Interview with a STEM Author: Craig Macnaughton
Hello STEM Sparkers! How is everybody doing? Trying to forget that school situations in the States haven't quite been figured out by state governments? I know I have. Plus, it's been quite a week for me with my engineering job, so I am so happy that I can let STEM author Craig Macnaughton take the reins on STEM Spark this week! Craig Macnaughton is a jack of all trades: stay-at-home parents, filmmaker, artist and graphic designer, and children's book author. His STEM related books Birds of a Letter: ABC Together and A B Sea Creatures are sure to spark some STEM fun! Read on to learn more.
1) How long have been writing and what inspired you to write Birds of a Letter: ABC Together and A B Sea Creatures? I have been writing for as long as I can remember - comic books, plays, funny stories and screenplays - but I’ve only started writing for children in the past few years. As a stay-at-home parent of a six and four year old, we read a lot of picture books - quite a lot - so the idea of combining silly stories with crazy drawings seemed like a natural artistic outlet for my various interests (I’m also a fine artist and graphic designer). Both A B Sea Creatures: An Astonishing Aquatic Alphabet! and Birds of a Letter: ABC Together! are inspired by a Twitter challenge from @AnimalAlphabets. Every week artists from around the world illustrate a pre-selected critter and post their results the following week. For 26 weeks we make our way through the alphabet, drawing sea creatures, birds, and most recently, mythological creatures. By the time I got to ‘Weedy Sea Dragon’ I realized I was going to have enough art for a picture book. So I researched some undersea trivia, selected the fonts, whipped up a layout and put it all together, then published it myself through Amazon KDP and IngramSpark. 2) Please share a little bit about Birds of a Letter: ABC Together and A B Sea Creatures. The books introduce children to an array of creatures they might not usually be exposed to. Sure, kids know about eagles and sharks, but what about the Lilac-breasted Roller or a Quillfin Blenny? I’ve also included fun factoids for each animal that I hope will inspire some bigger questions. Already parents have reported back that their kids want to know more about the Inca Tern and Quetzel, among others. They are part of a series called Learning THINGS, which is for young readers interested in the natural world. Not only do they introduce core concepts such the A B C’s, but they also get to meet “things” that they may not have seen before, from all across the biosphere. I have one more book planned to complete the trilogy about insects, tentatively titled “Alphabet Bugs: An Awesome Arthropod ABC!” You can find my books online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo.ca and in select indie bookstores in Toronto, plus through my website http://www.littlemittenpress.com.
3) What are some fun STEM facts from your books that have really stuck with you? I’m always amazed at the fancy shows that birds-of-paradise put on, and my kids and I have watched all of the documentaries about them. They think those show-off birds are hysterical. I also didn’t know the puffins were such fast flyers or how the Hoatzin climbs trees with dinosaur-like claws at the end of its wings. The Immortal Jellyfish is another amazing creature, as it can go back to being a kid as many times as it wants! I certainly know more about birds and marine creatures than I did before these books, and I’m curious to find out more!
4) Have you encountered any challenges in writing STEM related books? If so, how did you overcome them? Finding reference images for the animals was sometimes tricky, as creatures such as the Hourglass Dolphin are rarely photographed, but a few visits to my local library fixed that. Discovering the bird calls was another struggle, as a lot of them weren’t written out, or had conflicting interpretations. Does a Mandarin Duck go “HWICK UIB UIB” or “FLICK FUB FUB”? I spent a lot of time listening to field recordings and trying to spell them out. And one of my biggest challenges was finding something interesting to say about the creature! Japanese Seahorses may look neat, but they don’t really *do* anything. My factoid for them was “Teeny tiny briny spiny!” So in some cases I went for entertainment over education.
5) Your books are related to the STEM subjects ornithology (study of birds) or marine biology (study of marine/ocean life). What words of encouragement would you tell a child who is interested in ornithology or marine biology or other study of animals? Go to the beach! Visit a marsh! Check out an aquarium or zoo [which most now have virtual tours]! And just be more observant. Recently I’ve notice a few species of birds that I don’t remember seeing as a kid (like the Red-Winged Blackbird or the Double-breasted Cormorant) and I’m sure they were around, but I just wasn’t looking for them. Now I take my kids on expeditions into creeks, hiking in bird conservation areas and exploring the shoreline. There’s a lot of nature to see, you just have keep your eyes and ears open.
Craig, I love the advice of be observant for budding animal scientists and all the fun facts you've shared with us! Thank you so much for being for being on STEM Spark. Dear readers, you can follow Craig here: