Patricia Newman at a book signing

Patricia Newman ’81 inspires children to dream through her writing

Patricia Newman HD ’81 has a passion for conservation stories, fascinating aspects of the natural world and writing books that lead children on adventures of self-discovery.

“When I was an undergrad at Cornell, my classes reinforced that we are citizens of the world,” she said. “Our actions don’t simply impact people in our tiny spheres, but oftentimes, ripple all over the world,”

In her writing, typically non-fiction for middle-grade readers, Newman tries to emphasize global citizenship to help children figure out their place in the world. By exposing them to exciting aspects of nature and science, she hopes to inspire them to think big in their lives.

“Kids in school are trying to figure out where they fit, who has similar problems, and who has the same questions,” she said. “When kids read, they often find answers within the pages of a book – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I’m trying to let kids in on the secret that they have a voice. What they think matters because they will be the future change-makers of our world.”

In her most recent book, “Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation,” she takes readers deep into the forests of the Central African Republic, going behind the scenes of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Elephant Listening Project. Scientists research forest elephant communication and explore crucial conservation efforts that seek to keep the majestic animals safe from poaching, logging, mining and increasing human interference. Newman also includes QR codes that link to audio and video, allowing young readers to see and hear the elephants as the scientists did.

As a student at Cornell, Newman says she blossomed. She studied Italian, French literature and children’s literature, along with the required classes for her child development major within Human Development.

“I’ve always been people-oriented, definitely kid-oriented,” Newman said. “I remember listening to [Professor] Henry Ricciuti’s lectures about low birth weight babies and his research to help mothers in developing countries. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’d really love to do something with that kind of impact.’”

After graduation, Newman taught remedial math to high school students and worked as a programmer for a computer software company. After moving to California with her husband, also a Cornell alum, she reunited with the University as the assistant director of its western regional office, visiting with prospective students and planning alumni activities. When her first child was born, she decided to focus on motherhood.

Reading to her children one day, both who would become Cornell graduates themselves, her mother-in-law told her that she should write her own books for children, and Newman took her seriously. Since then, she has written more than a dozen books, many of them about real people in the real world doing real work. She hopes these books inspire kids to find their own passion.

“Eavesdropping on Elephants is a great example of passion at work,” she said. “Scientists from Cornell split their time between their lab in Ithaca and the field in the Central African Republic. They work as fast and as hard as they can to make sure they get the appropriate kind of data to help national park officials manage the resources needed to keep the elephants alive.”

The education Newman received at Cornell gave her the wherewithal to understand the science, she said. “That understanding allows me to translate difficult concepts for fourth and fifth graders, while at the same time finding the right hook that will interest kids –the leaders of tomorrow.” 

Newman’s books include the Sibert Honor title “Sea Otter Heroes:   The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem,” “Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue,” and Green Earth Book Award winner “Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” She frequently speaks at schools, libraries, and conferences about writing and conservation. Visit her at www.patriciamnewman.com.

“When kids read, they often find answers within the pages of a book—whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I’m trying to let kids in on the secret that they have a voice. What they think matters because they will be the future change-makers of our world.”

Patricia Newman
Human Development '81