Wednesday 4 January 2023

Darwin's Super Pooping Worm Spectacular by Polly Owen and Gwen Millward, including author interview and competition

Published by: Quarto, 5th January 2023


One of the great things about reviewing books and being an aspiring writer myself is getting to champion projects that I've seen develop from draft to published book! Today's narrative non-fiction picture book by Polly Owen, illustrated by Gwen Millward and published by Quarto, is one of those projects and so we're going to celebrate extra hard with both a review AND an author interview. 

Charles Darwin was born in 1809 and is most famous for his scientific Theory of Evolution. BUT, did you know he was fascinated by earthworms? His research on them spanned for over 40 years and, even though he was ridiculed for being so hung up on such insignificant creatures, they turned out to be VERY significant indeed and vital to life on earth. It's not for me to tell you more though. Instead, why not dive into this fabulous, informative and beautifully illustrated hardback book which documents Darwin's fascinating investigations and findings.

Charles Darwin was convinced that worms had a superpower but what was it? Supersight? Superhearing? Maybe a super sensitive sense of smell? Possibly! But wait...there's more. Could it be that their poo holds their biggest superpower of all? Turn the pages to discover how one man came to realise that the humble earthworm is the most important species of all. 

With accessible text, gorgeous pictures and valuable input from the worms themselves, this book is a fun exploration of Charles Darwin's scientific discoveries, perfect for young adventurers, nature lovers and minibeast fans. It's also a valuable resource for any teacher to use in the classroom to support their topic work and science lessons. Not only is the story highly informative, it is also incredibly funny and deliberately designed to peak the interest of curious learners by making biology interesting and real. There's some wormy facts at the end to further support the text as well as some crucial information about the threat worms are under and how we can help.

This is a book that champions the underdogs - or should I say the undergrounders - and the overlooked. It reminds humans young and old not to take these creatures for granted or see them as pests. It also encourages children to follow their heart and their passions, however unusual, and to not give up on what they believe is important. It is an ode and a tribute to both the worms and the scientists, past and future, and how much we need them. This is narrative non-fiction at it's finest; engaging and entertaining with plenty of poo thrown in for good measure. 

Available to purchase from today, thank you to Polly and Quarto for allowing me a review copy. Scroll down to read our author interview.


Hi Polly, congratulations on your debut picture book. How does it feel to hold your published book in your hands?

It's really amazing. After writing for a long time and facing rejections and near misses, it's hard to believe it's real until the book is actually in your hands. But now it's here, it's on my shelf, and it's the first thing I see in the morning! I have Gwen Millward to thank for how amazing it looks and Quarto for producing such a beautiful, sparkly book.


How long have you been writing for and what do you love to write?

I have been writing since my daughter was around one, so ten years. It started as a hobby, then I started taking it more and more seriously, joining a critique group, entering competitions and getting an agent.

I have always loved writing rhyme and silly, cheeky stories but I also love nature and history. Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular was the first narrative non-fiction I had written.


Your picture book is an account of Darwin’s fascination with earthworms. What inspired you to write about his research?

Two people: my mum and my daughter. My daughter is really into nature, particularly snails and worms, so my mum bought her a membership to the Earthworm Society. My mum also told me about Darwin's book on Earthworms. I tried to find a children's version for my daughter but there wasn't one. So I decided to read Darwin's book myself and was hooked straight away. I was taken by how perfect it was for a picture book and was surprised nobody had done it before.


Tell us a bit about your book’s  journey to publication with Quarto. What was the time frame between you writing the story and its release?

I wrote my first draft in 2019 and my wonderful critters (thank you, Tracy!) gave me lots of useful feedback. In November 2020 I booked a one to one session with an editor, through 'I Am In Print' (who provide great opportunities for authors). I met Lucy Brownridge from Quarto, who liked my story and asked for some changes. I did two edits with the help of my agent, Emily, and I signed the contract in Oct 2021. Lucy had illustrator, Gwen Millward, in mind and I was thrilled when she able to join us. One year later (5th Jan 2023) the book was published! So, it took three and a half years in total!


Aside from loving reading about poop, what would you like young readers to take away from the book?

There are a few things. Firstly, the importance of earthworms to our planet. How they make our soil rich and nutritious and help our plants and food to grow. Secondly, that Darwin didn't just study exotic animals, he had a real passion for earthworms, which is often forgotten. I would also like it to inspire children to follow their passions, however quirky. Darwin was mocked for his study of earthworms but his groundbreaking discoveries only happened because he wasn't discouraged.


What are you working on now? Would you like to write more non-fiction?

I would love to write a follow up to this book and more non-fiction, but I'll always love writing in rhyme. I have a few stories on the go at the moment!


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Everything I can think of has been said before, but it's just write what you love.  Entertain yourself. You can keep one eye on the market for niches or something unique, even if it's a unique take on something old. But you have to enjoy doing it. I would keep writing forever, published or not!

The other piece of advice is, most of my luck has happened when meeting people directly, so if you can afford a festival or a one to one, you may increase your chances of selling a book, or at the very least, getting some great feedback.

And for feedback all year round, definitely join a critique group. I would never have persisted without the support and encouragement of my wonderful critting friends.

Thanks Polly and best of luck with Darwin’s Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular

Darwin's Super-Pooping Worm Spectacular is released in the UK today, Thursday 5th January. Why not check out this competition run by Quarto publishing for a chance to win a Worm Explorer Activity Kit and a copy of the book for your school. (Also open to home educators.)

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