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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Eating Bugs to Combat Climate Change? -- Interview with Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich

I'm so excited today to post this interview with two authors who have crafted an important book about food, hunger, and climate change/action. Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich wrote Diet for a Changing Climate



Thanks, Christy and Sue for taking the time to answer some questions about this unique book about climate action. Let's dive right in.  


Diet for a Changing Climate offers a very unique look at climate action. What was the spark for writing about this topic?  

Long ago (in 2014), two writers (who happened to be critique partners) each independently had the same idea: “I’d like to write a book for kids … about eating insects!” 

Sue ’s inspiration sprouted in her vegetable garden in upstate New York.  While knocking Japanese beetles off her tender plants into a bucket of soapy water, she pondered whether that pile of insect protein might be edible. For humans. Sue’s mental gears kicked into motion and she began scribbling ideas for a children’s “field guide to eating insects.” 

Meanwhile, over in Vermont, Chris was interviewing a local environmental activist for a magazine article. This young woman was an entomophagy advocate who hosted public bug-eating dinners, at which she emphasized the environmental and nutritional benefits, as well as the tastiness, of eating insects. When Chris researched the topic and learned about the UN’s longstanding advocacy of entomophagy, she was seriously intrigued. 

That summer, Sue and Chris attended a nonfiction conference together. Chris told Sue she’d submitted a proposal, “Entomophagy ABC’s”… which received a tepid reception. “No way!” Sue said. “I’m working on an entomophagy book.” We decided to collaborate. We developed a joint proposal and submitted it for a critique at a conference a year later. The editor passed on the project but was encouraging and offered helpful suggestions. To celebrate, we (Sue and Chris, not the editor) split a pack of—you guessed it—roasted crickets! 

Well, that's an interesting way to celebrate. What happened next?

After more revisions, Chris submitted our new-and-improved proposal at a 2016 conference. The third time was the charm! Domenica DiPiazza of Lerner/Twenty-First Century Books loved our idea. But we needed to broaden our scope beyond entomophagy. 

We wanted to write about climate change, and to excite young readers about climate-positive actions they could take. So, we expanded the book to discuss how human food systems affect the climate, and how dietary changes could reduce carbon emissions. We decided to cover a range of dietary options, figuring most people are more open to eating weeds than munching insects. 

What challenges did you face conducting the research for this book? 

A major challenge was the recipes: putting our mouths where our writing was. Dandelions weren’t a big deal, but crickets and Japanese beetles took some devotion to the cause. The recipes required trial and error and reaching out to more experienced and creative chefs. 

Some information was tough to find. We needed to develop reliable food safety guidelines, for instance, tips for safely eating weeds in a city. And because it’s a new field in the U.S., it was difficult to locate companies producing insects for human consumption.

In addition, eating any kind of animal can be a difficult subject. Sue, as an entomologist, has a deep appreciation of, and love for, insects. We spent a great deal of time discussing and researching humane ways to catch and kill bugs (freezing them is good). 

The overall challenge was developing the deep understanding necessary to explain the relationships between food and climate change: making sure we had connected the dots correctly. 


Did anything in your research surprise you? 

We were surprised by how many people are already eating invasive species and insects. We had known there were scattered forward-thinking individuals out there but hadn’t realized the extent of entomophagy and invasivore Facebook groups, websites, associations, restaurants, courses, conventions, cooking events, and more.

We also were struck by the grave environmental and economic problems presented by invasive plant and animal species. And … how many invasive species and insects make for really good eating.


Yum. Do you have any words of wisdom for people who struggle with understanding human involvement with climate change? 

Students around the world are planning a global day of action for March 15: a Climate Strike. Young people know that if our inaction continues, they will be faced with a climate disaster.
 It is scary to think that our actions have changed the global environment so drastically. Rather than just sigh and hope for the best, however, we encourage people to read good science. Look at the data on temperature rise. Study the graphs showing how much carbon has been added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, and compare that to carbon levels over Earth’s long history. And consider that a huge majority—nearly 97 percent—of scientists engaged in climate research agree that human activity is causing climate change.

Whether or not you’re convinced that humans have caused the crisis, don’t let uncertainty prevent you from taking steps to address the changing climate and make our world a better place to live.

Nice advice. Action is always better than inaction. What comes next for both of you

We enjoyed co-writing DFACC, and we’re discussing possible future collaborations (still Top Secret at this point). We’re also working to bring DFACC into schools.

