Author Talk: Pamela Turner and The Frog Scientist

pamelaturner-330-FrogscientistjaThere were 4 things about Pamela Turner’s The Frog Scientist that made me want to interview her about her book. 1) I loved how the whole story is an example of the scientific process in action. 2) It’s is a great example of how nonfiction books can be used with different reading abilities–Mr. E (10) read it straight through; Colonel Mustard (7) gleaned tons just from the captions; I poured over the photos. 3) The multicultural cast of scientists was a definite plus. And #4? Well, did you notice how the book’s about frogs? Who can resist?

I’m not the only one excited about The Frog Scientist–it’s garnered starred reviews in The Horn Book, Booklist, The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, and School Library Journal. Whew!

But enough about all that; here’s what Pamela says about her book, her writing and herself:

Tell us about your book.

In THE FROG SCIENTIST, biologist Tyrone Hayes is researching the links between declining frog populations and pesticide use. He loved catching frogs when he was younger, and he tells kids, “Whatever you want to do, stick with it!” He’s an amazing guy. I wrote about Tyrone’s life, about the dangers frogs are facing, and I describe one of Tyrone’s experiments all the way from start to finish.

How did you get the idea for The Frog Scientist?

I saw an article about Tyrone in the San Francisco Chronicle. He’d just published a scientific paper showing that if you raised tadpoles in water contaminated with the most widely-used pesticide in the U.S., atrazine, many of the male frogs grew eggs instead of sperm in their testes. And he found this effect at levels of atrazine contamination ONE-THIRTIETH (1/30) of the levels allowed in our drinking water by the EPA. The article in the Chronicle also noted that Tyrone nurtured a very diverse group of young people in his laboratory. My editor at Houghton Mifflin loved the idea of writing about Tryone and his work, and so I went to Berkeley to meet him. Tyrone is such a warm, funny, smart guy with such a great personal story that I knew he would be a wonderful subject for a “Scientist in the Field” book.

If you were a scientist, what kind would you like to be? Why?

I really love scuba diving, so I think I would want to be a marine biologist.

How long does it take you to write a book? Where do you like to write? What time of day? (Or anything else you want to add about your process.)

That’s always a difficult question to answer because I work on more than one project at a time, and often the writing part is less time-consuming than the research and putting all the photos together. For a book like THE FROG SCIENTIST, I worked on it over the course of two years. I write at home, usually at a computer set up in our family room, and usually during the day when my husband is at work and our youngest is off at school. I like to compose at the computer but I like to do final edits on a hardcopy. Go figure.

What were you like as a kid?

I was a big animal lover (still am) and I loved to read (still do).

Did you like school?

Yes–I was a good student. I read well above grade level and I was fond of math. I will admit that when I took Calculus in college I was appalled–“This stuff is HARD! I feel stupid!”

So…readers want to know….what’s the grossest or most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a kid?

One time I was outside running toward a school building (we were playing some game) and I fell just before I got to the wall and scraped my scalp down the stucco. So I ended up with a big, gross, bloody stripe on the top of my head, sort of a reverse Mohawk, which took forever to heal. Ick!

If you weren’t an author/illustrator, what would you be? Why?

Before I started writing for children, I worked in international public health. So I would probably be doing that, with a focus on women’s and children’s health.

What’s one thing you’d love to learn to do?

A few years ago I started studying kendo (Japanese swordfighting). I’d like to be better, but I’m slow and uncoordinated. I love it, though. And it’s OK to do something you love even if you’re never going to be great at it.

And the coolest place you’ve ever been?

Above water: the Serengeti in Tanzania. It’s a vision of what the world looked like before we plowed it and paved it. Below water: Palau, in the western Pacific. Beautiful reefs still teeming with sharks and manta rays, a vision of what the sea looked like before we overfished it.

We loved your book! Is there a similar book from a different author that’d you’d recommend for kids who liked yours?

THE SNAKE SCIENTIST or THE TARANTULA SCIENTIST by Sy Montgomery.

What’s next?

Just out: PROWLING THE SEAS: EXPLORING THE WORLD OF OCEAN PREDATORS, which tells the story of a leatherback sea turtle, white shark, bluefin tuna, and a pair of seabirds given high-tech tags by scientists who are following their travels. And PROJECT SEAHORSE, coming in August 2010. I went to the Philippines with the world’s expert on seahorses and wrote about what she is doing to save seahorses and the coral reefs where they live.

What do you wish we’d asked, but didn’t?

“How did writing THE FROG SCIENTIST change you?”

#1: I bought a White’s tree frog and named her Dumpy. There’s a photo of a White’s tree frog on THE FROG SCIENTIST’s title page, and I think it’s the cutest frog picture I’ve ever seen. So now I have my own adorable frog, which my kids think is a very strange pet. #2: I bought a Brita water filter and now I filter all our drinking water to keep the pesticides out. #3: When I bought a green Prius car I noticed it looked vaguely like a hunched-over frog, so I got a personalized license plate that says “Riibiit”. Yet another way of embarrassing my children.

pamelaturner-330-ForwebFast Facts about Pamela Turner

Age: 52

Family: Husband Rob (a lawyer), son Travis, 22, just out of college and looking for a job; daughter Kelsey, 20, a junior at Wesleyan University; and Connor, 17, a high school junior.

Home: Oakland, California

Other Books:
HACHIKO: THE TRUE STORY OF A LOYAL DOG
GORILLA DOCTORS: SAVING ENDANGERED GREAT APES
LIFE ON EARTH–AND BEYOND: AN ASTROBIOLOGIST’S QUEST
A LIFE IN THE WILD: GEORGE SCHALLER’S STRUGGLE TO SAVE THE LAST GREAT BEASTS
PROWLING THE SEAS: EXPLORING THE HIDDEN WORLD OF OCEAN PREDATORS

Favorite Superhero: I have to go with Wolverine. Maybe that has something to do with Hugh Jackman.

Favorite Book: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER by C.S. Lewis. 

Favorite Sports Team: I guess I have to say Oakland Raiders! 

Pamela’s Website: http://www.pamelasturner.com. And see frog scientist Tyrone Hayes hard at work in the book trailer for The Frog Scientist!