Tag Archives: science

Interview with Author Amy Stewart and a Wicked Bug Giveaway

 

Today we welcome New York Times bestselling author Amy Stewart and we are giving away a copy of her new book for middle-grade readers, Wicked Bugs: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017).

Amy Stewart is the award-winning author of six books on the perils and pleasures of the natural world, including four New York Times bestsellers The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Bugs, Wicked Plants, and Flower Confidential. She is also the author of the Kopp Sisters series. Stewart and her husband own Eureka Books in Eureka, California. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Horticulture Society’s Book Award, and an International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Writing Award. 

 Illustrator Briony Morrow-Cribbs studied art at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently lives in Brattleboro, Vermont, where she owns and operates Twin Vixen Press

About Wicked Bugs Young Readers Edition: The Meanest, Deadliest, Grossest Bugs on Earth (Algonquin Books 2017):

Did you know there are zombie bugs that not only eat other bugs but also inhabit and control their bodies? There’s even a wasp that delivers a perfectly-placed sting in a cockroach’s brain and then leads the roach around by its antennae — like a dog on a leash. Scorpions glow in ultraviolet light. Lots of bugs dine on corpses. And if you want to know how much it hurts to get stung by a bullet ant (hint: it really, really hurts), you can consult the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. It ranks the pain produced by ants and other stinging creatures. How does it work? Dr. Schmidt, the scientist who created it, voluntarily subjected himself to the stings of 150 species.

 Organized into thematic categories (Everyday Dangers, Unwelcome Invaders, Destructive Pests, and Terrible Threats) and featuring full-color illustrations by Briony Morrow-CribbsWicked Bugs is an educational and creepy-cool guide to the worst of the worst of insects, arachnids, and other arthropods. This is the young readers adaptation of Amy Stewart’s bestselling book for adult readers.

 
First question: Why bugs?

Wicked Bugs is the sequel to Wicked Plants, a book I wrote in 2009 about deadly, dangerous, offensive, illegal, and otherwise horrible plants that have affected humans–mostly for the worst. It was my way of looking at the dark side of the plant world, and telling rather bone-chilling stories that don’t often get told about the surprisingly powerful world of plants!

Wicked Bugs seemed like a natural follow-up. In fact, as I was researching Wicked Plants, I kept running across interesting stories about venom, insect-transmitted diseases, and so forth in the medical literature. I just started keeping a list, and pretty soon, I had another collection of stories.

The irony is that people are very trusting of plants, assuming that anything green that grows out of the ground is all natural and therefore good for you. But I had no trouble rounding up a list of truly terrifying plants. Plants can’t run away and hide from predators, so they fight back in ways that can really inflict a lot of pain and suffering.

For Wicked Bugs, on the other hand, I actually had a hard time coming up with a list of insects, spiders, and so forth that we actually should worry about.  People are generally far more terrified of bugs than plants, but in fact, I had trouble filling a book with actually “wicked” bugs!

 In your introduction, you discuss your use of the word “bug.” Can you tell our readers about it?  How did you choose which critters to include?

 Entomologists will be quick to point out that they use the word “bug” to refer to a specific type of insect with piercing and sucking mouthparts. An aphid, therefore, is a “bug,” but an ant is not. This book covers all manner of slithering, creeping, and crawling creatures, from insects to spiders to worms. In that sense, I’m using the word “bug” in the more ancient sense, dating back to the 1620s, when it was used to refer to any sort of little insect-like creature.

How did you approach research for the book?

 I interviewed toxicologists, physicians, and entomologists. I read a lot of medical and scientific journals, scoured old newspapers, and did original, primary research to try to debunk myths and avoid repeating old, false information. Although this looks like a small, light-hearted book, I do quite a bit of research. For instance, I would never repeat a fact from a modern book along the lines of “the ancient Greeks used wasps for warfare.” I’d need to trace that to the source–and I don’t just mean a more authoritative Greek scholar, I mean the original source text, which, fortunately, has probably been digitized and can be found in a research library somewhere in the world. I’ve hired translators to translate 500 year-old German texts and even Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Tell us about the decision to publish a young readers’ edition of your 2011 New York Times best seller for adults, Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects.

I do quite a lot of events around the country at science museums, botanical gardens, libraries, and so forth. At those events I will often meet teachers and parents who are really eager to find interesting science books for their kids and students. I confess that because I’m not a parent myself, I wasn’t aware of the changes that Common Core and other educational standards have brought to the classroom, but teachers and parents brought me up to date! They told me that literature and writing are being integrated into other subjects, like science and history. Because Wicked Bugs combines all of those things–science, history, and storytelling–it really fit the bill.

 How does this middle grade version differ from the adult version?

