The Picture Book Buzz - February Interview with STEAM Team Authors
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to three authors from the 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 delightful books and fascinating creatives.
"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2022. 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?...)
Dee Romito – Tree House Station: Fort Builders, Inc (Aladdin/S&S 2/1/2022) – I used to write in coffee shops, libraries, cafes … but times have changed a bit, so I now have a cozy office at home where my cats keep me company while I write. 😊 Realistic Fiction is my favorite type of story to write, but I also love nonfiction picture books. It’s funny because while I always loved writing, I wasn’t a science kind of kid in school. But now I love learning about the environment (And advocating to protect it!), trying all kinds of technology, and finding out new things I’ve never heard of before! STEAM is such a fascinating world of possibilities and I love including that in my books whenever I can.
[Author of 9 books including, Tree House Station: Fort Builders Inc. 4 (2022), Battle of the Blanket Forts: Fort Builders Inc. 3 (2021), Happy Tails Lodge: Fort Builders Inc. 2 (2020), The Birthday Castle: Fort Builders Inc. 1 (2020), Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott (2018), Postcards from Venice (2018), No Place Like Home (2017), Best. Night. Ever.: A Story Told from Seven Points of View (2017), and The BFF Bucket List (2016).]
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – The Hiking Viking (Capstone 2/11/22) and Apple & Magnolia (Flyaway Books US/Walker Books UK 2/8/22) – 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 9 board books, including Brilliant Baby Fights Germs (2021) and Brilliant Baby Explores Science (2021), Brilliant Baby Plays Music (2021), Brilliant Baby Does Math (2021), Baby Paleontologist (2020), Baby Botanist (2020), Baby Oceanographer (2019), & Baby Astronaut (2019). 20 picture books, including Who Is A Scientist? (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 (July 2021) and Cat Has a Plan (2020).]
Catherine Bailey – Hustle Bustle Bugs (Little, Brown Books 2/22/22) – On the second floor of my house there is a tucked away space with windows overlooking the treetops, and that is where I write. I’m usually at my desk for 3 to 4 hours while my kids are at school, not counting snack breaks, (snack breaks are VERY important). I started writing for kids in 2010, but was published earlier in the adult market as a Research Attorney. My first picture book debuted in 2015. For those you doing the math, that’s FIVE years after I first tried my hand at kidlit.
I like writing fiction, non-fiction, rhyming, prose, character driven, concept driven – pretty much anything, as long as it is a picture book. STEAM books are especially fun to write because there is such a huge variety of subjects available.
[Author of – 8 books, including Dinos Don't Do Yoga (2020), Harbor Bound (2019), Lucy Loves Sherman’s Beach (2019), Lucy Loves Sherman (2017), Hypnosis Harry (2016), and Mind Your Monsters (2015).]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Dee Romito – If you order take out with me, you already know this, but my favorite pizza topping is pineapple! (It’s delicious!)
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I hated watermelon for the first thirty years of my life. Now I adore it!
Catherine Bailey – In elementary school I was obsessed with comic books, and I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Dee Romito – Tree House Station: Fort Builders, Inc (2/1/2022) – When I was trying to think of ideas for a chapter book series, I asked myself, “What do kids like to do these days?” My answer was literally right in front of me--my kids had just built a box fort! I loved the idea of a group of kids taking something they love to do and making a business out of it.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – The Hiking Viking (2/11/22) – I love hiking, and when I thought of the title “The Hiking Viking,” I knew I had to write a story to go along with the title! And so I envisioned this little viking who didn’t want to battle and brawl but wanted to hike to the tops of the fjords instead. It’s kind of like a twist on Ferdinand the Bull.
Apple & Magnolia (2/8/22) – This book was inspired by me reading about the emerging science of tree communication. I was amazed to learn that trees can communicate with, and help, one another. So I came up with the idea of a little girl, Britta, who is convinced that the two trees in her yard are best friends…and that when one tree falls ill, the other can help.
Catherine Bailey – Hustle Bustle Bugs (2/22/22) – My eldest daughter went through a hard-core bug collecting phase when she was about three. I can’t tell you how many Tupperware containers I lost to her menagerie! Eventually I told her she had to just observe the insects, and not capture them, because they were hard at work. This idea of bugs having jobs, like us humans, stuck with me and was the seed idea for Hustle Bustle Bugs.
What great inspirations! Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Dee Romito – There were so many books I enjoyed as a kid that I don’t easily recall a favorite. But whenever I see a cover from a book I loved when I was little, it instantly sparks a joyful memory for me.
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!
Catherine Bailey – Well since (spoiler alert!), I mention Roald Dahl, down below, I’ll say that Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite childhood authors. I loved his poetry and still refer to his work today for inspiration.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Dee Romito – Tree House Station: Fort Builders, Inc (2/1/2022) – I like to hide things in my books that only friends or careful readers will find. I often add a Star Wars reference and name characters after neighbors, friends, and former students. In Tree House Station, I added the names of a litter of five kittens we fostered (we kept two). You’ll also find our beloved cats (who are sadly gone now) Smoky and Sienna on the cover and in the story as Kitti and Mo.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – The Hiking Viking (2/11/22) – There is an educator’s guide to this book on my website, lauragehl.com. I hope that teachers will find The Hiking Viking useful as a way to get students thinking about being themselves, and about the beauty and riches we get from our planet.
