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 Jennifer Ward, author of I LOVE BIRDS! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander & Explore Birds with Kids. It’s part journal and part field guide full of amazing activities for readers to explore. The St. Louis Audobon Society said “It’s a perfect fit for parents and teachers looking for ways to engage children in STEM activities.”
Christine Taylor-Butler: Jennifer, you began your career as an elementary educator and now have more than 20 widely acclaimed books for children. How hard was it to make the switch to writing full-time?
Jennifer Ward: It was both scary (financially) and bittersweet to resign from teaching to pursue writing full-time – giving up a job I was passionate about in addition to a regular paycheck/benefits. I definitely took a leap of faith!
CTB: What a leap! Do you miss teaching?
Jennifer: I do miss teaching, having my own classroom/students and school- community camaraderie. However, as an author, I’m a “nomadic-educator”, traveling and speaking in schools and at conferences. It also brings me great joy to know educators use my books with their curriculum.
CTB: In the book, you talk about the magical moment when, as a young child, you first heard a bird call pierce the quiet. Have there been other magical moments that inform your work?
Jennifer: Each book I’ve written has had that magical “aha” moment- a trigger, an experience that surfaces with story potential. I bank on those moments, wondering when the next one will present itself. Having been writing professionally for more than 20 years now, I’ve learned to trust the process and know that science and nature will never cease to fuel my creativity.
CTB: You write about a nature deficit, especially for families living in a city with busy lives. How hard was it to come up with 52 unique sensory explorations a parent and child could accomplish together.
Jennifer: Sadly, nature deficit is a real thing today. It wasn’t difficult to create sensory experiences in urban spaces because I drew from personal experiences. “I Love Birds!” focuses on birds and many species of birds have adapted well to living in cities. Sensory explorations take little time, are free of cost, great for the soul and rely on simply being “present”, even if it’s just for a few seconds. We, kids and adults alike, need to practice putting down the screen and connecting to the environment around us. It’s so easy to not be present today.
CTB: Although I LOVE BIRDS is about observing and appreciating birds and their behavior, you incorporate other elements in these tasks. For example, going outside and taking the time to feel the air on your skin and the ground beneath your feet. It made me want to try them all myself. Are the book’s activities also a form of meditation for families with busy lives?
Jennifer: I hope you do go out and try them yourself! Indeed, “I Love Birds!” encourages families to meditate in nature – even if it’s indoors and spending a moment to enjoy the warmth of sun seeping through a window or making time to observe what is going on outside of a window. It’s the art of slowing down for just a few seconds and re-connecting with this amazing planet of ours.
CTB: Now I’m curious. What has been your most unusual experience when observing birds?
Jennifer: Oooh. Good question! Hmmm…this could be another book, lol. One experience this year – there’s a knot in a tree in my backyard – one of many knots among many trees. But THIS knot is a hot spot for some reason? There’s something within it that draws every species of bird to it. Sap? Pooled water? Cached nuts and seeds? I’m not sure. But I am sure all the birds love this one, particular knot.
CTB: If you could choose one quick STEM based activity for readers to try, what would it be?
Jennifer: I challenge readers to engineer a bird nest using materials found in nature. Then, experiment to see if the nest is sturdy enough to protect a fragile egg. The experimental egg could be a mini-marshmallow, or if the nest is large enough, an actual chicken egg. Can the nest support the egg, protect the egg from elements such as wind, and offer adequate protection/shelter for the egg? Consider the nests you can see in “naked” trees during the winter months when trees are bare. Those nests often withstand season after season of weather extremes. Pretty amazing considering birds build without the use of opposable thumbs!
CTB: You call yourself a “bird nerd.” So I was wondering, beyond science and nature, do you have other hobbies or passions you would love to write about?
Jennifer: I am such a bird nerd, my life orbits around the lives of birds every single day. BUT, I do have other hobbies and passions: my family, my dogs, photography (primarily birds), painting, drawing, camping and gardening.
CTB: So what’s up next? Are there any new books coming out that we should keep our eyes out for?
Jennifer: Thank you for asking! I do, three to be exact! Fall 2020 – a picture book called, “How to Find a Bird” (S&S/Beach Lane Books) illustrated by Diana Sudyka. It is gorgeous! And I love that Diana implemented the two main characters (kids) as POC. Birding has often been characterized as a hobby for retired Caucasian people. That needs to change; the future of our planet and birds depends on it – Jason Ward @JasonWardNY is making great strides with this. Also next fall – a picture book called, “Round” (S&S/Beach Lane Books) illustrated by Lisa Congdon. It’s premise is everything round in nature, from objects to elements to seasons and beyond. And 2021 or ’22 – a picture book called, “Just You and Me” (S&S/Beach Lane), with illustrations by Alexander Vidal. Alexander also illustrated “I Love Birds!”
Win a FREE copy of I LOVE BIRDS! 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander & Explore Birds with Kids
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.