Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of the Green Earth Book Award and a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films Award, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.
Zoo Scientists to the Rescue is photo-illustrated by Annie Crawley. Newman (center) and Crawley (left) traveled to the zoos featured in the book, including Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo where Maku the black rhino (right) resides.
Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Zoo Scientists to the Rescue and how you came to write it.
Patricia Newman: Zoo Scientists to the Rescue began as a comment from my niece, Mia, whose fifth-grade class was tasked with writing a persuasive essay about zoos, either for or against. The trouble was the teacher gave her students almost all anti-zoo material, so guess which way their essays leaned? I’ve been involved with zoos most of my adult life and I raised a zookeeper, so I knew there was more to the story than the material my niece had received. In Zoo Scientists to the Rescue I had several goals: share some of the ground-breaking research that zoo scientists are doing to save endangered species, inspire kids to help them, and excite kids about a possible career in science.
MKC: It sounds like you spent some quality time behind-the-scenes at zoos with the featured scientists. Do you have a favorite moment or happening you’d like to share?
PN: Photographer Annie Crawley and I visited the three zoos in the book’s pages—Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. We spent some fabulous time behind-the-scenes with both the scientists and the animals. We got up close and personal with Maku the rhino—close enough that he charged Annie while shooting his portrait for the cover. We also drove through a blizzard to meet with the black-footed ferret scientists. At the zoo, we donned booties and surgical caps to visit the BFF breeding area. And we waded through drifts several feet deep to observe BFFs at boot camp–a training facility to get them ready for release into the wild. Through it all, my audio recorder whirred and Annie’s shutter clicked. Annie is also a brilliant filmmaker, and had the presence of mind to shoot video while we conducted our research. In addition to our trailer, videos featuring our interviews with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s BFF breeding center and Rachel Santymire’s lab at the Lincoln Park Zoo are now available on YouTube. Annie and I love the way these resources broaden the reading experience.
MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?
PN: When I was a kid, my best learning happened when I could make connections to the world. I graduated with a B.S. from Cornell University in the social sciences, but my writing focuses more on environmental nonfiction. I think the thing that attracts me to science is the process of discovery. The scientists I interview have fascinating stories that I hope will inspire kids to think science is cool or encourage their parents to buy deforestation-free palm oil products to protect orangutans or instigate a Ditch the Straw Campaign in their community to reduce single-use plastic. While every author wants to tell a great story, I also want to empower kids to make a difference.
MKC: For readers who loved Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, what other middle-grade books would you suggest—nonfiction and/or fiction?
PN: For fiction, I love Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot and Eliot Schrefer’s ape quartet (of which three have been published) Endangered, Threatened, and Rescued. For nonfiction, I love Sandra Markle’s The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins and Cindy Trumbore and Susan Roth’s Parrots Over Puerto Rico.
MKC: Could you give us a peek into your process by sharing where you are right now on a current project and how you’re tackling it?
PN: My newest STEM title will release in the fall of 2018. Called Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, the book follows scientists from Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project as they listen to the forest elephants of central Africa. Forest elephants are different from the more familiar African savanna elephants and Asian elephants and the dense vegetation of their rainforest home makes them nearly impossible to follow. But these scientists have opened a whole new world on the study—and conservation—of this endangered species. My editor and I have just finished the first revision pass—I call it the reorganization phase. We move entire paragraphs from the end to the beginning, we check to be sure concepts are developed throughout the manuscript and don’t just pop up in isolated places, and we clarify some complex scientific concepts for young readers. In this book, it’s the physics of sound. The next pass will involve more line edits and polishing. And there’s a multi-media surprise in store for readers of this book. But I won’t say more than that!
More about Zoo Scientists to the Rescue:
- Written by Patricia Newman with photographs by Annie Crawley
- Read reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist.
- Buy the book!
- Watch the book trailer
- Annie Crawley’s YouTube video playlist of the book
- Download an CCSS-aligned educator guide with lesson plans
Win a copy of Zoo Scientists to the Rescue! 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 this week is Mary Kay Carson, author of Mission to Pluto and other nonfiction books for kids.