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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - August 2023 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 spectacular books!

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?...)

Susan Wroble – Living with Depression (Bright Point Books 8/1/2023) – I’ve been writing all my life, but about five years ago I turned from fiction to nonfiction, and I couldn’t be happier I made that switch! My background is engineering, and I love reading scientific papers. I especially like writing stories that find hope in dealing with climate change or that track a system across time. Usually, I start with an idea or phrase that intrigues me and then dive into the research. Along with writing, volunteering is a strong part of my life. I co-lead the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI, and I volunteer at the Colorado Children’s Hospital and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

[Author of Using Engineering To Fight Climate Change (2022), Online Addiction (2022), and Energy From The Earth (2022).]

Marie-Therese Miller – Jobs in Health Care (ABDO Publishing 8/1/2023) – I teach Children’s and YA Literature and Writing for College at Marist College and have five grown children and a grandson. I started writing 20 years ago. I have a home office, but I can usually be found, pen in hand, hunched over a notebook on my bed-- books and articles strewn around my floor. I enjoy all aspects of creating nonfiction books for kids, from the research and interviews to the writing and editing. I write about all sorts of topics, but my most recent books have been focused on social science subjects. My undergraduate degree is in psychology and all things psychological still interest me.

[Author of 43 nonfiction books for children and teens, including Esports Superstars (2023), Sesame Street Being Thankful with Gabrielle: A Book About Gratitude (2023), Inside and Outside: A Sesame Street Guessing Game (2023), Top and Bottom: A Sesame Street Guessing Game (2023), Near and Far: A Sesame Street Guessing Game (2023), How Are You Feeling? Naming Your Emotions with Sesame Street (2023), Dogs (An Early Encyclopedia) (2022), Social Media Addiction (2022), Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (2022), Five-Minute Friendship Starters: A Sesame Street Guide to Making a Friend (2022), A Dog’s Best Friend: A Sesame Street Guide to Caring for Your Dog (2021), Handling Depression (2021), and Teens and Cyberbullying (2020).]

Jen Swanson – Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet (DK Books 8/8/2023) - 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 47 books, including - 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).]

Ginny Neil – The Glorious Forest That Fire Built (Amicus Ink 8/8/2023) – I wrote and illustrated my first picture book when I was ten. It was called GOOSEY LOVES GANDER. The last image showed the pair beak to beak with Goosey’s pearls all askew. (so racy!) I retired from teaching in 2013 to write picture books for real. Here I am ten years and hundreds of rejections later with my debut which I wrote and illustrated. There are no geese with pearls askew on any of the pages.

I write constantly. On any slip of paper I can find. Once a story is really underway, I work in my upstairs office, going back and forth between the words and character sketches or small book dummies.

[Debut Book Author]

Susan Edwards Richmond – Night Owl Night (Charlesbridge 8/8/2023) –During the school year, I teach Monday through Thursday, so Fridays are usually my days for writing projects. In the summer, I’m more flexible so I am often researching or writing weekday mornings or evenings. I do much of my work in a home office, with a window that looks out eye level with a grove of trees. I can hear chickadees, chipping sparrows, and a nuthatch singing right now! But I also carry a notebook for jotting down inspiration on my travels.

I like stories that present science concepts in a narrative setting and have focused on writing informational fiction. As a teacher in a nature-based preschool, I get to see what grabs the attention of young children, and also to see gaps in the market—what topics would I like to share with my students that I can’t find on library shelves? My three books about children engaging in science are about subjects I had not seen covered in children’s picture books, species counts and bird banding.

[Author of Bioblitz! Counting Critters (2022), Busy Little Hands: Science Play!: Learning Activities for Preschoolers (2022), and Bird Count (2019).]

What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?

Susan Wroble – My favorite place to write is a summer cabin near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. There’s no Wi-Fi and no cell phone service. But there is a phone. I can call local numbers, but people can call that phone from anywhere. The challenge is every cabin in that area has the same number — it’s a party line! That means that the phone rings in everyone’s cabin. If I answer, I have to figure out which cabin to hike to and notify them that they got a call!

Marie-Therese Miller – When my kids were young, I used to hole up in my walk-in closet to write. It was like a game of hide-and-seek, but I was hoping not to be found. If I kept quiet, I could get 200 words down on paper before they located me.