We had the text professionally edited to fit the right age and grade level, and we removed just a little bit of “adult’ content.  We also made it into a full-color edition by using hand-colored versions of Briony Morrow-Cribbs’ extraordinary copperplate etchings. As you might know, copper etchings were used to illustrate scientific books three hundred years ago. It’s almost a lost art today. But Briony took up the challenge, often working from real specimens at her university entomology department, wearing jeweler’s glasses to see every tiny detail.

If there was one single thing that you wanted young readers to get from Wicked Bugs, what would it be?

Honestly, I just want them to enjoy the book. I write for entertainment–to entertain myself, and to entertain readers.

 Do you have plans for any other books for young readers?

I very much hope that my publisher will want to do Wicked Plants! There are other books about bugs out there for this age group, but it seems to me that botany is a very underserved subject for young readers. There’s a definite Harry Potter vibe to Wicked Plants–poisons and potions and so forth–but it’s also an engaging look at botany and a good way into the subject. If anybody out there thinks Wicked Plants would make a good next book, please send me your thoughts!

You have published both fiction and nonfiction. Do you have a preference? How does your writing process differ?

Right now I’m writing a series of novels (Girl Waits with Gun, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, and Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions) [for adults] based on the true story of one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs and her sisters.

It’s great because the research is really the same, but the writing is very free, because I can make things up if I have to. Also, I’m no longer writing in my own voice, and I do get tired of the sound of Amy Stewart in my head all the time.  Now I’m writing in the voice of a woman who lived in the 1910s, and that’s a great challenge. There will be many more books in that series to come!

And now for the giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Summer Reads = Summer Fun!

Summer is a time when I feel energized and creative, basking in the longer daylight hours and a different kind of vibe, even though I work at home and the actual calendar doesn’t change that much around here.

If your kid is the kind who likes to make and do in summer, as mine was (she’s grown now, but this is how I remember her middle grade summers, and my own), here is a post to scratch your kiddos’ summer activity itch. Of course, you might like to join in the fun, too.

I have to say right up front that this was not my (fantastic!) idea – here’s a big shout out to our own Annabelle Fisher for the inspiration, and to many of our members for chiming in with great ideas to share with you.

Like to cook? These reads might also make you hungry to make food.

Lisa Schroeder’s cupcake books, including It’s Raining Cupcakes, might inspire you to make some…

The Truth About Twinkie Pie, by Kat Yeh, is full of recipes.

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff, is also filled with things I want to cook. 

Pixie Piper and the Matter of the Batter, by our own Annabelle Fisher (including a recipe for magical “reversing cake” and other fun things!).

How about writing to authors?

Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary gave adult me the push to write a favorite author, actually.

Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech is another that inspires action in the form of writing.

Want to play with paper engineering?

Origami Yoda and Tom Angleberger’s other Origami books result in lots of paper play.

Richard Merrill’s Fantastic Press-Out Flying Birds  is a blast (I’m giving this one an extra shout-out – this fellow SCBWI member and Dover Publications author is also my big brother!).

Books about science and nature and those that get us out of doors can also spark inspiration for projects and action.

Mixed Up Files member Jacqueline Houtman pointed me to Elaine Vickers’ blog, which features a ton of great activities for middle graders. Jacqueline’s own book, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas was featured there, and reading this book about a science geek might prompt a visit to find something to do, too.

Nature sketching and birdwatching are featured in The Someday Birds, by Sally Pia.

One Mixed Up Files member described Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island as being ”sort of about a group of kids camping on their very own island.”

The Phineas MacGuire books by Francis O’Roark Dowell feature science activities in the back matter, and a website to visit for more at: http://gophineas.com/. My students loved our read aloud of Phineas in the library.

Roseanne Parry, still another Mixed Up Files member, wrote Turn of the Tide, which features geocaching.

And Explore Forces and Motion, by Jen Swanson (still another Mixed Up Filer), includes 25 fun activities for kids to do with science.

Community service as summertime action?

Our own Michele Weber Hurwitz says, “My book, The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, doesn’t exactly feature a craft project, but the main character, Nina, does a project involving 65 good things she does for her neighbors and family, one for each day of her summer vacation. It’s been a popular summer read for students who then do a community service project when they return to school.

Lisa Graff’s The Great Treehouse War Is about a bunch of kids who stage a sit-in, and then some…

Plus, there are always mysteries to solve and other fun things to do!

I’m intrigued by Annabelle Fisher’s recommendation of The Puzzler’s Mansion, by Eric Berlin, which she describes as having brainteasers and interactive puzzles in it.

Chasing Vermeer and the others in Blue Balliet’s architectural mystery series feature tangrams and puzzles to solve. I had several students who made their own tangrams after reading these books.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, by Chris Grabenstein, is another that is jam-packed with stuff to do and try.

A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd is filled with oodles of stuff to do, too…

What books inspire you to dive in and then get out to have some fun in summer?

