Interview with Jess Keating

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-interview-with-jess-keatingI was tickled pink to talk to Jess Keating about her work as a zoologist and an author, her favorite animals, and a very cool holiday tradition.

In your work, your books, and your online presence, you bring kids and adults closer to the animal kingdom. What in your early years inspired you to become a zoologist?

I wish there was one poignant answer to this question! The truth is, all my life I’ve been enamored with animals. A physicist I admire once said this: The world is beautiful to look at, but it’s even more beautiful to understand. To me, that sums it all up perfectly.

As a kid, animals sparked my curiosity, my imagination, and even my creativity. The diversity they represent is so amazing to me—they all live their lives so differently, with different senses, abilities, and environments, yet it works perfectly for them. I instantly felt a kinship with them, and as a kid, I wanted to know everything about them.

As I got older and was able to really get into zoology, my goal shifted. The world of animals is so endlessly fascinating, and I now I want to take every opportunity to share it with others, especially young readers.  

All animals are amazing, but do you have a soft spot for one particular animal or species? If so, why?

Now this is such a hard question! My favorite animal has always been the wolf. I was lucky enough to see one in the wild once, and it’s pretty hard to come away from that experience without believing in magic!

Lately, I also have a soft spot for nudibranchs! I included one (the Hopkins’ rose nudibranch) in my last book, but there are so many other species that we know so little about! As I mentioned above, it’s the diversity that takes my breath away. Some of them look like bunnies:


Image courtesy of crawl_ray

And some look like pizzas:


Image courtesy of Arthur Anker

You do such a great job of reaching out to kids through videos, KeatingCreature on Twitter, your YouTube Channel: Animals for Smart People, personal appearances, and Skype visits. Can you describe a funny or favorite anecdote from one of your events?

Thank you for the Youtube shout out! I really hope teachers find my videos useful! As for a favorite event, when you mix animals and kids, the results are often hilarious. Usually, my visits involve a lot of dead things. I bring a collection of skulls, animal bones, and animal track castings with me. Every so often, we get lucky with some live specimens.

One of my favorite events was a library visit that involved a 10+ foot python. I had her resting on my shoulders (as you do), and I remember laughing because almost all of the adults in the room were skittish, backing off toward the door.

When I asked who else wanted to hold this lovely python, every adult shook their head. There was no way they were going near it! But then, a tiny six year old girl rushed up to the front, with a massive smile on her face. She wasn’t afraid at all as she held that snake—and I’m pretty sure that her big moment meant as much to me as it did to her!   

What inspired you to write Pink is for Blobfish?

 Pink is for Blobfish is a book so close to my heart! I know that sounds strange, because it’s essentially a book filled with weirdos!

As you can probably guess, I’ve been reading animal books my whole life. I loved them all, but what I really wanted was to write something that says as much about us as it does about the wild animals on each page. A book that not only shares amazing animals with kids, but also gets them thinking critically about how they view the world, especially regarding their assumptions and judgments. Pink is for Blobfish is my way of getting readers to look at gender expectations, while (hopefully) instilling them with a little wonder about the natural world.

There’s so much humor in your writing and videos. How does your love of comedy help you connect to readers?

The short answer is, I’m just a big ham and love making people laugh. There’s also the added bonus with nonfiction: we’re much more likely to remember something if we connect with it emotionally. My way of accomplishing that is to be funny and get kids laughing. Fiction or nonfiction, one of the easiest ways for me to reach readers is through a well-timed joke.

But, you can also get a little deeper with it. I once heard that Jim Carrey doesn’t think of his job as “making people laugh.” Instead, he views it as “freeing people from concern.” The minute I heard that, it resonated with me. For those few moments, when you’ve got a reader laughing, they’re free from any concern in their lives. It’s a reprieve, a bright moment. It’s true for us as adults too—it’s pretty much impossible to be stressed out when you’re reading about a pigeon that wants to drive a bus!

Now, when I approach my writing, I look for those moments. If I can make myself laugh, that’s half the battle.

What’s the best part about writing books for kids?

For both fiction and nonfiction, my favorite part is seeing the look on a kid’s face when you open a door for them into a whole new world. Sometimes, it’s the ridiculously colorful world of nudibranchs. And sometimes, it’s helping them to the realization that they aren’t alone, no matter how weird they feel.

