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

It’s Nonfiction Monday!

Copyright © 2017 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.


Author interview with Sarah Albee

A few weeks ago, I reviewed POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES, by Sarah Albee. Today, I’m excited to host Sarah for an interview with the author! Read on to learn more about how she wrote this particular book and much, much more…

LAT: Welcome, Sarah, and thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!

LAT: You know how much I love your new book, POISON. The whole time I was reading it, though, I kept wondering… how did you first become interested in writing about poisons?

Sarah Albee author photoSA: I’ve been fascinated with poison ever since I was a young kid, from the first fairy tales that were read to me, to stories that I read myself as I got older. Snow White, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare—I wanted to know if those poisonings from literature were possible in real life, and if they were, I wanted to know what was going on at the molecular level of a person who’d been poisoned. The idea of writing a book about poison occurred to me a few years ago, as I was researching my book, Why’d They Wear That? Associating poison with fashion may sound odd, but my interest was piqued as I learned more about how arsenic became wildly popular in the 19 th century—it was everywhere—at every apothecary shop, in arsenical green fabric, in paint pigments, even in edible arsenic complexion wafers (!). The history of poison just seemed like a perfect way to link so many things that intrigue me—mysteries, detective stories, human passion, alchemy, art, politics, social history, and the history of medicine.

LAT: And that linking of so many different topics is one of the biggest reasons I enjoyed reading it so much! Besides geeky nonfiction authors, what kind of readers do you think this book will appeal to?

SA: I hope it will have what publishers call “crossover appeal,” which for me would be kids who think they prefer to read only fiction. I personally love knowing the “back story,” no matter what genre I’m reading. I find that I still ask myself: “Could that actually happen in real life?” I hope the book will appeal to science-oriented readers, history lovers, and to kids who love mysteries!

LAT: I think it will. Your passion for the subject comes through on every page. What was your favorite part of the book to research and/or write?

Read Sarah’s answer–and the rest of the interview–here!

100 Things to Be When You Grow Up

100 Things to Be When You Grow Up
by Lisa M. Gerry (Author)

Booktalk: From beekeeper to ice-cream taster, forensic psychologist to Hollywood animal trainer, conservation biologist to Chief Happiness Officer, this book features 100 of the coolest, wackiest and most amazing jobs out there (greeting card maker?? Yes, you can!). Hands-on projects, advice from National Geographic explorers, interviews with experts, weird-but-true facts and tips for aligning your interests and personality to your job and more!

26 Astronomer
Shooting stars, black holes, dwarf planets, orbiting asteroids, meteor showers–these are all in a day’s (or night’s) for an astronomer. These scientists use math and physics to make discoveries, test theories, and conduct research about space and its celestial bodies.

Nonfiction Monday

It’s Nonfiction Monday!

Copyright © 2017 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.


Aurora Book Lights Up Children’s Faces

On Wednesday last week (September 6, 2017), the sun produced an unusually large solar flare. This flare results in an increased likelihood of auroras lighting up the night sky here on Earth. To learn more about how this works, let’s look at the timely middle grade book Stories of the Aurora: The Myths and Facts of the Northern Lights by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Lorna Bennett.

stories of the aurora

As the title suggests, Stories of the Aurora is a combination of science and folklore. On the folklore side are legends from Inuit, Norse, Greek, and other cultures. On the science side, readers learn about the Earth’s magnetic field, how the auroras form, how they behave, and the environmental effects of auroras.

It’s a surprisingly informative mix. For example, on page 18 we learn that the Sami (also called Laplanders) call the aurora “The Light You Can Hear.” This might not make sense until the sidebar on page 30, when we learn people for centuries have reported hearing crackling and hissing sounds during bright auroras. In 2012 scientists were able to verify the sounds and lights were related and began to piece together how they are created.

Auroras making sounds is just one of the cool things readers will discover in Stories of the Aurora. This award-winning title will surely light up the faces of youngsters interested in finding out more about their world.

For the full review and activity suggestions, see Growing with Science blog.

Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines

POISON cover

by Sarah Albee
Penguin Random House/September 05, 2017
Middle Grade (8-12), 192 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Science geeks and armchair detectives will soak up this non-lethal, humorous account of the role poisons have played in human history. Perfect for STEM enthusiasts! … Part history, part chemistry, part whodunit, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines traces the role poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present and shines a ghoulish light on the deadly intersection of human nature . . . and Mother Nature.

Professional reviewers have weighed in favorably:

“[Albee’s] light tone makes this morbid, well-researched study a sinister indulgence.“—Booklist starred review

A compelling, entertaining, and informative introduction to a sinister aspect of human history.” Kirkus Reviews

“There’s plenty of material here to delight fans of [Georgia] Bragg’s popular How They Croaked.” —The Bulletin

Ideal for readers, including reluctant ones, who delight in the science and scare factor of poisons or grotesque medicine.” —School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:

This book is deliciously dark fun! Sarah Albee’s POISON is the perfect mix of science, history, mystery, and entertainment, and readers of many different genres will be thoroughly engaged by this book. I know I was! From ancient times to today (and beyond!), Albee shows us how poisons–both natural and man-made–have affected humans lives and culture. The facts are shocking and fascinating, but broken down in a way that makes them accessible. There’s also a ton of humor to balance the heavy subject matter, with puns and sarcasm galore, especially in the titles and captions. And all of it is tied together with a compelling design featuring sidebars, pullouts, photos, and illustrations. There are also some serious nonfiction features, including a table of contents, author’s note, acknowledgements, notes, selected bibliography, research guide, index, and more. A highly recommended middle-grade nonfiction!

For more information and some interior views to give you a better sense of what you can expect, read my full review here.

And yes, if you’re wondering, this is perfect for Labor Day! One of my favorite features of the book was the “Nice Work if You Can Survive It” sidebars, which told of various professions throughout the ages where people were actually poisoned by their jobs (did you know mad hatters were mad because of the chemicals used for felting?). Sobering, to say the least. And it made me even more grateful for regulations that protect workers from unscrupulous business owners!