Posts Tagged animal perceptions

STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– Interview with Author Stephanie Gibeault


Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview, a repeating feature for the last Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Stephanie Gibeault, author of Making Sense of Dog Senses: How Our Furry Friends Experience the World It’s a fascinating look at how dogs use their senses, often better than the people around them. The School and Library Journal said, “A fun, quirky book about dogs and their many abilities; great for animal lovers, young and old.


Christine Taylor-Butler: Welcome to STEM Tuesday, Stephanie. I’m always excited to talk to a woman with a STEM background. Were you a science person as a child?

Stephanie Gibeault: Yes, I was particularly interested in biology. I had all kinds of pets and loved observing animals in the wild. Catching them too. I would trap snakes and keep them in my tent or show my amphibian-fearing mother every frog and toad I could collect. I also loved fishing with my uncle. I remember after he had cleaned the pickerel, I would take the carcass and dissect what was left to learn how the fish’s body worked. But I did a lot of physics too, thanks to my dad. He helped me create some mind-blowing science fair projects like the time we built a set of elliptical gears.

Christine: You received an undergraduate degree in Ecology and Evolution and a Master of Science in animal behavior. Afterwards, you became a certified dog trainer. Did you have dogs as pets when you were a child? Do you have any now?

Chi stumpStephanie: My parents had a border collie named Sox when I was born, and he used to push me around in my baby carriage. Then came Snoopy who was supposed to be a beagle but must have been a mix of breeds because he was huge. He used to sleep in my bed at night and had a tendency to follow his nose and wander off. Now I have a six-pound chihuahua cross named Chi Chi Rodriguez (after a particularly funny episode of the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati). Believe it or not, when I had his DNA tested, I found out he’s part mastiff! We used to do agility and trick training together, but now that he’s over 17, his favorite activity is cuddling on the couch.

Christine: You’ve written more than 300 articles about dogs for the American Kennel Club. How do you decide what topics to include?

Stephanie: You would think I would have run out of topics by now, but dogs are endlessly fascinating to me. I also write about them for other sites, like Cottage Life and Reader’s Digest. Sometimes I’m assigned topics by editors, but often I pitch ideas I find interesting. I love reporting on the latest canine cognition research or explaining dog behavior to help people better train and understand their pets. Freelance writing is a bit like pitching agents or editors. You pick the topics you’re passionate about then try to convince them your ideas are worth publishing.

Christine: Making Sense of Dog Senses: How Our Furry Friends Experience The World is one of two books you are doing for OwlKids Books that talk about the ability of dogs to navigate the world. The other is Dogs Versus Humans: A Showdown of the Senses. Your book is packed with information and colorful illustrations. Where did you get the idea?

Stephanie: I’ve always been interested in how different animals sense their environment. Just as no two people perceive the world in exactly the same way, different species have evolved their own particular sensory experience or umwelt. Then, through my work as a dog trainer, I realized how many dog owners didn’t understand their dog’s point of view. They would interpret everything through a human lens rather than appreciating canine culture and their dog’s evolutionary heritage. That’s where the idea for the book came from. I wanted to help middle grade readers understand this animal we share our homes with and have evolved beside for thousands of years. After all, dogs may be humanity’s best friend, but we sure don’t have a lot in common.

Christine: You make great comparisons. For instance, that a dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive to humans and why they sniff everything. Dogs have far fewer taste buds than humans, so it’s no wonder they eat things we would never dream of, like garbage and dirty socks. There’s an enormous amount of research in this book.

Stephanie: This was a research-intense book because I didn’t just need to understand dog senses but human senses as well. I read a lot of books, both those for kids and those for adults, but most of my facts came from scientific studies in academic journals. Thanks to my background in biology, I felt comfortable digging into the latest canine science. I did my utmost to find the most up-to-date research, but dogs have only recently become a hot subject, so many of these topics, such as their color vision or olfactory capabilities, are still being studied. Scientists are discovering new things about dogs all the time.

Christine: And yet there are a few things that humans can do better than dogs. For instance, you discuss visual acuity which is how sharp and clear things look from a distance. Do you expand on those types of comparisons in your second book?

