Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Today we have debut author Susan Edwards Richmond with us to talk about her fun informational fiction picture book, Bird Count, just in time for the Christmas Bird Count that happens this month!
Susan Edwards Richmond is the author of Bird Count (Peachtree), about a child who becomes a Citizen Scientist for a day in her town’s Christmas Bird Count. Bird Count was selected as a Parents’ Choice Silver Award winner and was nominated for a Cybils Award. A passionate birder and naturalist, Susan teaches preschool on a farm and wildlife sanctuary in eastern Massachusetts. She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of California, Davis, and is an award-winning poet with five collections of nature-based poetry for adults, including Before We Were Birds (Adastra Press) and Birding in Winter (Finishing Line Press). She is happiest exploring natural habitats with her husband and two daughters, and learns the native birds wherever she travels.
Kaitlyn: Thank you so much for joining me today on the Math is Everywhere blog and congrats on having your first book out in the world!
Susan: Thank you so much, Kaitlyn. I’m absolutely thrilled to be interviewed for Math Is Everywhere! Can I share a secret with you and your readers? When I was growing up, math was not a favorite subject. To me, math meant worksheets and difficult equations, and I never saw the connection between math and the things I cared about, like birds and nature. So I’m especially proud–and tickled really–to have come full circle and have my first book be one that merges essential math and science skills with the beautiful birds I’ve loved since childhood. I’m so excited to show kids that math can be fun!
Kaitlyn: Yes! I love that, Susan! So many people think memorization and unrealistic problems are what math is about. I’m so glad you’ve discovered otherwise. What inspired you to write a book about the Christmas Bird Count?
Susan: I’ve participated in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count in Acton, MA, for more than 15 years. I love an excuse to spend an entire day birding at such an unlikely time of year! What’s so wonderful about the count, however, is that you don’t have to be an expert, anyone can participate. So it struck me that this was a perfect subject for a children’s nature adventure.
Kaitlyn: It’s definitely a great adventure! What drew you to the adventure of bird counting?
Susan: I was originally invited to be a part of the count by the father of one of my daughter’s classmates–who also runs birding trips through the local Community Education program. I’ve been a birder all my life, but, I have to admit, before Andy asked me, I’d never heard of the Christmas Bird Count, or any other bird count for that matter 🙂
Kaitlyn: I hadn’t either, thanks for helping me learn about it. I’ve contacted our society, hopefully my family and I will be able to participate this year too. How is bird counting similar to and/or different from regular counting?
Susan: The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is actually a census–a way to track bird populations in communities throughout the Western Hemisphere, and it relies on volunteers. There are different kinds of bird counts: some are counts of different species; others, count the number of individuals of one species. But in the CBC, you count every single bird you see or hear–it doesn’t matter if it’s common or rare. As Bird Count’s main character, Ava says, “Every bird counts!”
Kaitlyn: That sounds so fun, and love that pun! Why do you think bird counting or other citizen science projects are important for kids?
Susan: Citizen Science projects directly connect kids with their environment, and give young people a chance to engage in real-time science that can make a difference. When children know the plants and animals that live in their own region, they learn that nature and wildlife don’t only exist in far away wilderness areas or exotic locations they might see on television or on the Internet. They become invested in exploring and protecting what they find in their own backyards!
A project like the bird count also shows children that mathematics has exciting applications that they can appreciate right now. They don’t have to wait until college or a career to use math and science concepts in interesting ways. It’s a great motivator. Kids who might think math is too abstract–or too difficult–get a window into exciting jobs that use math as a complementary skill.
Kaitlyn: I adore getting kids to see math and science as useful and fun; this is my hope for all kids. What’s your hope for this book?
Susan: Most importantly, I hope that readers enjoy finding and counting the birds in Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s gorgeous, whimsical illustrations. They may find some familiar feathered friends or have fun comparing the birds that Ava sees with those in their own area. I also hope that the story encourages children to take the skills they’ve learned and go out and explore their own environment. After all, “You never know where you’ll find birds.”
