Science Book a Day Interviews Phyllis Root


Special thanks to Phyllis Root for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – Plant a Pocket of Prairie

I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Valentine’s Day, 1949, and grew up among green grass, gardens, trees, open fields, and books, books, books. My father says he remembers me reading in my high chair. I used to make up stories in bed at night when I couldn’t sleep and my parents had caught me with my book and flashlight. I am currently teaching in the MFA Writing for Children program of Hamline University. I live in Minneapolis with my two cats, and numerous butterflies in season amid prairie plants, trees, lakes, and books, books, books. In my spare time I love canoeing, sailing, gardening, and of course reading. – Adapted from Children’s Literature Network bio

#1 – What was the impetus for Plant a Pocket of Prairie?

I have been visiting natural areas in Minnesota for several years, learning to identify the native plants that grow in these rare and still relatively undisturbed places—a project that started when I wrote a counting book about Minnesota habitats.  I love the prairie and wanted to write about this endangered ecosystem—99.9% of Minnesota’s native prairies have been turned into farmland or developed into towns and cities.  As with all my writing, it took many drafts to find a focus and a through line that not only convey information but also encourage action in planting native prairie flowers.

#2 – For our non-US readers, what is Prairie?

Prairie is from Old French praerie, meaning meadow or grassland. A prairie is a complex interconnected community of native grasses and flowers.  Prairies might grow in wet meadows, sandy plains, rolling fields, or on steep hillsides.

#3 – The book is written in free-verse passages. Do you always write this way? Do you find it is useful in engaging your readers?

I don’t really think of it as free verse.  Picture books are meant to be read out loud, and writing in this way helps me to think of how someone else might read the book out loud.  It also helps me focus on the turn of the line and which words are strongest to end a line or a paragraph or a page.  And it just seems to be the way I write and think.  But if a book needs to be in standard paragraph format, it’s usually easy to change the lines into paragraphs.  And for longer works, I write in standard paragraph form.

I do not know if the line-break form engages readers.  What I hope will carry readers and listeners through a book to a satisfying conclusion are the sound and shape and content of a story.

#4 – How did you work with Betsy Bowen on the images of the plants and animals in the book?

Usually in picture books writer and artist work separately, which is what Betsy and I did. I do know she did a great deal of prairie research to make her wonderful art for the book.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

I’ve been working on a book about a lost forest in Minnesota that I have visited. It’s an incredible experience to stand under trees that have been growing for hundreds of years and to see the land as it once was, almost like a trip back in time.

[Image Credit: ]


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