PB&J Episode 3: Interview with Dr. Cara Florance
Corrie: Hello and welcome to a interview series by the Picture Bookstagang Crew, Picture Books & Justice is a series where we interview a creator from the picture book world and get to know them a little better. To us there’s nothing better than a beautiful spellbinding picture book that has social justice themes. The picture book world is a big beautiful place, and we are excited to hear different experiences and opinions in a shorter time frame than our full length picture bookstagang episodes. PB&J is your afternoon book snack, so let’s dig in!
A 0:43: Welcome to another episode of PB and J Picture Books and Justice the Picture Bookstagang Podcast series where we interview authors illustrators and other members of the publishing industry! Today I am so excited to have on her show doctor Cara Florance who is a phD in biochemistry and and author of a whole bunch of books for children most recently she’s been working on her “Baby Medical School” series which is CO authored with her husband Jon who is also a medical doctor and the series includes “My Doctor’s Visit” which is my Toddler Willow’s absolute favourite book she carries it in a little lady bug backpack everywhere she goes “Vaccines,” “Bacteria and Antibodies,” “DNA” and “Enzymes” “Proteins” and “RNA.” Doctor Florance also Co-authored a number of the “Baby University” series books the “ABC’s of Biology,” “Nuclear Physics for Babies,” and “Organic Chemistry for Babies” and a “Evolution for Babies” so it’s a just a light reading list of some very a light topics there. And you may also know her from her Instagram account which is very popular she provides a lot of activities for children to do that are science based at home or in the classroom, and she has re children! You have an awful lot welcome Cara!
Cara 210: Hi! Thank you for having me! Thanks for listing all the good things and not all the chaos that is actually going on here.
A 2:22: Ah well, you know I think that when you have all that happening there’s gonna be some chaos, let’s get down to it. I have so many questions for you. You have a phD in biochemistry and you ended up focusing on science for children and writing for children is that what you always wanted to do?
C 2:38: So no it actually wasn’t what I always wanted to do. I always thought I would just be a researcher it was something I loved and that I was good at and I thought I balanced it well. After my first kid was born things changed a lot though I had like an awesome job and everyone was really supportive of me being a new mom it just felt silly to me? Like I was missing out on a lot with my daughter, you know, for what? Time I wasn’t going to get back. So I quit. But I felt like I needed to stay like mentally stimulated and frankly, make money because my husband was in school at the time and not working. So I just dabbled into a couple of side hustles and I started the books! And a started the Instagram account to promote them I started doing and I was posting the activities with my daughter and I kind of have a child centric focus. No I don’t think I ever thought I would be here, no Cara 10 years ago would be like “wait what are you doing?” But I love it, so and I’m very happy with where I am and it up and I’m confidant I could always go back to research and you know and do the whole traditional phD thing, mommy thing.
A 3:57: Now, you really glazed over a lot there that I think is really interesting about how you ended up becoming a published author with Source Books-which is like a really big dea! You know? You started out as a self published author can you tell us a little bit about that journey and how you ended up having book deals and working with Chris Ferrie?
C 4: 22: That is still a crazy story to me because my books were, I mean hot garbage before I started working with people at Source Books, I mean like traditional publishing is such an asset! So yeah! Chris to promote the books used to do Twitter there’s like an active science communication community there and they had this hashtag campaign that was basically like for Bill Nye and like Bill Nye is like great and all but let’s not like lets not let one stereotypical science guy who doesn’t have expertise city in really any of these fields that he speaks on. He’s representing us as scientists and so they stick was people who tag Bill Nye and introduce themselves with their expertise and little idiosyncrasies about themselves. So I tweeted about my research and that I wrote kids’ books and Bill Nye retweeted me I think he called me a nerd. Which was strange! But he has like a bajillion followers that all care about science so that all went well for my account and the books and in addition to that Christ had seen that tweet and he got the books, and he contacted me to co-author some books to help expand his “Baby University” series and that was just wild Hahaha. Pretty excited. But the publisher ended up signing the rights to my published books, and, here we are! I got incredibly lucky you know?
