The Picture Book Buzz - August Interview with STEAM Team Books Members
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to eight authors from STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I promise, it's not too long a post. I do hope you enjoy this peek at these great books and fascinating creatives.
"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2021. 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?...)
Marta Magellan - Flying Jewels: A Hummingbird Story (Eifrig Publishing 8/1/21) – Portuguese was my first language. I came to this country from Brazil at the age of seven and fell in love with the language as soon as I could speak it. I’ve been writing and being published since I took Journalism in middle school (proud editor-in-chief of the Hialeah Jr. High Stampede). My professional life since then has revolved around writing. Before I became a full-time children’s book writer, I taught Survey of Children’s Literature, Creative Writing, and Composition at Miami Dade College. I wrote magazine and newspaper articles during that time but didn’t have as much time to dedicate to writing as I wanted.
It was my love of children, books, and nature that led me to writing children’s STEAM books. I like wild animals in their natural habitats, and that’s what I write about. Bats, pythons, and vultures aren’t everybody’s favorite animals, but I find them fascinating.
[Author of 8 books, including Python Catchers Saving the Everglades (2020), Amazing, Misunderstood Bats (2019), Anole Invasion (2018), and The Nutty Little Vulture (2017).]
Marie-Therese Miller – Handling Depression (Handling Health Challenges)(Essential Library 8/1/21) - I am an English teacher at Marist College and have five adult 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 24 books - Parents Here and There: A Kid’s Guide to Deployment (2021), Me Love to Share with Cookie Monster: A Book About Generosity. (2021), Everyone Has Value with Zoe: A Book About Respect, Caring With Bert and Ernie: A Book About Empathy (2021), Teens and Cyberbullying (2020), Rock Climbing (2020), Many Ways series: Families Like Mine/ Feelings Like Mine/ Homes Like Mine/ Parents Like Mine (2020), Dealing With Psychotic Disorders (Dealing With Mental Disorders) (2020), How to Deal Feeling Good About You (2019), How to Deal Understanding Friendship (2019), Racing and Lure Coursing Dogs (Canine Athletes) (2018), Rachel Carson (2011), & Dog Tales Series - Distinguished Dogs/ Search and Rescue Dogs/Police Dogs/Helping Dogs/Hunting & Herding Dogs (2007).]
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan - Ocean Plastics Problem (Max Axiom and the Society of Super Scientists)(Capstone 8/1/2021) I live in Pittsburgh, PA, with my family and our pet schnoodle. I love board games, birding, and baking. I’m a lifelong runner and avid community scientist.
I love all kinds of writing. I’ve written crafts, recipes, graphic novels, textbooks - I’ve even crafted fun stories for the backs of shampoo bottles! I love sports and being active and I was both a sports reporter and editor of the sports section of my college newspaper. In addition to being an author, I’m also a teacher. For many years, I taught educational science stage shows for Carnegie Science Center. Now I teach writing in a graduate program.
I’m the Regional Advisor for SCBWI Pennsylvania: West and I was the 2016-2017 Pen Parentis Fellow. I’m proud to be represented by Miranda Paul from Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
[Author of 13 books, including The Science and Technology of Leonardo da Vinci (Nomad Press 5/15/21), Even Fairies Bake Mistakes (1/1/2021), Quest for the Unicorn's Horn (1/1/2021), Mermaid Midfielders (1/1/2021), Medical Mishaps! (Fantastic Failures Series) (2020), Gadget Disasters! (Fantastic Failures Series) (2020), and So You Want to Be President? (2019).]
Sylvia Liu – Manatee’s Best Friend (Scholastic 8/3/2021) – I’m a former environmental attorney turned children’s author. I write both picture books and middle grade. I was born in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents, and grew up in Caracas, Venezuela from K-12th grades. I fell in love with oceans and nature in Venezuela, and that translated into a decade-long job as a lawyer working on marine conservation issues. I began writing seriously about 11 years ago, writing picture books, and about 7 years ago, I switched to writing novels. I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia with my family and volunteer with stranded sea turtles. My interest in the oceans fuels my STEAM-focused books.
