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The Story Behind the Story of School of Fish + Cover Reveal

By Mary Boone

I never imagined I’d be donning waders, standing waist-deep in a rushing river, and netting migrating salmon. But that’s where my book research took me and I’m glad it did.

SCHOOL OF FISH is an informational fiction picture book based on a very real program called Salmon in the Classroom. Every year more than 100,000 students in at least 10 states and four provinces participate in hands-on programs through which they hatch salmon eggs. Along the way, they learn about the salmon’s life cycle and impediments to its survival. Students in another 30-plus states and two provinces participate in similar programs focused on trout or sunfish.

I grew up in Iowa and had only eaten canned salmon, formed into a loaf or patties, until I was in my mid-20s. But now I live in Washington state, where salmon are revered. My husband and I are fortunate to live on a lake through which salmon travel to get to their spawning grounds. The lake has a fish ladder with a sort of trap at the top. The trap is designed to hold the fish in one spot until members of the Squaxin Island Tribe come over – typically twice daily – to count the salmon and identify which species they are. Once they’re counted, the fish are released, and numbers are reported to the state. State and Tribal governments work closely to protect and monitor salmon and other native fish.

Of course, as a former newspaper reporter and all-around curious person, the first time I saw this all happening, I had roughly two million questions. The Squaxin fish counters patiently answered a few, but then clued me in about a school program where I could learn more. That afternoon I started making phone calls.

I arranged to attend in-school programs – lots of them! When the hatched salmon reach “fry” stage, students take field trips to release them in assigned streams. I attended numerous release events – some with just a few students and one with more than 5,000 students. I went along as volunteers led salmon-themed games and crafts, and shared information about the health of our waterways. As students learned, I learned – about habitat, conservation, lifecycles, predators, inherited traits, and more. I began volunteering with a nearby salmon conservancy group. I have planted trees to improve salmon habitat, monitored salmon traps, and even helped with salmon DNA testing. The book and online research I did for this book was valuable, but these hands-on experiences allowed me to add more depth to the story I would write.

I tried initially to tell this story in straight nonfiction. But I’m glad I took a chance on adding a fictionalized main character, Emmy, whose class participates in this very real educational program. My hope for this book is that it helps young readers understand more about the natural world around them. I also hope it conjures some curiosity in them – the kind that inspires them to ask questions and do some experiencing and experimenting of their own.

And now, for the first time, here's the fun and fabulous cover for School of Fish! SCHOOL OF FISH releases August 8, 2024, from Albert Whitman & Co.

Author Bio: Mary and her family love hiking, kayaking, and exploring in the Pacific Northwest. She’s written many nonfiction books for young readers including BUGS FOR BREAKFAST: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet (Chicago Review Press, 2021). When she’s not writing or counting salmon, she enjoys reading, crafting, baking, and hanging out with her Airedale terrier, Ruthie Bader. Visit Mary’s website to learn more about her work. Or find her on Instagram, Threads or X at @boonewrites

Mary has two more picture books on the horizon: PEDAL PUSHER releases February 18, 2025, from Henry Holt & Co., and FLYING FEMINIST releases in early 2026 from Andersen Press.



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