Dee White has published more than 20 books for children and young adults, and many articles, short stories and poems. Her writing and writing workshops have taken her all over the world and she’s prepared to go almost anywhere (even do a tour of Paris sewers) to track down a good story! Today we’re chatting to Dee about her latest book, Emma Johnston: Marine biologist and TV presenter, which is part of the Aussie STEM Stars series.
From the publisher:
Professor Emma Johnston is Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney. From her earliest years growing up she has had a lifelong curiosity about the marine world and has a passionate commitment to finding ways to restore the health of damaged marine systems like the Great Barrier Reef.
How did you go about your research for writing about Emma Johnston?
The first thing I did was go online and find out as much as I could about Emma and the work she did. I watched a film she had made about her time in Antarctica, I read some of the things she had written about the environment, and I read her profile on the website of the university she worked for and interviews she had done about her amazing achievements.
From that information, I developed a series of questions that I asked her on Skype. We weren’t able to meet in person because of Covid restrictions and lockdowns.
I did a second Skype interview later to clarify some things she had told me and to get more information where I needed it. I also asked Emma to send me photos from when she was a child to help me imagine what life was like for her growing up.
What is your own favourite plant or marine creature?
I really love whales. I love the way they move and the way they interact with each other and with humans.
Emma Johnston shines a light on Earth’s precious underwater/marine environments. Did researching and writing this book lead you to change your own behaviour in any way?
Researching this book gave me a much greater understanding of the marine environment and the dangers it faces, but also how nature is fighting against threats caused by humans.
Climate change has caused temperature layers to form in the ocean, trapping cold water and nutrients in the deep. When whales move through the water, they help blend the temperature bands, and also bring species like plankton up to the surface so they can get more light to help them survive. We need plankton because they produce most of the oxygen we breathe.
This has actually inspired me to write a book about whales and how they help the world we live in.
One of the things that appealed to me about writing Emma’s story is that I’ve been concerned about the environment for a long time. We always compost at our house. We have solar panels to produce our electricity … and about four years ago, I changed to a plant-based diet.
Researching this book alerted me to even more things I could do to help the environment – particularly reducing my use of plastics and planting more indigenous trees and bushes at my house to provide an environment to bring back native birds, animals and insects.
Do you have a tip for children who’d like to try writing a biography?
If you can, interview the person you are writing about. In an interview, you can find out interesting facts that might not be available anywhere else in books or online. In an interview, you get to ask specific questions about the things you want to know about a person. You can email them via their website or the website for their place of work and ask if they would be happy to answer a few questions via email.
A COUPLE OF OTHER TIPS
- Pick someone you’re really interested in writing about – someone who shares the same interests as you.
- Find out as much as you can about them – then decide what to include in your biography. Pick out the most interesting parts about their life.
- Think about what they might want to be remembered for and make this the theme or central idea for your biography. For example, with Emma Johnston Marine Biologist and TV Presenter, the theme or main idea is finding out about the marine environment so that we can help it.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on next?
I always work on lots of projects at once. At the moment, I’m developing a series of animal stories. I’m also working on a true story about a boy who climbed the Berlin Wall to escape from East to West Germany to go and live with his aunt. And I’m writing an action adventure about a boy who moves to Paris, uncovers a secret and sets out to find out the truth about his family.
Emma Johnston: Marine Biologist and TV Presenter is out now! Ask for it at your favourite bookshop or local library.
Watch a YouTube video with Professor Emma Johnston: ‘Can we Save the Reef?’
Download the Teachers’ Notes for this book.
Visit Dee White’s website for more about her and her books.