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.

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