The Picture Book Buzz - February Interview with STEAM Team 2020 Members
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to three authors from the STEAM Team 2020. Two have books releasing in February. And one is giving us a sneak peek at a March release. I do hope you enjoy this look at some great books and fascinating creatives.
"STEAM Team 2020 is a group of authors who have a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math books releasing in 2020. It includes fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books.”
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? What drew you to STEAM books?...)
Buffy Silverman - On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2/4/2020) I am the author of over 90 nonfiction books, featuring topics from angel sharks to alligators, and Mars to monster trucks. My books have been recognized by Kirkus, Booklist, Bank Street Books, NSTA, Science Books and Films, and The Society of School Librarians International. I started writing for children when my offspring (now 31 and 28) were book-loving toddlers. Most days I write in my basement office, which has a view of the swamp and lake that border our home. In addition to writing, I enjoy outdoor time with my dog and watching and photographing nature. In the past I’ve been a naturalist and environmental educator, and taught biology to college students.
[Her most recent books include Surviving a Shipwreck: The Titanic (2019), The World of Gaming: Pokémon (2018), Little Pets Series (2018), Mars Missions: A Space Discovery Guide (2017), Shark World Series (2017), & How Vehicles Work Series (2016) , as well as numerous poems.]
Laurie Wallmark – Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (3/3/2020) I usually write on my computer or scribble on Post-it notes when I’m lying in bed and can’t get to sleep. I started writing about 20 years ago (I’m a late bloomer). Picture books are by far my favorite category of books to write, although I’m presently working on a biography in verse for older children. I write books about scientists and mathematicians because I love science and math. Maybe my books will excite children about these fields. And if they learn a little bit about STEAM, all the better.
[Author of - Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor (2019), Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017), & Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine (2015).]
Kirsten W. Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (2/25/2020) After college I spent six years at NASA where I handled public relations for NASA’s aeronautics, Space Shuttle, and International Space Station programs. It was good practice for translating technical subjects into everyday language, and it sparked my interest in STEM topics. I started writing for children in 2011 when my own kids devoured nonfiction. My first attempt was a never-to-be-published article about an escaped capybara on the loose in California. I had no idea what I was doing. But I did have a background in journalism and a realization that I could probably learn how to write the type of books my kids loved.
[Author of – 22 nonfiction books, most recently Robotics in Our World series (2017), Cause & Effect: The Bill of Rights (2017), Protecting Our People series (2016), Statistics About U.S. Special Ops: Past & Present (2016), & Freaky Nature series (2015).]
There are so many different ways to get into writing STEAM books. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Buffy Silverman - When I was eight years old I wanted to be a Rabbi. I didn’t aspire to that profession because I wanted to be a religious leader (or even out of an attraction to religion.) I wanted to do something that girls weren’t allowed to do. Deciding to pursue what others said was impossible might have been good training for becoming a writer! [HA! I have to agree with you there.]
Laurie Wallmark –Because people often meet me at NJ SCBWI events where I’m busy volunteering, and I know many attendees, they don’t realize that I’m quite introverted. Given my druthers, I’d be hiding out in my hotel room reading a book. [Oh, my! Definitely gives me something to think about.]
Kirsten W. Larson – One of my early career aspirations was to be a detective. I watched a lot of Murder She Wrote, Simon & Simon, and Magnum PI as a kid. It’s probably no surprise that one of my favorite parts of the bookmaking process is research, which I think of as hunting for “clues.” [It's interesting how much those early dreams manifest in adulthood.]
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your story?
Buffy Silverman - On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2/4/2020) It started as an idea for StoryStorm 2018, in response to a blog post that encouraged writers to pay attention to what’s around them. Here’s what I wrote in my notebook: "It was a drip droppy slip sloppy snow melting day." Then I wrote a couple of lines about mist rising, boots sinking in slush, puddles growing on the lake. My notes continued: Is there a story here? Or just a poem? Initially I thought the image in my head was more of a poem than a story idea, but I later decided to explore the idea more fully. I researched what different animals might be doing on a snow-melting day and tried to paint a picture of the landscape getting closer and closer to spring.
Laurie Wallmark – Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (3/3/20) I’ve loved math ever since I was a child and want to share that passion with children. I chose Sophie Kowalevski because her major mathematical finding, although quite abstract and complex, can be explained using the example of a simple child’s toy—a spinning top.
Kirsten W. Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (2/25/2020) When I learned about Lilian Todd in Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illus. David Roberts, I was so surprised to learn practically nothing had been published about Lilian. Aside from the intriguing subject matter, I was inspired by the fact that Lilian’s story was such a mystery. It took a lot of detective work to piece together Lilian’s journey as she designed her own airplane. It was such a hard way to write a book, but I don’t know if I would have been as interested if the work was straightforward and simple.
