Monday, January 13, 2014

Interview: Melissa Stewart, Author of No Monkeys, No Chocolate

 Melissa Stewart is the author of many fantastic nonfiction books on topics ranging from deadly predators to earthquakes.  With her recent picture book, No Monkeys, No Chocolate, she takes readers to tropical rainforests, the very source of the chocolate we eat. If you like chocolate, you’ll love this book!  It even has wise-cracking bookworms that comment on everything. 

Thanks, Melissa, for speaking with us today about No Monkeys, No Chocolate.

Can you tell us about the process of writing this very kid-friendly text with a leading scientist?
Thanks so much for your kind words about No Monkeys, No Chocolate, Nancy. This book was 10 years in the making. I thought kids, teachers, and aspiring authors might be interested in the story behind the book, so I created a fun Interactive Timeline

Allen Young is the world’s leading expert cocoa growth and pollination. He didn’t actually do any of the writing, but he did provide key bits of information that I couldn’t get anywhere else. His knowledge was based on working with cocoa trees in the Costa Rican rain forest for more than 30 years.

The bookworm narration adds a wonderful dimension to the text. Was that fun to write?
I had a blast writing the bookworm dialog. The trick was to keep the exchanges short while also making them funny and packing them with information that reinforced the main text.

No Monkeys, No Chocolate is chock-full of great information. Did anything surprise you in your research?
There were so many surprises. Before I began working on this book, I had no idea that a tiny fly pollinates cocoa or that monkeys and a couple of other small mammals disperse their seeds.

I also learned lots of interesting information that didn’t make it into the book. There were many different candidates for the spots occupied by the anole lizard and the coffin flies. Each one had an interesting relationship to the tree responsible for our favorite dessert. In the end, I chose the coffin flies and their brain-eating maggots because they are just so gross and cool. I chose the lizard and aphids, as a tribute to the rose-slurping aphids that inspired me to write the book in the first place.

I’m sure teachers would love to add this to their library. Do you have any tips on how teachers can use No Monkeys, No Chocolate in their classroom?
Yes, I have a Teacher’s Guide, Readers Theater, and several activity sheets that go with the book. You can find them here.  Also, the book was featured on the ClassroomBookshelf blog, where three super-smart educators from Lesley University offer lots more ideas. They’ve even included some ideas for using the Interactive Timeline in the classroom.

What are you working on now?
My newest picture book,
Feathers: Not Just for Flying will be published in February, and I’m very excited about it. Illustrator Sarah S. Brannen did a fantastic job. Right now, I’m working on a video to go with the book. I’m also putting he final touches on the Teachers Guide and a Readers Theater that I think teachers will really like.

To learn more about Melissa and her books visit her
website  or her blog  You may also want to follow her on Twitter, @msterwartscience, or on Pinterest.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


My family took a ride yesterday near the Hudson River after our yummy New Year's lunch.  There in a tree beside the water were two beautiful bald eagles. What a treat!  The perfect way to start off 2014.

Have you ever gone birding?  Well, if you have, you know that birders are a friendly bunch. We got chatting with some as we marveled at the birds perched near us. They shared the news that some snowy owls were spotted not far away.  We jumped in the car and sped off to find them.

Now let me back up a bit.  Owls have always been special to me.  It started with this book.

I even had a small ookpik (Inuit for owl)  stuffed toy that I kept until my dog ate it after I was married!  It looked like this:

As an environmental educator I became friends with a live barred owl.  Barred owls are locals.  I can hear them outside when I walk my dog and can hoot the "who-cooks-for-you" back to them. 

And then, thanks to Jane Yolen, there was Owl Moon. It quickly became a favorite book to read to my young daughter and a signed copy sits on my shelf! 

So, let's get back to yesterday. Snowy owls are not locals. They're birds to add to your life list.  They're the ones you drive to find.  But, we were just heading out after lunch…..without binoculars or a long camera lens.  We took our chances and followed the directions. Lo and behold we weren't alone.   Other birders had gathered and, as I said, they are a friendly bunch! Not only did we see a magnificent snowy, but we were able to get a closer look with a borrowed peek into a scope.  And we snapped a few photos through the scope using our cell phones.   

Here was Ookpik all grown up!  

There have been other sightings of snowy owls in the northeast recently.  I'm going to keep my eyes open and see if I can spot another before they head back to the frozen north. If you want to learn more about these magnificent birds check out author /illustrator Bruce Hiscock's wonderful picture book or take a look at this National Geographic link.  

Good News and Bad News ---For Wolves

There was good news and bad news recently for our country's gray wolf population, as you see below. While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser...