Heather Lang - A Lion & Dragonfly Interview
"I love writing books that inform and inspire kids! That’s always my goal. And I love the detective work required to write a true, inspiring book."
- Heather Lang
We adore The Leaf Detective, a centerpiece of our Inspiring Picture Biographies Collection. This gorgeously-illustrated book introduces readers to Margaret Lowman, a pioneering rainforest scientist. From her childhood in New York to the rainforests of Australia and Africa, kids will marvel at Meg's passion and perseverance to protect and preserve the world's rainforest habitats. Thank you to author Heather Lang for sharing some terrific insights into the work she put into creating this wonderful story!
Can you tell us about what inspired you to write The Leaf Detective?
I’ve always been in awe of our natural world, and over the last few centuries humans have destroyed so much of it, especially the rainforests. People are logging and burning down rainforests for farming and agriculture at an alarming rate. We’ve already lost more than half of our forests. I knew I wanted to write a layered book that was both a biography about a rainforest scientist and a science/conservation book.
When I read about Meg Lowman—an exceptional biologist, educator, mentor, and conservationist—I was hooked. Meg overcame so many obstacles and pioneered tree canopy science using ropes and harnesses, canopy walkways, and hot air balloons with inflatables. In the process she’s made countless discoveries and worked nonstop to find creative ways to save trees locally and globally. It’s been a tremendous honor to share her story.
What was it like writing about biologist Meg Lowman’s life story?
Researching and writing The Leaf Detective was an exciting and transformative adventure! When I began my research, I set out to discover how a quiet, nature-loving child, who didn’t know women could be scientists, became a world-class scientist and conservationist. Little did I know this would take me on a journey with Meg to the Amazon rainforest in Peru. There I experienced Meg in action and soaked up the magic of the rainforest. My favorite research moments were exploring the rainforest with Meg, especially early in the morning surrounded by busy birds and at night when the tarantulas, snakes, and insects came out!
Meg’s deep passion for plants was contagious. I learned so much from her. Did you know that 50 percent of land species live in the tops of trees? I left the rainforest with a new feeling of interconnectedness—from tiny ants to trees to humans. As Meg says, “We are part of our ecosystem, not outside it.” I decided to begin the book with that quote. While I was writing a biography, I also wanted the book to celebrate trees and the remarkable ways they help us. They are essential for life on earth.
What is your favorite page of this book and why?
Jana Christy’s gorgeous illustrations make that a near impossible choice! I love the two spreads that show Meg climbing into the tree canopy for the first time and discovering its incredible biodiversity. I think the illustrations and text work together so beautifully and bring the reader along for that exciting, wondrous journey.
What do you hope your audience takes away from The Leaf Detective?
I have many big hopes for this book!
Here are my top 3:
- I hope Meg’s story will inspire students interested in STEM fields, especially girls, to follow their passions and persevere through challenges
- I hope kids will be wowed by trees and the many valuable things they do for our world—from providing oxygen, food, water, shelter, and medicine to cleaning our air.
- I hope this book will motivate kids to explore and enjoy nature and to take care of our natural world.
What’s your favorite part of being an author?
I love writing books that inform and inspire kids! That’s always my goal. And I love the detective work required to write a true, inspiring book. Whenever possible, I try to experience what I’m writing about, whether that means going to the Amazon, paragliding, or scuba diving.
These aren’t just fact-finding missions. They help me unearth sensory details which enable me to draw the reader into a scene. This kind of research also allows me to explore my own feelings and personal connections to both the person I’m writing about and my topic. During this process, I often find my narrative voice, as well as my themes and story structure.
What was your favorite picture book growing up?
I adored Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. It’s a sweet, heartwarming story that’s also filled with suspense. And it reminded me to appreciate what I had.
What children’s books (other than your own) are you recommending to friends at the moment?
There are some fantastic new picture books about trees!
Here are a few favorites:
- Be a Tree by Maria Gianafari and illustrated by Felicita Sala
- The Wisdom of Trees by Lita Judge
- Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben
- The Tree in Me by Corinna Luyken
If you weren’t an author what would you most like to be? What is your (other) dream career?
A wildlife biologist!
What would you want your ten-year-old self to know?
I wish I knew the value of pushing myself and trying things that are hard. I wish I understood that failure is not something to fear. It’s just an essential step on any journey and necessary to achieve goals. I’d also tell my shy ten-year-old self not to be afraid to ask for help. It took me many years to overcome that fear. Now I lean on my critique partners, editors, family, and friends. Asking experts for help has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. I’m always amazed how responsive and eager they are to help me. Take Meg Lowman for example—she invited me on a trip with her to the Amazon!
What are you currently working on?
I’m thrilled to be working on a middle grade collective biography for Calkins Creek about twelve animal conservationists.
I’m also having a blast collaborating with my close friend Jamie Harper on a new informational picture book series about animal heroes. The first book, Supermoms!, comes out next spring (2023) with Candlewick Press. It features cool nonfiction facts about eighteen amazing animal moms in a graphic format with humorous callouts. We’re currently busy at work on Superdads!
Who are your biggest inspirations?
The women I write about—brave and determined women who have blazed trails and made our world a better place;
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Madagascar! It has incredible biodiversity with thousands of species that can’t be found in the wild anywhere else in the world. I’d especially love to see the adorable, spunky lemurs. Did you know they’re the world’s oldest living primates and the most endangered group of mammals? Unfortunately, deforestation is a huge problem in Madagascar. Scientists and conservationists are working tirelessly to save this special island.