Blog Tour: Growing Up Gorilla by Clare Hodgson Meeker

Growing Up Gorilla cover

Today I’m thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for Clare Hodgson Meeker’s new book, Growing Up Gorilla!

Growing Up Gorilla cover

GROWING UP GORILLA
by Clare Hodgson Meeker
Millbrook Press/September 3, 2019
Grades 3-6, 48 pages

Here’s what the publisher says about Growing Up Gorilla:

This heartwarming true story chronicles what happened after a mother gorilla gave birth for the first time and then walked away from her newborn baby at Seattle’s Woodland Park. The dedicated staff worked tirelessly to find innovative ways for mother and baby to build a relationship. The efforts were ultimately successful, as baby Yola bonded with her mother and the rest of the family group.

And here are my thoughts about Growing Up Gorilla:

This beautifully photo-illustrated nonfiction is both meticulously researched and lovingly told. Meeker does a fantastic job of bringing this true story to life in a very kid-friendly way, bringing us into the world of both the gorillas and their keepers in a way that keeps readers thoroughly absorbed at all times. There is something for everyone here, with plenty of drama and suspense as well as heart-tugging emotion and (spoiler alert!) a happy ending.
The book also contains a table of contents and extensive backmatter, including an author’s note, further reading/websites/videos, glossary, index, maps, primary source quotations/images, sidebars, and more.

AND, here’s my interview with the author of Growing Up Gorilla, Clare Hodgson Meeker!

LAT: Can you describe your writing process? Did Growing Up Gorilla require any particular changes to how your typical process?

CHM: Normally I don’t start writing a book until I’ve worked out the arc of the story from beginning to end and done enough research and interviewing to feel ready to tell the story with excitement and confidence. Preparing a proposal helps me organize my thoughts – outlining the story with chapter summaries helps me think in scenes and how I’m going to thread in the factual information I think is relevant. Once I have that, I can begin writing my first scene of the book and continue chronologically through the story. The only change in my writing process with Growing Up Gorilla was having to write a full draft before interviewing the gorilla keepers who were directly involved with helping Yola and her mother Nadiri bond. I was able to interview them once I had a publisher on board, which satisfied the Zoo’s requirements. However, the zoo staff did give me some access to the Keeper’s Daily Record book, which included their notes of what happened during the first few months after Yola’s birth, to help me write the first draft.

LAT: What do you find most challenging about writing for kids? About Growing Up Gorilla in particular?

CHM: I’ve taught writing in the schools to children for many years. When we talk about plot and what makes a story interesting, kids agree that there needs to be a problem that has to be solved and a main character they can relate to who wants something and/or has to solve the story problem. In writing a book about a baby gorilla whose mother initially refused to care for her after her birth, my challenge was to get children to relate to these characters and care about their problems. Children’s books should be action-oriented and avoid too much description or flashback. I had to choose carefully the places where I slowed down the action to describe a scene in more detail – like the night Nadiri went into labor where I wanted to show the close relationship between Nadiri and the infant care specialist who had hand-raised her at birth after Nadiri’s mother rejected her. I don’t believe in writing down to a certain grade level or limiting word choice to a grade-appropriate list. I think about presenting the story in the most natural way I can as though I am telling it to the reader sitting next to me.

LAT: What authors and or books do you most admire, and why? Did you have any specific mentor texts that you looked at for Growing Up Gorilla?

CHM: Katherine Applegate’s middle-grade novel The One and Only Ivan and her picture book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla are fantastic examples of a gorilla character and story that children can relate to and empathize with, in both a fictional version and in a more condensed nonfiction format.
CHM: I am also a big fan of Sy Montgomery, who has written many of the Scientists in the Field series books published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her voice is so distinctive as she takes you on an adventure shadowing biologists and naturalists who are studying animals in the wild around the world and weaving in fascinating facts about them.

LAT: Outside of the writing itself, what kinds of things do you do that you feel help your writing career?

CHM: I am a life-long learner. I love taking classes in different writing genres, from poetry and picture books to essay and novel writing. Hugo House in Seattle is a wonderful place to take classes, get inspired, and meet others in the writing and reading community. I also enjoy writing conferences where I can get tips on writing and the business of writing listening to editors and talking with fellow children’s book authors.

LAT: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing nonfiction for kids?

CHM: Children’s nonfiction is a very popular genre today, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). My advice is to choose a topic that you are excited about and willing to immerse yourself in, so that you can feel confident writing a story that kids and publishers will love. Think of creative ways to present your book idea, like Laurie Ann Thompson did in her Two Truths and a Lie series. It also helps to include themes that reflect the current elementary science or humanities curriculum standards so a publisher can market your book to schools and libraries.

LAT: Wow, thanks so much for that shout out, Clare! And thanks so much for including me in the blog tour for Growing Up Gorilla and for taking the time to do this interview for us.