Meanwhile, Chris recently completed a series of six books for an educational publisher dealing with political issues including climate change. She is working on a fun project for National Geographic Kids. And she has a few picture books in the pipeline—both nonfiction and fiction—including a poetic introduction to the First Amendment, Free for You and Me, scheduled for publication with Albert Whitman in the spring of 2020. 

Sue just finished a couple of books for an educational publisher and is outlining some new projects. She has a nonfiction picture book, Thirteen Ways to Eat a Fly, scheduled for publication with Charlesbridge in the summer of 2020. Sue writes a bimonthly science column and volunteers as a citizen scientist, collecting data on native pollinators. She also helps coordinate her local SCBWI Shop Talk group.

Thank you both for sharing your book with us today. I'm sure this is one that will fascinate readers and boost a lot of discussions.  

If you would like more information about this book, check out the publisher's page


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Green Earth Book Award Long List Announced


I am so very happy to have BACK FROM THE BRINK on this very important list of books celebrating our planet. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators on this list! And a shout out to all the publishers who are helping to get these important stories out into the world. 




2019 Green Earth Book Award Long List Announced

PICTURE BOOK
A Peaceful Garden, Lucy London, Christa Pierce (HarperCollins)
An Eagle’s Feather, Minfong Ho, Frances Alvarez (The Cornell Lab Publishing Group)
Change the World Before Bedtime 2ND EDITION, Mark Kimball Moulton, Josh Chalmers, Karen Good (Karen Good, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.)
Counting Birds, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, Clover Robin, (The Quarto Group/Seagrass Press)
Errol’s Garden, Gillian Hibbs, Gillian Hibbs (Child’s Play International)
Florette, Anna Walker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Hello Hello, Brendon Wenzel (Chronicle Books)
Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea, Elizabeth Suneby, Rebecca Green (Kids Can Press)
Junk: A Spectacular Tale of Trash, Nicholas Day, Tom Disbury (Sleeping Bear Press)
Little Otter Learns to Swim, Artie Knapp, Guy Hobbs (Ohio University Press)
Lucy and the Dragonfly, Caroline Hamel, Lucie Papineau (Auzou)
Molelo the Fire Elephant, Sylvia M. Medina and Krista Hill, Morgan Spicer (Green Kids Club, Inc.)
Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean: Remembering Scientis Pu Zhelong’s Work for Sustainable Farming, Sigrid Schmalzer, Melanie Linden Chan (Tilbury House Publishers)
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere, Barb Rosenstock, Katherine Roy (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Salamander Sky, Katy Farber, Meg Sodano (Green Writers Press)
Snowboy and the Last Tree Standing, Hiawyn Oram, Birgitta Sif (Candlewick Press)
Take Care, Madelyn Rosenberg, Giuliana Gregori (Albert Whitman & Company)
Thank You Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet, April Pulley Sayre, (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)
The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation, Kate Messner, Matthew Forsythe (Chronicle Books)
The Coral Kingdom, Laura Knowles, Jennie Webber (The Quarto Group/words & pictures)
The Forever Tree, Tereasa Surratt, Donna Lukas, Nicola Slater (Crown Books for Young Readers)
The King of Bees, Lester L. Laminack, Jim LaMarche (Peachtree Publishers)
The Night the Forest Came to Town, Charles Ghigna, Annie Wilkinson (Orca Book Publishers)
The Digger and the Flower, Joseph Kuefler, Joseph Kuefler (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Children’s Books)

CHILDREN’S FICTION
Big Fish Dreams, Lori Fisher Peelen, Consie Powell (Curious Cat Books)
Cinnamon Birds, Jeniferlee Pace Tucker (North Country Press)
Elephant Secret, Eric Walters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Ellie’s Strand: Exploring the Edge of the Pacific, M.L. Herring and Judith L. Li (Oregon State University Press)
Squirm, Carl Hiaasen (Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House)
The Flooded Earth, Mardi McConnochie (Pajama Press)
The Garden, Gwendolyn Hooks, Shirley Ng-Benitez (Lee & Low Books)
The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East, Michael J. Caduto, Odelia Liphshiz, (Green Heart Books)
The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic, Eliot Schrefer (Katherine Tegen Books/Harper Collins)
Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Karina Yan Glaser (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Willa of the Wood, Robert Beatty (Disney Hyperion)

