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!
Maria 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 mariagianferrari.com on Facebook or Instagram.
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