I met Katy Farber around the time her first book for kids, The Order of the Trees, was published by Green Writers Press in 2015. Katy has a smile that reaches deep into her sparkly eyes. These are the kind of eyes that give her away as a curious educator and writer for children. I knew Katy had given up her beloved position as a 6th grade teacher at Rumney Elementary School in Middlesex, Vermont (which also happens to be where she lives with her family) to write, research and consult. I knew that she had a ‘previous life’ writing about and advocating for sustainability issues as they relate to parenting and education. However, the more I watch Katy in action– in front of children and in front of other educators– the more I am inspired by her seemingly exhaustive supply of inspiration and curiosity.
Katy’s newest children’s book, Salamander Sky, also published by Green Writers Press, is a picture book with delicate watercolor illustrations by Meg Sodano. It exudes poetic wonder– similar to Jane Yolen’s beloved Owl Moon. It brings you in close and shares a beautiful secret from the natural world– the spotted salamander’s road crossing to water in springtime. This happens at night, and the excitement her young protagonist feels for this aptly-named “bulgy-eyed beauty” is palpable. What young child doesn’t want an undercover (in this case, under raincoat and boots) operation in the dark of night? The stealthily informational text is perfect for elementary school classrooms and nature-based curricula. But at its heart, Salamander Sky is a love letter to this vulnerable creature that will inspire children and their families to jump right in and be citizen scientists. “Just after the book came out, there were more kids than ever out helping the salamanders in our tiny town, marveling over them, and appreciating them,” Farber says. “To witness this was simply amazing.”
Recently, we had the pleasure of hosting Katy at Bear Pond Books for a deeper look at project-based learning, a subject that Katy has been advocating for through the Tarrant Institute at UVM. It focused on how teachers can use picture books as a launching pad for engaging, exciting project-based learning experiences with their students. Katy created several resources to share with the audience that sparked dialogue about why picture books make great springboards for students of any age to engage in a subject matter.
Never one to miss an opportunity to connect with teachers about relevant curriculum and student engagement, Katy is currently presenting at Dynamic Landscapes, the uber-popular information technology conference for educators at Champlain College in Burlington. Katy’s vision for Vermont’s schools is, unsurprisingly, both expansive and inclusive. “I’d like to see more deep explorations of identity, more student leadership and voice, more creativity and ways of learning accepted, and more service that seeks to make the world a better place. We know from research that students who engage in service learning can disrupt existing biases. I want students to challenge their assumptions and biases, grow their perspectives, engage with the wider world, and know they can make a powerful difference in their communities.”
For a student advocate like Katy, global citizenship should take center stage. “Students are citizens of value, and should have a voice. We as educators need to provide them with clear ways they can use that voice, and truly listen. We can do this in many ways: by focusing on student voice and leadership; by connecting student projects to the United Nation’s Global Goals; to making sure our students experience diverse literature and discussion; to creating and expanding opportunities for students to present their work to authentic audiences in their communities and globally.”
Thank goodness Katy seems to be just warming up in her career as a writer, student advocate and inspired curriculum developer. Chances are, if you are a teacher, naturalist or a parent, you will eventually get the opportunity to meet Katy and be inspired by her enthusiasm, her ever-expanding web of knowledge, and her infectious smile.
Jane Knight is a member of CLiF’s Board of Advisors and the children’s book buyer at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT.