Monday, October 8, 2018

Nonfiction Authors Dig Deep by Heather L. Montgomery

I’m passionate about getting kids hooked on nature. For many years, I worked as an environmental educator. Leading kids knee-deep in a stream, paddling through a rock-walled canyon, standing under a rushing waterfall, that’s how I connected students to nature. I’ve taught tens of thousands of kids.

I never considered becoming a writer until, one day, it hit me: I can only physically teach a certain number of kids. But if I write my ideas down they can be shared across the globe. Words on a page carry into the future.
This realization has led me to write 13 books for children, including my most recent title Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-Legged Parents and their Kids.
 
I’m also passionate about inquiry. Where did that come from? Recently when hiking deep in the Smokey Mountains with a friend, Kendra, and my brother, Fred, I got a clue about that.
Stopped in the middle of the trail under a grand tulip poplar tree, I mused, “I feel sorry for kids who don’t get this.”
My friend looked puzzled.
"I don’t mean the big trees—but that’s a shame too—I mean this,” I waved my hand back and forth toward my brother and myself. The whole hike we had been asking bizarre questions (What is in that millipede’s poop? How come those bat boxes have holes in their sides? What is that clear goop?). We made guesses and pointed out evidence. A friendly competition pervaded our conversation.

Heather (right) and Fred in a sequoia grove
 
We’ve always done that. Inquiry is a part of my family culture. We’d never thought of it as an educational strategy or a scientific approach, but looking back I see my life is rooted in a compost of questions. And that formed the foundation for the way I approached the hardest book topic I’ve ever tackled: roadkill.
For the longest time, I was scared of that topic. Every time I passed a carcass on the road, things inside my body wrenched. My heart screamed at the injustice, but my mind marveled at the bobcat’s body. My eyes teared with sadness while my fingers begged to touch that velvet fur. And when I considered aloud possibly writing about roadkill, people looked at me like I’d grown horns.
But I couldn’t stop myself from parking and looking, from asking and wondering. I felt like a voyeur but my feet kept inching closer, closer to the dead bodies.
Then one day I gave into inquiry.
It took over my life.
The next years were a rollercoaster of research. Depending on the day or even the moment, I felt angst that tore at my core, elation that soared like a hawk, or hope that suddenly surfaced like a mountain spring.
Heather dissecting a snake
 
That research was for me. No way could I consider writing about it for kids. But at that point I didn’t care, I had to know more.
The thing is, every sad body drew me into far flung topics—topics I’d never been that interested in like math (studying the deaths of mama turtles, mean, meridian, and mode became relevant to me) and art history (thanks to an artist who recycles the skins of roadkill). That, I realized, is how it could be for my readers. What if this inquiry could get them hooked on nature? Suddenly, I had to write this book.
And that’s how a rollercoaster of research became the book Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill.
Inquiry is my life.
And you know what? I feel sorry for kids who don’t get that.
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. The weirder, the wackier, the better. An award-winning science educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. During school presentations, petrified animal parts and tree guts inspire reluctant readers and motivate reticent writers. She has published over a dozen nonfiction books. Heather lives on the border of Alabama and Tennessee. Inquiry is her life. www.HeatherLMontgomery.com.

5 comments:

  1. I have been waiting for SOMETHING ROTTEN for a whole year when Susan raved about it at our local SCBWI conference last October. So excited to read it! Congrats, Heather!

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  2. How fun to see my CP at this blog! I enjoyed learning more about you. Yes, kids need inquiry!

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  3. I so wish I could add a photo to my comment. This morning as I was walking to the Y for my swim, I noticed many dried up worms on the sidewalk. We've had quite a bit of rain. A sort of roadkill by weather, I guess. But that wasn't the photo. The one I stopped to take was of a beetle chowing down on a dead worm. It made me less sad that the worm had died since it at least provided food for another creature.

    As a person who breaks for squirrels and leaves, this time of year feels so treacherous. But, I too am curious and want to understand the life and death of animals. Can't wait to read both of your books.

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  4. What a cool way to spark science (and other subjects) interest!

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  5. Great work Heather. You get kids to ask questions, engage the reader's mind.

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