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Learning you're not an insect

BY ISAAC HAMLET | MAY 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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Many of us can remember being children and picking up books that told us about the world. Books dripping with colors and vivid images, igniting our imaginations with facts about plants, insects, and animals.

Saturday at 10 a.m., parents are invited to bring their children to Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., for crafts and a book reading with Katy Castronovo.

She  is the illustrator of Where Do I Live? and Am I an Insect?, two children’s books published by Budding Biologist, a series started by Castronovo and the author of the books, Kristine Callis-Duehl.

The pair met while at a birth center, both pregnant with their first babies. With the coming of motherhood, Duehl began looking at children’s literature.

“I was astounded by the number of errors in children’s books,” Duehl said. “There wasn’t really anything on the market that was fun and scientifically accurate. For example, most books on insects include things such as spiders, scorpions, and earthworms. Misconceptions that are established at a young age tend to persist on some level into adulthood.”

Duehl graduated from the University of Florida with a Ph.D. in biology, but she admitted that she is, perhaps, not the strongest illustrator. With the desire to achieve scientific accuracy for children, Duehl turned to Castronovo.

“After talking to [Duehl], I started looking at children’s books and getting upset,” Castronovo said. “I just started working on it one day. I’m not sure [Duehl] even knew I was working on it.”

With the writing and art side of the book covered, Castronovo decided to bring in a third person.

“I make sure images and language are clear and easy for children to understand,” said Karen Boley, Budding Biologist’s education director. “For example, there was a picture of a whale that had to be tweaked because we determined that it could look like the whale was in the sky, and we wouldn’t want kids thinking whales can fly.”

To ensure that the books are accurate, they undergo a peer review in which the facts the books use are posted to a Facebook page that allow other scientists to critique the information.

However, it’s not only the written part of the book that needs to be checked for accuracy.

“I do a lot of research before I look at the manuscript,” Castronovo said. “I personally want children to know what animals actually look like. A lot of kids’ books tend to have anthropomorphized animals. One of the books my daughter had was so bad that I actually ended up getting rid of it.”

But the company’s dreams extends beyond just children’s books. On Monday, Budding Biologist released the video game Lizard Island: Observation, with the illustrations done by Castronovo.

The creators intend the game to be the first in a series of three. It allows the players to travel from island to island collecting scientific data. The Budding Biologist team hopes to see the game make its way into schools.

“Working on science educations has become my passion,” Duehl said. “It’s great to be able to capture natural curiosity and thinking of the world children can explore.”


WORDS
Katy Castronovo
When: 10 a.m. Saturday
Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque
Admission: Free


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