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Significant Interviews with Loree Griffin Burns:

Author Interview 1 of 3
Probably the highest compliment I can pay a nonfiction book for children is that while it sat on
my dining room table every adult who entered the room casually paged through it and quickly
became fascinated by the story. Author Loree Griffin Burns entry in the Houghton Mifflin
Scientists in the Field series is an amazing look at pollution in the worlds oceans. The amount
of research she conducted for this book is awesome but more impressively the way she shares
the work of the scientists she spoke with is a lesson in how to make science writing both
scholarly and engaging. Tracking Trash is the perfect jumping off point for anyone of any age
with an interest in marine science and global pollution. It will raise numerous questions about
how we live and what happens to the many things we discard and in case you think Im being
melodramatic, consider that there is an enormous floating garbage patch that is twice the size
of Texas floating around in the Pacific between Hawaii and San Francisco. I found this fact to be
appalling and Im still trying to wrap my head around the reality of its existence.
Loree had a lot to say about the Garbage Patch, ghost nets and thousands of lost rubber
duckies and sneakers. She is a sharply smart writer and a fascinating author interview. I enjoyed
her book thoroughly and look forward to reading the many other projects she is working on in
the future. Now heres the interview:
How did you come to write a book on this specific subject? On all the marine bio subjects out
there, trash is not the first thought that comes to mind when thinking about the oceans. How
did you decide to write about it?
I learned about Curt Ebbesmeyer and his quirky research program from a newspaper article in
spring 2003. The story blew me away: a shipment of 28,000 plastic tub toys had fallen into the
Pacific Ocean in 1992 and scientist were now expecting some of them to wash ashore in New
England. This astounded me. Who knew plastic ducks would float in the ocean that long? What
route did they follow into the Atlantic? How was it that scientists knew precisely when to expect
them in New England? And why, pray tell, were scientists interested in the ducks at all? I was
intensely curious, and did a little research
My original instinct was to write a picture book. The drama of a shipping accident, the silliness
of the tub toys, a grown man whose job was to chase toys around the ocean it seemed a
perfect combination to share with very young readers in picture book format. (As it turns out,
Eve Bunting and David Wisniewski had already done that in Ducky, published by Clarion in
1997.) The more I learned about Curt and his work, however, the more I leaned toward a
format that would allow me to really delve into the science. Curts work is the perfect example

of how science can be quirky and fun and solid all at the same time older readers (um,
anyone over the age of ten!) are a great audience for this message.
I remember that article on Curt and the ducks I think I read it on the internet (which wouldnt
be surprising). And living here on the Pacific Coast just north of Seattle, this kind of news shows
up from time to time in the newspapers. After you decided to write about him was it your
general research that led you to the other subjects like the garbage patch and ghost nets? And
how did you find the right people to talk to on these subjects? Im curious as to how you came
to meet them and what they thought of participating in a science book for children.
I read about Charlie Moores work (he and his colleagues are the ones out in the middle of the
Pacific quantifying how much trash is in the Garbage Patch) in Beachcombers Alert!, a
newsletter that Curt Ebbesmeyer puts out quarterly. I came across the other scientists, believe
it or not, on NPR. I blogged about this fortuitous development here.
As to how they felt about contributing to a book for children, to a person the scientists in
Tracking Trash were marvelously supportive. Each of them took time away from busy schedules
and important work to help me understand what they were doing and what their work
meantand what it didnt mean. They got that the science needed to be solid and could not
(would not!) be dumbed down. I love that!
I learned a crazy amount from this book in fact it was on our dining room table and my
husband ending up reading it over breakfast one morning and then started telling everyone he
knew about the big floating garbage patch. He was blown away (we are still blown away). What
part of the book surprised you the most during research? What made you really stop and think?
To be honest, the environmental part of this story snuck up on me. I was still very focused on
the science of ocean currents the first time I interviewed Curt. At some point during that
interview I asked him how many containers fall off of cargo ships each year, and his answer
shocked me: between one thousand and ten thousand. Ten thousand! That was the moment I
began to wonder how much trash was actually in the ocean, and the direction of my research
changed dramatically.
You met so many fascinating and committed people while writing this book. Whose research
really piqued your curiosity and inspired you to learn more?
Honestly? Every one of them. What inspires me most is people of passion and each
scientist I profile in Tracking Trash Curt Ebbesmeyer, Jim Ingraham, Charles Moore, Jim
Churnside, Tim Veenstra, and Mary Donohue is passionate about the ocean. That collective
passion fueled the entire project, and I still feed off it today.
How do you feel about science books for young people? Do you think enough of them are
written and subjects that appeal to teens and younger? What other subjects would you like to
write about for this age group?