[Author of A Morning With Grandpa (2020).]
Darcy Pattison – Field Notebooks: How Scientists Record and Write About Observations (Mims House 8/7/2021) – I write both fiction and nonfiction for kids. The nonfiction is fun because I like doing the research, ferreting out bits of information, verifying facts and especially setting the time line into a context.
For this book, I was fascinated by the Smithsonian Museum’s work in making digital archives of scientist’s notebooks available to read. I read through dozens of notebooks. It was fascinating to read narratives of journeys around the world. Looking at their drawings brought the historical context to life. I found the scientists to be funny, sincere, passionate, and committed to their work.
The life of a working scientist isn’t always glamorous! Sometimes, they get sick. They are hungry, tired, and discouraged. But they work. This book is about their stories. It’s about how scientists record observations and write about what they experience.
[Author of 50 books, including A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol (6/2021), The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest (2/2021), Erosion: How Hugh Bennett Saved America's Soil and Stopped the Dust Bowl (2020), Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: How a Jumping Spider Learned to Hunt in Space (2016), Liberty (2016), Rowdy: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep (2016), Burn: Michael Faraday’s Candle (2016), Longing for Normal (2015), The Read and Write Series (2015), Vagabonds (2014), The Girl, the Gypsy and the Gargoyle (2014), Saucy and Bubba (2014), The Aliens Inc. Series – short chapter books (2014), Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub (2014), Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years (2013).]
Ella Schwartz – Stolen Science (Bloomsbury Children’s Books 8/10/2021) - My background is in science and engineering, so I suppose I was naturally drawn to STEM topics. When I’m not writing, I work as a cyber security engineer, primarily with the Federal government. I know what it means to be a woman in STEM. I know the good, bad, and the ugly, so I always seem to inject those experiences into the STEM topics I choose to write.
I’ve been writing for what seems like forever, but my first book, CAN YOU CRACK THE CODE? published in 2019. That book holds a special place in my heart because it’s a book about the work I do every day. I thought it would be easy to write but putting cryptography and cyber security topics in front of a younger audience was more challenging than I imagined!
My favorite type of book to write are the unknown, untold stories of important figures. So much of the history we are taught is selective and incomplete. There are stories of important men and women in STEM that are waiting to be discovered. These are my favorite STEM stories to write.
[Author of 3 books, including Can You Crack This Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography (2019), and Make This!: Building Thinking, and Tinkering Projects for the Amazing Maker in You (2019).]
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Bat Wings! Cat Wings? (Creative Editions 8/10/2021) - I write board books, picture books, and early readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Picking a favorite type of book to write would be like picking a favorite one of my four kids—I love writing different kinds of books for different reasons. I also like working on both fiction and nonfiction at the same time, because when one project starts getting frustrating, I can hop over to another one. For example, if I can’t think of the perfect ending for a fiction picture book, I can switch to doing research for a nonfiction picture book. Definitely beats staring into space for hours on end!
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 15 Board Books, including 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 21 Picture Books, including 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 2 early readers Goat Wants to Eat (2021) and Cat Has a Plan (2020).]
Ruth Spiro - Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! and Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! (Baby Loves Science)(Charlesbridge 8/24/2021) – I started writing about twenty years ago when my two daughters were very young. It was something I squeezed in when time allowed, so my career didn’t start to pick up until they were older and I had the time and mental energy to really focus. Now, one works full-time and lives in her own apartment and the other is off to graduate school, so as an empty-nester I’m thankful to have my work to keep me busy!
I guess I’m writing the kind of books I wish were available when they were little. We’re a reading family and I’m happy to say that as young adults my daughters still enjoy reading. STEM/STEAM wasn’t really a “thing” back then, though I’m glad it is now.
