Faculty Member Jane Kurtz Releases WHAT DO THEY DO WITH ALL THAT POO?

Today we are going to the zoo with Jane Kurtz and her new picture book What Do They Do With All That Poo?, illustrated by Allison Black. (Beach Lane (Simon & Schuster)

There’s lots and lots

of poo at the zoo,

in many shapes

and sizes.

some poo at the zoo

is big and brown…

but some of it


This is such a brilliant idea, Jane. I’ve heard you read bits and pieces from the book at VCFA and the audience was in hysterics. What was the spark that ignited this book?

In 2010, I wrote the books for the American Girl Doll of the Year, Lanie. The American Girl team wanted a girl who was doing citizen science to save the Earth, and I ended up doing a lot of research that focused on the difference we can make in our own back yards. When I moved to Portland about seven years ago, I modeled myself after my character and now have a certified Backyard Habitat. Portland is a very green city in many ways. I’ve loved joining my fellow citizens in creating compost to improve the soil in this yard that no one took very good care of before I moved in—and I was first intrigued with this idea by knowing that some zoos (Seattle and Portland among them) are creating zoo manoo, or zoo doo (or zoo compost by other creative names) using animal poo. I quote a zookeeper in Seattle, for example, who says they sell Worm Doo. “It’s been pooped once by exotic herbivores and pooped again by compost loving worms.” Irresistible.

What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

A very fun thing about Allison Black, the illustrator, is that her dad is a vet, so she grew up with zoo samples in her refrigerator. She used that inspiration for the end papers.

The biggest challenge she gave me was the penguin page, which showed the penguin in the water while all my research had been scientists studying penguins on land (trying to figure out how they shoot their poo out in a fishy smelling streak).

A zookeeper at the Kansas City zoo finally confirmed the illustration was accurate. The things we do for nonfiction picture books!

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

Pretty much every day was a weird Google-fest for this book. I saw suggestions that polar bears yell as they do their business, and I tried hard to verify that, but it was impossible. I did love finding square wombat poo, though. My research led to gems like this one.

“And here’s a lovely video courtesy of Robyn Lawrence, who created a model of a wombat’s digestive tract and colon. In her demonstration, she squeezes jelly wombat turds out of the artificial organs in an attempt to explain how the marsupial’s anatomy produces this square scat. I’m guessing that fake wombat colon is a real smash at dinner parties.”

I think you’ve definitely won the weird Google prize with that! What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

Easily the page where I had to zap this text:

Some zoos have cubs that were born in a litter.

Zookeepers sprinkle the cubs’ food with glitter.

The poo comes in blue, gold, and silvery hues,

which helps them keep track of whose poo is whose.

I’m still in mourning. But my grief was lessened a bit the day I discovered that some bats eat insects with hard, shiny shells that don’t get digested, giving the bats sparkly poo. My editor, who said she was basically obsessed with the book, agreed to the change even though it was late in our process of shaping words and pictures into a complete narrative!

Jane, thank you for giving us some insights into your process and your wonderful obsession with poo!

Jane Kurtz has taught at Vermont College of Fine Arts since 2006, working with many talented students and loving the chance to always learn more about her own writing craft in the process. She is the author of more than thirty books—picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, and tween novels—fiction and nonfiction. Since she learned to read in Ethiopia, she is currently spending volunteer hours creating fun, colorful, easy-to-read books for practice reading in English and Ethiopian local languages.

www.janekurtz.com and http://wordpress.janekurtz.com

What Do They Do With All That Poo? is illustrated by Allison Black and published by Beach Lane (Simon & Schuster)

This blog post was written by Amanda West Lewis.

AMANDA WEST LEWIS combines careers as a writer, theatre artist and calligrapher. Her eight books for children and youth range from non-fiction books to historical novels. September 17: A Novel was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Violet Downey IODE Award. The Pact was listed as a 2017 USBBY Outstanding International book. Amanda has a particular interest in creating historically relevant stories for young people and is currently working on a new novel about youth activism in 1968. She is the founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, a company dedicated to drama education for children aged 3 – 17. Amanda has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA and is a proud member of The Dead Post-Its.