I am quite fond of science books for young people (surprise, surprise!). Are there enough of
them written on subjects that appeal to teens and younger audiences? This is hard to answer.
But I do think that books in this genre need to do more than just appeal to readers they
need to engage readers in the scientific method, too. My favorite science books for young
readers do this in incredibly creative ways: The Boy Who Drew Birds, by Jacqueline Davies and
Melissa Sweet; Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian, Snowflake Bentley; The Giants of
Science biographies by Kathleen Krull.
My worksinprogress are all on science topics. I am writing about a man who spent the last forty
years of his life watching insects in his backyard and performing simple experiments to
understand the behaviors he observed. Im also working on a book that explores the odd
creatures scientists use in the laboratory (microscopic worms and fruit flies, among others) and
another that profiles the dream team of scientists who are frantically trying to figure out what is
killing our nations honey bees. Fun stuff!
How long does it take a book like this to be written and what kind of travel did you do? It reads
as something effortless, but its clear that you must have traveled to a lot of different places to
meet people and witness their work first hand. How much of a project was Tracking Trash and
how personally invested in it did you become?
Effortless? How I would love to tell you writing this book was effortless, Colleen. The truth is
that bringing Tracking Trash into the world was one of the most intense, gratifying, and
terrifying experiences of my life!
I submitted my proposal to Houghton Mifflin in June 2004 and was offered a contractmy
firstin August. I had estimated it would take me six months to write the book, but since
Tracking Trash was going to be part of an existing series (Scientists in the Field), it was assigned
the next available publishing slot Spring 2007. At first I was disappointed at what I thought
would be an overly long timeline. But when my single research trip grew into three trips, and
the realities of photographic research and editorial exchange finally dawned on me, I was ohsoglad to have that extra time.
It was impossible for me not to become personally invested in Tracking Trash. I began the
project because of my own interest and passion for the story, and I have spent the past year
bringing it into classrooms for the very same reasons. I am constantly amazed at how
completely students of all ages get the environmental issues at play in the book, and it is a joy
to share with them the things I have learned about protecting the ocean. My entire family has
become involved in The Ocean Conservancys International Coastal Cleanup (we are running a
cleanup event in Massachusetts next weekend!), and this involvement is a direct result of
having worked on this book.
From your book I know you have a PhD, but the author info states it is from Univ of Mass Med
School (Id just like to interject here Go Red Sox!). Do you have a general science

background and is that why you are drawn to writing on such a variety of scientific subjects
(from Tracking Trash to your works in progress)? What do you think a science writer needs to
know to write books for kids?
Oh, I love my Red Sox. Especially this time of year and especially when we get to this time of
year and my boys are behaving themselves!
My background is in biochemistry and molecular biology, of all things. Every bit of my research
was done inside a laboratory, much of it with singlecelled yeasts. (Ive got a book planned
about them. They are superinteresting and useful buggers, you know!) While I enjoyed doing
basic bench science, I struggled with the intensity of focus required. That is, I knew an
incredible amount about a very small subject (the regulation of gene expression in yeast cells)
and there was not much time left over for exploring the fascinating science going on in other
areas. And I was always drawn to other peoples fascinating science.
And, so, I did some freelance work in my free time (my graduate advisor thought I was a nut!)
for the public affairs office, interviewing scientists at the university and writing about their work
for a lay audience. In hindsight, this was the beginning of my move away from focused research
and toward a broader mission of exploring (and sometimes explaining) science for a general
What do science writers need to know to write books for kids? I think meeting kids where they
are is important. This does not mean dumbing down content, it means making the content,
the science, relevant to their lives.
You mentioned going to classrooms what has the response from students been to Tracking
Trash? What parts of the book seem to capture their attention the most?
Ive had good response from kids as young as Kindergarten and as old as eighth grade. The
part of the book that grabs their attention is the same part that seems to grab adults: the
Garbage Patch. The kids hate the very idea of it, and most want to do something about it. I
always leave schools humbled and pleased with the environmental ethic that seems natural to
this generation of kids. The hard part (and this is not just hard for kids, it is hard for ME, too) is
making the connection between what outrages us about Tracking Trash and the very difficult
lifestyle changes that will be required for us, as a world community, to correct those problems.
Author Interview 2 of 3
TRACKING TRASH has earned Starred Reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus. Booklist
called the book "a unique and often fascinating book on ocean currents, drifting trash, and the
scientists who study them" and Horn Book said "the scientific information builds from chapter
to chapter, creating a natural detective story."