CHILDREN’S NONFICTION
A Frog’s Life, Irene Kelly, Margherita Borin (Holiday House)
A Seed is a Start, Melissa Stewart (National Geographic)
Back from the Brink, Nancy Castaldo (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife (Scientists in the Field Series), Amy Cherrix (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Bat Citizens, Rob Laidlaw, Rob Laidlaw (Pajama Press)
Camp Panda, Catherine Thimmesh (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Dig In! 12 Easy Gardening Projects Using Kitchen Scraps, Kari Cornell, Jennifer S. Larson (Millbrook Press)
Dive In!: Exploring Our Connection with the Ocean, Ann Eriksson (Orca Book Publishers)
Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation, Patricia Newman (Millbrook Press)
Explore the Salish Sea: A Nature Guide for Kids, Joseph K. Gaydos, Audrey DeLella Benedict (Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books)
Girl Who Drew Butterflies, Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Going Wild: Helping Nature Thrive in Cities, Michelle Mulder (Orca Footprints/Orca Book Publishers)
Icebergs & Glaciers, Seymour Simon (HarperCollins)
If Polar Bears Disappeared, Lily Williams (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Childrens)
Lobos: A Wolf Family Returns to the Wild, Brenda Peterson, Annie Marie Musselman (Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books)
Nature’s Friend: The Gwen Frostic Story, Lindsey McDivitt, Eileen Ryan Ewen (Sleeping Bear Press)
Ocean: A Visual Miscellany, Ricardo Henriques, AndrĂ© Letria (Chronicle Books)
Orca Scientists, Kim Perez Valice, Andy Comins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)
Perfectly Peculiar Plants, Chris Thorogood, Catell Ronca, (The Quarto Group/words & pictures)
Raising a Forest, Thibaud Herem (Cicada Books)
Robert Bateman: The Boy Who Painted Nature, Margriet Ruurs, Robert Bateman (Orca Book Publishers)
Spring After Spring:  How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement, Stephanie Roth Sisson, (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Childrens)
Squidtoon, Garfield Kwan, Dana Song (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle, Erica Fyvie, Bill Slavin (Kids Can Press)
Trash Vortex: How Plastic Pollution Is Choking the World’s Oceans, Danielle Smith-Llera (Compass Point Books/Capstone)
Who Are You Calling Weird?, Marilyn Singer, Paul Daviz (The Quarto Group/words & pictures)

YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-Apocalyptic Pop-Up, Shawn Sheehy, Jordi Solano (Candlewick Press)
Countdown, Book One – The Skye Van Bloem Trilogy, Carol Fiore, Rebecca Lown (Flying Kea Press)
Dry, Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman, Jay Shaw (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Orphaned, Eliot Schrefer (Scholastic)
Ranger Nader & The Sunstruck Phantom, Kam Karen (Kam Karen & Wings Publishing)
The Big Melt, Ned Tillman, Nan Barnes (South Branch Press)

YOUNG ADULT NONFICTION
Birding Is My Favorite Video Game, Rosemary Mosco, Rosemary Mosco (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich (Twenty-First Century Books)


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

#MustReadIn2019











These are the books I am eager to read in 2019. There are so many more out there and many more I will be reading for book research on my ongoing projects, but these are either already on my shelf, started but not completed, or being released shortly.

I can't wait to dive into these fabulous authors.











Friday, November 23, 2018

5 Books to Celebrate National Maize Day!

"This holiday began as a small research project through which I intended—with my family—to commemorate the United States holiday of Thanksgiving through the viewpoint of the indigenous people." – Corinne Lightweaver

If you have read my book THE STORY OF SEEDS: FROM MENDEL'S GARDEN TO YOUR PLATE, AND HOW THERE'S MORE OF LESS TO EAT AROUND THE WORLD, then you might have observed that there are a number of photographs of maize (corn) throughout the book. There were actually more, but I realized in first pages that I had a heafty imbalance. The reason there are and would have been even more is that I am totally in agreement with the belief of Native Americans that maize is life. 

From an ear of sweet corn on the cob to a tamale to cornbread to popcorn and field corn, corn is definitely something to celebrate! And, on this day after Thankgiving, a day many Native Americans recognize as a #DayofMourning, it is a day to reflect on the people native to our country, their history, their culture, and their struggles. 

Here are some books to read today. Who needs #BlackFriday anyway? All that stuff will be here tomorrow. 

