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Spotlight on Science Writers: Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

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.

A banner with the El Yunque quarter flies over the visitors’ center in El Yunque National Forest. Photograph © Cindy Trumbore. Used by permission.

Cindy Trumbore and Susan L. Roth on Parrots Over Puerto Rico:

With most picture books, readers turn the page from right to left. Parrots Over Puerto Rico is different. You turn the pages of our book the way you would turn a calendar’s pages— and there is a reason for that! It tells two stories at the same time.  

The idea for this book started with a coin: a quarter in a series with scenes of America’s national forests. In 2012, the newest quarter showed El Yunque, America’s only tropical rain forest. El Yunque is on the island of Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. The quarter showed a Puerto Rican parrot because El Yunque is one of only two places where these beautiful, endangered birds live in the wild.


Cindy read about the quarter and the parrots in her local newspaper. She learned how the parrots went from a population of hundreds of thousands in prehistoric times to a flock of just 24 birds in 1967. She also read about how a group of scientists brought the parrots back from the brink of extinction by taking eggs from wild nests and caring for them with the kind of attention you might give to dragons' eggs. These scientists trained the chicks that hatched in captivity how to find food in the wild and how to hide from their enemies. Then they began releasing the birds back into the wild, slowly building them to a population of about 500 parrots today.

We were looking for a new picture book idea. We began researching Puerto Rican parrots, but soon we realized that we could not tell the story of the parrots without also telling the history of Puerto Rico. Everything that happened to the birds, such as hurricanes and invasions, also happened to the people on the island. We knew the book had to tell two stories—one set in the treetops, with the parrots, and the other set on the island down below, with humans.

A regular picture book would not allow Susan to create collage illustrations that looked as tall as the trees where the parrots fly. She decided that only a book where you turned the pages from bottom to top would give her the space she needed.

To research the book, we took a trip to Puerto Rico and even got to see three of the parrots that had been released into the wild fly over our heads! At home again, Susan started making paper parrots. Each one took her 23 minutes.

But the paper birds did not fly right away. They didn’t look right to Susan. It was only after she chanced to see a flock of New York pigeons take off from a supermarket sign in a loud rush that she understood the way birds fly together. They are not like polka dots in the sky. Instead, they fly together, but each has its own path within the group.

Back with her paper sky, Susan rearranged her parrots, and Parrots Over Puerto Rico took flight.

This spread shows the parrots flying over a group of people called the Taínos, who came to Puerto Rico around 800 CE. Illustration © Susan L. Roth from Parrots Over Puerto Rico. Used by permission of Lee & Low Books, Inc.

Susan L. Roth (right), author and illustrator, creates unique mixed-media collage illustrations that have appeared in numerous award-winning children’s books, many of which she also wrote. Her book, Listen to the Wind, spent a year on The New York Times best seller list. The Mangrove Tree, which was released in 2011 and addressed Dr. Gordon Sato's mangrove tree-planting project, was the winner of Jane Addams Children's Book Award. Roth lives in New York.

Cindy Trumbore (left), author, has been involved with young people’s literature for most of her career. A former editor in children’s book publishing, she now writes children’s books, edits books for classrooms, and teaches writing. Her past titles include The Genie in the Book, Discovering the Titanic, and The Mangrove Tree with her friend Susan L. Roth. She lives with her family in New Jersey.

Their book, Parrots Over Puerto Rico, was a finalist for the 2015 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the Children's Science Book category.

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