I love how variable inspiration can be. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Buffy Silverman - I distinctly remember the joy of reading my first book on my own—Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman. How I loved those dogs in their little cars! And that glorious dog party. The first longer book that I recall reading was Charlotte’s Web. I remember reading Charlotte’s Web several times as a child, imagining what it would be like to be Fern, living on a farm, and raising Wilbur. Perhaps that book contributed to my current fascination with watching spiders and insects!
Laurie Wallmark – As a child, I was a big science fiction reader. My favorites were books by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.
Kirsten W. Larson – Just one? I remember getting hooked on the Nancy Drew mystery series and reading every single book in elementary school. Then I devoured Agatha Christie in middle school. Mystery is still my favorite genre to read.
Classics, Sci-Fi, & Mysteries, it's so fun to find out what books authors grew up with. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Text © Buffy Silverman, 2020 . Image © donikz/Keith Getter/Gay Bumgarner, 2020.
Buffy Silverman - On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2/4/2020) is illustrated with gorgeous photos that show the reader what animals and plants are doing as winter turns to spring. The words try to paint the sights and sounds of a changing landscape. I hope after reading the book, children (and adults!) will search for these changes. Do you hear icicles dripping or birds singing? Do you smell damp soil as snow melts and disappears? Can you spot the first insects and flower buds of spring? Wherever you live, you can discover seasonal changes.
Text © Laurie Wallmark, 2020 . Image © Yevgenia Nayberg, 2020.
Laurie Wallmark – Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (3/3/20) I hope my readers pay special attention to the back matter. Although this is a book about a mathematician, the back matter is about more than math. One page explains how names were transliterated from the Cyrillic alphabet to the Roman one.
Text © Kirsten W. Larsen, 2020 . Image © Tracy Subisaky, 2020.
Kirsten W. Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (2/25/2020) I want readers to know that Lilian failed – a lot. That’s how invention works, and it’s part of the process. Creating a flying airplane took Lilian more than four years as she moved from models, to plans, and finally, full-scale flying machine.
There is so much to like in all three of these books. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?
Buffy Silverman - On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2/4/2020) The backmatter of On a Snow-Melting Day shares more about the biological and physical changes that occur in the waning days of winter. You might think that after writing 90 plus nonfiction books, writing the backmatter would have been a breeze for me. You would be wrong! For example, to explain why ice drifts on a lake required explaining how the density of water changes with temperature—in less than 50 words! It was a challenge to succinctly and accurately describe these natural phenomena. [Yes indeed. And to do so without being incorrect or appearing condescending.]
Laurie Wallmark – Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (3/3/20) One of the hardest parts of writing this book was how to handle Sophie’s marriage. At that time, a woman could only leave Russia with her father or husband. Sophie wanted to study mathematics in Germany, so she participated in a sham marriage. When the couple got to Germany, they didn’t live together. But later, she ended up having a child by him. [The sticky reality of people can be interesting to get into a picture book.]
Kirsten W. Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (2/25/2020) The hardest part was definitely the absence of good secondary sources that included Lilian (or even mentioned her). I had to start with primary sources, combing through years of newspaper articles in two different archives to piece together Lilian’s story. There was no diary, and Lilian’s personal scrapbook is in private hands and inaccessible. Fortunately, I was in touch with two other researchers interested in Lilian, especially Michael Smith, director of the National Model Aviation Museum, and we shared our finds. [It's so tough when those resources don't exist or remain just out of reach.]
Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Buffy Silverman - I’m playing with several picture book manuscripts right now. All of them aim to share my fascination with nature in engaging, kid-friendly ways.
Laurie Wallmark – I have another (dead) Women in STEM picture book biography coming out in 2021. It hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t say much. Let’s just say that again kids won’t want to miss the back matter. It includes a fun activity related to the person’s profession.
Kirsten W. Larson – I have another forthcoming STEAM title with Chronicle Books called The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of, which will be illustrated by Katherine Roy. It’s a dual narrative of star formation and the life of astrophysicist Cecilia Payne, who discovered what made the stars. A lyrical line of text links the stories on each spread.
We'll definitely have to keep our eyes open. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Buffy Silverman - I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking when I was young. Not only would I like to meet the fictional Pippi and go on an adventure with her, I would love to have met her author, the late Astrid Lindgren.
Laurie Wallmark – Isaac Asimov. He was a true polymath. I can’t imagine we’d ever run out of subjects to talk about. And like me, he loved science and math.
