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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - September Interview with STEAM Team Books Members

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to four authors from the STEAM Team Books group with books releasing in September.

[Note that STEAMTeam 2020 has changed their name to STEAMTeam Books.]

I 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.”

Welcome everyone,

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?...)

Lindsay H. MetcalfBeatrix Potter, Scientist (Albert Whitman & Co. 9/1/2020) - I began my writing career as a newspaper intern here in my hometown, the summer after my freshman year of college in 2001. I’ve worked as a reporter, editor, and columnist most of the years in between. That’s why I love writing nonfiction narratives. My journalistic training in brevity must also be why I’m drawn to poetry. What drew me to STEAM books? My childhood spent exploring nature on my family’s farm in Kansas. I’ve been focused on kidlit since 2015, and my debut book, BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST, illustrated by Junyi Wu, just released from Albert Whitman this month. I steal away to write from my porch swing whenever I can escape the noise-stream of my two elementary-aged boys and husband, who also works from home.

[Author of - No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (9/22/2020) and Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (11/10/2020).]

Jennifer SwansonEverything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (Workman Publishing Co. 9/1/2020) - I have been writing almost all of my life. I started creating books when I was in kindergarten. Throughout my life, I’ve kept journals. Mostly observations of things that have happened to me in my life and things I’ve found interesting. I started writing professionally about 12 years ago.

I typically write on my laptop or my desktop in my office. I feel most at home writing and researching there as that is where I’ve written almost all of my books. My writing day consists of getting up, having breakfast, and being in my office by around 8:30am. I work pretty much all day consistently until 5pm. I may stop to exercise or walk my dogs, but that is how I work for most of the week.

My favorite type of books to write are the ones about engineering and technology. I love learning! I have loved science my whole life. After all, I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. My goal when I’m writing is to find a unique and exciting way to present my topic. Something that is natural, but unusual, like my book Save the Crash-test Dummies, which is the story of car safety engineering told through the lens of a crash-test dummy.

[Author of 44 books, including - Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature (6/2020), Spies, Lies, and Disguise: The Daring Tricks and Deeds That Won World War II (2019), Save the Crash Test Dummies! (2019), Absolute Expert: Dolphins (2018), Pearl Harbor (American Girl: Real Stories From My Time)​ (2018), Building With Poop (Power of Poop) (2018), Astronaut Aquanaut (2018), Environmental Activist Wangari Maathai (2018), Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System: Massive Mountains, Supersize Storms, Alien Atmospheres, and Other Out-of-This-World Space Science (2018), Explore Bridges!: With 25 Great Projects (2017), Geoengineering Earth’s Climate: Resetting the Thermostat (2017), Zoology: Cool Women Who Work With Animals (2017), Busting Boredom with Experiments (2017), and Lewis and Clark: Famed Explorers of the American Frontier (2017).]

Danielle Dufayet Waiting Together (Albert Whitman & Co. 9/1/2020) – I started writing at age 7 - mainly poetry. I love writing succinctly. It’s such a challenge to express your deep emotions and thoughts in as few words as possible. It’s also so rewarding! I love writing personal essays and picture books that are self-empowering for kids. Children need to feel self-empowered so that they can make good, healthy choices in their lives. I always write my stories out long hand at first. There’s something about using your hand and a pencil that wakes up your creativity as you’re consciously intending to write. I write in my little office, where I paint as well.

[Author of – Fantastic You (2019) and You Are Your Strong (2019).]

Theanne Griffin - The Magnificent Makers #3: Riding Sound Waves (Random House 9/8/2020) – I’ve always had two passions: science and storytelling. I received my BA in neuroscience from Smith College, and subsequently went on to obtain my doctorate in the same subject from Northwestern University. I currently run a sensory neuroscience research program at Rutgers University. A few years ago, I decided to seriously pursue my second passion as a children’s book author. Given my background, it was natural for me to write science-themed books. I’m a staunch advocate of science education and finding creative ways to get kids excited about science. It really is a dream come true to be able to combine my two passions to accomplish this.

[Author of - The Magnificent Makers #1 (How to Test a Friendship) & #2 (Brain Trouble) (5/19/2020).]

