Please join us in congratulating Susan Edwards Richmond on her debut picture book coming out in October 2019. BIRD COUNT (pre-order now) is a counting book that takes children on an adventure through different habitats, while educating about the various birds that live there. When you read about Susan’s extensive background and love for nature, you can see why she is the perfect person to write this book. So, grab your binoculars and keep a look out for this one because it’s sure to fly off the shelves.
What other jobs or careers have you worked in prior to becoming an author?
As a teen, I picked vegetables on a farm, taught swimming lessons at a city lakefront, worked in a bakery, babysat, and cleaned houses. Since then, my jobs have remained diverse but, looking back, I can see how they have all fed three passions—writing, education, and the natural world.
Fresh out of college, I taught high school English and journalism at a boarding school in Switzerland. I was a passionate teacher for my senior students, but, as a dorm resident for kids just three or four years my junior, I doubt I impressed then director of residential life, Sharon Rigg (aka Sharon Creech)! She, however, was an early inspiration for me. Since then I’ve worked as a writer and editor in educational publishing, in environmental consulting, and for a super cool nonprofit called the JASON Foundation for Education, where I helped develop experiential science curricula for middle schoolers. Off and on, I’ve taught writing at universities, in adult ed programs, and in a correctional facility. Now, I balance the best job I could imagine—teaching at a nature-based preschool on a farm and wildlife sanctuary—with writing picture books about nature and science!
Where do you find your ideas?
Everywhere I go! All my life, I’ve kept notebooks to capture thoughts, quotes, and striking images and conversations. But my greatest inspiration is nature. I’m an avid bird watcher and naturalist, and many of my poems and stories come from closely observing my environment—and the questions that arise from watching and listening.
I love to research my subjects and learn about the natural and human history of wild creatures and places. For example, my debut picture book, Bird Count, arose from my own participation in National Audubon Society’s annual bird census called the Christmas Bird Count. My editor at Peachtree Publishing Company, Inc., Vicky Holifield, worked tirelessly with me to draw out my birding expertise to enhance the Citizen Science element of the story, while building an engaging adventure for children. I’m so grateful for her support, and for pairing the text with Stephanie Fizer Coleman’s vibrant, charming, and accurate illustrations. A perfect blend!
What do you hope your writing will do for those who read your work?
I want my writing to give my audience the experience of nature, to refresh their spirits and imaginations in a way only nature can, and to foster the idea of our community with the Earth. I hope my picture books, in particular, will bring the joy and wonder of the outdoors to children who may have limited exposure to nature, and will inspire those who can to seek a closer relationship with all of our fellow beings, both human and nonhuman.
How did you get started writing for kids?
Until my children were born, I wrote primarily nature-based poetry for adults. I had the good fortune to work as a science education writer and editor from home, while we raised our children, and this allowed me more time to reflect, and more opportunities to view the world through a child’s eyes. We read picture books as a family at every opportunity, and wise and lyrical stories, such as Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius and Cynthia Rylant’s A Night in the Country, made a deep impression on me. A House by the Sea by Joanne Ryder, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, was another favorite, because of our family’s love of seaside adventure. I began to see how my favorite picture books shared many of the qualities of poetry—rhythm and repetition, strong imagery, and spare, beautiful language. I believed my background as a poet would serve me well with my new interest in children’s picture books. So when my girls were a few years old, I joined my local SCBWI critique group and dove in.
What were favorite books when you were a kid?
As a young child, I enjoyed the playfulness of Dr. Seuss and books like Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire and Go Dog Goby P.D. Eastman. On one of my first visits to the library, I swept up all of the Beatrix Potter books on the shelf and read every single one!
Later, it was the Marguerite Henry horse novels, Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, and the original Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warren that inspired me. When I was in fourth grade, my teacher introduced the class to A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and that book has remained a touchstone for me to this day. Another novel, The Year of the Raccoon by Lee Kingman, affected me so strongly that I reread it annually for years, to re-experience those deep emotions. I tackled the Tolkien trilogy in elementary school because my closest friends were reading them—and found I loved the immersive experience of those worlds. And I will never forget the shock waves I experienced on my first reading of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, perhaps the seminal young adult novel.
What would you like readers to know about you?
I was born in California, raised in upstate New York, and have been a Massachusetts resident for most of my adult life. I love to travel, to experience new cultures, and to try cuisines from around the world. In the Boston area, my husband Jim and I are always on the lookout for small, family-run restaurants that specialize in flavors from different countries. Our daughters, Elana and Sonia, are now in their twenties, and we like nothing better than to join them on their adventures in different parts of the country and the world, from San Diego and South Korea to more local family favorites like Acadia National Park and the northeast coast from Cape Cod all the way up through Canada. I hope that all my young readers find dreams to guide them and experience the we