The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Karla Valenti & Review of Marie Curie and the Power of Pe
"It takes a great deal of time and effort to create work
that stirs the hearts and minds of young readers."
~ Karla Valenti
Karla was born and raised in Mexico city. She’s had the great privilege and opportunity to live in a number of places which she came to call home: the U.S., Japan, France, and most recently Germany. She currently lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband, three kids, two cats, and hundreds of books.
Karla writes picture books and middle grade novels (La Loteria comes out in 2021, and the second book in the “My Super Science Heroes" series will be out in January 2021). She also offers a Master Course on Picture Book Writing and Editing and Picture Book critique services.
This is the week for sneak peeks! Karla’s debut picture book, Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence, releases April 7th.
Welcome Karla, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut picture book and writing.
ME: 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?)
KARLA: I have been writing my whole life. However, it wasn’t until the last decade that I was able to really focus on the craft and involve myself more deeply in the kidlit writing community. It was at that point that things really began to take off (not only because my work improved as I learned to be a better writer, but because my knowledge of the industry and how it functions made it possible for me to actually work within it).
As for favorite books: I love fiction and I am especially drawn to magical realism, stories that explore philosophical questions, or stories that break with literary paradigms.
Interesting, especially since your book breaks the typical "biography" expectations. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
This is actually a good question because it relates to Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence. I have actually never told anyone this, but… I just barely missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime (to be a part of this amazing project)!
Briefly, I had been advised of a call for submissions that was put out by the Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA), a global science association seeking to partner with an author to write a picture book as a fundraising initiative. The field was very competitive (it was a global call for proposals) and I was unpublished at the time (so not feeling very secure in my skills). I was also not a writer of non-fiction, so I definitely felt out of my league. I literally waited until the very last day to submit my story proposal, sure that it would be rejected. Imagine my surprise when I found out I had won!
What happened next is a testament to how important it is to not turn your back on any opportunity.
The book was initially going to be crowdsourced in order to raise funds for publication. However, the campaign received a lot of attention and before it was even over, Sourcebooks had heard about the book and made us an offer for world rights. Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence was on its way to publication!
Wow, that's a great back story! So why did you decide to write a book about Marie Curie specifically?
Mr. Opposition: Excuse me! But even though the book is called Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence, we all know this is really MY story. The question should be - Why did you decide to write a story about ME?
Well, Mr. Opposition, it’s very clever of you to recognize that this is not just a story about Marie Curie. In fact, one of my goals in writing this book was to introduce you to the readers; to show how even an opponent as formidable as you are can change when they learn and acquire knowledge.
You see, everyone is always encountering opposition in our lives, and it can sometimes feel very big and scary. To know that this opposition can actually push us to be better and ultimately succeed is an important lesson for readers (young and old).
Mr. O: I do think I played a rather important role in this story and in Marie Curie’s life. How would you say I helped Marie succeed?
Well, every time you placed a challenge before her, she had a choice. She could let it defeat her or she could try to overcome it. Overcoming the challenge meant learning or trying something new, solving her problems in a different way. Some of these challenges were really difficult and others took a very long time to solve, but each of these attempts helped her acquire the knowledge she needed to pursue (and succeed in reaching) her dreams.
Hello! This is my interview. I'm supposed to asking the questions. So, KARLA, what inspired you to write Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence and this series?
It was actually the MCAA folks who decided on the first scientist. They wanted the book to be about Marie Curie (after all, they are the Marie Curie Alumni Association). As for the series, once I realized how exciting it was to write the story of Marie Curie as a superhero, it became clear that this could be a wonderful series exploring scientists in a very unique way. MCAA and Sourcebooks agreed. Mr. O: I have a question! Why did you write this book as a superhero story? Some people might say it makes science seem less serious or unimportant? [He has a point.] Not at all. Don’t you think a smart and resourceful woman like Marie Curie should be allowed to consider herself a real-life superhero? Celebrating the traits that made it possible for Marie Curie to succeed does not in any way diminish her accomplishments or make them any less important. Indeed, there are plenty of books and resources that do just that, and very well. But I didn’t want to focus on what Marie Curie did. I wanted to focus on who she was, how she achieved what she did. I think that is a lot more interesting. The thing is, many of us (most of us!) are not born geniuses nor will we win Nobel prizes or get to be friends with Einstein… Mr. O: I knew him quite well! …but that doesn’t mean we cannot succeed in our own paths and pursuits. I wanted to reframe Marie Curie’s success as one defined by her traits and abilities (which she learned and developed over time) as opposed to her final accomplishments. In this way, readers can see that “success” is not about the end result, but rather the effort we put into achieving that result.
