Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Researching STEM Kidlit - Welcome Guest Blogger - Carrie Pearson

I grew up climbing trees. If I was nowhere to be found, my family knew to look for me in the sugar maple in our backyard. I hauled up my knobby kneed self by grabbing a limb close to the ground, then pulled, pushed, and shimmed higher and higher until I’d found the perfect crook in which to read my book of choice. Ah, bliss.
So it was no surprise I was drawn to a special tree -- this time, a coast redwood -- as the subject for my third nature book. 

But this ecosystem is a bit different.  
Coast redwood branches begin growing far off the ground so it’s impossible to grab a limb and haul oneself up into a tree. Instead, tall tree researchers stand at the base of a coast redwood and shoot an arrow with a line attached toward the lowest branch. Hopefully the line loops over the limb, falls to the ground and can be leveraged with mountain climbing carabiners to haul the researcher up, up, up. 
However, I’m not a tall tree researcher. And, as I’ve, um, matured, I’m less fond of heights. To make matters more difficult, I knew I would not be allowed to visit the main character in my manuscript -- the tallest tree on earth.  
To guard it from even well-meaning people like me, this is tree is protected and its location is kept secret. Even if it wasn’t, finding it in the midst of the 131,983 acres of Redwood National and State Park would be an extreme undertaking at the very least. But I was smitten with the life story of this tree. 
So, here we are at the title for this blog post. How does a writer of true stories research that which she cannot see and never will? 

Step One: choose a topic for which your passion knows few bounds. Somewhere inside, I knew I’d get there. Don’t ask me how I knew this but my need to create this book for children was as big as the tree itself.
Step Two: Begin with inquiry. I drew up list of questions that I felt I would need to answer before I knew enough to write the book. The who, how, when, where and why’s would guide my research. 
Step Three: Find the experts. I searched for people who had experienced the tree firsthand. I read and watched everything these people had shared in every format possible. Thankfully, the secondary research troves were deep. When I began to find the same answers for my questions, even though I approached the questions differently, I was ready for the next research step.
Step Four: Ask for help. I wrote and was awarded an SCBWI research grant to visit the Park because I knew other’s experiences could take me only so far. Even though I wouldn’t see “my” tree, I’d enlist all my senses to get as close a feel for it as I could. Fortuitously, the Park paired me with a guide, Park Ranger James Wheeler, who had spent 30 plus years in that world. 

Step Five: Stop researching and listen for the story. Mr. Wheeler’s insights, other experts’ knowledge, combined with my redwood forest immersion, allowed me to begin to hear the narrative for STRETCH TO THE SUN: FROM A TINY SPROUT TO THE TALLEST TREE ON EARTH
Even though I’d never seen the tree and knew I never would, in a way, I had. 

Carrie A. Pearson is a children’s book author, consultant, speaker, and former teacher. She is a Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a member of several literacy-focused organizations, and the recipient of the Gwen Frostic Award for Literacy given by the Michigan Reading Association. She is the author of two informational fiction picture books, A Warm Winter Tail and A Cool Summer Tail (Arbordale Publishing) and a narrative nonfiction picture book, Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth (Charlesbridge), a Eureka! Award recipient for outstanding nonfiction given by the California Reading Association. A picture book biography about medical trailblazer, Dr. Virginia Apgar, launches fall 2020 with Norton Young Readers. A picture book anthology about unexpected women who are changing the world will be announced soon. Carrie would love to connect with you on Twitter @carrieapearson, Pinterest carrieapearson, and through her website
For more about STRETCH TO THE SUN and the path to its publication, visit this page on her website:


Nancy Castaldo has been writing about the planet for over 20 years. Learn more about her award-winning books at Purchase and pre-order autographed copies of Nancy's books here

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