Posts Tagged Author Interview

STEM Tuesday– Extinction– Author Interview with Anita Sanchez

Interview with Author Anita Sanchez

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

Today we’re interviewing the amazing Anita Sanchez, environmental scientist and the author of Save The . . . Whale Sharks. The book is part of a series created by Chelsea Clinton about animals at risk of extinction. Anita’s book is a fascinating look at the one of the world’s most mysterious animals – one that may be at risk of extinction. Kirkus Review calls her book, “Eloquent and informative.

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Christine Taylor-Butler: Anita, you are the award winning author of a number of books centered around our natural environment. You write with such passion for young readers and it shows in your body of work. What do you want readers to know about you?

Anita Sanchez: From the time I was a little kid I’ve been interested in nature. I grew up in a suburban apartment, but behind it was a belt of woods and I could wander off. So many children don’t have access to experiences like that. They walk out of their homes and they’re on a mowed lawn or a paved street instead of climbing a tree or swimming in a pond. I was lucky to be surrounded by natural things I could explore.

CTB: So you grew up surrounded by nature. Did you follow that passion towards a career in the field?

Anita: I did. I graduated from Vassar with a degree in Ecology and Conservation. Afterwards I worked for many years for the New York State Department for Conservation. I worked in the field taking people of all ages on nature walks and showing them how incredible the world around them can be. Over the course of my career I learned how to get kids excited about nature. I discovered that some kids are fearful about being out in nature. It’s interesting to read about far away rain forests, for example, but I try to get kids interested in the nature that surrounds them, in their school grounds and backyards.

CTB: Of course a natural extension of that became writing books to reach a broader audience?

Anita: Most of my books are an attempt to get people to appreciate the beauty of nature. To make people look at things in a different light. One of the things that happened during  the quarantine was nature center memberships began skyrocketing. People discovered the healing power of nature. When I was teaching I would take children across the field and into the woods. It was a new experience for many of them. I’m very determined to make learning a hands-on experience.

CTB: You wanted to encourage children to stop and look closer at the living things that make up their environment.

Anita: Exactly! I wrote a nonfiction book about mud puddles. “Hello Puddle” is set in a tiny suburban backyard. It shows all the animals that come to visit the puddle: worms, slugs, bugs, and birds. We don’t look closely at them or see them as a habitat for other species.

I also wrote a book about dandelions. Many people loathe them and treat them like weeds to eliminate. But they are rich in nectar and can spell life or death for honey bees. So while people see them in a negative light, I try to explain they have tremendous value to nature and the ecosystem.

CTB: You even wrote two books about poison ivy. Leaflets three, let it be! and In Praise of Poison Ivy. It’s hard to believe there is a redeeming value to the poison ivy I’m trying to rid my yard of.

Dermatologists have estimated that one ounce of urushiol would be enough to give a rash to thirty million people.”

Anita. Even poison ivy has value. Did you know that humans are the only species that get itchy from exposure to the oil? Yes, it affects only us. But out in the woods it’s a wonderful plant for wildlife. So in my books I teach readers “Here’s how you identify it and avoid it.” But I also explain about the animals that survive on it. Animals, birds and butterflies snack on the leaves and nectar without harm. It’s fascinating.

 

CTB: More recently you were both asked to write three books for Chelsea Clinton’s new Save The . . . (Animals) series. The first is whale sharks, followed by giraffes and gorillas. How did that come about?

Anita: Philomel reached out through my agent and asked me to write for the series. The books all needed to follow a specific format. I liked that the first two chapters were focused on learning about the animals instead of starting with their risk of extinction. I read a quote once, “In the end, we only conserve what we love.” I thought, “children have to fall in love with the animals first.” I wanted them to think “Wow, whale sharks are so cool.” I introduce their amazing habitats and how mysterious they are. The third chapter then talks about how and why they are at risk of disappearing. But we end with the fourth chapter that explains all the amazing things people are doing to try to save them and what kids can do.

CTB: Most people are surprised at how much research we have to put into books like these, even when they are aimed at younger readers. What was your process like?

Anita: Writing about animals was different because I usually write about subjects closer to home. With whale sharks I found there weren’t a lot of current books on the topic. In the old days I’d go to the library and read everything I could find. But now things are changing so much that scientists are discovering things every month. The internet is a wonderful tool for scientists to update quickly. There are many scientific papers that you can decipher to get the data you need.

CTB: Agreed. I found even with tigers pandemic shutdowns made sourcing books from libraries harder. And what I found often wasn’t current. But there was a lot of scientific research from organizations, museums and universities available. What was one of your takeaways from the process that teachers and students can learn from?

Anita: I discovered scientists don’t always agree. When researching giraffes, for example, I communicated with four different groups of scientists who were passionate about their information, But their information didn’t always agree with what other scientists were saying (how many species, etc.) If you ask ten different scientists you’ll get eleven different answers!

CTB: Even with scientific research the data was not always in agreement. At school visits I always tell students to use more than one source when writing classroom assignments and if they don’t agree, find out why.

Anita: Young readers think scientists know everything. But there’s so much changing about what we know in the moment and so much left to learn. Here’s a good example. Whale sharks are fascinating and mysterious. I tried to make that the theme of the book. Scientists haven’t even scratched the surface on their research. We don’t know why whale sharks go where they go. Or how deep they swim. No one has observed whale sharks giving birth. And here’s another mystery: whale sharks have thousands of teeth but they don’t chew anything.

Photo by Jennifer McKinney. Source NOAA Fisheries

CTB: You and I have the same philosophy about why we write STEM for young people. That books are a jumping off point. It’s not about reading to get answers for the test, but to use the information to better observe the world around you.

Anita: Yes. I want to tell young readers, “This is what you can do when you become a wildlife biologist. This is the mystery you can solve.” For instance whale sharks are so elusive. They will dive a mile deep in the ocean and then turn up a thousand miles away. So it’s not about reading to answer questions on a test, it’s about thinking, “I can do that when I’m older. Search for answers to mysteries we haven’t solved yet and ask questions we haven’t thought to ask. That’s what I hope for when readers dive in to my books. That’s what I love about this current series. We present the animal, show where the problems are that are putting them at risk, then showing readers ways to be part of the solution even at a young age.”

CTB: You’ve been a great asset to the field of conservation and to children’s STEM literature. Are there other books on the horizon that we should be watching out for?

Anita: I’m excited to have several books coming out that were delayed due to Covid-19 and supply chain issues:

Melt Down (Workman publishing) is my book about glaciers and how they’re impacted by climate change. There are more than 100,000 glaciers and they hold 75 percent of Earth’s fresh water. But they’re at risk now. This was a hard book for me to write because there is a lot of bad news about what is happening to them. But I do suggest action kids can take. I want them to feel like they have the power to be activists. I suggest career possibilities they can pursue if they’re interested in saving the planet. It debuts on November 1 Workman.

 

The Monkey Trial is a book about the Scopes Trial in 1925. With all the book banning this will be timely. A teacher was arrested for the crime of teaching about Darwin’s theory of evolution. Two years from now will be the centennial of that trial. We risk repeating that era now: teachers and librarians being turned into the bad guys and dragged into the court for teaching. John Scopes read aloud from an authorized textbook. It was a single paragraph. But that violated Tennessee law and he was put on trial.

 

The Forest in the Sea comes out February 2023 from Holiday House. I write about about seaweed and how it can provide solutions to planetary problems. Not only is it a habitat for aquatic life, but it can remove toxins so it has possibilities for water filtration. Seaweed also creates half the air we breathe. It can be feed to livestock to reduce the methane gas. So the book is about seaweed and how to think about it creatively for solving problems. I show readers how to find types of seaweed where they live. I want them to put down the book and go out and explore nature.

 

CTB: Note to readers. Anita’s books are well worth exploring and acquiring for young readers. She’s a STEM trained conservationist who practices what she talks about in her books. Looking beyond the obvious to explore the mysteries in our living world. But also, showing how each of us can find solutions to keep the planet healthy for future generations.

I would like to especially recommend her blog: The Unmowed Corner. with years of essays and articles inviting you to take a closer look at the often unloved plants and animals in nature that surrounds us.

 

Win a FREE copy of Save The . . . Whale Sharks.

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!

 

Anita Sanchez has written about everything from animals and insects to plants and mud puddles. A graduate of Vassar she started on a life-long career after a summer job leading nature walks. Now she’s an educator who develops curriculum for schools, librarians, museums and arboretums. Her awards have included the Cook Prize Honor book, The American Horticultural Society “Growing Good Kids” award, finalist for AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books, and Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature Best Children’s Books of the year. She has traveled all over the world in search of knowledge about the environment, including diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and more recently exploring Egypt. And here’s a fun fact: she’s explored 48 of the 50 states.

To learn more about Anita and her books, please visit www.anitasanchez.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @asanchezauthor

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Christine Taylor-Butler

Your host is Christine Taylor-Butler, MIT engineering nerd, retired college interviewer and author of 95 books for children including Save The . . . Tigers, 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

Author Interview with New York Times Best-Selling Author Jennifer Chambliss Bertman and Book Giveaway!