Apple & Magnolia (2/8/22) – People are always surprised to hear how long picture books take to produce. I started writing this one when my oldest son was in middle school. I got the email saying my publisher wanted to buy it on the day of his eighth grade graduation. Now that kid is a senior in high school, heading off to college in the fall!
Catherine Bailey – Hustle Bustle Bugs (2/22/22) – Hustle Bustle Bugs was written for bugs lovers everywhere – and I hope they soak up every itty bitty word! But the real star of the book is the artwork. The illustrator, Lauren Eldridge, used found objects and earthy elements to create each character and scene. This gives the text a super cool, textural feel and proves that you can make beautiful art out of anything – even tinfoil!
They are all such creative books. So, what was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?
Text © Dee Romito, 2022. Image © Marta Kissi, 2022.
Dee Romito – Tree House Station: Fort Builders, Inc (2/1/2022) – Even though it’s fiction, things have to be realistic, so it takes a bunch of research to get it right. Since the kids are helping to build a tree house, I needed to understand the steps in the process and how long each step might take. They needed the adults to help, but I wanted to make sure it all happened because the kids took the initiative to make it happen. 😊
Text © Laura Gehl, 2022. Image © Timothy Banks, 2022.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – The Hiking Viking (2/11/22) – Years ago, I read a book with one of my kids that was a factual history of the Vikings, and it was filled with really brutal, awful, bloody stories. I wanted the Vikings in my book (not Leif, who is different, but his family and friends) to be true to what we know about the real Vikings, yet I didn’t want to include anything that young readers would find violent or disturbing. Finding that balance was the most challenging part of writing the book.
Text © Laura Gehl, 2022. Image © Patricia Metola, 2022.
Apple & Magnolia (2/8/22) – As I said, this book was inspired by the fact that trees can actually communicate with, and help, one another in real life. In the story, I wanted the question of whether Apple and Magnolia are actually helping one another to be left unanswered. I tried to write the book in a way that showed the main character, Britta, absolutely convinced the trees are helping one another, Britta’s sister absolutely convinced of the opposite…and the truth left to readers to decide for themselves.
Text © Catherine Bailey, 2022. Image © Lauren Eldridge, 2022.
Catherine Bailey – Hustle Bustle Bugs (2/22/22) – The hardest part of writing Hustle Bustle Bugs was selecting which insects to showcase. There are *so many* cool bugs out there! In the end I focused on more common, “backyard” type bugs so that they would be relatable and identifiable to younger readers.
How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Dee Romito – I always tell kids that ideas are everywhere. You just have to open your mind and watch for them. That’s what I try to do too. I read a lot, I love watching TV and movies, and I observe what’s going on around me. When I get an idea, I write it down and then think about it as I go for walks, ice skate, or snuggle with my cats. When it’s ready to go, I’ll be ready to write it.
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, sanity, and health.
Catherine Bailey – Staying creative during COVID was tricky especially with young kids at home. (Oh, how we all missed school!). I was not able to write as much as I would’ve liked during those months (did I mention how much I love school?), but I was still jotting down ideas almost daily. I also stayed active in the kidlit community through critiques, online challenges, and social media. And now that we are back to our normal lives, I set aside time for brainstorming once a week. I’m a big believer scheduled office hours – otherwise the general chaos of mom-life creeps in and nothing gets done.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Dee Romito – I have two nonfiction picture books coming out next year. Both are STEAM related—one with plastics and the environment and one with airplanes. But that’s all I can say for now!
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Later this year, I have my first lift-the-flap book coming out, Who Dug This Hole?, illustrated by Loris Lora and published by Abrams. It’s so fun to think about little fingers lifting flaps to learn new information about animals, the holes they dig, and why!
Catherine Bailey – I always have several manuscripts in the works, but am most excited about two of them. One is about a girl exploring space, and the other involves a forgetful squirrel. I’m also a judge for Rate Your Story, am adding a critique service page to my website, and have a book about a meditating T-Rex that debuts from Sounds True Kids publishing in 2023 titled Dinos Do Not Meditate. And I have some great publishing news – but can’t spill the beans just yet!
Congrats to all of you! We'll have to keep our eyes open. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Dee Romito – There are so many fascinating figures in history that I’d love to talk with. And then there’s my list of celebrity crushes to choose from. But since we’re talking books and writing, I’m going with Amanda Gorman. What an incredibly talented young woman with such a bright future ahead of her.
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.
Catherine Bailey – – I would love to meet Roald Dahl – preferably in his writing hut, which always sounded so marvelous and messy and personal. I’d want to hear all about his writing *and* his adventures as a pilot in WWII.
