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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - April 2024 Interview with STEAM Team Books Members (Part 1)

Whether you're here to support the STEAM Team authors, curiosity, or because you love nonfiction books, I hope you read to the end because you'll discover some amazing authors and super spectacular books!

Steam Team Books Logo - Name ans a decending rainbow of books on a white grid globe and a black background.

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to five authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and fascinating creatives.


"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2023. 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?...)


Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – Cosmic Collisions: Asteroid vs. Comet (MIT Kids Press 4/2/2024) – When I was in high school (Ward Melville High School in New York) I wrote adolescent poetry for the literary magazine and some articles for the newspaper. Later, of course, I wrote a lot of stuffy scientific papers—I’m an astrophysicist. Then, in 2011, I wrote a book for adults called Marketing for Scientists: How to Shine in Tough Times (Island Press).

 

Now when I write narrative, I’m mostly writing books for kids. It happens when my kids ask me a question, and I start trying to answer it. Then I have this moment of vanity and I think maybe my explanation should go into a book.

 

So now I have two series of books for children coming out. Asteroid vs. Comet is the first installment in the Cosmic Collisions series, where I crash stuff together in outer space (BLAM!) and you have to guess what happens. I have another series of STEAM books in the works that's more about physics than astronomy—but I can’t talk about those yet.

 

[Debut Children’s Author.]

 

Jennifer Swanson – The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves (Millbrook Press 4/2/2024) – 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 48 books, including - Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet (2023), Space Care: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space (2023), Footprints Across the Planet (2022), Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (2021), Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (2020), 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),and Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System: Massive Mountains, Supersize Storms, Alien Atmospheres, and Other Out-of-This-World Space Science (2018).]

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm (Astra Books for Young Readers 4/9 /2024) – 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 steal away to write from my porch swing whenever I can escape the noise-stream of my two teen boys and husband, who also works from home.

 

[Author of – No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change (2023), Beatrix Potter, Scientist (2020), No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History (2020) and Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices (2020).]

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Saving Delicia (Flyaway Books 4/9/2024) - I write board books, picture books, lift-the-flap books, early readers, and middle-grade nonfiction. I like writing all of them, and I really enjoy bouncing from fiction to nonfiction, and from board books to picture books.

 

I’ve always loved both writing and science. In third grade, I thought I was going to be a chemist, and I tried to memorize the periodic table…but I also worked on my first picture book. Flash forward almost twenty years, and I wrote my first published picture book, One Big Pair of Underwear, while working in a neurobiology lab. Many of my books have STEAM themes—not just my nonfiction books, but my fiction books as well.

 

[Author of over forty books for young readers. 15 Board Books, including Who Laid These Eggs? (2024), Odd Beasts (11/2021), Brilliant Baby Fights Germs (9/2021), Brilliant Baby Explores Science (9/ 2021), Soccer Baby (2021), Brilliant Baby Plays Music (2021), Brilliant Baby Does Math (2021), Baby Paleontologist (2020), Baby Botanist (2020), Baby Oceanographer (2019), & Baby Astronaut (2019). And 22 Picture Books, including Bat Wings! Cat Wings? (2021), Who Is a Scientist? (10/2021), The Ninja Club Sleepover (2020), May Saves the Day (2020), Happy Llamakkah (2020), Juniper Kai: Super Spy (2019), Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer (She Made History) (2019) and 6 Early Readers Goat Wants to Eat (2021), Cat Has a Plan (2020), Dog Can Hide, Frog Can Hop (2023), Cat Sees Snow (2023), Pig Makes Art; and 2 lift-the-flap books Who Dug This Hole? (2023) and Who Laid These Eggs? (2024) and one middle-grade nonfiction Climate Warriors.]

 

What helps you to be inspired? (perhaps a certain place, music, activity, etc.)

 

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – Inspired? Heck no. I write to procrastinate. I write to self-soothe. I write when I feel ignored. I write to expand my ego, to chase my bourgeoise aspirations, to quell my pathetic, prosaic fear of death and what’s beyond. What’s this “inspired” of which you speak? My job is to inspire you. Don’t look under the hood. [😂]

 

Jennifer Swanson – Curiosity! I am such a very curious person. I have lots of questions about how the world works, and how things are made. I will look at something, like a robot, a spacecraft, or even a submersible and just have to know how it was designed, engineered, and what makes it move the way it does. I think like a 10-year-old kid so then I ask questions like they would. That’s what inspires me to learn more and also write for kids that age.

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf - Visiting my family’s farmstead is like church to me. I feel such a connection to the land, to the Earth, that I often come up with new story ideas while spending time there. I also love taking long walks while listening to music. Doing so frees my brain to wander, leaving me plenty of space to wonder.

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I am inspired most by my four kids and by the natural world. Almost all of my book ideas come from one of those two sources.

