Q&A With Children's Book Author Dianna Hutts Aston
When we were curating the Wonderkin Nest Box, we immediately knew that Dianna Hutts Aston's book A Nest Is Noisy would be the perfect title to include. The simple, poetic text and eye-catching illustrations make it a favorite for little ones, while older readers (adults included!) will find lots to learn in the carefully researched supporting text included on every page.
Dianna is passionate about spreading love and appreciation for the natural world, and it was an honor to get to talk with her!
What is your favorite outdoor childhood memory?
I remember when I was in first grade I found a whole bunch of pill bugs under my front doormat and stated using rocks to make a little architectural plan for them. I built them all rooms and decorated with leaves and grass until I had all these little roly poly houses. Another time my cousins and I found a dead wasp, so we came up with the idea for a bug cemetery. We used our fingertips as the shovel to dig little holes, and then buried the bugs and put stones on top for tombstones.
Another profound memory was from when I was nine years old. My parents had just split up, and I'd had to move across town, leaving behind all my friends and going into the unknown. I remember going out of my house and sitting on the curb and seeing this little flower growing up through a crack in the cement. In a world that suddenly made no sense to me, I found that nature made sense. In this world of standardized tests and parents breaking up and bullying and all these things that cause stress, nature really is the place we can go for refuge and comfort and renewal.
What inspired you to become an author?
I didn’t ever think “oh I want to be an author.” But when I was little I loved to read and I loved to write. My crib was my first library. I didn’t want my stuffed animals, I wanted my books. I majored in journalism, and had a series of cool jobs, including as the editor of a weekly paper. The only thing was that I didn’t like being told what to write and when to do it.
Then my kids were born, and of course I started reading them picture books. I thought, ok, I'm not writing anymore, I'm being a mother and working like crazy at that, but I'm not earning anything. So I decided to start writing for kids. I thought it would be so easy, because I was a writer, but no, it took me four years of basically checking out forty children's books from the library every week and trying my hand at it. I probably got 200 "no thank you's" before I finally got a yes.
It’s clear that your books require a lot of research! What is your process like?
The research is really fun! All research is, really, is a scary name for “I wonder.” When I find myself wondering something, I'll begin to do some research. Most often it's online. If there are questions I can't find answers to, then I reach out to someone at a university, usually a professor, and ask what I need to know.
Right now I'm researching shells, and I'm finding that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know! I found out that there are people who just study mollusks - they're called malacologists - so now I've become friends with a malacologist in Houston!
So pretty much I start my research online, and then generally end up finding an expert. But you know, an expert doesn’t have to be professor. If I want to know how an engine works, I'll go up the street and talk to a mechanic!
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while researching A Nest Is Noisy?
The most enchanting nest-builder I encountered was the flamingo! They make these amazing mud nests, just full of little pellets of mud, and they're two feet high! The flamingos lay just one egg in the little indentation in the mud nest, but since the nest is so tall it protects the egg from being swept away by a current of water. And the flamingo's diet is what makes them pink!
What is your favorite children's book (other than your own titles)?
Andrew Henry’s Meadow by Doris Burn. It's about a boy who is so creative and clever and is always building things. He tries to build things in his house, but his family doesn't want him to, so he goes out into the meadow and builds his own house out there entirely from things he’s found outdoors. The story goes on and on until there's a whole village built out of natural materials and discarded things that nobody wants. You know, I wanted to live there!
Finish this sentence: “Spending time in nature makes me feel…”
The purest happiness you can imagine. When I'm alone outdoors I feel at one with the universe, with everybody and everything. It's just a perfect happiness.
Dianna Hutts Aston is the critically acclaimed author of numerous award-winning children's books, including a series of six science titles created with illustrator Sylvia Long that have now been translated into eight languages!
You can learn more about Dianna online at www.diannahaston.com.