Research and Rhyming
This is the continuation of an interview with three great people, all submarine engineers, who you can get to know in Chapter 1. [link]
You three guys have three planned children’s books being developed for hardcopy but already available in audio, with Nick recording and reading most of the parts for the moment (https://www.the3engineers.com/books). First, how did you narrow down the actual subjects for three books?
Matt: We came up with a whole bunch of ideas of what’s affecting the planet right now. We even started to brainstorm about how to write a book about food waste.
That could be fun.
Matt: Yeah. It was crazy hard to make fun. So we thought, right, what are the ones that are so personal to us? And we’re like – litter. It’s something I’ve grown up with, I can see, and I know the effect that it has on marine wildlife. We all live in a city that has litter — litter everywhere.
Jon: It’s terrible.
Matt: About the Bee book. We’ve got a friend who’s a beekeeper. And, yeah, it is crazy not being able to hear the bees in the cherry tree in my garden some years. When I first moved into my house six years ago, it was buzzing when the blooms come out. And now, not so much, because they’re just not there.
So, why did you choose Scout? And the various animals? I mean, you don’t have to explain each animal, but why Scout and why the animals?
Nick: So, Matt came up with the idea of Scout and it was really quite an ingenious name, because it’s gender neutral. … It also rhymes with a lot of things.
Gang: Yeah, [laughter]
I love the name, Scout. And I love her adventure-like, take charge, “let’s do something” attitude.
Nick: Realistically, Scout could be anyone … Like, I would love a little kid to think, “oh, my God, I can be Scout.”
Jon: I totally got the adventurous kind of connotation.
Matt: The reason for doing animals rather than other humans – because we did start off having [the character] talking to other humans and things like that – was mainly because they are children’s books: kids relate more to animals. And actually, things are happening to the animals in real life. So, we were like, “why don’t we have the animals explain the story?” … And we also thought if it ever went into a cartoon, it would be much better to have animals.
Nick: Yeah, each animal is technically telling and describing a problem that they’re facing, right? For example, the bear is out of honey, because there is no honey [because the bees are missing], for example.
The books are all about Scout asking questions, bringing in friends, planning, and actually taking action. I love how Scout listens to her parents talk about the news. Did some of your experience in problem-solving (see box at bottom) reflect in the book itself, as in the teamwork that was shown in the book?
Matt: We did start off, actually, with the books being more problem-solving based. We were taking more of a systems-engineering approach, so there was going to be this whole, big, holistic diagram that shows how rubbish gets from a street [to the ocean]: you drop a piece of litter into the sewers, and then it goes out to sea and that sort of thing. But we dialed that back after we realized not everyone is interested in engineering.
Jon: And it’s also quite a complex idea to translate in a short amount of time.
Matt: We sort of backtracked a bit and realized that a bee story, for example, and the message of planting seeds to feed the bees – the kids can easily relate to that.
Nick: I think what really bounded the books’ ideas was the fact that we wanted the readers of the book to do something active with the kids, to say to the children, “you can do something. “This spawned the simple ideas [such as] plant some seeds, pick up some rubbish, and recycle something into something – these can help animals out. And those were our three ideas for the book series. And there’s plenty more probably in the pipeline. But those three ideas really founded the principles of the books. We also don’t think there are many books out there that are similar.
Matt: I think what we chose was actually personal to us, as well as [promoting] action; people can take action directly from what they learn in the book.
I love that you’ve presented action items that kids can do afterwards, because that’s kind of one of my pet peeves: a lot in the environmental community talk about the issues. But when asked, they might say, you know, recycle or something like that, but it’s very vague. There’s little out there that encourages people to actually go out and do things. You know, people complain a lot, but there’s very little that transfers the complaint over towards action. So, that’s cool.
Matt: Yeah, it’s the easy way out to just say, “well, the problem is, …” [the Gang agrees: Yeah, yeah.] Another thing to say, “this is the problem, but I think I’ve got an idea to help with it.”
And can you talk about who decided to do the rhyming? Or how you did the rhyming? [This section is also called “Laughing in the Pub.”