What’s up next for you?

I’m so glad you asked! I just received F&Gs of the second book in the World of Weird Animals series! I can’t give away the title just yet, but I can say we are going to look at MONSTERS. This isn’t just going to be a book of creepy creatures. We’re going to dig into why we see certain animals as monsters, and how those judgments and assumptions affect how we think of them. I was blown away with the discussions that Pink is for Blobfish prompted with kids, and I can’t wait to see how they respond to this book!

I also have my first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, coming out next year! I’ve always been a fan of sharks, and I was thrilled to tell the story of Eugenie Clark, one of the world’s first female shark scientists. Eugenie is one of those incredible women that changed the world just by being her fearless self, and I am so eager to share this book with everyone. Look for it around June!

I can’t let you get away without asking you a few holiday-themed questions, so…

You told me that World Animal Day is one of your favorite holidays. Can you talk a little about that?

What could be better than a day devoted to animals!? World Animal Day is a day to chat about animals all over the world, and how we can best protect them and their futures. A funny thing happens when you start talking about animals in the global sense—you can’t help them without also helping us. Education and awareness can accomplish so much!

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

I have one that ties in really well here! When I was a teen, I had a really cool Christmas tradition that I highly recommend to parents of animal lovers. On Christmas morning (or any special holiday morning for you!) I would go to my local humane society, bring treats, and walk the dogs. Usually, these centers have lots of volunteers, but busy holidays are often pretty slow for them and there’s not a lot of help. I guarantee the dogs will love the company, and you’ll get to spend an hour surrounded by wagging tails! You can’t lose.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Yes! A very savvy bookstore (DDG Books!) organized a “Valentine for Blobfish” event when Pink is for Blobfish came out. So many young readers felt bad that the blobfish was voted the world’s “Ugliest Animal” (true story!) and they wanted to send him valentine cards to make him feel better!

You can see more about it here in this video:

And read some blobfish poetry here. Or, you can see some of theadorable cards on my blog.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

Thank you, Jess! It’s been so much fun! I wish you all the best with all of your books and your other ventures!

Learn more about Jess Keating!

As a zoologist turned middle grade and picture book author, Jess Keating has been sprayed by skunks, bitten by crocodiles, and been a victim to the dreaded paper cut. Her MY LIFE IS A ZOO series earned two Kirkus stars, a Red Maple nomination, a Rocky Mountain Book Award nomination, and a spot on the LA Times Summer Book Pick List. 

Her quirky nonfiction picture book series kicked off with PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, with a sequel to follow in 2017. Her first picture book biography, SHARK LADY, will also be published in 2017. 

Jess is also the creator, writer and host of Animals for Smart People, a Youtube series about animals, science, and nature. Subscribe today and bring Jess into your classroom!

Connect with Jess Keating:

You can  find Jess on Twitter @Jess_Keating and on Facebook@JessKeatingBooks!

Pink is for Blobfish can be found at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndigoIndieBound| PenguinRandom House

About the Holiday

We love animals, but do we take care of them the way we should? Today’s holiday was established in 1931 to promote global awareness of animals and the issues surrounding their welfare. From pets to domesticated animals to wild creatures, humans must protect and advocate for their companions and fellow travelers on this earth. Issues such as pollution, habitat destruction, and poaching threaten the world’s wide variety of species, while closer to home spaying and neutering controls the population of feral animals that often suffer from a lack of resources.

The wildlife kingdom is majestic and awe-inspiring. Today celebrate the world’s animals by taking a trip to a zoo, aquarium, or animal preserve, consider adopting a shelter animal, or donating your time or talents to your favorite animal cause.

Pink is for Blob Fish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals

Written by Jess Keating | Illustrated by David DeGrand


Pink is sweet like cotton candy, right? Pink is pretty like a rose, isn’t it? Pink is quiet like twightlight, don’t cha think? Well…yes, and…maybe not so much. You’d be pardoned for squirming in the presence of a pinktoe tarantula which is found in the rain forests of Matinique and Guadeloupe and can defeat predators with their spiky hairs, and if you can’t make heads or tails of the Pink Fairy Armadillo, which looks like a cross between a lobster tail and a shag rug, no one will blame you.


