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Interview with Award-Winning Author Conrad Storad

UPublish story by Kate DeAngelis

Fang and Stinger - Cover Art
"Fang and Stinger" by Conrad Storad

Award-winning children’s book author and native Barbertonian Conrad Storad will be visiting the Barberton Public Library on May 12 at 6:00 p.m. Storad will talk about his new books Fang and Stinger (An Arachnid Story), Monster in the Rocks (A Southwest Desert Tale) and Gator, Gator, Second Grader. Storad will have a book signing after his presentation. A portion of the proceeds from his book signing will be donated to the Friends of the Barberton Public Library.

Storad is the award-winning author of more than 40 science and nature books for children and young adults. His national award winners include Arizona Way Out West & Wacky, and Arizona Way Out West & Witty – Library Edition, fun history and activity books for young readers co-authored with Linda Exley. AZ Witty was named One Book Arizona for Kids in 2012 by the Arizona State Library. AZ Wacky was the 2012 Benjamin Franklin Silver Medal winner for children’s nonfiction; the 2012 Moonbeam Children Book Award winner for children’s nonfiction; and was named Best New Children’s Nonfiction Book for 2012 by USA Book News.

Storad worked at Arizona State University for more than 24 years writing and editing stories about science and scholarship. He was founding editor for the nationally award winning ASU Research Magazine, and Chain Reaction, an award-winning magazine for young readers. Prior to ASU, Storad worked as a reporter, editor, and general manager for The Barberton Herald newspaper. He was a Year 2000 inductee to the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism Hall of Fame.

To prepare for Storad’s visit in May, our Children’s Department Supervisor Lisa Gilgenbach asked him some questions about growing up in Barberton and being a writer.

Lisa: What inspired you to write books for children?

Conrad: Many people might consider science writing/editing for adults and writing books for children to be vastly different pursuits. But I see lots of parallels. My true passion is for sharing information in a fun and interesting manner. The age of the reader does not really matter. The answer really depends on your definition of science writing or of children's writing. I don't do fairy tales or myths or legends. My work is all nonfiction. To do either type of writing well requires a knack for word choice and explanation. I've had to learn how to use a limited vocabulary and simple sentence structure to describe complex ideas. The goal is often how best to "translate" abstract concepts for a normal, everyday person. For young readers, the work is often about how best to describe an interesting plant or creature in an entertaining manner that does not go way beyond the reader's limited life experience. Done well, the best writing will always pique the reader's curiosity to learn more, regardless of their age. I've done my job well if I can make a reader curious to learn more. Translating scientific and technical jargon into lay language can be difficult in itself. The real challenge is how to explain and describe something with easy language and still make the story captivating and FUN to read. Every new story or book brings with it new challenges. That's why I always tell young students that my job is ALWAYS fun. I never, ever get bored. Each new story or book project is a brand new challenge....and an opportunity to learn. I never want to stop learning!

Lisa: How did growing up in Barberton influence your writing?

Conrad: I actually always thought I would be a scientist. The writing bug bit me hard a bit later. Growing up in Barberton, Ohio, I was the little boy you’d always find wading through the pond, poking around rotten stumps in the woods, or lifting up rocks to look for insects and snakes and other wild treasures. We had a wonderful area of woods and wetland near my parent’s home. It was a natural playground and provided a new learning experience every day. I also figured out early how to channel my interest in science and nature into entrepreneurial activity. At age 10, my buddies and I set up a business to catch and sell insects to the high school girls of the neighborhood. They were required to create an insect collection for biology class in those days. We made a tidy sum of “Dairy Queen” money catching butterflies, beetles, and creepy crawlers of every shape and size for those young girls. Dragonflies were the big money makers. We charged 50 cents each for a blue darner or a snake doctor. They were tough to catch.

Actually, some of my very first writing journals were for 8th grade science class for Mr. Joe Weigand at St. Augustine School. They were lists of the creatures I had observed, both under the microscope and in the woods and swamp. I found I had a liking for writing, and that I was pretty good at it. It all developed slowly. Just like life. Doors opened, and I was ready to walk through. I never lost my love of science and nature. Eventually, I got the chance to combine both my loves. Instead of doing science in the laboratory or in the field, I got to write about it. And not just about a single discipline. I got to write about everything. And for audiences of varying ages. What could be better than that? For me, nothing has come close…so far. Writing for children has become the ultimate challenge. It is the most difficult writing I have ever done. But the results are the most satisfying.

Lisa: What is your favorite part of being a children’s book author?

Conrad: A good science writer should never have to resort to “dumbing down” a topic. I hate that term. Good science writing is really story telling at a different level. That said, I have to confess that writing about science and nature for children is MUCH more difficult than writing for adults. Doing the work and learning the process for reaching young readers has made me a much better writer overall....I believe. What I most love about being a children’s author is the opportunity to learn lots and lots about all possible topics. Being a science writer is a dream job. As a teenager, I originally wanted to become a marine biologist or an entomologist. I ended up being a newspaper reporter and editor. Later on, I got the opportunity to blend my interest in science with my writing skills. As a science writer, I've had plenty of opportunities to write about marine biology and entomology, without having to be seasick or spend time in steamy jungles. However, I've also got the chance to write about much, much more, including geology, physics, chemistry, medicine, history, theater, fine art, and music. The really fun thing about being an author is having the ability to share what I learn through the books and magazine articles that I write. Learning and sharing is always satisfying on many different levels.

The children ARE our future. We have to get them hooked on learning and teach them an appreciation for nature right now. Their contributions could come much sooner than you think. Helping kids to hone their reading and communication skills is essential as well. If a child doesn’t know how to read and write well, he or she will be left behind. Modern society is based on information and communication. We need to know how to communicate clearly, concisely, and quickly. We also need to know how to find information quickly and learn how to use it wisely. Kids need to learn these skills early. They also need to know that reading and writing well is an ongoing process. We should never stop trying to improve our communication skills. They are vital to living a happy, healthy life. Hopefully, a literate society will make wise choices, especially when it comes to the important questions related to preserving our wild lands, appreciating nature, and understanding the power of science.

Lisa: What advice would you have for aspiring young authors?

Conrad: Be diligent. Write, write, write…and then write some more. Be persistent in the quest for publication. Don’t get discouraged. There are more ways to get published today than ever before. If you think that writing for children is the road to riches…well, better try another profession. You write for children for other reasons than making money. If you are good, and a bit lucky, the monetary compensation will flow your direction. But that should not be the end-all goal. Writers and artists do the work for the love of their craft and to satisfy their own inner muse. For me, seeing a smile on a young reader’s face (or on the face of the parent, for that matter), after they have picked up and read one of my books is really what is all about. Considering that, a more practical bit of advice might be….Don’t quit your day job…right away. Best of luck with your writing. There is always room for more good authors and more good stories.

Lisa: What were your favorite books growing up?

Conrad: I still can remember the day my Dad took me and my brother Mike to the Barberton Library to get our first library cards. That was a special day, especially when the librarian told me that the little orange card in my hand allowed me to take home and read any book I saw on the shelves of the library. She said I could actually take home as many as six books at a time….for FREE. For me, that seemed like a dream too darn good to be true. Over the years, I made it a quest to read EVERY book on certain shelves of the library. I devoured books about animals and space and science of all kinds. I loved to read about history, from the times of the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians, and all about American history as well. I also loved to read science fiction and historical fiction. Favorite books? Wow, the list is way too long. But I do remember enjoying everything written by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein and Tolkein and many, many others. I loved Robert Louis Stevenson’s stories as well.

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