Photo by Analise Lawson

Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the New York Times best-selling author of the Book Scavenger
Series, fun and exciting middle-grade mystery stories.
Her latest, The Sisterhood of Sleuths, a stand-alone novel, walks readers through the mysteries of
friendship with none other than the original girl sleuth, Nancy Drew, and her history, central to
the plot.
Maizy is excited about working together with her friend, Izzy on a school project. The two
partners-in-crime have been creating movies together since they were little kids. Maizy envisions
their latest endeavor for the assignment will feature “Shellfish Holmes” as the main character.
But Izzy, who now prefers Isabelle and the company of class clowns Ben and Link, isn’t as
enthusiastic. Maizy and Izzy separate over their difference in creative vision for the project.
Meanwhile, a box of old Nancy Drew books is dropped off at Maizy’s mom’s antique store.
Even more curious, the box includes a picture of Maizy’s grandmother and two other women,
dated April 16, 1993.

Who are the other two women? Were they friends? Why is the photo in the
box of old Nancy Drew books? Did her grandmother leave the books outside the store?
The answers unfold as Maizy maneuvers through the changes in her relationship with Izzy by
renewing her friendship with Nell, her first real friend. Maizy and Nell partner with a classmate
Cam, on a different take for the assignment, leading them to the mysterious history of Nancy
Drew and those who created her.

Do Maizy and Izzy make up and become friends? Does Maizy discover who the two other
women are in the photograph? And how does Nancy Drew fit into the mystery?
The Sisterhood of Sleuths is an engaging mystery that reveals secrets of friendship and Nancy
Drew.


Welcome to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors Jenn!
Congratulations on the creation of The Sisterhood of Sleuths. How did the idea for this
mystery come to you?
Thank you so much for having me!
I’ve long been interested in the history behind the creation of the Nancy Drew series, so that was
part of my inspiration. I also wanted to write a funny mystery and thought the concept of
combining the original Nancy Drew character with a modern-day girl had a lot of potential for
humor, while also being an interesting way to explore the theme of friendship and the role Nancy
Drew has played in popular culture over time.

Friendship is at the heart of The Sisterhood of Sleuths. Maizy is struggling with how her
best friend, Izzy, is changing, and ultimately, growing away from their friendship. Yet, in
turn, Maizy re-establishes her friendship with Nell, who she grew apart from several years
before. And, then ultimately, Maizy’s grandmother also separated from a friend years ago.
Could you share with readers the inspiration for these storylines?

The inspiration largely came from thinking about the Nancy Drew series, actually. When I think
back on what I remember about the books, what I loved as a child reader and have held onto in
my memory, it’s not the events of the plot or details from individual stories. It’s Nancy’s
relationships with women. I admired her steadfast friendships with Bess and George and the
mother/daughter-like connection she has with Hannah, the family housekeeper. So, I wanted to
explore the theme of friendship but in a more realistic way. One that feels more authentic to my
own experiences.
I also was thinking about how I discovered Nancy Drew in the 80s when I was a kid handed
down books that had been read by an earlier generation, and how when I visit schools today as
an author and talk about books from my childhood, many kids are still familiar and enthusiastic
about Nancy Drew. Showing how she has been a common thread through so many different
generations was also important to me.

The secret and storied history of Nancy Drew and her creators are central to the plot. Have
you always been a Nancy Drew fan? How old were you when you learned the truth about
Carolyn Keene?
I discovered Nancy Drew when I was 7, so I suppose I’ve been a fan most of my life. I can’t
remember exactly when I learned Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym—I might have been told that
as a young reader. But in my early 20s, I read The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and The
Hardy Boys by Carol Kismaric and Marvin Heiferman and was fascinated by the history behind
the two series. I don’t think I’d given much thought to the creation of books before—I’d thought
plenty about the craft of writing, but I mean the actual business of producing books and
marketing. That was the beginning of my interest in the history of Nancy Drew and I continued
to read books and articles as I became aware of them. (Like your great book, Missing Millie Benson!)

Missing Millie Benson: The Secret Case of the Nancy Drew Ghostwriter and Journalist - Rubini, Julie K.

Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson was the original ghostwriter for the Nancy Drew Mystery
Stories. Through your research for your novel, what did you find most interesting/inspiring
about Millie?
I admire so much about her. Her work ethic and resilience were especially inspiring. I’m
thinking in particular of the chapter in your book that delves into the period in Millie’s life when
she had a young child, a very ill husband, the country was at war, and yet she continued to work
diligently at her writing and career.

