Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Planet Earth: 25 Environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself

Kathleen Reilly is the guest on K.C. Writer's Blog today, discussing her new children's book, "Planet Earth: 25 Environmental Projects You Can Build Yourself" a book with activities about the environment. Kathleen discusses writing children's books and how her love of environmental topics landed her this book deal.
The Summer Great Book Giveaway is still going on - and still sponsored by www.freelancedaily.net.
Click on comments and ask a question by 5 p.m. today (7/15) and if I randomly draw your question, you could win Kathleen's book - and have her answer your question on Thursday!

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I'm a mom of two boys and a freelance writer in North Carolina. Oh, and I'm
also a dog trainer, a master balloon animal-maker (although it still freaks
me out when they pop during production), a beginning guitar player, a great
pizza-maker, and I can juggle three tennis balls for five minutes straight
(but not in high winds). I've always been a real geek when it comes to
learning, so I've tried to find really fun, hands-on ways to teach my
homeschooled kids. As a writer, I channel my geekiness to tackle writing
projects (like this book) that let me learn cool subjects and write about
them. I've been incredibly fortunate to be able to pursue my interests.

Tell us about your book, "Planet Earth."

I'm really excited about this book. The first half explores the elements of
our environment -- wind, water, the sun, life -- and lets kids get hands-on
to really discover what's around them. There are projects like a
wind-powered bubble machine and a worm castle that my kids and I loved
creating. The second half of the book tackles some of the problems our
environment faces -- like pollution, global warming, and the thinning ozone
-- and offers projects about those topics. It's also got plenty of cool
factoids about our planet.

This is the first book you have written. Did you find the process
to be very different from writing articles?

Well, it's much longer, that's for sure! I'm pretty organized when it comes
to writing, so I just broke it down by chapter, then by section, and tackled
each section just like it was a mini-article. After a couple months, all
those "mini-articles" added up to one whole book!

What was your main motivation in addressing this book to children?

Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" made an impact on me. The idea that
today's kids might not have the same curiosity and affinity for nature that
we did growing up is really hard to accept. My own kids love being outside
camping, hiking, and fishing, but I know not all kids have had the
opportunity to be exposed to the outdoors like that. I would be thrilled if
my book got a child excited or curious about the environment and got him or
her outside to explore a little. Our planet is so amazing and there's so
much for kids to discover while they're just outside, playing and getting up
close and personal with the environment.

Is it difficult to change your writing style when alternating
between adult and child audiences?

Not so much. I don't really write very technical stories for adults -- my
stories are usually pretty casual and my tone is fairly friendly, so it
wasn't too hard to make the switch.

Were there challenges with this book? Do you have any advice for
writers who find themselves out of ideas?

I loved the topic so much that it was actually a blast to research and write
-- so I guess the only real challenge was scheduling all my work and family
stuff. Writing a book is definitely time-consuming! As for running out of
ideas, I'd say get out and play! Channel *your* inner geek (you know you've
got one) and think about all the things you really love to do or even little
stuff that may have sparked your interest at one time.

How have you used your life experiences and interests in your
writing? Do you think that's important for an author?

Like I've mentioned, I've been really fortunate to write about things that
interest me. I've written on dog topics that let me tap into my dog training
and vet tech experiences. I've done stories on education that have allowed
me to share some of the super-cool teaching methods I've learned. And I've
even been able to interview a handful of celebrities that I've admired. I
think it's definitely helpful for a writer or author to be interested in
what she's writing about -- your enthusiasm and passion for the topic makes
the work that much better. (Plus you have more fun doing the work!)

There are many different articles and books relating to the
environment. Did you find it easy to break into the market with your own

I had a great time writing this book. I think it's different from other
books about the environment because it includes both basic elements of the
environment plus the problems the environment faces. And it's loaded with
some great projects that aren't just ho-hum experiments -- these are things
kids can have fun assembling and then go out and use (like one of my
favorites, the garbage picker-upper that also comes in handy to reach
runaway books that fall behind the sofa).

Your first book has been very successful, and you have two more on
the way. What else do you think the future holds for you?

