Friday, March 28, 2008


Author Interview with Stephanie Lisa Tara

by Stephanie Lisa Tara
Global warming is melting the arctic. Once the arctic sea ice has vanished, the majestic polar bear will vanish too. Snowy White World to Save, by Stephanie Lisa Tara, is a lyrical tale told in gentle verse, which traces a mother bear's struggle to raise her cubs in a melting world. The book received the U.S. Book News/Best Educational Children's Book 2007 Award.

1. How did you decide to illustrate the problem of global warning using polar bears in Snowy White World to Save?

I decided on a direct yet gentle approach to inform honestly and respectfully, the metaphor of mother and children comes naturally to me as a mom. As such, I am ever amazed at my daughter's uncanny awareness, children are such smart little sparkly beings. My experience has been that addressing things in truth seems to work in earning their respect. As an author, I like to (write) speak to children on their level and inside a most loving space. I decided to use short lyrical phrasing - 2 poetic beats per line, this gentle cadence and meter softly intuits a quiet truthfulness that seems to resonate on several emotional levels -- " faraway dots are seals on the ice/Mother pounces, once, twice//Mother and cubs run far away, Mothers fierce pride/hot on this day. "

2. Ice caps are melting and glaciers are disappearing. Do you think young children understand what is happening to the Polar Bear's “Snowy White World?” How do you think young readers will react to the polar bear's plight?

I've done many public readings. The amazing response the children have is one of immediate attention, concern and empowerment + hope....traits not always readily forthcoming in adults. Instead of the kids being scared or depressed, I have been overwhelmed by their sheer "let's all fix it" attitude. In large to small reading groups - they all raise their hands and are excited at the prospect of ‘many small hands together can make a big change'. They call out new ideas to 'lessen the gases' and use smaller amounts of electricity. I have found a serious joyfulness in wanting to help the bears, and be creative in working together and with adults. It's magnificent.

3. The beautiful verses add to the story and compliment the gorgeous watercolor illustrations by Alex Walton. Did you work together with the illustrator to make the story come alive? Do you write all your books in rhyming verse style? Are you also a poet?

Alex and I spoke at various times through out the process, but I must say - the beautiful thing about working with someone who understands how I think is that their artistic expression is symbiotic to mine. That is the magic that manifests with Alex Walton, he read my words and then made them sing without anything more from me than an occasional chat about how we feel about our book. Yes - I use poetic verse to lull, soothe, entertain my little listeners, its a bit of a nod back to an older time when parents and children would spend long hours together reading by firelight. Poetry has a magical ability to be both memorable and pleasing to the ear. I've said that children's verse sticks like taffy to one's thoughts...think back to children's verse you love, it's still stuck in your head, isn't it?

4. The issues of climate change, global warming, disappearing habitats and dwindling food supplies is a big, serious topic for young children. The "birds-eye" view from above of the polar bears on their quest for food is amazing. The search for food ends at a garbage dump. What do you think a young child will take away from the story in regard to this theme?

Children that hear this story have expressed remarkable things, as I've lightly touched upon. They show concern, and a desire to make a change. I have had the occasion where a child has asked: "Why did adults let this happen?" -- a very candid and brilliant question. I love this. It shows deep thinking and awareness. My answers are all mindfully hopeful. People err, people make mistakes. But because we are human we also have the ability to correct our mistakes. This is the truth and it makes sense to kids. Kids are always full of hope. They all want to do all the things we list at the back of the book, and they come up with new ideas to save energy. One little boy said we should create a "polar bear zoo" somewhere in the world - keep it cold and like Noah's Ark - bring all the polar bears of the earth there to live and be saved. Not a dry eye at that library reading! I take away from this comment an overwhelming exuberant feeling, children just never stop believing and hoping and wishing. It's beautiful.

5. The last page of the book gives a hopeful message and some good ideas how everyone can start to fight global warming. What additional ideas would you pass on to families to save the Polar Bears “Snowy White World” -- and their own?

