Review: Who Gives a Poop?

Who Gives a Poop cover

Who Gives a Poop?
Surprising Science from One End to the OtherWho Gives a Poop?

By: Heather L. Montgomery, Illustrator: Iris Gottlieb
Bloomsbury Children’s Books/October 13, 2020
Ages 10-14, 192 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

This uniquely crafted narrative nonfiction invites readers to follow the author into science labs, forests, hospitals, and landfills, as the author asks:

Who uses poo?

Poop is disgusting, but it’s also packed with potential. One scientist spent months training a dog to track dung to better understand elephant birthing patterns. Another discovered that mastodon poop years ago is the reason we enjoy pumpkin pie today. And every week, some folks deliver their own poop to medical facilities, where it is swirled, separated, and shipped off to a hospital to be transplanted into another human. There’s even a train full of human poop sludge that’s stuck without a home in Alabama.

This irreverent and engaging book shows that poop isn’t just waste-and that dealing with it responsibly is our duty.

Here’s what reviewers have said:

⭐  “A well-stirred slurry of facts and fun for strong-stomached “poop sleuths.””  —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
⭐  “Feces have lots of great stories to tell… .” —BCCB (starred review)

And here are my thoughts:

OK, I have to confess: I had so much fun reading Who Gives a Poop?! Reading this book felt like I was walking through the woods on an exciting adventure with a trusted friend. The author’s voice is unfailingly authentic, and each chapter contains a ton of real science alongside genuine human emotion and just the right amount of humor. I think what I loved most about it, however, is how her passion for science and her reverence for curiosity comes through. She’s not afraid to ask questions, and she takes us along on her research trips to get those questions answered, as well as giving us an up-close view of her hands-on observations.

Even if you think you know all you need (or want) to know about poop, I guarantee you’ll take away loads of fascinating facts as well as many memorable stories about the scientists hunting for them. Readers of Who Gives a Poop? will thoroughly enjoy both the subject matter and the informal approach. One caution: I was peppering my family with random poop facts for days and days after reading this book. You’ve been warned! The footnotes and author’s note are lovely additions, as is the rest of the backmatter. Highly recommended for ages ten and up!

More about the book:

This fun video from the author, sharing the first chapter of Who Gives a Poop?, is not to be missed:

Click here for a fecal photo gallery from the author to go along with Who Gives a Poop?!

For more books by this author, visit https://heatherlmontgomery.com/.
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

 

 

 

*** Disclosure: I received a digital preview copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***
 

Happy book birthday to Forces of Nature!

Animated GIF of TTL Forces of Nature cover
Animated GIF of TTL Forces of Nature cover

TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: FORCES OF NATURE, the third book in the series, is finally here! So, what’s this one about? Here’s an overview:

Crazy-but-true stories make this acclaimed nonfiction series perfect for fans of curiosities and wonders—and anyone looking to explore ways to separate fact from fiction.

Did you know studies have shown that too many fidget spinners spinning in the same direction could potentially have an adverse effect on Earth’s gravitational field? Or that there’s a company that can turn your deceased loved one’s remains into a diamond? Or that the loudest recorded sound in history was made by the eruption of a volcano in 1883, whose echoing blast circled the planet at least three times?

Welcome to Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature! You’ve heard of the game: Every story in this book is strange and astounding, but one out of every three is an outright lie. Picking out the fakes isn’t as easy as you think, however. Some false stories are based on truth, and some of the true stories are just plain unbelievable! Don’t be fooled by the photos that accompany each story—it’s going to take all your smarts and some clever research to ferret out the truth.

From a man who gave himself an appendectomy to radio signals from other planets to eagles that have been trained to take out spy drones, the stories in this third installment in the Two Truths and a Lie series will amaze you! Just don’t believe everything you read. . . .

(Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins, June 2019)

Creating a book is a highly collaborative process, and this book has had an incredible team working on it from day one. Many, many thanks to my co-author, Ammi-Joan Paquette; our agent, Erin Murphy; our editor, Jordan Brown; and all the wonderful folks at Walden Pond Press and HarperCollins. It’s been an honor and a joy to work with you all on this book and the entire TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE series!

