April Pulley Sayre is an award-winning children’s book author of over 65 natural history books for children and adults. Her read-aloud nonfiction books, known for their lyricism and scientific precision, have been translated into French, Dutch, Japanese, and Korean. She is best known for pioneering literary ways to immerse young readers in natural events via creative storytelling and unusual perspectives. In 2008 Sayre accepted the Theodor “Seuss” Geisel Honor Award given by the American Library Association for her book, Vulture View. It was also named a finalist for the 2008 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.
What do I do best?
My gift is brainstorming: flexible thinking and creative experimentation. I spatter, squish, and spackle with words and images. This brainstorming extends, at times, to ideas and viewpoints, which is why, I suppose, people seek me out for their entrepreneurial problems, so I can brainstorm a new trajectory for them.
I continually find that people underestimate their greatest personal talents and gifts because they assume that their talent/skill—what comes easy for them—is easy for everyone else. But it’s usually not! So these super-talented folks chase after things that are harder for them and rarely exercise their amazing innate gift.
Another challenge is that people in a community can forget, or never notice, how extraordinary some of the people right in their own room, office, school, or town are. I think it’s the role of a keynote speaker/workshop facilitator to not only bring fresh ideas, but also to uplift the successes within the group she or he visits. I love to notice a person’s talents, on a very specific level, so I can highlight them and honor them in the presence of their community.
I remember one time when I was visiting the school and the librarian seemed—well, standoffish to the point of almost rude. She barely spoke to me or gave me the info I needed to set up for a day of speeches. I puzzled over this as I set up my digital projector. She wasn’t that warm with other staffers, either. But a student came into the library with a question. And I saw it: this librarian’s gift. She was there, for that child, in the most welcoming and important way. She saw that young person, and made eye contact and responded to what they needed, even when the chatter and drone of adults was going on. It happened over and over: she ignored the adults and the office politics of a school but she really HEARD the kids. Each time she responded, she was telling those students with her response: you are important, your needs are important and I am here for you. This was her superpower.
What makes me the best version of myself?)
My best quality as a human is being a good listener—to humans and to what is going on in the natural world. But what helps me to thrive is that I actually block out time for nature immersion. As a photographer, I need a flexible schedule that allows me to drop everything in order to follow a weather front, race to a bird migration hotspot, or drive to the desert during an unusual wildflower bloom. So my husband and I schedule large chunks of time in Spring free from human responsibilities. This is a bit annoying to people who want to schedule work or play with us during this time. They do not understand that the peak of Spring is as important to us as Christmas, the Super Bowl, or some other human holiday event.
What are my aspirations?
My aspiration is to share wonder and help preserve wild places.
My business goal is to thrive in a way that allows time for nature exploration and creates resources to help preserve wild places and invest in people I love and those who help the world.
My Biggest Success?
Sharing wonder, through books and talks, has been my greatest success. After speeches, when people come up to me with such openness and appreciation, even tears, because what I say or the images I show moved their heart in some important way for their life . . . that is the unexpected gift of being an author/speaker. Really, I am just mirroring and reminding them of things they may have forgotten, or reinforcing their goodness and joy. I am always glad when what I bring can honor and energize educators and business people. We all need a new view, at times.
A special gift of this work has been seeing creative educators adapt my books into new forms, such as the StoryWalk trails originated by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Now librarians and parks all over the world are creating these trails, where you can walk along and read, on signs, the pages of a picture book, such as my book Thank You Earth, Trout Are Made of Trees, or Best in Snow, as they walk through a forest, field, park and so on. Rah, Rah, Radishes is in some community gardens. Books + outdoor nature + exercise + families spending time together? I cannot think of a better equation for quality of life.
My Most Challenging Moment?
In the last few years I’ve had many challenging moments, most that I am not yet ready to share because they belong to others, as important part of their stories. We’ve lived a lot of poignant and brave scenes that felt like something out of a movie, not an everyday life.
I will say that I experienced a huge creativity/identity challenge a few years ago, when, after taking a medicine, I could not think and write as I had before. Yet I had a long book due. It was scary and depressing. I literally could not hold the material together in my mind, or write long form, as I once had. Yet this was my only way of making a living and contributing to the world.
One day, looking up from a blank page, out at a cold, gray, winter scene, I decided that if I could not find my own words, I would go out and ask others for their words. Perhaps there were many people with knowledge that did not get quoted or asked for their expertise on the world.
That day, on every errand I had, I took my Italk phone app and I interviewed people. For months I interviewed everyone I encountered: my dental hygienist, a whale boat naturalist, taxi drivers, fellow tourists on a rain forest shuttle, bird guides in Panama. a bass player in the waiting room of the Metropolitan Opera, a juice bar operator in NYC, ski patrols, efficiency experts, family members, a bagpiper busking on the street, a hairdresser, a clerk in a fabric shop . . . really, anyone I could find. In the process I discovered this wealth of beauty and knowledge and a wider perspective on sound. I also discovered that I can be freakishly good at talking to strangers. Inspired by their quotes, I finished writing the book. And the longer form writing ability returned after a few years, too.
Play is where science begins.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
I never think of people as full role models, as people to imitate. Because it seems like a path to failure: either you’ll fail to be like them, or they will “fail” you by being human and wildly imperfect in some other part of their lives. That said, I am voracious online learner and love incorporating wisdom from others.
Occasionally, of course, I think about what would Oprah, or Wangari Mathai, or someone like that would do. But I cannot really think of a famous person who has inspired me more than my mom, my sisters. My sisters are forces of nature: energy, gut determination, bravery. They get up in the morning and exercise and go out and do seemingly impossible things. They speak in situations where many would falter. So I have inspiration close to home. My work, in children’s publishing, is also full of beautiful people doing their best for the world.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Panama. It’s such a hotspot of biodiversity and interchange between Central America and South America. We’ve visited for work, for research, and even led tours there. We love Panama and in particular the Canopy Tower, an ecolodge run by top notch people who have contributed so much to conservation.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
My Canon 5Diii Camera, long lens, and macro lens. These are my power tools. They enable me to see and share and give back to the world. Photographing the world also requires actually being out in the world and seeing pelicans diving, dolphins leaping, frogs laying eggs, and sunsets illuminating clouds. So it takes me beyond my previous decades as a writer. (As a writer, I really could spend too much time indoors, endlessly typing on a computer.) Using a camera helps me make a rainy, limiting day into a revelation of the tiny world, like in my book, Raindrops Roll. The camera helps me make freezing cold uncomfortable snow days into a new vision, my book Best in Snow. These days I am dashing out at the first hint of terrible visibility. Sound perfect for a photographer? Well, it is if you’re doing a book about fog!
My Current Passions?
Last year, burnt out from a creative project, I decided to take a day and do something ridiculous with no possible outcome. So I took a beginning drawing course online on creativelive.com. That propelled me to new joy. Now, carrying a little pencil case full of watercolor pencils and a tiny notebook in my purse makes me inordinately joyful. Sometimes I sit in a plane, as all around me are mulling and mumbling, and I pull out my pencils and sketch. I feel a sense of play, an immediate centered calm. My water pen then turns the pencil into watercolor. Drawing and painting helps me notice more about the world. It does not matter whether it ever produces a piece of art that goes on a wall. See? I’m at it again. Play, which is indeed the first seed of science, is a recurring theme!