Hosted by Sue Heavenrich
Last year I hosted the First Ever GROG Roundtable on Arthropods where we chatted about insects and spiders. This year I’ve got a whole new crew of authors to share their arthropod musings: Matt Lilley , whose book Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill hit the shelves in January; Catherine Bailey, whose book Hustle Bustle Bugs was released at the end of February; Karen Jameson, whose book Time to Shine: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals will celebrate its birthday next month; Buffy Silverman, whose book On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures comes out at the end of summer; and Jocelyn Rish, whose book Battle of the Brains: The Science of Animal Minds comes out in November and is a companion to Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds which came out in late fall of 2021.
me: After studying the sex life of cockroaches, I turned to teaching high school science. Now, I observe insects and count pollinators for the Great Sunflower citizen science project. What about the rest of you?
Matt: I have an MS in scientific and technical communication and I write nonfiction books for kids. In my writing, I try to teach kids about science and share my love of the natural world.
Catherine: I’m a former research attorney who used to work in forensic science for a grant program. My favorite subjects back then were forensic anthropology and forensic entomology. Now I split my time between raising a family and writing picture books for kids.
Karen: I’m a retired elementary school teacher, now a picture book writer. I love exploring animal and nature themes in my books. These days you’ll find me discovering bugs and creepy crawly critters alongside my curious grandchildren.
Buffy: For many years I taught biology and environmental education to students of all ages. Now I focus on writing about the natural world and speaking to kids about writing nonfiction and poetry.
Jocelyn: I have to admit, I was never a fan of the creepy-crawlies. But I am a fan of cool facts, and as I researched animal butts I discovered that arthropods have some fantastically fascinating fannies!
me: What made you want to include arthropods in your book?
Karen: The word “iridescent” came up in a movie, and it stopped me cold. Initial research turned up some super surprising ways that iridescent animals use their shine to thrive and survive in nature. After seeing some videos of jumping spiders shaking their sparkles during courtship dances, I was hooked! I can’t wait for readers to meet these incredible spiders and other amazing arthropods in Time to Shine.
Buffy: On a Gold-Blooming Day explores seasonal changes in nature. I have been fascinated with insects since I was a kid, so it would be impossible to ignore insects and spiders we might see walking in the woods, by a pond, or through a field! When autumn begins, we might see crab spiders hiding on goldenrod flowers. These spiders don't spin a web. Instead they pounce on insects searching for nectar and pollen. Crab spiders can change color to match the flower or leaf where they hide.
Jocelyn: For Battle Of The Brains, I wanted to make sure I featured brainy animals other than mammals. Then I learned about the Portia jumping spider, and she immediately became my favorite animal genius. Her brain is only about the size of a poppy seed, yet she has so many tricks and techniques for hunting for food. I don’t want to spoil her section of the book, but the things she does are truly mind blowing.
Matt: Good Eating is all about the important role that krill play in the Southern Ocean food web. When I first learned about how important krill are to their ecosystem, I thought I might like to write about them. After doing just a little research, I discovered how strange and fascinating they are. That’s when I knew I had to write about them.
Catherine: I have always had a very deep-seated fear of spiders, probably dating back to a childhood trailer trip to Arizona during tarantula mating season. (It’s a thing! And it’s terrifying!). However, I’m raising a daughter who adores bugs – even spiders. I think every piece of Tupperware I own has, at one time or another, housed a creepy crawly critter. I also live in perhaps the “buggiest” state of all – Florida. So, it made sense to write a nonfiction picture book about insects.
me: As Earth Day approaches, what can we do to become more aware of arthropods – and to make Earth a better place for them?
Catherine: Once I decided to write about bugs, I did a ton of research on their behaviors. I was struck by how each insect had an important role to play in its environment – for example, dung beetles roll and bury balls of poop which feed the soil. My book discusses these “jobs” and encourages kids to be still and observe insects at work. This Earth Day, head out to your backyard and set a timer for five minutes for some intentional observation. Bring a pad and pen and write down what bugs you see, and what they’re doing.
Jocelyn: A few years ago, my brother started keeping bees, and he shared all kinds of amazing facts about them. Bees are extremely impressive, and I enjoy putting on the bee suit to watch their hive in action. While providing honey is a tasty bonus, their role in pollinating and keeping our food supply going is vital. Kids can help bees by planting native flowers that bees love, and that bloom at different times of the year. They can also put out shallow dishes of water with rocks in them that bees can stand on to drink.
Karen: Arthropods have been around for millions of years, and beetles makes up 40% of all the insects on Earth! How crazy is that? It’s incredible to learn that one in every four animals is a type of beetle. They remain a vital part of ecosystems and are found in nearly every habitat. On Earth Day kids can take some time to create environments that invite and sustain local bug populations by planting native flowers and plants.
Matt: Krill eat the one-celled organisms at the very base of the food web. Despite their small size, krill swarms are so massive that they can be seen from space. Krill are very good at eating and growing, and turning themselves into food for other animals. Many fish, sea birds, penguins, seals, and whales depend on them for food. We can help the Earth by eating more like krill, by eating more plants and less meat. If we eat green plants like a krill eats phytoplankton, we can help conserve natural resources.
Buffy: About twenty years ago, we stopped mowing our backyard. Over the years it has become a field where native plants grow and bloom. The wildflowers attract all kinds of insects that in turn pollinate flowers and provide food for birds and other animals. Is there a corner of your yard that you can save from the lawnmower? You will enjoy seeing the plants that grow and the insects and spiders that you find.
me: I am a big fan of not mowing the lawn! Let’s talk about how you bring your passion to writing nonfiction for children?
Buffy: One of the wonderful things about insects is that you can watch them wherever you live. The more I observe and learn about insects, the more fascinated I become with them. I spend many hours watching and photographing insects near my house, and it's that fascination that leads me to write about them.
Matt: I try to stay on the lookout for fresh topics that will interest kids in science. I hope that increased awareness and knowledge will also encourage people toward conservation. For instance, if someone reads my books and learns about how cool krill are, then they will also want to protect krill from things like climate change and overfishing.
Catherine: I definitely appreciate bugs a lot more, now that I know how hard they work. I’ve always said, “I’m a worker bee, not a queen bee.” To me, this means I enjoy completing projects and accomplishing goals. I love that even small jobs can have a big impact – which is true for people and bugs. I figured a great way to share this with kids was to present the information in accessible, bouncy rhyme.
Karen: My youngest son was obsessed with bugs as a child! For years, we never left home without our bug hunting kit, complete with jar, net, and magnifying glass. His fascination with the subject drew us all in and found its way into the hands-on science lessons I created for my students. As a children’s author, I’ve carried that passion into my books.
Jocelyn: I love learning new facts about animals, especially the kind that make me go, “Wha?!?” or “No way!” or “That’s so freakin’ cool!” And I want to bring that same sense of discovery and wonder to kids. Our world is full of things so different from us that they seem alien, and it’s a privilege (and a total blast) to share these nuggets with kids to help expand their universe.
We could talk arthropods all afternoon… but I’m out of coffee. Check out our author websites, drop by our blogs, and remember to head outside and watch some insects, spiders, crustaceans, and their arthropod kin.
Find out more about Matt Lilley at www.mattlilley.ink
Hustle over to Catherine Bailey’s website at catherinebaileybooks.com
Visit Karen Jameson at karenljameson.com
You can find Buffy Silverman at https://buffysilverman.com
Jocelyn Rish celebrates animals of all kinds at www.jocelynrish.com
I hang my bug net over at www.sueheavenrich.com