Buy it now, at your local independent bookstore, or anywhere books are sold! 

Review: EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS

Zoo Scientists cover

Eavesdropping on Elephants cover

EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS
by Patricia Newman
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2018
Grades 4-8, 56 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Can understanding how forest elephants communicate help scientists find ways to protect this vulnerable species? Researcher Katy Pane and others involved with Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project believe it can. Patricia Newman takes readers behind the scenes to see how scientists are making new discoveries about elephant communication and using what they learn to help these majestic animals.
Features: Author/Illustrator biography, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Page Plus, Primary source quotations/images, and Reviewed

And what the critics say:

  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • “An inviting introduction to biologists at work.” —Booklist
  • “…this book does an excellent job of transporting readers and providing a clear, multifaceted picture of African forest elephants…“The more you listen to wildlife, the more your mind opens up to new ideas about why the world is a place worth saving.” VERDICT A great pick for middle school nonfiction collections.” —School Library Journal
  • “Fascinating for earnest conservationists.” —Kirkus Reviews

And here are my thoughts:
Patricia Newman does it again, with another engaging piece of narrative nonfiction! This is a highly engaging read about the less well-known African forest elephants and several of the scientists who study them. The science here–bioacoustics–is quite interesting and the human stories give it a personal touch. I always appreciate when we get to see how scientists really work, and it’s especially rewarding to get a peek at how they collaborate with one another on their separate-but-related research projects. The book also mentions some of the conservation aspects involved and even how kids can participate if they’re so inspired. An added bonus is that most of the scientists in the book happen to be women, which is so important for showing young girls that they can indeed have an important career in the sciences.
Finally, watch the trailer to see–and hear–some of the animals from the book!

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

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

Review: ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE

Zoo Scientists cover

Zoo Scientists cover

ZOO SCIENTISTS TO THE RESCUE
by Patricia Newman, photographs by Annie Crawley
Millbrook Press/August 1, 2017
Grades 4-8, 64 pages

Here’s what the publisher says:

Zoos take care of animals and welcome visitors of all ages, but that’s not all zoos do. Author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley bring readers behind the scenes at three zoos to meet scientists working to save endangered animals.
Meredith Bastian’s experiences studying wild orangutans help educate both zoo visitors and the zoo workers who care for captive orangutans. Jeff Baughman breeds black-footed ferrets and reintroduces them into the wild. And Rachel Santymire examines poop from black rhinoceroses at the zoo and in their natural habitat to benefit all black rhinos. Find out how zoo scientists are helping us learn more about these remarkable, at-risk species before it’s too late!
Features: Author Biography, Bibliography, Full-Color Photographs, Further Reading, Glossary, Index, Maps, Primary Source Quotations, Websites

The professional reviewers liked it:

“Many kids are familiar with zoos, but there’s much more to these attractions than an opportunity to see animals up close. Newman shines a light on the important work zoo scientists do to aid conservation and contribute important research, both at zoo labs and in the wild. This engagingly written book focuses on three scientists and their work protecting and researching orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and black rhinoceroses, respectively. Each scientist describes his or her background, research in the wild, challenges to conservation efforts, and how zoo labs help them do their work. Photos of the scientists in the field, as well as their animal research subjects, enlivens the already fascinating material. Newman clearly describes the conditions that led to each species becoming endangered and encourages readers to think carefully about their own actions in light of threats to wildlife. Though the book appears slim, the content is fairly dense, so this will likely appeal more to middle-grade readers. Hand this to kids who can’t get enough of the Scientists in the Field series.” —Booklist

