Author Interview: Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice


It was a pleasure to sit down and chat with science writer Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice about her latest book all about pets published with MITKids. Our conversation spanned from parenting to pets, and I could listen to Dr. Eleanor’s stories all day.

Leonora Shell: Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice! I wanted to talk to you about your latest book, the second in the Your Hidden Life series, Your Pets Secret Lives, The Truth Behind Your Pets’ Wildest Behaviors, coming out May 28th with Candlewick Press and MITKids Press. Has writing this book changed the way you think about your pets?

Eleanor Spicer Rice: Yes, it has! I’m used to writing about the wilderness and the natural world, so I thought I didn’t really want to write a book about pets. When I started looking at it and learning about pets and how so much of their behavior is tied to their wild ancestors, which I just did not understand before. It really has changed the way that I interact with my pets and it changes the way that I look at other people’s pets.

Leonora: How does learning about our pets make us better pet owners?

Eleanor: It helps us to understand why they’re doing the weird things that they do. We might not have pets who are deficient in some way, but we can look at our pets from a more holistic perspective. Say you have a cat; some people like to keep their cats outside, even though cats kill lots and lots of birds and wildlife. You can feed [cats] extra protein, and they’re less likely to kill birds. You can’t discipline a cat into not eating birds. There are some things that you just can’t do with your pet, but if you learn about why they’re doing it and what’s driving it, you can figure out ways to interact with your pet in a way that’s healthy for you, the pet and gets the results that you want. 

A lot of the information we get is from screens. People might want pets without growing up with their grandmother’s cat or their neighbor’s horses, so we don’t have a natural way of approaching creatures or any relationship that many of us used to have as children.

So one way of learning that stuff is through books

Leonora: Does your first book in the series Unseen Jungle, The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World, connect to Your Pet’s Secret Lives? Are there any secret microbial lives of pets? 

Eleanor: Yes, it does! The whole series, including the microbes book, is about the parts of your lives that are amazing, but a lot of times you can’t see unless you know how to look for it. 

We share a lot of our microbes with our dogs and our cats. The microbes that come from dogs are associated with lower rates of obesity and asthma, so children who live in houses with mothers who had dogs are more protected for the rest of the individual’s life. They protect us in many ways.

So, yes, there are a lot of secret microbial lives in the pets that we love, whether they’re eating poop [in the case of rabbits] or saving you from obesity and asthma.

There’s a third book coming out about hidden conversations. 

Leonora: Did you find yourself researching animals just because you wanted to see their stories drawn by Rob Wilson?

Eleanor: A thousand percent yes. I love the way he draws dogs. I tried to make as many dog chapters as I possibly could. I also like to pick out animals that I thought would freak him out a little bit and kind of make him have to puzzle over how to do it.

I think the drawings, in a book that is not a picture book, are as important as the words.

And they’re much funnier than the words

Leonora: What are some important reminders for parents in guiding their children’s relationship with their pets?

Eleanor: I do have a reminder, and this is something that I did not know as a child, is that pets have boundaries.

And you’ve got to pay attention and respect those boundaries, regardless of what the pet is. Some of them are biological boundaries. They just have things that they can and can’t do. And some of them are just their emotional boundaries. If we want to live with [our pets], we need to live within their boundaries and pay attention to them.

Leonora: Who would you recommend this book to?

Eleanor: I would recommend it to any middle-grade child and their parents who like pets or animals, or are just curious about the world that they call home. I think children that like science will like this especially if they like poop.

Leonora: Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Eleanor! I look forward to your next book coming out on May 28th. 

Follow Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice on Instagram for all things insects, pets, microbes, and antics with parenting.


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