Kirsten W. Larson – I’ve always thought it would be fun to hang out with Jane Austen and experience first-hand her snarky social commentary.
I'm having so much fun learning the answers to this question! Do you have any suggestions for an activity or extension to use with your book in the classroom?
Buffy Silverman - On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2/4/2020) Let your students discover signs of spring in your school yard. Take a sensory walk. Have students record what they hear, smell, see, and feel.
Search for buds on trees or bushes. Have students draw and/or photograph the buds growing at the ends of twigs. Return weekly to the same tree and notice how the buds swell and lengthen. Make new drawings and/or photographs and compare them with your earlier observations. Watch for leaves and flowers to unfurl.
Count the number of animal sounds that you hear in one minute. Does that number change over time? What other signs of spring do your students notice?
Laurie Wallmark – Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (3/3/20) Mathematicians often look for patterns in the world around them. Students can be mathematicians, too. They can observe a simple pattern by flipping coins, recording results, and asking questions. They would expect a pattern of 50% heads and 50% tails. Is that what they find? Do the percentages come closer to 50/50 the more the coins are flipped? Have the students discuss why this might be true.
Kirsten W. Larson – Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (2/25/2020) An educator’s guide will be available for Wood, Wire, Wings, so keep an eye on my website. I also have included several hands-on activities on my Pinterest board for the book @kirstenwlarson. Students can model Lilian’s process using paper airplanes, folding different designs and testing them to see how far they fly and how long they stay aloft. There are many books about folding paper airplanes. Some of my favorite designs are from FoldnFly.com
Thank you all so much for these great ideas and resources. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Buffy Silverman - Our resident hound is my favorite animal. I’m also enamored with the many animals that live in and around our home. I listen to the changing chorus of frogs from early spring to summer, watch for turtles crossing the road, find muskrats snacking on wetland plants, and observe dragonflies patrolling their territories and guarding their mates.
Laurie Wallmark – I love cats. At one point I had three cats. I don’t have any now, but I have four grand kitties.
Kirsten W. Larson – I love sloths, who are so misunderstood. People think of them as “lazy” but they are perfectly engineered to ensure their survival in their unique ecosystem.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to some amazing STEAM books that are releasing this month! (AND a sneak peek at one coming in March.)
Synopsis: In the early days of spring when the snow begins to melt, plants and animals stir to life. High-impact photos and simple, rhyming text make for an engaging read-aloud while back matter offers more detail about each of the creatures featured in this celebration of spring's arrival.
With an amazing 86 words, and rhyming couplets, Buffy Silverman shows us the world's reaction to an early spring day as the snow melts away. Do you know what snakes, salamanders, and squirrels do on such a day? Though it's hard to choose, one of my favorite spreads is : "Lake thaws. Beaver gnaws."
Synopsis: Sophie Kowalevski was both a brilliant mathematician and a talented writer. Creative work nurtured her mathematical research, giving her a flexibility of thought she treasured. A wonderful STEAM figure, she not only did mathematical research, but she also created many literary works. This inspiring title tells the story of Sophie's journey as the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics, which required original research, holding a university chair in mathematics, and becoming the editor of a major scientific journal.
Exploring the persistence and brilliance of Sophie Kowalevski that not only allowed her to succeed, but excel, in the male-dominated field of mathematics, Laurie weaves Sophie's personal moto - “Say what you know, do what you must, come what may” - through her many accomplishments. Some of which are still being used today.
Synopsis: Emma Lilian Todd's mind was always soaring--she loved to solve problems. Lilian tinkered and fiddled with all sorts of objects, turning dreams into useful inventions. As a child, she took apart and reassembled clocks to figure out how they worked. As an adult, typing up patents at the U.S. Patent Office, Lilian built the inventions in her mind, including many designs for flying machines. However, they all seemed too impractical. Lilian knew she could design one that worked. She took inspiration from both nature and her many failures, driving herself to perfect the design that would eventually successfully fly. Illustrator Tracy Subisak's art brings to life author Kirsten W. Larson's story of this little-known but important engineer.
This is a great book for the kids who loves to tinker and draw. And a model for learning from your failures. "I love the idea that Wood, Wire, Wings might inspire a child to make something. Young Lilian Todd was a total #maker, using scraps of tin and broken toys to craft useful inventions." - Kirsten Larson
Thank you Buffy, Laurie, & Kirsten for giving us a little peek into you and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these writers, or to get in touch with them:
Buffy Silverman - On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2/4/2020
Laurie Wallmark – Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (3/3/20)
Kirsten W. Larson - Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane (2/25/2020)