[Author of 25 books, including - Baby Loves Taste! (The Five Senses) (2020), Baby Loves Smell! (The Five Senses) (2020), Baby Loves Touch! (The Five Senses)(2020), Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! (Baby Loves Science) (2020), Baby Loves the Five Senses: Hearing! (Baby Loves Science)(2019), Baby Loves the Five Senses: Sight! (Baby Loves Science)(2019), Baby Loves Scientists (Baby Loves Science)(2019), Baby Loves Green Energy! (Baby Loves Science)(2018), Baby Loves Structural Engineering! (Baby Loves Science)(2018), Made by Maxine (2018), Baby Loves Coding! (Baby Loves Science)(2018), Baby Loves Gravity! (Baby Loves Science)(2018), Baby Loves Thermodynamics! (Baby Loves Science)(2017), and Baby Loves Quantum Physics! (Baby Loves Science)(2017).]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Marta Magellan - I’m an open book. There is absolutely nothing about me that is not known by everybody who knows me.
Marie-Therese Miller – For most of my life, I have eaten Jif peanut butter on crackers for lunch every day.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan – My family knows this, but even though I have a pretty bad fear of heights, I love riding zip lines.
Sylvia Liu – When I was sixteen on a trip to Taiwan for overseas Chinese-Americans, our group ended up on TV showcasing our newly-learned Chinese skills, so I kicked a board in two on Taiwanese TV.
Darcy Pattison – I keep a writing notebook all the time. It’s a record of my daily struggles in writing fiction and nonfiction. It’s where I complain, think, and rejoice about the privilege of writing for kids.
Ella Schwartz – As the daughter of immigrants, I didn’t speak any English until I started school.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I seriously considered becoming a professional musician. My childhood friends know this, but most of my kidlit friends, and other friends I’ve made as an adult, don’t. I’m so happy I was finally able to write a book about the joy of music!
Ruth Spiro – Many people who know me for my current work don’t know about my first book, Lester Fizz, Bubble Gum Artist. It was the first manuscript I ever wrote, the first I submitted, and was acquired by the first editor who read it. (I don’t share this story often because it’s a rare occurrence!) I sold it as a result of a manuscript critique at the 2003 SCBWI Annual Conference. I patiently waited five years for it to come out in 2008, just as the bottom dropped out of the publishing industry. Needless to say, sales were disappointing. It’s since gone out of print but still has a bit of a cult following among educators and librarians.
Wow! That was fun. Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Marta Magellan - Flying Jewels A Hummingbird Story (8/1/21) – I'm a bird enthusiast, but the real inspiration came from a garden club member in St. Augustine. The garden club has summer programs for kids meant to inspire them to respect plants and gardens. The kids are more interested in animals, so their program focuses on pollinators. I wrote a book titled Those Lively Lizards, which the garden club used one year, but the director of the program revealed that what they really wanted was a book about backyard anole lizards, which are all over gardens in the south. So I wrote Anole Invasion, about the nonnative anoles displacing the only native anole in the country. They began using it in their program, so I proposed other books on pollinators to the publisher. I now have books on bats and dragonflies also. Flying Jewels: A Hummingbird Story is my favorite so far because of the truly beautiful illustrations by my brother, Mauro Magellan. He's a bird enthusiast also, and he's illustrated a few adult books on wildflowers, so he was the perfect artist for this book.
Marie-Therese Miller – Handling Depression (8/1/21) - I have members of my family who have depression. I see how challenging it is to live every day with this disorder. I wanted to write a book describing what depression is, how it affects the individual, and which treatments prove the most helpful. My goals for the book are that the personal stories presented let those with depression know they are not alone and that the cutting-edge treatments discussed give them hope. I also wish to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan - Ocean Plastics Problem (Max Axiom and the Society of Super Scientists)(Capstone 8/1/2021) - An editor that I’ve worked with at Capstone on many projects asked if I wanted to tackle this project. I’ve been trying to go plastic-free for many years, so I said yes right away. I’ve made many small changes in my family’s routines and habits to try and reduce our plastic use. It can be hard at first, but it’s much worse seeing the impact of plastic on our planet.
