Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari – Interview and Giveaway!

A few months ago I saw someone on Twitter mention an upcoming picture book about coyotes.  Now, anyone who’s heard me talk about my grad school program knows that the intersection of humans and animals (especially apex predators) is a special passion of mine.  I am particularly interested in coyotes because they’ve adapted so well to humans, especially in urban areas.  Last year I was able to hear Dr. Mark Weckel of the Gotham Coyote Project speak and it only further stoked the fires of my interest.  I’ve been lucky enough to see coyotes in my town and last year a few of my students worked with me and my biology colleague to set camera traps on school property in order to see if coyotes were living there. We haven’t seen any coyotes (yet!) but we know there is a good chance they are in the area.  We did get to watch a litter of fox kits, though.  In fact, I was able to watch a litter of kits at home and at work this spring!


The litter near my home was in a county park that’s home to coyotes, too.  I’ve seen their tracks in the snow and heard them in the distance, so I know they are there!

Obviously, any book about coyotes intrigues me but a picture book?  That I could share with my students?  I butted in to the Twitter conversation to say I was adding the book, Coyote Moon, to my to-be-read list; a few days later author Maria Gianferrari reached out to be via email and asked if I’d like to take a look at the book.  I immediately said yes.  When the book arrived I sat down to read it and upon reaching the last page I promptly added it to my “best books of 2016” list.  It’s lyrical, gorgeous, and scientifically accurate.  I can not wait to share it with my high school students as a mentor text for nature writing!

Want to win your own copy of Coyote Moon?  Leave a comment below!  Tell me about your favorite interaction with a wild animal in your hometown to be entered. 

(Winner will be chosen from the comments (using a random integer generator) on 7/30. Winners must live in the US.  Book will be sent directly from the publisher.)


After I read Coyote Moon I reached out to Maria to see if she’d be interested in answering a few questions for me and my readers.  I’m always interested in learning how authors compose creative nonfiction, especially nature writing, and Coyote Moon is particularly inspiring.  Luckily, Maria agreed.  I’m happy to welcome her to the blog today!

Thanks for agreeing to chat today, Maria!  I absolutely love Coyote Moon so I’m thrilled to talk with you a bit about how you came to write the book. What drew you to coyotes?  Have you seen them in your neighborhood or experienced their habitat expansion?

Indeed, I have! I haven’t seen many since moving to Virginia, but I saw them multiple times (or evidence of their presence) while living in the suburbs of Boston. I had a close encounter with a coyote on a cold winter’s night in January 2007, and therein began my coyote obsession.

How did you do research for the book?  Most books about coyotes are full of dense informational text and aimed at older readers- how did you focus your research for younger readers?

I read all kinds of books on canines as well as coyotes—picture books, longer works of nonfiction, photobooks and did online research to supplement the books. Then I read eastern coyote researcher Dr. Jonathan Way’s Suburban Howls as well as many of his scientific papers. I even interviewed him. Through reading his work I learned that eastern coyotes are essentially coywolves (coyote-wolf hybrids). I also read nature picture books as mentor texts by writers like Nicola Davies to try and gauge the right voice and tone for younger readers.

Ooh, Suburban Howls is on my to-be-read pile and I think you just convinced me to move it up.  Lots of the books you described are pretty straightforward nonfiction books.  Coyote Moon is filled with gorgeous descriptions of coyote behavior.  Was it hard to translate scientific descriptions of animal behavior into poetic prose?

Thank you! I love poetry and words—their rhythm and sound. When I observe nature and write about it, a poetic voice is the one I hear in my head. It was more of a challenge to find the right story arc and focus rather than the voice itself.

I was also so impressed with the illustrations that Bagram Ibatoulline created for the book.  They are evocative and accurate.  Did you work with your illustrator at all?  Did you share notes about coyotes or did you two work separately?

No, we worked separately, which is usually the case for picture book author-illustrator collaborations. It was so magical to see Bagram’s first sketches.

Wow!  I was blown away by the illustrations to I imagine it was a wonderful moment when you first saw them.  

