Interview with Sofia Tomov, a middle school author

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Interview with student author

It’s not every day a student comes up to you and hands you a copy of a book they just wrote and published. That happened to me last year and as I got mentioned in the credits it made it even more special.

Sofia Tomov researched, wrote and illustrated Sneaky Creatures: Amazing True Tales of Animal Spies  – when she was only 11! As I was teaching a history class about spies last semester, I read the book and used what I learned from it as the basis of a lesson plan for one of my classes.

I have never written a book and so I was curious about how Sofia went about the process and thought others might be too. So here is my interview with her:

Sofia Tomov
Why did you decide to write a book?

Sofia: I first found out about animal spies through reading about Project Bat Bomb, a proposed alternative to the Manhattan Project that involved bats dropping bombs on Japan. I am interested in animals and was excited to learn more about this subject as I wondered if animal spies could have saved lives as a viable alternative to nuclear weapons. I wanted to share this fascination with others and got the idea to write a book about it.

How did you pick the topic?

Sofia: I have always been interested in nature and animal behavior. After taking a fantastic class on spies throughout history at my homeschool co-op (thanks, Mrs. Van der Merwe!), I combined my interests and wondered if it was possible to train animals to become ‘spies.’ I researched this, and found fascinating articles about bats, cats, dolphins, and pigeons that have been trained to assist the American military.

How long did it take you to write it?

Sofia: It took me around four months to research and write the book.

How did you create the illustrations?

Sofia: I created the illustrations using a photo editing software called Photoshop. I used an existing image as a background, and then added images taken during the actual animal spy projects. Then, I altered certain properties of the images such as contrast and color, and used certain filters that altered the texture of the image.

Sneaky Creatures illustration

What software did you use to create the book?

Sofia: I used Google documents to write the book, and then uploaded that document into Amazon’s createSpace.

What was the hardest thing about the whole process?

Sofia: The hardest thing about writing Sneaky Creatures was narrowing down all my research to focus on several main aspects of each animal spy project. While I felt tempted to include all the fascinating details I had read about, I knew I needed to find only the most interesting and important information and include that in each chapter.

What did you learn from the experience?

Sofia: I learned not only about the specific animal spy projects, but I also learned how to effectively and engagingly communicate my research. I also realized that the notion of using animals for military purposes has more ethical flaws than I originally thought, because the animals are often placed in physical danger, and are disrespected as living beings.

What is your advice to someone your age who is thinking of writing a book?
Sofia: I would advise a young writer to choose a book topic they are truly interested in and are excited to explore in depth, and also to not give up on writing the book. It is sometimes challenging to continue writing when you feel overwhelmed by information, or when you feel like your writing is not exactly how you envision it. In this situation, I would recommend considering what you would most like to know about, or asking someone such as a parent, teacher, or friend for feedback on your writing.

Sofia is a very impressive young lady who does a lot more than just write books! She is a currently a Discovery 3M Young Scientist Challenge national finalist. If you want to keep up with Sofia – follow her on twitter @KatnissofCode.

Sneaky Creatures: Amazing True Tales of Animal Spies is easy to read and full of interesting stories that will engage anyone from elementary school up. This will make a great gift – and when children see it is written by someone their own age, I hope some will be inspired to go and write a book themselves!

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