When Vermont writer and educator Katy Farber was growing up in Pennsylvania, she saw another child throw an Eastern newt against a wall at summer camp. "Knock it off!" she remembers shouting.
Farber's lifelong love of the natural world and her drive to protect the environment — and amphibians in particular — have carried her far in her adult life. This month, Farber celebrates the publication of her first picture book, Salamander Sky. It comes on the heels of her 2015 young adult novel, The Order of the Trees — the recipient of a Green Earth Book Award.
Salamander Sky stars a curious little girl and her scientist mother, with beautiful illustrations by Meg Sodano. The pair venture into a rainy night to help vulnerable migrating salamanders across a road. The story teaches young readers about life cycles, adaptations and human impact, and demonstrates how kids and adults can make a meaningful difference in their world.
The Middlesex mother of 10- and 12-year-old daughters, who share Farber's "utter delight" in the natural world, recently spoke with Kids VT about her work.
Kids VT: I'm impressed by your range of writing — from three adult nonfiction books about education to award-winning children's literature. How do you write such different books?
Katy Farber: I've always been a writer and observer of the world. I've been honored with ideas that came to me, and I don't honor genre. I ask myself, What are the things that bother you, and how can you tackle that? Through nonfiction and creativity, I've been given the ability to do a lot of things.
KVT: The illustrations in this book are so evocative of Vermont in springtime. Did you have a specific place in mind when you wrote this story?
KF: Salamander Sky was inspired by the dirt road right in front of my house, with a nearby wetland filled with cattails, leeches and amphibians. It's one of my family's favorite places that we've been going to for years, and it's an active crossing spot.
KVT: Tell us about your unusual book launch at Montpelier's North Branch Nature Center on March 10.
KF: There will be great big salamander cookies. I'm going to put that right out there, because this is a kids' book and snacks are important. I'm going to read from the book and talk a little about the creative process. Bear Pond Books will be there with Salamander Sky and many other books about amphibians. The North Branch Nature Center and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies will have presentations about migration, vernal pools and citizen science. Kids can learn about salamander crossing places and how they can help protect amphibians.
KVT: What do you hope readers will get out of this book?
KF: I hope Salamander Sky inspires people to see the beauty of the sunshine, but also of rainy nights and the hidden pockets of what is not usually seen. Slow down. Notice the intricate beauty of the world and work to protect our world. Remember that clean water is an incredibly important resource.
KVT: What's your advice for young writers?
KF: Aspire to write and be who you want to be. Too many stories have been filtered or discouraged. Don't worry about what happens later. That comes after you've written your words. I encourage reckless abandon to get your story out.
Visit katyfarber.com for more information.
A book launch party for Salamander Sky takes place on Saturday, March 10, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., at North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier. Farber will read from and sign her book at other venues this month, including:
- The Nature Museum in Grafton, Saturday, March 3, 1-2:30 p.m.
- Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Sunday, March 11, 1-3 p.m.
- Bridgeside Books in Waterbury, Saturday, March 17, 10:30 a.m.-noon.
- Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, Saturday, March 24, 10:30-11:30 a.m.