Zoo Scientists to the Rescue

Zoo Scientists to the Rescue
by Patricia Newman (Author) and Annie Crawley (Photographer)

Booktalk: Zoos take care of animals and welcome visitors of all ages, but that’s not all. Go behind the scenes at three zoos to meet scientists working to save endangered animals.


The creators share their process in this revealing interview:

Q. When did you start writing?

Patricia: As a kid, I carried a book everywhere I went, but I wasn’t one of those kids who sat under the apple tree and filled journal after journal with stories. I started dabbling with stories in the early 1990s at the urging of my mother-in-law, not at all sure this was something I could (or wanted to) do. I knew I had a lot to learn and it felt frightening to start over in a new field, so I approached writing with the eye of a skeptic. At that time, my kids were young with the usual complement of energy and curiosity and my writing time was measured in moments. I learned to bring a notebook wherever I went—the school pick-up line, karate class, horseback riding lessons—to jot down a new thought or revise an older one. I met with enough early successes to continue plugging away. I began to attend SCBWI conferences. With every manuscript, my skills developed until I felt comfortable calling myself a writer.

Annie: I can still remember the day I sat in my Grandmother’s kitchen looking at a world map, listening to one of her stories, and then looking outside at my backyard. Back and forth between the map and my backyard. And the biggest aha hit me. The world is my backyard and I knew I needed to see, experience, and document our world. I have always been visual, but when I was a kid growing up, I had no camera. I have always been an observer and notice the unspoken. I look for light. In college I studied broadcast and photojournalism. I was on the sidelines for all the college football games, on the court for our basketball games, and wandering campus with cameras in hand always looking for a story. After graduation, I saved my money and bought an around the world ticket. My first stop was Australia. As I was walking down the street, I saw a sign “Learn to Scuba Dive.” And the next thing I knew I learned to scuba dive and didn’t return home for four years. I’ve lived all over the world from Indonesia to Belize, Papua New Guinea to Galapagos. This past year I’ve visited China, the Philippines, Mexico, the Arctic and as I type this I am in an airport on my way to Tonga to photograph/film humpback whales. I’ve dedicated my life to inspiring others through images and stories.

Q. Describe your writing process.

Patricia: In a word, messy. I wouldn’t wish my process on anyone. Writing is about saying what’s in your heart, and although I frequently know what I want to say in broad strokes, I don’t always know how I want to say it.

Generally, I’m an organized person, but my first drafts for my recent environmental books start out as a jumble of words with no real narrative and a lot of seemingly unconnected science concepts. My poor critique group is very patient with me! I’ve grown to accept that a regurgitation of the basic facts is a necessary part of the process. With the basics down, I begin to re-imagine the scope and story that I want to tell, a process that demolishes the manuscript to the studs before beginning the remodel.

Often times, I write the chapters out of order. When writing Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I actually wrote the three middle chapters about the scientists first, and saved the first and last chapters until the end. The first and last chapters are always hardest for me because they define the theme of the book. Once I have these chapters finished, I go back through the whole book to weave the now-identified theme throughout.

Annie: When we collaborated on Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I traveled with the scientists on board the research vessel, the New Horizon, photographing, filming and documenting everything. Patti entered the picture after the expedition had returned to dry land. As Patti wrote, I clarified aspects of the expedition during the writing process, and of course, worked with the editorial team in choosing the best photos to tell our story.

For Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, it was a different process. We traveled together for the interviews so I was documenting all of our expeditions and the scientists’ work with images and film. Once I read her first chapter, I needed to go and visit more zoos and take more images. I believe I took more than 5000 images while working on this title and traveled across the US from Seattle to Washington DC visiting locations as well as Australia!

Once Patti and Carol Hinz, our editor at Millbrook Press, had the text locked, I made a first pull for the production/design team. They were super to work with as they shared working documents with Patti and me. Because I shared my large pull with Patti, we worked closely together on recommending different shots, or more shots to better show the story.

Q. Tell us about your latest book.

Patricia: Zoo Scientists to the Rescue shows how three scientists use their expertise to tell their animals’ stories: Meredith from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park who used to live with orangutans in Borneo; Jeff from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo who breeds black-footed ferrets and releases them into the wild; and Rachel from Lincoln Park Zoo who studies wild rhinos to better care for zoo rhinos.

I wish every reader could have the chance to speak with one of these scientists in person like Annie and I did. The scientists are dedicated to helping their animals survive in the wild, and their enthusiasm for their work inspires kids to follow in their footsteps.

As a bonus, Annie and I got a behind-the-scenes peek at (and some wonderful close encounters with) orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos. We hope kids get as much of a thrill reading this book as we got creating it!

Annie: I ditto everything Patti just said.

A few weeks ago, I received a box from our publisher expecting bookmarks for promotional reasons, and instead received a few copies of our new beautiful book. I sat down and read it cover to cover. I cried tears of joy because of the inspiration it brings while showcasing and not watering down what is really happening on our planet right now. Patti and I cannot only be author/photographer, we also have to help get the word out on what these extraordinary people and zoos are doing for animals in the wild. We must work together to protect our world.

This book is an incredibly special title and the important message shares hope for our future with some real astonishing environmental problems happening right now in our world, in our backyard. The burning of rainforest destroys orangutan habitat and every other species that coexists with them, and just might kill the wild orangutan population.

Our book trailer is on YouTube right now and starting in October we will be posting other videos to complement our experience and time together visiting the scientists.

Thanks for sharing your new book, Patti and Annie!

Nonfiction Monday

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Copyright © 2017 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

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