The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Artemis Roehrig & Review of Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?
Artemis Roehrig’s life has directly inspired her books. She grew up in Western Massachusetts, and spent summers on Cape Cod (inspiration for Are Pirates Polite? (Orchard Books 2016)), where she worked at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the setting for Does A Fiddler Crab Fiddle? (Persnickety Press 2016).
After graduating from Skidmore College, she received her master’s degree from the Organismic & Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Massachusetts. She continues to research invasive insects in the Elkinton Lab. Her work there inspired Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts (Persnickety Press 2018).
Artemis’ two most recent picture books, Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?: Amazing Sea Creature Facts and The Grumpy Pirate, released in April and June (respectively) this year.
Welcome Artemis tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but my mother is a writer, so, like a good rebellious daughter, I went to school for science instead of English and actively avoided the industry for years. I finally gave in to destiny and started taking writing seriously about four years ago. I like writing all different types of books and am always working on multiple projects at once.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
I love sea life, but ultimately didn’t end up specializing in marine biology because I get so seasick!
Uh oh, That would make for a really bad research trip! You’ve co-authored all of your books with Corinne Demas. Can you tell how this collaboration got started? Are you represented by the same agent? Did you submit the manuscript to agents or editors as a collaboration?
We are a mother-daughter team! We will actually be doing a webinar on our collaboration process and how it can work for other writers on December 1. (https://newengland.scbwi.org/events/virtual-shoptalk-when-two-is-better-than-one-the-benefits-of-co-authorship-with-corinne-demas-and-artemis-roehrig/)
Interesting. So not just following in her footsteps but walking beside her! Nice. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
My favorite book as a child was The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Marc Simont. I also loved Jan Brett because she draws such wonderful animals!
I adore Jan Brett's books as well! How did you and your mother divide the work on Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?: Amazing Sea Creature Facts and The Grumpy Pirate, in particular. Has your method of working together changed throughout the creation and publication of your five books?
We are always trying out new collaborative methods since different types of books lend themselves to different styles.
For our nonfiction books, we both utilized our strengths, so for the first draft, I did more of the research and back matter while Corinne did more of the main text. By the final draft though, both of us had our hands in everything.
With Are Pirates Polite? and The Grumpy Pirate, we basically each worked on creating stanzas and then mashed them up to make them better!
What is the hardest thing for you about writing children’s books?
Every word counts, so the shorter the book, the more difficult!
Now that you have a series, did the research or experience of writing Does A Fiddler Crab Fiddle? and Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts differ from Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?
When we wrote Does A Fiddler Crab Fiddle I had just finished an independent study on fiddler crab behavior at college and had a job leading nature hikes through fiddler crab habitat.
The other two took a little more time to research since we were dealing with multiple critters. Fortuitously, by the time Does A Fiddler Crab Fiddle came out and we started writing Do Doodlebugs Doodle? I was working in an entomology lab. Since I work at a University, I have easy access to all the latest scientific journal articles. So between that, my past work at a beachside nature sanctuary, and some trips to the New England Aquarium, it was straightforward and fun to do the background research for Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?, and the writing part was a little easier since we already had a format for the text!
Perfect way to combine science and writing. What was your inspiration for Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? What about for The Grumpy Pirate?
Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?, like the others in the series, was inspired by my work with kids. I wanted nonfiction books that were truly fun to read out loud, and worked well for mixed aged groups. Many nonfiction books that contain substantial facts are too heavy to sustain the attention of a younger kid. And many of the books that are designed to read out loud, are more basic in content. I wanted to present animal facts in a fun and engaging way that would appeal both to kids who already enjoyed nonfiction and those who don’t. Even toddler siblings can follow along and yell “no!”, while older kids will get a great overview of different sea creatures, and then be able to read more extensively about them in the back matter.
Helping kids cope with big emotions is a topic that comes up a lot as a teacher or parent, and I’ve always found books to be a useful starting point. The Grumpy Pirate came about because pirates were a fun vehicle to get kids talking about dealing with feelings!
