Anneliese Emmans Dean interview for National Non-Fiction November

Anneliese-Emmans-Dean-webYork-based poet, performer and photographer Anneliese Emmans Dean is the author of Buzzing!a National Insect Week recommended book, which was longlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 2013 and also shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize. The book uses entertaining poetry to introduce children to the world of minibeasts in their garden and features detailed photographs of garden creatures and lots of scientific facts.

 

To celebrate National Non-Fiction November we caught up with Anneliese to discuss her own favourite non-fiction books, how parents can encourage children to read widely and why she is such a fan of garden minibeasts.

Did you enjoy reading non-fiction books as a child? Did any particular topics capture your interest?
Yes! I was – and still am – very interested in birds, so friends and family used to buy me lots of books about birds. I pored over these books and learned lots from them. But we once had a visitor from America who brought me a very different type of book. It was The How Why and Wonder Book of North American Indians by Felix Sutton. I spent hours and hours and hours engrossed in that book, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when I grew up I got a scholarship to study in Central America, learning an indigenous Indian language. Just think, if that visitor had brought me The How Why and Wonder Book of Oceanography, I might have become a deep sea diver instead!

How did you first become interested in writing non-fiction?
By accident! For many years my job was editing non-fiction for adults. But my passion was writing poems – fun poems for children. When I got the minibeast bug, it was very important to me that my minibeast poems were scientifically accurate, as well as being fun. When I put the minibeast poems together in book form, I realised it was important to flag up the scientifically accurate bits and explain them. So I created boxes of ‘Factabulous’ bullet points. I also wanted the taxonomic information there too. So I put all these three things together in way that was informed by my adult non-fiction editing experience – i.e. I wanted the information to be clear, accurate and accessible. And – lacking from my adult non-fiction experiences – fun!

Why is your subject matter – exploring garden minibeasts – a topic so close to your heart?
Garden minibeasts are close to my heart because they are close to my eyes and close to my ears – close to where all of us are, every day. Appreciating the wonder of the natural world around us is good for our wellbeing. And it’s good for the wellbeing of the minibeasts too. The more we all understand about the biodiversity around us, and our relationship to/dependence on it, the more we’re going to do to conserve it. No-one’s going to protect a creature they don’t even realise is there.

Your Buzzing! book was nominated for the Carnegie Medal, shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize and is also a National Insect Week recommended book. How important do you feel this recognition is in promoting a non-fiction book?
It’s vital! There are a lot of non-fiction books out there, so anything that lifts your book a little out of the crowd and gets it noticed is very valuable. It’s particularly important for small publishers that don’t have a large marketing budget or an extensive reach. Having validation from organisations such as the Royal Society and the Royal Entomological Society gives potential readers confidence to know that the information the book contains is reliable and of high calibre. And from the author’s point of view, it’s great to know that what you’ve worked so hard to create has found favour in such high quarters. In my case, all sorts of doors have opened to me and my book as a result of these nominations – for which I’m very grateful!

Do you feel that there is a lot of support for non-fiction writing in the publishing world?
I can only speak from my own experience, which is of trying to find a publisher for a hybrid book. My book Buzzing! presents science (non-fiction) through poetry (not quite non-fiction!) As such it didn’t seem to fit into any mainstream publishers’ categories, and so finding a publisher to take it on was a very hard task. Thank goodness for small, independent publishers! Brambleby Books, the specialist natural history publisher who said ‘Yes!’ to me, saw immediately what it was I was trying to do, and was in a position to support me in that.

I get the feeling that many larger publishers have pre-planned non-fiction series, which they hire writers to write the text for. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but it does mean that if you come from outside with a left-field idea, you need perseverance – and luck – to get published.

You often visit schools, entertaining and educating children with your Buzzing! show and poetry workshops.  Why do you think children often enjoy reading non-fiction books?
Children are hungry for facts. Hungry for knowledge. Hungry to understand the world they find themselves in. Non-fiction books feed that hunger. They are colourful, imaginative and present information in an engaging way. And, crucially, that information often comes in bite-size chunks, making it highly accessible, even to children who might be daunted by the sight of the long narrative text that is a novel.

What can parents do to encourage their children to read a wide selection of reading material?
Aside from the two obvious answers (lead by example; visit libraries regularly), my Top Tip for parents is: keep interesting books on shelves at kids’ height. When I was little, our Times Atlas of the World was kept at floor level. As were a whole load of other large non-fiction books, such as a series of art books (that my parents had bought with the Family Allowance money!) All these books were within grabbing distance when we children were rolling around on the floor. And grab them – and devour them – we did.

If you were choosing a present for a child, is there a particular non-fiction book which you’d like to share with a young reader?
Gosh, there’s a tricky one! It depends, obviously, on the age and interests of the young reader. However, there is one non-fiction book that I’m rather proud of having helped get published. As with my book Buzzing!, it’s a hybrid book. It teaches readers about the housefly through humour and fabulous cartoon-like illustrations. The book is SWAT! by award-winning cartoonist Mike Barfield, and it’s published by my publisher, Brambleby Books.

This year, during National Non-Fiction Month, the Federation of Children’s Book Groups is exploring ’30 days of Adventures in the Real World’, covering different aspects of non-fiction. Do you have your own memorable ‘real-life’ adventure in the natural world?
I remember vividly my first encounter with a hummingbird. I was in Mexico City, a hideously polluted city of 19 million inhabitants, and was absolutely thrilled when an exquisite hummingbird – a bird I’d only ever seen in books before – appeared on a flower next to me. However, this was as nothing compared to how excited I was when, some two decades later, I was in my own back garden on the outskirts of York and thought I was seeing a hummingbird on the flower next to me. I told myself I was stark staring bonkers, that there were no hummingbirds in Yorkshire. But there it seemed to be, right in front of my eyes. I went and did some investigating and discovered that this was a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. The Hummingbird Hawkmoth now appears in my Buzzing! book – and also, every once in a while,  in my garden. I’ve seen this moth on a grand total of 4 (memorable!) occasions, the latest being in September of this year. Keep a – very beady – eye out for it where you are. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Finally, do you have a message you’d like to share with enthusiastic young readers of non-fiction?
It’s always good to read books about subjects you’re already passionate about. But don’t forget to pick up books about things you know nothing about, things you think you wouldn’t be interested in at all. They might be books written for children; they might be books written for grown-ups. Either way, you never know – you might stumble on something that will change the course of your life forever!

For more information about Anneliese please visit her website  (www.thebigbuzz.biz).
To find out more about Anneliese’s school events, please visit Book Events for Schools (www.bookeventsforschools.co.uk).

 

 

 

 

 

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