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The Picture Book Buzz

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

My goodness but April is a popular month for releasing books!

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to ten authors from the STEAM Team Books group whose books release in April. It's not too long a post and I promise well worth it!

STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math books, including fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books, which "bring the spirit of inquiry, discovery, and creative problem-solving to learners while engaging them in rich literacy experiences." Follow #STEAMTeamBooks to catch all the info on the new STEAM/STEM children's books heading your way.

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?...)

Matthew Brenden Wood – The Universe: The Big Bang, Black Holes, and Blue Whales (Nomad Press 4/1/21) –

Matthew Brenden Wood is a math and science teacher with a passion for STEAM education. He is also an avid amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. Wood holds a bachelor's degree in astronomy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

[Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances prevent Matthew from joining us. But I still want to acknowledge him and introduce you to his book.]

[Author of 4 books, including Projectile Science: The Physics Behind Kicking a Field Goal and Launching a Rocket with Science Activities for Kids (Build It Yourself)(2018), The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon (Inquire & Investigate)(2018), Planetary Science: Explore New Frontiers (Inquire & Investigate)(2017), and The Science of Science Fiction (Inquire and Investigate)(2017).]

Jacquie Sewell - Whale Fall Cafe (Tilbury House 4/1/2021) - I don’t have a set time when I write. That’s a goal I’ve yet to achieve. I write in my home office. I’ve been “writing” since childhood. Before I could write I would dictate my poems and short stories to my mom. Writing assignments in grade school were a joy for me. Books, words, stories have always delighted and intrigued me. Lately I have gravitated toward informational picture books for most of my writing projects. Although, when I get braver, there is a chapter book and a novel lurking in my writer’s heart that I would love to get on paper. But I LOVE picture books! They are, in my opinion, the perfect vehicle to introduce readers of all ages to the wonders and wonderful people of our world. I enjoy STEAM books because I find the real world so fascinating.

[Author of Mighty Mac: The Bridge That Michigan Built (2017).]

Lisa Amstutz - Mammal Mania: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Mammals (Chicago Review Press 4/1/21) – While I’ve always loved books, I never planned to be a writer. I started freelancing for magazines and the local newspaper about 15 years ago, when my kids were young and I was looking for work to do from home. I got into children’s writing several years later. My background is in science (Biology/Ecology), and I love research. So writing about STEM is a natural fit. With nonfiction, I enjoy the challenge of finding the story in a pile of facts and putting it together in a way that will appeal to kids.

[Author of about 150 books, including Plants Fight Back (2020), Amazing Amphibians (2020), Finding a Dove For Gramps (2019), Applesauce Day (2017), Nasa and the Astronauts (Destination Space) (2018), Robotics (2018), Smart Phones (How It Works)(2017), Bringing Back Our Freshwater Lakes (2017), Invasive Species (207), and Airplanes (How it Works)(2017).]

Roberta GibsonHow to Build an Insect (Millbrook Press 4/6/2021) -

I was one of those kids who brought books home from the library in grocery bags, read them all, then went back the next week for more. As for writing, my first venture into nonfiction was in fourth grade when I wrote a “book” about how to care for guinea pigs. I’m pretty sure no one read it.

Later, I went to graduate school to become an entomologist. Part of science is communicating the results, and therefore I published scientific papers. Over the years, however, I’ve moved to writing for a general audience and children. Writing about science and nature -- particularly insects – is my wheelhouse.

[Debut children's author.]

Rachel Sarah - Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth (Chicago Review Press 4/6/21) – I'm a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who writes to inspire change. As the mother of two daughters, I also write to amplify the voices of girls and women. I became a reporter when I was 21 and moved to the Czech Republic to write for The Prague Post. My work has been published in places like The Washington Post, POPSUGAR, The New York Times, and Yahoo.

Most recently, I’ve been interviewing youth climate activists from around the world in live Instagram chats in a “take over” at Ocean Heroes, which I've been moderating from a tiny shed in my backyard where I also write and research.

I love what climate scientist Kate Marvel says: "We need courage, not hope," to rise up to the climate crisis. I hope my writing will encourage more young women to explore the world of STEAM.

[Debut children’s author.]

Christine Van Zandt A Brief History of Underpants (Quarto Kids/becker&mayer! kids 6/1/2021) - Hello, fabulous reader! I’ve been writing as far back as I can remember, beginning with diaries and journals, always keeping a notebook nearby.

Because of the pandemic, we’ve had at-home school for over a year so I write, research, and work with Zoom-school in the background, between cries of “I need my cord!” and “Can you bring me a snack?”

I like how kids today have access to interesting STEAM books and I love making learning entertaining. My (then) third-grader suggested I write about underpants. Yes!—education with humor! Once I started digging up underwear facts, I got hooked reading about things like frozen 5,300-year-old underwear, the interesting materials textiles that have covered our buns, and how inventions propelled underwear and clothing production forward.

[Debut children’s author. *Publication TBD - pushed back after the interview was posted*]

Rajani LaRocca - Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (Charlesbridge 4/20/21) – Hi! I’m a physician and author in the Boston area. I write middle grade and picture books. I write a mix of fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry.

