We’re right-side up today to celebrate the #BookBirthday of THE UPSIDE DOWN BOOK OF SLOTHS by Elizabeth Shreeve, illustrated by Isabella Grott (Norton Young Readers).
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Have you–or your students–ever wondered how (and why) modern sloths hang upside down, how they learned to swim, and how they poop? Elizabeth Shreeve’s new book will turn your sleepy-sloth perspective upside down as you read about the evolution of these fascinating animals and their connections to our planet’s natural history―and future.
And we have questions:
Q 1. Welcome to the blog, Elizabeth! We see that you “grew up in a family of writers and scientists.” Where and when did the sloths pop into the equation? What was the inspiration for this fun nonfiction book?
ES: Several years ago, I happened to watch a video from the wonderful PBS Eons series, entitled “How Sloths Went from the Seas to the Trees.”
I’m a big fan of prehistoric life…so how could I not have known that giant sloths once roamed through the U.S., venturing up to Alaska and swimming in Pacific Ocean?
ES: How could those giants be related to tree sloths of today? The book’s structure took shape as I drew charts comparing the six living species of sloths with some of their amazing ancient ancestors.
Q 2. Have you ever “met” a sloth?
ES: Once the book was underway, my husband and I traveled to the Sloth Sanctuary near Cahuita, Costa Rica. It was fabulous! We hung out with orphaned sloths that were being cared for and we spotted sloths in the wild, too.
ES: It’s not responsible to touch sloths, though; any petting or holding can stress them out, even if they seem to be reaching for you with those amazing claws.
Discoveries & Research
Q 3. What discoveries did you make while researching sloths?
ES: Oh, my goodness! Open any page in the book and there’s something I didn’t know before I began. That’s the great joy of writing nonfiction.
Bonus: Teacher Guide here.
Q 4. What sources were most helpful in your research?
ES: I always dig deep into research before the structure and narrative start to take shape. For this project, I studied books and periodicals about sloths, living and extinct, then contacted several of the authors with questions. Most scientists are happy to help a children’s book writer, if you’ve done the homework. Some have become good friends (though I still don’t completely understand all the scientific lingo…). I visited a lot of natural history museums and paleontology sites, too.
5 #Kidlit Tips
Q 5. I remember long ago when we were just starting out. (Check out the pic below. Has it been 20 years or more?) What tips might you share with those just beginning their kidlit journeys?
ES: Wow, Erin! Twenty-plus years? Gulp. Well, my advice is to have FUN.
Play around with genres, narrative styles, and age groups. The switch from fiction to nonfiction reconnected me to early interests in geology, my college major, which reinvigorated my writing.
A writer needs to be persistent, too. So much is out of our control—an editor’s decision, a trade review, a book that doesn’t sell. There will be disappointments. The best tactic is to get busy on the project at hand.
And write poetry, even if it’s bad!
Q 6. What’s next for you?
ES: Lots coming up! My next book with Norton Young Readers, THE ODDBALL BOOK OF ARMADILLOS, comes out Fall 2024. Working on the sketch dummy now! Illustrations are coming from paleo-artist Juan Carlos Alonso for another Norton book, FAST FEET, BIG BRAINS, about human origins.
In Spring 2025, Sasquatch Books is publishing a picture book with artist Ray Troll, ON AN OCEAN JOURNEY. Then in Fall 2025 comes a middle grade book with Atheneum, DINOSAURS TO DRAGONS, about the origins of mythical animals. I’m deep into mermaids and yetis right now.
Congratulations on ALL of the above!
To learn more about Elizabeth Shreeve and her books:
Check out her Author Website: https://elizabethshreeve.com/
GreenPB2023 author Heather Kinser & her newbook, NATURE IS A SCULPTOR