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Lindsay H. MetcalfBeatrix Potter, Scientist (9/1/2020) - I eat pancakes with peanut butter and no syrup. Raspberry pancakes are almost as great as our dog, Ozzy Pancake. [*Laughing*]

Jennifer Swanson – As an elementary student, I was great at chess. I won 2nd place in my school’s chess contest in 6th grade. Beat a lot of older kids, too. [Way to go!]

Danielle Dufayet – I was a guest on the Cybil Shepard talk Show -talking about my self-published book, Oh Momma! Secrets to Loving a Super Single Mom. I was asked to talk about raising a son as a single mother. I think I totally bombed, but it was quite an experience! [Wow!]

Theanne Griffin - I lived in Chile for a total of 3 years! I studied abroad in Santiago during college, and then returned upon graduation. While there, I worked in the Catholic University. Chile has a really strong and productive scientific community and I learned so much during my time there. It was an amazing experience and I am fluent in Spanish to this day. And although we didn’t meet in Chile, my partner is Chilean and my daughters are half Chilean! [What an awesome experience and fun coincidence.]

Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your story?

Lindsay H. MetcalfBeatrix Potter, Scientist (9/1/2020) - As a child, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was as much home to me as the cozy den was to Peter. I loved to pore over the story and lifelike illustrations, which helped this logic-minded girl suspend disbelief and root for the ornery bunny in a blue jacket. When I learned that his creator, Beatrix Potter, had spent a decade obsessing over fungi, I was surprised and intrigued. Suddenly Beatrix Potter was more than an all-caps name on the front of a book. She was a three-dimensional human who indulged curiosity, stared down setbacks and discrimination, and reveled in her pure enchantment with nature. All of that resonated with the girl in me who was told no, who grew up on a farm believing that her dreams might be just out of reach. Beatrix’s drive—her ability to switch gears and reinvent herself—resonates with the adult version of me, a journalist by training, children’s author by grit, and forever fan of the natural world.

Jennifer SwansonEverything You Need to Ace Geometry in One Big Fat Notebook and Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (9/1/2020) - I was contacted by Workman Publishing and asked to write this book in their best-selling Big Fat Notebook series. They asked me because I have a degree in chemistry from the U.S. Naval Academy. Why did I say yes? 😊 Because my chemistry teacher in college believed in me. Even though I struggled through his class, he always told me that my gift was to take complex ideas and explain them simply. He was right. I’ve used that belief to fuel my writing career. It was not easy to write this book. It took a LOT of effort to relearn chemistry again. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I hope it will help kids understand chemistry a little bit better.

Danielle DufayetWaiting Together (9/1/2020) – What inspired me to write my book about the different kinds of waits a kid experiences throughout the day was Deborah Underwood’s fabulous book, The Quiet Book.

It made me ask: what else do kids do a lot of and is not easy to do? Being patient is hard for kids and adults! If you think about it, we do so much waiting all day long, but waiting can be wonderful too, if we stop to enjoy it. I wanted Waiting Together to be about the different kinds of waits we experience and how they can include wonderful sounds and smells; how waiting can encourage us to observe nature. Of course, some waits are easier than others. The takeaway: waiting is always better with a friend!

Theanne Griffin - The Magnificent Makers #3: Riding Sound Waves (9/8/2020) – I am a sensory neuroscientist; therefore, I wanted one of the books in the Magnificent Makers series to cover our senses. We use our senses to engage with the world around us and it’s important for me that kids understand how that happens. Furthermore, in Riding Sound Waves one of the characters reveals that he has sensory processing disorder. As such, an underlying theme of this book is appreciating and finding value in our qualities and quirks that make us unique. It is my hope that kids who had something different about them identify with this story.

So many different ways to get inspired to write a story. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Lindsay H. Metcalf – I wanted to read all the time as a young child, so in order to get the chores done, my parents bought me a lot of books on tape. I can still hear the music for the page turns on Roger Hargreaves' Little Miss stories. I memorized and recited nursery rhymes, and I loved to pretend. That may explain why one of the first stories I wrote as a kid featured a smitten, waltzing ostrich. [*smiling* I wonder if that ostrich will ever make an appearance in a story.]

Jennifer Swanson – I was a HUGE fan of the Nancy Drew books. I read every single one of them, probably twice. I also loved Harriet the Spy. If it was a mystery, I read it. I read a lot of nonfiction books, too. I have this huge urge to learn things! Besides, science and engineering is all about figuring things out, making discoveries, and solving problems. Just like a mystery in a book. Pretty cool how those two things tie together, isn’t it? [It definitely is!]

