Interview with Sandra Morris

Sandra Morris is the award-winning author of many wonderful picture books and children’s nonfiction books. In Sandra’s latest book, North and South, we learn about the differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how the animals that live there deal with the changing seasons. You can read my rave review here on the blog. It is a fascinating book and it made me wonder about how Sandra chose which animals would be featured in the book. Read my interview with Sandra to find out the answer to this question and more.

  • North and South: A tale of two hemispheres is a unique concept for a children’s nonfiction book about wildlife. You compare wildlife from the Northern Hemisphere with those from the Southern Hemisphere. What inspired you to present the information in this way?

In North and South I presented wildlife in each month looking at the opposite seasons. As a child I was fascinated that two halves of the world experience such different weather systems at the same time. I thought if I showed both halves on each double spread with an animal from each hemisphere then it is pretty immediate and accessible for children to see the contrast.

  • How did you decide what wildlife to include in the book?

It was pretty challenging deciding on the final list of animals to be portrayed. I made an initial list after reading an old Readers Digest book on animals through the seasons. On further research I found out quite a few had become extinct- particularly disappointing! I made a more refined list and sent it to my Candlewick US editors and they made a further selection. We tried to represent as wide a species list as possible – birds, insects, mammals, marine life etc. and to cover as many different countries as possible. I also wanted to include some lesser known species like Portuguese man of war, stag beetles, and honeypot ants.

  • There were so many things that fascinated me reading this book, from the difference that heat makes to the sex of baby crocodiles to the hilarious way that Lyrebirds copy the sounds around them. What was the most fascinating thing you discovered while researching this book?

One of the most fascinating things was to learn how many of her young are carried in the jaws of the female salt water crocodile down to the river shortly after hatching. It was impossible to find images so I had to reconstruct that image myself- I have since seen amazing photos and she does cram them in!! Like an overloaded bus!!

  • A lot of effort has gone in to the design of North and South. It’s so important to get the design right in a children’s nonfiction book, as you want children to be able to find the information they need but also enjoy reading it. Did you have much of a say in the design?

Yes the design was largely mine. It went through various changes due to the publisher wanting it to sell foreign rights, so all my original coloured, hand lettering had to go and they replaced them with the black and white fonts. Also, I had originally had all the extra facts at the back making it a rather lengthy book, so the designer brought all the extra facts into each spread, running them down the side of the images. Therefore, all the images had to be reduced – they originally bled off the page with just a small amount of text within the image. But I am happy with what the designer has done and I understand all the reasons why. Sometimes you have to make compromises if you want the book to have a wider market appeal internationally. You just cant get too precious. I love it that it’s a team effort and I was lucky that Sarah Davies at Walker Australia made such good design decisions.

  • One of the design features that I really love about North and South is the map on the endpapers. Were maps an important feature to include in the book?

Yes. Originally the world map with animals was going on the Introduction page and Sarah suggested it as endpapers. This freed up more internal space. It was also her idea to include a small map on each spread, so that it was immediately clear where each animal lived.

  • What is your process of illustrating the wildlife you feature in your books? Do you watch videos and pore over photos?

I usually try to draw from life as much as possible, but as most of these animals do not live in NZ that was out of the question. So I referred to many books, Google images and videos for visual reference.

  • You have written and illustrated many books about New Zealand wildlife, and both the Bar-tailed Godwit and the Brown Kiwi feature in North and South. Do you have a favourite New Zealand creature that you love to illustrate? What is it that appeals about this creature?

For many years I have observed and sketched from life the amazing Bar-tailed godwits at Pukorokoro Miranda on the firth of Thames. I have grown to love these birds and admire their amazing annual migratory feats!! They fly non-stop from Alaska to NZ – 11,000 kms every southern summer to feed on our mudflats to be in peak breeding condition to fly back via several feeding spots, to breed in the Alaskan tundra as it thaws. It is such a worry that changing climate conditions and human habitation and development is chewing up their feeding grounds. This has a huge impact on their survival. There is clear evidence that their numbers have severely decreased. Statistics show they are declining by 2% a year.

  • Many of the animals featured in North and South have a special ability like changing their appearance to camouflage into their environment, copying the sounds of other animals, or storing honey in their swollen bellies for when it’s needed. If you could choose one animal ability to have yourself, what would you choose?

An animal ability I would choose is flight – what an amazing ability. To just make up your mind to lift off and go places with no cost to the environment!!

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