One-Shot World Tour: Southeast Asia
and Jan Reynold’s Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life

h1 August 11th, 2009 by jules


“Parades of brightly dressed people carrying plates of luscious fruit and flower offerings on their heads follow priests in pure white sarongs as they walk
to the temple for the planting celebration…For hundreds of years
these ritual gatherings have linked all the people in the watershed…”

This is one of many beautiful photographs taken by award-winning author and photographer Jan Reynolds, pictured below. Jan’s work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, The New York Times, and Outside magazine.

But she’s also the author of many nonfiction books for children, including the Vanishing Cultures series, photo-essays for children about cultural diversity. The books in the series have been recognized as Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People and selected for the Kids’ Pick of the List by the American Bookseller’s Association. Jan is also a skier, mountain climber, and all-around fearless adventurer. She holds the world record for women’s high-altitude skiing, was part of the first expedition to circumnavigate Mount Everest, and performed a solo crossing of the Himalaya. And that’s just scratching the surface of her world adventures.

Here are but a couple more of her beautiful photographs from an ’06 title:


Images from Celebrate!: Connections Among Cultures
(Lee & Low Books, 2006)

Tomorrow marks another in the series of so-called One-Shot World Tours, an occasional multi-blog event to highlight authors and books from different countries around the world, as initially dreamt-up—and always rounded-up—by blogger Colleen Mondor, herself a fearless adventurer, over at Chasing Ray. Indeed, she will have a list tomorrow—possibly tonight—over at her blog of those sites participating in this current One-Shot tour, all focused this time on authors from—and books about—Southeast Asia.

That gorgeous photo opening this post is from Jan’s latest title, Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming, published by Lee & Low in April. The book, filled with vivid, lush photographs, explains how rice farming is a way of life for those who live on the island of Bali in Southeast Asia, connecting them to the land in such a way that honors the balances of nature and serves as a fine example of sustainable agriculture in our modern world. Jan explores in great detail their world of rice farming in this book geared at elementary- to early-middle-grade students, though ultimately it’s a book that can be appreciated by readers of all ages.

Jan stopped by today for a short Q & A as my contribution to this current One-Shot World Tour. I asked her about writing Cycle of Rice, set in Southeast Asia, and then we chatted briefly about her career…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Was your visit to Bali for Cycle of Rice your first visit there? How long did the research for the book take?

Jan: I could stay in Bali for a VERY long time. I think the people are like tropical Sherpas, so loving and helpful. I’ve been twice, once with my son to get the material for Cycle of Rice…and a second time almost ten years later to get the video that is up on my web site, which augments the book. Research can take a year for a book—or be endless if you want it to be—and I also spent a couple of months in Bali with the farmers and in the fields doing, instead of researching.


“Putu waves a long bamboo pole to herd his family’s ducks to the post where he wants them to settle down and eat…Duck herding is a lively game, but it is also an important job. The ducks play a crucial role in allowing the cycle of rice to continue, year after year, for generations to come.”

7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are writing a book?

Jan: Because I shoot my own illustrations with a camera, I begin books visually, even while I’m in the field shooting. I travel to my site, and I have a vague idea of what my subject will be — and start looking for general photos to illustrate my idea. Then I see soooooo much more than my research taught me, and I shoot a ton more. When I get home, I lay out my photos in a story line, {and} then I write it.


Image from Amazon Basin, title in the Vanishing Cultures series
(Lee & Low Books, 2007)

7-Imp: Tell us about where you live in Vermont.

Jan: …I can ski my heart out in the winter and ride my mountain bike and kayak like crazy in the summer. Vermont is a great base camp.

7-Imp: What is your favorite “extreme environment”?

Jan: All extreme environments are my favorite, because they are, well, extreme! I’m drawn to extremes, whether it’s characters, environments, or activities.

7-Imp: You have a world record climb on Mt. Everest, you’ve crossed the Sahara on a camel, you completed the first cross-country ski of the Southern Alps, you completed a solo crossing of the Himalaya, and so much more. How do you do it? What motivates you?

Jan: My motivation is from being VERY curious and having Pippi Longstocking as my idol, since I was nine years old. She taught me anything is possible and nothing is crazy, as long as you are kind and earnest.

7-Imp: What was your road to publication?

Jan: My road to publication was rocky. I had a book out for adults, which was pretty easy, as it was nonfiction about my record-setting climb and ski around Mount Everest. But, to write for children, I ended up giving my advance back for my original Vanishing Cultures series, because the publisher wanted BIG changes in our agreement about how the books would look. In the end, the series got picked up by another publisher a year later and won numerous awards after I borrowed money to pay my original publishers back. So, I wasn’t crazy after all to stick to my guns about my vision for the books.

