Thursday, September 28, 2023

Welcome, Anita Sanchez!

What do you know about seaweed? Anita Sanchez has written a new book that describes how seaweed can even help mitigate climate change. Intrigued? You should be! 




I’ve known Anita since I was an intern at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center and she was my supervisor. Since then we’ve been swapping manuscripts. I was fortunate to see early pages of The Forests In The Sea. It was such a treat to see the finished book this week at the library, complete with some terrific photos. 




Welcome, Anita! Tell us about the inspiration for this latest middle grade book, THE FOREST IN THE SEA, a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. 


As I was researching a book on climate change, I was getting a bit depressed by some of the scary climate change info. But when I began to focus on solutions, I was intrigued to realize how many of them involved seaweed. Seaweed is usually thought of as this slimy stuff that just lies there on a beach, but it’s one of the oldest life forms on the planet. It can capture carbon, create oxygen, and change the chemistry of water. It’s an incredibly efficient filter to remove pollution from our oceans. And, of course, you can eat it!




I was fascinated to learn about seaweed-eating cows in the UK. How did you uncover these stories? Tell us about the research process. 


Sometimes it’s just luck. I was researching seaweed as an important basis of the food chain for countless marine animals, and I happened to google “what animals eat seaweed?” I was thinking of fish or seabirds, but I was surprised to see cows pop up. There were many websites with information on seaweed-eating cows, sheep, and pigs. 


At first I thought it would just be a funny sidebar—apparently there’s a population of sheep in Scotland where the sheep have learned to swim to their favorite seaweed snack spots. But it turns out that by adding certain types of seaweed to livestock feed, you can lower methane emissions by 90 percent. There are more than a billion of cows on our planet, and it’s a not-so-funny fact that cow burps give off a huge amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. 






Did you face any challenges along the way? 


It’s always a challenge to write about plants (well, algae, really) instead of animals. Kids usually love cute furry animals, but cold slimy seaweed is a harder sell. I tried to add action and adventure to the book by writing about a time I went snorkeling among waving fronds of rockweed in the North Atlantic (cold!) Also writing about seaweed farmers and Native Americans using seaweed to filter wetlands gave the book a human touch.





Students have often encountered seaweed on beaches all over our coastlines. Please tell teachers how they can use this book in the classroom. 


Students reading the book will discover there’s a wide range of animals that use seaweed for habitat—food and/or shelter. Drawing a food web of all the organisms that depend on seaweed will show that seaweed (including phytoplankton, bits of green that float around the open sea) is the basis of all marine food chains.


Also, the book can be used to spark a discussion of climate change—not to focus on the doom and gloom aspects, but to focus instead on solutions. Each chapter reveals a way seaweed can help with our planet’s problems. One of my favorites is the group of Shinnecock women who started a seaweed farm to clean polluted water in Long Island sound where their ancestors lived.




Thanks for chatting with me, Anita. As I know, this is just one of your recent STEM titles. Please share your other title and tell us what is next for you. Can you give us a hint? 


I’ve recently been lucky enough to have several books released. One is Hello, Puddle!, a picture book look at a little-noticed habitat for wildlife—mud puddles. Another is The Monkey Trial, which is about the teacher who was arrested and put on trial for teaching evolution on a Tennessee classroom in 1925. In this era of banned books and censored curricula, it’s sadly all too timely.


Currently I’m working on Scat: The Incredible Science of Wildlife Poop. Like Forest in the Sea, it focuses on a weird, somewhat icky part of nature that turns out to have amazing solutions for climate change and other environmental problems. Scat can give scientists a wealth of information about endangered species of wildlife, disperse seeds, fertilize plankton, regenerate soil after wildfires, and much more. My favorite story is about a team of Mexican scientists who reseeded a burned-out forest by luring fruit bats to poop out a “seed rain” of tree seeds. 

And I’ve enjoyed working with photographers around the world to seek out images of wildlife—my favorite is of a slightly embarrassed warthog caught in the act of pooping.


More about Anita: 

Anita Sanchez’s award-winning books sing the praises of unloved plants and animals, and of the unusual, often ignored wild places of the world: dandelions, poison ivy, seaweed, mud puddles, glaciers. Years of field work and teaching outdoor classes have given her firsthand experience introducing students to the wonders of nature. Her many science books for young readers include The Forest in the Sea: Seaweed Solutions to Planetary Problems (Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection) from Holiday House. Recently released: The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle over Teaching Evolution from Clarion Books.
























National Apple Month Reading List

 It's apple season again! I think it is one of the top reasons to love fall. Here are some books, both old and new, to add for your National Apple Month reading list. Take a bite out of them before the month is out! 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Empathy for All!