 

Now that we know a little more about all of you, what sparked your interest and caused you to write this book?

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – Cosmic Collisions: Asteroid vs. Comet (4/2/2024) – Asteroid vs. Comet began as a COVID project. We were all angry at the situation and stuck at home. During those frustrating and fearful months, I read all of Jerry Pallotta’s excellent “Who Would Win?” books with my children. But there weren’t enough. We wanted to see something bigger than sharks and octopuses fight each other, rip each other up. What’s bigger and meaner than sharks and octopuses? Asteroids and comets! 


Jennifer Swanson – The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves (4/2/2024) – I am lucky enough to be good friends with one of the scientists that was an expert on my Astronaut-Aquanaut book. His name is Dr. Brian Helmuth and he works at Northeastern University and Nahant Marine Science Lab. The Astronaut-Aquanaut book came out in 2018, but Brian and I have stayed in touch since then.

 

When he found out that a team he was on was going to be the only one to dive on this newly discovered underwater forest, he wondered if I might be interested in telling their story. My response was, “Would I? Absolutely. I’m in!” 

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm (4/9/2024) – I am always looking for new ways to write about agriculture. One day in 2018, I came across a video of a large vertical farm in a New Jersey warehouse. The concept of growing greens via aeroponics (nutrient solution misted onto roots) was unfamiliar to me, and I was hooked. It took me a few months of researching to understand how I wanted to present the story: by comparing and contrasting the type of “outdoor farm” I knew intimately with the “indoor farm” that had captured my fascination, all through rhyme. Eventually a through line of science, innovation, creativity, and sustainability emerged as the connecting thread between the two farms. 


Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Saving Delicia (4/9/2024) - When I first learned about seed banks, I immediately understood their importance and wanted to introduce kids to the idea of saving seeds for the future. It took me a while to figure out how to write a story about seed banks that was both engaging and kid-friendly, but I think I succeeded!

 

It's so interesting all the different ways a book gets started. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a children’s author?

 

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – It’s taken a while to get used to the glacial pace of the industry, seen from this writer’s warped perspective. I began working on Cosmic Collisions in 2019. Here we are in 2024 and the first book is just coming out.

 

But I’ve had wise helpers who have talked me through the rough spots. My agent, Lisa Amstutz, keeps her team’s spirits high with a steady stream of news from the front lines. Writer colleagues like Beth Charles, Dazzle Ng, and Jean Daigneau have been super supportive.

 

Jennifer Swanson – Juggling all of the things that we are required to do. We have to promote our books, look for opportunities to present, keep a regular presence on social media, network with other authors, find ideas, research them, write new books, edit other ones…. And on and on. It’s an awesome job, but—whew— it’s a lot sometimes.

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf – The most challenging thing, to me, is juggling the business of being an author with ample time and space to create. I need large chunks of time to wrap my mind around a project, so I struggle when it’s time for marketing tasks, speaking engagements, and publishing-related travel.

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – One aspect I find challenging is when I write a story that I love, a story I believe kids would love too, and then my agent can’t find a publisher for it. This happens to all of the writers I know, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.

 

What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your book? Was there a bit of your research you didn’t get to include?

Text © Dr. Marc J. Kuchner, 2024. Image © Matt Schu, 2024.


Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – Cosmic Collisions: Asteroid vs. Comet (4/2/2024) – The narrator in Cosmic Collisions is a kind of cosmic sportscaster. My editor, Kristin Zelazko, and I both liked that concept instantly, but at first, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. I don’t watch many sports!

 

To fill this gap in my knowledge I binge-watched “Puppy Bowl” on the Discovery channel. I drew on the cliches and speech patterns I learned from this show to create the Cosmic Collisions narrator’s hyped-up voice.  


Text © Jennifer Swanson, 2024.


Jennifer Swanson – The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves (4/2/2024) – Well, I researched and wrote this book during the pandemic. So, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go out on the boat with the scientists. But they did let me attend their virtual meetings, and that was really cool! 


Text © Lindsay H. Metcalf, 2024. Image © Xin Li, 2024.


Lindsay H. Metcalf – Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm (4/9/2024) – The hardest part was writing my book in sparse rhyme. I must have been eager to torture myself when I first wrote this stanza: “Outdoor farm, tractors toil. / Indoor farm, zero soil.” True stories in rhyme can be agonizing to revise! Revisions with my editor took over a year in 2020-2021, and my angst was only exacerbated by the brain fog of pandemic-induced anxiety. But we got there! And the resulting 116 words, as perfect as I could make them, were worth it. 


Text © Laura Chamberlain Gehl, 2024. Image © Patricia Metola, 2024.


Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Saving Delicia (4/9/2024) – Saving Delicia takes place over the course of many years. Figuring out how to make that work in a picture book (most picture books take place over a short period of time) was the biggest challenge.


These are all such wonderful books! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – Cosmic Collisions: Asteroid vs. Comet (4/2/2024) – If you have ideas for cosmic objects you would like me to crash together in an upcoming Cosmic Collisions book, please contact me via my website: www.marckuchner.com.

Jennifer Swanson – The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves (4/2/2024) – This book is about an ancient underwater forest—made of cypress trees. Here’s what I’d love readers to get from this.

Dive into the unexpected! Have you ever heard of an underwater forest? They are rare, but they exist. Ancient stumps of cypress trees stand tall in a secret location, hidden from view for more than 60,000 years. That’s after the last ice age! Back then, seawaters were 400 feet lower than they are today. Get ready to take a deep dive with the only team of scientists who has seen this secret underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico and learn about the spectacular treasures they uncover.

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm (4/9/2024) – It’s my love letter to modern agriculture and my answer to the multitude of “Old McDonald”-style books that failed to represent the farms I knew as a kid.

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Saving Delicia (4/9/2024) – This book was my second partnership with illustrator extraordinaire Patricia Metola. The first book we wrote together was Apple and Magnolia. If you loved Apple and Magnolia, I hope you will love Saving Delicia too. Saving Delicia isn’t a sequel to Apple and Magnolia, but the two books have a lot in common. They are both fiction picture books with nonfiction seeds at their heart, and we think of them as companion books.

 

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

 

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – The second Cosmic Collisions book is mostly written. I’m drafting a third.

 

Jennifer Swanson – I am co-authoring the next Atlas Obscura book for kids. We are working through edits and I have seen the first sketches. They are AMAZING! This middle grade nonfiction book for kids is called Atlas Obscura: The Inventor’s Guide to Exploring the World with Dylan Thuras  and Jennifer Swanson. It releases summer 2025.

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Yes! I have three more books in the pipeline. First up is Tomatoes on Trial: The Fruit v. Vegetable Showdown, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham and coming from Calkins Creek in fall 2025. It’s the delicious history of the 1893 Supreme Court case in which tomatoes were declared a vegetable.

 

Then I’ll have two titles in 2026. No Brain the Same: Young Neurodivergent Activists Shaping Our Future is a poetry anthology sibling to No Voice Too Small and No World Too Big, all coedited by me, Keila V. Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley and published by Charlesbridge.

 

Also, from Charlesbridge in 2026, comes my YA debut: Eyes to the Sky: Eunice Newton Foote at the Dawn of Climate Science and Women’s Rights. This biography-in-verse tells the life story of the woman who first discovered carbon dioxide’s warming properties in 1856, and then was forgotten by scientific community and the world.

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – My next picture book will be SNOW IS…a celebration of the first snow day of the season. It will be out in time for the first snow next winter!

 

Good luck with your projects and we will keep our eyes open for these upcoming books. How do you deal with, or celebrate, rejections?


Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – I deal with rejection by gnawing on crunchy foods like a stoned beaver with reckless disregard for the limitations of my frail humanity. I do not recommend this strategy.

 

I also play the drums. I do recommend that.

 

Jennifer Swanson – I won’t lie, I have a hard time with rejections. Lately there have been more of them than normal. It’s just the business right now. They can be hard to deal with, but in a few days, I am raring to go again. I don’t let them get me down for long.

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf – Honestly, I don’t pay them much attention anymore. I have so many projects going now that I try to put my energy toward creating new work and letting that speak for itself.

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Rejections always spur me on to work on new projects.

 

Thanks for the strategies and advice. Last question, is there a plant or flower you love growing, or wish you could grow, in your yard or garden?


Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – I like planets with rings, extreme orbits, and/or stormy atmospheres. Better yet, give me a rogue world, just ejected from its system by the explosion of its star, tumbling haplessly into the frigid interstellar void.

 

Oh, wait. You said “plants.” [HA! 😂]

 

Jennifer Swanson – I adore tulips! They are my favorite flowers. I think they are so beautiful, and they make me smile. At one time in my life, I could keep plants alive, alas that is not now. So, I just enjoy other people’s flowers or splurge and buy some for myself.

 

Lindsay H. Metcalf – You know, I’ve always wanted a cherry tree like the one my grandmother had in her yard. I have such fond memories of picking cherries with her as a girl, eating more than I ever dropped in my bucket. And the pies she would make … chef’s kiss. I really should try to grow a cherry tree of my own.

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I would love to grow little sweet tomatoes, because I love eating them.

 

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

Cosmic Collisions: Asteroid vs. Comet by Dr. Marc J. Kuchner, illustrated by Matt Schu (MIT Kids Press 4/2/2024) – This wonderful informational fiction 'smack-down' between an asteroid and a comet is such a fun way to explore and learn about our solar system. As the relevant statistics of the asteroid and comet are evaluated and compared, sidebars provide awesome tidbits of additional factual information. Lively, engaging illustrations play off the humor of the narrator and provide stunning visual insights as well. This is an amazing addition to any space collection.


