The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Rebecca E. Hirsch and Review of Sensational Senses
Rebecca Hirsch grew up in the western Pennsylvania countryside with fields, woods, streams, and a pond. She spent much of her childhood roaming the woods, climbing trees, catching crayfish, collecting frog eggs, and picking wild raspberries, blackberries, and huckleberries. She also loved to read, write, and draw. Now, Rebecca lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania with her husband, kids, and far too many pets. When she’s not writing, you can find her digging in her garden or roaming the woods with a sketchbook in hand.
Rebecca is the author of more than eighty books about science and nature for children and young adults. She is a scientist, writer, and educator who is dedicated to connecting kids to nature and helping them understand the world of scientific discovery. Her books have been NCTE Notable, Junior Library Guild, and Bank Street Best Books selections, and she won the 2018 Green Prize for Sustainable Literature in youth books and the 2017 Riverby Award for nature writing. Her books include Where Have All the Birds Gone?: Nature in Crisis (2022), Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You (2021), Sleep Living Fossils: Survivors from Earth's Distant Past (2020), Where Have All the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis (2020), When Plants Attack: Strange and Terrifying Plants (2019), The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery (2018), De-Extinction: The Science of Bringing Lost Species Back to Life (2017), Plants Can’t Sit Still, illustrated by Mia Posada (2016), Birds vs. Blades? Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Protect Seabirds (2016), The Human Microbiome: The Germs That Keep You Healthy (2016), and Climate Migrants: On the Move in a Warming World (2016), and The Ultimate Adventure Atlas of Earth: Maps, Games, Activities and More for Hours of Extreme Fun! co-author with Sally Isaacs (2015).
Her newest nonfiction picture book, Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World, releases this coming Tuesday, April 5th.
Welcome back Rebecca, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your new book.
First off, did you find anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?
For many years, I've made it a habit to pour a cup of coffee in the morning, head to my office, close the door, and get to work on a piece of writing. That habit has been a life-line over the past couple of years. When the world shut down in the spring of 2020, I was already underway researching and writing Sensational Senses. That deeply ingrained habit of daily writing allowed me to keep working. Most days, I was able to let the chaos and confusion stay on the other side of the office door, at least for a few hours.
Sounds heavenly! What was your inspiration for Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World?
The idea that sparked this book came way back in 2007, when I was assigned to write a magazine article about the way birds use Earth’s magnetic field as a compass. I was fascinated to learn that animals could sense something that people could not. I began to wonder, What else can animals sense that we can’t? And if we can’t sense that same thing ourselves, and we can’t ask animals what they sense, how do we learn about those senses? These were the questions that drove this book.
I love diving into research like this, spurred by a curious question. Did your experience writing, revising, and/or publishing Sensational Senses differ from your previous books? What was the toughest aspect of writing this books?
As I mentioned, I researched and wrote this book during the early months of the pandemic. That was a big difference! One of the tough parts was that I had arranged a visit in March of 2020 to a place called the Bat Lab, which is located at Johns Hopkins University. I was really looking forward to that visit. But as the date approached, I was no longer sure I should be traveling. I finally decided to cancel the visit. That was a disheartening day. But a couple of days later, the entire country shut down, which at least gave me peace of mind that I had made the right call. Although I wasn't able to visit the lab in person, I did conduct several virtual interviews with a Bat Lab researcher, and she sent me excellent photographs for use in the book. Still, I would have liked to be able to do that research in person.
I'm glad they were still able to help you. What would we have all done without virtual media? Is there anything you want your readers to know about Sensational Senses?
As human beings, we tend to think that the way we sense the world is the world. But there is far more to the world than just the parts of it we can sense. Those hidden facets—and the ways animals can sense those facets—are what I find fascinating about this subject.
And, I imagine, more that we discover every year. As a photo illustrated book, what was the toughest part in finding or obtaining images? Any specific one in particular? Which is your favorite spread?
It can often take a lot of emailing back and forth with scientists to chase down images and secure permissions. But the work is worth it, because I can end up with excellent images that I could never have found anywhere else. One example is the photo of a kangaroo rat taken with an infrared camera on page 32, which reveals what the rat might look like to a rattlesnake at night. As far as a favorite spread, I love pages 18 and 19, which show the smell tests and the giant maze used to examine the sensory abilities of African elephants.
