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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Suzanne Slade

"Research is the most exciting and challenging part of my job."

~ Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of more than 140 books for children.

As a mechanical engineer who used to work on rockets, Suzanne shares her passion for science in many of her books. Such as A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon (2019, Little, Brown) and The Inventor's Secret: What Thomas Edison Told Henry Ford (2015, Charlesbridge).

She also enjoys writing about inspiring figures from her hometown of Chicago. For instance, Dangerous Jane, (2017, Peachtree) the story of Chicago’s own Jane Addams, Hull-House founder and first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the upcoming Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters (Fall 2020, Little, Brown).

Suzanne's newest book, Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks releases tomorrow (just in time to celebrate National Poetry Month).

Welcome Suzanne, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books 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?)

SUZANNE: I’ve been a full-time writer for 23 years. My favorite writing project is non-fiction because I’m fascinated by real people and events. As the saying goes, “You can’t make this stuff up!”, and personally I find true stories more compelling and meaningful than fiction.

You've found some great stories and people to write about! What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

As a child I served as crew when my dad raced sailboats. He is a very knowledgeable, competitive sailor. Though I don’t know nearly as much about the sport as he does, I’ve sailed in about a dozen different types of boats. My favorite is windsurfing.

What a fun experience! In 2018 and 2019, you released four books on astronauts (A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, and Astronaut Annie), two each year. On average, how many manuscripts are working on at one time?

Typically, I have about eight projects in-process, which might mean about six under contract in various stages of “production”, and two-ish new stories I’m researching, writing, or submitting.

In other words, you're great at multi-tasking and writing both fiction and nonfiction. You have a great post on the Nerdy Book Club regarding your research for Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Having drafted the story in 2013 and finally getting to see the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers collection two years later, how much longer did it take until the manuscript was acquired?

The story was acquired a little over a year after I researched Gwendolyn’s hand-written poetry journals in the Gwendolyn Brooks Papers collection at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.

So, pretty quickly once you got to read her journals. Is there something you want your readers to know about Exquisite?

Exquisite contains a poem Gwendolyn wrote when she was fifteen titled “Clouds,” and this lovely poem has never been published anywhere else. I worked with Brooks Permissions for about a year to gain permission to include this unpublished poem in Exquisite.

I'm glad you were able to include this poem. Do you have a favorite illustration in Exquisite?

Text © Suzanne Slade, 2020. Image © Cozbi A. Cabrera, 2020.

That’s a tough question because Cozbi A. Cabrera’s artwork for Exquisite is truly stunning. Cozbi did a great deal of research to create accurate illustrations, and her art is also filled with rich, glorious color. School Library Journal’s Starred review says, “gorgeous acrylic paintings. . . A visually remarkable and inspiring introduction to the life of Gwendolyn Brooks." You can take a peek at some of Cozbi’s lovely illustrations in the Book Trailer. [Okay, so here's one of my favorite spreads - 11-yr-old Gwendolyn setting her words free.]

Cozbi's illustrations are amazing. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

I had many favorite authors—Roald Dahl, Madeleine L’Engle, Laura Ingalls Wilder—but I guess my favorite would be Beverly Cleary. I adored her books about Ralph S. Mouse, as well as her Ramona books.

In fact, I wrote a fan letter to Beverly Cleary when I was in 4th grade. And she wrote a handwritten note back which answered my questions! (See letter her letter on my website.)

Such a special connection and gift. What or who is your greatest source of inspiration?

My curiosity and fascination with real people who accomplished incredible things. I adore researching true stories and sharing them with readers.

What have you learned from your journey as an author? Any advice for unpublished authors?

I’ve learned that an author must be patient. The book making process is glacier-slow.

My advice for unpublished authors—stay focused on improving your writing by joining a critique group, taking a class, and/or reading great books in the genre you wish to write.

Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

In November 2020, I have a slam-dunking, alley-ooping, high-flying new picture book about the Harlem Globetrotters releasing from Little, Brown titled Swish!. It’s illustrated by the one and only Don Tate, and I cannot wait to share it with readers. (Fun side note, the timeline includes a photo of my little brother helping Curly Neal do a trick during a show in the 70s.)

Oh my gosh, what a treat! Both to have Don Tate illustrate one of your books, but also to have a photo of your brother in it, too. Last question, what's your favorite animal? Why?

This is an easy one—my dog Corduroy (a Yorkie) who’s been part of our family for 14 1/2 years. When I get stuck on a story, he takes me on a walk which helps clear my head and think of new ideas. He’s never critical and always ready to encourage!

[check out the "about" page of her website for a picture of this cutie!]

Sounds like the perfect friend. Thank you, Suzanne for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you.

Don't miss this video of Suzanne & Cozbi reading Exquisite -

Be sure to stop back by Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks.

To find out more about Suzanne Slade, or get in touch with her:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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