• Suzie Olsen

Interview with a STEM Author: Barbara Renner

Updated: Feb 7

Hi STEM Sparkers! This week I'm super happy to introduce you to STEM Author, Barbara Renner! Barbara and I have a special connection, as we share the same illustrator for some of our books Davina Kinney. I meet Barbara a few years ago at a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event, and I liked her Lonnie the Loon book and bought a copy. A few months later, I was looking at an illustrator and flipped through Lonnie the Loon, deciding that I'd reach out to Davina. Barbara writes really fun books on animals, and she includes lots of scientific facts through out her books. Read below to learn some cool facts about loons, quails and more!



1) We share the same illustrator for some of our books, and I found Davina

because I liked your Lonnie the Loon series. How long have been writing and what inspired you to write the Lonnie the Loon series?

When I retired from teaching in 2011 my life came to a screeching halt. Gone

were the late nights and weekends grading papers and preparing lessons for my

students. One of the perks of retirement was that my husband and I were able to spend

an entire summer visiting the lake country in Minnesota instead of hurrying back to

Arizona for the beginning of school. It sounds like a dream life, right? Living in a cooler

climate for four months was delightful, but I’m not one to sit on the sofa watching

daytime television.


When I was out on the lake fishing with my husband I suddenly discovered a most

unique creature, the Common Loon. I was in awe of their patterned black and white

plumage, their ability to dive under water for long periods of time, and their hauntingly

beautiful calls. I researched loons and discovered interesting facts as well as fascinating

folklore about these lovely birds. That’s when I decided to write a series of children’s

books about Lonnie the Loon. I thought everyone needs to know about this wonderful

waterfowl. I published my first book, Lonnie the Loon Finds His Home, in 2014, with

three more following close behind.


2) You have another series, Quincy the Quail. Please tell us a little bit about that

series.

My husband and I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona for over 40 years. I certainly

didn’t want to slight my “native” state by focusing on a bird in the northern part of the

U.S. My neighbor had a covey of quail who frequented one of the desert shrubs in her

front yard, and I loved watching them scurry down the street. That’s when Quincy the

Quail was born in my mind. I wanted to create a feeling of hurry and scurry and always

hunting for seeds to eat, but I also wanted to create a unique main character. Quincy is

the leader of his covey, but he’s a little clumsy. He bumps into cactus and falls

backward into bushes. A minor theme of my quail books is a flawed leader, a person

that can be respected even though they have funny quirks and shortcomings.


I also included an owl to oversee the quails’ neighborhood, and Mr. Owl appears on

almost every page. One day while I was reading my book to a 3rd grade class, a student

asked how Mr. Owl and Quincy could be friends since owls prey on quail. How astute

for that little boy to mention that fact. That one comment prompted me to write another

book, Quincy the Quail and the Mysterious Egg, about how Quincy and Mr. Owl, a

Great Horned Owl, become friends. This book is now the first in the series of three. It’s

a story about kindness, friendship, and getting along with others even when they are

different.



3) What are some fun STEM facts from your books that have really stuck with

you?

I thoroughly enjoy researching the animals I write about and include interesting

facts about them in each book. I learned that loons have solid bones so they can dive

deep underwater, and can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes because of a built-in

nose flap. Their eyes are red which allow them to reflect light and find fish easier. I also

learned that loons molt when they fly to the coastal areas for winter and lose their black

and white plumage. They also do not call while residing in their winter homes. That

makes it hard for Floridians to realize they might be observing a Common Loon floating

along the Gulf coastline.


Quincy the Quail is a Gambel’s Quail, unique to the Sonoran Desert. There are several

species of quail, but the Gambel’s Quail is the most colorful with tints of gray, chestnut,

and cream that camouflage them. They have long, comma-shaped topknots of feathers

on top of their heads. Quail like to remain on the ground, but will fly to higher points

when frightened or when calling for a mate in Spring. I have a video of a male sitting on

top of our neighbor’s roof calling and listening for the females to respond.


While in Minnesota, I also discovered the Trumpeter Swan and have written two

children’s books about them. One is already published. Spring! Time to Build a Nest is

a fanciful story about how swans build their nests. The next book, Summer! Time to

Search for Food will be available summer 2021. Trumpeter Swans are the largest

waterfowl species native to North America and are named for their unique call, which

sounds like a trumpet. They were once on the endangered species list because in the

early 1900s hunters sold their feathers for quill pens and fancy hats. From 1986 to

1988, a restoration project transported Trumpeter Swan eggs from Alaska to Minnesota

where they were incubated, hatched, and reared. Now there are over 17,000

Trumpeters in northwest Minnesota.


4) Your books are related to the STEM subjects ornithology (study of birds). What

words of encouragement would you tell a child who is interested in ornithology or

other study of animals?

Once when I was selling my books at an art fair, a customer told me his young

daughter was interested in birds. I pointed out that one of my resources for all my books

is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and she would find lots of information about birds and

ways to get involved with science and nature on that site. In my books I have QR Codes

that can be scanned so the reader can listen to the bird calls. I purchased most of those

sounds from The Macaulay Library on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.


Another way children can become involved with studying animals is to visit libraries and

check out books in their areas of interest. The Desert Foothills Land Trust offers

educational programs and courses for young people that connect them to nature and

conservation in the Sonoran Desert.



5) And finally, do you have any upcoming book projects and parting words of

wisdom?

It’s funny you should mention “words of wisdom.” I have a book that is being launched on

December 5, 2020 called Larry’s Words of Wisdom. It’s a book with photos of Larry, my

yellow lab mix rescue, that arouse a universal word of wisdom, inspiring feel-good messages for life and love. Since I didn’t think the general public would buy a book of just dog photos, I’ve included facts and trivia about dogs. A percentage of sales will benefit a local dog rescue

organization, and it’s printed in the U.S.


As for my writing career, I’m working on several manuscripts similar to my Lonnie the Loon,

Quincy the Quail, and Trumpeter Swan books that I am querying, hoping to be picked up by an agent or a publisher.


As for advice for young people, when I was in high school wondering what I was going to do

“when I grew up,” it seemed that careers for women were limited to that of being a teacher,

secretary, or nurse. Today, teenagers have a wider variety of careers to choose from, especially in STEM. Pursue what you love to do and where your interests are, research what’s available, and put your heart, mind, and soul into achieving your goal.


Thank you Barbara for those inspiring words about putting your heart, mind and soul into achieving a goal! I also enjoyed all the cool science facts about quails, loons, and swans. Reader, if you also enjoyed all those science facts and want to check out Barbara's books, please visit to her website. And as usual, happy STEM-ing everyone!

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