When I researched BEASTLY BRAINS I was astonished by so many facts I uncovered, but one of the most fascinating was the discovery of empathy in rats. Emotional empathy is when a species is able to experience the emotional feelings of another. It is a form of emotional intelligence.
There aren't many animals outside of the primate world that exhibit empathy. The rat I included in BEASTLY BRAINS freed another rat from captivitiy and shared food with it. Pretty amazing, right? As you know empathy is a very important trait in humans. That makes the article I read this morning even more surprising. Can you imagine crocodiles exhibiting empathy? CBS News shared on a report from Journal of Threatened Taxa that involved a situation in India when a dog fled to safety in a river after being chased by a pack of animals.
The river was inhabited by marsh crocodiles known as muggers. Rather than munch the dog for lunch, two muggers led the dog to a safe spot away from the chasing pack. According to the scientists, "the curious case of a dog 'rescued' by the group of crocodiles reported here seems more on lines of empathy than altruistic behavior." Clearly, animal cognition continues to be a much needed study.
Photo Credit: Chavan, U.M & M.R. Borkar (2023)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Welcome, Linda Marshall!

Science rocks! And so does this new STEAM biography from Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso highlighting two extraordinary women in STEM– Marie Curie and her sister, Bronia. Linda is also the author other biographies, so she isn’t new to introducing readers to fascinating women who have made an impact in our world. Welcome, Linda! Tell us about the inspiration for this latest biography, SISTERS IN SCIENCE.
Hi, Nancy! Thank you for inviting me to Naturally Speaking. Much appreciated…and a lot of fun! To begin, the inspiration for SISTERS IN SCIENCE came while I was visiting cousins in Paris. A friend of theirs (Natacha Henri, historian and author of several books, including a non-fiction book – in French – about Marie and her sister) was discussing her work on Marie Curie. In France, many people know that Marie and her sister, Bronia, made a pact to help each other get an education. The pact was that Bronia would attend university while Marie worked to support her. Then, when Bronia completed her studies, Marie would attend university and Bronia would support Marie. I was fascinated when I heard about this and, as you’ll see in the book’s credits, the inspiration for this book was Natacha (as well as a beautiful evening in Paris).
This biography features two different women. Besides being sisters, how did these two compare? Both sisters – actually, the whole family – had numerous difficult times. There were deaths in the family, including those of their sister and mother. Their father – an outspoken defender of Poland while Poland was being controlled by Russia – lost his job because he shared his political opinions. Having lost his job, his family then was in desperate need of money. Ultimately, they started a school in their home and took in students as boarders. Through these misfortunes, Bronia and Marie soothed and encouraged each other. Bronia carried on, calm and determined. But Marie was more of a dreamer, more emotional, more likely to lose her way or change course midstream, and more likely to fall in love…and have her hopes dashed. One major sorrow for Marie was when she fell in love with a young man from a family where she had gotten a job as governess. She was in love, but the family would not tolerate their son marrying the governess. Marie was devastated and almost gave up her dreams…And then, as we know, she went to Paris and studied…where, of course, she met Pierre… Marie Curie faced challenges on the way to becoming a famous scientist. Bronia did not become as famous. Did you face any challenges writing this picture book? Sure, there were challenges. Lots! After all, how do you write a book – for children – in which the main characters deal with death and depression and disappointment? How do you do THAT and still give kids hope? How do you explain complicated scientific concepts – atoms and radioactivity – in a way that’s understandable? In a way that makes kids want to learn more and more? So, yes, there were challenges. But that’s all part of the puzzle of writing a picture book biography. And, for me, the challenges are fun!
This is a great story for Women’s History Month and every other day, Linda. Please tell teachers how they can use it in the classroom. Great question! SISTERS IN SCIENCE is about challenges, sisterhood, science, chemistry, cancer and disease, radioactivity, X-rays, and much more. It’s about making a promise (the pact that the sisters made) and keeping it. It’s about being true to your word. It’s about striving for what you believe in, no matter what. About picking up someone who’s down (as Marie was) and reminding them that they have dreams to fulfill and purpose in life. And, if that doesn’t work, this is a book about giving that person a kick in the butt (and MAKING them get moving) so they’ll get out of their despair and do what needs to be done. This is a book that shows we all need mentors, big sisters, teachers, someone who can help us, someone who can see what we’re capable of, someone who can guide us. Marie was so lucky to have Bronia. And Bronia, in turn, was lucky to have Marie. Sometimes, though, we have to be our own big sisters. We have to tell ourselves that it’s time to move on. And then we have to listen to our own inner big sister voice.
These STEM ladies led extraordinary lives. You have a knack for digging these important stories out of the past. Who will you feature next, Linda Marshall? Can you give us a hint? Next up is someone who’s contemporary and not a scientist. It’s Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine! BRAVE VOLODYMYR: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Fight for Ukraine with beautiful illustrations by Ukrainian artist Grasya Oliyko releases on October 3, 2023 (Quill Tree/HarperCollins). I’m so excited for this book! It explains the war in Ukraine and, hopefully, gives kids and their parents insight into its relevance for the rest of the world. I was quite fortunate to have input and assistance in writing this book from Toby Gati, Special Assistant to former President Bill Clinton for Russia, Ukraine, and the Eurasian states. In this, as in all my non-fiction books, I always seek an expert. One of my goals is to provide my young readers with Ph.D.-quality research in an understandable, kid-friendly, and accessible package.
For more about Linda Marshall: Award-winning author of about two dozen picture books, Linda Elovitz Marshall attended Barnard College/Columbia University where she studied cultural anthropology. After raising four children and a small flock of sheep, pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology, freelance writing for magazines, and owning a bookstore, Linda began writing for children. In addition to SISTERS IN SCIENCE: Marie Curie, Bronia DÅ‚uska, and the Atomic Power of Sisterhood (Knopf), Linda’s STEM/STEAM books include SAVING THE COUNTRYSIDE: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit (Little Bee),THE POLIO PIONEER: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine (Knopf BFYR), and the forthcoming BRAVE VOLODYMYR: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Fight for Ukraine with illustrations by Ukrainian artist Grasya Oliyko (HarperCollins). Linda loves researching, hiking, swimming, and travel. She and her husband divide their time between a cabin in New York State’s Adirondack mountains and New York City’s Upper West Side.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Welcome, Melissa Stewart !