I like this bent on examining scientists who have accomplished amazing things, especially as many came from humble origins and worked really hard. So, what . . . Mr. O: That’s why Marie Curie’s superpower was not discovering radium or polonium but being persistent.
Exactly. Perseverance is something we all have and can exercise anytime we encounter YOU. Which means, even if we’re not all famous scientist, we’re all a little bit like Marie Curie. Okay, now that we got that settled, what was the hardest part of researching and writing write Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence? The easiest?
Finding information about Marie Curie and her accomplishments was relatively easy. The trickier part was finding resources that gave me a sense of who she was and how she achieved what she did. I actually came up with the idea to write about her power of persistence after reading a great deal about her as a person and scientist. One theme kept coming up, again and again: Marie never gave up. Once I landed on her power of persistence, I then had to find a way to write a story that not only accurately conveyed her life, but also showed (vs told) readers about her persistence. Combining those two different themes and making sure they worked with each other was not easy.
I also had to write Mr. Opposition’s character arc as a proper antagonist. I didn’t want him to be a one-dimensional force, but rather a complex character with his own goals, conflicts, and ultimate transformation. This required creating a stage where a non-fictional and fictional character could interact in a meaningful way. Annalisa Beghelli (the illustrator) played a big role in making this possible with her wonderful artwork.
The easiest part of writing this book was how fun it was to work with so many people on making this a reality.
That's an interesting challenge you created for yourself. Can you tell us a bit about the collaborative efforts behind Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence?
As with most things that make the world a better place, this was a hugely collaborative effort, starting with the Marie Curie Alumni Association, Micaela Quesada (a super scientist herself), and the amazing illustrator, Annalisa Beghelli.
We have also worked very closely with Kelly Barrales-Saylor and the entire team at Sourcebooks.
Finally, we have all the readers and fans around the world who helped us launch the initial crowdfunding campaign and continue to show their support as we go out into the world on April 7th.
Of course, there wouldn’t even be a book without Mr. O and Marie Curie, so they do have a special place in our hearts.
What's the next books in the series?
The "My Super Science Heroes" series continues with a new book coming out in Jan 2021: Alan Turing and the Power of Curiosity.
Mr. O: Will I be in that book too?
You are in every story, of course, but this one shines a light on a different minion: Miss Enigma.
Mr. O: Oooh! And what does she do?
You’ll have to read the book (Jan 2021) to find out!
What has been the most frustrating aspect or period of time as a children’s writer for you? A time you had to battle Mr. Opposition yourself. Any advice for unpublished and/or un-agented authors?
The hardest thing, hands-down, is dealing with the constant rejection writers receive in this line of work. We put so much of our hearts into our stories and it can be devastating to be turned away, time and again. I had always heard of the importance of building a “thick skin” as an author and, while I haven’t quite succeeded at this, I do understand what people mean.
I think the best advice I can give is (a) not matter where you are in your career, you need to be constantly working on your craft (take classes, read, write, and be part of a great critique group) and (b) we need to remember that the rejections are not personal (an agent or editor might love our work and still not be able to take it on, for any number of reasons which are entirely out of your control).
Mr. O: No one asked, but MY advice would be to always persist!
Thank you, Karla (and Mr. O) for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you both.
Thank you for letting us share our story!
