• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Nonfiction > Science > Interview with Claire Eamer
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

     
    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...

     

    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...

     

    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories, read more...

     

    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...

     

    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Interview with Claire Eamer

Authors, Interviews, Nonfiction, Science

clairee1Why didn’t I think of that?  This was my first thought when I finally got my hands on Claire Eamer’s amazing new book, Before the World Was Ready.

My second thought?  I wish I could write like that!  Because even if I had come up with the idea first, it never would have turned out as good as it has in Claire’s capable hands.

Claire Eamer is the author of many non-fiction books for middle graders, including the award winning The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods and Lizards in the Sky: Animals Where You Least Expect Them. She is an expert at presenting science to kids in a way that is creative and irresistible. I am grateful to her for taking time out of her busy schedule at the When Words Collide conference (three panels and a book launch!) to answer a few questions.

BeforeWidgetMost of your books are a collection of topics, bound by a common theme like Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science which covers lots of ground from the shape of the solar system to insecticides. Where do you get your ideas?

That particular idea came from the publisher. They’d done some research on candidates for the theme, then turned it over to me when I said the topic interested me. I did more research (with the help of my son, Patrick, who prowled the University of Victoria library on my behalf) and came up with the final list of candidates and the approach.

That’s a fairly common approach with publishers these days, but it accounts for only two of my books –Before the World Was Ready and Traitors’ Gate and Other Doorways to the Past. The others were my ideas. I never seem to have much trouble with non-fiction ideas, mainly because I really like to understand how things work and why. Super Crocs and Monster Wings grew out of my curiosity about the relationship between giant ground sloths and tree sloths, which – in turn – grew out of my fascination with a giant ground sloth skeleton in a local Whitehorse natural history museum, the Beringia Interpretive Centre. Lizards in the Sky – I read about flying snakes (really!!!) and got fascinated about extreme kinds of adaptation to habitat. The World in Your Lunch Box came about because I wanted to know exactly how yeast works and because I was amazed when I started reading about all the foods that were developed in the Americas and have spread around the world. I have a lot of questions. Writing books gives me an excuse to dig up the answers.

Before the World Was Ready includes a page of “further reading” and a three page “selected biography” That’s a lot of sources! How do you approach research?

I could happily lose myself in research. I love learning things and get bored with a job easily if I’m not constantly learning. Which is why I’ve been a freelance writer, of some sort or other, for most of my working life. For my kids’ books, I start with books and, often, televison documentaries to give me an overview, but I do a lot of online research using scientific and academic journals. Concordia University College in Edmonton has very kindly appointed me Adjunct Professor of Education. That allows me to use their online library resources, which is a huge benefit. I also can go up to Yukon College (it’s on top of a hill in the midst of Whitehorse, hence “up”) and use the library there, both physical and online. The journals can be a bit of a slog, but that’s where the up-to-date information is. When I write a book, I want it to reflect the latest research, not just regurgitate dated material from older existing books.

Once I’ve done all that research, I look at the questions or puzzles that remain and go in search of experts who can help me answer them. Usually it’s someone whose journal article I have read. I do most of that research by web search and email, although I always give the person I’m asking questions of the option of talking on the phone. Since I live in Whitehorse, an in-person interview only works for a few topics (including giant ground sloths and some other neat beasties that used to live here). Scientists and academics are amazingly helpful when you explain that you want to tell children about their favourite topic, the research they spend their lives on. I once had a three-day email exchange with a couple of scientists in England who were helping me explain — in kid terms and less than a page — the latest research into the relationships between extinct giant sea scorpions, living scorpions, and spiders. It’s complicated and only partly understood, but new techniques are changing the field so fast that I figured we’d better stop and get the book out before it was obsolete! (That’s in Spiked Scorpions and Walking Whales, if you’re interested.)

The Further Reading sections in the book are something Annick Press insists on (and I agree). If kids get interested in a topic, they usually want to know more, so some pointers toward more information are good. Usually the books cover different or related angles that haven’t really been featured in my book. 

The bibliography (always “selected bibliography” because I do a LOT of research) serves several purposes. It gives the book credibility. We can’t footnote a kids’ book as one might an adult book, but we can show that the information is solid and provide enough information that it can be checked. Also, it implicitly shows kids how an author works by showing the scale of research behind a topic. Finally, the bibliography reassures teachers and librarians that they are putting good, well-researched information in kids’ hands. The books also always have a decent and useful index so kids can find the information they need (and learn how to use an index in the process). I think all of that is an important part of showing respect for your reader. My readers might be short, but they deserve solid, up-to-date information and a guarantee that they can check my facts and sources if they choose.

MedalBookYou have two degrees in English (which helps explain your excellent writing skills!) but no formal training in science.  Is that an advantage or disadvantage?  Do you get “experts” to review your work prior to publication?

