Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Heather Shares the Poop on Hands-On Science Writing

 by Sue Heavenrich

Heather Montgomery never intended to study human poop. Bat guano? Sure – that’s where she found shimmery green insect parts and part of a compound eye. Coyote poo? Yep, that too. And then she came across a tweet between medical professionals asking an important question: when a kid swallows a LEGO, how long does it take to … come out the other end?

They did what curious scientists everywhere do, Heather told me in a recent phone conversation. They swallowed the little yellow heads and searched for evidence over the following days. They collected data, crunched numbers, and came up with the answer: the average FART (Found and Retrieval Time) is 1.7 days.

Heather is a naturalist, and when leading nature hikes she occasionally came across animal feces on the trail. She encouraged kids to ask questions beyond “who left this?” Questions like “why does it look like this?” and “how come this spot?” She noticed that while there are picture books about poop, there weren’t books for older kids. So she decided to write one; Who Gives a Poop (Bloomsbury) is aimed at readers 10 - 14 years old, though adults will enjoy it too. It comes out next month.

“Once you get going on a topic, the questions drive you,” Heather said. Truth is, she likes digging into things many folks would stay away from. “What happens when, instead of looking away from disgusting stuff, we on-purpose turn towards it?” It helps that she’s willing to get her hands dirty when diving into a topic – though with scat, turds, and dung, patties she is always careful to wear gloves and a mask.

Originally, Heather focused on animal poop. She had stories about scientists studying elephant dung, cheetah poo, turning waste to energy – and maybe even plastic to fashion tools on Mars. Then a story about a “poop train” went viral and Heather knew she’d have to chase it down. She ended up in a small town with 10 million pounds of poop sitting in its rail yard. Neighbors complained about the big stinky problem, wondering why New York City had to send their waste so far away. But a year later she saw evidence that those tons of biosolids were doing their job, reclaiming a strip mine and producing juicy red tomatoes.

“What’s the trick of writing about science for kids?” I asked.

Follow your questions,” Heather said. “Keep asking questions and you’ll find the good ones. Then trust where your curiosity leads you.” That sometimes means people to interview, which may not sound like a big deal, but Heather is shy. Still, she trusts her questions to lead her to the story. 

Don’t be afraid to write about tough subjects,” she added. For Heather, that means writing about gross things like road kill and, in this book, poop. “The important thing is to use your curiosity to show kids how to discover that part of the natural world.”

And finally, “Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.” She encourages writers to dive into their topics all the way up to their elbows.

Heather is a member of #STEAMTeambooks. You can find out more about her at her website.


  1. What an engaging topic for kids! Bravo, a book for our MG kids, Heather. Fun topic, Sue.

  2. I definitely want to check out this book. What a great post about the author.

  3. Wow!Fun topic, engaging interview.I look forward to checking out the book.

  4. That shirt is fabulous!!! And the Lego research, well, I can't imagine any kid not being fascinated by this info. Perhaps an adult or two, as well, LOL.

  5. Many kids [adults, too] may shy away from this topic. However, children need discovery to learn more. Heather certainly knows how to grab kids’ attention and encourage curiosity.

  6. Very cool! I once wrote an article about a zoo composting program for a kids' science magazine, and the staff got kudos from some readers...and cancellations from others. Can't please everybody! Looking forward to this book.

  7. What a fun interview! Thanks for this, Sue and Heather. There are some great pointers here, and I can't wait to read "Who Gives a Poop?"

  8. Great interview! Love the shirt, Heather, & the book. (I'm one of her CPs).

  9. Congrats Heather :) Fun to read how this book came about-LOL I look forward to getting the poop scoop.