Stephanie: The second book, Dogs Versus Humans: A Showdown of the Senses, is a picture book that pits the sensory abilities of pooches against people to see who comes out on top. There are comparisons between the species for each of the five main senses as well as a lesser-known sense known as magnetoreception. The book looks at dogs’ sensory abilities in general as not all dogs are the same. For example, those with upright ears may be able to hear better than those with droopy ears, and some dogs lose their sight or hearing as they age. Of course, the same is true for people – we aren’t all the same. But the point of the book is to appreciate the differences and see the world through a dog’s eyes (or nose would be more accurate).

Note: Dogs versus Humans is coming in 2025!

Christine: Skill and perseverance are key in publishing. Most people don’t know what authors go through. Can you tell our readers a bit about your journey?

Toby tootles coverStephanie: Although I wrote academic papers as a biologist, my journey into kidlit started in 2011 when my niece and nephew were picture book age. I wrote silly stories for them about animals and ninjas and whatever else I thought might make them laugh. I even made the embarrassing mistake of submitting one of those stories to publishers. Then, in 2015, I began writing freelance and realized how much I didn’t know. In 2016, I attended my first writing conference, joined my first critique group, and threw myself into learning the craft of writing. I started querying agents (too soon) in 2019, then signed with my incredible agent Jacqui Lipton in January of 2021. We sold my first manuscript, a picture book called Toby Tootles, a few months later. And not long after that I co-wrote my first nonfiction middle grade called Can’t Get Enough Dog Stuff for National Geographic Kids.

Christine: In your article for NF Ninjas, you point out that three of your books were sold on proposals. They weren’t written until after the contract was signed. You provide a list for others to follow when preparing their own. Was writing on proposal more difficult or was it freeing?

Stephanie: I wouldn’t say writing by proposal is more freeing because you need to plan the entire book and sell your idea to an editor even if you’ve only written a few chapters. You need to include a solid and enticing overview and outline in your proposal which means knowing exactly what you intend to do. But I also don’t find book proposals more difficult because I’m not a pantser. I’m an organization fanatic, so figuring out content, structure, and subject matter down to the last sidebar suits my brain. However, once you’re working with an editor the project can change, so you need to stay flexible and open to new ideas.

Calculating chimpanzeesChristine: You have also have a book coming out with MIT Kids Press/Candlewick Books. Calculating Chimpanzees, Brainy Bees, and Other Animals with Mind-Blowing Mathematical Abilities. In it, you talk about how hyenas can count, and chimpanzees can do calculations, and many other animal examples. The chapters include interviews with researchers and activities the readers can try. Tell our readers a bit about how this book came about.

Stephanie: If you had told me when I was a teenager that I would write a book about math one day, I would never have believed you. But I love learning about how animals think, and I remember discussing animal number sense with my supervisor in graduate school. For example, I wondered if a bird knows how many babies are in her nest. This project was my chance to dive deep into this topic I had always been curious about. I was also able to use my biology background to look at why animals have evolved various number abilities and help bust the idea that math is a uniquely human domain.

Christine: Was there a particular animal or researcher that you enjoyed investigating for this book?

Irene and parrotStephanie: It was thrilling to speak to animal cognition scientists I had admired for years as well as to meet people doing cutting edge studies. I was particularly excited to learn more about Irene Pepperberg and her African grey parrot Alex. Through her studies with Alex, Dr. Pepperberg proved the term “bird brain” is the opposite of an insult. She taught Alex over 100 English labels for objects, including their color and shape, and discovered he could do simple math and use Arabic numerals. It was amazing to hear her stories about Alex’s personality including how he would have a temper tantrum when he got bored with repeating the same experiments too many times.

Christine: Before we go, I noted that you’ve been a movie extra! That’s a dream on my wishlist. How did that happen? Which movies?

Christine: We’re excited about your books and your passion for explaining science to children. Do you have anything else coming up we should be watching out for?

Stephanie: I have another nonfiction picture book scheduled for release in fall 2025. The Dog That Saved the Bees is about Cybil Preston, the Chief Apiary Inspector for the State of Maryland, and her rescue dog Mack. Thanks to Cybil, Mack went from a lonely life in a garage to becoming the only certified beehive disease detection dog in America. He is responsible for inspecting Maryland’s commercial beehives before they travel around the United States to pollinate crops like almonds and blueberries. Without Mack’s incredible nose, many foods would never make it to your table.