Jen Swanson – On a bike ride. The words for Footprints Across the Planet came to me one day as I was on a 5 mile bike ride. Thankfully, I had my phone with me so that I could text myself the words. But I’ve also written books in the middle of the night while on a plane flying across the ocean. That’s a great time to write. Everyone’s asleep or at least quiet and you have nowhere else to go. I’ve written on trains and in cars. I write wherever I am. When the words hit you, you write them down. I’ve even done a bit of notetaking or writing of phrases while I’m visiting museums, space centers, and even while waiting to watch a rocket launch.

Susan Edwards Richmond – I often begin my manuscripts in the field, with notes I jot down while walking in nature, birding, or, more recently, counting pollinators! I also keep a notebook by my bedside, so if a line drifts in right before I fall asleep or when I wake in the night, I can write it down quickly. I often don’t turn on the light because I don’t want to get out of bed—or wake my husband. So it can be a challenge the next day, deciphering what I’ve written!

Oh my goodness! I love these answers. Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?

Susan Wroble – Living with Depression (8/1/2023) – For more than fifteen years, I have led a Denver-area support group for parents of Twice-Exceptional Kids. These are kids who are highly gifted, but also have many learning differences. Most are on the autism spectrum. We meet each month, and usually there is a parent whose child is struggling with depression or self-harm. When I was offered the opportunity to write a book about Living with Depression, I jumped at it as a way to learn more to be able to support these families.

Marie-Therese Miller – Jobs in Health Care (8/1/2023) – I think it is important for young people to know what types of career opportunities are available to them. Health-care jobs are so varied, from school psychologist to health educator to pediatrician, and so many more. Students should finish high school with an idea of where their passions can take them.

Jen Swanson – Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet (8/8/2023) - I got this job because during the pandemic I bid on a critique with a DK Book editor that was offered in the WNDB fundraiser. While the DK editor I met with was great, she wasn’t interested in my picture book. However, I did tell her about my previous WFH projects and asked if I could send her a resume that she might be willing to circulate to her colleagues. She agreed! About two months later, I got an email from a different DK editor asking if I’d like to do a LEGO book. To say that I was thrilled to see this email in my inbox is a severe understatement.

Ginny Neil – The Glorious Forest That Fire Built (8/8/2023) – I live on a farm in the middle of hundreds of acres of fields and woods. I am inspired to write books about the big and small miracles of the natural world I see every day and why it is important to care about them.

Susan Edwards Richmond – Night Owl Night (8/8/2023) – I teach preschool on a farm and wildlife sanctuary, and one of the incredible benefits for me is that I’m surrounded by experts in fields that interest me—ecosystems, wildlife conservation, sustainable farming, and birds. The idea for Night Owl Night was born when Kathy Seymour, a Mass Audubon Banding Station Manager, invited me to join her on an owl-banding expedition one October night. I was really just looking for an opportunity to view saw-whet owls in the wild and had no idea I would write about the experience. But the evening was so magical that I knew, even before it was done, that I had to share it with young children!

It's amazing how many different ways a book gets started. What do you like to do outdoors by yourself or with your family and friends?

Susan Wroble – I love gardening, and I’ve been transforming part of the yard from grass to native plants. It’s been fascinating to watch the number of new types of insects that have appeared, followed by a variety of birds, including hummingbirds. It’s magical to be working there among the scents and sounds and smells and colors.

Marie-Therese Miller – I love to be near water. My favorite outdoor activity is a day at the beach, jumping the waves, building sand castles, collecting shells, and spotting dolphins. Being poolside with good company and a good book is also an ideal day.

Jen Swanson – I love being outside! That’s probably because when I’m working I’m inside all day. My husband and I go to the beach, go hiking, go to museums, and travel all over the world. We bike, run, walk, and swim all the time. My goal in life is to enjoy it and never to stop learning.

Ginny Neil – I walk 2-3 miles with a couple of friends every morning just as the sun is rising. It’s a great way to start a day. We all love inspecting piles of poo to discover clues about what the animals have been eating. Of course we stir the piles with sticks, not our fingers.

Susan Edwards Richmond – I love observing nature! There is always something interesting to see and learn. As a birder, I participate in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count and Mass Audubon’s Birdathon and breeding bird surveys. I enjoy being outside as much as I can, either on my own or hiking or biking with family and friends. In recent years, my husband and I have sought out national parks in different parts of the country to explore, and we have been fortunate to do some international travel with our globe-trotting daughters!

Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?

© Susan Wroble, 2023.

Susan Wroble – Living with Depression (8/1/2023) – When people are in the midst of depression, it can be hard to imagine life getting better. But it does. The fog will lift, the light will shine, and the smiles will come. Get help and hang in there.

© Marie-Therese Miller, PHD, 2023.

Marie-Therese Miller – Jobs in Health Care (8/1/2023) – Many people working in health care generously allowed me to interview them. These highlights of individuals in the field are my favorite parts of the book: a nurse practitioner, who works in the high intensity environment of the emergency room, a surgical nurse who is responsible for the robot in the operating room, a school psychologist whose focus is the mental health of middle school students, and a health educator who teaches children and teens how to stay well.

© Jennifer Swanson, 2023.

Jen Swanson – Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet (8/8/2023) - I am really proud of how this book turned out. AND of how many different and unique ecosystems are present in it. I love to think that many kids will spend tons of hours building these ecosystems and learning all about them. Science AND Engineering in action! It doesn’t get any better than that.

Text & Image © Ginny Neil, 2023.

Ginny Neil – The Glorious Forest That Fire Built (8/8/2023) – Every plant and animal in my illustrations is based on what you might see if you were actually watching a forest come back to life. Many were drawn from my own experience of being in the woods.

Text © Susan Edwards Richmond, 2023. Image © Maribel Lechuga, 2023.

Susan Edwards Richmond – Night Owl Night (8/8/2023) – The worry that my main character, Sova, felt that she might not see an owl is very close to my own experience. When I volunteered for a night of owl banding, I was told that there were a few nights when they hadn’t seen any owls. We actually did check the nets twice before we found our first owl for banding! I was so elated and grateful. We ended up banding a second owl before the end of the night, which is the one I released, but one was enough to fill my heart and to tell the story.

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?

Susan Wroble – Living with Depression (8/1/2023) – My book is part of a series, and had to fit with the format and style of the other books. I would have liked to have a stronger focus on newer research, including the role the gut biome plays in mental health, and the vital role of diet and exercise. But to fit within the series, the emphasis was on therapy and medications.

Marie-Therese Miller – Jobs in Health Care (8/1/2023) – The challenge in writing a STEAM book for a young audience is often to take complicated concepts and make them understandable to the reader. I have to research the material well and feel confident that I grasp it thoroughly enough to explain it.

Jen Swanson – Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet (8/8/2023) - I had to come up with a list of different ecosystems, environments, biomes, landforms, etc. It wasn’t easy to have that many spreads and be different about it, you know. (I mean, if you know me, you know I want to give kids a UNIQUE look at science). I came up with a structure and wrote a few spreads as a try-out. (When you write for licensed products, you always have to try out to write for them). It was sometimes tough to come up with really short fun facts, but I kept digging. Research is everything!

Ginny Neil – The Glorious Forest That Fire Built (8/8/2023) – Most of the information I could find about forest succession after a fire was about western forests, but I wanted to set the fire in an eastern hardwood forest because that is what I know and love. The research on that was sparser.

What I couldn’t include was the way that dendrologists use tree rings to track forest fire history. Plus the word “dendrologist” is just way cool.

Susan Edwards Richmond – Night Owl Night (8/8/2023) – One of the most important considerations in writing Night Owl Night was portraying the actual banding and measuring of the owls with scientific accuracy and sensitivity. Banding is an important part of bird conservation research, but it does involve capturing a wild animal. I didn’t want children to find any aspect of this alarming. After experiencing it myself, I was able to observe the animals’ calm responses first hand, but my reviewers on the Mass Audubon staff were instrumental in helping me convey this sense of reassurance through the book’s words and images. I was also thrilled with the way the illustrator, Maribel Lechuga, was an equal partner in presenting the science fully and accurately.

I think yo all did an amazing job! Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Susan Wroble – One of my projects is about volcanos and climate change… and I never, ever imagined that I would be reading scientific papers about volcanic-induced climate change that talk about the legendary King Arthur!

Marie-Therese Miller – Thank you for asking. I have three fun books coming out from Lerner in January: 34 Amazing Facts About Space, 34 Amazing Facts About Minecraft, and 34 Amazing Facts About Pro Wrestling. In addition, some of my Sesame SEL books will be available in Spanish come January. I’m also thrilled to be working in partnership with Lerner and Sesame Street on a series that is close to my heart, but that’s all I can tease at the moment.