Edward Stratemeyer, the creator of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories would create plots
and outlines for the ghostwriters to follow for the series. Do you create an outline for your
stories, or do you allow the story to take you in its own direction?

I do a bit of a mix. I typically have a general sense of how a story might begin and end (although
that can and does change as I get deeper into a project), and outlining often helps me organize
my ideas. But I usually get too excited about the scenes I’m imagining and want to dive in and
start writing. Then, when I reach a point where I’m not sure where the story is going or what
happens next, I’ll return to brainstorming and outline my ideas again until I get excited about the
scenes and jump back into the writing.

It was refreshing to see both of Maizy’s parents present in the story. Maizy’s mom’s
antique store plays an important role in the discovery of the old Nancy Drew books, to her
dad’s endless attempts at building the next great invention. How do these role models
impact Maizy?
I think her parents provide Maizy with stability. I knew she was going to be someone who had a
a lot of things changing in her life all at once, so I tried to make her parents realistically imperfect,
but also something consistent in the background for Maizy as she tries to make sense of
everything around her that doesn’t feel steady anymore.

Sixth grade can be such a transitionary year for kids. Many school systems begin middle
grade that year, in a new, separate building, often bringing in students from other feeder
elementary schools into one. Some children, like Maizy, want to hold onto traditions of the
past, whereas others, like Izzy, jump into new interests, ready to grow into what lies in
store. I think you did a fabulous job representing these changes in The Sisterhood of
Sleuths. What do you hope readers will take away from these two characterizations?

Thank you! I appreciate that. What I hope is that Maizy and Izzy feel real and relatable to
readers. I think the girls represent two different sides of growing up—we have phases where we
want to hold onto what is familiar and comfortable, and we have phases where we step out of our
comfort zone for new experiences, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance. We all
go at our own pace, and we’re all unique individuals, and sometimes there is friction if our
personal goals and a friend’s personal goals no longer align.

You explore a variety of emotions in the storyline, from embarrassment, disappointment,
sadness, joy, grief, and prevailing hope. I thought your scene with Maizy wearing the lobster costume, while riding her bike to the park to meet with Izzy was incredibly relatable. Do you have a favorite scene that explores emotion in the story?
That exact scene that you mentioned, when Maizy is in the lobster costume, is definitely one of
my favorites. It grew out of my own embarrassing childhood memory of a bike-riding incident
(in normal clothes, not a costume), and then I asked myself, “How could I take what happened to
me and make it even more embarrassing? And funny, too, while I’m at it?” It was quite
therapeutic to take my own embarrassing moment, turn it into a humorously horrific series of
events, but then have Maizy endure the embarrassment and rise above and triumph in the end.

You have some awesome photos of your writing space on your website,
www.jenniferchamblissbertman.com Could you share your writing process with our
readers?
My writing process is not anything straightforward. Sometimes I start with an idea for a
character, sometimes I start with a premise, and sometimes I visualize one scene in detail and write it
down but I don’t know anything else about the story. And then I bumble along from wherever I
started, asking myself questions as I go. If I begin with a character, I might look at the things I
know about him or her and ask myself what would really challenge them? With Maizy, someone
who had a very steady and predictable and comfortable life, what challenged her was that some
of those steady and predictable and comfortable things changed. Her best friend is acting
differently. Her brother moves away. Her grandmother is being secretive when she’s never been
like that before. Once I have ideas for what challenges the character might be up against, I
brainstorm how they could be most interestingly conveyed in scenes, and how those scenes could
be built into a compelling plot . . . It’s a lot of trial and error, writing and revising, moving
around scenes, and changing my mind. I also have trusted critique partners and their feedback
helps me as I go along too. Eventually, I find my way to the end of a draft.

Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to join us for this interview. The
Sisterhood of Sleuths was released on October 4, and may be found at your favorite local
bookstore, or you may order your copy here.

Jennifer has agreed to give away a complimentary copy to a lucky random winner. To enter the contest, click here.

STEM Tuesday — A River Runs Through It– Author Interview

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

Today we’re interviewing Patricia Newman, author of the new book A RIVER’S GIFTS: THE MIGHTY ELWHA ROVER REBORN, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. “An illuminating glimpse at the Elwha River and its gifts…Beautifully illustrated and informative,” says Kirkus in a starred review.

Andi Diehn: I love how this is a story of scientific progress told alongside the story of a culture, the Strong People, who witness the destruction of their river and work for its return. How did you find a balance between discussing the engineering of the dams and story of a people?

