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Spotlight on Science Writers: Paul Fleischman



A select group of authors who have won or been finalists for the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books have been invited to write or record an introduction to one of their books. We have suggested a few guidelines, but the format and content have been chosen by each author and will be appropriate for their book's intended audience. Science NetLinks will include related classroom resources appropriate for students and educators at the end of each Spotlight on Science Writers post. You can read all the posts in this series here.


The house in New hampshire where Paul Fleischman house-sat. Photo used with permission.


Paul Fleischman on Eyes Wide Open: Going behind the Environmental Headlines:

When I was 19, I rode a bicycle from Los Angeles to Vancouver, took the train across Canada, and ended up house-sitting the house in the photo, in a clearing in the New Hampshire woods. I'd never been out of the west, never seen snow falling, never lived in the country. 

I bought a paperback guide to birds, and gradually the foreign began to feel familiar. It turned out that those were barn swallows swooping over my field and black-capped chickadees in the maples. I'd never noticed birds before. Suddenly they seemed to be everywhere. The same was true of trees and wildflowers, weather and geology. They'd been hiding in plain sight all around me my whole life. Suddenly my eyes were open to them all.

I tried to give readers of Eyes Wide Open that same experience of noticing the unnoticed—in this case the environmental turning point they're part of. Instead of goldfinches and kingbirds, I'd teach them to spot vested interests and regression. Instead of being able to read the forest, I'd show how to read the newspaper. 

The best teachers I had in school were the ones who didn't just give us the facts but connected them to something larger. Knowing that Magna Carta was signed in 1215 doesn't tell you much. Knowing that when a central government is weak, other groups will expand their power is a key not only to King John and the nobles but to countless events, down to today's warlords in the Congo and the cliques at your school. 

Science begins with noticing and curiosity. You don't need a lab coat or a Ph.D; I don't have either. That's a photo of me holding one of the dead bees I began finding around my house, which launched me on the book. Citizen scientists have added important new streams of data. You could be among them. Check out for a start.

Scientists then look for theories that will explain what's been observed. I did the same. I think you'll see them in action all around you, from the lure of denial to the addictive nature of convenience to our focus on the present rather than the future. 

We're living at an unprecedented crossroads in history. New knowledge is disruptive—another good principle to know—and we've recently learned a lot about the effect we're having on climate and the environment as a whole. Suddenly everything needs rethinking: cars, suburbs, fast food, cheap prices. It's an exciting, high-stakes moment. What better time to have our eyes wide open?


Paul holding a dead bee. Photo used with permission.



Paul Fleischman grew up in Santa Monica, California, the son of children's book author Sid Fleischman. Drawing on history, music, art, and theater, his books have often experimented with multiple viewpoints and performance. He received the Newbery Medal in 1989 for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, a Newbery Honor Award for Graven Images, the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Bull Run, and was a National Book Award finalist for Breakout. He lives in Santa Cruz, California.

His book, Eyes Wide Open: Going behind the Environmental Headlines, was a finalist for the 2014 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Middle Grades category.

Going Further

  • Book/Author Resources
  • Climate Change and Environmental Education
    • What We Know is an assessment of current climate science and impacts that emphasizes the need to understand and recognize possible high-risk scenarios.
    • In Going Green: An Earth Day Bibliography, SB&F has put together a list of our top environmental books to help you make informed, eco-friendly choices and to encourage children to take an active role in saving the environment.
    • The 12-minute video Communicating and Learning about Global Climate Change, produced by AAAS, features a number of experts on global climate change talking about its impacts to our planet.
    • Using WeatherSchool @ AAAS, explore how different factors work together to produce both your local community's day-to-day weather and the overall climate for your region of the world.
    • The Women in Science: Forging New Pathways in Green Science booklet focuses on women in five areas of "green science": environmental responsibility, biotechnology, biodiversity, sustainability, and medicines.
    • NASA's Climate Kids asks and answers important questions relating to climate change as well as providing entertaining career insights, online games, videos, and hands-on activities.
    • Your Carbon Diet allows students to learn about how we use different energy sources and how it affects not only our environment but also our budget.
    • In the Climate Change and Conflict Science Update podcast, learn how Earth’s changing climate may already be playing a role in today’s conflicts. Similarly, in Climate and Conflict, hear why climate change may precipitate violence, according to a historical analysis.
    • In Asian Brown Cloud, hear about an effort to measure the pollution over Asia and assess its impact on humans and the environment.
    • Learn about a thirty-year plan to replace 70 percent of our fossil fuels, using only current technologies like storable solar power, safer nuclear plants, and methanol from crop waste in the Fossil Fuel Switch Science Update.
    • The climate page on NASA’s website offers information, maps, images, and interactives about climate.
    • The latest news on the environment can be found at the Environmental News Network.
    • The Solutions Project proposes that the U.S. can transition to 100% renewables by 2050.  Check out where your state stands.
    • GoodGuide rates more than 100,000 products by their record on health, environment, and social responsibility, with a phone app that lets you get info by scanning a product’s barcode.
  • Politics, Bias, and Decision-Making
    • In the Consensus Model Science Update, you can learn how society reaches agreement on certain topics.
    • People’s unconscious reactions to liars and truth-tellers are more accurate than their conscious judgments. Learn why in Spotting Liars.
    • A recent study suggests that correcting false information can sometimes make matters worse. You'll hear why in this True or False Science Update.
    • People really do seek out news coverage that confirms their own beliefs. Learn more about this in Like-Minded Media.
    • In this Opinion Repetition Science Update, learn why hearing one person repeat the same opinion is surprisingly influential.
    • According to a recent study, some kinds of communication are more trustworthy than others. In Phone Fibbing, you can find out what form of technology is most likely to get you an honest answer.
  • Citizen Science
    • Watch this video to get a sense of what it means to be a citizen scientist.
    • The Journey North App lets you help track migrations and seasons.
    • The Project BudBurst App is part of a citizen science program designed to encourage local participation in a national research effort.

Related Educator Resources




WeatherSchool @ AAAS is used under license from Yaros Communications, Inc.