I’ve always loved books, but I took a long hiatus from creative writing when I went to medical school and residency. I picked it back up again about nine years ago when I started taking online and then in-person classes and forming critique groups with fellow writers. As a working mom, I’ve learned to write in my living room, my bedroom, my kitchen, waiting for kids at piano lessons, in school parking lots, and dictating ideas on my phone in the car! As a doctor, STEM topics—especially science—are very dear to my heart.

[Author of 14 books, including Red, White, and Whole (2021), Seven Golden Rings: A Tale Of Music And Math (2020), Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019) , and ten more upcoming books between 2021 and 2023.]

Jennifer Swanson - Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (Odd Dot Press 4/27/21) – 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 45 books, including - 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).]

Melissa StewartSummertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate  (Charlesbridge 4/27/21) – Many writers know what they want to do from a very young age, but I never considered writing as a career option until a college professor suggested it. Up until then, I didn’t even know writing was a job. No one I knew was a writer, and my school didn’t host author visits. I’ll always be very grateful to that professor for seeing a talent in me and letting me know.​​

I do most of my writing in a spare bedroom in my house. My husband leaves for work at 5:45 a.m., so that’s when I start to write. When I get stuck, I stop to take a shower. Something about the steam and running water frees my mind, and I usually solve the problem. After lunch, I switch my focus to researching, planning school visits, and taking care of business tasks. I stop working at 4:30 p.m., so I can start making dinner.

Rachel Carson once said, “Science gives me something to write about,” and I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy writing at a variety of different levels, from board books to books for adults, but grade 3 is really my sweet spot.

[Author of more than 181 books, including Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses (2020), Seashells: More than a Home (2019), A Place for Turtles, Second Edition (2019), Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs (2018), Can an Aardvark Bark? (2018),A Seed Is the Start (2017), Wolverines, National Geographic Readers (2017), Droughts, Let’s Read and Find Out Science (2017), Pinocchio Rex and Other Tyrannosaurs, Let’s Read and Find Out Science (2017), Predator Face-Off (2017), Feathers: Not Just for Flying (2014), and No Monkeys, No Chocolate (2013).]

Mary Kay Carson - Outdoor School: Animal Watching: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide (Odd Dot Press 4/27/21) – I’ve been a working writer for nearly (gasp!) 30 years. I started out working on a classroom science magazine for upper elementary kids at Scholastic in NYC, so I’ve always written about STEM topics. The happiest book projects for me are often those that are collaborative. Working closely with editors to iron out a book or series’ structure or format; tagging along with scientists as they search for bats or check geyser temperatures; or even going back and forth with a photographer or illustrator to get an image right all count. Writing can be a lonely business. The weight of making every choice and decision, being responsible for every word and fact, all while having to be an irritating cheerleader so someone will publish the thing can be crushing at times. It’s nice to feel you’re not in it alone.

[Author of 13 book, including, Wildlife Ranger Action Guide: Track, Spot & Provide Healthy Habitat for Creatures Close to Home (2020), The Tornado Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series)(2019), Universe: From the Big Bang to Deep Space (Inside Outer Space)(2019), Alexander Graham Bell for Kids: His Life and Inventions, with 21 Activities (For Kids series)(2018), Mission to Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt (Scientists in the Field Series) (2017), Life on Mars (Scholastic Reader, Level 2)(2016), Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet (2015), Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science Under Glass (Scientists in the Field Series)(2015), Scholastic Reader Level 2: Magic School Bus: Ocean Adventure (2014),and Beyond the Solar System: Exploring Galaxies, Black Holes, Alien Planets, and More; A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series)(2013).]

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

Jacquie Sewell - I spent the summer between my junior and senior year of High School as a Youth for Understanding exchange student in Greece. The country is beautiful and filled with history. My host families were warm and loving. My “sister” and I still connect via Facebook. My experience showed me people are people no matter where they live or what language they speak or the color of their skin. It fueled my desire to travel and experience more of the world, and to share those experiences with children through the magic of stories.

Lisa Amstutz - I won the county spelling bee in 8th grade. I was not very happy about this, because I did not like to be in the spotlight!

Roberta GibsonI have my grandmother’s entomology textbook from 1925. She went to Cornell University and over 50 years later, I went there for graduate school.

Rachel Sarah - When I'm channeling the "A" in STEAM, you might find me playing the alto saxophone. Yes, I'm a former (and proud!) band geek. At the end of 2020, we had a Zoom holiday party, so I got to play "Georgia on My Mind" to about 50 of our friends. It was just before the Georgia election runoffs with Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, so I was thrilled to send some positive energy their way.

Christine Van Zandt – I have a seemingly bottomless collection of underwear books! Many are fiction picture books—my favorite, A Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds. But I also have more than 30 reference books with historical underwear facts which I bought because the pandemic had closed down libraries and bookstores. Reputable online reference sites helped, but I needed more.

I wanted to uncover facts from every continent, back to the earliest known undergarments. Often, there was very little underwear-specific information—maybe that’s why they’re called “unmentionables”!

Rajani LaRocca - I have visited forty-nine out of the fifty U.S. states!

