A scientist who has studied animal behaviour extensively, Constance O’Connor is fascinated by the complexity of animal families, and enjoys talking to children about nature. She lives in Thunder Bay, Canada, with her husband and kids. Constance and her co-writer, Natalia Rojas, will be visiting the Waverley Community Hub on Saturday, February 29th to read from their newly published book, Every Family is Different.
Shauna Kosoris: What was the inspiration behind your book, Every Family is Different?
Constance O’Connor: My co-author, Natalia [Rojas], is one of my good friends. She mentioned to me that as an early childhood educator, she finds it very hard to find books for small children that include different family structures presented in a simple way. I am a fish and aquatic biologist, and most of my work revolves around fish behaviour, and I am always thinking about all kinds of different animals. When she made that comment, I realized that we could write a book together, using different animal families to show children that there are all kinds of diverse family structures in the natural world. So often, animals in children’s books and movies are presented in a way that fits with traditional family structures and gender roles. But in the real world, there are all kinds of amazing diversity in animal families! We wanted to share some of these real animal families, with a positive and inclusive message.
How did you and Natalia end up working with your illustrator, Lucy Poley?
After Natalia and I wrote the book together, we realized that we had to find an illustrator. Lucy Poley is a fellow biologist, and although I’ve never met her in real life, I knew her through her scientific research, and also through her art, especially from following her on social media. I thought that her style of art would be perfectly suited to our story, and so I sent her an email. I am so happy that she wound up doing the illustrations for us, because I think that her beautiful illustrations really make the book special.
That they do, the illustrations are gorgeous. So how did you choose the animal families to focus on within the book?
We tried to include a good mix of different family structures, but also feature different kinds of animals, and from different parts of the world. We didn’t quite succeed; for example, we don’t have any insects, or any animals from Australasia. However, we did try to do our best to include a broad range of animals and locations, while also keeping the book an appropriate length for small children.
How long did it take you to write?
It wound up taking about a year and a half to write the book, and then it was another year to get through the publication process. It was definitely more work and took much longer than I had ever anticipated!
Every Family is Different was self-published. Why did you decide to go that route?
We really wanted to have Every Family is Different out in the world for children and parents to enjoy. We were worried that if we tried to go through a traditional publisher, it would be a lengthy process at best, and, at worst, we might lose momentum and it wouldn’t be published. So we decided that we would self-publish. Natalia had also already self-published a children’s book, and so she had a basic understanding of the process and what we would need to do, which was helpful.
Oh I bet! What were the most challenging aspects of working on this book?
I have found that the hardest part is navigating the sales and promotion aspects! It’s not something that I’m naturally inclined towards, or have a lot of experience with, and it’s also not something that I really thought about while we were writing the book.
That’s fair. What’s the most interesting fact you discovered when researching Every Family is Different?
Since I came at this from my biologist background, I was already familiar with the animals that we included in the book. But I am always discovering so many interesting facts about animals. For example, I just learned that clownfish (like Nemo from the movie Finding Nemo) all start out life as males, and then transform into females!
Wow, that’s fascinating! What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m on parental leave with my second baby, so that is taking up most of time! I do have a little seed of an idea for a second children’s book, but I’ll admit that it might wind up being a few more years before I dive back into it.
I’d like to finish up with a couple of questions about what you read. What book or author inspired you to write?
This is a great question, and I’m not sure that I know the answer. I don’t know that there’s a specific book or author that inspired me, but I have always liked reading and writing, and I have always liked animals. I was the kind of child who wrote endless short stories, mostly about animals. In university, I did a double major in biology and English literature. Even now with my job as a biologist, I really enjoy writing about the science.
Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
I think that everyone should read books that challenge them to think differently, and books that present different viewpoints.
And what are you currently reading?
Right now, I am reading a lot of books to my two small children, who are 3 years old, and 7 months old! My current favourite off their bookshelf is The Girl and the Wolf, written by Katherena Vermette, and illustrated by Julie Flett. I will admit that I am currently not being very good about making time to read for myself right now. I am part of a book club, and I am supposed to be reading The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, but I have not started it yet!