Local author shares wonders of the natural world
By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Region – As a child, Melissa Stewart enjoyed taking long hikes through the fields and forests near her home with her brother and father. While her father taught her the names of the trees and helped her to understand things in the natural world, Stewart began to understand the incredible power of the environment.
During these walks she discovered that the forests and fields and any other natural places have stories to tell – stories that could be “read” just by looking. Stewart was fascinated by science at an early age and sought to learn as much as she could about the natural world.
Stewart’s lifelong captivation with the natural world led her to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology a New York’s Union College. It was during her senior year that a professor sparked her interest in writing, igniting a passion that would change the path of her future.
Following her graduation, Stewart applied to and was accepted into New York University’s science and environmental reporting program where she earned a master’s degree in science journalism. Stewart worked as a children’s science editor for nine years, before quitting her job in 2000 to write full time.
Today, Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 150 nonfiction science and nature books for children. She writes everything from board books for toddlers to young adult nonfiction. In addition, her articles have appeared in such publications as “Ask,” “Booklist,” “Click,” “Highlights for Children,” “Odyssey,” “Ranger Rick,” “Science World,” and “The Writer.”
“For me, writing a book is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. I take the most interesting information I can find as I do research and mold it into a manuscript that I think children will love,” said Stewart.
The author, who writes exclusively about science, has no shortage of material.
“I get ideas everywhere,” she said, “from things I read, from people I speak with, from places I go. The hard part isn’t getting ideas. It’s keeping track of them. I have an idea board in my office. Any time I get an idea, I jot it down and tack it on the board. When it’s time to start a new book, I look at all the ideas on my board and choose the one that seems most intriguing.”
Gates Pond in Hudson has inspired Stewart to write two of her books. While hiking the two-mile loop around the pond, Stewart was caught in a sudden rainstorm. She found shelter, but wondered how animals from forests, fields, wetlands and deserts seek shelter and stay warm during storms.
Her book, “When Rain Falls” explores and answers this question in simple, easy-to-understand language.
During a winter visit to the pond, Stewart observed newts swimming under the ice-covered water. What, she wondered, did other animals do when snow covered the ground? In “Under the Snow” Stewart uses lyrical language and soft, lovely watercolors to introduce young readers to a hidden world under the snow.
Stewart believes that nothing brings nonfiction writing to life like firsthand research. While gathering information for her books, she has explored tropical rain forests in Costa Rica (inspiring her to write a book on sloths), gone on safari in East Africa, swam with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands and gone scuba diving in Mexico.
When Stewart isn’t writing or exploring the natural world, she spends time speaking at schools, libraries, nature centers, and educator conferences. She serves on the Board of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Keene State College Children’s Literature Festival.
To learn more about Melissa Stewart visit her Science Clubhouse at http://www.melissa-stewart.com/index.html.
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