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All of Life Makes More with Katherine Roy

Katherine Roy shares Making More: How Life Begins, distilling the science of reproduction into its simplest components and highlighting the astonishing variety of this process with examples from across the natural world, from ferns and butterflies to trout, hawks, rabbits, and more.

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[0:36] Introduction


Matthew: Welcome to the Children’s Book Podcast. I’m Matthew.


I am a teacher, a librarian, and a fan of kids. One of the things I love most about the kids I’ve worked with is their propensity to ask thoughtful questions about the world. You are discovering how your world works. You’re curious. Who wouldn’t be? And when turning your attention to the animal world, you share cool facts about strength and speed and general knowledge. And, in my experience at least, every once in a while a question comes up about how that animal makes more. Giggles usually accompany the question, of course. Talking about making more can feel a little silly. That’s okay. We’re gonna get into that topic in this episode.


Our guest today is Katherine Roy.


Katherine Roy is the award-winning and best-selling author and illustrator of science-based books for children, including the Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands, How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild, and Making More: How Life Begins. She is also the illustrator of numerous other books, including Otis and Will Discover the Deep, by Barb Rosenstock, Red Rover, by Richard Ho, and The Fire of Stars, by Kirsten W. Larson. She lives with her husband and sons in western Oregon, where she is busy writing and drawing her next books.



[2:25] Book Summary


Matthew: Making More: How Life Begins by Katherine Roy



From fish to mammals and plants to insects, every organism on Earth must reproduce, and the survival of each species--and of life itself--depends on this and on the diversity it creates. In this groundbreaking book, Katherine Roy distills the science of reproduction into its simplest components: organisms must meet, merge their DNA, and grow new individuals; and she thoughtfully highlights the astonishing variety of this process with examples from across the natural world, from ferns and butterflies to trout, hawks, rabbits, and more.


Lucid, informed, and illuminated by beautiful paintings, Making More weaves a story that seamlessly explains life's most fundamental process, answers children's questions, and provides an essential tool for parents, caregivers, and educators.



[3:36] Meet Our Guest: Katherine Roy


Katherine: Hi, my name is Katherine Roy. And I'm a children's book author and illustrator of nonfiction science books, and I am the author of Making More: How Life Begins, which is set in the Pacific Northwest and talks about plant and animal life cycles and reproduction.


[3:52] Making More Looks Different Across Our Planet


Matthew: Jules, before we get started, can I ask you something? Audience, Julia is my daughter. Jules, I’m gonna ask you a really big question. Why do living things need to make more?


Julia: Good question. I, actually, don’t know.


Matthew: That’s okay! Let’s learn together.


Katherine, before we get to “why”, let me back up for a minute and ask, do all living things have a process for making more?


Katherine: Yes. It's so cool. It is such a cool story.

Every living thing has parents, which means that it's a story that connects all of us, right? And most living things that you can name have two parents. So, when you have two parents, it's called crossing. You need two sets of jeans to make a new living thing. If you only have one parent, you're a clone. So you're just a copy of your parent.


But what I love about this story is that living things that have two parents can be a little bit different from their parents because they're a combination of traits. And then if they go on to make more and have children, then those children are a little bit different from them.


And so over time you can get variation, um, through a population and life can change, which gives us biodiversity on our planet, which I absolutely love because we live in a gorgeous planet, um, a beautiful world.


And I love looking at life through this lens of thinking about the system of genes and inheritance and how we are all connected. And that makes me feel really alive. And so it's a story I wanted to share with kids.



[5:28] Many Different Ways


Matthew: How do things make more? Jules, can you tell me how animals make more?


Julia: So, they lay eggs. Or they could have babies, so it would come out of their stomach.


Matthew: And with so many different kinds of living things on our planet, there must be so many different ways that living things make more, right?


Katherine: There's so many ways to make more life.

So, so some familiar organisms like fish or frogs, they might make more in the water. They release their cells that carry their genes.


There's a large cell that's called an egg, and there's a small cell that's called a sperm. And when those two things meet in the water, they fertilize and become one cell. And then it's a zygote that grows into an embryo that grows into a baby fish or a baby frog.

Other familiar organisms like flowering plants, They actually are both kinds of individuals.