But the world is full of pink, and for each of these grimace-inducing bubble-gum-hued creatures there are plenty who simply take your breath away with their beauty. Imagine watching a duo-toned light-and-dark-pink Roseate Spoonbill take off and soar over marshland along America’s Gulf Coast or a river in South America or the West Indies like a valentine on the wind. You will likewise marvel when you see the delicate form of the Orchid Mantis. This variety of praying mantis found in the rain forests of Indonesia and Malaysia is so identical to real orchids that other insects can’t tell the difference and often land in the grasp of their tricky predator.


Seas and rivers also teem with pink wildlife. Pygmy Seahorses swimming in the waters of the South Pacific blend in to their coral surroundings like a spiky ball among hedgehogs. With white-and-pinkish bodies dotted with strawberry-colored knobs, these seahorses are perfectly camouflaged against predators. The rose-colored Amazon River Dolphin hunts for piranhas, crustaceans and bottom dwelling fish with its long snout in the freshwater rivers of South America. The rivers, lakes, and swamps of sub-Sahara Africa are home to Hippopotamuses, which “ooze thick pink oil all over their skin. This pink ‘sweat’ acts like an antibiotic sunscreen, so hippos can stay out in the sun all day without getting burned.” Imagine if you could do that!

Of course, there is also the Blobfish, recently voted as the world’s ugliest animal. But isn’t this little glob of gelatinous goo really so ugly it’s cute? Found in deep waters off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, this fish survives where others cannot by simply opening its mouth and gobbling down whatever floats by.

With many more examples of pink wildlife in this captivating book, it’s guaranteed that after flipping through the pages of Pink is for Blobfish you will never look at pink the same way again! 


Jess Keating highlights a host of fascinating pink animals in this volume that is sure to delight kids and get them excited about the world less seen. The first in the World of Weird Animals series,Pink is for Blobfish is loaded with scientific facts, remarkable trivia, and humorous asides to pique the interest of readers’ inner zoologist. Each two-page spread provides a spectacular up-close photograph of the animal, insect, or fish described as well as its common name, species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators or threats. Keating also taps into her audience’s love of the unique and even the bizarre with conversational paragraphs that reveal unusual habits, traits, survival mechanisms, and more for each creature featured.

David DeGrand lends his unique illustration style to the pages with funny cartoon portrayals of the creatures and one of their signature traits. These humorous depictions will not only make kids and adults laugh but will promote better understanding of each unique animal.

Pink is for Blobfish is a perfect addition to personal libraries for budding environmental scientists or anyone interested in the wider, wilder animal world and is an exciting title for school libraries and classrooms, where it could inspire scientific study.

Ages 5 – 10

Knopf Books for Young Readers, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553512274

You’ll discover books, videos, creature features, resources, and lots more on Jess Keating’s website!

You will find the world of David DeGrand’s art and comics on his website!

Pink is for book trailers—at least this one!

World Animal Day Activity


Wonderful Wildlife Board Game


Fascinating animals are found in every part of the world. Play this fun printable Wonderful Wildlife Board Game to match each animal to the area where it lives.



  1. Print a World Map for each player
  2. Print one set of 16 Wildlife Tokens for each player
  3. Print two copies of the 8-sided die, fold, and tape together
  4. If you would like, color the map and tokens
  5. Choose a player to go first
  6. Each player rolls both dice and places an animal on their map according to these corresponding sums of the dice below
  7. The first player to fill their map is the winner!
  • 1 = Flamingo – South America
  • 2 = Emperor Penguin – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 3 = Giraffe – Africa
  • 4 = Bald Eagle – North America
  • 5 = Ibex – Europe
  • 6 = Kangaroo – Australia
  • 7 = Panda – Asia
  • 8 = Orca – Antarctica (Southern Ocean)
  • 9 = Toucan – South America
  • 10 = Buffalo – North America
  • 11 = Koala – Australia
  • 12 = Lion – Africa
  • 13 = Etruscan Shrew – Europe
  • 14 = Manta Ray – Pacific Ocean
  • 15 = Sea Turtle – Atlantic Ocean
  • 16 = Tiger – Asia

Picture Book Review