That's all nice and good, but I'm all about the hard questions. So, here we go.
Have you ever played Texas Holdem?
Um, no. But I play UNO and OLD MAID and SLAPJACK and WAR on a regular basis. With my
kids. For money (just kidding about the money part).
Sure you are. Anyhow, how would you play an aceten onsuit in an 8player game if you had a
medium stack and were sitting to the left of the big blind?
All in, dude. All in. And then I'd yell "Uno!" just to get the big blind thinking.
Great, I'd love to play with you some time. Just bring a sixpack and tall stack of fifties.
Tell us a little about how your book came to be. Where did you get the idea for TT?
From a newspaper article I read in Spring 2003. The article talked about this shipment of
rubber ducks29,000 of themthat had fallen into the Pacific Ocean in 1992 and how they
were going to start washing ashore in New England twelve years later. I thought this was
interesting. And sort of funny. When I read there was a scientist studying the ducksa grown
man whose job was chasing these duckies around the world oceanwell, I was hooked. I knew
there was a book for young people in there somewhere.
How long did it take to write?
The proposal took me a year, mostly because I had never written one before and I had to learn
how to do it. The first draft took about a year, too, but that is because 1) I had to travel to
Seattle, WA and to Long Beach, CA to interview scientists and collect material and 2) my
contract gave me one year.
Take the time if you can! What is it that distinguishes your book from every other one on the
Readability, I think. This is a book that anyone can read (well, anyone over the age of eight or
ten) and get something out of. It is just interesting stuff. Useful to know. Hard to ignore. It
makes you think.
How did you find your editor and/or publisher?
A librarian friend recommended I read some of the books in Houghton Mifflin's [HMCo]
Scientists in the Field series. I did, and I thought they were fabulous. They provided the
perfect format for a book about Dr. Ebbesmeyer and his rubber ducks. I read every book in the
series, and then set to work writing a proposal.
Tell us a little about that dance.
I sent the proposal to HMCo and received an offer in about five weeks. Go figure.
So, it was a very short dance, like polka... Silence

Were extensive revisions necessary?

No. But the story evolved during the entire year that I was researching and writing it. In fact,
the week I got my editors first revision letter, I was introduced to a scientist whose work
brought the story I was telling full circle. I rewrote the final chapter (to include her and her work)
over the course of a couple weeks. It was a perfect fit.
Are you pleased with your cover design?
Yes. But it took a little time and some reworking to grow on me. The first version of the final
cover did not have the title drawn in the sand ... it simply had text meant to look as if it were
drawn in the sand. I didnt care for it, and I had a big fight with this guy in my writing group
about it. I think I yelled at him. (Sorry, Eric!)
You only "capitaled" at me in a few emails. And I think we're closer as a result. How do you feel
having a book on the shelves in actual bookstores, Loree?
ECSTATIC. GIDDY. Like I should spend all my time there convincing people to buy it.
There you go capitaling at me again. This time I think it is in better spirits though. What are you
doing to promote your book?
Signings and Earth Day events (the book has a strong environmental underpinning), a lot of
school visits. I have done interviews for print media, and online ... and I just taped an interview
with NPRs Robin Young for her radio program Here & Now. It should air next week. Ive started
a blog series that has generated a lot of traffic through my website.
How can others help get the word out there?
A really effective and easy means of helping me get the word out is to write a review at
Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. Also, ask for TRACKING TRASH in your favorite bookstore,
and if they dont have it, ask them to order it. Ditto for your local library. Tell people you know
about the book, and send them to my website for more information.
I have a few questions about the writing process. What is your writing schedule like?
Odd and somewhat varied at the moment, mostly because my children are still young. I like to
write early in the morning, 57am, when everyone is asleep. The past few months have been full
of late nights as I work on marketing and school visit presentations, so getting up early has
gotten difficult.
What is your process for going about writing a book?
Also odd and somewhat varied. Research is one of my favorite parts of a book project. I like
finding sources, immersing myself in a subject, rooting around until I find the story upon which
to build my book. Once that magic moment happens, I write. I am a strong proponent of Annie
Lamotts CRAPPY FIRST DRAFT method. I get it down on paper and pray I dont get hit by a
bus before I am able to revise, revise, revise.