Danielle Dufayet – I wasn’t read to as a child and I didn’t start getting interested in reading until later on, but I’ll never forget the impact, Little Racoon and the Thing in the Pool, by Lilian Moore had on me. It’s such a sweet, simple picture book with a big message: don’t fear yourself - love yourself! I love books and the power they have! STEAM books are especially wonderful because the reader is learning in such a fun way! [You always learn best when you're having fun.]

Theanne Griffin – In addition to The Magic School Bus, I really enjoyed Seymour Simon’s nonfiction works. I loved being able to dive into a new topic with each book. His books on the weather briefly convinced me that I wanted to be a meteorologist or storm chaser. And those amazing covers were definitely attention grabbing!

I love learning about the books that authors loved as children. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?

Lindsay H. MetcalfBeatrix Potter, Scientist (9/1/2020) - Beatrix Potter, Scientist, is the first picture-book biography to focus on the author/artist’s scientific pursuits. For a decade before Beatrix released The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she became enchanted with fungi after encountering them on holiday in Scotland. She studied them obsessively, at first to draw them accurately, and later for the sake of inquiry. Her period as an amateur mycologist culminated with her submission of a paper to the Linnean Society of London, which asked her to revise, but did not let her attend because she was a woman. This is a STEAM-focused title and lyrical examination of how art interacts with science, the role of women in Victorian British society, and resiliency and reinvention in the face of rejection.

Jennifer Swanson Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (9/1/2020) - Use this book as a supplement to the information you learn in class. Sometimes the best way to learn is to look at a topic in two different ways—straight on and then maybe sideways (so to speak). If you find a concept too difficult to understand, take a look at a different resource, maybe you’ll understand it then. That what this book should be used to do.

Danielle DufayetWaiting Together (9/1/2020) – Waiting Together went through a lot of revisions - maybe 30. It started off with dead-pan humor, was revised with different plot lines and arcs until I finally got it down to what I wanted. I submitted it to my agent Karen Grencik and she submitted it to some publishers. It turned out two other authors had books about waiting: Antoinette Portis: Wait! And Kevin Henkes: Waiting. Karen said I should put it away for a few years. Then, about 4 years later, one morning, I woke up and thought - Today’s the day my manuscript needs to go out. I tweaked it a few more times until I thought it was as good as possible. Karen submitted it and within 3 -4 weeks, it got picked up by Albert Whitman.

Theanne Griffin - The Magnificent Makers #3: Riding Sound Waves (9/8/2020) – – In this book, one of the many things you will learn is how our ears can hear sounds! And you’ll find instructions on how to make your own model ear drum at the end of the story.

These are all such great STEAM books on exploring nature and science. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?

Lindsay H. MetcalfBeatrix Potter, Scientist (9/1/2020) - There was a wealth of primary and secondary sources available on this topic. Beatrix had kept a journal in her teens and twenties, and much of her correspondence has been published. It was accessing these various sources that proved a challenge, since I live in rural area. I found that I could get a library card to a state university about an hour and a half away, and most of the materials I needed were buried in the stacks. That was a fun day. It was fortunate that I checked the books out when I did, because that library sustained extensive damage in a fire the next month. [Oh no! Boy were you lucky!]

Jennifer Swanson Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (9/1/2020) - Relearning chemistry that I took in college, um, well, let’s just say a LONG time ago. Also, chemistry has changed a little bit. The subscripts on the elements are different, the names for some of the equations and how things are approached was a bit different. Good thing there was a current chemistry teacher who worked with me to ensure that the language was up-to-date. 😊 [Indeed. And that you are still curious enough to want to relearn it!]

Danielle Dufayet Waiting Together (9/1/2020) – My research was really fun. I had to come up with a lot of different kinds of waits and narrow them down to the ones I thought would make good illustrations. I also wanted waits that involved the senses. When we’re waiting for something, it feels like we’re not doing anything, but, actually, we are smelling things, hearing things, seeing and feeling things. I wanted to show that waiting can be a rich experience and not so dreadful. [I think you succeeded!]

Theanne Griffin - The Magnificent Makers #3: Riding Sound Waves (9/8/2020) – The hardest part for me was accurately portraying a character with sensory processing disorder (SPD) in an inclusive and welcoming fashion. I’m thankful for all the insight given to me by my friend, whose son has SPD. [Ensuring accuracy can be one of the toughest parts of nonfiction.]

Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Yes! I have two other books coming out this fall. No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (September 22, Charlesbridge) is a poetry anthology about contemporary young activists that was edited by me, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, and illustrated by Jeanette. We are thrilled that Kirkus gave it a starred review.

Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (November 10, Calkins Creek) is about the American Agriculture Movement protesters who drove their tractors cross-country in 1979 and camped on the National Mall to demand better prices from Congress. This photo-illustrated picture book is suited for a middle-grade audience, and I’m pleased to report that it’s a Junior Library Guild selection. [Congratulations, Lindsay!]

Jennifer Swanson – I am very excited about a new project I have coming out next year. It’s called Outdoor School: Rocks, Fossils, and Shells and is with the new publisher, Odd Dot (Macmillan). It was a BLAST to work on this book! My editor Justin Krasner was tons of fun. This book is chock full of activities to get kids outside and exploring. It comes out April 2021. I hope it takes many kids on an exploration adventure. [I can't wait to see this one.]

Danielle Dufayet – I just sold my fourth book called Blank. It’s about the artist’s angst when faced with a blank canvas. I think we all go through that initial “blank” when we start a new project that we’re not sure of. It can so intimidating having to face a blank piece of paper or blank canvas. The takeaway of Blank is to have fun and stay loose. Being creative is truly a dance between artist and artwork. It’s a collaboration and the artist needs to learn how to let the artwork reveal itself. [I'm looking forward to seeing the illustrations.]

Theanne Griffin – I was recently signed up for more Magnificent Makers books! Book 4 will be all about germs and is slated to be released in the fall of 2021. Book 5 will be about space and the solar system and is tentatively slated for release in the spring of 2022. [Excellent!]

For a somewhat unrelated question, if you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Beatrix Potter, of course! She was a multifaceted person who not only paved the way for today’s children’s books and led a fascinating scientific life, but also bought more than 4,000 acres of farmland in order to conserve the countryside she loved in England’s Lake District. The land, populated with descendants of Beatrix’s Herdwick sheep, is still protected from development as property of the British National Trust charity. [She would be an amazing person to visit with.]

Jennifer SwansonThere are so many scientists, engineers, and experts that I’d love to meet, so this is a tough choice, but I would be honored to meet Dr. Sylvia Earle or Dr. Kathy Sullivan. They are hugely inspiring pioneers in both of the fields of ocean and space. [I hope you get to meet them, someday!]

Danielle Dufayet – I would want to meet Albert Einstein. He was such an interesting person with quite a personality! I’d love to pick his genius brain about life and the universe! [That would be quite a meeting!]

Theanne Griffin - Hands down Michelle Obama. I’ve always admired her, but after reading her memoir, I have so many follow-up questions! I’d love to be able to meet her one day. [Oh, wouldn't that be amazing.]

That would be one amazing gathering. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?

Lindsay H. Metcalf – My number one animal will always be my Cavalier King Charles, Ozzy, the best 40-pound, snoring lapdog I could have hoped for. On a species level, I’m enamored with squirrels because 1) I haven’t left my house much lately, and 2) STEM YouTuber Mark Rober’s video about squirrel-proofing his birdfeeder. He built a backyard obstacle course, and the squirrels defeated it in every way. They are super smart, and watching slow-mo evidence of them locking eyes on their landing target shows how incredibly skilled they are as jumpers. [That was such a fun video! They definitely are ingenious troublemakers.]

Jennifer Swanson – I have always loved koala bears because they seem so soft and furry. And they are from Australia, one place that is definitely on my to-visit list!! [I hope you get to check this off your list, one day.]

Danielle Dufayet – I love animals, but I think my favorite is a dog. They are loyal, smart, and give you unconditional love – how can you beat that? Plus, puppies are the cutest things in the world (next to babies). [Yeah, but cats still rule!]

Theanne Griffin – I have three cats, so I suppose you could say I’m a crazy cat lady. But I also really like owls. Impressive hunters with impressive necks! I think they’re very cool. [Both are so studious and stealthy.]

NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!