Please check out the rest of the Growing Up Gorilla blog tour stops on the schedule below!

blog tour schedule

Interview with Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster

Last week I posted a review of ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE here. Today I’m honored to follow up on that post with an interview with both of the book’s creators, author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley, as part of their blog tour. Enjoy, and be sure to check out the rest of the stop in the blog tour, too!  (See below for a complete list.)
LAT: How did you first become interested in doing a book about zoo scientists in general, and about these three in particular?
Patricia headshotPatricia: When my niece was in fifth grade, she told me about a persuasive essay her teacher assigned. The topic was zoos—are they good or bad? Only the teacher didn’t provide a balanced look—most of the literature she shared with the kids was anti-zoo. As the mother of a zookeeper, I knew my niece—and kids like her—needed the other side of the story. That experience planted the seeds for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue.
Patricia: During my initial research, I learned that zoos tackle conservation using three basic approaches: visitor education; captive breeding and reintroduction programs; and in situ study, or studying wildlife in their native habitats. I searched for several months, conducting brief phone interviews with people at various zoos to find the best match. Not all zoos are large enough to have research departments, and the largest zoos often charge an hourly fee to interview their scientists. Some even charge hefty licensing fees to write about their “intellectual property.” But finally, the pieces slid into place only slightly denting my bank account. I found three charismatic species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinos) and three scientists willing to speak to me who address the three main ways zoos promote conservation. And this was all before I’d written a word!
Annie headshotAnnie: I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln Park Zoo connected me with nature on a very deep level. It is open 365 days a year and it is free, so for a Mom with four kids that was important. All summer long we would go to the zoo in the morning and North Avenue Beach in the afternoon. We would get to know the animals. In 5th grade I learned that all of our Great Apes needed protecting. I signed up for a special Behind the Scenes program for students. This program had us working with the scientists, keepers, and access to so many wildlife leaders. Zoos had a great impact on my life and the way I choose to live my life. When Patti approached me to work with her on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I was all in. It is vital for kids/teens to connect with nature and conservation and I believe Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire many families to protect our world.
LAT: I so agree. As a zoo lover myself, it was really heartening to read such a thorough, well-researched (and gorgeous!) look at the good work that zoos are doing. Besides me, what kind of reader do you think ZOO SCIENTISTS will appeal to?
Patricia: I write for the kid who asks questions about animals and our world; the kid who wants to protect wildlife; the future scientist; the future writer with a passion for the environment; or the voracious reader. But way at the back of my mind, I write the kinds of books I would have liked to read as a kid.
Annie: Similar to Plastic Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, this book is targeted to 3-8 grade students. I have had pre-sale copies and shared it with many… and young and old truly love this book. Every time I read it, I am even more inspired into action. It will appeal to nature lovers, zoo enthusiasts, scientific minds, and anyone who wants to learn more about our world. More important, I think anyone who reads Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will want to help our world!
LAT: I think it’s hard to read this book (or Plastic Ahoy!) and not come away with an enhanced passion for science, the environment, and doing what we can to help. What was your favorite part of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I love to get to know the scientists. They always inspire and amaze me, and I hope they will inspire young readers to follow in their footsteps. I keep in touch with the scientists I interview to find out where science takes them and how their research grows and develops.
Annie: Getting kissed by Maku, a black rhino!
Annie: My favorite part of making this book was traveling together with Patricia and being able to be a part of all of the interviews so that I knew the kinds of images (both photo and video) that would be important to tell the story. My favorite trip was of course traveling to Chicago and to document black rhinos and Dr. Rachel Santymire at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Currently I live in Seattle, so to be able to create a book featuring a scientist from a zoo that helped shape who I am, and one where I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours of my youth was very exciting. We got a tour of the back area of the rhino exhibit and then worked with Maku’s keeper in the exhibit so that I could get some great photos. It’s the shoot we did that the cover of the book came from. During the shoot, the keeper would work with him and feed him snacks. She let me give him one and the next thing I knew Maku kissed my hand.
LAT: That is so cool! It sounds like it really was a treat for both of you to work on this project. What was the hardest part of the making ZOO SCIENTISTS, and how did you deal with that?
Patricia: For me, the hardest part was lining up the three zoos. After the zoos, the animals, and the scientists fell into the place, the rest of the book was a breeze in comparison!
Annie: Time is the hardest part of making any book. Shooting with Jeff Baughman at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was very challenging photographically on many levels. We were given permission to shoot at the breeding facility, but there were many points to consider. Their main goal is to breed black-footed ferrets to reintroduce into the wild. BFFs are nocturnal, solitary animals that do not do well with stress. They also need dim lighting. So not knowing any of this in advance, I had to work very efficiently in low light to capture these charismatic animals.