Great folks like you really encapsulate it all, working together to make a change in the world. Kids do care - they know they will inherit the earth. Mother Nature loves her children and I do believe we can reverse the damage. There are many other wonderful people that have written books. lAl Gore recently published a kids' version of Inconvenient Truth . Lori David's Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming is another good book. I simplified what small kids can do, but the list is very long and topping it is learning, awareness, and knowledge. So many good folks -- famous people like Sharon Stone, the actress/activist, have gotten behind this cause along with the United Nations. Getting involved, reading, joining groups like Kids Care Clubs and other organizations such as the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) or Climate Crisis will keep you informed about new ways to continue to make a difference.

6. Living in Northern California- land of the tall redwoods and lots of natural wonders, have you encountered other wild animals who share the same plight as the Polar Bears -- their homes and food sources at risk due to climate change? If so, tell us about them.

Oh yes, global warming will heat and evaporate the oceans. Therefore "fog" which rolls off the ocean to feed/nourish/moisturize the redwood forest will greatly suffer, starving the trees. A terrific organization, Save the Redwoods, published an article last year that covers this question quite thoroughly. Fog is the blood of the redwood forest - supplying almost half their water-nourishment. I am presently at work with Alex Walton on a new book about Charlie and the great redwood forest which looks at the redwood forest ecosystem. No exact publish date, but we examine the creatures of the majestic redwoods, and the forest's longevity. Banana slugs, chipmunks, owls, foxes, squirrels, deer are some of the inhabitants. All the creatures of the forest that depend on the trees will suffer if the trees suffer. Mother Nature makes it very simple, everything depends on the prosperity and fruitfulness of everything else. I wonder if humans believe in this philosophy!

7. What special things do you and families in Mill Valley do to fight global warming in your community?

As a town, I'm proud to say that Mill Valley echoes the general San Francisco social awareness vibe, and is a uniquely compassionate group of caring folks who embrace loving politics and consider Mother Nature at the top of their importance lists. We are a very spiritual bunch of people. Most of us care deeply about working together to change the world. Specifically, there are a lot of carpools. We try to use less electricity, take showers not baths, and we especially focus on living harmoniously in nature with our children. It's a learning tool which fosters a love of nature and thereby a desire in children to want to preserve and save it. We take lots of nature hikes all over northern California -- Muir woods and the high Sierra Nevada mountains in nearby Lake Tahoe . We tidepool at Stinson beach. We try to watch as many sunsets as we can. We call nature our playground, and the sun our friend. I want to move into an entirely green house with solar panels and other accoutrements -- perhaps some day!

8. Are you planning to write more books on this subject?

Books that spread social awareness are just the greatest tools and gifts that we give our children. After the success of Snowy White World To Save, I had briefly thought about the plight of the Antarctic penguins - at the other pole, but a couple of wonderful books have already come out that describe this story.

My first book, I'll Follow The Moon, spotlighted the tenuous journey of the endangered green sea turtle, which I am proud to declare - has finally been protected by some federal laws from fisherman, thanks to such wonderful groups like the NRDC. I'll Follow The Moon describes the inimitable sand-to-sea journey of baby sea turtles, traveling home to the sea by the light of the flickering moon. I played upon the metaphor of "mommy" with the maternal draw of the moon to illustrate this phenomenon in nature, which seemed to resonate with moms out there as we were awarded the "Mom's Choice Award" as well as Canada 's prestigious "Chocolate Lily Award".

My book calendar at present includes the redwood forest book as seen through the eyes of chipmunks who illuminate the mysteries of these majestic trees, and another book in the works, called tentatively, 'Bat Song' - illustrates echolocation in bats, a very misunderstood species. So I'd say keep on the lookout for chipmunks and bats!

FamilyCares and Kids Care Clubs thank Stephanie Lisa Tara for her efforts to help children understand environmental problems and providing ideas on how they can help. Check out the suggestions and resources at the end of her book.

We look forward to her next book, whether it is about chipmunks or bats!

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