Jen Swanson – I’m so excited to say that I’m working on edits to The Atlas Obscura Explorer's Guide for Inventing the World, which I’m co-writing with Atlas Obscura founder, Dylan Thuras. The second in this NYTimes, best-selling series will be all about science, engineering, and places of invention kids can visit. It’s going to be SUPER fun!!

Ginny Neil – No upcoming projects under contract at this time, but lots on submission.

Susan Edwards Richmond – I do have another book in production with Peachtree in the same series as Bird Count and Bioblitz! Counting Critters, which I am very excited about! I’m hoping to be able to share more before too long.

We'll definitely have to keep an eye out for these books. What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?

Susan Wroble – Dogs! They remind me to take breaks, go out for walks, greet people, stay calm, and look at the world in entirely new ways.

Marie-Therese Miller – Naturally, I couldn’t do without my family. I’m also rather fond of my granddog, Luna, and grandcat, Mozzarella. I’m also really attached to my computer. I remember that as my mom got older, she would clutch her purse and carry it from room to room; I tote my computer.

Jen Swanson – I take my laptop everywhere because that is what I write on. I don’t write on paper first and transfer over. However, I am never without a pad of paper. That is where I write down the thoughts I have about a current manuscript, ideas for others, or just keep up with my always fairly large to-do list.

Ginny Neil – I need some quiet time in each day. A car ride and a good walk fill that need. So does a day when my husband is working.

Susan Edwards Richmond – I need time outdoors to recharge and be inspired. Sometimes just being able to clear my head on a walk through the woods will help me sort out my ideas to solidify a plan for a new project or direction. When I’m super busy with school or family, I can do marketing, or limited review and research for current projects, but, for me, creative thought requires down time in nature!

Nice! Okay, last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?

Susan Wroble – “Come back to it later.” Sometimes, you just need to read a new mentor text, master a new concept, learn a new skill. The manuscript that you are stuck on may need time for you to develop!

Marie-Therese Miller – To take things one step at a time. Writing projects can feel overwhelming sometimes, so I break them up into little manageable bits. This advice also translates to life in general: embrace it moment by moment.

Jen Swanson – BE BOLD! That is what I tell all of my students when I teach writing. Take risks, and put yourself out there. You may fail, yes, but you could also be spectacularly successful.

Ginny Neil – For writing picture books: If I can’t write the elevator pitch for the manuscript, it probably isn’t done, yet.

For illustration: Draw lots of thumbnails. The best idea is usually the one you draw when you think you don’t have any more ideas.

Susan Edwards Richmond – Follow your passions! Ask yourself, what you’d like to learn more about and find the people who can teach you. I love to learn about the natural world, so I seek situations where I can learn from mentors and hands-on experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask people you admire to share their knowledge and expertise with you. Most people have been extraordinarily generous!

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

Living with Depression by Susan Wroble (Bright Point Books 8/1/2023) – Part of the mental health support series for upper middle school students, it contains examples of depression, physical reactions, therapies, and life style changes, explained in a very accessible and conversational tone with numerous photographs, graphs, sidebars, and diagrams. A helpful glossary and further research and index sections round out this important text to help kids understand depression in themselves or others.

Synopsis: People with depression experience periods of low, sad mood. Depression can cause difficulties with everyday life. This book describes different depressive disorders and ways to treat them, including therapy, medication, and brain stimulation.

Jobs in Healthcare by Marie-Therese Miller (ABDO Publishing 8/1/2023) –

The conversational text, with anecdotal, practical information, and extension questions explores many job opportunities in health, mental health and other medical careers. It includes side bars which explain the careers, their responsibilities, and required schooling, as well as some that show a shift of perspective (doctor becomes a patient). Graphs, photographs, tables, and additional resources occur throughout the chapters.

Synopsis: Health-care workers play an important role in keeping people happy and healthy. Doctors, nurses, and psychologists diagnose diseases and injuries, caring for patients of all ages. Other health-care professionals educate people about healthy habits, respond to emergencies, or help hospitals run smoothly. Jobs in Health Care explores a wide variety of careers in the field, covering the education and skills needed for each job. Easy-to-read text, vivid images, and helpful back matter give readers a clear look at this subject. Features include a table of contents, infographics, a glossary, additional resources, and an index. Aligned to Common Core Standards and correlated to state standards. Core Library is an imprint of Abdo Publishing, a division of ABDO.

Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet by Jen Swanson (DK Books 8/8/2023) – Anyone who's ever played, still plays, or perhaps is now spurred to play with Legos again, will love this book! How amazing to have explanations of the earth and solar system, geology and worm excavation, volcanoes and lava tubes, oceanography and coral reefs, ecosystems (like sand dunes and swamps), biomes (rainforests and mountains), weather, islands, and generally "life on earth" built out of Legos with instructions (and some kits) for making all of these amazing creations. Packed with scientific information, interesting side bubbles (percent of coral reefs in ocean), sidebars (of a solar eclipse), and "Build it!" examples, it is perfect for any Lego or science nerd. It's a homeschoolers delight!

Synopsis: A whistle-stop tour of the most amazing features and places on planet Earth, illustrated with LEGO models, including tips for budding LEGO builders

Explore our amazing planet-and learn to build the most incredible things on Earth!

There is so much to see on planet Earth. From the rainforest canopy to the deepest depths of the Pacific Ocean, discover plants, animals, and the geological features that make up our planet. Travel the continents and look inside volcanoes, mountains, geysers, and much more. Visit the Amazon, check out the world's tallest waterfall, and explore the most incredible places on the planet without leaving home. With more than 100 LEGO models to inspire you, what on Earth will you build?

The Glorious Forest That Fire Built by Ginny Neil (Amicus Ink 8/8/2023) – Written in first person from the point of view of first the forest, then the fire, meadow, seeds, pines, nuts, hardwoods, and finally a reborn glorious forest. Beautiful illustrations showcase the animals and plants that inhabit the various stages of a forests recovery after a wildfire. The rhyme and wonderful refrain, "I am not here to stay./I'm a step on the way/to the glorious forest that fire built," make it a joy to read aloud. Back matter with an explanation and timeline of forest succession (recovery), an author's note, and ways we can help save the forest add to this wonderful STEM book on the lifecycle of a forest.

Synopsis: A wildfire roars through the forest, leaving nothing but ashes until seeds sprout from deep below. Root by root and seed by seed, the forest rises again. In this lyrical cumulative nonfiction story about forest succession, readers will learn that forest fires are critical to forest health and that the end of a tree's life provides the opportunity for new life. Back matter explains the timeline of the forest cycle in more detail.

Night Owl Night by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga (Charlesbridge 8/8/2023) – When her mother, an owl scientist, heads out to track and study migrating Northern saw-whet owls, Sova begs and begs to go along. But each time she's gently told "a scientist must learn to wait." When Sova's finally old enough to go, it is as much of an adventure as she'd hoped, even if equally full of waiting and frustration. This book features a wonderful mother-daughter relationship, numerous owl metaphors, and a night of anticipation, whimsy, and the practical experiences of an ornithologist studying a migrating owl species. While enhancing the STEM elements of the story, the stunning, textured illustrations bring the night's experiences to life. Descriptions of the owls mentioned and QR codes of their calls, as well as a note on Saw-whet owl banding and further resources make this a great book for starting discussions on conservation.

Synopsis: An inspiring introduction to capture-and-release research, this mother-daughter story about owl conservation will spark curiosity in young nature, bird, and science lovers. Sova’s mother is a scientist who studies birds and their migratory patterns. Each night she goes into the woods to conduct research, and finally Sova is old enough to join her. Securing headlamps, Sova and her mother head into the woods to capture, measure, and release saw-whet owls. Through the quiet night, Sova learns about the patience, persistence, and excitement that comes with conservation efforts and scientific research. This heartwarming mother-daughter story is the perfect primer to conservation, science, and amazing owls!

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:

Susan Wroble – Living with Depression (Bright Point Books 8/1/2023) –

Marie-Therese Miller – Jobs in Healthcare (ABDO Publishing 8/1/2023) –




Jen Swanson – Lego Amazing Earth: Fantastic Building Ideas and Facts About Our Planet (DK Books 8/8/2023)

Ginny Neil – The Glorious Forest That Fire Built (Amicus Ink 8/8/2023) –

Susan Edwards Richmond – Night Owl Night (Charlesbridge 8/8/2023) –


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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