by Nancy Castaldo
It’s been many years since I was Nature Nancy, camp counselor, during my summers, but I still wear that hat when I write my books and those are still the faces I see reading them. I can remember the kids piling out of the buses from New York City to experience camp in the country. So much of what I introduced to them was new to them, like jewel weed and the Eastern box turtle that roamed around my cabin. We touched feathers and tried to identify which bird left them behind. We went on walks and listened to the sounds of squirrels scampering and birds calling. It was wonderful to see so many things through their eyes.
As I finished college, completed my science classes, and began writing, my focus was on endangered animals and protecting the environment. By the time, I had my own child and was a Girl Scout leader, I thought I was aware of most environmental issues. I had no idea I was in the dark about something so important. Fortunately, my daughter began working at a nearby farm and I wrote a book called Keeping Our Earth Green. Both brought my attention to a crisis of such magnitude that it would impact everyone. There were not just endangered animals, like pandas, wolves, and bald eagles. There are endangered crops species. Imagine not being able to go to the store and purchase a banana for your lunch or a sweet slice of watermelon. Seeds from many crops are being lost daily for a whole host of reasons, including climate change and modern farming methods. How did I not know that this was happening, that we were losing our biodiversity so drastically? Why wasn’t it on the news daily?
I began to explore the topic and found that there were people all over the world working to save our plants, our crops, our food. It gave me hope!
Now, I wanted to share that with my young readers. I believe with all my heart that they are the people who can make a difference.
It took 8 years for this book to be published, but I was thrilled that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who published Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, would take the leap with me and publish this important story. This book was a journey, not only emotionally, but physically as I traveled as far away as Russia to research this global issue and step through the doors of the brave seed scientists who perished there protecting seeds during WWII.
When I visit schools, and talk to kids and teachers about the importance of our farming methods and food security I am never surprised that they are unaware of the risks that scientists and farmers alike are taking every day to put food on our tables.
I want readers of THE STORY OF SEEDS to know where their food comes from and how they can make choices that make a difference to the future of our food. Although this is a frightening subject, there is so much to be hopeful about. We can celebrate the growth of farmers’ markets and the choice of many heirloom varieties that contribute to our biodiversity. But, we have to remember that with any environmental crisis, it is the marginalized that are impacted the most and the choices we make do indeed have an impact.
I sometimes think about those kids that came to camp every day eager to discover the outdoors with Nature Nancy. They must have their own families now. I hope that they have passed on their curiosity and that they are still interested in the world around them.
Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years. Her 2016 title THE STORY OF SEEDS: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less To Eat Around The World introduces older readers to the importance of seeds, farming, and the crisis we currently face. It received the Green Earth Book Award and many other accolades. Her latest is BEASTLY BRAINS: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel. Other books include Crystal Kite Award winner SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World and MISSION POLAR BEAR RESCUE. Her research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia and she loves sharing her adventures with her readers. She has conducted programs at the Boston Children’s Museum, Atlanta Zoo, Tennessee Aquarium, among others and has spoken at the Science Teachers Association of New York State and New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Many of Nancy’s books have received recognitions, including an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Smithsonian Notable Book For Children, a NSTA Outstanding Science Trade title, a Crystal Kite Award, Green Earth Book Award, and a Junior Library Guild Selection. In addition to these accolades, she was honored to be the recipient of the 2007 New York State Outdoor Education Association’s Art and Literature Award for the body of her work. As a long-time environmental educator, she treasures this honor and hopes to empower more children with her books about the Earth.