LAT: I can certainly understand the difficulty of the research and logistics to line up the three zoos and their projects, Patricia, and I’m so glad it worked out. But I can’t even imagine how you came up with such great photos in that kind of environment, Annie. Hats off to both of you! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for making ZOO SCIENTISTS?
Patricia: I didn’t come across any surprises that made me change course, but I’m always surprised by the coolness of the science and how scientists solve problems. The story of black-footed ferrets being saved from the brink of extinction, not once but twice, is truly astonishing!
Annie: We feature Meredith Bastian from Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. We were able to interview her while Patricia and I were in Washington, D.C., accepting a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic Ahoy! We had a very limited time with the scientist and only were granted permission the day before we arrived. In our allotted one hour, we interviewed her, but had no time to photograph her with the orangutans nor did we have access on a level that we were given at the other zoos with the animals. It was also a very cloudy/rainy day so the orangutans were not very cooperative! Because I knew we needed to get orangutan images for the book from other zoos, I started hanging out at my local zoo in Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo, to capture images. In addition, I was traveling to Australia and made a point to go to the Melbourne Zoo. Their orangutan exhibit is phenomenal and really helps educate people on how farming palm oil can be so destructive to our environment.
LAT: I was astonished by the story of the BFFs, too. And, as a Seattleite myself, I love visiting the orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo. How neat to know that they are pictured in ZOO SCIENTISTS! I’m always curious about other writers’ and illustrators’ (including photographers’!) research processes. Can you tell us about yours? Did you plot the basic outline first, then fill in the blanks with research? Or did you immerse yourself in the research first, then feel your way into the structure? I see you did a lot of email and phone interviews—did you have to go back and forth to complete the stories? Were there any fun facts that got cut that you were sad to see go?
Patricia: When I write for Millbrook Press, I have to submit a formal proposal which provides a basic overview of the idea, describes the chapters, and gives the acquisition committee an idea of where this book would fit in the market. In order to complete the proposal, I conduct short informational interviews with the scientists by phone. During these interviews, I try to find out the broad strokes of their story and whether they are willing to commit the necessary time to lengthy in-person interviews, clarification questions, and vetting the final manuscript. Once I have a scientist’s buy-in, I can craft the proposal and hopefully give my editor some idea what my narrative thread might be.
Patricia: When the acquisitions committee gave me the go-ahead on Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, Annie and I made three trips to the three different zoos to interview the scientists and photograph/film them at work. We braved a spring blizzard, backed away from a charging rhino, and laughed when a chattering black-footed ferret told us exactly what he thought of our intrusion on his space!
Patricia: And as for cutting fun facts, never! I re-word and re-imagine before I cut anything fun. The writing was all about the fun. Why wouldn’t I share that with readers at every opportunity?
Annie: Patricia and I traveled together for all of the interviews. She shared with me many of the papers the scientists had written and we dug deep into who they were. Being able to document with photos and videos always takes research because the more you know about your subject, the more knowledge you can bring to your creative approach. Once the first draft was written, I knew I had to document many other animals. At this time, I became a zoo stalker with my camera. I spent weeks at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle getting to know the animals so that I could look for special moments. A photographer also has to wait for light for the subjects. Early morning and later afternoons in the fall gives you a golden light.
LAT: Oh, I love getting that insight into the process. What was your larger goal, i.e. what were you trying to give readers of ZOO SCIENTISTS as a takeaway?
Patricia: A Senegalese forestry engineer by the name of Baba Dioum presented a paper at a 1968 meeting of the IUCN. In his paper he said, “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” When I write books like Zoo Scientists to the Rescue or Sea Otter Heroes or Plastic, Ahoy!, I want readers to come away with a newfound respect for our connection to the natural world. Our habits matter because they create ripples across the globe. So, whether we conserve energy to reduce climate change, learn to appreciate the role an apex predator plays in its ecosystem, reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our lives, or buy products that use sustainably-sourced palm oil, we choose to create positive ripples that help preserve the breathtaking abundance of biodiversity on our planet.
Annie: When photographing/filming I always want to document and help viewers see what a writer/script needs to tell a story. Zoo Scientists to the Rescue captures what people are doing to help save endangered species and their environments. I’m hoping that all of our readers feel inspired into action to help protect our world.
LAT: Well said, and I do think you succeeded. In addition to teaching something to our readers, I believe every book teaches us something new–about the world, about
ourselves, or about the craft of creating. What have you learned as a result of making ZOO SCIENTISTS?

