Author Interview: April Pulley Sayre

Today features an interview with with one of my favorite children's authors- April Pulley Sayre.  April is an award-winning children’s book author of over 55 natural history books for children and adults. Her read-aloud nonfiction books, known for their lyricism and scientific precision, have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. She is best known for pioneering literary ways to immerse young readers in natural events via creative storytelling and unusual perspectives.

Today is the official publication date for April's latest book, Touch A Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening with Kids.  Welcome, April, and thank you for participating in this interview.

(Be sure to read all the way to the end to learn about a giveaway and to retrieve a discount code for book purchase).

1.       You’re probably best known for your lyrical, non-fiction books for young children. Two of my personal favorites are Vulture View and Bumblebee Queen. What made you decide to write this book for adults about gardening and exploring nature with children?

APS: My husband Jeff and I have been wildlife gardening for the past twenty or so years. So it's part of our daily life. Years ago, we wrote a natural history of hummingbirds (for adults) and used to present workshops about hummingbirds/attracting hummingbirds at botanical gardens, flower and garden shows, and birding festivals. Jeff is an expert in native plants and was director of one of the Midwest's largest native plant nurseries for five years. So our lives are full of these little daily discoveries about what attracts birds, butterflies, and the like.  I wanted to share our knowledge and personal experiences with wildlife gardening. So I proposed an adult book about the topic to a couple of publishers. Roost Books asked me to shift the book toward gardening for families, including activities that might suit families with children. So that is what I did. Last year, Kenn Kaufman, author of many field guides, asked Jeff to co-author a field guide to nature of the Midwest so we’re really immersed in native plant work and photography now!
2.        In many of your picture books, illustrations by children’s book illustrators help bring your words to life. Two recent titles, Rah, Rah Radishes! and Go, Go, Grapes! include photographs taken by you. How was the creation of these two styles of books different? 

APS: The word work is the same as with other books. But doing the photos has added a whole new aspect to my work. I've always been a passionate photographer but I've never done it with an eye to an entire book, with a deadline staring me in the face. My recent book photography has involved a lot of experiments. You learn by trying, and often by failing, before you find the right setups, angles, and light.  It's enthralling; I get these brainstorms about new photos and dart around, finding ways to capture them. I just completed Let's Go Nuts: Seeds We Eat. It will be released on August 27th, 2013 by Beach Lane Books, the same publisher that did Rah, Rah, Radishes and Go, Go, Grapes. 

3.        When you submitted your manuscript Touch a Butterfly to your publisher, you provided a variety of photos from which they could choose. Did you follow the same process with Rah, Rah and Go, Go? Or did you select the photos and submit them with your manuscript?

APS: For all three books I gave the publisher sample photographs with my proposal or, in the case of the children’s books, with a full manuscript.  Touch a Butterfly: Wildlife Gardening With Kids is illustrated in full color with my wildlife photography, supplemented by some photos contributed by colleagues, families, and schools who had photos of kids enjoying/studying nature. In fact, several photos were generously donated by the writer of this blog, Michelle Cusolito! Thanks, Michelle!  The publisher chose the final ones for the book from among hundreds I submitted.

4.        How do you approach research for your books? Do you go out into the field? Read books? Search the internet? Other?

APS: I pursue all avenues of research. I read adult science books. I read scientific papers. I do a lot of interviews with scientists. But a lot of the nature books just flow naturally from our goofy, exploratory daily lives. So I spend time studying squirrels or investigating bees. Then, it becomes a picture book. That said, I do a lot of study and word play that never comes to anything. Or, you could say, perhaps not yet . . .

5.        To continue with that idea…What advice do you have for students who need to complete research projects for school? How might they begin? How might they organize their research?

APS: Kids need to pause and dig in deeper to what they wonder about the topic—not just what they think are the content “slots” that need to be filled in with “the facts.” They need to connect the topic to the reader.

I love teaching kids about research and writing through school visits and week-long author-in-residence programs. Kids really are hungry to do good work and they embrace nonfiction research once they understand that you’re really asking them to think, to connect with their readers through specific facts, comparisons, and connections with readers’ lives. Someday I’d love to teach kids a workshop just focused on interviews; that work is so crucial to nonfiction research and the skills of asking questions and respecting an interviewee are worth teaching. That work can cross over into many areas of life.
6. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

APS: Work is going well right now. I’m looking forward to doing more books illustrated with my photography. But I’ll always have some books, especially those with narrative feel, that are more suited to pen, ink, pastel, or cut paper illustrations created by others. I still remember when I first saw Jamie Hogan’s sketches for Here Come the Humpbacks! (It came out in Feb of this year.)  In September 2013, Henry Holt is releasing my new book with Steve Jenkins: Eat Like a Bear. I’m so happy with our partnership. I pushed each word to make it juicy and delicious. Steve, in turn, created these incredible bears...all fuzzy and brown, shaped from Amate,Mexican art paper
handmade from fig tree bark. Seeing the art an illustrator creates, at least in part sparked by my words, is one of the great joys of being a picture book author.

Thanks for stopping by, April.

In honor of the official publication date, April's publisher, Roost Books, provided  a copy of Touch a Butterfly for a giveaway.  To enter, leave a comment on this post by midnight, EST on Tuesday, April 30th. I'll announce the winner on May 1st. If you Tweet it, share it on your blog, or share it on Facebook, you'll earn more chances. (Let me know you did so in the comments).  I'll use the very modern system of putting your names in a hat and having my daughter pull out the winning name.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of Touch a Butterfly, visit Roost Books. To receive a 30% discount, enter the code TBPC12. (Expires 12/31/2014)

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