of-view characters in You Go First is that although you’re writing in third person, it feels like first person. We’re so much in the minds of these characters. Can you share your secret on how you do this? I wish I could! I’m not sure how it happens. My characters come to me fully formed before I ever put a word on paper. I get to know them very well.

The characters in your novels tend to be outsiders. Is there a reason you’re attracted to writing that type of character? Because I was an outsider, and I know how difficult it can be. I have an affinity for kids (and adults) who veer away from the beaten path. It takes moxie to be an outsider. And they are often underestimated — by themselves and others.

I know you’re a professor of writing, and I’m sure our readers, who might also be writers, would love to hear a couple of your best tips on how to create the type of characters you write about–characters with a great deal of depth, heart, and authenticity. What an incredible compliment! A few pieces of advice I like to give: Know what your character is most afraid of. Know what they want most out of life. And find out how they feel about their name. Names are very personal. You’d be surprised the things our characters will reveal when we ask them how they feel about theirs.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? I’m currently working on my first MG fantasy, which is inspired by Filipino folklore. I can’t wait to share it with readers. It’s tentatively scheduled for summer 2019.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Thank YOU! 

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard and eleven-year-old Ben Boxer are separated by more than a thousand miles. On the surface, their lives seem vastly different—Charlotte lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Ben is in the small town of Lanester, Louisiana. Charlotte wants to be a geologist and keeps a rock collection in her room. Ben is obsessed with Harry Potter, presidential history, and recycling. But the two have more in common than they think. They’re both highly gifted. They’re both experiencing family turmoil. And they both sit alone at lunch. Over the course of a week, Charlotte and Ben—online friends connected only by a Scrabble game—will intersect in unexpected ways, as they struggle to navigate the turmoil of middle school.

Interview and Giveaway with Author Karen Kane

I am excited to post my interview with author Karen Kane whose debut novel, Charlie & Frog (Disney-Hyperion), came out April 10. I had the pleasure of previewing this book and getting to hear the backstory.

Hi Karen! Please give us a short summary of the book.

Charlie has been dumped with his TV-obsessed grandparents in the village of Castle-on-the-Hudson. When an old woman disappears after giving Charlie a desperate message in sign language, Charlie is determined to find answers.

Frog, who is Deaf, would rather be solving crimes than working at the Flying Hands Café. When Charlie walks into the café looking for help, Frog jumps at the chance to tackle a real-life case.

Together, Charlie and Frog set out to decipher a series of clues and uncover the truth behind the mysterious message. Charlie needs to learn American Sign Language to keep up with Frog. And Frog needs to gather her detective know-how to break the case before it’s too late.

What two book titles and/or movie titles would you say Charlie & Frog is a cross between? 

My hope is that Charlie & Frog has the heart of Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World and the humor of Matilda.

Why did you choose the setting you did?

I choose to set Charlie & Frog in the Hudson Valley because, for some inexplicable reason, I have a soul connection with that part of New York. Maybe because it’s the home of one of my favorite detectives, Trixie Belden!

Is it based on any real location?

Castle-on-the-Hudson is a part Cold Spring, NY, part Cape May, NJ and part Pittsford, NY, the village where I grew up.

Would you say you’re more like Charlie or Frog? Why?

I am definitely more like Charlie. I have always had a deep-seated longing for connection and community—and like Charlie I had to learn to look inward to find it. Frog is super-confident and knows herself. I am becoming more like Frog, but I will never reach her level of moxie!

I love how Charlie & Frog has a main character who is deaf but that the book isn’t an issues book. And I thoroughly enjoyed how you could show conversations of characters without spoken words. I know you graduated from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and are a sign language interpreter. How did you become interested in working with people who are deaf?

True confession time: the real reason I became a sign language interpreter is because I failed microbiology in my 2nd year of nursing studies. There was no way I was taking that class again, so I changed my major to one that didn’t require microbiology to graduate—interpreting! I wish I had a more profound reason, but it was an intuitive decision. And the right decision because I have truly loved my work. And interpreting was what connected me to the community who inspired Charlie & Frog.

What research did you end up doing for this book that you didn’t realize you’d need to? What are you currently working on?

All the research I did for the book I ended up using—such as the Dewey decimal system, as well as some Deaf history. And I had Deaf readers give me feedback on how I portrayed Deaf characters and culture in Charlie & Frog.

I am currently writing the next Charlie & Frog book, tentatively called The Boney Hand. The second book happens in the fall, my favorite time of year.

After reading a book, I love knowing what was originally pitched when submitted. Do you remember what your elevator pitch was for Charlie & Frog? After editing, would you say your elevator pitch has changed?

I’m lousy at elevator pitches! Thank goodness I didn’t need one this time because I already had an agent, Jennifer Carlson, who had tried to sell my first book, The Hayley Show. Although Jennifer and I both loved it, we couldn’t find an editor who also did. Ten years later (!) I sent Jennifer Charlie & Frog, which I wrote while attending Vermont College of Fine Arts. This time we were lucky to find several editors who loved it as well. Tracey Keevan, at Disney Hyperion, bought it at auction.

If I did have an elevator pitch, it would still be the same pitch even after the editing process, because the heart and soul and humor of Charlie & Frog have never changed—they have only deepened.

Thank you, Karen, for letting me pick your brain! I highly recommend Charlie & Frog for middle grade readers.

A copy of Charlie & Frog will be given away to one lucky winner! Post a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Karen’s book (shipping within the U.S. only). 

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