Patricia: Every time I write a book about an aspect of the environment, I’m reminded that scientists find new connections all the time between humans and the plants and animals that share our planet. I guess that’s job security for me, but it’s also a wake-up call for young readers. Without a clean ocean will there be enough food to eat or oxygen to breathe? Without predators like black-footed ferrets or sea otters, how will their respective ecosystems thrive? And without large animals like orangutans and black rhinos, will the smaller animals also disappear? Despite what our current administration seems to think, humans are not “entitled” to use and abuse the world’s natural resources without giving back. We have to conserve for the future.
Annie: Zoos are really important places in our world for conservation, education, inspiration and so much more. If the habitat of the orangutan disappears because of our need for palm oil, the orangutans disappear. If black rhinos are killed to extinction because of poachers, then the human population has failed to protect the animals in need of our protection. There is so much destruction happening all around needing to be documented, shared, and reversed. I’ve learned we all need to raise our voices together and do everything possible to protect our world.
Annie: Climate change is real and our ocean is the great regulator of our planet. The weather affects all the regions of the world. People always look at our planet from a people point of view… and I have always looked out for the animals. We told the stories of these three animals and their environment through the lens of people helping them… while other people are trying to destroy the very same animals.
Annie: This is the second title Patricia and I co-created with editor Carol Hinz and entire Lerner Publishing design/marketing crew. It reinforced how much I truly appreciate the team effort to take a book from your imagination into one you can hold in your hands and share with others. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” With this book, we are hoping to inspire people into action to protect our world!
LAT: Thank you for sharing those important lessons with us. What are you both working on next?
Patricia: Annie and I have are mulling over a few possibilities for our next book, but you can bet we’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I have two books coming out in 2018: a picture book called Neema’s Reason to Smile (illustrated by the talented Mehrdokht Amini) which tells the story of a Kenyan girl who yearns to be more, and another middle-grade nonfiction science book called Eavesdropping on Elephants which follows scientists who study forest elephants simply by listening to them. I’m extremely excited about both of these titles because they held kids become global citizens in very different ways.
Annie: Although Zoo Scientists to the Rescue officially launches in October, we still have so much to do! We just finished our trailer and are hoping schools and organizations will welcome us to come inspire and speak. We are planning a 30-Day Challenge for everyone to do one thing every day that will help #ProtectOurWorld
Annie: My Uncle Al always said, “Annie, have your fingers in 12 different project ideas…” As I’m writing this, I am on my way to film whales in Tonga. Three days ago, I was in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Bellingham, WA, documenting the environmental disaster of the Cooke Salmon Farm net catastrophe which released 300,000 farmed Atlantic Salmon into the Puget Sound/Salish Sea. In June I was in the Arctic Circle. And I’m also laying the groundwork on a larger project I’d like to work on with Patricia.
LAT: These projects all sound so exciting! I’m looking forward to hearing more about them all when the time comes. Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t? 
Patricia and Annie: You were very thorough, Laurie, and asked us great questions! Thank you so much for participating in the blog tour. We are very grateful to you for wanting to write about us and share our story with your readers. Perhaps we can close with a statement:

