The Backstory: NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE
Cynthia Argentine is here with us today to share the inspiration behind her latest release, NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE (Millbrook, 2021). This stunning, nonfiction picture book will leave children in awe and ready to observe and explore the world around them.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Thank you for having me, Andrew! NIGHT BECOMES DAY introduces kids to transformations happening all around us in the natural world. It’s a nonfiction book that invites children ages 4-9 to pause and notice the dynamic nature of our planet. Whether on a beach, in a cave, or gazing at the sky, we see changes. Some are subtle, and some are dramatic! Either way, they can amaze us.
As a nature lover myself, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book and to share it with my children and the students I teach. The vibrant photographs are captivating! This book is perfect for helping kids develop a sense of wonder about the natural world.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
It was early spring, and I was watching the world outside my window change. I started thinking about how many specific things were changing. I thought about familiar transformations, like grass greening, as well as surprising transformations, like broccoli. Until I had grown my own broccoli, I did not know that the tight green buds would open into yellow blossoms. How many kids knew that? For that matter, how many kids had seen an apple grow, watching the full transformation from flower to fruit? As I listed examples of changes, the idea for the book began to form in my mind.
I knew there were many books about specific changes, like the life cycle of a frog or a butterfly. I wanted to create a book that displayed a whole array of changes—those involving plants, water, land, and sky. The first day I started work on it, I wrote this on my brainstorming page: “All of nature is constantly changing—one thing turning into another—and that means that sometimes things are not what they seem to be (or once were).” I had hit on a central theme—the universality of change. On that same initial page I also wrote this: “Even we are changing—growing, learning. This view of nature brings awe, wonder, beauty, and interconnectedness to our world.” That statement contained my vision, the layer of meaning that I hoped would underlie all the facts about science. With my theme and vision taking shape, I could begin to write the story.
I love how your careful observations of the world around you led to this book, which in turn is going to inspire future observations from children all around. It will open children's eyes to the everyday phenomena surrounding them that often go unnoticed.
(an interior spread)
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
I definitely wanted to work on it right away. Eight days after I wrote the brainstorming document mentioned above, I had a complete rough manuscript for a 32-page picture book. But it was really just the framework for the book. For several months after that, I researched the science behind many transformations and kept my eye out for additional examples that were less commonly taught. I experimented with ways to explain scientific ideas in very few words. And I filed away information that would become part of the back matter.
Including the common changes along with more obscure ones was a great idea. It provides some familiarity for children who may not gravitate towards nonfiction books while offering extensions and new learning for the children who are ready for it.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
So many places! Sometimes, ideas are based on my childhood or my kids. I have a rhyming picture book to submit that is based on an outdoor experience my kids had one winter. Other times, I get ideas from what I read. I have a picture book biography coming out in a couple years (YAY!) about a person I discovered through a general email from my college. For another picture book biography, I found my subject in an intriguing paragraph in Smithsonian magazine.
Such a range of inspiration! You are right that ideas can come from anywhere and it is really up to us as authors to be aware of and open to those sparks in our everyday lives.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
Many, many children’s books remind me of all that is beautiful, difficult, and fun about this art form. But years before I began writing for children, I was interested in the general craft of writing. The following three books honed that interest.
The Careful Writer, by Theodore M. Bernstein. This reference book is full of practical advice sprinkled with witty humor.
The Literary Journalists, edited by Norman Sims. A professor assigned this in a college course. It opened my eyes to the creativity and importance of great nonfiction writing.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. The originality of her writing about nature and faith inspires me.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Windows. I situated my desk so that I look out two windows.
Manila file folders. With all the research involved in concurrent projects, I have lots to file!
Spiral notebooks. I have one for each project, and it serves as a guidebook to all the other places I store information. I number the pages and make my own Table of Contents on the first page. There are pages for title ideas, structure ideas, summaries of critiques, and much more.
Three-ring binders. I type up, print out, and three-hole punch the texts of picture books I love.
Tea. I’m always drinking a cup of hot tea.
Me at my desk. Apollo usually sits on the landing outside my open door.
First, what a cute writing companion you have in Apollo!
Second, your spiral notebook organization is amazing and it sounds like an art form in and of itself! What a great way to keep all of the pertinent working pieces of a story in one place. I am sure many readers will be inspired to explore this strategy further.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
I’ll share a couple of quotes currently posted in my office that inspire me.
“In the particular is contained the universal.” – attributed to James Joyce
“Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” – attributed to Frederick Buechner
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
Sure! I mentioned a few in the question above about where I get my ideas. I also have a collection of poetry, a nonfiction concept book, and a humorous look at animal adaptations in the works. And I have lots of ideas for future nonfiction projects!
Yes, congratulations on your forthcoming biography and on these other works in progress. They all sound amazing and I look forward to seeing them in print.
Where can people connect more with you?
My website is a great place to start: www.cynthiaargentine.com. I have a contact form there, plus blog posts, PDFs of some science articles, resources for teachers, a downloadable glossary for Night Becomes Day, links to Pinterest boards, and news about upcoming events. You can also reach me on social media. 😊
I’m participating in a free virtual book launch with author SK Wenger, hosted by The Writing Barn, on Saturday, October 9, at 11 am CT (noon ET). We would love to have you join us!
Readers be sure to connect with Cynthia and check out her gorgeous website for loads of resources and to stay in the know about her latest book happenings. And if you have time, check out Cynthia and SK's launch event. What a great opportunity to hear from two talented authors in one place!
Cynthia thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and share all about the inspiration behind NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE (Millbrook, 2021).
Cynthia is generously offering a signed copy of NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE to one lucky winner. (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT CYNTHIA ARGENTINE
Cynthia Argentine writes creative nonfiction for children and teens. Her book Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature (2021, Millbrook Press) uses vibrant photos and language to highlight the dynamic nature of our world. Her book STEAM Jobs in Cybersecurity (2019, Rourke Educational Media) covers the importance of cybersecurity, including “Fast Facts” about famous computer hacks. Cynthia has also written STEM articles for national magazines. Prior to writing, she earned degrees in English, environmental science, and environmental law and worked as an environmental consultant. She loves how writing nonfiction means always learning something new.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.