I love showing my students the connection between nature and language arts, and often that is through nature walks and books.  Do you have any favorite books about nature?

Your students are very lucky!! Nature books are among my very favorite reads: classics like Walden, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and The Snow Leopard, all of which I haven’t read in quite a long time. Last year I read Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk and fell in love with its stunning poetic and heartfelt prose. I also love Sy Montgomery’s work, both for adults and kids. As a self-proclaimed bird nerd her Birdology is among my very favorites. Her Scientist in the Field books are excellent too. I loved both Chasing Cheetahs and The Octopus Scientist, and am looking forward to reading The Great White Shark Scientist. Noah Strycker’s The Thing with Feathers was wonderful, and I’ve bought, but haven’t yet read The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman. I also gravitate toward nature-oriented picture books on all kinds of creatures and habitats, especially birds. Some of my favorite authors are Nicola Davies, April Pulley Sayre, Melissa Stewart and Stephen Swinburne.

What is your favorite way to spend time in nature?

I love just observing the birds and creatures in my neighborhood while walking my dog, Becca. I don’t get to do it often enough, but I also love visiting national parks—we are so lucky to have them! We drove cross-country from Massachusetts to California and back, and visited many national parks along the way. My favorites were the Badlands, Redwood, Crater Lake and Joshua Tree. I also love deserts—they’re such amazing ecosystems! We visited Bryce and Zion in 2008, and I was overcome by their stark beauty. Death Valley is pretty incredible too.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!  I’m excited to share Coyote Moon with my high schoolers and I plan to use it as a mentor text for writing our own picture books about local wildlife.  I’m sure they will be inspired by your work!


gianferrari$maria_hresMaria writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with dog, Becca as her muse. Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder, was released in July 2015 (HMH Books for Young Readers); a companion book, Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars, was released in mid-June. Her debut nonfiction book,Coyote Moon, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, will be published by Roaring Brook Press in July and is a Junior Library Guild Selection. In October, Aladdin Books for Young Readers will publish another fiction title, Officer Katz & Houndini: A Tale of Two Tails, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Maria has five additional books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Boyds Mills Press and GP Putnam’s Sons. To learn more about Maria, visit her at on Facebook or Instagram.


 Follow the rest of the blog tour by visiting the links below!

  • FRI 7/15:                   Pragmatic Mom (+ 3 book giveaway)






  • FRI 7/22:                   Kidlit411






Why this Nature Lover is Embracing Pokémon Go

27541305793_f19c00519a_bFor years I’ve lamented the fact that my students, of all ages, don’t spend any time outside.  They are over-scheduled, overworked, and over-parented (sometimes); there is no time to play outside. During my first year of teaching we went on a field trip to the local nature center and I can still picture a group of students standing on the bus steps exclaiming, “But there’s mud here!  I can’t walk in mud!”. They promptly pulled out their phones, tablets, and video games.  My current students have asked me to ban cell phones in our classroom because the temptation to Snapchat, play Clash of Clans, or send a text is just too much. And now there is Pokémon Go.

I somehow missed the Pokémon craze as a kid.  I think I was a little too old for it the first time around (or I was just too busy reading) so considered me shocked to find clumps of players wandering my local park.  My husband has downloaded the game and we’ve walked the dogs all over town in order to help him catch and hatch more monsters.  Last night we took a group dog walk at a county park, a county park that would normally be close to empty at 8pm, and stumbled upon dozens of people of all ages playing the game.  I could not believe it! There were shouts of “I missed the Jigglypuff!” followed by “No!  The park is red now!”.  They may not have been identifying local species, but they were spending a lot of time outside playing.

Then my SAT students started talking about the game.  Today, during a heatwave when it felt like it was over 100 degrees outside, half of my students took a walk during our break.  A walk!  Usually they just whip out their phones and put their headphones in their ears, shutting out the world.  But today there were no headphones!  No sitting at their desks!  One teen told me, “I walked 5 miles yesterday.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked 5 miles in my LIFE”.  I had to laugh at his exaggeration, but I understand what he was trying to say.  Suddenly these teens are walking around their neighborhoods and visiting local parks and landmarks.  They are meeting people in these places, friends and acquaintances, and walking together trading tips.  It’s beautiful to watch.