We truly hope our story and reading the book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue will inspire others to act. The orangutans, black rhinos, and black-footed ferrets would not be with us today if it were not for people giving them a voice. Yet, they are endangered because of people. We all need to raise our voices together, take an action every day, and share with your friends, family, and colleagues what you are doing and why. We need to work together to #ProtectOurWorld.

LAT: I think that’s a great way to close. Thank you so much, Patricia and Annie, for answering my questions and for your dedication to bringing great books like ZOO SCIENTISTS into the world. I am sure YOUR actions will have many ripple effects around the world. 
Catch up and follow along with the rest of the blog tour here:

To download posters with information about the 30-day #ProtectOurWorld journal challenge, click here.

#ProtectOurWorld challenge poster #ProtectOurWorld challenge journal

Thanks for visiting!
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

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?
SA: At the risk of sounding hokey, every part of the research was fascinating. Poisons in the ancient world, poisons in the Renaissance, poisons in the 19th century and the rise of forensics—I mean, there was literally never a dull moment. I loved visiting a poison plant garden and seeing in person all the poisonous plants I’d been reading and writing about. I loved talking to museum curators and getting special, private access to amazing collections of bones and body organs and
artifacts.
LAT: Sounds like fun! What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you, and how did you deal with that?
SA: The hardest part was figuring out how to narrow down my topic. Early drafts of the book were, well, in need of a firm editorial hand. Luckily I have wonderful beta readers and a fantastic editor, and with varying degrees of gentleness and candor, they informed me that I needed to cut, cut, cut. Thank god for editors.
LAT: Hear, hear! I can relate to that one. Did anything during the research phase surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
SA: Yessirree. See above re having to narrow down my topic. In an earlier draft, I’d included a pretty extensive history of anesthesia. It is SO COOL. Preparing a patient for surgery in ancient times ranged from having the patient inhale fumes from a soporific sponge soaked in mandrake and opium, to bonking him over the head with a mallet. Which unfortunately led to many patients never waking up. The discovery of ether and chloroform totally transformed the way surgeons performed operations. But my editor and I finally decided we needed to cut most of that out, which pained me as much as bodily cuts without anesthesia. (Ha ha, not really!) Although many types of poisons were used as both analgesics and anesthetics, I had to acknowledge that they didn’t quite fit in a book about nefarious poisons. (Side note: I now have the most profound respect for anesthesiologists.)
LAT: Perhaps it’ll come in handy for another book, somewhere down the line. I can image you collected a TON of interesting information along the way. How do you manage all of your research for a book like this? What’s your system? (Tell me, please, because mine feels woefully amateurish!)
SA: Ha! I wish I could tell you that I’m super systematic about my research, but every time I begin a new project it’s a big, blobby mess. For this book, I began by reading widely—biographies about the Borgias, Roman emperors, Catherine de Medici, Empress Wu. I read early medical journals, up-to-the-minute scholarly articles, and primary sources like travelogues and diaries. I took an online course in chemistry, and another in forensics. I interviewed tons of people, and became a pest to my science-teacher friends (“explain to me again what an alkaloid is?”). The one godsend was I knew what my structure would be—the book would be chronological, from ancient times to the present, so I was able to lump my topics and my poisoners/victims into their respective historical eras.
POISON cover
LAT: Wow, that’s an impressive research list! Did you do all the photo research for the book too? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
SA: The first time I did my own image research, many books ago, I was overwhelmed, and totally clueless about how to go about it. Image research is a steep learning curve, but now, many books later, I absolutely love that phase of the process. I did a couple of guest posts on Melissa Stewart’s blog about image research for students here, and for professional writers here, if people would like a bit more detail.
LAT: You’ve helped me come up to speed in that area as well, and I’m eternally grateful for your generous advice!
LAT: I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this book?
SA: I try not to get too political in my books or on social media, but the more research I have done about the horrors of poisons and environmental toxins people used to be exposed to, the more horrified I have grown by the current trend in our country to roll back hard-fought regulations for clean air and clean water, and to defang agencies such as the FDA and the EPA. When you know the history of the way things used to be, you shudder at what could happen once again.
LAT: I had the same thoughts when I was reading your book. I’m glad that myself, and all the other readers out there, will have this broadened perspective going forward.
LAT: What other writers do you look up to and why?
SA: I have so many kidlit writers that I look up to and love, both fiction and nonfiction—but this answer would be way too long if I tried to list all of them. So I’ll stick to just a few writers of adult books I admire. Mary Roach is a favorite of mine. I love her sense of humor and her offbeat science topics—I like to think that our missions are aligned. I love P.G. Wodehouse. I love historians who can write, and write well. It’s like a breath of fresh air when you find a scholarly, well-researched book that’s also beautifully written for a reader’s enjoyment, with grace and style and wit.
LAT: What are you working on now?
SA: I’m working on several projects right now and I wish there were more hours in the day because I’m so excited about all of them! I have a book about the human/dog relationship coming out next March with National Geographic, called Dog Days of History. And I’m working on a book that’s a collection of quirky biographies, as well as a series of biographies for much younger readers, and a new American history series for upper elementary kids, which will probably be called “What Were They Thinking?
LAT: Gosh, you’re busy! Is there anything you wish I would’ve asked you but didn’t?
SA: You’ve done a darn good job covering the bases, Laurie. But hmmm. Kids often ask me what my favorite part of my job is. And I joke about how great it is to be able to work at my bed-desk, but honestly, one of the best parts of this job is when I visit schools, and meet the kids I work for. Let’s face it: for a nonfiction writer, fiction can be stiff competition, not to mention the myriad screen-time options vying for kids’ attention. So my goal is to write fascinating, entertaining, and accurate books that kids choose to read. I want them to see how amazing history can be.
LAT: Well said. I feel exactly the same way. I’m so glad you could visit, Sarah, and thank you for answering all of my questions!


You can find out more about Sarah Albee at her website, and be sure to check out POISON: DEADLY DEEDS, PERILOUS PROFESSIONS, AND MURDEROUS MEDICINES!

Author interview with Tara Dairman and book #giveaway!

