By Carol Hinz, editorial director of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books
Spring is finally here! While flowers have yet to make an appearance in the Twin Cities, they’ll be here before too long. Speaking of which, do you know what flower colors mean? And I’m not talking about red flowers representing love!
In Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate, a rather grouchy cactus narrator lets readers in on the secrets of what different flower colors really mean and which pollinators those different colors attract. In a review of the book, Booklist says, “This cleverly written and informative picture book is a lively choice for reading aloud.”
Author Sara Levine was kind enough to answer a few questions about how this book came to be—and how she hopes it will be used.
What sparked the idea for this book?
This book idea came from a paragraph in a text book I’d inherited along with a college course titled Introduction to Plants and Animals. In it, the authors related how the color, shape, and scent a plant’s flowers attract specific pollinators. I found this plant-animal relationship fascinating, and, since this information is not widely known, it occurred to me that it would be great topic for a picture book.
What was the biggest challenge in taking a concept you encountered in a textbook and translating it to a format that’s accessible to children?
The challenge was finding an engaging format. I had to relay the information directly, rather than use the call-and-response format that worked so well in my comparative anatomy books (Bone by Bone, Tooth by Tooth, and Fossil by Fossil). You made the brilliant suggestion that I make the narrator a plant, which opened up possibilities for creativity. It occurred to me that a plant communicating with animals to get its needs met (i.e., its pollen moved efficiently) wouldn’t want to waste its time explaining to humans how this works. So I made the narrator cranky—“Go take a hike. I’m pretty busy in case you haven’t noticed.”—but in the best way. I modeled him after some of my favorite older relatives from Brooklyn—cantankerous, with slightly off-color humor, and loving. He’s sort of like Oscar the Grouch. And, it worked—the book is funny as well as educational.
Can you share a little about who the intended audience is for Flower Talk and how you envision the book being used by educators?
I imagine it will work well for younger kids as a group read-aloud and as an individual read for more advanced readers interested in science. I also hope that it will be used by middle school science teachers as an introduction to units on plant biology. The humor will appeal to older kids. When teaching science to college students, I often used a picture book as an introduction, and it worked really well.
You’ve written books about a range of science topics, including skeletons, teeth, dinosaurs, and now flowers. What is one thing about biology you wish educators and parents consistently taught children (who might one day grow up to become scientists themselves)?
That teaching biology doesn’t always need to be so serious in tone. Learning about living things is fascinating, and it should be fun!