I’ve been blessed during my career as a science journalist. I’ve had the chance to write and edit thousands of articles for newspapers and magazines. Best of all, I’ve had the opportunity to write and edit more than 50 books about science and nature topics, mostly for young readers.
Every new story is a new learning experience. One of the best things about being a science writer is getting the chance to share what I learn. Best of all is sharing directly with readers, some young, some not so young, during my visits to schools and libraries across the United States. Sometime during a 2017 school visit I will reach my long time goal of reading stories for 1 million kids. It’s humbling and gratifying all at once.
I learned a lot while writing my newest book, The Bat Book (Afraid of a bat? What’s up with that?). I was privileged to get great information from scientists working at Bat Conservation International, based in Austin, Texas. The most important message I learned is conveyed in one simple sentence. And it is very easy to remember. Are you ready?
Bats are NOT scary!
Answering questions. That was an important reason to write about these amazing but very misunderstood creatures. But the real inspiration for The Bat Book came from the illustrator, Nathan Jensen, an Austin-area native and University of Texas graduate.
Nathan and I have worked together for many years on lots of books. He brings my words to life on the page with brilliant, vivid, and witty illustrations. This time, he wanted to illustrate AND write the story himself. He asked me to be his editor. I agreed.
Why bats? Location, location, location, of course. At the time, Nathan lived in Austin, home to one of the world’s most famous bat colonies. More than 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live under the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin. The bats are part of Austin’s culture. Visitors from around the world love to stand on the “Bat Bridge” at sunset. The tornado of bats exiting from under the bridge for a night of insect eating is always spectacular to witness.
After almost a full year of effort, Nathan called me again. He had the skeleton of a story and some great ideas. But the writing was just not his thing. “Let’s go back to the regular way,” he said. “You write the story. I’ll illustrate.”
Nathan’s superb idea was to tell the story from the perspective of one small bat who lives under the bridge. The bat overhears human kids saying nasty, mean things about his kind. What to do? A teaching moment is born.
The solution: On suggestion from Mama, the young bat will create a book about bats and leave it for humans to find so that they might learn the facts.
Little Boy Bat does part of the writing and illustrating within our book. Nathan put his 8-year-old son, Tristan, to work to render Little Boy’s artwork.
Little Boy teaches us that bats do NOT build nests in your hair.
Bats are not flying vampires just waiting for the opportunity to suck your blood. Scrape those myths out of your brain right now.
The truth is that bats are mammals, just like us. Only, bats can fly, and lots more. That’s very cool.
For teachers, we added a story within the story that explains the process of creating a book for young readers — from idea to first draft to rewriting to final illustrated copy. We think the final product is our best work to date.
Still afraid of bats? If so, what’s up with that?
Conrad J. Storad has authored dozens of books for young readers, including a USA Book News Best Book Winner Fang and Stinger (An Arachnid Story). He also writes a monthly science/nature column called “Conrad’s Classroom” in Story Monsters Ink, a national-award-winning magazine launched in 2014. Learn more at www.fivestarpublications.net/conradstorad.