When I saw the title of this book, I had to know more! A story about stinks? Right up my alley! Or should I say “Smelly” Kelly’s subway tunnel! 😁 Back matter is a chance for authors to present all sorts of ideas. Here, Colleen Paeff shares how she used back matter to connect the history in the story to today’s world and make The Great Stink, which releases Aug. 31, even more meaningful. Thanks, Colleen!
Colleen is also offering a giveaway! Please leave a comment after the post for a chance to win a copy of THE GREAT STINK: HOW JOSEPH BAZALGETTE SOLVED LONDON’S POOP POLLUTION PROBLEM.
“Connecting the Past to the Present with Back Matter” by Colleen Paeff
I don’t know about you, but when it comes time to write the back matter for a book about sewers, my mind goes to poop. After all, they’re doing amazing things with human waste these days. Did you know that many wastewater treatment plants are powered by methane created by decomposing poo? Incredible, right?! Have you heard about the UK’s first poop-powered bus? It can travel up to 186 miles on a full tank of, uh, gas. And according to Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything, on Netflix, poop could even save lives.
So, that’s where I was headed with my back matter for THE GREAT STINK: HOW JOSEPH BAZALGETTE SOLVED LONDON’S POOP POLLUTION PROBLEM (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter)––and I was thrilled about it. But my agent, Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management, had other ideas. She wanted me to write about water pollution. It made sense. My book is about how, in 1858, the abundance of raw sewage polluting the River Thames created a stench so horrendous they gave it a name. Many Londoners got their drinking water from the Thames, and this mix of sewage and drinking water caused a cholera epidemic. Tens of thousands of people died before the government finally agreed to Joseph Bazalgette’s plan to build proper sewers. So, you can see where Clelia was coming from. Still, I was disappointed. But my agent is smart. She has keen sense of what sells, so I didn’t hesitate to change course.
Clelia’s suggestion led me to look into the huge number of people who continue to die of cholera today (many of them children); I also discovered that even in North America raw sewage still pollutes our waterways; and I learned what various groups around the world are doing to stop water pollution, end cholera, and create safe ways to dispose of human waste.
This discussion of “Poop Pollution Today” takes a story that happened over 160 years ago and makes it relevant to today’s kids. It adds another way for teachers to use the book in the classroom. And it provides young readers with concrete steps they can take to stop water pollution in their own communities.
So, was my agent right? You bet. Do I think the back matter helped sell my manuscript? Absolutely! Will I ever write about all the amazing things they’re doing with human waste these days? Of course! I’m planning a downloadable information sheet for my website!
I’m also keeping a running list of children’s books that connect the past to the present through back matter on my blog. Please feel free to recommend additional titles (either here or there) that use the same clever trickery to make history more relevant to our young readers.
Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of THE GREAT STINK! (US addresses only, please)
Fueled by English breakfast tea, a burning curiosity, and a love of research, Colleen Paeff writes picture books from a book-lined office in an old pink house with a view of the Hollywood sign. Her forthcoming book, The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter) will be available August 31, 2021 from Margaret K. McElderry Books, followed by Rainbow Truck, co-authored with Hina Abidi, from Chronicle Books in 2023. Find her online at www.colleenpaeff.com and on Twitter and Instagram @ColleenPaeff.
To order a signed copy of Colleen’s book, follow this link to Once Upon a Time (the nation’s oldest children’s bookstore!).