Synopsis: What happens when two massive hunks of hurtling space debris slam into each other? Welcome to round one in the Cosmic Collisions series—an exciting children’s debut from an expert astrophysicist.


There’s a comet speeding in from the outer solar system, and it’s about to slam into an asteroid. Who will be left standing after this interplanetary smackdown? The pockmarked asteroid, a veteran fighter who’s already seen some action? Or the dazzling comet, with its incredible velocity and a tail that stretches millions of miles? Kicking off a dynamic series on cosmic collisions, Asteroid vs. Comet starts by comparing the two opponents, then offers hints and context to encourage readers to use real science to form a hypothesis. Action-packed full-color illustrations with a graphic, comic-book feel will attract reluctant readers and kids who love smash-and-crash, along with budding scientists. Curious readers can find back matter addressing the question of fact versus fiction, how to become a citizen scientist, and comets and asteroids in the news.


The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves by Jennifer Swanson (Millbrook Press 4/2/2024) – Another stunning book by Jennifer Swanson. Using an invitingly conversational tone, she takes the reader along on expeditions to visit and study a rare underwater forest full of Cyprus trees. The scientists were determined to discover how this forest ended up in the ocean under more than 9 feet of mud. Detailing their dives and their work in the lab, this book follows the team of scientists throughout their challenges and delays as they work to carbon date and study the trees and their ecosystem. Amazing photographs, QR codes (which add a wonderful interactive complement to the text), sidebars, graphics, an author's note, experiments, further reading, and videos enhance this terrific nonfiction book about this rare discovery.


Synopsis: After local fishers noticed a large swarm of fish in an unlikely area in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of divers found the remains of a forest deep beneath the waves. The ancient trees had been undisturbed for more than fifty thousand years before finally being uncovered by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Acclaimed science writer Jennifer Swanson brings readers along with a group of scientists as they work to explore and map the site, collect samples of cypress wood, and learn about the marine creatures that live here―namely, shipworms. Page Plus links lead to videos of the scientists at work. 


Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm by Lindsay H. Metcalf, illustrated by Xin Li (Astra Books for Young Readers 4/9 /2024) – This fun compare and contrast book on farms begins with an exchange of letters and follows through the seasons as both kids interact with their respective farms during the activities of planting, growing, harvesting, and taking food to market. Until the winter, when the outdoor farm is resting and repairing equipment and the indoor farm is still producing food. The back matter contains a comparison chart and farming activities. The succinct rhyming text and colorful, gorgeous side-by-side, or split page, illustrations make this a great book for young kids curious about farms and our food.


Synopsis: Discover how both outdoor and indoor farms sustainably grow the food we eat throughout the year in this vibrant, rhyming picture book.


With energetic, enchanting verse and sunshiny, colorful illustrations, discover how the food you eat is grown both outside—and inside! Join two children as they explore the inner workings of an outdoor farm and an indoor farm. You’ll see how a variety of amazing machinery like tractors and drones along with innovative farming techniques yield the wonderful food we all love to enjoy.


Saving Delicia by Laura Chamberlain Gehl, illustrated by Patricia Metola (Flyaway Books 4/9/2024) – This is a powerful book on intergenerational friendship, plant preservation, and big dreams. Enjoying the stories of a delicia tree orchard from an elderly friend, a young girl devises a plan to save the seeds of this special, last-of-its-kind tree (and many other plants). Lyrical, sparse text and gorgeous soft illustrations, follow the girl's creation of a neighborhood seed bank and gently deal with death and rejuvenation. An author's note discusses seed banks around the world and their role in saving species from extinction. It is a tender, stunning STEM treasure.


Synopsis: When the last delicia tree is in danger of extinction, a young girl creates a seed bank as a surprise for Old Otis, whose stories have inspired her.


Kari’s favorite parts of summer are eating juicy fruit from the delicia tree and listening to stories from Old Otis. But now the last remaining delicia is in danger. What if this beloved tree dies out? Is there anything one girl can do? With inspiration, information, and a pocketful of seeds, Kari sets out to craft a surprise for Otis―and for the future.


This tender story celebrates the connections between generations, emphasizing that small steps can have a big impact when one looks beyond the present. An author’s note about seed banks around the world is included.


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

 

To learn more about these writers, or to contact them:

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner – Cosmic Collisions: Asteroid vs. Comet (MIT Kids Press 4/2/2024) –

 

Jennifer Swanson – The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves (Millbrook Press 4/2/2024) – Website: https://jenniferswansonbooks.com/


Lindsay H. Metcalf – Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm (Astra Books for Young Readers 4/9 /2024) –

 

Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Saving Delicia (Flyaway Books 4/9/2024) –

 

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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