Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Celebrating Earth Day: A Conversation with Molly Bang

Molly Bang inspires me with her luminous artwork and her ability to convey complex scientific processes through a narrative story that appeals to young children. I wanted to talk with her about how she tries to convey her understanding of the way our Earth works to young children. She has written several books with her longtime friend Penny Chisholm, a biologist from MIT who studies microscopic phytoplankton and photosynthesis.

Molly Bang
MAS: What were your hopes and goals in creating your Sunlight Series of books?

MB: We are a part of nature. And the more we forget that, the more we are going to be in trouble, as we already are. And what Penny and I are hoping is that with an understanding of how we are a tiny part of the system of the natural world, the better we will be able to make decisions.

We also wanted to make these books as literary and beautiful and clear and simple as we possibly could. We both wanted to make these books that children would really want to read, not books that they had to read. And that they would be as good as any kind of a story book.

MAS: That’s something I really enjoy about your books, this idea of creating a kind of narrative in the story. I love how the sun talks directly to the child.

MB: We tried to figure out a way “in” for each book. So for My Light, the city lights look like stars that have fallen to Earth, and indeed they are. For Living Sunlight, the sun tells the child to hold your hand over your heart. “Feel how warm you are. That is my light, alive inside of you." As soon as we made the sun the speaker, it made all the difference. We kept that throughout, and the trick has been how to involve the child right from the first sentence. Ocean Sunlight begins with, “Dive in,” pulling the child right into the action. Our newest book, out this fall, is Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth.

MAS: Why did you call it Buried Sunlight?

MB: Well, that’s exactly what it is! Sunlight was caught in carbon chains millions of years ago and buried under layers of sand and rock. And now we’re releasing that sunlight energy several thousands of times faster than it got buried. It's vitally important for children - and their parents! - to understand this disconnect.

This interview was originally conducted for Parents Press, a local newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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