Transcript: Episode 35: Kids Fossil Frenzy with Sandra Bennett

This is a transcript of Episode 35: Kids Fossil Frenzy with Sandra Bennett

Travis (00:26)
In what seems to be a trend this season, today I have another episode with a fantastic author, Sandra Bennett. Sandra writes books for readers aged 3 to 12 and in particular a series called the Adamson Adventures. In this series, the Adamson children take center stage on family trips where they uncover histories and mysteries and more. What’s all this got to do with prehistoric animals? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

Travis (00:56)
you are an author who writes to engage and delight readers aged three to 12 years, and you have a passion for literacy. Why is literacy so important?

Sandra Bennett (01:07)
Well, literacy for me is the foundation for everything. Without being able to read and write and comprehend, kids can’t learn anything really. When children start their environment, their world is very small and they only know what is basically around them. But as they learn to read, it opens up the rest of the world to them. And by opening up the world, they are not only learning,

to educate themselves, they’re learning everything to express themselves, imagination, understanding, empathy, you name it, the whole lot. And then they can learn to grow and become innovators and creators. And without being able to read, you can’t do any of that. Reading is the basic foundation to everything else in your life.

Travis (01:58)
I had a grandmother who used to read to me and I absolutely agree, you know, that foundation probably led to the career I’m in now. So absolutely agree.

Sandra Bennett (02:09)
Yeah, I think, you know, without, without being read to as a child, you don’t grow and learn to have that passion yourself, about that passion to read, you don’t discover so many things. I mean, books can be fictional or nonfiction, and they can lead you to so many different places, and take you to so many different places that you wouldn’t, wouldn’t otherwise know. So as reading is just the absolute

bare essentials to start life.

Travis (02:39)
How did you come to this career? We are here to talk about some of your books, but I’m interested a little bit in your story as well. How did you come to be an author?

Sandra Bennett (02:48)
I started off as a primary school teacher and right back when I was at Teachers College and we’d actually studied children’s books and children’s literature and writing children’s books then at college, I thought at the time I would really like to do that. But then, you know, you get married, you have kids, you start teaching, that all gets put on the back burner, you don’t do anything about it. But and then as I was teaching, I gradually realised that…

If I wrote stories in my classroom about the kids in my class, then they wanted to learn to read. And I think that was the best thing. It was like an epiphany to me and to them because we both realised, I mean, kids are egocentric, let’s face it. They want to read a story about themselves. So they want to learn to read. And it was just a basic beginning of, OK, if I can do this, if I can engage my kids in my class this way.

I can engage other kids and I wanted to help. It’s basically started, I guess, with boys. Boys, I found, don’t want to read anywhere near as much as girls do. I mean, it’s, unfortunately, it is a fact. It’s just the way boys are. They don’t sit still often enough to start with. So if you’re, if you’re to write something that’s going to really engage them and intrigue them, you’ve got half a chance. And I…

found all that was the best avenue for me to do that.

Travis (04:15)
You mentioned writing stories with the kids in them. So that’s something you used to do for your classes. Yeah.

Sandra Bennett (04:20)
Yes, yeah, especially when I had kindergarten in year one.

I found at that age, they just loved hearing stories about themselves. And we had, I used to have a pet stuffed toy in the class. So we’d write stories with the kids and the little toy pet that they could take around and explore the world with. So they explore their environment with this little animal, this little lion cub we called it Caesar. And Caesar went everywhere with his class and everywhere with these kids. And we just had so much fun with it. We made great stories with it. And that’s…

and they wanted to read every week. It’d be, what’s the next adventure we’re all going on?

Travis (04:59)
now you have a book series called the Adamson Adventures Could you tell me a little bit about the series.

Sandra Bennett (05:07)
Okay, well the series, well, it originally started out because again, I wanted to engage kids to read. And we were actually away on holidays, but my boys were quite little. So it was the mid 90s originally. So it goes back a fair way. And we were actually in Bali at the time. And I was reading a book in bed each night, a chapter each in bed each night to our three boys.

and they were so engaged and they wanted to read the next chapter and the next chapter and I thought wouldn’t it be really good if there was a story set in Bali, an adventure set in Bali.

that I could read to them. So I had to look when we’re in Bali because I couldn’t find anything. So I thought, right, that’s it. I can’t find it. So they say if you can’t find it, write it yourself. So that’s what I did. And that’s when secrets hidden below evolved. So that’s actually set in Bali. And it’s a little, well, it’s just a little pirate adventure treasure hunt around Bali. But it’s…

But it involves so much more because it involves history and culture and geography and language. So kids are learning so much about the island as well as just enjoying the adventure. So the whole series ended up becoming a way of bridging that gap between non -fiction readers and fiction readers and helping those who wanted to only read fiction or those who only wanted to read non -fiction to put it together.