A 5:56:Yeah so your self published books are they all the same topics as the ones that you’ve already released or are they not?
C 6:06: Yeah they’re all exactly the same topics and so we fixed up the illustrations made them just like more modern and then I guess wording, making it more easy for all audiences to understand. Because I had originally wrote them for other parents in science so it was it was like really tongue in cheek and really nitty gritty stuff that like really doesn’t belong in a kid’s books and then also the editing process was fantastic and I had a great experience with is s I’m just happy with the are now and horribly embarrassed about with what they were before.
A 6:49: Oh I don’t think there’s anything to be embarrassed about they obviously started an entire book collection for yourself here. So I am really curious about how you feel like working with Source Books, how was that different from your own process by yourself? Because a lot of people who listen to us actually are aspiring authors and they probably want to improve their own self published work .
C 7:13: I had originally wrote the books for how I would speak to my daughter to explain things and I think you know she has the benefit of being able to ask me other details about the RNA or Antibiotics. But I think when Kelly my editor goes through my blogs she more focuses on word choice, accessibility. II just think this is it a tired phrase but two heads are better than one in the end. I love having different perspectives and you can get really myopic and and love your own work and then when she keep that step back after you get feedback… it’s just I didn’t explain that part OK. I’m sorry.
A 8:06: That’s okay! No actually that I totally understand what you mean and you know we get a lot of people who send us or ask to send us books that they have you know self published and a lot of the time you can tell that the very passionate about whatever they’re writing about but they haven’t may be shown it to other people for like genuine feedback before. So they are like really close to it and it and it produces a book that isn’t for other people to read. You know?
C 8:34 Yeah and I think especially sometimes you show it to people that love you and even if they’re good friends they wouldn’t give you true feedback that your job depends on. And I think that’s what was lacking in mine and thenI had also put out several versions of my books. The first ones were just like really basic and I just did them to have at home because the way you can self-published nowadays is with Amazon and they just print them and there’s really no money down and I just you know put in up and bought them but when I actually started like selling on Amazon I was like “I better fix these!” and then you know they got slightly better but it was just a wild process from going from 0 kids with 0 early childhood education and experience to all of this was quite a big learning curve for me.
9:30 A: Well it’s interesting because I do, I am a follower of yours as you know, for a long time now and you have so many wonderful activities that are very appropriate for you know an early years classroom so you’ve you definitely gone from 0 to a 100 and terms of like throwing yourself into the early education. Have you, how did you, I guess get that experience or that that lens of of turning science into activities for kids
10:02 C: Yeah so it was a lot of reflection on my own childhood, on what stuck with me and the things I remembered and the things I learned because obviously I like science now. And also as my daughter got older you know you can try things out and I try to be honest about the activities that don’t actually work or were they completely pointless or not. And then I also it just try to read a lot about people who know what they’re doing with kids and techniques that work I’m on strategies on how to introduce things so that’s been a learning process for me too and I think my account has gotten better with the activities too because if you scroll back it’s like, wow, hahaha.
10:53 A: Yeah! And I think that being an Instagram myself I feel like as we go along we all.. it’s a process of improvement right? We learn from everything from how we take the photos to the kinds of things we put up there. And then I also like, “let’s just archive a couple posts”hahaha. Now this is an interview series that is focused on picture books and social Justice and your books take a really strong stance on making accurate evidence based scientific fact available not just to children but parents as well and some of the topics that you have written about are quite contentious in the United States, like vaccines or antibiotics, or evolution for that matter! Like have you have you had a lot of push back on that.
