Sarah McAnulty on SciComm, Squids, and her Cephalopod Coloring Book

I’m excited to announce that the last book giveaway of 2018 is Sarah McAnulty’s The Ink-Credible Cephalopod Coloring Book. In order to get entered to win a brand new copy of the coloring book, courtesy of the creator herself, you’ll need to sign up for the Read More Science Book Club, my monthly newsletter for science enthusiasts. Instead of coming out at the end of the month as usual, for December the newsletter will be put out early due to holidays at the end of the year. So keep an eye out for it! Due to shipping costs around the holidays, this particular giveaway is limited to the U.S. only. 

Now, without further ado, I am thrilled to bring you an interview with the coloring book creator herself. 

ABOUT SARAH MCANULTY

Sarah McAnulty (she/her) is a squid biologist and science communicator living in Willimantic, CT. She is the founder of SkypeAScientist.com. Learn more about her adventures with squid and #SciComm on her website, or follow her on Twitter for more fascinating squid facts at @SarahMackAttack


How did the idea to make a coloring book themed around cephalopods come about? I recently became a godmother to my cousin’s son Owen and that caused me to start looking at kids’ books. I noticed that octopuses were everywhere but where the heck were all the squid?  I also noticed that people loved when I tweeted simple straightforward facts about cool cephalopods, so I thought maybe I could bring these facts into a book that works for kids and adults! The beauty of the cephalopods is that they have existed for over 500 million years, so they’ve had a LOT of time to develop some really cool approaches to life. The cephalopods are varied and have some totally bananas adaptations. Usually nature shows and kids books feature octopuses but skip over the fantastic squid the world has to offer — I figured it was time to change that. I’m currently a graduate student studying molecular and cell biology, and I’ve found that having a side-project that has an art component is an awesome way for me to relax after thinking about science all day. This was just a perfect storm of a project for me. 

Did you encounter any surprises or challenges while working on your coloring book? I generally just totally underestimated the amount of time involved in making a coloring book!  I got the fact part sorted out pretty quick (I’m effectively a random cephalopod fact generator), but getting the lines all right and then editing and adding finishing touches, like adding a pencil for scale for all the animals took a while. I had some folks edit the manuscript and they were hugely helpful, especially fellow squid biologists and science communicators Casey Zakroff and Danna Staaf. Their comments absolutely made my book stronger. 

Adult-friendly coloring books are quite popular right now. It’s an exciting idea to use them for science communication. Can you discuss the message you hope people get from this book, and maybe why everyday fans of coloring books would enjoy learning about cephalopods?  I want people to have fun while learning about some cool animals they’ve never heard of before!  I find that a lot of adult coloring books have these itsy bitsy little things to color, and I totally get why people think that’s relaxing but they totally stress me out. I made my coloring book with bigger spaces for people to color. Cephalopods are constantly changing their body pattern so it seemed silly to make people draw one particular pattern on their skin anyway. I think it might be fun for people to look these animals up to so they can see the broad and beautiful range of colors these animals can be.  Even though it’s a whole book about cephalopods, people are going to get a wide variety of cool information from the book because cephalopods are all so different from each other. They inhabit almost every marine ecosystem on the planet, so they need super varied lifestyles. Another added bonus? It’s hard to color in the “wrong” color for a cephalopod- they’re always changing 🙂

What’s on your shelf right now? Do you have a favorite cephalopod book, or any recommendations for our readers? Right now I have two books I’m actively reading, but I definitely have some other suggestions if you’re into Cephalopods. I’m reading The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Stephen L. Brusatte, and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. I generally try to keep one fun one and one make-me-better one simultaneously. If you’re into cephalopods, there are some GREAT popular science ones out there. My two favorites are Danna Staaf’s Squid Empire, and Wendy Williams’ Kraken: the Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of SquidSquid Empire was published last year and is so great. Danna is a great and funny writer. She tells the tale of the evolution of squid. I never even thought I would be all that interested in extinct cephalopods until I picked up that book, and I couldn’t put it down.  Kraken is also totally fantastic, it tells the story of squid science through the lens of the scientists who study them. It’s full of great stories about people but still teaches you a lot about the animals themselves. It’s a wonderful read.

Illustrations from The Ink-Credible Cephalopod Coloring Book. Image courtesy of Sarah McAnulty

You’re a squid biologist and an active cephalopod science communicator with a substantial following. How did you end up in that? Do you have any thoughts on how communicating science can be practiced in everyday life? I wish I could say I had some grand plan all along, but this just kinda happened! I’ve always been super excitable about cephalopods and I’ve always been the first person to bring them up at a party, but the Twitter thing just kinda took off. I was doing a crowdfunding effort back in my second year of grad school to support our lab and during that time I was interacting with the public and explaining my work more than I ever had before. I realized I was having more fun doing that than doing science, and I was having plenty of fun doing science. After the crowdfunding effort was over, I continued to engage the public during down-time at work, and the community kept building. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring science communicators? I think that the biggest piece of advice I can give anyone starting out in science communication is to be yourself, and always keep learning. I think it’s useful to just play around and see where you have the most fun.  Maybe your science communication style is best served visually in comics, maybe it’s easier for you to do stand up or write short, quippy tweets. It’s all about finding where you have the most fun because if you’re having fun and being yourself, it makes communicating your science less of a chore and more just a fun activity. Another really important thing to do is find voices that come from backgrounds unlike yours and listen to what they have to say. It’s important to learn from other people and their life experiences. It helps you connect better with people who aren’t like you, and reminds you that everyone is not in the same bubble as you.


Thank you for your thoughtful answers, Sarah! Readers, you can help support Sarah with her science communication efforts by purchasing a copy of her coloring book on Amazon.