If the book inspires some citizen scientists, or even some trained ones along the way, that would be wonderful.
Kaitlyn: That would be wonderful, and I really enjoyed Stephanie’s visuals of the birds too, absolutely beautiful and fun. Was there anything in the book creation process that surprised you?
Susan: I think the collaborative nature of the process was the biggest revelation for me. My editor, Vicky Holifield, at Peachtree Publishing Company really helped me shape the book to bring out the science information and counting concepts, while making the story as engaging as possible. And when Stephanie was chosen as the illustrator, I couldn’t have been happier. Each of her birds is absolutely accurate, while also seeming to have its own personality. The design elements she used on each spread really highlight the different habitats, and made each one unique and interesting. And the way she presented the tally sheet was ingenious! The final book depended on all of these things coming together, as well as art direction and so much more.
Kaitlyn: That sounds like a dream, and I sure did love the tally sheet too, spot on, for sure! Can you share some advice for new writers?
Susan: My journey from writing a draft of my first children’s manuscript to the publication of Bird Count took almost 20 years. So first of all–don’t give up! But equally important is finding a writing community that you can trust. I’ve been with the same SCBWI critique group from the beginning. Go to conferences, listen to critiques, and use everything you can, even rejections. Think of everyone in the kidlit community–critique partners, fellow writers and illustrators, agents, editors, teachers, librarians, bloggers, readers (!)–as your allies. We all want the same thing–lasting, meaningful literature we can fall in love with. Oh, and did I say, “Read”? Then read, read, and read some more!.
Kaitlyn: I totally agree, community is what keeps us going, and congrats on achieving this dream; that’s very inspiring for new writers to not to give up. What’s next for you?
Susan: I’m very excited that I can finally share my next project, another citizen science adventure! My wonderful agent, Stephen Fraser, at Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, recently closed a deal for my picture book, Night Owl Night, about a girl who goes owl banding with her mother for the first time. I’m thrilled to be working with Monica Perez at Charlesbridge on this project.
Kaitlyn: Wow wow wow! That sounds awesome! Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author, would you rather go outside and fly a kite or sit by a fire with tea?
Susan: It is, alas, too late to meet Barbara Cooney, the author/illustrator of my all-time favorite picture book, Miss Rumphius, but I would love an outing with the extraordinary Cynthia Rylant, whose work in a wide variety of children’s genres I greatly admire. I realize you didn’t ask for a name, just an activity, so hope that’s okay–and I admit both kite-flying and tea sound enticing. As long as the weather is fair, however, I’ll take the kite, on the off-chance we’ll see some birds wheeling about the sky–and provided Ms. Rylant is a more proficient kite flyer than I am!
Kaitlyn: I’m so happy to hear about your favorite author and love that you’d go on an adventure! Thank you so much, Susan, for joining us and sharing about your book and math insights today!
Susan: Thank you, Kaitlyn. This was so much fun.
Kaitlyn: It was a blast!
Find Susan’s book Bird Count on Peachtree’s website.
Connect with Susan on her website, Facebook, and Twitter
Susan is generously giving away a copy of her book Bird Count to ANYONE in the WORLD that can receive from the Book Depository (note: if you’re a US winner, she’ll sign it before sending).
You have three ways to enter:
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you did a purchase request for Bird Count at your library
- Retweet this tweet on Twitter
Kaitlyn’s Review of Bird Count
Bird Count is a lovely picture book that can help kids and adults alike get interested in and excited about bird counting by showing them a day in the life of a kid who becomes a citizen scientist by participating in her community’s Christmas Bird Count. The book is filled with wonderful facts about birds and great onomatopoeia of their calls. The relationship between the main character and the adults is very empowering and encouraging to the point. This fun adventure makes you want to get out and participate in your own community’s Christmas Bird Count!
Thanks so much, all, for reading and sharing; I hope you enjoyed meeting Susan and her wonderful book!