World of Words: Helping children explore the past in the present

“Yukoners are definitely hitting above their weight,” polar scientist David Hik told Claire Eamer after the Canadian Science Writers’ Association (CSWA) presented her with the Science in Society Youth Book Award, in May.

Locals may be familiar with Eamer’s contributions to the Northern Research Institute’s column Your Yukon or may have read her near-future fiction in the International Polar Year anthology, Polaris.

With the release of Super Crocs & Monster Wings: Modern Animals’ Ancient Past, Yukoners can find the award-winning author in the children’s book section.

Interludes such as “How to Become a Fossil”, colourful design and highly accurate facts about six modern animals and their prehistoric origins, are geared to nine to 12-year-olds interested in rocks and dinosaurs.

“There isn’t a big difference between science writing for children or adults,” says Eamer. “Just that with kids you don’t have to hold back any of your enthusiasm for your topic.”

Also, kids must have a story, so Eamer captured millions of years of each animal’s natural history in short vignettes. Her fascination with paleo-geology led her to research the obscure species.

A look at the selected bibliography, about one-fifth of the completed list, includes some of the most-current information contributed by the field’s leading experts.

“There’s some stuff in here,” she says, flipping through the author’s proof of her next book, “that, outside of scientific journals, you wouldn’t find anywhere else.”

Along with positive reviews in the online journal CM, YES Mag, OWL, Quill and Quire and BioScience magazine, Eamer’s books are best bets with the Ontario Library Association.

She finds the notoriety a bit unusual. “Children’s book awards kick in gradually. They aren’t usually awarded in the year of publication.”

However, Eamer recently learned she is also a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Book Award voted on by British Columbia teachers, students and school librarians. “Super Crocs is turning up in libraries all over the United States, and the Hong Kong Public Library has a copy, too,” she says.

The Children’s Book Centre, in Toronto, has Eamer’s non-fiction on their recommended reading list and has invited her to celebrate Children’s Book Week, in Ontario, this fall. Eamer will tour the province promoting both Super Crocs and the companion book, Spiked Scorpions & Walking Whales, due out this summer.

Eamer has brought her passion to classrooms in Alberta, British Columbia and her home province of Saskatchewan. Using plastic chain in black-and-white metre lengths, she helps kids and librarians visualize the size of creatures she’s discussing. “When I lay that out to show how big a four-by-six sloth is, the kids are like ‘Wow!'”

A third volume in the series, scheduled for release in fall 2010, promises to hold young readers’ interest. The book, tentatively titled Fish Out of Water, Snake on the Wing, is about animals that, like Eamer herself, “push the boundaries of where you’d expect to find them.”

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