The Great Hibernation cover
A very happy book birthday to Tara Dairman and her latest middle-grade novel, The Great Hibernation! This story has mystery, politics, coming of age, science, and a healthy dose of girl power, and it’s available NOW from Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Random House. I loved it, and I highly recommend it!
As a special treat, Tara agreed to do an interview for us today. So, without further ado, let’s hear from Tara!
LAT: What kind of reader do you think this book will appeal to?
TD: A wide variety, I hope! Fans of my All Four Stars series should enjoy the humor and the foodie elements that those books share with The Great Hibernation. But I think that Hibernation will also draw in readers who like mystery, zany/madcap adventure, and a bit of political content, too. Plus, I just have to say, my mom really likes it. She pretty much told me it’s her favorite of all my books. 🙂
LAT: It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I also really loved this one. How did you first become interested in writing The Great Hibernation? What were your incentives for sticking with it?
TD: I first got the idea in 2013… from a dream! In the dream, two kids were out in freezing open water in a tiny boat, trying to flag down a bigger boat to help them because something had gone terribly wrong back on shore in their town. When I woke up, I knew I had to find out who those kids were and what had gone wrong. (And that dream inspired one of my favorite scenes in the whole book.)
LAT: I remember that scene! There are some great details and observations in that one, as well as others. It seems like a ton of research must have gone into this book to get those details right. Can you tell us about that? How was that different from previous books? Do you think you’ll get to reuse any of that research in future stories?
TD: Working on The Great Hibernation did give me an opportunity to research a lot of fun topics, from sheep farming to Thai cuisine to liver function. I was lucky to have some expert beta and sensitivity readers look at the manuscript and answer my questions at various points to that I could make those details as authentic as possible. As for the small town of St. Polonius-on-the-Fjord (where the book is set), it’s loosely inspired by the northern coast of Iceland. I had the pleasure of traveling through that area a few years ago, so when I was drafting, I did have a sharp picture in my head of what the town and its environs would look like.
TD: I kind of doubt I’ll ever get to reuse any of my research, but if I write another book in which a sheep needs to go down a staircase… well, I know now that he can. (With a little help!)
LAT: Were there any surprises or stumbling blocks along the way to the finished draft? How did you end up dealing with that?
TD: I struggled to get the opening chapter right for this book. There’s a lot of information and backstory to convey, plus a lot of characters to introduce, and of course I didn’t want things to feel info-dumpy. I started over from scratch several times—and then, after I sold the book for publication, I threw the whole first chapter out and rewrote it all over again. Luckily, my beta readers, editors, and I all really loved the final version, so I got there in the end!
LAT: Oh, I can certainly relate to that! Persistence is the key, right? To that point, though, how do you decide when a book is “done” and ready to send to your agent?
TD: When I literally cannot fathom looking at it for a single second more. 🙂 (That is usually after I’ve done at least two major revisions on my own based on critique partner feedback, though. My agent never sees my earliest drafts!)
Tara Dairman author photo
LAT: I think every book teaches us something new, about the world, about ourselves, or about the craft of writing. What have you learned as a result of writing this particular book?
TD: I’ve learned that, just because a book doesn’t pitch well, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a good book. My agent and I originally tried to sell this book on proposal, and the feedback we got from editors was that they liked the sample chapters but thought that the proposed plot sounded… well, a little crazy. It turned out I just had to write the whole book for them to see that I could pull the crazy plot off.
LAT: Wow! It sounds like you took quite a leap of faith with this one. (And I’m so glad you did!) Was that your toughest moment on the path to publication or were there others, and how did you make it over that hurdle?
TD: I’d still say that finishing the first draft of my first book (All Four Stars) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d dreamed of being a novelist since childhood, but until I actually finished writing a book, I didn’t know whether I could do it or not! And that one little book took me years upon years. Writing “the end,” though—definitely one of the best moments of my life.
LAT: What tricks have you learned for balancing your writing time with the demands of keeping up with the industry, promoting existing work, taking care of your home and family, personal recreation and self-care, etc.?
TD: Oy vey. I’m still learning! I have bad days and better days. What I have learned over the last few years is that “balance” is going to look different depending on the month, the week, the day. There are going to be stretches when I’m writing almost every day and really in that creative zone. And there are going to be stretches when a book release is looming, or a new baby is getting born, and I don’t do any creative work at all for weeks or months. And that’s okay! I’m not a great multitasker anyway, so I’d rather really focus on whatever is calling to me most in the moment—which is a privilege that I know not every author can afford.
TD: In short, I guess I’d say that balance has become a long game for me, rather than something I’m able to accomplish on a daily basis.
LAT: Excellent advice. I suspect that knowing it’s a long game is the #1 secret to finding that ever-elusive “balance.” So, what are you working on right now?
TD: I do have a middle-grade WIP that I’m hoping to get back to once The Great Hibernation is properly launched into the world. But I’m also having a baby in November, so once he or she arrives, my focus will likely be off writing for at least a few months.
LAT: Congratulations! I’m definitely looking forward to hearing more about that adventure (and seeing pictures)!!
LAT: Before I let you go, what do you wish I would’ve asked you that I didn’t, and why?
TD: I wish you’d asked me “What are some of your other favorite recent middle-grade books?” There are SO many good ones out this year! My answer would be:

  • Contemporary: Saturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger
  • Nonfiction: Poison by Sarah Albee; Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Laurie Ann Thompson and Ammi-Joan Paquette
  • Mystery: The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
  • Humor: This is Just a Test by Wendy Wan-Long Shang and Madelyn Rosenberg
  • Historical: Bobby Lee Claremont and the Criminal Element by Jeannie Mobley; The Last Grand Adventure by Rebecca Behrens (coming 3/18)
  • Fantasy: The Changelings and In a Dark Land by Christina Soontornvat

TD: I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself there!
LAT: Thanks for the shout-out for Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive!Tara. (I swear, I did NOT put her up to that!) And thank you so much for visiting today and answering all of my questions. I’ll be recommending The Great Hibernation far and wide, and I wish you much continuing success in ALL of your endeavors!  
Find out more about The Great Hibernation by Tara Dairman hereAnd leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy!


UPDATE: The giveaway winner is JennaO! Congratulations, JennaO!!

The Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive! Blog Tour Wrap-Up

Two Truths and a Lie blog tour header

Two Truths and a Lie blog tour header
Prior to its release date on June 27th (TOMORROW!!), many people worked really hard to put together an amazing blog tour for the launch of my newest book (with Ammi-Joan Paquette), Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! The tour included reviews, excerpts, interviews, giveaways, and more. Here’s a roundup of all of the great posts that were part of the official tour (links will go directly to the relevant post):

There were also a few that weren’t part of the official blog tour, but that put up awesome posts during the same time frame, so I wanted to highlight those as well:

I’m extremely grateful to each and every one of these bloggers for helping to get the word out about our new book in particular, of course, but also just for sharing their love of books and writing in general. I hope you’ll stop by and check out all of their wonderful blogs! ❤️
 