Matt: Yeah, so we did loads of research on children’s books; I mean on various, different topics, one of which was rhyming, but also word count and how many complicated words were present. And on the structure of the books… So, we analyzed loads of different rhyming styles and techniques and basically set requirements for the book, as one does for an engineering spec, and then basically we went from there.
Nick: We did a data analysis of rhyming patterns, to map out the best pattern.
[I love this, too.]
Matt: So, we did all this analytical stuff. But it basically ended up with us sitting in the pub with a couple of beers, just having a laugh and coming up with rhymes, essentially.
Matt: But we did the storyboards, first of all. Like, we got the structure of the book there, so we knew where we were heading. It wasn’t just rambling. We needed a structure.
Nick: We always planned on what that vision looked like. So yeah, a lot of upfront analysis. And we still didn’t know we could rhyme. … I think we built confidence from just mucking about.…, and…
Matt: … we got quite good after we’d had a couple jars [pints of beer] as well.
Nick: We would be three guys who sat there in the pub, drinking pints and laughing a lot. Suddenly one of us would say just spit out a word, and we’d all quickly grab our phones, search dictionary apps or bring a word off of that, and try to create a sentence.
Matt: Yeah, it was really good process actually.
Jon: It was good.
So wait, did you decide which animals to use based on rhymes?
Matt: Well, yeah, we did. So, we did research about things. Like the animal story where we’ve got the habitats, we researched the most endangered species in the UK. The bearded beetle is at risk because of its habitat not being available. So, we picked that one, but… [on the other hand] a bushy hedgehog is really difficult to rhyme with.
Gang: laughter, Yeah.
Matt: And squirrel as well. More laughter.
Also, the problems each of the animals have are quite specific to that animal. But they all add up to a bigger problem, so that Scout is then trying to help everyone, as opposed to just fixing an immediate issue. Which makes it a bit more sustainable.
Is there anything that you’ve learned about the environment in the process?
Nick. Naturally doing the research, which makes us more aware. I now cannot stand plastic. Plastic on the street angers me…. Because I actively do something about it and pick it up, obviously, it’s a good thing, but it frustrates me daily.
Jon: I can’t think of a specific thing. Definitely I’ve learned more. And there’s so much more in the news since we started this project, in terms of documentaries and media coverage, so we’ve naturally absorbed more information.
Matt: Have we learned more? Definitely. We’ve done fact-checking on our books. I’m trying to think of an example.
Jon: Do bears eat honey?
Matt: Do bees eat pollen? And it turns out they do.
Jon: There were quite a few things like that, weren’t there?
Matt: So, we did learn a lot, but perhaps not so much directly related to the environment … more about our animals. One of the things we’re going to do for the schools is that each of our animal characters will have a work page [online] where you can find out facts about that animal and have a whole lesson plan.
So, [for instance] why would you want to save the bearded beetle? Like, who cares about a bearded beetle, but if you can learn about it and understand it, it is better.
Jon: Those guys are cool lumberjacks.
Nick: And, using recycled waste, [kids] can create something they can put in their school yard to promote those animals.
Obviously, I have to now go research the bearded beetle.
You’ve had audio versions of the books up for months now. and I believe a re-recording of the books is starting? What is reading the character voices like?
Matt: It’s good fun. Nick has done a really good job, well, reading the books a thousand times…. We’ve all done a little reading ourselves.
Nick: My initial set was just to get it all out there. Now we want it to progress.
Matt: Get character voices recorded by celebrities.
What else are the three up to, and what “crazy” comes next? Find out with the last installment, Now and Next, in a few days!
Engineers Tackling Actions
Matt: A big, big thing we do in our engineering careers is systems engineering, which is about holistic problem-solving. For this, you are interested in how the elements within a system interact, and how, if you influence that interaction, it can affect the behavior of the system. An environment is one big system, and climate change is a big system of systems.
Nick: We had the idea for the Bee book. We did a lot of research. But we also could not just have one book stand alone. We said “Well, whatever we got to do, we’ve got to make sure that this is success. We needed a series of at least three [books] to prove our design.”
Jon: The three individual books all kind of work together; you need to do all three of those things [actions]. And obviously, loads of other things to fix the system. And it’s all integrated. They’re not just individual things.