Thursday, October 27, 2016

Q&A with Claire Eamer

Claire Eamer is the author of the new science book for kids Inside Your Insides: A Guide to the Microbes That Call You Home. Her other books include Before the World Was Ready and The World in Your Lunch Box. She has worked as a reporter and editor, and she lives on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.

Q: Your new book, Inside Your Insides, focuses on microbes. Why did you decide on this topic, and how did you research it?

A: The idea for the book actually came from Valerie Wyatt, a long-time and much-respected editor for Kids Can Press. When she retired a couple of years ago, she gave them one final book pitch – which eventually became Inside Your Insides – and she suggested they try to recruit me to write it.

I hadn’t written for Kids Can before (all my previous books were with Annick Press), but I like their stuff and was interested in doing something with them. And the topic suited me. I really like writing about science and making complex topics accessible.

I tackled the research the way I usually do – by searching out everything I can on the subject, with a heavy emphasis on journal articles and well-researched or documented popular science articles and websites. My bibliography contains about 120 items.

In this case, books were of limited use, except as background to the biology of microbes. The human microbiome is such a hot research topic that books even a couple of years old are out of date.

My editor, Stacey Roderick, and I kept sending each other links to the latest stories on new developments in the field – and they seemed to come out every other day. I was wishing I could declare a moratorium on scientific publications on the topic for a couple of months, just long enough to get the book out!

Q: How did you end up writing about science for kids, and are there particular areas of science you focus on?

A: I’m fascinated by science, and I’ve been writing about it for radio, newspapers, and magazines for years. I love the fact that writing about science gives me an excuse to learn new things and ask questions of some really interesting people.

Writing for kids was a natural development, in retrospect, since I enjoy telling stories about science in accessible language, and that works for both adults and kids.

I got started writing kids’ books when Colleen McMillan at Annick Press asked me if I’d be interested in writing for kids. She already knew my work as a reporter and as an editor.

That led to my first kids’ book, Super Crocs and MonsterWings: Modern Animals’ Ancient Past – and then to several more books with Annick.

Around the same time, I started writing for a wonderful (and sadly defunct) Canadian kids’ science magazine, YesMag. And the more I wrote for kids, the more I enjoyed it.

Also, I think it’s really important for people to develop a level of science literacy, and the best place to start is with kids.

I’ve written about a lot of difference kinds of science, as well as history and social issues. They are all linked, after all. I’m particularly interested in biology, ecology, and environmental science, but I’m curious about pretty well everything.

Q: Of the various scientific facts you've learned in your work, are there some that have particularly surprised you?

A: Almost everything I learn delights me and a lot of it surprises me.

In the case of Inside Your Insides, I was both surprised and delighted by the idea that we are not just individual organisms, but collections of organisms. We are a world, a whole universe, to creatures too small to see without the highest of high-tech. And we interact with them all the time in ways we’re only beginning to understand.

Essentially, I’m fascinated by the interconnectedness of life, of living things, and the human microbiome is wonderful example of that.

Q: How have readers reacted to Inside Your Insides?

A: The book is out so recently that I haven’t had much reader reaction yet. The exception is the family kids. My niece and nephew’s kids (age range 5-7) have had it read to them as a bedtime story and they loved it – which pleases me no end!

They’re younger than the indicated age for the book, but that indication is only a guide. Kids are smart and wide open to new information, and I find that they’re often more ready for a book than adults realize. 

In addition, the book has been getting very good reviews, which also pleases me.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently working on an archaeology book for Kids Can, a book on waste and garbage for Annick Press (What a Waste! Where Garbage Goes, due out in spring 2017), and a few other ideas that are in earlier stages.

Also, my very first picture book, Underneath the Sidewalk, is due out from Scholastic Canada in spring 2017 – and it’s totally unscientific!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I think Canada is currently having a bit of a Renaissance in children’s science writing. I’m pleased to be part of it, but I’m just one of a large number of good, conscientious, and entertaining science writers producing material for children.

And Canadian children’s publishers are stepping up with really innovative and imaginative approaches to kids’ science books. For anyone who’s interested in searching out some of these books, several of us have compiled a list, sorted by topic. It’s free.

Our group blog, Sci/Why – written by a group of Canadian kids’ science writers – is also a way to track what’s happening in the field.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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