“In this incredibly informative book, readers learn about three zoo scientists who are working to save three species (orangutans, black-footed ferrets, and wild black rhinos) using a variety of methods, from conservation education to breeding programs. Newman also includes ideas on how students can contribute to conservation efforts, such as reducing palm oil usage. Various zoos and organizations that focus on conservation are also mentioned; for example, biobanks, where scientists freeze the sperm and eggs of various species in order to protect it from a catastrophic loss. The photographs show the animals as well as the scientists and effectively enhance the information presented. Several charts, including one comparing apes and monkeys, add a deeper level of understanding. Maps of the original and current habitats of the creatures are helpful in visualizing how the earth has changed over the years. A great book for research or for students interested in conservation. School Library Journal

And here are my thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. As the Booklist review above says, the book is quite slim, so I was not expecting to learn as much as I did once I cracked the cover! On the one hand, I didn’t want to put the book down, because I was so engrossed in the stories and information. On the other, it was nicely broken up into the three separate stories following three separate scientists and their efforts to help three specific species, so it was easy to pick up where I’d left off when I was forced to walk away for a bit. The science is fascinating, the human stories are compelling, and the gorgeous photography brings it all to life right before your eyes. I’ve been ambivalent about zoos my whole life. I love animals, so I love being able to see them… but I also want them to live as happily and naturally as possible. This book helped me see a different side of zoos that I have heard about but never really had a chance to explore in much detail or depth, the conservation aspect. I admire the scientists profiled in this book and the work that they’re doing, and I am grateful to Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley for sharing their stories with us.
Finally, watch the trailer to see some of the people and animals from the book!

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!

Review: ABAYOMI, THE BRAZILIAN PUMA

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

ABAYOMI cover
Published by Mims House
ISBN-10: 1629440019, ISBN-13: 978-1629440019

Darcy Pattison and Kitty Harvill have teamed up again, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. You might remember when I reviewed their previous collaboration, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS, here.
Unlike Wisdom, the main character in ABAYOMI,  THE BRAZILIAN PUMA, is a mammal, a feline, not a bird. Unlike Wisdom, Abayomi lives in South America, in Brazil, not on an island in the North Pacific Ocean. Unlike Wisdom, Abayomi is a baby, an orphan, not a wise, old mother. Yet their stories have much in common.

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STEM Friday review: WHY IS MILK WHITE?

Why Is Milk White cover

WHY IS MILK WHITE? & 200 OTHER CURIOUS CHEMISTRY QUESTIONS
by Alexa Coelho & Simon Quellen Field
Chicago Review Press
January 1, 2013
288 pages

Did you (or any children in your life) ever wonder how soap works, why onions make you cry, or how bad it is for you to breathe in hairspray? 11-year-old Alexa Coelho did, so she pulled together these and almost 200 other questions about her favorite subject, chemistry, and asked science writer Simon Quellen Field to write up the answers. This book is the result.
Alexa did a great job of coming up with a huge collection of specific, relevant questions that today’s kids (and adults) are sure to be interested in, and Simon did an equally great job answering them in clear, easy-to-understand explanations. It’s fun to read straight through or to use as a reference whenever you come across something interesting that you want to know more about. The book also has some nice nonfiction features like a detailed table of contents, special sections with hands-on projects for young chemists (and often an adult helper), and a glossary of terms.
Unfortunately, there are a few things missing here. First, I would really love to see an index in a book like this. It’s nearly impossible to find the answer to the titular question, for example. I only found reference to it in a different question about why hair conditioner is white, which, obviously, isn’t in the food section. Second, I would have liked to have seen some advice about where to find the ingredients for some of the projects. Have you purchased any muriatic acid lately? Finally, I wish it had clearly stuck to chemistry questions, or at least acknowledged when it was departing from them. Some, such as “Why is the sky blue?”, stray pretty far afield into other areas of science.
Still, I think the goodness here far outweighs the flaws, and middle-school scientists all the way through curious adults will learn a lot about science while enjoying this book.
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It’s STEM Friday! Check out the STEM Friday blog for more STEM book reviews.
(STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Introducing Loralee Leavitt and CANDY EXPERIMENTS

Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Today I’m thrilled to introduce a longtime friend of mine and fellow nonfiction writer,  Loralee Leavitt.  I first met Loralee many years ago through an online critique group put together by SCBWI Western Washington. We were an assorted mix of beginning writers, writing everything from picture books to novels, both fiction and nonfiction. The group eventually dissolved, but Loralee and I still run into one another from time to time at in-person SCBWI events, and we always enjoy keeping up with one another’s careers. Now, I couldn’t be more excited to help Loralee launch her exciting new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS!

Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt
Andrews McMeel Publishing
January 1, 2013
160 pages

LT: Welcome, Loralee, and congratulations! How did you get started with science experiments using candy? What was your inspiration?
LL: It actually started with my four-year-old daughter, who one day after Halloween asked to put her Nerds in water. The next time she asked, I realized it was a chance to get rid of all the Halloween candy I hadn’t wanted my children to eat. We covered the table in bowls of water and started throwing in candy to see what would happen. Soon we discovered crazy things, like the floating M&M m’s or lollipop sticks that unrolled when they were wet.
LT: How did you get from that initial inspiration to developing the actual experiments in the book?
LL: When we started doing candy experiments, I saw that we could teach real science with them, and drew from my own science background to create experiments. I also asked other experts for ideas, and read books like The Science of Sugar Confectionery, in which I learned things that led to new experiments. Other experiments came straight from what my children were trying: for instance, my son’s attempts to sink a marshmallow by jamming M&Ms into it became one of my density lessons.
LT: How much time did you spend researching overall, and how long did it take to write the book?
LL: I spent about two years developing and researching experiments and writing rough drafts. (This was an on-and-off process, since I was also very busy raising children.) After I found my publisher, I had about five more months to finish writing and researching, check my science, and take photos.
LT: The design of the book, the photos and layout, is gorgeous. Did you supply the photos, too? Can you tell us about that process?
LL: After the publisher saw the photos I’d taken for my website and magazine articles, they decided I’d be able to provide photos for the book. Luckily my husband is an excellent photographer, and was able both to take some photos and teach me what I needed to know. I’m also grateful to a friend of mine who brought a professional photographer to my home to give me some tips, such as using a roll of white paper to create a smooth background.
LL: To take most of the photos, I set everything up on my kitchen table by a north-facing window, and set the camera on a tripod so I could take long exposures for good lighting. Other photos were more challenging, like microwaving a marshmallow on a paper background and opening the microwave fast enough to snap a photo before the marshmallow collapsed. I assigned one of the hardest photos to my parents: a series of pictures of a Mentos/Diet Coke geyser, which they took in a floodit backyard one dark summer night.
LT: Fun! During your research, did anything surprise you, catch you off guard, or make you change your planned course for the book?
LL: The book is full of experiments that surprised us, many of them coming from things we tried that had crazy results. I had no idea when I put gummi worms in water that they’d absorb enough water to double in length, or that opaque Smarties would melt into clear puddles, or that conversation hearts would bob up and down in soda.
LT: What was the hardest part of the research and/or writing for you? How did you deal with that?
LL: One of the hardest parts was finding answers to really weird questions. For instance, I asked several experts why, when I dropped M&M’s into water and they dissolved, the resulting pools of color didn’t mix together on their own. At last I found a similar experiment on the ACS website and contacted them to see if they could provide me with a good explanation. And they did.
LT: What kind of reader do you think CANDY EXPERIMENTS will appeal to?
LL: I targeted the book at 7- to 10-year-olds, but older and younger people should enjoy it as well. Even adults love learning that the m’s from M&Ms float in water.
LT: 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? What surprised you the most during the process?
LL: I loved learning about the ingredients and science of candy. For instance, I learned that taffy pulling is what makes taffy soft by incorporating air bubbles–without the air bubbles, the taffy would be as hard as lollipops.
LL: I also had to think hard about what made these experiments so interesting to me, and try to share my amazement with my readers.
LT: I love that answer! I’ve found that focusing on what makes the subject so interesting to me is the key to my successful nonfiction writing as well. And it’s not nearly as easy to do as it sounds! Are there any other tips you would like to share with aspiring children’s book writers, especially those writing nonfiction for kids?
LL: Write about what you love. For me, writing about the science of candy captured my sense of childlike discovery/explored things I’d loved since I was a child: science, writing, candy, and family. I was excited to share my discoveries with others. Also, I spent so much time on this book that I couldn’t have stuck with it if I wasn’t really interested.
LT: That’s definitely good advice. What are you working on now?
LL: Right now, I’m mostly working on publicity for my book, arranging reviews, guest blog posts, and book signings. I’m finishing up an ebook about car trips for Familius.com, since everybody always asks me how we manage our kids on long driving trips. I’m collecting more candy ideas in case I get the opportunity to do another book, and I have a historical novel that I’d like to polish up and submit.
LT: Good luck with those! What would you most like people to know about you?
LL: When I became a mother, I worried that I’d have to put my writing aside. Little did I know that my kids would lead me to my big break! I’m so thankful for the way that my family, my love for science, and my love of writing have combined to make this project a success.
LT: It is a great story, and a good reminder to just go with the flow sometimes. Thanks so much for stopping by, Loralee, and much success with your fantastic new book!
Loralee Leavitt destroys candy for the sake of science at www.candyexperiments.com. Her new book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS, contains dozens of amazing experiments including creating giant gummi worms, turning M&Ms into comets, and growing candy crystals. 
Facts First! Nonfiction Monday