Patricia Newman: When I write about the environment, I always discover a wonderful overlap between science, history, culture, and current events. This connection to all parts of our lives draws me to nature writing. That said, I do have to make some decisions regarding the pacing of the story—some details are omitted while others are expanded upon. During the research phase of A RIVER’S GIFTS, I took my lead from my experts who co-mingled science and culture. In this region, it is impossible to talk about the Elwha River without also considering its cultural significance.

AD: What inspired you to write this particular story?

PN: My husband came home from work one day with a book idea after a conversation with one of his colleagues. After 38 years of marriage, my husband has developed exceptional book-idea antennae! The story had it all. Nature. Environmental justice. Water (a happy place for me). A conservation success story. All those pieces and their assorted layers made this idea a go.

AD: You do a great job describing the tension between some forms of progress – such as electric lights in homes and businesses – and the adverse effect of that progress on the natural world. What are some other examples of progress versus environmental health?

PN: I remember an economics professor in college explaining the term “opportunity cost”—what we give up by choosing one thing over another. Life is filled with opportunity costs. I don’t blame the early Elwha River settlers one bit for preferring a life with electricity over a life without it. I grumble when my electricity goes down for a few hours! But we also need to include nature into our calculations when we make decisions.

For instance, at the time the Elwha Dam was built, Washington had a law stating all dams must include fish ladders to allow salmon to pass. For some reason, government officials waived this law for Thomas Aldwell, builder of the Elwha Dam. Why? No one knows. And in hindsight, this waiver is particularly maddening because the law was written with consideration for nature.

Including nature in our plans probably won’t be the easiest or cheapest solution. Look at gas-powered vehicles. They’re convenient. They’re fast. But they come with an enormous opportunity cost. We’re sacrificing clean air and clean water. Our temperature is rising because excess CO2 left over from burning fossil fuels clogs the atmosphere. Arctic ice is melting as the ocean warms. Heat waves, fires, and droughts dominate the news.

Way back, we chose leaders who prioritized progress over nature. Now, when we elect new leaders, we need to consider balancing progress and nature to live more sustainably.

Patricia Newman

AD: Are there other dam dismantling success stories? Any examples of dam dismantling gone wrong?

PN: Dams themselves aren’t evil. They provide a clean source of energy for millions of people, but they do come with consequences. River flow and flood patterns change. Fish populations change. Changes in the river channel change the surrounding forest. Dams are man-made structures that interfere with the natural functions of nature, functions we often don’t fully understand.

Every dam removal is a success story because we return a river to its free-flowing state to manage flooding, resupply the water table, manage wildlife populations, and nourish the ecosystem. Nearly 1,800 dams have been removed in the U.S. since 1912. I don’t know of any dam removals gone bad, but I do know of several projects that, like the Elwha River Restoration, are taking years of legal wrangling and governmental maneuvering.

AD: These illustrations are both gorgeous and scientifically fascinating! Why did the team think it important to add labels to the different species?

PN: I’m glad you like Natasha Donovan’s work. She is Métis and lives in the general area of the Elwha River, so she was able to create from her heart. In her art I can hear the river flow and feel its power.

In my original proposal, I provided lists of trees, plants, and wildlife for possible spot illustrations in the margins. I thought readers would feel the scope of this project if they knew about the vast array of biodiversity being saved. Art Director Danielle Carnito had the brilliant idea to add the labels directly to Natasha’s illustrations. The small but informative labels gave Natasha a lot more room for her gorgeous art.

spread from A River's Gift

AD: Why include real photographs of the dam being built and dismantled, not just illustrations?

PN: As a nonfiction author, “real” is important to me. Illustrations seemed a better fit for A RIVER’S GIFTS overall because the book begins back when the river first formed tens of thousands of years ago. But I worked from photographs. My research files are loaded with photos that show a sense of time and place. I think the photos provide a telling look at the size of these dams and the engineering magic that occurred to build them.

AD: One of the takeaway lessons from this book is that it’s never too late. We can undo past mistakes once we know better, such as dismantling dams. Why is this important to explore in children’s literature?

PN: We are all under attack by environmental headlines that spew gloom and doom. That’s why I write about our CONNECTION to nature. I want my readers to understand how it sustains us and how our habits affect it. With understanding, comes a sense of gratitude for nature and all its gifts. With gratitude comes action. And with action comes hope. Nature will heal itself if we move out of the way. We just need to learn which way to jump.

 

Patricia Newman is an award-winning author of nonfiction books for children.

Natasha Donovan is an illustrator with a focus on comics and children’s illustration.

Today’s host, And Diehn, is an editor at Nomad Press and has published 11 nonfiction books for kids.