Awesome Authors: Patricia Newman on Inspiring & Empowering Young Readers to Protect the Environment

By Linda Joy Singleton

I was sitting next to Patricia Newman in the airport when she got the call notifying her that her book, Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem (Millbrook Press, 2017), had been awarded a Sibert Honor. So exciting! And I’m excited and honored to introduce Cynsations readers to Patricia and her latest book, Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean, illustrated by Annie Crawley (Millbrook Press, 2021), which will inspire and empower readers to act to protect the environment.

How has your passion for the environment influenced your writing?

Our environment – both the land and the ocean — is important to our health, our food supply, even the air we breathe, but that’s not enough to entice me to write a book. I must have a personal connection to my topic to give my writing heart.

I associate assaults on our environment with injustice – plastic in our ocean, acidified water that weakens coral and the shells of shellfish, excess carbon in our atmosphere that warms seawater, melts sea ice, and forces 24 million people to leave their homes each year.

I have a well-developed, or maybe an over-developed, sense of injustice because I was bullied beginning in fifth grade. Shunning, hate mail, the whole bit. I became quiet, withdrawn, and full of self-doubt. I read but didn’t write because I didn’t want to share my thoughts with anyone for fear the bullying would get worse. So, I kept quiet.

In high school and college, when I finally figured out who I was, I found my voice. Now, I write about the injustices that ecosystems and endangered animals face to give them a voice.

I’m also outdoorsy and have stored up many memories of hiking, sailing, swimming, snorkeling, and traveling around the world. I’ve spent a lot of time around rivers, lakes, and the ocean, and have seen the beauty our world has to offer.

When I write an environmental book, I want to share that beauty, but I also want to show readers how we impact the environment. And I want them to make a connection between their lives and the environment.

For instance, Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, illustrated by Annie Crawley (Millbrook Press, 2104) was one of the first children’s books to talk about ocean plastic.

Sea Otter Heroes explains a trophic cascade, a food chain relationship where an apex predator (sea otter) saves seagrass, which protects our shoreline, sequesters carbon, and provides a nursery for young fish—all benefits to humans.

Planet Ocean shows readers we are inextricably connected to the sea – the ocean’s story is our story.

There’s rarely just one moment that leads to success. What turning points led to your first sale?

You’re right, Linda. A career is composed of many turning points and decisions. I met my first agent at an SCBWI conference, and she sold my first book, Jingle the Brass, illustrated by Michael Chesworth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004).

When she retired, I met my second agent at another SCBWI conference who sold my second book, Nugget on The Flight Deck, illustrated by Aaron Zenz (Walker, 2009). Deborah Warren of East West Literary and I have been together for more than sixteen years.

After that initial sale together, we had a long dry spell and I considered quitting the business. In fact, I’d written “Quit if no sale” on the Dec. 31 page of my 2012 calendar. But in August of that year, Plastic, Ahoy! sold to Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press and I haven’t looked back.

Plastic, Ahoy! was my first environmental book, and I felt like I found my home. Carol and I have now published six books together, including the newest Planet Ocean which released in March.

We’ve sort of grown up in the business together. My books have won several awards due to her editorial skill, including a Sibert Honor and two Green Earth Book Awards. At the same time, Carol scaled the publishing ladder from editor to the current Associate Publisher of the Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda imprints. I’m full of gratitude for her.

I could never have mapped out this path, but I followed the “signs” that appeared before me and tried to say “yes” whenever possible.

What promotion strategies have worked best for you?

I love to speak at conferences such as ILA, NSTA, and Texas Library Association to help educators find STEM and language arts connections to my books. Many of the teachers and librarians I’ve met have become my friends and we present together or they review my books.

I’m also active on Twitter (@PatriciaNewman). My LitLinks blog is another promotional tool. I invite guest bloggers to make STEM and language arts connections to children’s books, which is not only great promotion for the books featured in the lessons, but a great way to bring people to my website.

Any new books/projects you’d like to share?

Photographer and filmmaker Annie Crawley and I teamed up for Planet Ocean, our third title together. We wrote and selected photos to help readers understand our ocean from an underwater perspective. We include the stories of several scientists, Indigenous people, artists, kids and teens around the world affected by climate change, warming seas, and ocean acidification and how they are dealing with it.

We’ve poured our hearts into this book because we love the ocean and we know how vital it is to our existence. Stop to consider space exploration. Scientists spend a lot of time looking for water on other planets. In fact, outer space is more explored than our ocean.

Planet Ocean encourages us to stop thinking of ourselves as separate from our ocean and work together to conserve this precious resource that makes our lives possible.

Cynsational Notes:

Patricia Newman’s books show young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities.

A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, Patricia’s books have received starred reviews, ALA Notable recognition, Green Earth Book Awards, an Outstanding Science Trade Book Award, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.

One Texas librarian recently wrote, “Patricia is one of the best nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our must have authors for every collection.”

Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Her presentations are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.”

Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 50 books for children, including Curious Cat Spy Club, The Seer (Llewellyn/Flux) and Dead Girl series (North Star Editions).

She’s also written picture books, her most recent are Crane and Crane(Chronicle),  Lucy Loves Goosey (Simon & Schuster) and A Cat Is Better (Little Bee Books).

She wrote her first animal story when she was eight, dreaming of being a published author—and that dream came true!

She’s a longtime member of SCBWI and Sisters in Crime, and a frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences.

She lives in the Northern California foothills, surrounded by a menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, peacocks, horses and pigs. Linda reports on writing and publishing children’s literature for Cynsations.