So they might make the male cell, the sperm cell and the female cell, the egg cell, which is called um, pollen and an ovule. And then they need help because they're stuck in one place, right? So they have to have a bee helper that comes around or another pollinator and comes around and brings the pollen to another flower, and then they can reproduce with a partner that's far away, um, without having to move places because they're stuck in one place. So it's helpful to have both kinds of cells from one individual.

And then there's some animals that are both. So like slugs and snail carry around both small and big cells. Um, let's see. There's race fish, which are classic examples of being able to switch back and forth between making eggs or making sperm based on the environmental cues in their environment.


And so all of those strange and different, uh, systems for reproduction, all those different solutions to the problem of making more get passed onto the generation that's next to them, and then the generation after that, on and on., and so these traits get carried forward.


And so there are some really bizarre ways to make more, and then other things that seem very normal to us because they're common plants and animals. But there's just all of these different solutions, and yet again, it's all connected. Every living thing has parents and every cell in our body, every living organism has this story written into itself that go back and back in time to the earliest life on earth.



[7:46] Inspired by Questions from Readers


Matthew: Ideas can come from all sorts of places. The idea for this book, Making More, has its origins in Katherine visiting schools and hearing questions from kids like you.


Katherine: Yeah, so when I was doing school visits for How to be an Elephant, all of these kids are raising their hands and asking me questions like, how does the sharks, how do the sharks make babies? How does the elephant get out of its mom? Because how to be an elephant opens with the birth of an elephant.


And one kid in the front row, I remember him raising his hand and asking me, well, did the elephant eat the egg to make the baby? Like, I think he was envisioning a chicken egg, like the baby had to come from an egg someplace else. And then the elephant ate it to make the baby. And I said, “Do you need a book about this?” And he was like, “yes, I need a book about this.”


And I had already had this book in mind for a long time, but my ideas were too big. I was thinking about, like, population genetics and, and phylogeny and all of these. Big, big, big topics that would never fit into a picture book. And this kid in the front row and these students in these assemblies raising their hands and asking the questions really helped me pull it down to earth and say, “Okay, what is it that kids wanna know?”

These are geography questions. How does the baby get out? How did the egg get in? Like, that's a location question. That's a transportation question, right? I can answer this. There's nothing wrong with this.


And so we need to talk about genes. We need to talk about the two types of cells that animals make and that plants make. They travel. They don't stay with their body, they leave the body, they make a new thing. So we can talk about traveling cells and how they meet and merge to make a new creature. And then how, because it takes two sets of genes, change can happen. And that is a story that connects us because we're all a little bit different, but also a little bit the same. And it's that story of life on earth. So I just, I was thinking about elementary school students really, and thinking about how we talk about life cycles and we talk about the egg, uh, becoming a like a tadpole, and then the tadpole becoming a juvenile frog, and then the juvenile frog becoming an adult frog.


But then we skip that step from how you go from frog to egg. We always do egg to frog, right? And so let's stop skipping this step and actually answer these questions for these kids. And let's use science to do it. We don't need to include people in this conversation. We can just talk about this basic process and, and make it feel interesting to kids.


And a toddler can look at this book and just, like, learn something from the pictures. An early reader or an older reader who's in elementary school can read it with their parent or a caretaker or a teacher and learn something. I wanted teachers to be able to use it as a resource in their classroom for a science unit. And then maybe even a middle school or a high school student could use it as a resource. Like, “Oh, I don't remember how a bird makes eggs. Let me look at that page in that book.”


So it was really meant to be for a lot of people, but ultimately a tool for learning. About this step in the life cycle and also just how we're connected and how this process works.



[10:38] BREAK


[10:47] An Excerpt from Making More


Matthew: Let’s hear an excerpt from Making More. Katherine reads from the first pages of the book.



Katherine: Everywhere all around you life is making more mammals and insects, birds and reptiles, trees and flowers, fish and frogs like food and water, like oxygen and sunlight. Reproduction is essential for life on earth.


Making more looks different from species to species, but the pattern stays the same. Meet, merge, and create something new. Most life that you see comes from this cycle.


Making more is a story of families, of births and beginnings of challenge and chance. It is stunning. It is familiar. It is life's greatest invention… But how does life make more?

