An Open Book
Carmichael children’s author makes learning fun
By Jessica Laskey
As a writer, Patricia Newman has a radar that is “always up and looking for ideas.”
The prolific children’s book author and Carmichael resident turns those ideas into educational and entertaining books that tackle complex subjects for readers ages 4 and up. She’s on the lookout for inspiration.
“You have to follow those cryptic signs placed in your way throughout your life and be open to what they’re telling you,” says Newman, whose newest and 18th book, “Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean,” was published this year.
Newman’s first cryptic sign was a comment from her mother-in-law. As Newman finished reading the umpteenth picture book to her toddler son and young daughter, her mother-in-law said, “You know, Patty, you could do this.”
It was the first time anyone suggested to Newman that she could write, though she’d been an avid lifelong reader. The comment “planted a seed in my brain.”
At the time, the former teacher and computer programmer worked as assistant director of the western regional office of her alma mater, Cornell University. She decided to explore what it would take to write a children’s book.
Newman joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, attended conferences and began to write. She carried a notebook to T-ball practice, karate lessons, gymnastics, everywhere, and was soon getting published in children’s magazines.
Her first book, “Jingle the Brass,” appeared in 2004 and was followed by “Nugget on the Flight Deck.” Both books help kids learn lingo from a profession—railroading and piloting, respectively—aided by illustrations.
Over the next several years, Newman wrote informational children’s books about military special ops, energy and surviving animal attacks, plus books for English learners in South Korea. Her work won several awards, including the Robert F. Sibert honor from the American Library Association.
A newspaper article about oceanography sparked the next phase of Newman’s writing career.
The article featured 17 graduate students from Scripps Institution of Oceanography who embarked on an expedition to study plastic in the ocean. Newman read their daily blog with fascination and decided the story would make a great children’s book.
When the expedition finished, Newman contacted three participants—all women scientists—along with the project photographer, Annie Crawley. The resulting book, “Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” was published in 2014 and inspired Newman to write four more environmental books, including the recent “Planet Ocean.”
“Annie is a mermaid, so it made sense to do an ocean book,” Newman says of her collaborator. “And I’m not a diver, but water has always been a big part of who I am. As a kid growing up in Vermont, I would play around lakes and rivers, dig for clams and sail with my dad. When I first got married and lived in San Diego, we were at the beach constantly. The ocean is really close to our hearts.”
“Planet Ocean” offers Crawley’s photographs and video—via innovative QR codes that allow readers to interact with the book online. Newman hopes the takeaway is the need for environmental stewardship.
“Oftentimes people aren’t that connected to what’s under the water,” she says. “They understand there’s beauty there, but the problems we’re creating on land with pollution and overfishing impact the ocean. Even if you live in middle America, you impact the ocean.”
Newman is working on her next book about the Elwha River ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest, due next year, and looks forward to giving live talks and workshops to schoolchildren. Whether in books or in person, she hopes to spread her message of the importance of taking care of the planet—no matter your age.
For more information, visit patriciamnewman.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.