Sylvia Liu – Manatee’s Best Friend (8/3/2021) – I’ve always loved marine mammals, and when the opportunity arose, I was eager to share the dangers that manatees face. They are no longer classified as endangered, but in recent years, they have been dying in record numbers due to a host of threats, ranging from boat strikes to habitat loss to entanglement. My editor and I wanted to create a story that also inspires children to champion causes they believe in, which is why my story focuses on a girl who must overcome her shyness to find her voice for the manatees.
Darcy Pattison – Field Notebooks: How Scientists Record and Write About Observations (8/7/2021) – I’m a pretty boring person. I either write or I teach writing. When I teach writing to kids, it’s fun to see them learn to put words on paper that will express their thoughts, communicate difficult ideas, and inspire people. Those skills seem to disappear, though, when faced with writing about science.
I wrote this book to show kids how working scientists record observations with text, images, or both. Fourteen scientists are featured along with selections from their notebooks. Drawing upon the Smithsonian’s digital archive of scientist’s field notebooks, kids will learn about descriptive, informative, humorous, and expository writing. Scientists use notebooks to summarize data, draw maps, or draw specimen. Represented are scientists studying birds, cactus, zoo keeping, human diseases, termites, mollusks, fish, grasses, Mayan ruins, Chinese plants and animals, taxidermy, and peanuts.
My hope for this book is that kids will be inspired to create their own field notebooks.
Ella Schwartz – Stolen Science ( 8/10/2021) - Stolen Science is the untold story of women, marginalized people, and immigrants who did groundbreaking science but didn’t get the credit they deserved because of who they were - and that’s not fair. I think it’s important for young people to know that women, Black, Hispanic, LGBT, and immigrants have always been in the sciences. When you ask an average adult, “can you name a woman scientist from history?” inevitably Marie Curie comes to mind, but then….crickets. And yet, there are so many remarkable scientists that are not well known. Children need to see themselves represented. I wrote Stolen Science not as a cautionary tale but to, hopefully, inspire the next generation of scientists to see themselves as the future.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Bat Wings! Cat Wings? ( 8/10/2021) - I love playing around with rhymes, and that was how this book started. The idea of rhyming an animal with a real body part (like “moose antlers”) with another animal who doesn’t share that body part (like “goose antlers”) made me laugh, so I knew it would make kids laugh as well. [*chuckling*]
Ruth Spiro - Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! and Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! (Baby Loves Science) (8/24/2021) – These are books #20 and #21 in the bestselling Baby Loves board book series. When I first pitched the series idea to publishers back in 2011 it was met with surprise, curiosity, and…hesitation. There was nothing else like it in the market and many were reluctant to take a chance. Ten years later, it seems each season brings a new entry into the “STEM for littles” category. But I see that as a good thing, because the market is constantly growing - new babies are born every day!
The idea for these new books came about from a conversation with my editor. We maintain a long list of possible topics for new Baby Loves books and she asked if I’d consider writing one with a holiday theme. Of course, I had to consider how I would incorporate the science element because that’s the foundation of the series. So, as I do with all the Baby Loves books, I thought about how a child experiences the holidays, and then the science concepts related to the questions they may have. For Hanukkah, I explored the science of spinning a dreidel, or top. (It’s physics!) For Christmas, I followed my own curiosity about how electricity comes into our homes and how it works to illuminate the lights on a Christmas tree. Both are perfect examples of how science explains so many things we experience and observe every day.
It's fun to see how STEAM books can be inspired in so many different ways. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Marta Magellan - After I read Little Women, I wanted to read everything by Louisa May Alcott. I read Little Men and Jo’s Boys, but didn’t like them that much. Then, I picked up Eight Cousins. That’s when I said to myself at age nine, “I want to write books like this.”