To find out more about Karla Valenti, or get in touch with her: Website: https://karlavalenti.com/about/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarlaValentiAuthor/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/KV_writes
Review of Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence
Many of us have heard that to write about a well-known individual, one that perhaps has been the focus of many books, we have to find a unique or unusual way to focus on their life or their accomplishments. Or find a new element or portion of their life that hasn't been discussed.
Typically nonfiction picture book biographies focus upon the event, discovery, or extraordinary action the person is known for. Karla Valenti decided instead to "break with literary paradigms." To create an informational fiction that explores the character traits and abilities of Marie Curie that enabled her to succeed in earning two Nobel Prizes.
Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence
Author: Karla Valenti & Micaela Crespo Quesada Dr.
Illustrator: Annalisa Beghelli
Publisher: Sourcebooks (2020)
Persistence, science, superheroes, and overcoming opposition.
Meet Marie Curie. Famous physicist, chemist, and... superhero?
What if superheroes didn't have supernatural powers but instead were humans with amazing brain power? What if superheroes were scientists?
Super Evil Nemesis is determined to stop Marie Curie and the spread of knowledge. When he sends one of his craftiest minions on a mission to try all the tricks he knows, Marie Curie must use her brains and will to fight against all the obstacles that come her way. But is it enough?
Can she prevent Super Evil Nemesis from taking over the world? Does she have the power to become one of the most influential scientists in history? Only time will tell...
This first book in the My Super Science Heroes series uses a fictionalized storytelling approach to teach readers about Curie's amazing achievements, and is sure to empower them to become superheroes themselves!
One cold and grey November morning in Poland, superhero Marie Curie was born. At the time, her name was Maria Sklodowska, and she didn't know she was a superhero. She didn't even know she has a superpower.
But she did.
What I Like about this book:
As Karla mentioned above, her goal was to help "readers see that “success” is not about the end result, but rather the effort we put into achieving that result." To try and show each reader that, while they might not win a Noble Prize, their efforts to overcome their own, individual obstacles (Mr. O's) make them successes.
I think this book will appeal to multiple audiences. Annalisa Beghelli's colorful, comic book-like art, particularly of the head villain "Super Evil Nemesis" and Mr. Opposition (Mr. O), will help some kids enjoy learning about Marie Curie. While the fact-filled evaluation of Marie's personality, persistence, and intelligence will appeal to those who prefer a more expository format.
Text © Karla Valenti, 2020. Image © Annalisa Beghelli, 2020
In a fun and unusual format (the introduction of the League of Super Science Heroes), Karla pits Marie Curie against the evil "mastermind" Nemesis. Whose goal of world domination requires stopping the spread of knowledge and seeding ignorance and fear. As Marie grows, Nemesis' minion, Mr. Opposition, tries numerous subversive messages and devious schemes to make her give up. Nothing works. Marie's 'superpower' - persistence and the catch phrase "Yes, I Can!" - carry her through numerous obstacles, family disasters, and societal prohibitions on women.
Text © Karla Valenti, 2020. Image © Annalisa Beghelli, 2020
Ultimately, Marie Curie thwarts Mr. O and Nemesis by earning two degrees and spreading knowledge. After Marie marries Pierre Curie, and they begin experimenting with radioactive materials, Mr. O undergoes a shift from a hinderance to a collaborator - "Mr. O never left their side (and sometimes even lent a hand)." While the book details her astounding accomplishments and discoveries, it asserts that her most "important one of all was defeating Mr. O." But I wonder if instead of defeating him, she converted him. You'll have to check out the ending to see what you think.
The sidebar "Alerts," wonderful historical elements within the illustrations, glossary, and a timeline add to the factual offerings of the book. Overall, it succeeds in being an unusual and fascinating look at the personality and determination behind the super scientist Marie Curie. One that I think will appeal to many kids.
- write or draw about a time that you've had to battle with Mr. Opposition. What was a goal or a dream that you had to struggle to obtain? What stood in your way?
- if you created a super villain who would it be and what would be his or her power?
- think of your own hero, imaginary (Wonder Woman) or real (Greta Thunberg), what did/do they struggle against? What characteristic helps them succeed?