Six Questions with Sue Heavenrich
Sue Heavenrich is a curious naturalist and is particularly amazed by the diversity of insects that visit her garden. She has followed ants in the desert, tagged bumble bees in the Rockies, taught science to high-schoolers, and filed hundreds of articles as an environmental and community journalist. A few years ago Sue traded in her reporter’s notebooks for composition books and began writing for children. When not writing, she counts pollinators as a community science volunteer. The world outside her back door inspires her to ask questions and look closer. Visit Sue's website to learn more about her and her work. You may also want to check out her blog or connect with her on Facebook.
1. How did you begin your journey as an author?
I grew up observing things and kept a notebook of lists: the plants and animals I saw in the Grand Canyon, edible wild plants (from a book) and how they tasted (from experience). As a high school student I began writing a newsy column for the city weekly, but making up stories for English class was hard for me. So when my English teacher suggested that I consider becoming a writer, I said no way! Fifteen years later I started freelancing articles for magazines, eventually becoming a reporter for two county weeklies and a regional agricultural newspaper. Only later did I realize that many of my favorite authors started out as journalists, too.
2. Do you ever get stuck creatively? If so, how do you get unstuck?
Oh my gosh, yes! Sometimes it’s because there are so many ideas trying to get out of my head that they clog up the doorway and no amount of jumping will jiggle them loose. Other times there aren’t any ideas to be found. To get my brain unstuck I send it on vacation. I’ll say “no writing today (or this week)” and tuck my camera in my pocket and head outside. My brain and I will pull weeds, go for a walk, watch bees, listen to the birds. We might visit a museum, read a good book, take a nap, or clean out the refrigerator.
3. Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
I am usually juggling a handful of projects at any given time, and they’re not all for kids. Right now, for example, I’m re-visioning a picture book manuscript, doing research for an article for adults, and jotting down notes around an idea I have for a middle grade book. I also write weekly reviews of children’s books for my blog Archimedes Notebook and I’m working on an activity guide for The Pie that Molly Grew.
4. What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing The Pie that Molly Grew?
I’ve been gardening since the last millennium, so sharing how to grow pumpkins was like talking to a friend. The challenge was making sure the science was clear while also finding the right rhyming words that fit the meter. So “photosynthesis” was out, as was “xylem” and any number of cool plant-science words. Because The Pie that Molly Grew is a cumulative story, another challenge was finding ways to make the repetitive phrases less … repetitive. I shortened phrases, changed words, and even eliminated a couple of repeating phrases to move things along. I created lots of word banks!
5. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
Everything is connected.
When you plant a small, no-bigger-than-a-dime pumpkin seed, you might be thinking about the end result: a big, round pumpkin you can cut into a jack-o-lantern or bake into a pie. As the plant grows, you might begin to realize how many ways it connects to the environment. It needs sun. It needs water. The leaves, blossoms, and fruit provide food, nectar, even shelter for insects and small animals. Some of those insects provide essential services for the plants. There are social connections: harvest, community meals, gratitude for the farmers and gardeners who grow the food we eat.
6. Who should read this book?
Everyone, of course! But here are four reasons that make my book perfect for a teacher, parent, or librarian to share:
1. It connects children to where their food comes from. A lot of schools include gardens as part of the curriculum, and our state (NY) includes agriculture in the schools.
2. The continuing plight of pollinators shows a need for increasing awareness of the native pollinators that are essential to producing one third of the food we eat.
3. “Plants and how they grow” is part of state and national curricula including Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards across multiple grade levels.
4. Ancient Indigenous farmers cultivated and domesticated pumpkins, a native-to-the-Americas fruit.