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Out to Sea: An Interview with Sophie Webb, Biologist, Children’s Book Author and Illustrator

Sophie Webb is a scientist and award-winning author and illustrator. She has written three outstanding scientific journals for middle grade readers including: Far from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage, Looking for Seabirds: Journal from an Alaskan Voyage and My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal. In addition she has penned two field guides: A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North America and Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast.

After reviewing Far From Shore, Debbie Glade was eager to ask the author about her fascinating work. Good Reads With Ronna is excited that Webb so generously offered her time to share her extraordinary travel, research and writing experiences with us.

Sophie taking photos at sea

Can you tell us how your work as a field biologist and ornithologist inspired you to start writing science books for middle grade readers?

I have loved and drawn wildlife all my life. At Boston University I spent a year in the School of Fine Arts but ended up changing my major, getting a degree in Biology. Post college I began working as a field biologist on various projects, studying birds that took me many places:  the Antarctic, through the neo-tropics, the Galapagos and the Arctic. I really began combining my interest in art and biology by working on field guides of neo-tropical birds.

My first children’s book was My Season with Penguins. When I worked in the Antarctic I kept an illustrated journal on large watercolor paper sheets. After my first season there I showed them to some friends who had kids or were teachers, and they encouraged me to make it into a book for children. So I pursued finding a publisher, (which in my case I really fell into) modified the journal somewhat, and it was published. I enjoyed working on the book. I liked the writing, illustrating and figuring out how to lay it out. My Season with Penguins did quite well, which encouraged me to work on further books associated with field projects I was working on.

Temperate offshore Species A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast, University of CA Press

You write in a language that is easy for children to understand, yet you manage to keep from talking down to your readers. Is it difficult to write about science for an audience of middle grade readers?

Generally I write in a fairly uncomplicated way, so it has not been too difficult for me to write for a younger audience. My editor and friends who have children have also been helpful advisors when I get carried away. Their feedback prevents me from imparting too much information and getting bogged down in language that is too complicated or lacks clarity.

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