It begins with the instructions inside of cells known as genes.


From the smallest ant to the tallest tree. Every living creature is made to do two things, to survive and to make more of its kind. But most living things can't make copies of their bodies. To reproduce, they make copies of their genes.


Genes are the chemical instructions inside of cells that tell them what to do. They're why rabbits can only make more rabbits and not more birds or beetles or bears. A complete set of genes is known as a genome.


All living creatures inherit two genes from their parents, but in most plants and animals, it takes two sets of genes, one from each parent to start a new life. The result is a baby that is a little bit different from its parents. It is also a little bit different from its siblings. This type of making more is called crossing, and it is how most living things begin.


[12:28] Great Questions Deserve Answers


Matthew: All living things have to make more in order to continue. And yet, sometimes we make it difficult to talk about that very thing. And by “we”, I think I mean “grownups”. But there’s no shame in talking about making more. And it’s a conversation that can happen as early as you’re asking the question.


Katherine: Well, I wanna change this whole conversation because I think people get funny when kids ask a question about, Hey, a baby gets out of its mom. Right? I, I, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that question, and I don't ever want a kid to feel like they asked a bad question, because that's a great question and it deserves an answer, and I want kids to feel like they can come to their trusted adult, or their teacher or their parent and ask this question and not be turned away, right?


So I think that people get funny because they think that a book about making more is a book about human relationships and human behavior and human intimacy. And there that, that is a great topic and it's really important and central to our becoming adults and our sense of identity. Um, but that's about social bonding mostly. I mean, that's about relationships.


What we're talking about is a process for reproduction, which is again, genes cells, inheritance, biodiversity. You know, you walk outside and you can see ferns with the spores on the underside of the leaves, and you can see nests in a tree where a bird is, you know, sitting on its eggs and you can see flowers everywhere. And all of these things are signs of reproduction. And we normalize them and lots of other ways, but I think when you string it together as a story, people get a little funny because they think it's about this other topic of human behavior.


And I just wanted to give kids a chance to ask these questions and to get answers from a safe and trusted source. And I've done my absolute best to make the information as beautiful and accurate as possible so that kids can have an understanding of how this process works without somebody getting funny on them. You know?



[14:31] Spotting Wonder


Matthew: As with any book, Katherine did a lot of research in order to write and illustrate Making More. And not everything can go into the book. But also, there are things she learned in the process that she’ll remember her whole life.

…and now maybe you will, too!


Katherine: Well, one of the things that I loved learning was that when a queen bee lays a fertilized egg, it becomes a female bee. But when she lays an unfertilized egg, it becomes a male bee, which means that all male bees have grandfathers, but they don't have fathers, which is wild.


I mean, it blows your mind thinking about it, right? It's so weird. And it means that sister bees, worker bees are related more than siblings that are all male and female. So they have more in common with each other's genes than even with their mother because of the way the genetics works. And so that actually helps hold the hive together or hold the, hold the colony together in the case of ants. And, um, have them all work together for the same genetic common good, even though technically one queen is doing all the egging, it's in the worker's best interest to keep the colony going.


So that was a really wild and interesting thing that I learned, cuz of course bees are everywhere. We see them everywhere.


Another thing that I learned to think about in the way that these different things make more is that there's really, at least as far as the vertebrates go, three kinds of ponds.

So you can think about how fish and frogs lay eggs in the water. They external fertilize. They have external fertilization. And so, um, the pond is an actual pond, and that pond brings water moisture to the eggs. It keeps them moist and it brings them oxygen and it carries away waste.


And then when life moved onto the land, we brought the pond with us. So in a bird shell or a reptile shell, there's a little tiny pond, right? You've got the little, little snake or the little bird in there growing and it needs to say moist. Uh, and then the oxygen comes through the the shell, and there's a membrane inside the little pond that carries the waste and holds the waste.


And then in mammals, we have the pond within us to carry the baby in the amniotic sack. So we brought that water with us because water is critical for life.


And I love looking at these different systems. And again, just seeing all these different ways that these things have in common to make more life and how these systems interact. And even though, again, things are so different in the way they make more, they have all these common themes. And when you start to look at it like that and you look at that story, it just blows your mind. It's just fascinating and incredible and beautiful and alive. And I just, I just wanna share that with kids.