Ooh, interesting! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a picture book on the world's tallest trees coming out in 2023 from Millbrook Press. That book will be illustrated by Mia Posada, who also illustrated my first picture book, Plants Can't Sit Still. I'm thrilled to be working with Mia again. At the moment, she is busy creating collage artwork for the book. From what I've seen so far, the art for that book is going to be stunning.
How exciting! I can't wait to see the cover reveal. Mia did such a great job with Plants Can't Sit Still. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Rothrock State Forest is just a short drive from my home. It's so close, that I can even walk there from my home in State College. That's the place that comes to mind as my personal favorite. I have treasured spots within the forest that I will visit again and again, in every season. For me, the natural places I love best will always be the ones in my own backyard.
Thank you, Rebecca for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.
For more information about Rebecca Hirsch, or to contact her:
Review of Sensational Senses:
Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World
Plus a Giveaway
I get to offer you all a sneak peek at Rebecca's stunning new nonfiction picture book. Be sure to check it out when it releases on Tuesday, April 5th! Comment below, to be entered into the drawing for the giveaway.
Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World
Author: Rebecca E. Hirsch
Publisher: Millbrook Press (2022)
Animal senses, science, and
Humans have five senses. But some animals can perceive things we can't thanks to their extraordinary senses. From science writer Rebecca E. Hirsch comes a fascinating book that introduces these animals and delves into the science behind their senses. Discover how animals use their senses to find food, navigate their environment, and communicate. Featured animals include the star-nosed mole with its highly developed nose, the deadly sidewinder rattlesnake which uses its pits to strike its prey, and the electric eel that uses electroreception to sense its prey.
Imagine you're a superhero on a top secret mission. Disguised
in civilian clothes, you pursue a villain as she weaves down a
crowded sidewalk. She carries a roll of paper tucked under her
arm - the stolen blueprints. You must recover them. You are sure
you can catch her, but then she gives you a backward glance,
smiles, and disappears into an alley.
What I Liked about this book:
That opening is amazing. Not what I was anticipating for a nonfiction book on animal senses. But it's an awesome way to grab the reader's attention. It continues in second person with the reader getting to an empty alley and using super hearing to determine which door the villain went through...nothing unusual for comics, movies, & books. But did you know that "real super senses exist in the world of nature." That animals can "see, hear, smell, taste, or feel things that are hidden to humans."
Continuing in this conversational voice, laced with hints of mystery, Rebecca Hirsch examines animals who use their super senses to find food and evade predators. The book is filled with maps, diagrams, and awesome photographs - like this face-on view of a star-nosed mole. Along with sidebars - offering not only scientific information on the animal but including the animal's "Secret Hideout" and "Super Sense" in a fun continuation of the super hero theme.
© June Smalls, 2022.
It uses wonderful comparisons that grab your attention and are easily relatable - for instance, the mole's nose has over 168,000 nerve fibers, and our palms only have 17,000, that means their nose (the size of our pinkies) is ten times more sensitive than our hands. I was totally fascinated by this mole and the discoveries that scientists made with high speed cameras and imaging.
© June Smalls, 2022.
The book explores animals with super sight, super smell, super taste, super hearing, and a super ability to sense the earth's magnetic orientation, highlighting both the animals' amazing senses and what scientists are learning about, and from, the animals. It is engaging and will captivate a wide range of kids. And the back matter provides a great place to start researching more about these super senses. Overall a wonderful nonfiction exploring some amazing animals and their super senses.
- go sit outside and cover your eyes. Without peeking, what do you hear? What is the quietest sound? The loudest? Do you hear more as you sit longer?
- with a partner, place items into individual bags. With your eyes covered, can you identify the items by smell? You could use fruits, spices, etc. Now, with your eyes still covered and pinching your nose, taste the food items. Can you tell what they are? If you don't pinch your nose do you get more right? Why might that be?
- try a "Brain Box (Bag) of Science." Put easily familiar and unfamiliar things into a bag or sealed box. Can you tell what's in there by touching it? How often were you right? Now put on a pair of gloves. Can you still tell what's in the bag/box?
- try your hand at echolocating sound. Blindfolded stand the middle of the room and have others move about and take turns clapping. Can you turn to face where the sound came from? Now, put an earplug in one ear and repeat the clapping. Is there a difference?
Sensational Senses Book Giveaway
One lucky reader will win a copy of Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World .
- Simply comment below to be entered in the random drawing.
- Be sure to say where you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.
- *Sorry, US Residents only.*