7-Imp: I know you do school visits, as well as lectures (both educational and corporate). What are your school visits like?

Jan: I usually see the whole school. I love that. I give a lecture in a big space that is personal, but it’s also like a fun show. Then, we break into discussion groups and talk about certain topics and what we’ve seen and learned up on the big screen.

7-Imp: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Jan: As I mentioned before, Pippi Longstocking had a great influence on me as a child, which never left me, and I was curious like Harriet the Spy. You have to remember there were no videos of these characters when I was young, so they became very personal and vivid in my mind. I even used to hang around my neighbors and write about what I saw in my notebook — like Harriet! I suppose writing non-fiction is like this, and I got started young. I grew up on a dairy farm, and my neighbors were farmers, too.

7-Imp: Are there any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell us about?

Jan: Now I’m working on a book about a tribe of Maasai my son and I lived with, and we’ll be exploring how they are changing their ways to become more environmentally-sensitive. So this book, like Cycle, will be about both culture and environment.

7-Imp: If you could have three (living) authors—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Jan: Well, I’m not going to limit my dinner to three: I’d have a HUGE party, inviting all those who wrote ancient, sacred texts for the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, indigenous sages, and so on, and we’d all chat about what we had in common. Then, I’d do a book about that. Remember, lots of these people would have lived over 2,000 to 5,000 (or more) years ago. We should probably serve mead and fermented mare’s milk — and libations such as those.

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jan: I once won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award for my school, then for the state of Vermont. Yes, I can climb and ski in the “Death Zone,” but just watch me whip up a quiche!!


Image from Frozen Land, title in the Vanishing Cultures series
(Lee & Low Books, 2007)

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Jan: “Love,” especially when it’s said in reference to me, as in “I love you.”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Jan: I just love words. I’m a writer, right? So I don’t hate any…(See, I just used “hate”!)

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Jan: The natural world.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Jan: Violence of any kind.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Jan: “Shiitake mushrooms!”

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Jan: A baby’s laugh.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jan: Explosions.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Jan: I have too many professions already — writer/photographer/author/town politician/band member/climber-skier jock/US ski team member/ mother/journalist/world traveller/teacher/and as my son says, “crazy lady.”

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Jan: “Okay, everybody, now we can get the party started!”

* * * * * * *

CYCLE OF RICE, CYCLE OF LIFE: A STORY OF SUSTAINABLE FARMING. Copyright © 2009 by Jan Reynolds. Images reproduced by permission of the publisher, Lee & Low Books, Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.

CELEBRATE!: CONNECTIONS AMONG CULTURES. Copyright © 2006 by Jan Reynolds. Images reproduced by permission of the publisher, Lee & Low Books, Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.

AMAZON BASIN (VANISHING CULTURES) and FROZEN LAND (VANISHING CULTURES). Copyright © 2007 by Jan Reynolds. Images reproduced by permission of the publisher, Lee & Low Books, Inc., New York, NY. All rights reserved.

All other images—with the exception of the book covers—from Jan Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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8 comments to “One-Shot World Tour: Southeast Asia
and Jan Reynold’s Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life

  1. I love that Pippi inspired her to do these great, grand things, like climbing Mt. Everest. WOWZA.


  2. How come I read the same books as a kid and I never climbed Everest? I’ve been robbed!!! ha!

    Very cool pics – love this!


  3. Oh.My.Gosh.
    My Tall One is losing her mind over here.
    She lives on this sort of book — culture books, she calls them — and takes them to bed every night. And now she pretty much wants to BE Jan when she grows up.
    Jan. I KNOW Texas is a long ways away, but would you do a school visit down here????


  4. Wonderland. With a photographer.

    What a life! And now I want to cram all of her books into a bag and thrust them at my siblings and nephews and say, “LOOK! READ! DREAM! GO!!!”


  5. Amazing and beautiful photos! The herding ducks is my favorite. I think I need to read Pippi again to inspire me to be more adventurous :).


  6. of course I’ll do school visits in Texas, sign me up… wonderful interview, thanks Imp


  7. Jan is so inspiring, and I am so glad she wrote Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life. I cannot stress enough how important rice is here in Southeast Asia. We eat rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, dessert… If we go through one day without rice, we feel strangely incomplete. No wait, we CAN’T go through a day without rice. It would feel like going through a day without food. :S


  8. I have read a few of the vanishing cultures books, they are quite a treasure as is Jan. I love how she attributes her adventuring spirit to a book from her childhood; proves that books really DO shape you! & also how important it is to put a variety of great writing & ideas into the hands of young readers & imagine the possibilities!


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