Jennifer Swanson - I love sports of all kinds and grew up playing pretty much every kind of sport you can imagine.

Melissa Stewart – Even when I was a child, I wrote about science whenever I had a chance. I wrote my first two reports in sixth grade. One was about air pollution, and the other was about the human heart.

Mary Kay Carson – After getting a biology degree, I spent 2+ years in a rural village without electricity, telephones, or running water in the Dominican Republic where I worked as a fisheries volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps.

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

Matthew Brenden Wood – The Universe: The Big Bang, Black Holes, and Blue Whales (4/1/21) – "I tried to cram the entire universe into 25,000 words. It takes you from the Big Bang to the end of the universe and all the junk (like us) in between. I think it worked?"

Jacquie Sewell - Whale Fall Cafe (4/1/2021) -I read about the first “discovery” of a natural whale fall back in 2010. The topic fascinated me - I had wanted to be an oceanographer when I was younger. At the time I was working as an elementary school librarian, and I knew kids would love reading about the bizarre and somewhat “gross” creatures that inhabit a whale fall. As I got deeper into the research I discovered my son had taken classes from the scientist who coined the term “whale fall”. So that was encouragement to continue in the face of roadblocks and rejections.

Lisa Amstutz - Mammal Mania: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Mammals (4/1/21) – Zoology was one of my favorite classes in college, so when I saw that Chicago Review Press did not have a book on mammals in the Young Naturalist series, I thought it would be fun to write one. Fortunately, my editor agreed! I had a blast researching all the mammals in the book.

Roberta GibsonHow to Build an Insect (4/6/2021) - Over the years I’ve taught tons of insect classes and workshops for children. They are always so excited. I wanted to capture that in a book.

Rachel Sarah - Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth (4/6/21) - I shifted the focus of my writing to the climate during the devastating California wildfires of 2018. This decision felt like a matter of survival for all living beings.

It was imperative to me to find climate leaders all over the world, so my interviews took me to calling 25 climate leaders under age 25 from Ireland and Pakistan to Colombia and Uganda. In every country, girls and young women standing up to demand action for their futures.

I appreciate how meteorologist and climate writer Eric Holthaus [], describes Girl Warriors: "With courage, struggle, and triumph, these 25 fearless girls and women aren't just telling their own stories. They're telling the story of a world that was always possible and is now bursting into being. The message in Rachel Sarah's book is clear: You, yes you, have a story worth telling and it is revolutionary."

Christine Van Zandt A Brief History of Underpants (6/1/2021) - Underwear cracks kids up—Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books are a worldwide success! While I love that series, the nonfiction element interested me. What were ancient undergarments made from, and how do we know this?

When I researched published books along this line, I found there was a need for quick-paced book that would make kids laugh while they learned, full of cheeky facts to even engage reluctant readers.

Rajani LaRocca - Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (4/20/21) – I wanted to tell a story of sibling love combined with some early math in the form of pattern making. I love the holiday of Raksha Bandhan and how it celebrates the bond between sisters and brothers.

Jennifer Swanson - Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (4/27/21) – It was a chance to work with a brand new imprint, Odd Dot. They are a fabulous company! And I love that I was able to be a part of this awesome series that promotes kids getting outside and doing things!

Melissa StewartSummertime Sleepers (4/27/21) – Sometimes I like to scan the shelves in the natural history section of my town library and see what grabs my attention. On a hot June day in 2011, I stumbled upon a 250-page tome on hibernation. It contained a single paragraph about an animal behavior I’d never heard of—estivation. And that made me curious.

To find out more, I typed “estivate” into a database of science journals, hoping to pull up papers with any form of the word—estivate, estivation, estivating. The reference sections of those initial papers led me to more resources, and soon I had plenty of material for a book.

As you can see, this book took 10 years from inspiration to publication. Why did I stick with it so long? Because I was personally invested. There was a little piece of my heart at the core, and it fueled my work despite the obstacles and setbacks.

One of the examples in the book is the leopard gecko. And for most of the time I was working on the manuscript, my nephew, Emile, had one of these little lizards as a beloved pet. Every time I talked to him, he asked me how the book was going. How could I possibly let him down?

Mary Kay Carson - Outdoor School: Animal Watching: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide (4/27/21) – I’m a huge wildlife fan, especially our native wildlife. My husband and I live in the middle of 15 or so acres of urban greenspace and try to provide as much wildlife habitat as we can by removing invasive plants, growing native plants that feed wildlife, providing a water source (pond), and leaving the yard a mess of dead trees, clumps of bushes, debris piles, and other wildlife-friendly areas instead of mowing. A book that encourages young people to connect with wild animals around them wherever they live is an extension of that desire to help wildlife.

So many different to get inspired about a topic. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?

Text © Jacquie Sewell, 2021. Image © Dan Tavis, 2021.

Jacquie Sewell - Whale Fall Cafe (4/1/2021) - I wrote Whale Fall Cafe to get young readers excited about the oceans and the amazing creatures that inhabit them. I want them to realize that science is exciting and still full of opportunities for new discoveries.

© Lisa J. Amstutz, 2021.