I took English because I love reading and learning, and that seemed to be a good way to keep reading and learning. Also, I am very much a generalist by nature, so I didn’t want to restrict the subjects I was reading and learning about. I think I actually learned to write first by reading and later by working as a reporter in a variety of media. When you’re shifting between newspaper style, various magazine styles, spoken word (for radio), informational DVDs and websites, and the occasional bit of fiction, you become very aware of tailoring style to audience and medium – and you learn a lot about how to play with words in the process.

The science stuff has always been a fascination of mine. I actually have taken several university courses in biology and ecology, although not enough for a degree. But I’ve learned a lot from interviewing scientists, editing their work, hanging out with them, reading, going to scientific talks, watching documentaries by people like David Attenborough (my science-communications hero!), and asking lots of questions. The advantage of not being a scientist is that I have no investment in the jargon of any subject. My specialty is translating the jargon into language the rest of us can understand so that we can all enjoy the excitement of science.

And yes, I always get experts to fact-check my work. It’s a responsibility in my book contracts, but I would do it anyway. I really want my writing to be accurate. Really!

You also write about history and science fiction.  How does the market for science non-fiction compare to the market for middle grade sci-fi?

I don’t actually know since I’ve written very little science fiction and not for that age group. However, I know that several publishers are currently looking for middle-grade science fiction – although I’m not sure exactly what they expect. Middle grade science non-fiction is in a bit of a transition stage, I think. Publishers want to publish it, but they are struggling with how to get it out to readers. If you look in the kids’ non-fiction department of any big bookstore, you’ll see why. It’s usualy jammed into a few shelves in a back corner, with nothing on display and very little sensible organization. My personal experience, from visiting schools and libraries, is that kids love knowing stuff – all kinds of stuff, not just science – but that’s often not the books that their grown-ups are buying for them.

The new education standards in the United States, which influence the supply and type of books available in Canada too, might make a difference, since they emphasize non-fiction reading very heavily. However, I don’t know if that impact is being felt here yet. Best ask a publisher, I think.

wildflowers_roseopenYou live in a relatively remote area of northern Canada.  Does this have any impact on your writing?  In what way?

I’m not sure that it has much impact. When I started writing for kids, it was mainly a nuisance because I was trying to do the research from a place that had no easy access to a lot of the journals I need, but that has changed in the past few years. Now I can get at most of the information I need from here, via the Internet – which makes working from Whitehorse possible. We also have an excellent interlibrary loan system, by the way, and it has proved very helpful.

Where the location does affect me is in school and library presentations, which are a significant part of many kids’ writers’ incomes. Although Whitehorse isn’t terribly expensive to fly into and out of by northern standards, it still adds a significant extra cost to any book presentation tour that makes it hard to justify.

On the other hand, there are a lot of very knowledgeable, well-educated, and well-travelled people in the Yukon, including some excellent scientists, and many of them have been significant resources in researching my books. Because it’s a small community, it’s pretty easy to corner my local palaeontologist or biologist and get some answers to questions – often over a nice locally-roasted latte. The North is alarmingly civilized these days! This is a very good place to start building a network of contacts.

I would love to visit Whitehorse one day – what a beautiful part of the world. Thank you for your thoughtful responses to my questions.  Is there anything else you like to add?  

I guess the one thing to add is that my isolation can be overstated. Apart from the fact that there is a thriving arts and literary community in the Yukon, the Internet has changed what a community is or can be. My on-line communities include a Canada-wide network of kids’ writers and publishers, a BC-based kids’-writer network, a nation-wide network of science writers, another of science fiction and fantasy writers, and a few other bits and bobs of colleagues – all of them located anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of kilometres away, but right there in my in-box when I need them. It’s amazing, and I appreciate it enormously.

To find out more about Claire please visit her website. My review of Before the World was Ready  is available here. And in case that is not enough, you can also join Claire and other Canadian kids’ science writers at their blog, Sci/Why.

Yolanda Ridge is the author of Trouble in the Trees (Orca Book Publishers, 2011) and Road Block (Orca Book Publishers, 2012).  She also lives in a remote part of Canada with ski hills and bike trails right at her door step!

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jill  •  Aug 21, 2013 @7:18 am

    Insightful and lovely interview. I’m a Canadian too :)
    I enjoyed this because it explores nonfiction writing, something that I don’t think of often. It is clear this author has a passion for her work. I will be checking out her website.

  2. Yolanda Ridge  •  Aug 21, 2013 @9:59 am

    Thanks, Jill!

  3. Rani  •  Aug 21, 2013 @5:39 pm

    Great interview! I admire Claire’s work a lot. She is so inspiring! Thank you!!!

  4. Yolanda Ridge  •  Aug 21, 2013 @10:28 pm

    Thanks, Rani!

  5. Ellen Luft  •  Aug 22, 2013 @6:52 pm

    What a great article, with very compulsive reasons to check out the author and her writing. Non fiction can be tough for this age group especially with so much computer games and fiction impact from so many sources. You have compelled me to be a follower and a supporter. Thanks

  6. Yolanda Ridge  •  Aug 23, 2013 @1:41 pm

    Thank you! I hope you enjoy the books, Ellen!