11:47 C: So surprisingly I haven’t and that it still wild to me when it when I had self-published that vaccines books in the review section on Amazon I guess it had been posted to an anti-vaccine website and we had like 50 zero stars reviews. I mean that doesn’t get at me I guess you meant you find those expect it, but that was about it. Chris and I thought the Evolution book was going to be super controversial but nothing! I haven’t had to defend it, I wouldn’t even mind discussing it because I kind of wish people would have given us a hard time. I don’t think the concept of God or the theory of evolution need to be at odds with each other and so I would be interested to talk to people who passionately don’t feel that way. For this version the vaccines nothing really of note either. Every time I post it on social media I get so nervous and I’m gonna lose a whole day arguing with people on the Internet but the worst I’ve gotten is DMs saying that they’re going unfollow me or are that they won’t be buying my book and I can handle that know?
13:08 A: So you were prepared for a barrage, you were ready for it and the storm and come!
13:14: Yeah! And I’m sure it will you know, because the books just came out a couple a couple months ago. I don’t know not that I would relish it but I feel like I can relate to all mothers you do stress about and you love your children just like anti-vaccers. And I don’t like to call them that, it feels disrespectful but I don’t know what to call them. So I can see why they’re so passionate about the topic it’s funny because I’m reverse on vaccines. It’s funny one year I forgot to get my oldest vaccinated for the flu shot and I was like oh my God I can’t bring them to the library because they’re going to get the flu. But obviously it’s dumb to stress about that. But I get how myopic you can get when you is about your children’s safety but in that respect you’re never really going to convince many of the antivax people so you know just again the fact that their trying to protect their children so logic and finding comfort in statistics is easily throw logic out the window. And in addition asking people go completely trust a product from an industry who has already done some shady stuff in the past it’s difficult and I get it. I know that there’s mistrust for biotech and I get how people want to have autonomy and it sounds really scary and in my mind I guess, I feel like the best way to go about it, and, and I have done this in person with family members, is to give the parents and the kids some type of foundation to understand the topics that are so science heavy. Some of the anti vax arguments can be cleared up really easily if there’s just a better understanding of some of the concepts and I guess instead of wagging my finger and saying “Get your kids vaccinated you’re a horrible mother” I just try to spread science learning I can in my accounts or on the books and hopefully reach some of the people the parents and hopefully reach the kids that will soon be adult members of societey and just help people make decisions through knowledge and better analytical choices and antibias tools rather than just a like ‘trust me I’m a scientist.’
15:45 A: So do you feel that a fundamental lack of science understanding in the United States can be attributed to the entire anti-vax movement?
15:56 C: Yeah and that’s something that I wish I knew, you know because we up until college I thinking of people required to take some like basic science courses and the stuff that they learn/ I don’t know if it’s necessary for every student to learn and I really think you know where does it get us? We have people who are college educated refusing to get their vaccines and then we’re in the middle of a pandemic and people refusing to wear masks! And I just I don’t get it, and so I guess the way that we teach science probably needs to change and giving people more tools. I know I know there has been a push to to try to teach people go to recognize there biases and that also applies to science tob because once you kind of make up your mind with something like personal autonomy like a vaccine or being troubled enough to wear mask you really throw the logic out the window and you can’t really… sometimes people just ignore the factual science so I think it would benefit people to also introduce just some analytical thinking topics in school. I get I guess trusting of science more which is the hard part too. You know scientists are often viewed as these geeky people or I mean just not people that you would know and I think a large push and at least a science communication community is to show that we’re normal people and we don’t want to hurt your children.
17:40 A: So you you feel like it a lot of it has to do with the fact that people don’t relate or don’t feel like you’re somebody, or not you but like the science community in general, somebody that they feel open to trusting”
17:54 C: That’s the impression that I got or that I get when it when I speak to people you know that like man made things are inherently dangerous and I think there’s a large overlap with people trusting natural products instead of man made things and it would be helpful to clear up some of those misunderstandings too. I wonder. There used to be these home Ec classes to choose like very specific things like how to sew and I can cook and I wonder if there are should be science classes that I mean openly discuss vaccines or the use essential oils to heal hahah,
18:35 A: What you don’t like essential oils for all your healing needs?
18:44 C: Yeah so just some of the common misunderstandings. Discussion goes a long way with and peers and people that that you can relate to.
