The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Rebecca Hirsch and Mia Posada + Review of Rise to the Sky
Today I get to talk with the author & illustrator of the gorgeous nonfiction picture book Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up.
Rebecca Hirsch grew up in the western Pennsylvania countryside with fields, woods, streams, and a pond. She has a PhD in plant biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives with her family in State College, Pennsylvania.
Rebecca is the author of more than eighty books about science and nature for children and young adults. She is dedicated to connecting kids to nature and helping them understand the world of scientific discovery. Her books have received starred reviews and been NCTE Notable, Junior Library Guild, and Bank Street Best Books selections.
Her books include Sensational Senses: Amazing Ways Animals Perceive the World (2022), Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You (2021), Living Fossils: Survivors from Earth's Distant Past (2020), Where Have All the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis (2020), When Plants Attack: Strange and Terrifying Plants (2019), The Monarchs Are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery (2018), De-Extinction: The Science of Bringing Lost Species Back to Life (2017), Plants Can’t Sit Still illustrated by Mia Posada (2016), and Birds vs. Blades? Offshore Wind Power and the Race to Protect Seabirds (2016).
For more information on Rebecca Hirsch, see our earlier interviews (here) and (here).
Mia Posada is an author and illustrator who loved to make art as long as she can remember! She most enjoy combining her love of art with her interest in nature and biology.
Mia has a Bachelor's degree in art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has also studied art in Florence, Italy, and illustration at Academy of Art College in San Francisco, California. She also holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy. She lives in Golden Valley, Minnesota with her husband, 3 kids and 1 big dog.
Mia is the author/illustrator of 6 books, including Summer Green to Autumn Gold: Uncovering Leaves’ Hidden Colors (2019), Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks (2014), Guess What Is Growing Inside This Egg (2007), and Robins: Songbirds of Spring (2004). And she’s the illustrator of Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca Hirsch (2016), The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit’s Amazing Migration by Sandra Markle (2013), Dazzling Dragonflies: A Life cycle Story by Linda Glaser (2008).
Their newest nonfiction picture book, Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up, releases today!
Welcome Rebecca and Mia, thank you so much for coming by to talk about yourselves and your newest picture book.
Let’s start with you Mia. Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you illustrate? How long have you been illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
MIA - I do all of my illustration work at my home. I have a big desk and lots and lots of pieces of collage papers that I try to keep organized by color but usually they get all mixed up! I work mostly in the morning and afternoon, but often will sit down at my desk later in the evening and revisit what I’ve done during the day. Sometimes I have a new idea or just like to look at what I’m working on with fresh eyes. I’m not naturally a night-owl, but sometimes I do get a creative burst at night.
I started illustrating in 2000 when I wrote and illustrated my first book Dandelions Stars in the Grass.
I most enjoy working on books about nature subjects since that is what I love creating art around. I like books that have a real life nature story to tell.
Your books are beautiful. What do you like to do outside?
MIA - I live in Minnesota where we have lots of lakes, so I like to walk around the lake paths with my dog. I also enjoy hiking, canoeing, paddleboarding, going to the beach, picnicking with my family and making smores in our firepit.
REBECCA – I love to garden and I love to walk. Several mornings a week, before the sun is up, my dog Sadie and I complete an hour-long circuit through our town. We stop midway at a local coffee shop for a treat—a dog biscuit for her, a coffee for me. I'm also fortunate to live in the mountains and I love to hike. I'll often bring my nature journal to record my observations as I go.
Both sound amazing. Can you share the name of an author, illustrator, and/or a book that made an impact on you as a child?
MIA - My mom, Sharon Lerner, was an author and illustrator just like I am, so her books, especially one entitled Who Will Wake Up Spring? were influential to me. I find myself drawn to the same subjects and illustration techniques that she was.
I also enjoyed the books of Eric Carle, and I remember being intrigued by The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel.
REBECCA – One of the most memorable books from my childhood was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William Mckinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg. Many people know Konigsburg's book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. This book isn't as well-known, but it's a lot of fun. It's about two girls who become friends. One of them claims to be a witch and she takes the other one on as an apprentice. It's very entertaining, a little dark, but with a sweet ending.
Wow, Mia, that's so special. And I love discovering books I am unfamiliar with. So thank you both. Rebecca, what was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up?
