The Noisy Puddle by Linda Booth Sweeney

Interview With Author Linda Booth Sweeney

Children's book author and systems thinking in education consultant Linda Booth Sweeney

You’re a children’s book writer with a focus on systems thinking and nature. Could you tell us a little bit about where this comes from? Why are you so passionate about these themes?

I reference systems thinking a lot so here’s a quick explanation: Systems thinking is an approach to learning, decision making and design that involves understanding the relationships and interconnections between different elements of a system.

Kids who understand living systems, look to understand how different parts of a system work together to create a whole. They are more likely to think and act in informed ways and less likely to jump to blame a single cause for the challenges they encounter.

By encouraging children to trace how the interconnections in systems create the results we see (in, for instance, their family, a pond, or a community), we help them learn empathy and problem-solving skills.

Here’s an example of a diagram I created to try to “map the system” of a vernal pool when I was working on my new picture book, Noisy Puddle:

The Noisy Puddle Anna Sketch White Board by Linda Booth Sweeney

As a kid, I used to spend hours in the fields near our house, just lying in the tall grass and watching clouds drift by. Since TV time was restricted to Sundays, nature became my entertainment hub.

In my twenties, I worked for Outward Bound and then went back for a doctorate at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. That's where I got to know Peter Senge, Joanna Macy, Fritjof Capra and learned about the work of Buckminster Fuller. All of these thinkers opened my eyes to the idea that everything around us, from nature to organizations like Outward Bound, is part of this big, living system.

It was a like a whole new world opened up for me.

Interior Image of The Noisy Puddle by Linda Booth Sweeney

The systems view helped me to look at interconnections instead of parts. I started seeing patterns everywhere. I could see that the way mint plants multiply in my garden was driven by the same pattern (or feedback loop) at play with the spread of a virus -- or even rumors.

As I learned more, I wanted to share these ideas with the teens I was working with (through Outward Bound), but I learned from the eye rolls I got at first that I couldn’t use jargon. I had to find simpler ways to talk about stuff like systems and feedback loops in ways they could actually understand and use it in their everyday lives.

That's when I had the idea to use games to teach systems thinking. We were already using experiential learning at Outward Bound, so why not?

That's how The Systems Thinking Playbook came about—30 games to help build up those systems thinking muscles.

Interior Image of The Noisy Puddle by Linda Booth Sweeney

And then I started to have children, and I realized stories were another way to make systems thinking accessible to everyone.

When a Butterfly Sneezes uses picture books and Connected Wisdom uses folktales from around the world to make systems thinking accessible to people of all ages.

For years I’ve led two parallel lives: teaching and writing about systems thinking... and reading and soaking in children’s stories and picture books. Now my journey has led me to the intersection of both children's books and systems thinking.

Whether I’m writing a simple concept book like Apart, Together, or a nature science book like The Noisy Puddle, I let the systems thinker guide what I write.

I was especially excited to see Betsy Bird's review of my picture book biography on Daniel Chester French. She so astutely noted, "...Sweeney is dedicated to introducing kids to the fact that the world is complex.”

That pretty much sums it up!

On March 12th you’re launching your book, NOISY PUDDLE – congrats!!! Tell us about the book. Where did the idea come from? What’s your favorite thing about it?

I love to walk in the woods to clear my head. The first few stanzas of this poem came on one of those walks in my hometown of Concord, Massachusetts.

Halfway down the well-worn path to Fairyland Pond, I saw one lone goose and then, about 20 feet away, one lone crow.

Both were standing silently next to a small row of bright, yellow daffodils. It was a serene and peaceful scene.

Suddenly, I heard a cacophony of quacking sounds from what looked like a small swamp, which I later discovered was a vernal pool. It was so loud I realized I couldn’t hear myself think!

I laughed, and wondered aloud, “What happened to the forest’s hush?  Why is everything in a rush?” 

From those few lines, this book was born. 

The Noisy Puddle by Linda Booth Sweeney

Who do you see as the audience for NOISY PUDDLE? How do you hope people will react to it?

I’m reading and loving The Creative Act - A Way of Being, a book by music producer Rick Rubin. Rubin produced LL Cool J, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Cult, The Strokes, Tom Petty, Metallica, Johnny Cash, and The Chicks, among many others and that's why the book is so intriguing!

 In the short chapter on "Nature as Teacher," Rubin writes: “When we take notice of the cycles of the planet and choose to live in accordance with the seasons, something remarkable happens. We become connected.”

That is what I think is the promise of The Noisy Puddle: it celebrates the cyclical, magical, noisy world of nature’s pop-up spring pools, which are a tangle of interconnections.

It's an invitation for children, parents, grandparents, and teachers, to tune in to nature’s natural cycles. And feel connected.

My hope is that children will be curious about the world of vernal pools and fall in love with the unusual cast of characters that show up in them, like fairy shrimp, whirly gigs and quacking wood frogs!

The Noisy Puddle Interior by Linda Booth Sweeney

I want them to discover that, even when they don’t see them, these important ecosystems are there year round. As they grow older, my hope is that these same children will share the magic of these pop-up pools with their children.

Most people have never heard of vernal pools, so these pop-up spring ecosystems, which are often invisible at other times of year, face increasing threats from urban development and agriculture.

As they grow, I’d love for these same children to protect vernal pools, because they know vernal pools help protect our communities from floods, filter our water and help create health in surrounding ecosystems.

Sketch from The Noisy Puddle by Linda Booth Sweeney

NOISY PUDDLE is an obvious choice for storytimes about springtime, or wetland habitats, or the four seasons. What are some non-obvious aspects of the book you’d like teachers and parents to share with kids?

Non-obvious? Well, to me the biggest one is WONDER and AWE. Who would have thought there was so much life teaming in what looks like a simple puddle?!

I know you’ve already started doing school visits with the book. What activities do you do with the kids? 

I’m planning to have a lot of fun with the launch of this book! We’ve got a vernal pool March madness bracket in the works, vernal pool bingo, visits with Fred the turtle at Drumlin Farm (an Audubon Center in Lincoln, MA), a Noisy Puddle class play for grades K-2 (a huge parachute movement game that mimics pond life, created with nature educator Melissa Roberts), and a wonderful series of dance/movement activities created by environmental educator Layla Sastry.

Wow! That's a lot.

Are you already working on a new project now, or do you have a dream project in the future? If so, what is it?

I’m dreaming of a graphic novel series with a systems thinking twist that is so funny and action-packed that kids will devour it and learn something at the same time.

Okay, I’m working on that dream right now so maybe I can't call it a "dream" anymore. Stay tuned!

Where can people connect with you and find out more about NOISY PUDDLE?

I’d love for people to connect with me on Instagram or my website.