Interview with Dr. Brent Hughes
Dr. Brent Hughes is a marine biologist with the University of California at Santa Cruz-Long Marine Lab. Dr. Hughes discovered a new trophic cascade involving sea otters, an apex predator in Elkhorn Slough, just off Monterey Bay in Northern California. In honor of Sea Otter Awareness Week, he shares science tips for kids and talks about his involvement in the making of Sea Otter Heroes.
Science tips for kids
Patricia Newman: What advice do you have for kids studying science in school?
Dr. Hughes: Science can seem like a challenging subject to study, and some think you have to be the smartest kid in school to be a scientist. That’s not true.
There is room in science for people with all types of skill sets. For example, if you are a visual/artsy type, then science can benefit from you because we are always in need of scientific illustrators, film makers, and artistic interpreters.
If you are into history, then science can benefit from you because we need more anthropologists and paleobiologists.
I think what draws most to science is the thrill of discovery. So if you like discovery, then science might be the thing for you. It certainly was the catalyst for my interest in science and still is the force that motivates me to this day.
How it feels to star in a kids’ book
Patricia Newman: What did you like about working on Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem?
Dr. Hughes: Other than working with you and your daughter Elise, I really liked the idea of working on a book for a younger audience. In fact, this was a goal of mine and my colleague Lilian Carswell. Lilian works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and her jobs is to make sure there is a growing and healthy sea otter population.
We had discussed the possibility of writing a book that would reach the next generation, so they are aware of the sea otter story and the challenges they face. We knew we had a good story on the positive effects of sea otters on ecosystems that would likely capture the imagination of young scientists.
When we met you, we approached you with our idea and you took it and produced this fantastic book.
Plus, my kids, Isabela and Sam, think I am really cool now that I am in a book.
Sea Otter Heroes in the classroom
As an author, I enjoy speaking with the teachers and students who read my books. Middle-school librarian Brenda Kahn and I were lucky enough to meet in person at an ALA conference a few years back. Read Brenda’s review of Sea Otter Heroes here.
How Brenda Kahn will use Sea Otter Heroes in the classroom
I am using Sea Otter Heroes as a mentor text with grade 7 this year. We will read the book together, and I will point out how to approach reading a nonfiction text, note taking, exploring the back matter, and checking out the resources. I would like them to brainstorm reactions and questions about what they read. From there, students will need to choose their own “Scientist at Work” book to read from a collection I have in the library.
Discussion questions from Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers
- What is the “critical link between” sea otters and flowering sea grass?
- Finding the link was an accident, what was Brent Hughes studying when he found the connection?
- What was the proof that the connection existed?
- How does the Elkhorn Slough exist?
- What are Hughes’s 7 steps to think like a scientist?
- Observe nature and go through the 7 steps yourself. What part did sea hares play in Brett Hughes’s experiment?
- What is a trophic cascade?
- How are what was discovered about the otters similar to the situations with wolves and sperm whales Newman shared?
Download a CCSS-aligned teaching guide.
For more on Sea Otter Heroes and Sea Otter Awareness Week, visit Patricia Newman’s blog.
For more on great science books for kids, read editor Carol Hinz’s “Elements of Excellent Science Books” post.