Editors note: Stephanie is a prolific children’s and freelance author. In addition to the American Kennel Association, she’s written for Readers Digest, Cottage Life, Pet Sitters International and the Old Farmers Almanac.


Stephanie headshotStephanie Gibeault is a children’s author and award-winning freelance writer. As a former biologist and certified professional dog trainer, she loves writing about dogs and other animals. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in ecology and evolution and a Master of Science in animal behavior. Her time in academia involved grunting with gorillas and stinking like marmoset monkeys. Years later, dog training meant being covered in fur and drool. Now she spends her days just outside of Toronto, Canada, convincing her clumsy cat Heton not to take over her keyboard. For more information, visit


Author Christine Taylor-ButlerYour host is Christine Taylor-Butler, a graduate of MIT and author of The Oasis, Save the… Tigers, Save the . . . Blue Whales, and many other nonfiction books for kids. She is also the author of the STEM based middle grade sci-fi series The Lost Tribes. Follow @ChristineTB on Twitter and or @ChristineTaylorButler on Instagram. She lives in Missouri with a tank of fish and cats that think they are dogs.

STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– Writing Tips & Resources


Choose Your Own Writing Adventure

Did you ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure® book? As a kid I devoured those. You would read a few paragraphs and then when there’s a plot point—when a normal book would have the main character make the decision (and learn the consequences)—in these books, you, the reader get to choose.

Choose Your Own Adventure stack of books

It might look like this:

  • If you charge down the tunnel, straight into the dragon’s lair, turn to page 23.
  • If you sneak around the mountain, hoping to slip in through a backdoor, turn to page 42.

What if we could see writing like that? What if we could help students see writing like that? What if we could apply this to the challenge of writing to convey information?

One of my greatest struggles is structure. Finding just the right approach to convey information. I know I’m not the only writer (young or old) who suffers from that kind of paralysis. A great way for me to break into writing is to toy with different approaches, but it can be hard to get started, so I’ve started to play the “Choose My Own Writing Adventure” sort of game.

Play the Game

Let’s take chapter 2 of Rebecca Hirsch’s Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World.

The first section begins:

Two eyeballs swivel on stalks atop the head of a mantis shrimp. Zip! Zoop! The eyes move up, down, left, and right as the critter scuttles across the coral reef. He is keeping watch for enemies and looking for a place to hide.”

Upon reading the first sentence, I am immediately connecting to this writing. That “Zip! Zoop!” provides a sensory experience that brings me into a scene. The action of the eyes and the verb “scuttles” has me picturing this as a movie playing in my mind. The “He is keeping watch” has me connecting with and feeling for a character. This is narrative writing!

But, in the next section, entitled “Eye Spy,” the writing shifts.

“Mantis shrimps, or stomatopods (stoh-MA-tah-pawds) are relative of crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. These tiny superheroes have the most advanced eyeballs on the planet.”

Wait. That’s all expository—information intended to explain. It’s still drawing me in. The fact about mantis shrimp relatives connects them to animals I am more familiar with, thus making the subject relatable. Even if the spread had not included intriguing photographs, I’d be developing a crabby kind of image in my mind—a hard shell, beady eyes and lots of legs. The superheroes analogy has my mind imaging all kinds of fun. The “most advanced eyeballs on the planet” has me experiencing a sense of awe for these creatures.

But it is the juxtaposition of these two kinds of writing, so drastically different, that has me re-reading to learn more about writing craft. Why did the author decide to set up the chapter this way? What advantages do each of these approaches have? If I were the writer and playing the “Choose My Own Writing Adventure” game, what could my other options for these passages be?

Let’s play that game. What if the book began with the same information but that first section was written as expository text? Could I do that? Could you do that? Pull out a piece of paper (or a fresh file) and try it before you read on.

Adventurous Options

When facing this challenge myself, the first thing that occurs to me is that I’d switch the point of view to third person. But, after pondering a moment, I realize that’s not the only option:

  • If you choose to write in third person, you’ve picked a classic approach. Keep writing!
  • If you choose to write in first person—that can be done in expository, right—you’re doing something fresh and exciting!

But also, because I am now writing it as  expository, I feel the urge to begin that first paragraph by naming the animal, i.e.  “A mantis shrimp…” But there are other options, right?