Marie-Therese Miller – I had so many, but E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was a favorite of mine. Serendipitously, White became a research subject of mine when I wrote my dissertation about his best friend and colleague at The New Yorker, James Thurber.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan - I loved all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books. Her mix of science, fantasy and faith in humanity made me feel inspired and loved.
Sylvia Liu – I was a huge fantasy reader and loved the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. I also read above my age level, gravitating to whatever was on my parents’ shelves, which turned out to be a lot of Stephen King, Agatha Christie, and Robert Ludlum.
Darcy Pattison – Of all the field notebooks I read, I was most fascinated by Lucile Mann, who traveled with her husband to Asia to collect animals for the National Zoo. As they traveled, Lucile wrote an ongoing narrative describing the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures of the cities and countryside. It was fascinating to see the world through her eyes.
Ella Schwartz - I will admit I was not a huge reader as a child. I think that’s because I hated the books that were assigned to me as a child. When I got to high school and realized I could pick my own books a new frontier was suddenly before for me. The first book I remember reading that I was obsessed with was the Princess Bride by William Goldman. I’ve read that book over and over again since then.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I absolutely loved Richard Scarry’s books, and also the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban—especially A Birthday for Frances!
Ruth Spiro - I was a big fan of Judy Blume. I regularly checked the shelf at my school library every week, just hoping to find a new book had been added to the collection!
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Text © Marta Magellan, 2021. Image © Mauro Magellan, 2021.
Marta Magellan - Flying Jewels: A Hummingbird Story (8/1/21) – The illustrations are fabulous, and I don’t say that because I wrote it in collaboration with my brother, Mauro Magellan. It is his illustrations that make my newest book about hummingbirds so worth reading.
© Marie-Therese Miller, 2021.
Marie-Therese Miller, – Handling Depression (Handling Health Challenges)(8/1/21) – It was fascinating to research some of the newer treatments for depression. One of these is the use of the medication ketamine. I was fortunate to interview Matthew Griepp, M.D., who is researching the effectiveness of pairing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with intravenous ketamine in treatment-resistant depression.
Text © Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan, 2021. Image © Erik Doescher, 2021.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan - Ocean Plastics Problem (Max Axiom and the Society of Super Scientists)(Capstone 8/1/2021) - The opening scene of the book was inspired by a real life bird rescue that happened only days before I started writing this book. I was on a birding walk and the leaders saved a crow tangled in fishing line. It was heart wrenching when we discovered the bird struggling and trapped. It was so beautiful to see it fly away free. I try to collect fishing line litter whenever I can now.
Text © Sylvia Liu, 2021.
Sylvia Liu – Manatee’s Best Friend (8/3/2021) – Even though my story is fictional and involves a rather unusual friendship between manatees and a dolphin, I tried to make it as scientifically accurate and plausible as possible. As part of this research, I found a graduate student paper that documented interactions between manatees and dolphins.
Text © Darcy Pattison, 2021.
Darcy Pattison – Field Notebooks: How Scientists Record and Write About Observations (8/7/2021) – This book includes over 40 historical photographs of field notebooks. These are used to demonstrate how scientists record observations with text, images, or both. The variety, breadth and depth of the field notebook collection at the Smithsonian is remarkable. I’ve added a couple scientists from other historical archives to complete the picture. Enjoy the look at scientists working in the field!
Text © Ella Schwatrz, 2021. Image © Gaby D’Alessandro, 2021.
Ella Schwartz – Stolen Science ( 8/10/2021) - When I set out to write this book, I didn’t just want it to be about the scientists overlooked in history. I wanted there to be a focus on the science itself. I’m so grateful Bloomsbury agreed. Not only will readers get to meet 13 important scientists, they’ll learn about the science behind their work.
