Guest Post: Patricia Newman

By Patricia Newman, Sibert Honor-winning author of Sea Otter Heroes, Plastic Ahoy!, Eavesdropping on Elephants, Planet Ocean, and many other books

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Lerner Publishing Group for embracing Melissa Stewart’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, a system that has been a boon for educators—and writers—in understanding and appreciating this rich and varied genre.

Please describe your research and writing process briefly, and talk about why you took the approach you did for Planet Ocean.

Annie Crawley and I mused over the content of Planet Ocean for a long time before we proposed it to Millbrook Press. We wanted to show how climate change and pollution affect the sustainability of our sea and we wanted to highlight our connection to the beating blue heart of our planet. Our narrative thread became, “The ocean’s story is our story.”

Even after Millbrook accepted our proposal, the story evolved. But the narrative thread remained constant throughout and guided us as we selected people to interview – divers, scientists, conservationists, professors, children, teens – anyone who had a story of change and hope in an ecosystem that covers nearly three-quarters of the globe.

I visited Annie in Seattle so we could cover the Salish Sea ecosystem, which includes the Puget Sound. Annie traveled to the Coral Triangle in Indonesia and to the Arctic. Through it all, we kept in touch via phone, texts, emails, Google Drive, Dropbox, Facebook, and Twitter.

How did we keep it all organized? Watch this video!

Planet Ocean features photography by Annie Crawley, how much did her photography influence the writing and vice versa?

Annie has an amazing variety of images and video footage from nearly 30 years of documenting our underwater world. In Planet Ocean, her life, her work, her images help us show our unbreakable connection to the sea like no other book can. For this reason, Annie is not only Planet Ocean’s photographer, she is both a character and an expert in the book.

Even before the first word was written, we discussed the photos we’d need so Annie could plan her travel. During the research process, we even snapped behind-the-scenes photos of us interviewing experts, some of which you’ll see in our author/photographer note at the end of Planet Ocean. We also planned to tear a page out of my Eavesdropping on Elephants book and incorporate QR codes to bring readers below the surface to experience the ocean.

Annie’s initial photo pull for Planet Ocean contained thousands of images, sorted by chapter. We had to select the most powerful subset to spotlight our connection to the sea.

How did we decide? Watch this video!

Your 2017 book Sea Otter Heroes received a Sibert Honor recognizing excellence in nonfiction. What do you hope readers take away from all your books? 

I’m so grateful to the Sibert committee for recognizing Sea Otter Heroes. I keep in touch with several of the committee members, and their unwavering support of nonfiction—especially STEM nonfiction—warms my heart.

In all my books, I show readers how they are connected to the natural world so they will feel a sense of belonging. These connections may seem invisible at first, but they exist — connections to sea otters, elephants, orangutans, and the ocean that not only improve our lives, but make life possible. To belong to such a complex system is a wonder, but also a responsibility.  Voltaire said, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and it’s true. Our habits and choices matter.

For the record, I usually write narrative nonfiction with expository bits. Lerner has classified Planet Ocean as traditional nonfiction within Melissa’s framework due to its excellent overview of the topic.

Traditional Nonfiction is a category of Melissa Stewart’s Five Kinds of Nonfiction. This post is part of a weekly series of guest articles by nonfiction authors about their craft, their process, and their amazing books. Stay tuned each week to learn more by visiting the 5 Kinds of Nonfiction page for poster and flyer downloads, curated booklists and more. You can also follow the Lerner Blog’s 5 Kinds of Nonfiction series, or the hashtag #5KNF on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Patricia Newman’s books inspire young readers to seek connections to the real world. She writes about social justice issues such as the environment and equal access to education to encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real-world problems and act on behalf of their communities. Titles include Planet Ocean (March 2021); Neema’s Reason to Smile; Sea Otter Heroes; Plastic, Ahoy!; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue; and Eavesdropping on Elephants. She is the recipient of a Robert F. Sibert Honor from the American Library Association, and her books have received starred reviews, Green Earth Book Awards, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. You can find out more at

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