That would be an amazing party! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Dee Romito – I’ve been going to the Outer Banks of North Carolina since I was a kid, and one of my favorite things to do has always been to go to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It has the “tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast.” (https://www.ncparks.gov/jockeys-ridge-state-park/home) I’ve hang glided from the dunes and every year I still run down the tallest one—first as a kid, and now with my kids! They’re much quicker getting back up the hill than I am.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – I was supposed to visit Yellowstone with my family, and our trip got cancelled due to COVID. I am still hoping to visit Yellowstone one day…for the geysers, the bears, and the huge variety of natural beauty!
Catherine Bailey – I’ve visited many national sites because, as a kid, I spent summers traversing America in our family’s Airstream trailer, (think silver bubble on wheels…). But my favorite national park can only be reached by boat: the Dry Tortugas.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Synopsis: The kids of Fort Builders, Inc., hunt for the perfect treehouse tree in the fourth story in the fun-to-read Aladdin QUIX chapter book series that’s perfect for emerging readers!
Caleb and the rest of the Fort Builders, Inc. group feel like it’s finally time to have their own dedicated workspace! Their big idea? A fort treehouse! But finding the perfect tree for their unique fort is a little tougher than they thought...
In the fourth book of this series, Caleb, Kiara, Eddie, and Jax decide they need an office. And what better office for "Fort Builders, Inc." than a tree fort. But they will need to arrange some assistance and find a suitable tree. An entertaining addition to this chapter book series.
Synopsis: While the other Vikings love to holler and howl and battle and brawl, Leif prefers spending time by himself atop the beautiful fjord. But when it's time for the Viking Games, everyone must participate. Will Leif let down his clan . . . or surprise them? Highlighting the value of nature and earthly wonders, best-selling author Laura Gehl teams up with illustrator Timothy Banks to remind readers to stay true to themselves and to look at things from a new perspective.
Leif is an unusual Viking. Instead of enjoying wrestling, spear throwing, and heavy lifting, the aptly named Leif prefers to spend time hiking and enjoying the beauty of nature and the sunlit fjords. Instead of disappointing his family, and risking them losing their land, Leif grudgingly competes in the Viking Games. When they must present their greatest treasure to the judges, Leif is offered a golden opportunity to impress more than the judges. The illustrations juxtapose angular, comic-like characters with the stunning natural beauty of the area. A fun book on staying true to yourself and enjoying nature.
Synopsis: Britta visits her two favorite trees, Apple and Magnolia, every day. Though she can't explain it, she's sure they are best friends! Then one day, Magnolia's branches start to droop. Is there anything Britta--or Apple--can do to help? After all, unusual friendships can be the most powerful of all.
With a lyrical story and vibrant art, Apple and Magnolia unveils the extraordinary connections between trees and the wondrous bonds between all living things. The book includes an author's note offering facts about how trees communicate with one another. A downloadable discussion guide with more information will be available February 2022 at flyawaybooks.com/resources.
Despite her father's uncertainty and her sister's heavy pessimism, Britta believes wholeheartedly that her two favorite trees - Apple and Magnolia - are best friends. When Magnolia appears to be weakening, Britta hatches a plan, with the support of her Grandmother, to help Apple save Magnolia. This is a great #STEM book, showing Britta engaging in the scientific process - making observations, taking measurements, and recording data - and a touching book on friendship. The loose, almost chalk-like illustrations beautifully portray Britta's exuberant love for these two trees.
Synopsis: Ready with their magnifying glass, camera, and scrapbook, two young sisters head into nature to discover all the bugs they can. And these critters are hard at work! From carpenter ants chewing up old trees (like builders clearing a construction site) to butterflies spreading pollen (like gardeners planting seeds) to crickets making beautiful sounds (like musicians playing instruments), bugs belong to a busy world just like people.
With amazingly detailed photographic illustrations of realistic creatures and environments—created with coffee grounds, flower petals, foam footballs, and more—and a bouncy, rhyming text, Hustle Bustle Bugs will have young readers looking more closely at the grass, leaves, and trees around them—and appreciating the community they share!
The illustrations are like a series of dioramas with two girls made of clay, exploring a number of settings with 'bugs' made of "wire, epoxy putty, tinfoil, mini foam footballs, polymer clay, vellum...black cardstock....foam hair curlers" arranged on and against scenes created from items found outside. The rhyming text introduces some common bugs kids could find outside and the sidebar notes "taped" to each page use similes to compare the bug's actions to gardeners, weavers, musicians, park rangers, postal workers, and others. Additional fun bug facts and a detailed illustrator note round out this engaging picture book.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these writers, or to contact them:
Dee Romito – Tree House Station: Fort Builders, Inc (Aladdin/S&S 2/1/2022) –
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – The Hiking Viking (Capstone 2/11/22) and Apple & Magnolia (Flyaway Books US/Walker Books UK 2/8/22) –
Catherine Bailey – Hustle Bustle Bugs (Little, Brown Books 2/22/22) –