Text © Laura Gehl, 2021. Image © Monique Felix, 2021.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Bat Wings! Cat Wings? ( 8/10/2021) - The idea of my new book is to introduce kids to different animals and different body parts in an entertaining way. Each spread asks yes/no questions, which I hope will make the book fun to read aloud. I can envision adults reading “Clam shell?,” with kids shouting “YES!,” then reading “Lamb shell?” and kids yelling “NO!” The whole book follows this pattern.
One neat thing about Bat Wings! Cat Wings? is that it is published in a special format Creative Editions uses that I haven’t seen anywhere else…kind of in between a board book and a picture book. Bat Wings! Cat Wings? is technically a picture book, but it doesn’t have 32 pages like a standard picture book. It only has 7 full spreads and one half spread. I think this format is perfect for Bat Wings! Cat Wings?, because it is intended for the very youngest picture book readers.
Text © Ruth Spiro, 2021. Image © Irene Chan, 2021.
Ruth Spiro - Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! (Baby Loves Science) (8/24/2021) – I need to give a shout out to illustrator Irene Chan. When she signed on for this project, I’m guessing she never imagined she’d be called upon to illustrate concepts like molecules and electrical circuits – and she even manages to inject humor and surprise into her adorable art!
Text © Ruth Spiro, 2021. Image © Irene Chan, 2021.
Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! (Baby Loves Science) (8/24/2021) – As with all the Baby Loves Science books, both the text and illustrations were reviewed by science experts, including Dr. Fred Bortz, a retired physicist and author. I also consulted an electrical engineer for the Christmas book and a rabbi and Jewish educator for the Hanukkah book. My editors at Charlesbridge and I believe it's essential these books are accurate and clear, in addition to being age-appropriate, engaging, and most of all, fun to read.
So many different ways to approach science, but all amazing books. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your book?
Marta Magellan - Flying Jewels: A Hummingbird Story (8/1/21) – The research wasn’t as challenging as it has been for my other books because instead of discussing all possible species and all possible characteristics, as I attempted to do with the book I wrote on bats and vultures, I decided to make a narrative out of following one hummingbird, the Ruby-throated, as he moves around, finds food, fights with other hummingbirds and so on. Keeping it specific made all the difference in researching. I knew exactly what I wanted to write and wasn’t distracted by all the other fascinating information that can so easily derail a writer.
Marie-Therese Miller – Handling Depression (Handling Health Challenges)(8/1/21) – The neuroscience was somewhat tricky to grasp and then challenging to convey in an understandable way. I am so grateful to my experts, who made it clearer to me. I am also thankful to those with depression who shared their personal experiences with me. I worked diligently to write their stories accurately and with respect.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan - Ocean Plastics Problem (Max Axiom and the Society of Super Scientists)(Capstone 8/1/2021) - It was hard researching about the plastic littering our seashores and harming wildlife. But it was also terribly upsetting to read and write about how microplastics are inside us, too. I think the hardest part is the feeling that individuals can only make small changes. We need governments and corporations and producers to make big changes if we are going to do anything about the plastics problem.
Sylvia Liu – Manatee’s Best Friend (8/3/2021) –The hardest part was trying to fit all the amazing manatee facts and tidbits I learned into the book while making it fun and interesting for the readers.
Darcy Pattison – Field Notebooks: How Scientists Record and Write About Observations (8/7/2021) – For this book, researching the different scientists was fascinating! I loved choosing which scientists and which notebooks to feature. But keeping track of the resources was tedious. Often I had to circle back and find a resource again for documentation. The photo permissions were also difficult and tedious, but crucial to the layout and design of this book.
Ella Schwartz – Stolen Science ( 8/10/2021) - The book features 13 scientists and inventors that have been overlooked in history, but it was super hard to choose which scientists to feature. Throughout history, time and again, scientists have had their work stolen from them because of who they were. I hated having to choose which scientist to keep in the book and which I’d have to pass on. I wish I could have included them all! Maybe one day I’ll write volume two.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Bat Wings! Cat Wings? ( 8/10/2021) - The hardest part of writing his book was coming up with an ending that was extremely simple, like the rest of the book, yet fun, unexpected, and educational. I hope I achieved that goal!