1. We are Grateful by Traci Sopell

2. #NotYourPrincess : Voices of Native American Women


3. The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson


4. CORN by Gail Gibbons


5. Corn is Maize by Aliki









    For more about my recent titles, including the Green Earth Book Award title THE STORY OF SEEDS, visit my website 







Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Save the Animals! Books About Endangered Animals & Conservation Efforts from SLJ

So very grateful to School Library Journal for this thoughtful inclusion of BACK FROM THE BRINK in their Saving Animals article. 




"Nancy Castaldo’s hope-filled Back from the Brink addresses successful stories of conservation. Whooping cranes, wolves, bald eagles, Galapagos tortoises, California condors, American alligators, and American bison have all been brought back from near extinction, reintroduced to their native habitat when possible, and now have a future where previously none seemed possible. Castaldo thoughtfully considers the various viewpoints involved from the controversial breeding program to save California condors, which still remain endangered and may never fly freely again, to the resurgence of American alligators who now face new threats from rising sea levels and invasive species. Castaldo’s work will give readers hope that they can make a difference while not shying away from the rough road ahead for many species."

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Five Books About Wolves

I was deeply saddened to hear of wolf ambassador, Atka's death today. In honor of this beautiful wolf who taught us all so much, I'm sharing five books about wolves. Learn more about Atka and the Wolf Conservation Center's work at nywolf.org 







Wednesday, September 12, 2018

STEM Author Interview with Patricia Newman

Many of you might know STEM award-winning author Patricia Newman’s books. They focus on the environment and cover subjects ranging from ocean plastic to sea otters and now elephant communication. 

I was eager to read this latest after researching elephant cognition for my BEASTLY BRAINS title. Patricia didn’t disappoint. EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS is a fascinating look into the study of animal communication. 





Hi, Patricia! This is another great book. What sparked this subject for you? 

Hi Nancy! Thank you for having me.

The seeds for Eavesdropping on Elephants had been planted long before I knew scientists listened to them. I volunteered for the San Diego Zoo many years ago and had the opportunity to travel to Kenya on a group photo safari with one of the zoo’s geneticists. We observed several elephants in family groups walking, taking care of their young, and warning us not to get too close. I developed a fascination with their size, their looks, their relationships, their intelligence, their memories, and eventually the way they communicate with both infrasound (sounds too low for us to hear) and audible sound. Later, when my kids were born, we spent some time each week at the zoo, and we almost always found ourselves at the elephant enclosure.

When my daughter, Elise, was an undergraduate at Cornell she worked for the Elephant Listening Project (ELP) cataloging forest sounds, just like the student volunteers mentioned in my book. ELP studies forest elephants, a newly designated species few people know about. That newness stayed with me, and in the back of my mind, I always knew I’d write about ELP. 

In the meantime, my daughter graduated from college and we co-wrote an article for OdysseyMagazine about elephant migration called “Their Trunks are Packed: Elephants on the Move” (October 2014). I guess you could consider that article a warm-up, but we focused on traditional savanna elephants rather than forest elephants. 

Writing about marine debris, Ebola, zoo scientists, and sea otters kept me hopping for the next few years, but when I had the chance I asked my daughter to introduce me to the scientists at the Elephant Listening Project. Founders Katy Payne and Andrea Turkalo, Director Peter Wrege, Research Analyst Liz Rowland, and scientist Daniela Hedwig were excited to work with me. Although their work has received global media attention, they seemed especially excited about sharing it with children.

You had me at, “The air vibrates with deep rumbles that thunder lake a bass drum.”  What a fantastic description that sets the scene for this book. Can you take us behind the scenes to the crafting of that beginning? 

Thank you. I’m glad you like it. For me, the first chapter is the hardest to write. It does the heavy lifting to set the scene and to introduce the theme and narrative thread of the book. I usually don’t know how to articulate all of that when writing my first draft, so I begin someplace in the middle and write through to the end. Once I’ve figured out how I want to present my theme and carry forward my narrative thread, I write the opening.

I wanted something dramatic to begin the book, so I chose sex (in the service of science, of course). In the elephant world, mating is BIG news perhaps because elephants seem to adore their babies. A celebration that involves not only the male and female but all nearby participants trumpeting and roaring their praise in a cacophony of sound and seemingly joyful movements. 

As I wrote the opening I wanted to capture this joy, and at the same time describe the variety of harmonies that remind me of a group of jazz musicians riffing off one another. When you’re close to elephants or even when you listen to recordings of their sounds, the deepest bass notes vibrate in your chest. 

At the end of the first page, I ask, “Do you wonder what they’re saying to one another?” I sure do! And I’m eagerly anticipating the Elephant Listening Project’s efforts to decode some of these sounds. 

