The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Rebecca Hirsch and Review of Night Creatures Plus Giveaway
Rebecca Hirsch grew up in the western Pennsylvania countryside with fields, woods, streams, and a pond. She spent much of her childhood roaming the outdoors, but 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, tending a flock of chickens, or wandering in the woods with her dog.
Rebecca is the author of more than 80 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 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), 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, Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You Sleep, releases September 7th.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I have been writing my whole life, but I began writing professionally in 2004. I write every day during the week, typically in the morning right after everyone goes off to school. That's the time of day when my brain is at its freshest. I do take weekends off to recharge and catch up on house and garden chores.
I like that schedule. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I had thought about majoring in art in college and I still love to draw. I mostly do nature journaling, although I don't spend as much time drawing as I would like. Pen-and-ink is my favorite medium.
In addition to your stand-alone titles (above), you’ve written books in 22 different series. What do you like about writing individual books and writing books in a series? Have your series tended to be work-for hire?
Good question, Maria! Individual books are great for tapping my creativity and allowing me to delve into topics that I'm really excited about. But they are much harder to write than series books. With an individual book, I have to come up with the concept, target age, length, format, voice—everything.
With series books, an editor or team of editors has already figured out the topic, length, and format. I just have to write the book according to their formula. Series books are very satisfying to write and a good way to earn a quick paycheck. My series books have all been work-for-hire, meaning I was paid a flat fee with no royalties. Series books were also a fabulous way for me to learn how to write for kids when I was starting out. One challenge of series books is that they are often produced on a tight schedule. Keeping up with that schedule can be pretty intense.
It seems kind of nice to be able to do a mix. You’ve written over 80 nonfiction books ranging from picture books to YA. That’s a big range. Do you have a favorite age to write for? What about a favorite topic area?
Nonfiction picture books are my favorite books to write, so I guess that would be ages 4 to 8. I love writing about living things—plants, animals, ecology, etc. But plants are my all-time favorite. I trained and worked as a plant biologist before becoming a writer, and I grow a lot of plants in my yard. I tend to think plants are under-appreciated, and I never tire of trying to share just how cool they really are.
I fellow gardener, I totally agree with you! What was your inspiration for Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You Sleep?
The spark came during a night walk I took at Shaver's Creek camp, a nature camp that my kids attended here in central Pennsylvania. Every year, on the last night of camp, the counselors lead parents and campers into the woods for a night walk. It's a really wild experience to be out in the woods at night with no flashlight. You learn how to feel the path with your feet, do owl calls, and listen for the sounds of nocturnal animals. It was on a night walk that I thought of the idea of a book about night and night animals.
How fun; definitely something on my bucket list to do one day. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
One of the most memorable books from my childhood was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg. Many people know Konigsburg's book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This book isn't as well-known, but it's a lot of fun. It's about two girls who become friends. One of them claims to be a witch and she takes the other one on as an apprentice. It's very entertaining, a little dark, but with a sweet ending.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Night Creatures?
A night spent outdoors can be a really memorable experience. You don't have to go far. Just spending a night in a tent in your backyard can be an adventure. The world is really different at night. Different animals are awake. There are different smells and sounds. Your vision is limited, so your other senses are on high alert.
I've put together an activity guide with fun activities you can do at night. You can download it (here).
As two totally different books, was it easier, or harder, to write Night Creatures or When Plants Attack: Strange and Terrifying Plants?
What a fun question! Night Creatures was definitely easier. Some picture books can be really tough to find the structure and voice, but Night Creatures came together quickly. One thing I had to work out was pacing. Early drafts were focused almost entirely on dusk. There wasn't much focus on the night. My critique partners loved the story, but they pointed that out right away. That's the value of having a group of people who can see the strengths and weaknesses of a story.
When Plants Attack took a lot more work. It took a ton of research on the individual plants, including interviews with scientists, and loads of revision time. It took a lot of revisions before I was happy with the flow of each chapter. But it was a labor of love. As I mentioned earlier, I love sharing with others why plants are cool.
There are just such fun premises for books. What has been your biggest surprise, for any of your book(s), when you first got to see the illustrations? Good or bad. How about for Night Creatures? Do You have a favorite spread?
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2021. Image © Sonia Possentini, 2021.
I don't know that I've had any big surprises with illustrations. But for Night Creatures I do love Sonia Possentini's realistic, soft images, which are different than what I was expecting. My favorite spread is the one with the raccoon fishing in the pond. I had a pond growing up and this spread takes me right back to my childhood home.
I agree that Sonia's illustrations are gorgeous. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have a middle grade book coming out next year with Millbrook called Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World. I also have a picture book coming out with Millbrook in 2023 on the world's tallest trees, eight species around the world that regularly reach over 300 feet! And I have more picture books in submission.
These sound fascinating, I'll definitely keep an eye out for them. Do you have any advice on surviving rejections, managing bouts of success, or anything else for authors?
I try hard to keep my focus on making good books and not worrying about rejection or success. That's not always easy to do. But with each book, I really pour myself into making that book as excellent as I can. I try to remember that how the rest of the world reacts to the book is beyond my control. What I can control is doing thorough research, finding the best structure, and making the writing sing as much as I can.
Rejection can be hard. When I send out queries or submissions, I immediately get to work on something else. Early on, rejection can be so hard, but it becomes easier when you've gotten a bunch of rejections and lived to tell the tale. I recently signed with an agent for the first time (Sarah Stephens at Red Fox Literary). Honestly, I'm looking forward to having Sarah as a buffer between me and rejection.
But it's not only rejection you have to manage; you have to manage the successes too. I try to remember that success comes in waves. With one book I might win an award and land on a bunch of best-of list. And then the next book, there are just crickets chirping. But even when a book isn't critically acclaimed, I might hear from parents and teachers and kids how much they loved it. So I try to keep that in mind, that readers are the people I'm doing this for, not critics and not awards committees. And even when a book does win awards, soon enough the thrill of success fades, and it's back to work.
I do think loving the work—the day-in, day-out grind of putting books together for kids—is its own reward. If you can lean into your love of the process, then you can have a career you really enjoy.
Congrats on getting an agent and I love your final sentiment. Thank you. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are currently enamored with. Why?
Polar bears are always at the top of the list. They're so cute and fuzzy, and the ways they are adapted to the Arctic are fascinating. But they are also ferocious. They're good animals to admire from a distance.
Thank you, Rebecca for participating in this interview. I enjoyed the chance to get to know you better.
For more information about Rebecca Hirsch, or to contact her:
Review Of Night Creatures:
Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You Sleep
plus a GIVEAWAY
It is so fun to be able to give you a SNEAK PEEK at this beautiful picture book and, thanks to Rebecca Hirsch, I get to offer you a chance to win a copy in a giveaway. (Unfortunately, limited to US addresses).
Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You Sleep
Author: Rebecca Hirsch
Illustrator: Sonia Possentini
Publisher: Millbrook Press (2021)
Nocturnal animals, camping, night time, and senses.
As the sun sets, night creatures awaken. In their rural backyard, a parent and child camp out, watching as fireflies flicker, bats flap, and rabbits race. Atmospheric illustrations bring the nocturnal world to life in this lyrical and informative picture book.
A cool night breeze
on your face
as night creatures wake
in quiet dens
and dusty nooks.
What I LIKED about this book:
Combining a soft, sparse, lyrical text with gorgeously vibrant and detailed illustrations, this book examines a few of the animals that move about at night. While the illustrations feature a background arc of a mother and child camping, roasting marshmallows, and watching the stars, the primary focus of the text and illustrations is on the "night creatures" as they wake and search for food.
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2021. Image © Sonia Possentini, 2021.
I love the deep tones and highlights of illumination from the moonlight and campfire. Even with the limited pallet of the illustrations, there is so much texture and little details. My favorite spread features the only close-up of the mom and child, where we see their sense of wonder and excitement as "night bugs blink on." Sonia Possentini's really makes night time beautiful and fun.
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2021. Image © Sonia Possentini, 2021.
The majority of the text is soothing, perfect for a bedtime read, and it wraps around at the end to create a perfect segue into a second read. However, it is worth noting for any squeamish or sensitive children (or adults) that neither Rebecca Hirsch nor Sonia Possentini shy away from the 'facts of life.' With increasing tension, over three spreads, we watch a bobcat "crouch in shadows, creep, LEAP!" Then perhaps sigh, as the rabbit manages to "race out of reach." The book also shows bat's chasing beetles, skunks enjoying grapes, raccoons hunting fish, and an owl carrying away a mouse.
The inclusion of thumbnails and greater detail, including the animal's names, in the back matter offers a child and parent additional information on the timing of night incursions and the variety of foods these animals eat. Overall, it is a beautiful introduction to animals that appear from dusk to dawn.
- what does your yard look like at night? Draw or paint a picture of what you see from a window at night, or write a story about animal that nearby.
- camp or hike out in your backyard or a nearby park at night. What animals do you see or hear? Do things sound different at night?
- check out the book's activity guide at (http://www.rebeccahirsch.com/uploads/2/1/5/0/21500942/night_creatures_activity_guide.pdf)
Rebecca Hirsch has offered a copy of Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You Sleep to one lucky winner. Sorry, but U.S. addresses only.
To be eligible, just leave a comment on this post by August 25th. Additionally, let me know if you also share this post via social media (FB, Twitter, or Instagram) and I'll add additional entries into the random drawing.