  • If you start with “A mantis shrimp…” plow forward and see where it takes you.
  • If you start with “The enemies of…” be confident because you started with a hook.
  • If you start with “The eyeballs…” consider how that sets up the content.

Isn’t this fun? After you’ve played with the first section for a while, flip this idea and try going the opposite direction. Take the expository “Eye Spy” section and use that content to craft a narrative. At every junction, make yourself aware of the options you are choosing by listing out one or more other options.

Writing is an adventure! Let’s stop pretending it must be boring. Let’s use other people’s writing as examples, but not as a rule book. Let’s be writing rebels!

Heather L. Montgomery likes to take her chances. Adventurous research has led her to publication of 18 books, including: What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures, Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, and Sick! The Twists and Turns behind Animal Germs. When she is not teaching a library full of students or interviewing a scientist, you might find her writing in an outlandish spot. Where will  you join her:

  • If you’re up for a stream stroll, pull on your water shoes and catch some critters with her.
  • If you’re into tree climbing, whip out your journal and scribble from the canopy.
  • If you’re brave enough for dissection, grab your gloves and goggles.

Learn more at .


Sick!: The Twists and Turns 
Behind Animal Germs
Order HERE 

STEM Tuesday — Animal Perceptions– In the Classroom

This month’s books delve into the mysterious senses and minds of different creatures. How do they communicate and use tools? What kinds of sounds do they make and what do they mean? Can we ever know what they think? Endlessly fascinating, these ideas are sure to spark wonder and inspire more questions in the classroom. Here are a few ways to explore animal perceptions with your students.

Beastly Brains: How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel
by Nancy Castaldo

Castaldo delves into the minds of animals like dolphins, dogs, and elephants to explore animal empathy, communication, tool use, and lifestyle through interviews and historical anecdotes. The book also mentions research from some great minds, such as Charles Darwin and Jane Goodall, regarding the behavior of animals and revolutionizes old theories through the lens of modern science.


Worm Jar Activity: In this book, Castaldo describes Darwin’s study of worms to determine if worm’s have intelligence. His observations about how worms moved leaves led him to conclude that they are thinking creatures with intelligence. With this activity, students can make their own observations about worm behavior by making a worm jar and observing the worms inside, recording their data, and coming to a conclusion. To make the worm jar, they will need:

  • mason jar
  • jar lid with holes
  • soil, sand, grass, mulch, or other organic materials from the ground
  • garden trowel and worms
  • very small pieces of vegetables or fruit (such as lettuce, apple, celery leaves)
  • dark construction paper and tape
  • observation notebook

Have students layer different ground materials in the jar until it is around 3/4 full. Dig in wet soil to find earthworms and put a few in the jar. Add the small pieces of vegetables or fruit at the top and then cover with the lid. Then wrap the black paper around the jar and tape so that the worms will be in darkness, just like being underground.

Tell students to think of something they wonder about the worms in their jar and write it down inter observation notebook. Then have them check not heir worms each day by untaping the paper and seeing what is happening inside the jar. Tell students to write their observations each day in their notebook. After a few weeks, ask students to look through their observations to see if they have been able to answer their question at the beginning of the experiment. Do they have a conclusion they can share with others about their worms?

Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World
by Rebecca E. Hirsch

From star-nosed moles to Japanese sea catfish, each of the eight chapters in this book dives deep into the amazing sensory abilities of a different animal. Hirsch’s clear text combines with eye-popping photographs to show readers how these extraordinary animals can sense things in the world that are hidden to humans.


Super Senses Comics Activity: The creatures in Hirsch’s book have some incredible powers, almost like comic book characters. For examples, the star-nosed mole uses its incredible sense of touch to hunt food in the darkness of its underground world. After reading through the book, provide students with a blank comic book storyboard (like this or this) or direct them to free storyboarding software. Here are a few to try:

Tell students to choose an animal and its super power from the book, and to think of a story that involves that creature using that super power. They can then create a comic that tells their story, adding images and dialogue to the panels of their comic strip. What problem does their creature solve? How does it use its special sense? Practice providing feedback and revising to help students develop and share their stories. Then create a gallery on the wall to display students’ comics!


Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. Visit her at