Interview with Middle Grade Nonfiction Winner Kelly Milner Halls

We love the name of your website: Wonders of the Weird. How long have you been interested in the “weird” things in nature?

My mother used to call me her “little alien,” because I was so “different.”  I loved being outside and exploring every inch of my natural world. Things weird but wonderful were always on the top of my list. In creating my website and my writer’s platform, I stayed close to home.  I write the books I would have loved as a kid. 
What drew you to write a book about the “gross” side of science, focusing on the scavengers in the animal world?
I was watching Harry Potter with my daughter and said, “Wouldn’t Death Eaters be a cool name for a book on scavengers?  I wrote the proposal and the rest is history.  That said, I’ve always felt scavengers are misunderstood and disrespected when they fill a crucial niche in our environmental health. Without scavengers, we’d stumble over dead stuff virtually every where. 
One other factor stems from the Sasquatch debate.  One of the factors that makes it hard to move the big guy from hoax to scientific possibility is the fact that we have never found a Bigfoot body.  When I explain the possible reasons to kids at school visits, I’m often meet with a blank stare. So I decided to write a book that explained why we never find most dead bodies in the wilderness.  Animals clean up the mess, even if it’s Bigfoot. 
Death Eaters is an engaging mix of photographs and infographics. The credits indicate the photos came from many sources, however, there is no information on the infographics.  What is the creative process for infographics? Does you create the caption and an artist provide the pictorial information, or does an artist independently decide what information might be useful to support the text?
In the 1990s, I wrote hundreds and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles for young readers.  I loved writing a primary text and pulling out a topic or two as sidebars–info graphics.  My books reflect that history and my desire to give kids all kinds of “success” as readers.  If you’re tired, you might not tackle a chapter, but you can tackle a sidebar.  I write the text for those elements and my editors at Millbrook selected appropriate images. 
You have a background in journalism. Has that helped you with your writing non-fiction for kids? Why or why not?
I studied journalism in high school and college. I thought I was going to be an investigative reporter.  But when you write hard news about a “bad guy,” the guy has family impacted by the news.  I realized I didn’t have the heart to crush people in proximity of the news.  So I turned to writing for kids. I work just as hard, even harder for young readers but I never have to be mean spirited. So my journalism impacted the standards I have–three sources in agreement for any fact or theory, mutiple books and fresh interviews with the experts that wrote them, etc.–without a doubt. But curiosity as at the core of everything I write.  It always has been. 
If you don’t mind telling us, what’s next for you? 
This fall my follow-up to Tales of the Cryptids will debut, thanks to Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot (distributed by Penguin Random House).  Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide is 224 pages of very carefully researched information on 50 different animal mysteries around the world. I wanted to write a book for the kids who might have outgrown a picture book, but not the topic it was about.  I’m delighted to have had the chance to do that.  Rick Spears, who so deftly illustrated the original, also illustrated the new book. 
I’m also working on about six new projects.  One is about tardigrades, the toughest tiny creature on earth. One is about prehistoric amber.  One is about the only dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington State.  One is about the art of natural history.  One is about world geology. One is about poop and one is about death.  I never run out of ideas, or the energy to try and bring them to life. I love what I do– especially the weird way I do it.  
Thank you so much for your time! Be sure to check out Kelly at her website or on Twittter and Facebook