Ruth Spiro - Baby Loves Electrical Engineering on Christmas! and Baby Loves Angular Momentum on Hanukkah! (Baby Loves Science) (8/24/2021) – I’d say the most challenging aspect of all the Baby Loves books is deciding what to include and what to leave out. I start by reading everything I can find on the subject. Once I have a general understanding, I identify the most important and basic ideas, which I then work to distill down even further. I have exactly ten spreads to work with, while also explaining the science within the context of a simple narrative thread. These books are deceptively simple – there’s actually a lot of work that goes into making them both developmentally appropriate and appealing.
How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Marta Magellan - I meet with my critique group every other Tuesday on Zoom for both fiction and nonfiction, and I have a nonfiction critique group that I met through 12 X 12 Challenge. We critique each other’s works via email.. Some in our groups have acquired agents this year, including me, so we are all writing madly, researching, and attending webinars that help us.
Marie-Therese Miller – I am working on a few different nonfiction book projects at the moment, and working on deadline is a sure way to stay creative. Curiosity and interest drive my research and eagerness to share what I learn drives my writing. I also speak with my writer friends and attend book launches, which provide both motivation and inspiration for me.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan – For me, getting outside and moving - like walking or running - is one of the best ways to stimulate my creativity. When I am active, my blood is pumping and my ideas flow. I go birding every day and I go running every day. Even when the weather is bad, I get outside. For me, stepping away from the distractions of the house helps me think deeply. And I’m certain to see something that makes me wonder.
Sylvia Liu – I read a ton of books and I watch TV shows. Ingesting all of this storytelling is always inspirational, and I love it when I am surprised by something I’ve read or watched. I also love running on the beach and enjoying the water (paddleboarding, kayaking).
Darcy Pattison – I read widely to prime the pump! If someone mentions a person, a place, a strange fact—I go look it up. It’s important to be open to new ideas, to follow up a suggestion with a search for facts, and to allow certain ideas to take hold of you and never let you go.
Ella Schwartz - I’m always reading and researching. I have notebooks full of ideas. I have more ideas than I could write in my lifetime! The problem is finding the time to write. I tend to write in bursts. I may go weeks without writing and then when motivation hits me I write for long stretches. This is where coffee becomes essential!
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – During the pandemic, I’m having trouble writing every day the way I used to. My four kids are all home all the time (they haven’t been in in-person school since last March), and they have a lot of breaks, during which they want and need my attention. But I’m still jotting down story ideas, even if I don’t have time to pursue them right now, and I’m still READING as much as I can, because reading great books now will help me write great books later. I am also walking in the woods every chance I get—which is essential for my creativity and sanity and health.
Ruth Spiro - The past year and a half has been quite a rollercoaster of emotions for many, adults and children alike. It seems we have all these feelings that it’s hard to know what to do with. Honestly, the one constant has been my work, my writing. It’s what keeps me going, gives me a way to process my emotions, and provides a pleasant escape when I need it.
What a great range of ideas. Any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Marta Magellan - I’m working on the 15th draft of a biography based on the childhood of one of Brazil’s leading classical music composers. I don’t want to give up on it although it’s just not ready because I so enjoy working with his story.
Marie-Therese Miller – I am so excited to say I have two new Sesame Street books slated for publication with Lerner this fall: It’s All Art: From Drawing to Dress-Up with Sesame Street and A Dog’s Best Friend: A Sesame Street Guide to Caring for Your Dog, which is a companion book to the Sesame Street HBO animated special Furry Friends Forever: Elmo Gets a Puppy.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan - I’m so proud to say I’ve just finished a young adult nonfiction book profiling 15 animal scientists from around the world. The book is called Animal Allies and it’s part of the Women in Power series. The manuscript is being edited now. It will be released in 2022. I was honored to interview and write about these incredible scientists and their groundbreaking work.