Science rocks! And so does this latest STEAM picture book from Melissa Stewart highlighting our underwater ecosystems. Melissa is the award-winning author of many other nonfiction books. This latest, WHALE FALL, doesn’t disappoint.
Welcome, Melissa! Tell us about the inspiration for WHALE FALL.
Thanks so much for inviting me, Nancy. I love your blog, so I’m honored to stop by and talk about Whale Fall. The story behind this book traces back to 2019. While writing Ick! Delightfully, Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses, I stumbled upon an article about zombie worms, aka bone-eating snot flower worms. Of course, I included them in that book. First of all, what a fabulous name! But also—believe it or not—dozens of teeny tiny male zombie worms live inside each female. Wow!
Each section in Ick! was limited to about 400 words. But there was SO much more to say about these curious critters. I tacked the article to my Idea Board as a reminder that I hoped to learn more about them. Sometimes notes and articles stay on my Idea Board for a long time, collecting dust. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, all my school visits were canceled and I had plenty of time for research. As I began reading more about zombie worms and their environment, my mind was blown. I was completely captivated by the incredible collection of critters that live in, on, and around a whale fall. I knew I had to write a book about them.
WHALE FALL takes a deep dive into the end of life of a whale and the ecosystem that develops around its carcass in the ocean depths. The topic is unusual and intriguing. Did you face any challenges researching and writing this book?
This is a book that only could have been written during the pandemic. Because there’s so little information about whale falls available, it was critical to have the help of scientists studying them. The scientists usually spend their spring and summer aboard research vessels in the ocean and are hard to reach. But the covid lockdown meant that researchers were stuck at home with lots of free time on their hands. They were more than happy to spend time talking to me about whale falls, helping me understand how all the creatures living there interact with one another. Scientists also vetted the art. Their guidance made it possible to include microscopic images unlike anything ever published before—not in a children’s book or an adult book or even a scientific paper. Illustrator Rob Dunlavey did a spectacular job!
This is a great book to bring into a classroom discussion. Please tell teachers of other ways they can use this book in the classroom. It can be used in the science classroom for discussions of how creatures in an ecosystem interact as well as little known ecosystems or the magic and mystery of the ocean. It can also be used during informational writing units to discuss sequence text structure and craft moves like strong verbs and descriptive language. Plus art teachers can use it to discuss art style. For example, why do students think illustrator Rob Dunlavey used a different style in the main text and the backmatter?
You have written so many fascinating and well-received nonfiction titles. What is next for you, Melissa Stewart? Can you give us a hint? Thanks so much, Nancy. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed reading my books. I’m very excited to have another book coming out in October. Thank You, Moon describes they way a variety of animals (and even a plant) depend on the Moon for their survival—to find food, to avoid enemies, to travel from place to place, and even to reproduce.
Thank You, Moon is illustrated by the uber-talented Jessica Lanan. Here’s a sneak peek at an interior spread. Jess’s luminous art really shows the Moon in all its glory. I can’t wait to share the book with kids!
Thanks, Melissa. You can learn more about Melissa Stewart at her website.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Meet Sue Gallion, Author of OUR UNDERWATER WORLD