Interview: Luke Reynolds on SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL by Luke Reynolds. As you may recall, I LOVED it! Today, Luke was nice enough to let me interview him so I could get a few of my questions answered (and let you get to know him a bit better, as well!). If you haven’t read my review yet, please go take a quick peek now so you’ll know a bit about what we’re talking about in the interview below.
Luke Reynolds headshot
LAT: Welcome, Luke! Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!
LR: LAURIE!!!
LR: You are so kind and thoughtful and what a wonderful surprise! I really appreciate it! Indeed, I would be honored and thrilled to have an interview on your blog. THANK YOU!!!!! And thank you so much for sharing the book: you rock!!!
(Ed. note: See what kind of guy he is? I ask him to do work so I have content to put on my blog, during the month of September when he’s busy settling in with a new class of students as well as running the parenting gauntlet himself, and he thanks me for it, in the sweetest way possible. Plus, he loves exclamation points as much as I do!!! OK, back to the interview…)
LAT: You say you didn’t know this stuff in middle school, so… just how old were you when you finally figured it all out? (As I said in my review, I didn’t get it until I was in my 30s. This book could’ve saved me an awful lot of time and trouble!)
LR: I think it was yesterday that I figured it all out! 🙂 Truthfully, I haven’t figured out all that much, but what I wanted to do in the book is to remind myself and my students about what really matters in life. One of the things I say to my 7th grade students almost every day is that I AM STILL GROWING AND LEARNING, and I always promise them that anything I challenge them to do, I try to do too. So, much of the book is from what my own 7th grade students have shown and taught me in their own vulnerability and joy and pain and hope and humor.
LAT: I love that! I AM STILL GROWING AND LEARNING should be tattooed onto all of our foreheads, I think. Maybe we’d finally achieve world peace, or at least get a little closer than where we are now.
LAT: Through my school visits, I am lucky enough to meet with kids from preschool to high school. I love them all, but middle schoolers are my favorite kids to work with. Yes, there is so much vulnerability and joy and pain and hope and humor all jumbled together in them, and they’re trying so hard to make sense of it all. I’ve heard teachers say middle schoolers are the hardest to teach, but I suspect they may be the most rewarding, too.
Surviving Middle School cover
LAT: After reading SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL, I want to make your book required reading for every kid everywhere who is about to start middle school (so they don’t make all the dumb mistakes I did). Then I felt bad, because I have conflicting feelings about required reading at any age. I imagine that you probably have similarly mixed feelings. As an author, it probably sounds pretty good to you! But… as a language arts teacher, how do you feel about required reading of that type?
LR: You are so kind! I am a big believer in letting kids choose which books they want to read. Even for SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL, I would try to do what I do with other books and students–I’d show them the book and let them read the first few pages, and if it doesn’t resonate with them, I’d want them to find something else. Anytime we force students to read only certain kinds of books, I think we turn them off to reading in general. Not to say that we shouldn’t challenge our students to read a variety of books–but we should always encourage kids to find books that are absolutely IRRESISTIBLE to them–books they love so much they’d want to smother them with ketchup and eat them if they could. I tried my best to make SURVIVING a smothered-in-ketchup kind of book, but if a kid doesn’t think so, I would say to not read it and find something else! 🙂
LAT: OK, then I hope every kid who is about to start middle school anywhere wants to smother SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL with ketchup and eat it!
LAT: Speaking of eating… I have a gluten sensitivity, so I can’t eat garlic bread anymore. I sorely miss its buttery goodness, which, frankly, made your book a little hard to swallow at times (I had to give all of mine to the space gnomes!). What can you recommend as a gluten-free alternative to garlic bread that I can avoid giving to the space gnomes?
LR: Great question! Our family is attempting to go mostly gluten-free, and while at first I was terrified of missing out my foodish soul-mate, I found out about some truly sublime gluten-free breads. Rudi’s is a company that makes AMAZING gluten-free garlic bread. So even the space gnomes can’t steal the garlic bread from those of us who need to or want to live gluten-free! (Here’s the link to Rudi’s Products: http://www.rudisbakery.com/)
LAT: Awesome! Thanks for the recommendation!!
LAT: Finally, if you had to condense your whole book into one short paragraph, what would you want middle schoolers to know most of all?
LR: One thing: YOU MATTER. Your presence here on this earth and in your school and in your family MATTERS. You belong, even when you feel like you don’t. You have a beautiful purpose, even when you feel like you don’t. Just because you might feel weird or strange or like somebody is constantly sticking pretzel sticks up your metaphorical nose, IT WILL GET BETTER. I promise.
LAT: Beautiful, Luke. I hope they hear your message.
LAT: Thank you again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us today and for doing what you can to make the world a better place, one middle schooler at a time.
LR: Thanks so much Laurie, and huge hugs and much peace your way!
What a great guy, huh? For more great writing from Luke Reynolds, be sure to check out his other books, as well as his blog.