The Elephant Listening Project is another example of a group of dedicated scientists uncovering data that will change the canon of science education. How did you work with them on this book? 

Many of my recent books involve real scientists in the field doing science. The same is true for Eavesdropping on Elephants. It always astounds me how generous and giving scientists are with their time, and how thrilled they are to tell their stories.

I was not able to visit the Central African Republic because the scientists were not in-country at the time of my research, but I did travel to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The Elephant Listening Project is supported by Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, which also houses the Bioacoustics Research Program. Although birds and elephants don’t have much in common, scientists at the Lab and at ELP study them by listening with similar technology, hence the partnership.

I spent two full days at the ELP lab interviewing Peter Wrege, Liz Rowland, Daniela Hedwig, and several student volunteers. I also watched an engineer make one of ELP’s acoustic listening devices. Katy Payne hosted me at her home for many thousands of questions. She made me breakfast one day and lunch the next and treated me like an honored guest. ELP was very generous with photos and video and allowed me to copy roughly 50,000 files onto an external hard drive I’d brought with me. Having those resources at my fingertips as I wrote made a huge difference in acquainting myself with their camp, the vegetation, and individual elephants. 

Because Andrea Turkalo lives in Massachusetts, I interviewed her by telephone and email. She lived with the elephants for nearly twenty years and had a huge storehouse of knowledge about their habits and family relationships. She can also identify nearly 4,000 elephants by sight.

For each interview, I started my hand-held digital recorder and asked open-ended questions designed to allow the scientists to tell their story. The interviews are more like conversations because there is some give and take. I interject with questions if details need to be clarified or allow the scientists to explore a tangent if that’s where their story takes them.

Back home, I transcribe the interviews and then follow-up with clarification questions in an email or two…or five.

The scientists also played a large role in vetting the manuscript before it went to print. And as busy as they are, they met every deadline. Again, I marvel at their generosity! 

Was there something that was your WOW moment in writing this? 

I’ve known for a while that elephants communicate using infrasound—my daughter told me when she worked for ELP—but I’d never heard it until I began researching Eavesdropping on Elephants. Katy speeded up a recording for me which raised the pitch within the limits of human hearing.

I also knew elephants trumpet but I didn’t know they roar, rumble, and aooga. This variety of sounds and the emotion they express was a revelation. Be sure to read the “Goodbye” sidebar and listen to the grief in the juvenile male’s calls.

Although I’d heard of forest elephants through ELP, I didn’t know much about them. Andrea says “Elephants are the architects of the forest. They range wide. They eat a lot of fruit. And they defecate the seeds out all over the forest.” Without elephants, the forest wouldn’t exist as we know it.

Those kinds of connections are huge WOW moments for me. 

Katy Payne and Patricia Newman sharing a light moment. 


I love your ending words, “The more you listen to wildlife, the more your mind opens up to new ideas about why the world is a place worth saving.”  What encourages you, as an author and an activist? 

When I was a kid in school, I became most excited about connections between my school work and the outside world. Although I always feel renewed by nature’s beauty, I thrive on its connection to us as humans. How sea otters save seagrass, an ecosystem that benefits people. How elephants build the forest just by doing what elephants do best—eating and defecating. How our snack foods (made with palm oil) manufactured and eaten thousands of miles from the Bornean rainforest endanger orangutans. 

I always say we don’t know what we don’t know, but if we’re willing to stop, look, and listen to the world around us we’re more likely to find out how our habits affect the natural world. 

Children also encourage me. At the end of Eavesdropping on Elephants, Katy says, “I think that children’s voices and what children care about making a huge difference in this world. And they must be given a bigger voice.” I agree, and write books with that goal in mind. 

After reading Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, one mother wrote to say, “My son is now more than ever convinced that he wants to study animals...you lit a fire in him with this book. For that, I am grateful!” Another student told me she used Plastic, Ahoy! as the subject of her college admissions essay to study marine debris.

To know I’m having a profound impact on these kids is all the encouragement I need.

Thanks, Patricia. It’s been wonderful chatting with you about this latest book. I’m so happy to have it on my shelf. 

Thank you, Nancy. Always a pleasure to appear on Naturally Speaking.



Patricia Newman’s book can be found at your local bookseller or online. 

Learn more about all of her books at www.patriciamnewman.com.  

Check out the book trailer

Follow Patricia on Facebook and Twitter @PatriciaNewman