Lisa Amstutz - Mammal Mania: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Mammals (4/1/21) –Mammal Mania provides an overview of mammal taxonomy, behaviors, and biology as well as their conservation needs. Each chapter includes three STEAM-related activities that can be used to supplement the text.

Text © Roberta Gibson, 2021. Image © Anne Lambelet, 2021.

Roberta GibsonHow to Build an Insect (4/6/2021) - Anne Lambelet did an incredible job with the illustrations. The text is a quick read aloud, but you could spend hours poring over the illustrations.

Rachel Sarah - Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth (4/6/21) – Interviewing and writing about these 25 Girl Warriors has changed me. Writing this book altered me in a deep way. I've become more resilient in this journey. I’m here with everyone who's rising up, raising my voice for your future.

As I say in the dedication of Girl Warriors, the activists in this book are the real storytellers here. I'm so grateful that they trusted me to share their hopes and their struggles. And also, their time.

Text © Christine Van Zandt, 2021. Image © Harry Briggs, 2021.

Christine Van Zandt A Brief History of Underpants (6/1/2021) - The cover is fun to play with! It has what’s called a Reveal Wheel. Spin it to give the character on the book’s cover—who we’ve named Buttley Breeches—different styles of underwear: boxers, briefs, bloomer, or schenti (the style of loincloth worn by King Tut). Secret fact: by moving the wheel back and forth you can make Buttley look like he’s dancing!

Text © Rajani LaRocca, 2021. Image © Chaaya Prabhati, 2021.

Rajani LaRocca - Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (4/20/21) – I want readers to know that we use math all the time to solve everyday problems, and that, like Bina, it’s OK to be stumped by a problem and not know how to solve it at first. It’s OK to make mistakes, try to figure out what went wrong, and start again—in both STEM fields and in life in general.

Text © Jennifer Swanson, 2021. Image © John D. Dawson, 2021.

Jennifer Swanson - Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (4/27/21) – Take it OUTSIDE! This book is meant to be used so bring it with you on your adventures. Use it as a guide to identify all of the rocks, fossils, and shells you find. You can even write in it! Share it with your friends, and maybe have a competition for who can find the most obscure rock, fossil or shell.

Text © Melissa Stewart, 2021. Image © Sarah Brannen, 2021.

Melissa StewartSummertime Sleepers (4/27/21) – This is the third book in which I’ve collaborated with illustrator Sarah S. Brannen, and let me just say she’s a genius. As she was working on the sketches, she realized that a book full of sleeping animals might seem too quiet or static, so she came up with the brilliant idea of adding sketchbook pages that show the animals wide awake, going about their daily activities. As a bonus, this new features provided a place for me to share some more information about them.

Text © Mary Kay Carson, 2021. Image © Emily Dahl, 2021.

Mary Kay Carson - Outdoor School: Animal Watching: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide (4/27/21) – All the colorful retro-cool pictures in the book come from vintage Golden Guides.

What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?

Jacquie Sewell - Whale Fall Cafe (4/1/2021) - I love doing the research. I could dig for “treasure” all day long. I also enjoy writing - finding the right words to open doors for young readers. Revision is challenging for me because there is always more to share than the publisher will have room for. My first draft for Whale Fall Cafe was over 3000 words. It could have become a NF chapter book. But my heart belongs first to picture books. So with the help of my critique group I whittled those 3000 words down to 567 (with over 1500 words of back matter). Thank God for Back Matter!

Lisa Amstutz - Mammal Mania: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Mammals (4/1/21) – Gathering all the photos for this book was a challenge—mostly fun, but time-consuming!

Roberta GibsonHow to Build an Insect (4/6/2021) - I didn’t have a lot of time to polish the manuscript because I was under an extremely short deadline. But maybe that turned out to my advantage because I also didn’t overwork it.

Rachel Sarah - Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth (4/6/21) – I had no idea that when I started writing Girl Warriors, I'd be writing through a pandemic. COVID became part of my research, interviews, and setting as I told the stories of these 25 climate activists around the world. We were all in lockdown together. I felt so much despair and anxiety as I hunkered down with my daughters at home. Yet, just as I was finalizing the last edits, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the U.S. elections and brought a new pulse of courage, so I jumped back in to revise my introduction to include our hopeful future.

Christine Van Zandt A Brief History of Underpants (6/1/2021) - Normally, I just need to allocate writing time around my work responsibilities. However, writing and researching has been much harder during the pandemic with the family sheltering at home and the obligations of online school.

Rajani LaRocca - Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (4/20/21) – It was challenging at times to incorporate all the math, mistake-making, and retrying while keeping the word count low!

Jennifer Swanson - Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (4/27/21) – There is A LOT of information packed into this book! It was challenging to be able to fit all of the stuff we wanted in this book, but we did it. It is THE definitive guide on rocks, fossils, and shell hunting for kids.

Melissa StewartSummer Time Sleepers (4/27/21) – At first, I struggled with the voice. My early drafts featured a lively, humorous voice. But it just didn’t feel right for a book about inactive animals. I needed to let the topic dictate the voice, so a soft, cozy, lyrical voice was a better fit.