Synopsis: Everyone knows Beatrix Potter as the creator of the Peter Rabbit stories. But before that, she was a girl of science. As a child, Beatrix collected nature specimens; as a young adult, she was an amateur mycologist presenting her research on mushrooms and other fungi to England's foremost experts. Like many women of her time, she remained unacknowledged by the scientific community, but her keen eye for observation led her to an acclaimed career as an artist and storyteller. A beloved author is cast in a new light in this inspiring picture book story.

A great STEM nonfiction biography which explores a lesser known facet of Beatrix Potter, this picture book demonstrates how Beatrix grew up observing, studying, and drawing everything around her; a scientist her entire life. And explores how she works to understand mushrooms and their propagation, even writing a scientific paper, before she becomes the adored author/illustrator most people know.

Synopsis: The Big Fat Notebooks are going to high school! Published just four years ago, the Big Fat Notebooks—with nearly 4.6 million copies in print and sales escalating every year—revolutionized the study guide for middle schoolers. Now this lifesaving series is ready to graduate.

Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook. Designed as the natural next step for the savvy students (and stressed parents) who made Math (over 1 million copies in print) and Science (over 1 million copies in print) the bestselling titles in the middle school series, these books offer a world of help for two of the tougher classes facing most high school sophomores, geometry and chemistry.

Using the same formula that made the middle school series so successful, these new high school titles tackle difficult subjects in a lively, memorable, intuitive way. Critical ideas are broken down and clearly explained. Doodles illuminate tricky concepts. There are mnemonics for memorable shortcuts, and quizzes to recap it all.

Chemistry is one of the most feared subjects in high school, but fortunately National Science Teacher Award-winner Jennifer Swanson is here to break down this daunting subject into accessible and memorable units, from how to conduct an experiment to the Laws of Thermodynamics.

This would have made learning, and reviewing, chemistry so much more fun. The cute characters, diagrams, graphics that set out rules, definition, and exceptions, in-depth evaluation of formulas and solutions, eye-catching colors, and finally "things to know" and "check your knowledge" section all help this book make chemistry accessible. It would also make an amazing test-prep refresher.

Synopsis: Waiting is not easy! And waiting can take a long time. Like waiting on the drip, drip, drip of rain to stop or the ding of the timer for cookies to be done baking. But there's one thing that can make waiting go a little bit faster—a friend! A perfect read aloud, this book encourages readers to enjoy every kind of wait.

STEAM professions require a lot of patience and waiting. There's waiting for an experiment to finish, for an approval, or for materials. This book shows how patient waiting allows us to observe nature (a butterfly landing in one's hand, if you are still), experience a breeze blowing an apple off a tree, & take the time to create art (or you get "end up with smears, smudges, or breaks").

Synopsis: Boom! Snap! Whiz! Zap! The Magnificent Makers chapter book series is filled with science, adventure, and characters kids will love! Every book includes two science activities kids can do at home! It's a modern day Magic School Bus for the chapter book reader!

A wacky scientist, Dr. Crisp loves to invite students to her Maker Maze for a STEM-filled adventure! Just solve a riddle and the portal to the Maze will appear! But there's a catch...if the kids don't complete a challenge fast enough, they can never come back to the Maze!

Pablo and Violet are on a field trip to the science museum and today they're paired up with a classmate they don't know very well--Henry. As they enter the Maze and learn about touch, hearing, and vision, Pablo and Violet learn that there's more to Henry and his odd behavior than meets the eye - Henry has a sensory processing disorder. Together they'll learn a little something about feelings (literally!), acceptance, and what makes us special.

This chapter book series teams up three kids - Pablo, Violet, and a friend - with a hilarious and odd scientist who send them on "out-of-this-world adventures" which allow them to apply the science concepts they learned in school. This series also explores the personal skills of friendship, teamwork, and courage. Theanne Griffin definitely succeeded in her goal "to spark a love for science and discovery in children."

Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success.

To learn more about these writers, or to get in touch with them:

Lindsay H. MetcalfBeatrix Potter, Scientist (9/1/2020) -

Jennifer SwansonEverything You Need to Ace Geometry in One Big Fat Notebook and Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (9/1/2020)

[For additional information on Jennifer, check out our earlier interview (here)]

Danielle DufayetWaiting Together (9/1/2020) –

[For additional information on Danielle, check out our earlier interview (here)]

Theanne Griffin - The Magnificent Makers #3: Riding Sound Waves (9/8/2020)

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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