I’m going, wow, I can read something, I can enjoy it. I don’t want to put it down, but I’m also learning something along the way. So that’s basically where it all came from. So it all extended from there.

Travis (06:52)
And could you tell me a little bit about the second book in the series then?

Sandra Bennett (06:57)
Yep, the second one is A Lighthouse in Time And that one is set here in New South Wales, down the south coast. This old lighthouse here is actually a rowan down there. And we used to go down there on beach holidays every January, so we were near it. And I always said to the boys, there’s a ghost story in that. There has to be.

So this is actually a little ghost hunt around the area down the south coast. So kids actually learn a lot about all the shipwrecks that actually happened there and why the ships, why they happened and why that actually got destroyed, that lighthouse actually got destroyed because it was actually in the wrong place and it was confusing to many people and they were hitting the rocks.

Travis (07:45)
Yeah, there’s lots of lots of great shipwreck stories on the South coast there. So both of these, I hear that you’re getting a bit of history, combining it with adventure and maybe a family holidays. That’s what’s happening so far in the two books.

Sandra Bennett (07:56)
Hmm. Yes, yes, they’re always family holidays. Yeah, yeah. So…

Travis (08:03)
and this really gets to the topic of my podcast is called Fossil Frenzy. Now this features the family on a trip up to Winton in Queensland. Beautiful. And you’ve got the book there. What did they find in Winton?

Sandra Bennett (08:14)

well, they actually found a whole lot of fossils. I actually set it on their uncle’s farm. So I put their uncle’s farm right at the base of the escarpment where all the fossils are found. I don’t know, most of the listeners know that there’s the Aged Dinosaurs Museum at the top of the escarpment up there. And that’s that big open plain where all the fossils were found.

So they’re up on Uncle Tom’s farm and they actually go fossil hunting there to try and help raise some money for Uncle Tom because the drought’s stricken and he’s running out of money and he can’t feed his cattle. So they end up finding whole lots of different fossils of Australian dinosaurs. And this is why I really wanted to write this one.

because so many kids know about Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus and Triceratops, all the usual dinosaurs. And I thought, how many Australian kids actually know about Australian dinosaurs? And that’s very rare for them to know those. So, OK, so we ended up to actually take them back in time to the land of dinosaurs up around Winton. So they get lost in time.

And so they have Australovenator chasing them and they see the big sauropods Diamantinasaurus matildae Because those two always intrigued me. When we did the visit up there, I’m probably jumping ahead of myself, but when we did the visit up to the Dinosaur Museum, I learned all about Banja and Matilda and they absolutely had me fascinated. So I thought, I’ve got to write about these dinosaurs.

Travis (09:55)
I’ve spoken to folks from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs quite regularly. Adele Pentland has become a friend and collaborator and she’s, she’s appeared a lot on this podcast and she has her own podcast as well, which is fantastic. So the, the Winton dinosaurs are very, very well known to me and my listeners. Absolutely. So, and also of course the logo of my podcast is currently an Australovenator well. So.

Sandra Bennett (10:15)

okay. I, for a while there, was having trouble pronouncing it. And I went, we actually did the launch at the Australian National Museum, Dinosaur Museum here in Canberra. And they taught me slowly how to finally pronounce it properly. Because if you’re just reading it, you don’t know how to pronounce it.

Travis (10:40)
no, that’s right. I’ve heard some some Americans who take that Venator and say Venator So it’s a slightly different pronunciation there, but it also depends I think when it’s when it’s flowing into Australovenator that works Better to my ear,

Sandra Bennett (10:47)

It does. Yeah. And then of course, there’s the Demon Duck of Doom. I know they don’t actually quite fit in quite the same era, but I couldn’t resist. I had to put in a Demon Duck of Doom. I just love that name.

Travis (11:00)
Mm -hmm.

is that it that’s a Genyornis is it or?

Sandra Bennett (11:12)
I had it as a Bullockornis planei at the time. Yeah. I, cause now I think they call it a, what is it? It’s a bullacorn is it’s a Dromornis or something now they’ve reclassified. Yeah.

Travis (11:24)
Dramonis, yeah, might be. You develop some teaching resources which help kids reflect on reading the book and ensuring that teachers have something at easy hand to help learn. What do you hope they learn then a bit about, you know, some of the Australian animals featured?