REBECCA –I was pondering the idea of trees as these superlative living things—the tallest, the heaviest, the oldest—and wondering how I could turn this idea into a book. Then I happened to read about a study where some scientists calculated the upper limit of how high a tree could grow. I think their calculations showed that around 400 feet was the absolute height limit. The limiting factor is the physics of moving water upward through these tiny tubes inside the tree. That led me to thinking about what an amazing feat of engineering it is to grow so tall—especially when the raw materials are mostly water and air—and that maybe I could write a book about how trees accomplish this.
That really is an impressive for trees. I'm glad you were able to capture it in a book. Mia, what about the Rise to the Sky: How the World’s Tallest Trees Grow Up manuscript appealed to you as an illustrator?
MIA - The opportunity to illustrate different types of trees and textures of bark and leaves, and the trees from different perspectives appealed to me. Rebecca’s writing is very simple and evocative, and it is a pleasure to illustrate.
And knowing you did all that in collage is so amazing. Rebecca, what was the hardest or most challenging aspect of researching and/or writing Rise to the Sky? Was there any research you couldn’t put into the book?
REBECCA – The hardest part was finding a focus and a way to tell the story. Once I decided to zero in the question of height, and to include only the tallest trees, that provided the focus. Then it took many more drafts to figure out how to tell the story. And yes, there was some interesting stuff that I couldn't put in the book. I kept trying to include a page about the massive girth of the Giant Sequoia. (The largest Giant Sequoia trunk is so big around, it would take sixty men to circle the trunk!) But I realized it just didn't fit in the book and I had to let it go.
Aw, but it makes a great tidbit to share with us and kids at school visits! Mia, what was the hardest part of illustrating Rise to the Sky? What do you find most challenging about illustrating picture books in general?
MIA - Probably illustrating the relative heights of the trees correctly, and also cutting out lots of pine needles out of paper!
I can just imagine! Rebecca, how long did it take from the first draft to publication for Rise to the Sky? Was this similar to your other books?
REBECCA – I started playing around with the idea for Rise to the Sky in 2016. But I put it away, and it sat in a drawer for a couple of years. I pulled it out in 2019 with the goal of turning it into a submittable manuscript. I submitted the manuscript to editor Carol Hinz in early 2020 and got an acceptance soon after, but the publication schedule got pushed back a little because of the pandemic.
You asked if this timeline is similar to other books. That's hard to answer. For me, picture books can take a while, because there is a lot of play involved—trying to write the manuscript one way, and then another. There is also a lot of time where the manuscript is just cooling in a drawer. I think Rise to the Sky moved fairly quickly, all things considered. In comparison, Plants Can't Sit Still took nine years from first draft to publication!
Interesting. Each book's journey is as unique as the book itself. Mia, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Rise to the Sky? If so, could you share one or more with us?
MIA – I like to sneak little animals into my illustrations, although I didn’t put them into every spread.
I caught the raccoon & chipmunk sneaking around in images. Is there anything you want your readers to know, or learn from, about Rise to the Sky?
MIA - That trees are amazing!
They are indeed. And you both did a fantastic job capturing this. Rebecca, When you first saw Mia Posada’s illustrations of Rise to the Sky did anything surprise or amaze you? What is your favorite spread?
REBECCA – I was knocked out by Mia's illustrations, just as I was when we collaborated on Plants Can't Sit Still. I love the way she uses collage to give plants depth and texture and make them look touchable. In Rise to the Sky, I loved the gorgeous scenes she put together. There is a scene near the end where I wrote about the passage of time with these trees, and she rendered a scene that subtly shifts from left to right, with these amazing trees standing in fog on one part of the page and fire on another. That spread just blew me away.
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2023. Image © Mia Posada, 2023.
Mia, is there a spread of which you are especially proud? Which is your favorite spread?
MIA - I was particularly happy with the spread that begins “As centuries pass, the tallest trees stand in sunlight and fog….” that shows the trees throughout their lives in their changing environment.
It's funny - but you both chose the same image! What has been the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Rise to the Sky?
MIA - Seeing the work of several dedicated people come together, and seeing the positive reception the book is getting.
REBECCA – The level of care taken with this book through every stage of production was so rewarding. Two editors, Carol Hinz and Leila Sales, pored over every word to make the text really shine. Mia added her absolutely stunning collage artwork. Danielle Carnito did impeccable work on the book's design and Kimberly Morales worked on the graphic designs that helped make the back matter so rich. At every stage, extraordinary care was taken to get every detail exactly right. It was really fun to be a part of that.