18:56 A: Thait that is such a like a of big topic though the whole idea that people are not sure where to put their trust when they are consuming goods like they like the idea of the essential oil lifestyle where you know everyone has salt crystals and it’s all very calm. But I have to wonder, you know, how much of this is also a lack of understanding for when you are putting your trust in a person understanding what their credentials are? Because I mean whether or not you trust that say the scientific community, why are you putting your trust in somebody who has no credentials whatsoever? Like what do you think their reasoning behind that is?
19:48 C: I know it’s it’s so fascinating to me and I really think it would be an interesting psychological study to study people. :ike you know II would much prefer even though I love herbal teas and that I don’t know you know that season of Outlander where she’s using all the herbs to heal everything?
20:10 A: Oh yes, very romantic!
20:11 C: So cool! But how I would just really rather things to be clinically tested before I put them in my body, haha. And I don’t have a trust in nature I think like most the nature. Or All of nature doesn’t care about us. And it has no incentive, we’re kinda hurting the earth. But yeah it’s really interesting to me and I wish I had an answer for it.
20:45 A: It’s a lot, may be a little bit of the privilege of being able to choose a romantic lifestyle
20:55 C: That is absolutely true and and I have been incredibly guilty of that recently we just moved down to North Carolina and there are so many mosquitoes down here and with the new baby I don’t want to like douse myself in deet because you know she’s like a little sensitive bundle of skin. And then it’s like wow how a privileged am I saying now that I have you know like a gallon of deet and then there’s people in like the malaria belt with would love to have access to things like Deet and and I just I felt so horrible you know I that’s a great point you just really have to check your privilege when you I’ve focus I’m I’m under what you’re obsessing about at the moment.
21:48 A: And you know I did that myself the other day with sunscreen I was like all but sunscreen I don’t know what’s in it then and although here in Canada I think I regulations are a little bit better, I’m in Canada by the way. But I was like you know people would have wished for sunscreen and like skin cancer- and what am I doing? What am I doing? You know stuff gets into your head when you really can you should be scared and even though I must science believing person I love vaccines! I was like give my kid extra vaccines please give us the vaccines you know even I get a little bit scared sometimes. So when one last question for you today what do you think the most important thing parents can do especially now that we’re all stuck at home with ou kids to foster a love of science in their children.
22:39 C: I know you say the most important I would say two different things. So I would never be afraid to say “I don’t know” to them. I feel like that is so important to model that it’s OK to not have a clue what the answer is and that if it’s finds look stuff up. It’s absolutely fine then it’s totally normal and it’s better than just you know faking knowledge. In terms of what you can do for your kid to keep them active, and this is actually what made kids are doing most of the time the and the it’s just tinkering and so we have this corner in the house that is in absolute mass constantly and I just dump junk there like recycling like old somewhat safe parts from electronics and they just make stuff. It isn’t only science they’re just making anything. Like becoming frustrated with it, creating. My daughter made paper shoes for everyone the other day. The youngest one like went outside and she got them wet and that was just the most fun tantrum to have. So there’s a lot of problem solving there, you know like what paper is hydrophobic so how can we stop this from happening again. and in say you don’t it’s not directed or anything by it it doesn’t have to be sciencey but it is incredibly beneficial play. So yeah I would say just have a place where you dump junk and let the let them go at it, it’s the best.
24:28 A: I actually I 100% agree with you and I feel like so many parents right now they want, you know, they want activities all wrapped up in a bundle because they are afraid to just let go. And the reality is that in the classroom like, I’m a of a classroom teacher as well, we we just let them tinker sometimes and that often like the best thing that they can possibly do, so I love that that is what you said because it is 100% totally with you on it. So thank you so much for coming on our show and talking to us today loved!
25:04 C:Thank you so much for having wished he had its nice to solidify some of the the thoughts.
25:12 A: Yeah! And so thank you for listening and everybody and if you haven’t already please subscribe to the Picture Bookstagang Podcast let us know what you’re reading about on our Instagram and go follow @Cara_Florance Right! Thank you!