Phyllis Root’s latest book, Plant a Pocket of Prairie, was published by the University of Minnesota Press. It was released this month.
Please describe the book.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie is a non-fiction picture book about planting native prairie plants, with gorgeous woodblock illustrations by Betsy Bowen.
What research was involved, and how did it affect the story’s development?
I wrote a Minnesota counting book several years ago about the different ecosystems in Minnesota, where three biomes meet: Big Woods, boreal forest, and prairie. Doing research for the book meant many visits to Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas to learn about native plants and animals (something I still love to do). I wanted to write a book about the prairie partly because it’s one of our most endangered ecosystems, partly because it’s so amazing and complex and lovely, and partly because I love the names of the flowers and plants that grow in a prairie. What’s not to love about foxglove beardtongue or bastard toadflax? I wrote a lot of failed drafts over several years before I found the focus for the book and figured out an arc. Along with visiting prairie, I’ve talked to naturalists, read many books, and gone to hear speakers to learn more about the prairie and make sure my information is as accurate as I can possibly make it.
Moon Tiger, your first book, was published in 1984. What have you learned about the business of writing since then?
I’ve been at this job for thirty years and until the last few years have written mostly fiction. I’ve learned that there are no certainties, that it really is hard to make a living from writing, and that if you don’t love what you are doing, you will probably end up doing something else. I’m very lucky to still be doing what I love.
If very good friends are visiting for one evening, do you cook or go to a restaurant? If the former, what would you cook? If the latter, what restaurant?
If friends came and I felt daring enough to attempt cooking for them (and they felt daring enough to eat what I cooked), I might try something new like the recipe for fresh fig salad a friend just gave me, or I might go with something tried and true like squash lasagna. If they came in the summertime, I’d check the garden for whatever was ripe. If we went out to eat, I might take them to LeVain’s for wine and soup and salad and sides or to Emily’s for Lebanese food. Mostly I’d do whatever would make them the most comfortable.