Wow, good question. Right now, the future holds a date with the vacuum --
like many writers, when I go full steam ahead on writing projects, little
things like housecleaning seem to be forgotten. But you probably meant
professionally, eh? I've got a proposal for a fourth book making the rounds
right now, and I'm really hopeful that will get picked up because it's on
another one of my all-time favorite topics (sorry, I'm too superstitious to
share that info just yet!). And I'm really hoping the future holds a
completed fiction manuscript, because I've been working on one for about a
year now (a children's novel). But right now...I gotta tackle this messy

And, now Kathleen would love to have your questions!


Blogger SHBueche said...

Hi Kathleen, I am a member of Freelance Daily and saw your posting. I am also a dog writer (member of DWAA, dwaa.org) and a parent. I would love to read a copy of your book and donate it to the school library.

My question? How do you combine your interest in rescuing canines with your love of planet Earth?

7:21 AM CDT  
Blogger Heidi said...

Hi Kathleen!
I'm a homeschool mother with two young children - we've gotten numerous books on science and nature, but often find that that experiments and crafts are either pointless or do not work. How did you troubleshoot your book? Your activities sound very interesting! My oldest daughter (7) loves environmental activities and camps, so we will be checking out your book!

10:06 AM CDT  
Blogger Life's Beautiful Path said...

I enjoyed reading your website. I am a freelance writer and a member of SCBWI. I am working on several children's non-fiction books. Did you create most of your activites in your books?
Thank you

10:26 AM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathleen,
Very interesting! I do a lot of work for the Sajai Foundation, which is developing nature-based programs for kids, also inspired by Louv's work. My question: did you try the activities out with kids other than your own? For example, did you try them on kids from inner-city areas, who might not have good access to nature areas?

11:45 AM CDT  
Anonymous Heather said...

Did you have "real" kids tackle each of the activities in your book to see how they reacted to them and how they worked? If so, how much time did that add to the writing of the book?

1:31 PM CDT  
Blogger teachmom said...

In today's society, people are either very cavalier about our environment or they are extremists wanting to save everything. What do you feel is a healthy attitude toward our environment that we can pass along to our children so that we can help preserve it for their future?

2:04 PM CDT  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

Heidi, Heather, and Life's Beautiful Path:

Your questions are kind of similar so I'll try to answer them together.

I hear y'all on projects that fizzle when you try them! Nothing stinks more than gathering supplies, getting the kids psyched, and then having a lame outcome.

I tested the projects twice. My kids and I did them as I was writing the book. Then I gave my kids (10 and 8) the directions to see if they could do it on their own (or with guidance when needed). If a project didn't quite work out the second time, we ran it past friends of ours -- or ditched it altogether.

Some of the projects took longer to fine-tune than others...like the natural-dyed tote bag. We went to several different produce departments, begging for fruit and veggies they were going to toss, to try to come up with the best stuff to make dye. (Surprisingly, the yellow onion skins came out the strongest color.) But we had fun with the good old, "Try, try again!" method of project development!

Thanks again for participating -- this has been fun!

12:28 PM CDT  
Anonymous Kathleen said...


Great question -- I wish I'd been able to test the projects on a wider variety of kids. I live in a semi-rural area, though, so my access to other kids is kind of limited.

I've started to plan some school and library visits, though, so hopefully I'll be able to reach out to a lot more kids in the future!


12:30 PM CDT  
Anonymous Kathleen said...


After doing research and interviews for the book, one thing that became really clear to me was that the best thing I can do as a parent is to simply get my kids out there -- get them outside, let them play, let them explore and start to see the real wonder that's around them. Once they grow a natural, deep love for the environment, they'll automatically have respect for it and want to care for it.

If kids have great memories of growing up spotting fireflies or turning over rocks to see all the cool insects or pressing autumn leaves or peering deep into a pond to spot water life and that kind of thing -- when they grow up, they'll carry that sense of fun and wonder. And they'll want to preserve it for the next generation.

As a parent, it's my goal to show my kids that I'm still amazed and in love with all the spectacular aspects of our planet. I hope it rubs off!

12:41 PM CDT  

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