This interview was conducted by the staff of Flamingnet. It is re-published with their permission.
The Mangrove Tree. The nonfiction story is geared toward readers ages 9 – 12. It tells of a doctor’s unique solution to save a country.
1. What inspired you to write The Man-grove Tree?
My friend Susan Roth told me the story of Gordon Sato's planting project in Eritrea and asked me to help her turn it into a picture book. Her husband, who is a biologist, knew Gordon through international science circles. I had edited several of Susan's picture books when I was in the children's books publishing field.
2. What will readers learn from the story?
They'll learn what a big impact a small act can have on a group of people, and that it doesn't take a lot of money to make a real change.
3. Tell us about the Manzanar project.
The Manzanar Project is Dr. Gordon Sato's very successful experiment in planting mangrove trees to help impoverished villag-ers in Hargigo, Eritrea to become self-sustaining. Gordon had helped the Eritrean people during their war of independence with Ethiopia--they won it in 1991--and he liked the Eritreans. He wanted to help them build their country after the war, and he decided what they needed was a plentiful crop to feed their sheep and goats. He chose mangroves because their leaves are nutritious and they grow in salty water, which Eritrea has lots of--much of the coun-try lies on the coast of the Red Sea. The gen-ius of the project is that he figured out if you plant a cheap bag of fertilizer next to a man-grove seedling, it gets the same nutrients it would get in nature (mangroves grow natu-rally where freshwater and saline water sources meet) and the tree could grow in sea-water alone.
4. Why did you want to write a story that incorporated science?
It's more that I wanted to tell this story, which meant that I had to do a lot of scien-tific research, and of course, I wanted to get everything just right.
5. Was science your favorite subject in school? If not, what was your favorite sub-ject?
I loved chemistry and biology in high school, but when I got to college, I decided to major in English. I would rather be a writer first and then do the science research in service to the story.
6. Who is your favorite character in the story? Was this character based off of a real life person?
Dr. Sato is the real-life hero of the book and he is my personal hero. It's funny, I didn't
really have one before I wrote The Mangrove Tree.Now when I talk about him I get all choked up. He's 83 and still visiting the three locations of the Manzanar Project in Africa. The project is now in Mauritania and Mo-rocco as well as Eritrea. Susan and I got to meet and interview Gordon in February 2010 and it was thrilling to hear facts from him that weren't in any other printed source about the project. There are a few of those in the book.
7. Where are you from? What is your oc-cupation? Is this your first story? Is the story co-authored?
I'm from Montclair, New Jersey and I live in New Jersey now with my family. I am an editor of elementary classroom programs in reading and language arts, and I've written four other nonfiction books and a novel for children called
The Genie in the Book. I did the primary research and writing for The Mangrove Tree, and then my co-author, Susan, read each draft and made suggestions.
8. Does the book have illustra-tions? Where did the ideas for the illustra-tions originate?
The book is illustrated throughout with Susan Roth's collage art, and the photos at the back of the book show the inspiration for the art.
9. If you had to share a favorite para-graph from the story, which one would it be?
The one in the back where we quote Gordon, who was interned in the Manzanar concentration camp as a teenager, saying that he called his project The Manzanar Project to show that it is possible to fight injustice with hope.
10. After your manuscript was accepted by the publishers, what suggestions did the publisher give you to revise it?
The best one, which came from our edi-tor, was to put the cumulative poem about the project on one side of the page, and the fac-tual material on the other. We had originally written just the poem, with a lot of facts in the afterword, and she showed us we could pull the facts out and put them alongside the poem. That meant the story could be read by a wide range of age groups, with younger kids reading the left side of the text and older kids or parents reading the right side.
11. For fun - What is your favorite science subject? Did you take any science classes in college? If you could invent something, what would it be? If you could discover something new, what would it be?
If you could find a cure for something, what would you want to cure? If you could go back in time and see an extinct animal, which animal would you want to see? My favorite science subject is chemistry. I took chemistry and biology in college, but I felt the professors approached the subjects in a very dry, multiple-choice manner and I quickly changed my major from chemistry to English.
My invention and discovery would be a cure for cancer, since I have seen many fam-ily members succumb to it. Interestingly, Gordon Sato's ability to fund his African planting projects comes from co-holding the patent for a very successful cancer drug called Erbitux.
Going back in time, I would love to see Archaeopteryx. I edited a book on the "dinosaur-bird" and I've been fascinated ever since. It's interesting how theories about the animal change with each new discovery.
12. Why is science important?
I think that scientific discoveries can help nudge us to be better people if we pay atten-tion to them.
Read more about
The Mangrove Tree. Check out Flamingnet’s reviews by teens at http://www.flamingnet.com/author/trombore.html
Read more about the Rolex Award for Enterprise at http://www.rolexawards.com/en/the-laureates/gordonsato-home.jsp