Are you in a critique group? How does that help you?

Yes. I have been working with two writing partners online for three years now. They rock!
They sound like a great pair of folks. <blushing> Are you working on something new right
now? Yes, two.
Can you give us a hint as to what they are about? Caterpillars. Reservoirs.
Is it two books about caterpillars and resevoirs, or is one book about caterpillars and another
about reservoirs?
Top secret, huh? You don't want anyone to steal your idea for a twobook series on those crazy
caterpillars who live in the resevoir? You know, the one where they have that annoying upstars
neighbor whose always barging in a saying pithy things?
More silence.
Okay, now let's have some fun. Just because I can ask it, if you could have dinner with any
famous person (living or dead) and language was not a barrier, who would it be and why? Id
like to share a meal with Charles Darwin, because the idea of filling him in on the
advancements in scientific knowledge since his death is stupefying. If he were unavailable, I
would invite Eleanor Roosevelt so we could talk about being a woman, and a mother, and a
wife, and a role model.
Who are your favorite authors in your genre?
Russell Freedman. Sy Montgomery. Jonah Winter. Kathleen Krull. Gosh, there are so many.
Aside from my novel, what are your three favorite books for young people in any genre?
I have so many favorites. I adore the picture book HOT AIR, by Marjorie Priceman. Adore it.
Deborah Wiles EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is a middlegrade novel that grabbed me and
never let go. I just finished Laurie Halse Andersons TWISTED and have decided she is brilliant.
Would your book be best as a big screen picture, television series, HBO movie or something
Who would play your main character(s)? Hed play himself.
What song would absolutely HAVE to be in the soundtrack? Jack Johnsons With My Own Two
Is that your natural hair color?
YES. (At my very first book signing, this woman opened my book to the back flap, looked at
the photo, looked at me, and said, Can you say highlights?. Seriously. I am still thunderstruck

at her audacity. If I were going to highlight my hair, why the heck would I choose GRAY
Thank you, Loree, for coming out today and doing this interview. Poker, my house, next
Thursday night. Don't forget the tall stack of fifties.

Author Interview 3 of 3
Wait! Dont run away! Bees are GOOD! And most of the time they dont sting! In fact, drones
(the big, slow, male bees) dont even have stingers. And, we NEED these little guys, not just for
honey and wax but also for their awesome ability to take a garden from struggling to bountiful.
Loree Griffin Burns (author of TRACKING TRASH , a fascinating book I love) is going to tell us
all about that.
OK, now that Ive calmed you down, I can show you Lorees arm:
Ack! That IS scary! Thanks to Ellen Harasimowicz for this stellar photo. And to Loree, for her
arm. That Loree is tough! Read on:
Kathy: Can you tell us how this book came to be published?
Loree: THE HIVE DETECTIVES grew out of my worry about dire news reports that seemed to
be everywhere during the winter of 2006: honey bee populations were disappearing, our food
supply was at risk, and scientists didnt know what to do about it. The more I read, the more I
wanted to understand honey bees, how they live, why they are important to humankind, and
how scientists planned to figure out their mysterious decline.
Kathy: Tell us why we should buy this book.
Loree: Because page 41 has an amazing picture of my right arm with a bee stinger and bee
guts hanging out of it! (Note: see above!)
Sorry. Im just kidding. (Although that imageand all of Ellen Harasimowiczs images, actually
are pretty stunning.)
More seriously, I think beekeeper Dave Hackenberg said it best: the biggest thing about bees
is not honey ... its that your food supply depends on them. If you want to understand honey
bees, the role they play in our world, and what you can do to help protect them, then you
should buy the book.
Kathy: Who or what has been the greatest inspiration for your stories?