Interview and Giveaway with Science Author Patricia Newman

I’m so excited to welcome Author Patricia Newman to the MUF blog today. She writes SCIENCE books!  YAY!

Patricia (middle) is shown here with Lilian Carswell (L) and Brent Hughes (R).  Photo credit:  Elise Newman Montanino

 

Author Patricia Newman has written several titles that connect young readers to scientific concepts, including Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of a starred Kirkus review; Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Green Earth Book Award winner; Ebola: Fears and Facts, a Booklist Editors’ Choice selection; and the upcoming fall 2017 release, Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. In her free time, she enjoys nature walks, the feel of dirt between her fingers in the garden, and traveling. She lives in Northern California with her husband.

Patricia is here to share her newest book,

Sea Otters: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem (Millbrook Press, 2017)

 

Why do you write science books? 

I like the way science connects to nearly all aspects of our world. For instance, in Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem I show kids how saving endangered predators can benefit our air, our water, and our food supply. In my opinion, for kids to be successful in the 21st century, they will need to become global citizens who look at the bigger picture. Science can help us do that.

 

How do you choose your subjects for your books?

In the case of Sea Otter Heroes, the subject chose me. I was invited to the David Smith Conservation Research Fellows Retreat in April 2015 by Chelsea Rochman, one of the scientists that I featured in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. She thought her colleagues might be interested in learning more about communicating their research to children.

 

I conducted a day-long writing workshop, and somewhere in the middle, marine biologist Brent Hughes and his mentor Lilian Carswell (the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator with US Fish and Wildlife) approached me to see if I would be interested in writing about Brent’s sea otter discovery. He explained to me that he’d discovered a trophic cascade in which sea otters, the apex predator in an estuary off Monterey Bay, restored the natural food chain and healed the ecosystem so it could perform functions that benefit us. The more I spoke with Brent and Lilian, the more I liked the idea. Everyone thinks sea otters are adorable, and every kid knows about food chains, but Brent had found an amazing twist that most kids wouldn’t know about.

 

You seem drawn to eco-friendly topics. Is that something that you are passionate about? 

Yes, without a doubt. We have only one planet. It sustains us in so many ways. The ocean produces nearly 75% of our oxygen, it feeds us, and it entertains us. In a world where concrete is king, I think kids (and adults) benefit from getting closer to nature. In the current political climate, I want to persuade kids to love nature before they are corrupted by “alternative facts.” Caring is key because we protect what we love.

 

Tell us a little about how you do your research. How much time do you spend? What type of sources do you look for?

Nonfiction requires digging, and like my colleagues I dig through scientific journals, online sources, books, magazines, and newspapers. I also interview scientists conducting amazing research, and if I’m lucky I take a field trip to visit their labs. For Sea Otter Heroes, I spent a day on Brent’s research boat enjoying the sun on my face and the crisp ocean breeze, watching pelicans dive and sea otters crack open crabs with a rock. There are definitely worse jobs!

 

Why is back matter useful for readers?

As a researcher, I love back matter because it contains all sorts of gems. But for kids, I hope it extends the reading experience. When a novel or a fictional series ends, we have to say good-bye to beloved characters, but nonfiction science back matter lays more research, more videos, and more books within a child’s reach and encourages continued inquiry—the basis of all science.

 

Anything that you are working on that you would care to share? Other books that we can look for from you soon?

Photographer Annie Crawley (from Plastic, Ahoy!) and I team up again for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue (Millbrook Press, Fall 2017). We had a great time with this book, traveling to three different zoos, getting up close and personal with the animals, and fighting a fierce Colorado blizzard. The book features three endangered species—orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos—and shows how zoos protect them and their wild habitats. Annie and I are excited to introduce our readers to the three scientists that we interviewed. The two women and one man are amazing role models for kids.

For fall 2018, think elephants.

 

Do you do school and/or Skype visits? Why do you think these are helpful to students?

I visit schools in person or virtually every year. Author visits motivate kids to apply themselves to reading and writing. We introduce them to a variety of literature—some of which is bound to pique their interest. Authors also show kids what real revision looks like and that writing takes perseverance. I tell students that writing is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but even in the face of rejection I refuse to give up on myself. What child who shares a piece of writing with me or asks about writer’s block or struggles to put ideas on paper wouldn’t benefit from believing in him/herself?

If you want to learn more about Patricia’s books or just drop her a line, you can find her on Twitter @PatriciaNewman  or visit her website at http://www.patriciamnewman.com/  to check out some of her other amazing science books:  

 

 

 

 

It’s Time for a Giveaway!!    Patricia’s publisher, Millbrook Press/Lerner, has generously donated a copy of her Sea Otter Heroes book. For a chance to win, leave a comment below about your favorite animal!


Jennifer Swanson is an award-winning author of over 25+ science books for kids. Visit her at her favorite place to explore the world around her www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com