When I began writing Feathers: Not Just for Flying, my goal was to create a book that would inspire readers to see and appreciate feathers in a whole new way. I had plenty of great information, but I knew that if I wanted to intrigue readers, if I wanted to ignite their natural curiosity, I had to connect with them. I had to make the information relevant to their world and their lives.
But figuring out how to do that was no easy task. In fact, it took more than three years.
During that time, I thought deeply and wrote and revised. Draft after draft after draft. Some of those drafts were good, but not good enough. My readers deserved more.
On three separate occasions, I realized that revising my existing manuscript wouldn’t get me where I needed to go. I bravely hit the delete button and started from scratch.
And then one day, inspiration struck. I latched onto the idea of comparing feathers to familiar everyday objects, such as blankets and umbrellas, sunblock and sleds. That’s when the writing finally came to life.
Why did I keep toiling away for so long? Why didn’t I just give up and move on? Because I had an idea that I felt compelled to share. And for me, that idea was part of a bigger message, the message at the heart of every book I write. More than anything, I want children to understand that the natural world is full of beauty and wonder, magic and mystery. It’s a very special place that we need to preserve and protect.
As Richard Louv so aptly brought to light in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, many, perhaps most, American children are disconnected from the natural world. This is tragic for kids because nature can be a sanctuary for young people with difficult lives. But it’s even more tragic for our planet because if children don’t learn to love and respect nature, they won’t grow into adults who are committed to saving wildlife and wild places.
Climate change. Water shortages. Dwindling natural resources. These are important issues now, and they will become even more important in coming years.
If we want to guarantee a habitable world far into the future, it’s critical for today’s children to have experiences that encourage them to become environmental stewards. My hope is that the books I write will motivate children to ask questions about the world and then go out in search of answers. If one of my books inspires a child to pick up a rock and look underneath or to chase after a butterfly just to see where it’s going, then my job is done.
Melissa Stewart has written over 150 science books for young readers, receiving numerous awards for her work. Her research travels have included Costa Rican rainforests, the African savannah and swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. Explore her world of books at www.melissa-stewart.com.