Science rocks! And so does this latest STEAM book from Sue Lowell Gallion highlighting our underwater ecosystems. Sue is also the author of Our World and Our Seasons, beautifully illustrated by Lisk Feng. Welcome, Sue! Tell us about the inspiration for this latest oversized board book, OUR UNDERWATER WORLD: A FIRST DIVE INTO OCEANS, LAKES, AND RIVERS, published by Phaidon Press.
Hi, Nancy! This book grew out of a spread that had to be cut from my first book with Phaidon Press and illustrator Lisk Feng. To me, one of the hardest parts of writing nonfiction is the fascinating research you don’t have room to include! But sometimes that does lead to a whole new project. Early manuscripts of Our World: A First Book of Geography, included a spread on the geography of the ocean floor, which is so fascinating. But there are only 13 spreads in these books, and about 1,000 words! As we tightened the focus, we decided to take that spread out. I started thinking about an underwater book right away. When I researched the market, I found many books focused either on saltwater or freshwater habitats. I wanted to introduce young kids to both through this novelty format.
Like your other titles with Phaidon, OUR UNDERWATER WORLD opens out to a 3D freestanding globe. The design is exquisite. Can you tell us if this was something you came up with or a talented art director?
I came up with the idea of a globe-shaped book on the world during an SCBWI workshop on board books led by Ariel Richardson of Chronicle. We had brainstorming time to play with paper, scissors, and tape, which was a great creativity exercise. She encouraged attendees to consider submitting a dummy with a manuscript including ideas for novelty elements, without worrying about cost or production challenges. Phaidon Press was interested in the concept, although it took more than a year of production research on their part and text revision on my part before they offered me a contract. My Phaidon editors had been looking for a project to work on with Lisk Feng, also, and thought this was a fit. I feel so lucky to be part of the entire team. Phaidon does such creative and beautiful books for kids as well as adults. The magnetic closures on the front and back covers of the globe books are especially ingenious. Librarians have loved these books partly because they make such great displays and are such fun for kids to browse.
Did you face any challenges writing this book? I live in Kansas City, about as far from any saltwater habitat as you can get, so this was remote research, unfortunately. I started researching this book just before the pandemic made us all homebound. It was a great escape, but I also kept wondering when I would see any of these habitats in person again! I am determined to go somewhere where I can snorkel in 2024. One of our goals with these books is to showcase ecosystems in many different areas of the world, especially those that are lesser known. It can be harder to find information and visual resources for the illustrator with these. With such an enormous topic, narrowing down the information is probably the biggest challenge. Nonfiction rhyme is also tricky, especially in the revision stages.
As a stand-up title, this book is so great for a classroom nonfiction display. Please tell teachers of other ways they can use this book in the classroom. The interactive secondary text offers lots of opportunity for discussion or additional research by students. It also identifies most of the locations around the world shown in the illustrations. One of my favorite spreads shows the Sundarban mangrove forests in Bangladesh and India, where the Bengal tigers swim in search of prey. The conclusion of the book also challenges readers to find out more about the underwater ecosystems nearest to where they live, whether it’s a creek or one of the Great Lakes. I hope it is a good springboard for conversation as well as conservation projects. I also encourage using these books for creativity exercises in nonfiction writing. Students can create nonfiction books of their own with novelty elements like lift-the-flaps or even textures, or come up with their own book shapes to convey concept. Working with paper, tape, and scissors usually sparks ideas for me.
You have written some wonderfully fun picture books along with this series. What is next for you, Sue Lowell Gallion? Can you give us a hint?
I’ve just turned in final (??) revisions for another book in this series with Phaidon. This time we are leaving Earth behind us, so that’s been fascinating research. I’ve been working on a new character-based picture book with a nature twist that’s out on submission now, so fingers crossed! Thanks, Nancy, for this opportunity to share with your readers!
Sue Lowell Gallion writes for children because she is passionate about kids, reading, and any combination of the two! Her nonfiction board books illustrated by Lisk Feng -- Our World, A First Book of Geography, and Our Seasons, The World in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn -- received a shout-out from The Horn Book Magazine as "new and innovative." Our World was named a best book of 2020 by Parents Magazine, and included in The Washington Post holiday gift guide. Sue writes both fiction and nonfiction for kids, including board books, picture books, and early readers. She’s also the author of the award-winning Pug Meets Pig picture book series illustrated by Joyce Wan. Sue shares books with kids every week through Lead to Read KC, a non-profit matching adult mentor readers with primary students in area urban schools. She lives in Leawood, KS.

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...