Sounds like a wonderful experience. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
MIA - I have a couple of new book ideas that I am thinking about, but in the meantime I’ve been creating art prints for kids on my website wakeupspringstudio.com.
© Mia Posada
REBECCA – I have a creepy book about poisonous plants that will be out next year with Zest, Lerner's young adult trade imprint. I also have several nonfiction picture books in the works, but they haven't been announced yet, so I'm afraid I can't say much. I will say they include my first books written in rhyme!
Be sure to check out Mia's website. Her prints for kids are amazing. These are just some personalized ones she has many others too. And keep your eyes out for more books from these two amazing creatives.
Thank you Rebecca and Mia for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.
For more information about Rebecca Hirsch, or to contact her:
For more information on Mia Posada, or to contact her:
Studio website: https://www.wakeupspringstudio.com/
Review of Rise to The Sky:
How The World's Tallest Trees Grow Up
I was really excited to find this wonderful, lyrical, nonfiction exploration of the growth of the tallest trees, from tiny seeds to almost 400 feet tall - amazingly illustrated with paper collage.
Rise to The Sky: How The World's Tallest Trees Grow Up
Author: Rebecca Hirsch
Illustrator: Mia Posada
Publisher: Lerner (2023)
Tallest trees, nature, tree life cycle, and STEM.
What is the tallest living thing? It's not an elephant, or a giraffe, or even a blue whale. It's a tree!
Trees are the tallest living things on Earth. But how do they grow to be so tall? Science writer Rebecca E. Hirsch presents a poetic introduction to the tree life cycle in Rise to the Sky. Accompanied by Mia Posada's detailed collage illustrations, this book features the tallest tree species from around the world, including the coast redwood, the Sitka spruce, and the giant sequoia.
What is the tallest living thing?
It's not an elephant,
or a giraffe,
or even a blue whale.
It's a tree!
Some trees rise more than three
hundred feet into the sky.
They can reach higher than
the Statute of Liberty.
What I LOVED about this book:
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2023. Image © Mia Posada, 2023.
The combination of tight, short, concise sentences and creative paper collage images make this nonfiction book about some of the tallest trees in the world fascinating and fun. Contrasting them with the Statute of Liberty, Big Ben, and a grey whale makes these trees so impressive and puts their height on a scale that is understandable to a young reader.
Rebecca Hirsch infuses the text with beautiful lyrical lines - "They sink their roots into the earth and lift their leaves toward the light," as well as numerous poetic devices as the book explores how trees eat, drink ("through tubes in the wood"),
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2023. Image © Mia Posada, 2023.
breathe (exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen) and rise. I love Mia Posada's ability to demonstrate the "tubes" or xylem (defined and explained in the back matter) of the trees with paper! And then to capture their height, she offers the reader a wonderful vertical spread.
Text © Rebecca Hirsch, 2023. Image © Mia Posada, 2023.
Their roots grow in an
and intertwine with the
roots of their neighbor.
Their roots become tough and hard
and help hold up the tree.
I love this spread because it shows the interconnectedness of these trees, a small hint of the sheer size of some of these trunks, and contains a few of the animals Mia mentioned in the interview above. Rebecca deals with the passage of time initially by noting that "Year after year" they get taller and wider and then "As centuries pass . . . Many have stood for thousands of years." (Look back at the illustration in the interview.)
The ending beautifully ties the earlier requirements that a tree needs into the hope that the new seeds "might become the tallest trees." The back matter explores in greater depth the various parts of a tree which help it grow, and fun questions like how fast they grow and how long they live. It also offers a world map with pinned locations and photos of the eight trees shown at the beginning. This is a STEM treasure; a terrific lyrical nonfiction for early elementary readers about a tree's life cycle and specifically these special enormous giants.
- find your favorite tree (on a walk or near your house). Draw a picture or take a photo of it. Using all kinds of paper and tissue paper, make a collage of this tree. (Look at the illustrations for examples.)
- make a scavenger hunt or bingo game for a walk in the woods, park, neighborhood, or back yard. What trees should you see in your area? What bark would you see (smooth or rough)? Types of leaves, cones or seeds, and seedlings? What about the roots (any above ground or intertwined)? Have fun adding other things you noticed from the book or know about your area.
- explore how trees suck up water and a fun way to estimate the height of a tree with activities in the book. Can you estimate the tallest tree near you?
- check out the activities and experiments guide on Lerner's site.