Friday, August 25, 2023

A Little Night Science

 One day I was walking through town and I noticed a small owl napping in the crook of a branch. The tiny screech owl blended in with the tree and, had I not been looking for leaves and flowers, I probably wouldn't have seen them. I have a fondness for owls, and leave my windows open at night so I can hear their hoots and whooos. So I knew right off I just had to read this book!

Night Owl Night
By Susan Edwards Richmond; illus. by Maribel Lechuga
32 pages; ages 4-8
Charlesbridge, 2023

theme: owls, migration, scientists

In October, Mama becomes a night owl.

Not an owl with wings and huge eyes … but a person who works during the dark hours of night. That’s because Sova’s mom is a scientist who studies owls and other birds, and she needs to be out in the field when the owls are active. Sova wants to be a night owl, too. She draws owls, carries around a stuffed owl, and even creates an owl costume. Not yet, Mama tells her. Scientists must wait. Finally, Sova is old enough to join Mama in her owl research. Together they put on headlamps and walk out to the woods where (eventually) they  capture, measure, and release a saw-whet owl.

What I like about this book: I like the repetition of “scientists must wait” – whether it is for the right time, or for the owls to show up. I love Sova’s enthusiasm for owls, and her creative ways to remind Mama that she wants to be a night owl, too. I can totally see the costume she creates inspiring kids to make their own wings and bird mask. I especially like how the field science is represented: the careful measuring and weighing and banding of the owl – and the gentle release into the night. And of course, there is back matter for curious young night owls-in-training: a page about common northern forest owls, an explanation about how banding is used by scientists, and resources for learning more.

I wanted to know more about Susan Richmond and her writing process so I asked her a Couple Questions:

Me: This is your third picture book I’ve reviewed – and I want to know: when do you know you have a book idea? 

Susan: First, thank you so much for reviewing my previous books, Sue!  I really appreciate it.  
I know I’ve got a book idea - maybe partly at least - when I can’t get it out of my head! Though it often takes a while, sometimes years, before an idea finds its proper form.  For example, Bird Count I originally envisioned as a simple, seek-and-find counting book in verse! Many iterations later, with feedback from both my critique group and my editor at Peachtree, it became a community science adventure packed with birdwatching tips.  Night Owl Night, however, came to me with its complete story arc soon after my own saw-whet owl banding experience.  I had learned and felt so much in a single evening that I believed I could use a similar setting to have my audience do the same. Because I wanted the book to invite inquiry about other species of owls as well, and to teach more about the significance of banding in bird conservation, those refinements came later through additional research.  

Me:  Do you use a dummy and/or storyboard in your writing process? 

Susan: This may sound strange, but my dummy/storyboards are really in my head.  My artistic skills are very untrained, so I rarely try to sketch my ideas on paper.  Then, when I think the book is approaching a satisfying draft, I paginate the manuscript.  I’ve heard that some editors/agents don’t like to receive paginated manuscripts from authors who aren’t illustrators, but for me it’s a necessary step.  It allows me to “see” spreads and page turns, including potential “cliff hangers,” to be sure the story has  enough visual and plot interest.  Paginating also helps me with pacing and ensuring the book will “work” within a picture book format. 

Beyond the Books:

You can watch trailer for Night Owl Night, and download activity kit (a fun migration maze included!) at Susan's website.

Make an owl puppet out of a paper bag – and tell your own owl stories. Here's how.

Learn to talk like an owl. Here are some great resources from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and the American Bird Conservancy.

Bake an Owl pizza (no owls will be harmed in this activity!). You’ll need to make a pizza crust and have pepperoni and olives on hand for toppings. Here’s directions

Susan Edwards Richmond is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website.  Here’s where you can find my reviews of her other books, Bird Count and Bioblitz!: Counting Critters

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

No comments:

Post a Comment