Sara MacSorley Introduces Readers to Super Cool Scientists in New Book

Sara MacSorley published the second Super Cool Scientists coloring book this month, which celebrates “a diverse cohort of dynamic women” working in a wide range of STEM careers. Through diverse representation, she aims to help young people envision themselves in STEM careers. She hopes that every reader will find a scientist they connect with in her books.

The coloring books are beautiful and well-done. They feature illustrations of female scientists alongside biographies about their life and work. Their most unique characteristic is that they focus on today’s female scientists — real women making an impact on their field. Sara makes an effort to include scientists who represent women from all backgrounds. In addition, both books include a list of resources for women interested in science as well as a glossary of scientific vocabulary used throughout the biographies. These books make an excellent gift for an aspiring young scientist or college student who loves coloring books, and they’re perfect for both kids and adults.

I reached out to Sara to learn more about her efforts to represent diversity and inclusion in STEM, and to get copies of BOTH Super Cool Scientists coloring books into the hands of one lucky reader for this month’s Read More Science book giveaway. Sign up for the Read More Science Book Club, my monthly newsletter for readers, and you’ll have a chance to win the Super Cool Scientists coloring books. You’ll also be automatically entered to win other exciting new science books in upcoming giveaways!

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Sara MacSorley

Congratulations on publishing the second Super Cool Scientists coloring book! Making STEM more inclusive is a big problem to tackle. How do you foresee your books making a difference?

Thank you! Diversity and inclusion in STEM is a layered issue for sure. I see it as having three main parts. One, representation. Representation is where we recognize and celebrate the diverse women already existing in the STEM space who are doing amazing work. Two, recruitment. Recruitment is where we get young people exposed to, excited about, and interested in STEM careers and setting them up on that path. This part is the fun stuff – science is super cool so it’s easy to get young people interested. Three, retention. Retention is the most challenging work. Retention is where we work to change environments and cultures (long ingrained cultures of sexism, racism, ableism, etc.) to create adapted, truly inclusive spaces where everyone has a sense of belonging.

In all areas, we also have to remember the intersectionality that exists. Not all women are the same. We all have different experiences, different perspectives, and different challenges. It is important to remember when talking about diversity and inclusion that we can’t approach this work and do it well by grouping all women in the same box. There are layered issues that come along with being a black woman in STEM, or a LGBTQ+ woman in STEM, or a disabled woman in STEM.

The Super Cool Scientists books showcase a diverse cohort of women doing super cool work. My hope is that the books show some of that intersectionality to young people because representation matters. I also hope that the books provide extra recognition to today’s women in STEM. I want the featured scientists to know that they are role models for what they do everyday and that their stories are part of the narrative of what scientists look like.

Did you encounter any surprises or challenges while working on book #2? 

Life is full of surprises. For starters, I initially hoped to fund the second book with another crowdfunding campaign. However, some professional and personal transitions happened for me during the same time frame as the funding campaign. I didn’t have a much time as I had planned to spend on promoting the project so ultimately that was an unsuccessful round of fundraising.

Challenges are also opportunities (though it’s easier for me to say that than to always believe it when I’m facing challenges myself). It worked out that the original book was so successful that I was able to use those sales to fund the production of the second book.

Were there any “super cool scientist” ladies who initially inspired you to start book #2? 

All the super cool scientists from the original book along with all the other super cool supporters of the project inspired me to create a second volume. Creating the original book was such a fun experience that I wasn’t ready to give that up. The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that I knew people would want more so the idea for a second version got moving pretty quickly.

I have many super cool ladies in my life (some of them, but not all, are scientists). They are my cheerleaders, my consultants, my shoulders to lean (or cry) on, my rocks. I couldn’t have done this without my girls.

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Illustration from Super Cool Scientists #2

What’s the most important message you want readers of the Super Cool Scientists books to walk way with?

The goal of the project from the very beginning was to have every reader who picked up a copy of one of the books find a connection to at least one of the featured scientists. Being a coloring book, there are multiple ways to find connection points – either through the narrative story or the story told through the illustration. I wanted young people to be able to picture themselves in these types of careers and also understand the wide range of careers that exist in STEM. That is why it was so important for us to include many types of jobs in lots of fields and a diverse cohort of dynamic women. The books include women of color, women with disabilities, women who wear hijab, women who are community college graduates, women who are entrepreneurs, women who are mothers, women who are athletes, and so much more.

The message is that science is for everyone – regardless of what you look like, where you come from, or what challenges you have encountered.

Do you have any favorite science books you want to recommend, or other coloring books you enjoy/are inspired by? 

I’ve always enjoyed reading so it’s tough to think of favorites. For my own coloring, I tend to like books that have a lot of geometric patterns or mandalas. For science books, I recently finished and would recommend Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (plus the Super Cool Scientists website has a list of resources – including books!). I enjoy anything by Carl Zimmer or Richard Preston. Right now, I’m reading Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Julie Berwald.

If you could have the whole world read one book, what would it be? 

There are so many amazing books out there. I like reading books that help me think about how I’m living my life and reflect on how I can continue to grow as a person. In recent years, I’ve read several of Pema Chodron’s books including Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. I’d have the whole world read a book that speaks to them in that way. For some that may be a religious text, for others it could be a memoir that speaks to a certain set of experiences. It could be any book that makes us all reflect a little bit more on our own experience and how that relates to the experience of others.

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Illustration from Super Cool Scientists #2

Thank you for the thoughtful answers, Sara!

Itching to get your hands on a copy of these beautiful coloring books? You can purchase both Super Cool Scientists books at www.supercoolscientists.com. You can also follow @SuperCoolSci on Twitter and @SuperCoolScientists on Instagram for updates and more from the coloring book creators.