Loree: I am inspired by the natural world and by the men and women devising ways to
understand it. I want to know their stories from beginning to end ... and once I do, I usually feel
the need to share them.
Kathy: Im glad you do, Loree. (Those of us privy to one of Lorees demonstrations will never be
able to look at a pot without picturing those wormy thingees trailing like lemmings around its
rim.) You have the chance to give one piece of advice to young readers. What is that?
Loree: Never be afraid to change your mind. My first career choice was to be a private
detective (age 10) and then a veterinarian (age 12) and then an engineer (age 17) and then a
scientist (age 21) and then a teacher (age 26) and, finally, a writer (age 33). Changing my mind
was hard, and for a long time I felt like these constant changes meant I was not going to be
successful at anything. It took me a long time to realize that growing and changing is natural.
And invigorating. And good for you!
Kathy: Excellent career choice(s), Loree, especially the writing one. Whats an important
nugget that youd like readers to take away from your book?
Loree: It seems that there are always things to worry about (the decline of bee populations and
climate change come quickly to mind), and I think the key to not being overwhelmed by these
issues is remembering that we are not powerless. That is what this book is about. We humans
can use our powers of observation, our knowledge of the world and how it works, and the
scientific method to understand any problem ... and then devise ways of fixing it. That is the
nugget I hope people find in THE HIVE DETECTIVES.
Kathy: Why do you write for young people?
Loree: I dont. I write for anyone who is interested in the sorts of things that fascinate me:
science, scientists, and the natural world. It just so happens that young people are the ones
who are most interested in these things!
Kathy: Oh, good, that means Im young because you inspired me to take a beekeeping class!
When do you write?
Loree: Mostly while my kids are in school, between the hours of 8am and 3pm. If pressed, I can
write at night or early in the morning, but I no longer enjoy working at those times. I think this
means I am getting old.
Kathy: Not hardly. Where do you write?
Loree: In my office at my desk. Im boring that way.
Kathy: What helps you write?
Loree: Peace and quiet. A disruption to my wireless internet service is VERY helpful, too. Kathy:
How do your ideas come to you?

Loree: Constantly and with no warning. I see things all the time that I wonder about, and I have
learned to give myself the gift of time to look into them. It is surprising how often these little
forays lead me to new book projects. Like the mating butterflies I saw at the Museum of
Science Butterfly Garden last year. I wondered why they were allowed to mate when the
Museum is not allowed to breed butterflies. After some interesting conversations with the
garden docent and, later, the exhibit curator, I began working on a book about exhibit
butterflies and where they come from.
Kathy: How long have you been writing?
Loree: Since I was in junior high school, although it took me twenty years to realize that I might
actually make a career out of it.
Kathy: Do you have a favorite quote or bumper sticker? Loree: Frass happens.
(Its an entomology joke; frass is the biological term for caterpillar poo. It cracks me up every
time. My kids have banned me from saying it in public.)
Kathy: Ha! I think Ill use that one! Whats an embarrassing story about yourself that you dont
mind telling?
Loree: They are all much too embarrassing. Kathy: :o) What are you working on now?
Loree: Im editing a book on citizen science that will be published by Henry Holt in Fall 2011.
Im also starting work on the butterfly book I mentioned above. (Research for that book
involved a trip to a Costa Rican butterfly farm. Its a tough job, but someone has got to do it!)
Kathy: Why should kids read books when there are so many other things to do?
Loree: Goodness, this is hard to answer for someone else. I can tell you why I read, though. I
read because the places that books take me are much, much, much more interesting to me
than my living room couch. The way I see these places in my head and experience them in my
imagination are much, much, much more enjoyable than the places I can visit electronically. Im
an addict, really, and books are my drug of choice; the thought of all the books out there on
shelves that I havent read yet ... it makes me giddy.
Kathy: Thanks for stopping by, Loree! Please visit Loree at her website and blog worth a stop
for the photos alone, which are phenomenal.

If you are interested in finding out more about Loree and TRACKING TRASH: FLOTSAM,
JETSAM AND THE SCIENCE OF OCEAN MOTION, check out her website and her blog.