Local freelance journalist taps into her 7-year-old self to write new children’s book

by Jessie O’Brien

Kate Siber is a freelance journalist who has been living in Durango for the last 13 years. Her byline often appears in Outside Magazine, but her work has been featured in National Parks Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, and Men’s Journal. As a freelancer, Siber is able to follow her story interests, and often covers the environment, outdoors, sports, travel, meditation, and more recently, social issues such as cyberbullying and suicide. Her new project, though, is children’s book, “National Parks of the U.S.A.” The large, colorful book is comprised of strange and interesting facts about America’s national parks, with illustrations by Chris Turnham. She calls the project a natural progression in her career.

How did this project come to be? “I just got an email out of the blue one day from this publisher (Wide Eyed Editions). … She was like, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about writing a children’s book, because we have this illustrator for this children’s book about national parks. I have been poking around looking for authors, and you write about national parks a lot.’ I wound up writing it right after the election. It was the perfect post-election blues antidote because it is so cheerful writing for kids. I hate to admit, but I can be a little earnest. I think that is a good quality to have when you are writing for children.”

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How did you research for this book? “I’d call up rangers who work with children, who do either field trips for schools or junior ranger programs, and just talk to them about, ‘Ok, what do kids really like about your park?’ In the Great Smoky Mountains, they love catching salamanders, and they have one of the highest densities of salamanders in the world. … In Death Valley, the best way to find animals is to go out to the sand dunes because you can find their tracks. (Animals) usually come out at night because it’s so hot there. And how do you get around the sand dunes? You sled down them, of course! Kids love that stuff.”

How do you write for children? “It is almost a state of being to tap into, as opposed to some technical way of writing. When I was writing for children, I tried to tap into my 7-year-old self.”

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What was your 7-year-old self like? “Oh my god, so dorky, really excited about geeky stuff, in love with the natural world, really. I mean, a lot of things in nature are just so weird and wacky you can’t make them up. Truth is stranger than fiction. There is so much weird stuff that I found out doing this book. It was really easy to get excited about it.”

What are you hoping the book accomplishes? “National parks are this brand name at this point, but they are just the tip of the iceberg in a sense. I love the national parks. They are wonderful, amazing (places) and they have these incredible, iconic landscapes. But I hope that this book gets kids excited about nature in general, because it’s all around us. It’s right here. …It’s more about wonder in general, rather than one aspect of our natural world.”

Advance order a copy of “National Parks of the U.S.A.” at Maria’s Bookshop, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble before its release date on July 3. Stop by Siber’s office, Simley Building room #20B on May 31, from 4-7 p.m., for the Smiley Building Open House. She will host an open studio, and an opportunity to win a free copy of the book and a poster. On July 10, Maria’s Bookshop hosts a storytime with Siber, who will be reading from “National Parks of the U.S.A.”Jessie O’Brien

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