Sandra Bennett (11:42)
I basically hope that they learn a passion for them rather than the normal ones. That they learn to understand the uniqueness of what we actually have here and appreciate what we actually have here and have that fascination for our own fossils. And I want to go and explore and find out more themselves. I think it’s important if…

If you heighten that curiosity, then you’re giving them that opportunity to go and explore and learn even more. My eldest son’s actually a geologist, and he’s the one who actually got me into the dinosaurs. Before I even had him, to me, a rock was a rock. It was quite boring. And then he came along and we actually introduced him to fossils at five years old.

Travis (12:25)

Sandra Bennett (12:32)
And his passion for fossils and rocks and things is just developed. He’s now a PhD geologist. And I thought, I just want other kids to grab that passion for science. It doesn’t have to necessarily be rocks or be fossils, but as long as it’s a passion for science and to learn and to understand and to appreciate our environment,

Travis (12:54)
If you can get kids hooked on, on that interest on getting used to exploring and researching and checking things out for themselves, then you know, they can go into any field of discovery. And even if they don’t, you know, even if they, they grow up and go into any other field, having an appreciation for the world around us and being able to look at it.

with clear eyes is important.

Sandra Bennett (13:18)
Absolutely, yeah. And that’s the whole key to the whole thing, I think, yeah. And then of course, there’s Spike. Spike’s one of my favourite characters in the book. Spike’s a… I’ve just gone blank. What do you call him? He’s a giant, giant echidna. So he’s a… Murrayglossus hacketti Yeah, he’s just so cute.

Travis (13:39)
in addition to digging up the fossils, the family obviously comes face to face with the past in some way. And, you know, I don’t think there’s going to be too many of your potential readers listening perhaps, but how does that work? How did you deal with the time travel problem?

Sandra Bennett (13:45)

Well, I actually, because it was drought stricken Queensland, I actually had two cyclones coming down from, what, from, one coming across the Gulf and one coming from the young peninsula and working their way across. And then the two cyclones finally emerge and become this massive storm. And the kids take refuge in a cave because they’re out fossicking and they’re taking refuge in a cave under the plateau.

When they come out, because of the storms built up so much that it produced this vortex for want of another word. And when they come out of the cave after the storm settled, they’ve actually found themselves way back in the land of the strandon cells. So everything, everything suddenly, suddenly different. So instead of being the dry, open plain, it’s now this great big rainforest.

Travis (14:41)


And so then they have to have to find a way to deal with suddenly coming face to face with prehistoric wildlife. Yeah.

Sandra Bennett (14:56)
Yes. And how are they going to survive? Yes. And then how are they going to get home again?

Travis (15:01)
Yes, well that’s always the challenge. It’s one thing to make the trip, but you’ve got to find a way back.

Sandra Bennett (15:07)
Gotta get back. Exactly.

Travis (15:10)
Now you mentioned that family trip to Bali and obviously down on the south coast you know that area well and you mentioned a family trip to Winton so is it usually a trip that informs your research? What kind of research do you undertake for the books?

Sandra Bennett (15:24)
Yeah, a lot of it is a lot of a lot of the trip is trips with Fossil Frenzy. It was definitely the catalyst was definitely going to Winton. We were we were actually living up in Darwin at the time and coming back home to Canterbury and driving for two years. We flying backwards and forwards. And I went, we’re finally driving. We’ve got to go via Winton. I need to go see this dinosaur museum. And then.

I had an opportunity to go to Cairns and I went to the Discovery Centre up in Daintree. And they’ve got more about the dinosaurs up there too. So I was able to gather information from both places and then gather more information from the museum sites, the National Museum, the Sydney Museum, Winton’s Museum itself. I just gathered as much information as I could. So yeah, so that’s how I do it. They always end up being out of…

Research comes from going to the place, definitely.

Travis (16:21)
Yeah, yeah. And then just, yeah, pack it full of obviously a great story to drag people through. And then if you fill it with facts, hopefully the kids will pick something up as they’re reading, of course.

Sandra Bennett (16:31)
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

Travis (16:36)
Now, if we could, I’d like to jump to your next book in this series, which is releasing this June and it’s called Tracks in the Mist. look, we have it, we have it there. So on the cover there, I can spot a certain striped marsupial. Now without giving it too much away, what’s going on?

Sandra Bennett (16:42)
Yep. And there it is.


Okay, well with this one, this one’s set obviously, but we’re being able to see what is down here. It’s giving you the hint that it’s actually set in Tasmania. I always wanted to write a story in Tasmania and I had an idea of taking an adventure down through the rivers within a kayak, but it was a totally different story. It wasn’t going to be The Adamson’s because originally The Adamson’s was only ever going to be the three books.