Great segue into this next question. If you could share one thing with your younger self and/or kids today what would that be?
There are always things to explore and ask questions about.
What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer or illustrator.)
My greatest sources of inspiration are all the kids I’ve been lucky enough to work with over the years! Now that I’m a parent, I get to have that 24/7.
How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime the well.”?
It’s been harder for me to stay creative during the pandemic since so many of the places I like to go for inspiration, like the library, museums, local coffee shops, have been closed. I definitely get inspired by spending time outdoors though! I’ve also been trying to take advantage of all the virtual writing workshops and webinars this year. It’s inspiring hearing about other people’s writing journeys. I also try to read a lot across multiple genres.
Nature is amazing and restorative. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I always have a few picture books I’m fiddling with at any given time and I’m making an attempt to finish a YA manuscript that I started about four years ago that keeps getting pushed to the back burner. My biggest project right now is a podcast I started with author Rajani LaRocca called STEM Women in KidLit, where we interview women with STEM degrees, or who work in STEM, and who write children’s books. I hadn’t done any sort of sound editing since I was a teenager, so I’ve been having fun (and some frustration!) learning! And it’s wonderful having getting to talk to other authors etc. You can find out more about the podcast here: https://stemwomenkidlit.buzzsprout.com/.
Sounds like a blast. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now? Why?
Well, I currently have four pet tarantulas, all different species, so I definitely think those are cool. When it comes to cuddlier animals, I’m a dog person, although sadly I don’t have one right now. My kids are working on me to get a pet rabbit, so I wouldn’t be surprised if rabbits join the favorite animals list soon.
Yikes! I don't like little spiders. Thank you, Artemis stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
To find out more about Artemis Roehrig, or get in touch with her:
Review of Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?
I enjoy nature, weird facts, and animals. So, it's no surpise that I love nonfiction books. And it is such a great time to be a writer and reader of nonfiction, with all the exciting ways people are finding to create engaging narrative biographies, stunning expository, and just plain fun nonfiction books.
These three women have created a series of humorous books that draws kids in with the word play and fantastical illustrations and leaves them with a juicy facts and perhaps a couple of questions. Books that make nonfiction fun.
Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?
Illustrator: Ellen Shi
Publisher: Persnickety Press (2020)
Marine life, humor, and the ocean.
Do starfish sign autographs? Do seahorses wear saddles? Do lampreys get plugged in? Get silly with sea creatures in Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter?, the underwater follow-up to the award-winning insect book, Do Doodlebugs Doodle? This laugh-out-loud look at marine life will have kids eager to learn more about what lies beneath the ocean waves!
Do starfish sign autographs?
No! But they use their finger-like
arms to pry open clams, oysters,
and other mollusks that they want to eat.
What I Liked about this book:
The humorous format of asking questions using wordplay based on a marine animal's name makes for an enjoyable way to learn about these interesting animals. It begins with the question, "Do starfish sign autographs?"
Ellen Shi rises to the occasion, creating colorful, entertaining, and fanciful images that accompany these questions. Then, on each following page, Ellen portrays a realistic image of the animal in its habitat, while the text offers a few true, fun facts.
This book will appeal to the younger kids with the beautiful images, playful questions, and ability to holler "NO!" during a reading. While simultaneously appealing to the slightly older readers who want to discover and digest facts about marine animals. The twist at the end is fun and the "What's in the Sea" backmatter offers photographs of the animals and some additional quick and interesting facts. Overall a fun introduction to some incredible marine mammals and a good example of the fun that can be had with nonfiction.
- can you think of other silly things based on an animal's name? (Can a secretary bird use a telephone? Can a warthog give you warts?) Make a list or draw a silly picture.
- can you make a joke or a pun with an animal's name? What kind of bird is found at a construction site? A crane. Check out some other animal puns - https://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-puns-for-kids.html.
- using one of the silly questions in the book draw your own image or write a silly story about that suggestion. (A starfish receiving an acting award.)