Change is constantly happening in the world around us. It feels like a 4-letter word to me, more often than not. But change can be a good thing too. Today’s picture book reminded me of that and I can’t wait to share it with you.
Cynthia Argentine writes creative nonfiction for children and teens. Her book Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature (2021, Millbrook Press) uses vibrant language and photos to highlight the dynamic nature of our world. Her book STEAM Jobs in Cybersecurity (2019, Rourke Educational Media) covers the importance of cybersecurity, with “Fast Facts” about famous computer hacks. Cynthia has also written STEM articles for national magazines. Prior to writing, she earned degrees in English, environmental science, and environmental law and worked as an environmental consultant. She loves how writing nonfiction means always learning something new.
NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE is a glorious reminder of the changes that happen around us in nature every day that we take for granted because we’ve gotten SO used to them. It’s hard to remember that some things (like snow) are in fact, change! This book takes a scientific look at the world around us and explores many different ways that change happens and what that can look. The book uses a stunning array of photos to illustrate the simple text. This book feels SO timely for me, experiencing radical shifts in teaching like never before. It was a good reminder that change can actually be a benefit in nature. This book inspired me to slow down, reflect on nature, and remember that. This is one you won’t want to miss.
Me: You have degrees in environmental science and environmental law, and you even worked professionally in this field. You have written in other genres from magazine articles to middle grade STEAM books. What is it that draws you to writing picture books?
Cynthia: Picture books are magical! I love the brevity of the form, the interplay between the words and the art, and the many layers picture books can have.
Me: What gave you the idea to look at the science of change in nature?
Cynthia: My first draft of this book is dated March of 2017. Spring was unfurling outside my window, and I remembered looking for signs of spring with my daughter when she was six. In addition to obvious things like daffodils, she noticed what she called “broccoli moss” flourishing in a crack in the driveway. That reminded me of the first time I grew broccoli and discovered that it turns into a yellow bouquet if you don’t pick it. What other transformations might surprise kids? As I made a list, I realized that in one way or another, everything in nature is changing all the time. I knew I had landed on an idea for a children’s book.
Me: Change is constantly occurring. Sometimes it can be painful, but it doesn’t have to be. Why was it important to you to show young readers that change can be a good thing too?
Cynthia: That is a great question. I believe it’s important because we grow through change. Growth itself is the essence of change. Our bodies show us this in a physical sense. Our souls show us this in a spiritual sense. We grow in understanding and compassion through our experiences with nature and with other people. And when we have the possibility of change, we have the possibility of hope. We are not resigned to the past. We can adapt and grow, and that should give us hope for the future.
Me: I love that. Did you have to do a lot of research? Can you tell us a bit about that process for this book that involves so many different aspects of nature and so many different sciences (biology, botany, geology, chemistry, and physics)?
Cynthia: The initial ideas came from my personal experiences. I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid, and I knew how waves affected shorelines and creeks cut bends in mudbanks. I had climbed many trees and watched them change with the seasons. I had seen leaves and branches decay beneath my feet. I loved sunrises at the beach, sunsets over wheat fields, and snowfalls in the winter. So, the basic phenomena that I mention were ideas that simply occurred to me.
The research came when I had to add details and support my observations. I knew the basics from my environmental science background, but I gathered loads of printed files and OneNote clippings to substantiate technical aspects and scientific processes. I have a footnoted version where I cite at least one source for every fact or explanation. In one instance—the page about snowflake crystals—I was able to use research I had done years earlier. I had interviewed Kenneth Libbrecht, a physicist at Caltech, for a magazine article I had written about snow. I went back through those notes several times while writing that page. Snow science is fascinating! I also contacted two PhD geologists, one and Purdue and one at Indiana University, and asked them to review the book. They helped me clarify a few points, specifically regarding volcanoes and river erosion.
Me: The photographs for this book are stunning. I noticed that no one person was credited for them. Can you talk about that? How were the photographs chosen for the book?
Cynthia: Thank you! I agree with you. The photos are beautiful and really invite the reader to look closely. The art department at Lerner Publishing handled all the photo research, permissions, and design. They have access to huge banks of stock photographs taken by professionals. When the design department completed the first layout of the book, Lerner asked me to review it. If I felt a photo wasn’t entirely in alignment with the text, we coordinated on finding another photo.
The photos were taken by many different people and show places all over the world. When I saw the first layout, I became fascinated by the photos and started researching where they were taken. I’m actually making a game of guessing the photo locations, which I plan to use when I speak to kids about the book.
Me: That’s a great idea! Any advice for other new picture book writers?
- Trust your instincts. If you think you’ve hit on an original idea or concept, run with it!
- When writing nonfiction, brainstorm lots of ideas that relate to your topic. Play with several ways to structure your ideas and information.
- Juxtapose things that are surprising, or find a new angle into an old topic. I was aware of many books that took a narrow view of specific transformations in nature, such the life cycle of a sunflower or a butterfly. But I was not aware of another book that viewed transformations through a wide-angle lens. I hope that by combining changes related to earth science, geology, biology, chemistry, and physics, kids will see—perhaps in a new way—how all branches of science are related to each other and to everything we encounter in the natural world.
Me: What was your favorite fact about change in nature (either in or left out of the book) that you discovered while writing NIGHT BECOMES DAY?
Cynthia: I came across interesting facts about islands migrating, diamonds forming from asteroid impacts, and much more. But there is an interesting anecdote about “quick” changes in nature that I’ll share. In the final version of the book, we chose to show a pumpkin tendril curling around a rope as the example of a quick change. I had suspected this happened quickly, so I did a little experiment to find out. I staked a twig next to a pumpkin vine in my garden and went back to check it half an hour later. Sure enough, a tendril had wrapped around it!
In an earlier draft of the book, I had also included a “fairy ring” as an example of a quick change. I have seen these rings of mushrooms appear overnight in places where nothing was visible the day before. The fruiting bodies of these fungi grow so quickly! But we had cut that example from the final text. So I was surprised and delighted to see a ring of mushrooms appear in the final illustrated version of the book. It wasn’t on the page about quick changes, but on the one towards the end showing a carpet of red leaves on the ground. A ring of white mushrooms is visible through the leaves. It’s easy to imagine how it got the nickname “fairy ring.”
I love that. Thank you for stopping by my blog Cynthia.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance to track down this book yet, I highly recommend it. This is one I NEED to have in my classroom and re-read frequently to remind myself that change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Change happens in many glorious ways and this book captures many of them, from beautiful sea shores to stunning sunsets. Don’t miss it!