Review: Amazing Kitchen Chemistry

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover
Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Make Yourself
by Cynthia Light Brown (Author)
Nomad Press (May 1, 2008)
122 pages
Ages: 9-12
From the publisher’s web page:

“In Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself, kids ages 9 and up will experiment with kitchen materials to discover chemistry. Readers will learn about atoms, molecules, solids, liquids, gases, polymers, the periodic table, the important history of science, and much more. Along the way, they’ll make goop, cause chemical reactions, and create delicious treats, and all of it will illustrate important chemistry concepts. Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects is a fun and exciting way for young readers to learn all about chemistry and become scientists right in the kitchen.”

My son has always loved science, so we’ve gone through many books like this over the years. As a parent, I have to say this is my favorite one so far. Why? First, all the supplies and ingredients are already in my house or readily available. Yay! He can pick a project and we can DO it, rather than make a shopping list and get back to it when I’ve collected all the hard-to-find necessities. Second, the science concepts behind the projects and any specialized vocabulary words are explained in a clear, accessible way. Finally, the projects themselves as well as the layout, fun facts, sidebars, and illustrations, are just plain FUN!
Topics include atoms and molecules, mixtures, reactions, acids and bases, solids, liquids, gases, state changes, polymers, and water. Some of things you can make are a buckyball, a chroma-color bookmark, an Alka-Seltzer rocket, invisible messages, crystals, rock candy, a wave tank, a Mentos explosion, taffy, ice cream, oobleck, meringue cookies, paper, bubble solution, and more!
I think this is a book that young scientists, as well as their parents and teachers, will appreciate.
In the interests of “keeping it real,” though, I have to share my son’s one and only complaint: “It’s not even in color!” With so much great stuff happening on every page, I honestly hadn’t even noticed. He’s very visual, so it was a big drawback for him. I don’t know if other kids would be as sensitive, and I’m sure most adults will appreciate the cost savings.
This book also includes a table of contents, an introduction, a glossary, recommended resources, and index.
FAVORITE FUN FACT: On page 18, I learned that Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was based on a real event! In 1961, birds started crashing into houses in the middle of the night in a coastal California town. People went out with flashlights to investigate, and the birds flew toward the lights and pecked at the people, who ran back inside for cover. The next day, they found the streets full of dead and confused birds. 26 years later, scientists finally discovered it was caused by a neurotoxin that can build up in sea creatures that eat a dangerous type of phytoplankton, and the birds–or people–that in turn eat those sea creatures! Who knew? 
To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday host, Wrapped in Foil!
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(Disclaimer: I received this copy for free directly from the publisher for review.)
 

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