Next, I had to admit that my beginning wasn’t working. After a year of being stuck, I realized that my introduction was buried on page 8. After cutting the first fifty words, I added to and reorganized the animal examples. Then I sent the manuscript to my editor. With her guidance, I tightened the structure, strengthened the flow and pacing, and reworked the back matter. Finally, the text was ready for publication.

Mary Kay Carson - Outdoor School: Animal Watching: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide (4/27/21) – The breadth of information included in the book’s 425 pages. The book covers all the wildlife vertebrate groups—birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. That means everything from differences between male and female goldfinches in both summer and winter to the variety of mouth shapes of salt water and freshwater fishes. There were a lot of facts to nail down.

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

Jacquie Sewell - My editor expressed interested in seeing a book about a topic related to whale falls so I am knee deep in library books doing my preliminary research. Back to the deep sea for me!

Lisa Amstutz - I have another project under contract but can’t share quite yet…stay tuned!

Roberta GibsonWhat creature can

· Hang upside down from a plate of glass holding 100 times its own weight and not fall?

· Thrive in the Sahara Desert at 140° Fahrenheit, without being fried?

· Swim through a pool of deadly ooze that kills any other animal that drops inside?

· Sew, garden, and dig up fossils with no hands?

Is this a new comic book superhero? No, it’s an ant.

Rachel Sarah - I'm overjoyed to be writing another book for my editor Kara Rota at Chicago Review Press. Building onto Girl Warriors, this book for young adult readers (ages 12-17) will be part of the Women of Power Series.

Part narrative nonfiction, part climate science, part environmental activism, and all-parts empowering, I'm currently interviewing 15 climate scientists, academics, researchers, and policy makers from around the world, including women who draft climate policies, lead nonprofits to protect the environment, and run science labs. I'm so inspired!

Christine Van Zandt – I have completed fiction and nonfiction picture book manuscripts. Since my debut picture book was published unagented, I’m seeking representation for my future projects.

Rajani LaRocca - My next middle grade, Much Ado About Baseball, is a companion novel to my debut, Midsummer’s Mayhem, and is coming from Yellow Jacket/Little Bee Books on June 15. It’s about girl and boy math competition rivals who find themselves on the same summer baseball team. It’s full of math puzzles, savory snacks, and magic.

And my picture book, Where Three Oceans Meet, will be published by Abrams in 2021. It’s a story about a girl who takes a trip with her mother and grandmother to the very tip of India and discovers the strength and love that mothers and daughters share across distance and time.

I’ve also written a PB biography! My Little Golden Book About Kamala Harris releases August 31! And my STEM picture book, The Secret Code Inside You, will publish with Little Bee Books on September 14 and explains the basics of DNA to kids! It also touches on the limits of our genes and how our choices also make us who we are.

Jennifer Swanson - My next book is called Saving the Amazon and it is adapted from one of the most popular exhibits in the Field Museum in Chicago. The book takes the reader on a trek to save the Amazon rainforest led by a fearless team of mostly female scientists. I’m so excited about this book and honored to work with the Field Museum because it was one of my favorite museums to visit as a kid.

Melissa Stewart – Yes, in July, Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme will enter the world. It’s my second collaboration with Caldecott honoree, and I couldn’t be more excited. It highlights Manú National Park in Peru, where an astonishing fourteen different species of monkeys live together. That’s more than in any other rain forest on Earth!

The book’s playful, rhyming text explores each monkey’s habits, diet, and home territory, illustrating how this delicate ecosystem and its creatures live in harmony. From howler monkeys to spider monkeys to night monkeys, young readers will love getting to know these incredible primates and discovering how they share their rain forest home.

Mary Kay Carson – I’m actually finishing up another book in the same Outdoor School series. This one is about trees, wildflowers, grasses, and fungus. It’s called Plant Spotting.

I can't wait for these books! Here's an odd-ball question for you, if you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?

Jacquie Sewell - I would love to meet Edward Adrian Wilson. Edward traveled to Antarctica twice with Robert Falcon Scott. He was a physician, a naturalist and an artist. Most of all he was a sincere follower of Jesus. All of his companions respected him and looked to him for council and encouragement. They called him Uncle Bill. His character, his commitment to science, his artistic skill and his steadfast faith make him a person I would love to call friend.

Lisa Amstutz - I’d have loved to have a conversation about writing and life with Madeleine L’Engle.

Roberta GibsonI would love to spend an afternoon with E. O Wilson, who is an ant expert and so much more.

Rachel Sarah - If I could meet anyone, it would be Daphne Frias [], one of the incredible activists in Girl Warriors. Daphne is a 23-year-old Latina climate justice advocate from West Harlem, New York City. Daphne is currently in medical school, and most recently, she was selected as one of @_shethepeople’s 25 young women of color to watch for 2021. Daphne got her start in activism shortly after the Parkland shooting by busing 100-plus students from her college campus to the nearest March For Our Lives event. During the elections, she created her own non-profit called Box The Ballot, which aims to harness the power of absentee ballots. As an organizer with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair, Daphne is a proud champion for disabled communities.

Christine Van Zandt – I’d choose William Shakespeare so I could ask about his “lost” years and figure out how such a supposedly provincial commoner created lasting literature—then I’d write a book about it!