So this teacher will probably still ban phones in the classroom next year, especially because students requested it, but I will also encourage them to play Pokémon Go during lunch.  And after school. Maybe even before school. And we will talk about the parks they visit and what else they notice in those parks.  I may not love the fact that they are still glued to a screen, but any time spent in nature is time well-spent.  Time outside can help reduce stress and help kids and teens feel more connected to the environment.  I’m loving that! Pokémon Go might be the lure we need to get students outside and involved with the ecosystems in their own neighborhood.  Because they may start out with their faces looking at a screen but I hope that they will also start to pay attention to the landscape around them.  Maybe the next time they go outside they’ll leave the phone at home and go wade in that cool creek they found or climb that really weird looking tree.

Mad Hatter’s Tree Party- An Cross-curricular Idea from Erik Mollenhauer

Erik Mollenhauer is one of my teacher heroes.  I was first introduced to him during my student teaching when my incredible mentor teacher was raising monarch butterflies.  She had attended a Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies workshop earlier in the year and encouraged me to take the workshop the next summer. (Tangent- the summer workshops are going on now.  If you are in NJ, NH, IL, or MD you should go to the workshop!).  The workshop, which uses the monarch butterfly to encourage teachers and students to become stewards of the environment, is interdisciplinary and cross-curricular.  It was life-changing PD for me and resulted in a fellowship to the monarch overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Today Erik is retired but still works to combat nature deficit disorder in children and adults.  The embedded video shows “The Mad Hatters Tree Party”, a celebration of trees and Alice in Wonderland, that he helped bring to life.   What a fantastic mash-up of science and English class!  I could see teachers and students creating their own version of a Mad Hatter’s Tree Party, maybe even matching up older students with younger students.

The Children & Nature Network posted this video earlier today on Facebook and said, “Retired educator Erik Mollenhauer says we face an “extinction of experience” sitting indoors all day, online and playing with our mobile phones. He thinks we’re losing a critical connection to the natural world”.

The Mad Hatters Tree Party from Ed Waters on Vimeo.

Science and English- Perfect Together!  STEManities is real, people!

Before We Go Extinct by Karen Rivers

51mjny0-mbl-_sx331_bo1204203200_I’m always on the lookout for”science-y YA books” as I call them.  In my experience, there are lots of middle grade realistic fiction books with a science focus or angle but they seem to disappear once kids are out of middle school.  Needless to say, I was thrilled when Kate Messner mentioned Karen Rivers’ Before We Go Extinct on Facebook last week.  I quickly ordered a copy and I read it in one sitting over the holiday weekend.

JC earned his nickname, Sharky, after watching the documentary Sharkwater.  But this isn’t just a story about sharks; this is a grief story with a solid side of science. Sharky recently witnessed the death of his best friend, The King, and is struggling with moving forward.  When the third member of their threesome begins to gain notoriety due to her relationship with The King, Sharky is pushed to the edge.  He shuts down and stops talking.  As a result, his mother decides he needs t get out of the city and away from the tragedy consuming his days.  She sends him to the Pacific Northwest to spend the summer with his absent father who is the caretaker on a small island.  Sharky and his hippie-esque father have always been distant from one another and he doesn’t expect that to change when he arrives on the almost-abandoned island off the coast of Vancouver.  And then he meets some of the other residents of the small island and he explores the island and the surrounding waters.

This is a story packed with ecology and conservation but it’s not preachy.  Rivers’ descriptions of the plant and animal life on the island and in the water are stunning and breathtaking.  I found myself rereading passages because they were so beautiful.  The shark behavior and other animals introduced are realistic and intriguing- I know that I went on to look up the area and the biodiversity located there after I finished the book.  This would be a fantastic book to pair with an environmental science class.  I’m already imagining opportunities to get students outside looking at the plants and animals in their own backyards through Sharky’s eyes.

Highly recommended!