But then when you get to the end of Fossil Frenzy, I had so many kids say to me, what happens next? I need to know what’s going to happen. So I went, okay, it looks like I’m writing this one. So that basic, the story idea ended up becoming this one. So I take the Adams and kids down to Tasmania. To do that though,

I have to tell a little bit of a spoiler here, because something happens at the end of Fossil Frenzy that then leads to this one. And it’s all to do with, I don’t know if you can see it there, there’s the little demon duck of doom standing there with the kids. So he gets lost down in Tasmania. I won’t tell you how. But he’s lost in Tasmania. So the kids go down trying to find him before any researchers can get him or any poachers can get him.

all that sort of thing. So, but in doing so, they then discover that something else quite possibly could after all be alive. Maybe it’s not extinct after all.

Travis (18:25)
So I love the way that you’re playing with extinction in both of these two books, actually. What messages about extinction and wildlife and conservation do you hope to having in those books that you hope people take away?

Sandra Bennett (18:40)
Well, I hope basically that people will take away the need to look after the environment, but the animals within their environment, because when we lose something, it affects the whole ecology of the area. Like once the thylacine was gone, it was the largest carnivorous marsupial predator at the time. And now the only carnivorous marsupial predator is the Tasmanian devil and the little spotted quoll. They don’t have the same effect.

So it’s important to consider should we do anything to say to to tamper with the environment the way it is. The environment has a balance to it. If we start losing things, what are we doing to that? We need to take care of it. Same as if we tried to reintroduce a species. Should we or should we not do that? And I think kids need to think about that.

Travis (19:34)

Well, those are certainly really interesting ethical questions as the as technology continues to develop and as various schemes are cooked up for you know, potentially for reviving the thylacine or others are being talked about and Yeah Once it’s gone. Is it actually ethical to to return it to the world? Is an entirely other question now you mentioned that some of the You had a little bit of a demand from some readers to to bring back

Sandra Bennett (19:54)

Travis (20:05)
or to answer those answer the question of what happened at the end of the last book or what happens next. What’s the interaction like with your with your young readers?

Sandra Bennett (20:14)
I love it. When you there’s nothing better than having a child come running up to you and saying, I love such and such a book. And because I read that one, I had to go back and read the other ones or and I had one child said to me, because he read false or frenzy, he had to read the others and he was never brave enough to read a chapter book without pictures before. But my books had him hooked. And he couldn’t put it put them down.

And then he said, because I read yours, I was brave enough to read Harry Potter. And I just went, well, job done, you know, because I’ve given that child courage to read and want to keep reading. And he could go on from there. I get so many kids saying things like that. I love it. Absolutely love it. It’s wonderful. It makes you feel like you’ve done your job.

Travis (20:51)

Once, yeah, as you say.

Yeah, as you say, once you give them the toolkit, then they can go off and do all sorts of things with that. So I’ve just noticed your lovely dinosaur dress or top that you’ve got on there as well with the skeletons all over it. Perfectly.

Sandra Bennett (21:18)
Yeah, it’s a race. And I put that on just for you.

Travis (21:24)
the last kind of question I want to ask you about your work is, is that the end for the Adamson family or do you have any other projects in mind? Can we, can we give that away or is it a secret?

Sandra Bennett (21:34)
no, that is the end of the of the Adamson’s family. Because when I first started at Secrets Hidden Below, the kids were 10, sorry, 12, 10 and 8. So I figure by the time we’ve gotten to The Tracks in the Mist, they’re now looking at 14, 12 and 10. So if I go any further, I’ve got to take them into those teenage years, which I don’t really want to do.

I like to, I want to keep it rounded at that specific age group because that’s the age group I’m writing for. If I start writing any more, it is going to end up becoming YA or young adult. And that’s not the readers I’m aiming aiming for. So I need to start now writing something totally different. I haven’t quite settled on what that’s going to be yet.

Travis (22:23)
Thank you so much for the conversation today. I really hope people go out and check out your books. All of them, of course, but in particular, the Adamson family series and, and particularly given the topic of this podcast, Tracks in the Mist and Fossil Frenzy as well. So thank you so much.

Sandra Bennett (22:40)
thank you so much for having me, Travis. I really appreciate it. It’s been wonderful.

Travis (22:44)
Check out Sandra’s website, which is full of information about her books and teaching resources at sandrabennettauthor .com. Links and more info are also available in the show notes.