Rajani LaRocca - I would love to meet Lin-Manual Miranda. I think Hamilton is one of the greatest contributions to our country in hundreds of years. It has changed the way we view the founding of our country and energized us about our history and civic action in a way that few things have. And the music is just so incredible!

Jen Swanson - There 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.

Melissa Stewart – Rachel Carson. I think we’d have had a lot to talk about.

Mary Kay Carson – A biologist working in the year 2200. I’d like to know how things turn out.

That would be the best social ever. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?

Jacquie Sewell - My favorite animal right now is my dear dog Minnie who we had to say good-bye to in January. She was such a huge part of our lives. Even though she’s gone we still feel her with us and look for her when we come home or get ready to go for a walk. By extension I am very fond of all dogs and so thankful that God created them to be our special companions. [So sorry!]

Lisa Amstutz - I love watching wild birds, and our little flock of chickens and ducks is endlessly entertaining as well. As far as pets, we have a dog and three cats that I’m pretty fond of.

Roberta Gibson I am so crazy about ants that I write a blog entitled “Wild About Ants.”

Why? They are social. It is amazing what they can accomplish as a group. I’m also fascinated by their altruistic behavior. There’s a kind of ant that explodes to protect its colony from enemies. How cool is that?

Rachel Sarah - I recently interviewed Dr. Jacquelyn Gill [] -- an Ice Age ecologist and professor at the University of Maine -- for my next climate book (young adult nonfiction) that I'm currently writing for Chicago Review Press, and Dr. Gill introduced me to the world of woolly mammoths. Wow, I didn’t know that woolly mammoths were matriarchal!

Christine Van Zandt – Monarch butterfly caterpillars are one of my top animals. These cute, striped critters need our help. Western monarch butterfly populations have declined by more than 99.9% because of climate change, use of chemicals in gardening, and habitat removal for housing or farming. Also, many garden centers either do not sell native milkweed, or they sell insecticide-treated plants.

Because monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed, we grow a variety of pesticide-free milkweed plants as well as nectar plants to support butterflies and other pollinators. We also raise a small percentage of caterpillars indoors, in habitats with potted milkweed plants. Their Caterpillar Hotel stay includes daily maid service!

Rajani LaRocca - My little Havanese dog, Boomer, is my favorite animal in the world. But I also love elephants because of their deep love for one another, their beautiful families and social structures, and their incredible memories.

Jen 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!!

Melissa Stewart – You probably won’t be surprised to hear that, thanks to my nephew, my favorite animal in Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate is the leopard gecko. But I suspect most readers will fall in love with the adorable desert hedgehog Sarah painted for the cover.

Mary Kay Carson – Blame it on the pandemic (and don’t tell my own pets) but it’s currently Bunny, the “talking” sheepadoodle conversationalist and TikTok star.

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

The Universe: The Big Bang, Black Holes, and Blue Whales by Matthew Brenden Wood (Nomad 4/1/21) - Synopsis: What exactly is the universe? Is it brilliant stars, distant galaxies, and giant black holes? What about the sun, the moon, or the planet Earth? The universe is all these things―and more! But where did it come from? How did we get here? And where is it all going?

Explore these questions and more in The Universe: The Big Bang, Black Holes, and Blue Whales. In this book, readers ages 12 to 15 embark on an exciting journey that starts with the Big Bang and takes them all the way to the end of the universe, with many thrilling stops in between. Take a look billions of years into the past and discover the mind-bending early moments of the universe, the rise of the first stars, and the formation of the earliest galaxies. Explore the birth our sun and solar system and the formation of the only place in the universe known to support life: the earth.

Finally, we’ll zoom billions of years into the future to learn about the death of the sun, a colossal collision of galaxies, and even the fate of the universe itself.

• Throughout The Universe, kids encounter essential topics and questions to encourage critical thinking skills, hands-on STEAM activities that encourage creative thinking, graphic novel style illustrations and more! • Links to online resources provide a digital learning experience that integrates content with an interactive platform. • Investigations include using a diffraction grating or prism to examine the properties of light and how it relates to the sun, modeling different galaxy types and the creation of a black hole using a heavy object and a stretchy fabric, creating backyard fossils, and exploring the effects of climate change locally. • Essential questions guide readers’ investigations while hands-on activities promote critical and creative problem solving, and text-to-world connections highlight the way the past provides context for the present-day world.

Whale Fall Cafe by Jacquie Sewell, illustrated by Dan Tavis (Tilbury House 4/1/2021) - A really fun informational fiction book about the disposition of a whale carcass which falls to the ocean floor. Narrated by a bowtie bedecked Dr. Fish piloting a submersible, with lots of diner word play, it explores the myriad of animals from sharks, giant isopods, bone-eating snot worms, and bacteria with a role in helping with the decomposition and repurposing of the whale. Detailed back matter includes information on the species and how scientists learned about these events on the deep, dark ocean floor.

Synopsis: One medium-size whale carcass delivers as much food to the dark, cold ocean depths as 4,000 years of sinking food particles. When a dead whale arrives, the café opens for business, and who better than Dan Tavis to show us the bizarre deep-ocean diners who show up?