Radio Interview: T Love’s Energy Awareness

head shot of T Love
T Love, host of Energy Awareness

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to get to participate in another fantastic radio interview to talk about Be a Changemaker, and it was a blast! I really felt like the host and I just “clicked” and were on the same wavelength. I wish we weren’t on opposite coasts, because I think we’d have a great time hanging out together.
Please check it out here. Enjoy! 🙂

Nonfiction Monday: Courage & Defiance blog tour and interview

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Facts First! Nonfiction MondayAs you can probably tell by my books Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream, I love writing about heroes and changemakers. It should be no surprise, then, that I love reading about them, too. My favorite kinds of stories are those about ordinary people who acted with extraordinary strength, conviction, and courage, and the book I just finished reading is full of people doing just that. In Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs and Survivors in World War II Denmark by Deborah Hopkinson (Scholastic Press, August 2015), the author has clearly done a great deal of careful research to bring us narrative nonfiction about the WWII resistance movement in Denmark from the perspective of some of those who took part in it. It’s a gripping tale of adventure and suspense, and one that has rarely been told.

Deborah has been interviewed on this blog before, and I’m super excited to welcome her back once again as part of the Courage and Defiance blog tour. I hope you enjoy the interview!
LAT: I know I thoroughly enjoyed this book, Deborah. What kind of young reader do you think Courage & Defiance will appeal to? What other books might be read-alikes? 
DH: I visit schools all over the country and love to ask students what they’re reading. While fantasy and science fiction are always popular, I’m usually surprised by the number of students – girls and boys – who tell me they like to read about history and like nonfiction. There are definitely kids who read everything they can get their hands on topics such as the Titanic and World War II, but I think readers who enjoyed Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or The Diary of Anne Frank will also enjoy Courage & Defiance.
LAT: This is a story that many of us probably haven’t heard before. Why do you think that might be?
DH: I think perhaps that here in the U.S., we’re most naturally interested in stories that take place after America entered World War II on December 7, 1941. (As it happens, my next nonfiction book about submarines in the Pacific war begins with the attack on Pearl Harbor and will be out in 2016 for the 75th anniversary.) While I did find a number of adult nonfiction books about the experience of Danes during the German occupation, which began on April 9, 1940, almost all were scholarly titles or of interest primarily to historians (including a 600-page book about the SOE in Denmark). I feel fortunate that I was able to find as much as I did in English, but I am sure there is much more available in Danish. We were able to access the photo archives of the Museum of Danish Resistance.

Hopkinson-headshot
Deborah Hopkinson

LAT: During the research phase of Courage & Defiance, what discoveries did you come across that made you feel like you’d struck gold? Was there anything in the research that came as a surprise?
DH: At author visits, I tell students that my favorite part of writing is the research. And since I knew little when I began several years ago, I felt like I was discovering something new and incredible at every corner. Probably the most significant discovery I made was finding a memoir in English entitled A Letter to My Descendents by Niels Skov. Niels, whom I later had the privilege to meet, came to the U.S. after the war, where he received a Ph.D. and became a college professor. His personal account was so incredibly lively and vibrant – which matched his personality, even at age ninety-four. To my surprise, he had been deported to a German labor camp at the same time as another activist whose story I tell, but they did not meet. It made me realize just how many incredible stories there are in history, and how easily they are lost.
LAT: This one may be tricky, but if you can fathom a guess… What do you think it was about the Danes that made them able to resist the Germans and support their Jewish countrymen so effectively? 
DH: Well, I am not sure I am qualified to say, but what comes across in all the first-person accounts I found was that ordinary people shared an unwavering sense of human decency, a love of country, and a commitment to doing the right thing – even at great cost. It seems to me that as the war went on, the confidence and belief that people had in democratic values helped to give them the courage to take risks.
LAT: In the book, you asked Niels what his advice to young people today would be. Now that you’ve done all this research and written such a fantastic book, what is YOUR advice to young people today?
DH: While young people in America now may not be faced with life-and-death decisions as Danish citizens were in the 1940s, we all grapple with difficult personal choices. So perhaps I’d simply give the same advice I’ve often told my own two children: make good choices and do good work in the world. And, of course, I have to add: keep reading!
LAT: That’s great advice, Deborah. Thanks so much for visiting today! 
For other stops on the Courage and Defiance blog tour please check deborahhopkinson.com.

Radio Interview: Sister Jenna's America Meditating

I had the great good fortune to be on another radio show a couple of weeks ago, this time with Sister Jenna on America Meditating.
I come on at about 15:28, talking about my writing journey, Be a Changemaker, and Emmanuel’s Dream.
I hope you enjoy listening!

Check Out Self Help Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with America Meditating on BlogTalkRadio

 

Thank you to Sister Jenna and her assistant, Antonia, for the interview and also for their wonderful, positive energy throughout. It was a pleasure to participate!

 

Radio Interview: Brooke Taylor's A Special Connection

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Brooke Taylor on her inspiring radio show, A Special Connection on WHKW AM1220 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brooke just happened to have stumbled across one of my books at her local public library and was moved by it, so she reached out to me to talk about it.
The whole show is fantastic, but if you’re in a rush, we start discussing Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah at about the 31:58 mark, and Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters at about 45:37.
I hope you’ll enjoy listening!
https://soundcloud.com/living-the-word/a-special-connection-with-brooke-taylor-july-25th-2015
What fun! Huge thanks to both Brooke and her producer, Brett Crowe, for making it such a pleasure.
I’ve got a couple more radio interviews in the works as well, so please stay tuned for more audio in the coming weeks!

NEWSLETTER
SIGN-UP