So those are some of the things that I learned. Um, It's just such a fun, a way to look at it. I love this lens of looking at life.



[17:24] A Celebration of Mothers


Matthew: We’re releasing this episode prior to the celebration of Mother’s Day in the United States. Now, not everyone celebrates Mother’s Day and that goes for many, many different and often personal reasons.


For Katherine, this connection between making more and celebrating mothers was just something really cool.


Katherine: I just wanna, yeah, I just wanna say I love getting to talk to you about this process ahead of Mother's Day because every living thing has a mother and as a mom, myself, as a parent, and of course as a daughter who has parents, I just love sharing the story with all of these kids and all of these families that are listening because it makes me feel connected and alive and part of this bigger story.



[18:06] A Message from Katherine Roy


Matthew: It’s time for us to say goodbye for now to Katherine. I am thankful for how she reminded us that all things make more. And that it’s okay to talk about it. I love how she categorized the questions kids ask about making more as ones of geography. And I feel so many feels for how this process is one that connects everyone and everything on earth.


As I prepare to see a library full of children tomorrow morning, and as you prepare for school and time with your classmates, Katherine shared the following message:


Katherine: You can see clues of making more anywhere all around you all the time in your backyard, at your school, in your park, on a playground in the grocery store. I mean, if you open up a fruit like a tomato, every single seed inside is potentially an embryo to make a new tomato plant, right?


So I encourage you to go outside and look for signs of life making more. There's just so much fun to be had, so much to discover. You can look for nests, you can look for flowers, you can look for ferns. You can look for so many different things and keep a nature journal, take notes. Think about what's making more in your neighborhood.


You know, this book was set in a forest ecosystem because that's where I live, but you live in a different place and maybe a book needs to be written about your habitat and what's making more near you, and it's just a totally different way to look at where you live. So I hope that you go out and enjoy your backyard, your neighborhood, and just have a whole new way to look at it.



[21:33] Closing


Matthew: The Children’s Book Podcast is written, edited, and produced by me, Matthew Winner.


Follow the show wherever podcasts are found, and leave us a rating or review when you do. That helps us out a whole lot because it helps the show get discovered by and recommended to new listeners.


Katherine? Where can listeners find you?


Katherine: I am on Instagram at Katherine Roy Studio. Um, I'm on Twitter at Kroy Studio. And then I have a website, katherineroy.com and you can find me there.


I've got lots of videos, including the printing of this book. Um, coming off of the press in China, I actually got to have the footage of it going to the printer and coming down the line and getting glued into the case and getting the jacket and all that.


So, um, That's really exciting and I love getting to share that printing process with kids because they don't really know how a book gets made. So it's an exciting thing I can can share.


Matthew: Visit matthewcwinner.com for a full transcript of this episode plus some questions that you can use as you think about this episode.


You can also reach out and let me know what you’ve noticed about how the living things in and around you make more.


Write to me or send me a message at matthewmakespods@gmail.com. That’s M-A-T-T-H-E-W M-A-K-E-S P-O-D-S at gmail dot com.


Want a copy of Making More? Julia, where should our listeners look?


Julia: Check your school or public library, your classroom, or, if you want to support independent bookstores, you can purchase a copy at Bookshop.org.


Matthew: I’ll have a link in the show notes.


Our podcast logo was created by Duke Stebbins (https://stebs.design/).


Our music is by Podington Bear.


Podcast hosting by Libsyn.


You can support the show and buy me a coffee at www.matthewcwinner.com.


We are a proud member of Kids Listen, the best place to discover the best in kids podcasts. Learn more at kidslisten.org.


Fellow teachers and librarians, want a way to explore building a stronger culture of reading in our communities? In The Reading Culture podcast, Beanstack co-founder Jordan Bookey hosts conversations that dive into beloved authors' personal journeys and insights into motivating young people to read. It’s the best! I absolutely savored their new episode with M.T. Anderson. Check out the Reading Culture Podcast with Jordan Bookey, from Beanstack. Available wherever podcasts are found.


Be well. And read on.



End Of Episode

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1 Comment


Oh, this is soooo fascinating to hear how Katherine distilled and processed this information to make it digestible for kids! They will eat this book up!

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