Hagfish, zombie worms, sleeper sharks―this group of patrons is stranger than the denizens of the Mos Eisley Cantina in Star Wars. A fish in a lab coat, piloting a deep-sea submersible, is our guide to the weirdly fascinating goings-on miles beneath the ocean surface.

The backmatter includes rare whale-fall photos from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Dr. Robert Vrijenhoek of MBARI and Dr. Craig Smith, a deep-ocean ecologist at the University of Hawaii, have helped Jacquie Sewell to ensure scientific accuracy.

Mammal Mania: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Mammals  by Lisa Amstutz (Chicago Review Press 4/1/21) – Exploring the definition of a mammal, doing activities on sending sound waves and building like a beaver, learning about mammal's houses and food chains, writing a poem and experimenting with hearing under water, and learning to work with mammals and ways to help them are just a few of the amazing insights and activities in this great book.

Synopsis: This full-color book of marvelous mammals provides 30 hands-on activities to give interested children an overview of the wide varieties of mammals in their world.

How big is a blue whale? Why does a sloth crawl from the safety of a tree to the ground once a week? How does a vampire bat feed?

Young nature enthusiasts will find answers to these questions and learn all sorts of fascinating facts about mammals in this full-color, interactive book. Mammal Mania explores what makes mammals unique, as well as their anatomy, behavior, and conservation needs. Readers will learn to build a squirrel feeder, write a putrid poem, make an animal tracking station, and much more. Thirty hands-on activities promote observation and analysis, writing and drawing, math and science, and nature literacy skills.

How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (Millbrook Press 4/6/2021) - Watch the main character learn the parts of an insect, in this beautifully and entertainingly illustrated nonfiction picture book. As the insect is assembled, analogies are drawn between kids and insects - stomachs versus abdomens, skeletons versus exoskeletons, two versus six legs, etc., while multiple insects and other critters make entertaining cameo appearances. Back matter includes more in-depth information on the parts of insects and a STEM activity. It is such a great way to learn about insects.

Synopsis: See what the buzz is about in this fresh, fun look at insect anatomy.

Let's build an insect! In the pages of this book, you’ll find a workshop filled with everything you need, including a head, a thorax, an abdomen, and much more. Written by entomologist Roberta Gibson and accompanied by delightfully detailed illustrations by Anne Lambelet, this wonderfully original take on insect anatomy will spark curiosity and engage even those who didn't think they liked creepy, crawly things!

Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth by Rachel Sarah (Chicago Review Press 4/6/21) – 25 young activists from around the globe, from all walks of life, and abilities share their stories. Their fights against companies and governments. Fights against environmental mismanagement, inequality in education and care, and all manner of injustice. Their actions to create sustainability, equity, and climate justice have inspired and challenged. This is a great collection of biographies of young women determined to save and create a future for themselves and others. 

Synopsis: Interviews with 25 young eco-activists present a hopeful picture of the future of environmentalism.

Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth tells the stories of 25 climate leaders under age 25. They've led hundreds of thousands of people in climate strikes, founded non-profits, given TED talks, and sued their governments.

These fearless girls and young women from all over the world are standing up to demand change when no one else is.

A Brief History of Underpants by Christine Van Zandt, illustrated by Harry Briggs (Quarto Kids/Becker& Mayer! Kids 6/1/2021) - Chocked full of puns and hysterical illustrations this book will appeal to readers up to 103. Organized as a timeline of undies, the book looks at all the materials and styles that people have used to cover their tushies -from 20,00 BCE caribou skin undies to the 1950 invention of Lycra skivvies. Among the jokes, you'll find nuggets of history and fascinating facts - do you know what do astronauts do with dirty underpants? You'll laugh your way through history.

Synopsis: From bloomers to boxers, everyone wears underwear! One part humor, one part history, A Brief History of Underpants explores the evolution of fashion's most unmentionable garment.

Gain a whole new understanding of underthings as you:

  • Learn which ruler was buried with over 100 pairs of underwear.

  • Discover how people kept their underclothes from falling off before elastic was invented.

  • Find out why some underwear was made from feathers.

  • And much, much more!

Zany illustrations add to the humor, and step-by-step instructions teach real dyeing and washing techniques used hundreds of years ago. Interact with the topic directly by turning the reveal wheel on the front cover to see underwear evolve through the ages.

Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Chaaya Prabhat (Charlesbridge 4/20/21) - To celebrate the Indian holiday, Raksha Bandhan (the celebration of brothers and sisters), Bina decides to make her three brothers bracelets. After a little detective work, Bina figures out their favorite colors and finds beads to celebrate their individual interests. With three colors of beads, Bina uses a bit of problem solving to create unique bracelet patterns and sequences for each brother. An activity at the extends the fun with patterns.

Synopsis: For the Hindu holiday of Raksha Bandhan, Bina is determined to make beaded bracelets for her brothers all by herself. She finds out which colors her brothers like and dislike and sets to work. Working with her every-other-one beading pattern causes Bina to discover something new about patterns--and her brothers.

Storytelling Math celebrates children using math in their daily adventures as they play, build, and discover the world around them. Joyful stories and hands-on activities make it easy for kids and their grown-ups to explore everyday math together. Developed in collaboration with math experts at STEM education nonprofit TERC, under a grant from the Heising-Simons Foundation.

Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting by Jennifer Swanson, illustrated by  John D. Dawson (Odd Dot Press 4/27/21) - If you enjoy, or want to try, collecting rocks, fossils, and/or shells, this is the perfect book for you! Divided into three sections, this book is designed to be used, not just as a guide, but as a detailed scientific log. Informative sections begin with very visual and easily accessible scientific descriptions, history, and classifications. Then invite interactivity with graphs, charts, and “badge-like” places to record fun hands-on exercises, experiments, and discoveries. It also includes guides for storing and displaying collections and a check list of 101 possible achievements.

Synopsis: Writer Jennifer Swanson and artist John D. Dawson invite you to rewild your life! With metal corners and 448 full-color, highly-illustrated pages, Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil & Shell Hunting by Odd Dot is an indispensable tool for young explorers and rock collectors.

Make every day an adventure with the included:

- Immersive activities to get you exploring

- Write-in sections to journal about experiences

- Next-level adventures to challenge even seasoned nature lovers

No experience is required―only curiosity and courage. This interactive field guide to rocks, fossils, & shells, includes:

-Digging, chiseling, hammering, and wading for rocks and minerals

-Identifying rocks & minerals by location, texture, color, shape and size

-Determining between rocks, geodes, and space rocks

-Finding fossils and setting up a dig site

-Searching and snorkeling for shells

-Storing and displaying your collection

And so much more!

Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah Brannen (Charlesbridge 4/27/21) – With a triple-layered text - a sparsely worded main text introduces where the animals estivate, animal facts and a black and white sketch are on a scientist's 'journal page,' and a more explanatory side bar - this book introduces readers to twelve animals (fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals) who sleep through the summer. The stunning, life-like illustrations make it so much fun to learn about all these unusual critters - like a pixie frog that sleeps in a cocoon - and the "More About Animals that Estivate" offers additional information. It's an excellent STEM book.

Synopsis: Everyone knows about animals that hibernate in the winter. But it's time to discover animals that sleep all summer long!

All science classrooms discuss animals that hibernate during winter months, but few know about animals that estivate--a prolonged sleep during hot or dry periods. Dual layers of text awaken readers to the reasons estivating animals become dormant--whether it's because warm weather threatens food supply or to avoid increased body temperatures. From the ladybug to the salamander, from the lungfish to the desert hedgehog, twelve estivating animals and their habits--both when sleeping and awake--are explained through clear text and elegant watercolor illustrations that create a scrapbook feel.

Outdoor School: Animal Watching: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide by Mary Kay Carson, illustrated by Emily Dahl (Odd Dot Press 4/27/21) – From the same series as Jennifer Swanson's book on rocks, fossils, and shells, this book involves birds, mammals, and amphibians. This book is also designed to be used, not just as a guide, but as a detailed scientific log. Informative sections begin with very visual and easily accessible scientific descriptions, classifications, and means of identification. Then the book invites interactivity with graphs, charts, and “badge-like” places to record fun hands-on exercises, experiments, and discoveries. It includes individual pages for the animals where the reader can document where and when it was seen and any additional observation notes. Creating a wonderful record of a life-time of watching nature.

Synopsis: Rewild your life with Odd Dot's series of Outdoor School activity books, perfect for young explorers and nature lovers!

With its metal corners and over 400 full-color, highly-illustrated pages by Emily Dahl, Mary Kay Carson's Outdoor School: Animal Watching is your indispensable guide to the wilderness.

Make every day an adventure with the included:

- Immersive activities to get you exploring

- Write-in sections to journal about experiences

- Next-level adventures to challenge even seasoned nature lovers

No experience is required―only curiosity and courage. This interactive field guide to animals includes:

-Animal tracking

-Identifying birds by silhouette, size, and color

-Reading animal range maps

-Bird nest spotting

-Essential animal-watching gear

-Identifying mammals

-Bird calls and animal sounds

-Finding amphibians, reptiles, and fish

-Spotting scat

-Recognizing eyeshine

-Recording animal behavior

And so much more!

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

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

Matthew Brenden Wood – The Universe: The Big Bang, Black Holes, and Blue Whales (Nomad 4/1/21)

Jacquie Sewell - Whale Fall Cafe (Tilbury House 4/1/2021) -

Lisa Amstutz - Mammal Mania: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Mammals (Chicago Review Press 4/1/21) –

Roberta GibsonHow to Build an Insect (Millbrook Press 4/6/2021) -

Rachel Sarah - Girl Warriors: How 25 Young Activists Are Saving the Earth (Chicago Review Press 4/6/21) –

Christine Van Zandt – A Brief History of Underpants (Quarto Kids/Becker& Mayer! Kids 6/1/2021)

Rajani LaRocca - Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (Charlesbridge 4/20/21) -

Jennifer Swanson - Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (Odd Dot Press 4/27/21)

Melissa StewartSummertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate (Charlesbridge 4/27/21) –

Mary Kay Carson - Outdoor School: Animal Watching: The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide (Odd Dot Press 4/27/21) –


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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