Sylvia Liu – I’m writing a middle grade fantasy based on a Chinese myth that my parents told me about when I was young (I don’t want to give away more than that). I’m also excited that my middle grade science fiction set in a high tech near-future is coming out in June 2022 from Razorbill.
Darcy Pattison - I’m very excited by a new animal biography coming in 2021, Diego The Giant Galapagos Tortoise: Saving a Species from Extinction. It’s the 50-year story of scientists working to save a tortoise species from extinction. In 1963, there were only fourteen known tortoises from Española Island. The species was almost extinct. Then, they found one more Española tortoise in the San Diego zoo, whom they named Diego, and he was brought back to the Galapagos for a breeding program.
In 2020, Diego returned to his home island to join over 2500 other Española tortoises. This is the story of one of the most successful breeding programs in scientific history. This amazing giant tortoise species was saved by fifty years of hard work by scientists and hundreds of volunteers.
Ella Schwartz - I am so excited for my next book, Her Name Was Mary Katharine which publishes in January from Christy Ottaviano Books. It is the true story about the only woman whose name appears on the Declaration of Independence. This is my first non-STEM book and first picture book. I can’t wait for the world to meet this brave patriot. I’m also putting the finishing touches on Is it Okay to Pee in the Ocean? which publishes from Bloomsbury in 2022.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I’ve been working with my wonderful editor at Abrams, Meredith Mundy, on a lift-the-flap series, which is being adorably illustrated by Loris Lora. It’s so fun to work on a new type of book. I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hands and actually get to lift up the flaps! The first book in the series is called Who Dug This Hole, coming in 2022.
Ruth Spiro – As I wrote these two books, I realized there are many more opportunities to investigate the science related to other holidays. Baby Loves Lunar Phases on Chinese New Year and Baby Loves Photosynthesis on St. Patrick’s Day will be out later this year!
These all sound like amazing books. It will be fun to see them get published. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Marta Magellan - I’d love to meet Emily Dickinson. I heard she was a wonderful conversationalist.
Marie-Therese Miller – Winnie-the-Pooh. I believe I could benefit from his insightful bear philosophy, while we share some honey and Jif.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan – I think I’d like to meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Sylvia Liu – I would have liked to have met Mary Oliver, who wrote so hauntingly, beautifully, and wisely about nature.
Darcy Pattison – I’d love to meet each of the fourteen scientists featured in Field Notebooks!
Ella Schwartz - My great grandmother. She was a Holocaust survivor and somehow managed to escape with my grandmother after losing her husband and 3 children. I’d love to give her a hug.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I’d love to enter Susan Cooper’s world from The Dark is Rising and meet Merriman Lyon. Or chat with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley when she was my age, comparing notes about our writing and our kids.
Ruth Spiro – A few years ago I did get to meet someone from my “Literary Bucket List” – Jane Yolen. Because I’ve always been a fan of her work, it still feels surreal to recall that I spent a long weekend at her home while attending her inaugural Picture Book Boot Camp. It was three days of pure magic, as she shared insights about the writing and publication process and gave me personal feedback on some of my work. One of the highlights of my weekend was a late-night excursion into the woods in search of owls with Jane’s daughter Heidi Stemple. Heidi is also an author, as well as the small child in the red coat pictured in Owl Moon!
That would be a quite the party! What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Marta Magellan - I like all wild animals. Nothing is as thrilling as seeing animals in their natural environment. I keep bird feeders outside my window and I love birdwatching.
Marie-Therese Miller – I am definitely a dog person. As a child, I badgered my mother relentlessly for ten years to let me have a dog. She finally acquiesced, and I have had dogs since. I even wrote six nonfiction books about dogs.
Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan- I do love our schnoodle, but birds are truly fascinating. I think they are my favorite animal. Perhaps tied with dogs.
Sylvia Liu – I love all cephalopods, but especially octopi. They are so fascinating, strange, intelligent, and versatile. I highly recommend the documentary My Octopus Teacher.