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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Beth Anderson 2024

After earning a B.A. in linguistics and a M. Ed. in reading, Beth Anderson taught English as a second language for more than 20 years. Surrounded by young people from all over the world, with literature as her favorite tool, Beth was fascinated by the power of books to teach, connect, and inspire. 

Author Photo of Beth Anderson.

In 2013, she began her journey writing for children. Combining her love of writing with the joys of discovery and learning, she found her niche with narrative nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Born and raised in Illinois, Beth now lives near the mountains in Colorado.

Collage of Beth Anderson's 7 book covers.

Beth is the author of 8 books, including Franz's Phantasmagorical Machine, illustrated by Caroline Hamel (2022), Cloaked in Courage: Uncovering Deborah Sampson, Patriot Soldier, illustrated by Anne Lambelet (2022), Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence, illustrated by Susan Reagan (2022), Tad Lincoln's Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President's House, illustrated by S.D. Schindler (2021), "Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway, illustrated by Jenn Harney (2020),  Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (2020), and An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin & Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley (2018).

For general information about Beth , see our earlier interviews (here), (here), and (here).

Her newest picture book, Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose!, releases May 14th.


Welcome back Beth,

Thank you, Maria!

What was the inspiration or spark of interest for Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose!?

Book cover of Jefferson with a ruler, standing by a cannon shooting a cloud of facts about America.

I had seen an article about Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with the mammoth and had that on my list of ideas to investigate. When another book on the topic was announced, I let it go for a bit, but then learned about the moose incident. As I looked at that, I saw many connections to the present, and also a number of hooks for kids. There was a lot to love: the science, a bit of “droll” (per Kirkus) humor, some “ew,” a fascinating glimpse into an earlier time, seeing a fuller picture of a famous historical figure, how to fight for truth, the importance of questioning, the dangers of misinformation and misusing science, the question of how we determine “better,” the importance of evaluating sources, and more. Whew! Where to start!


It's cool that you didn't give up on Thomas Jefferson's search for truth, whether mammoth or moose. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?


I’m a very unadventurous writer. I like to have research materials, files, and notes within reach, so I seldom write outside the study. Being in one place with my stuff also helps me get into the right mindset. When I worked on this manuscript, I was doing some writing while traveling for family visits, but that’s about as exotic as it gets.


I know how much writing in a different location (family situation) can sometimes be a real challenge. What was the toughest part of your research and/or writing Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science? How, if at all, did this differ from your other biographies?


The biggest challenge with this story was finding the focus and making a large somewhat complicated idea comprehensible and effectively carry the narrative. While the beginning and ending changed a bit with each revision, the struggle with how to handle the science took a very long time.

Unlike some of the topics I’ve tackled, many sources were available, and though this is a real plus, sometimes a plethora of information can be overwhelming and send you off in many directions. Each story’s challenges are different depending on sources available, how much time it covers, how complicated the concepts are, and finding that one special way to tell the story to make it engaging and meaningful for kids today. But I think it’s always difficult to find the right amount of context needed without slowing or needlessly complicating the story.


That is indeed one of the hardest things about writing NF; but something that you accomplish so masterfully. We often focus on what was hard about putting together the research and writing of a book. What was the most fun or fascinating part of researching and/or writing Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science?


I always enjoy getting glimpses into personalities and seeing how historical figures cope with mistakes or failure. I learned that Jefferson was a soft spoken, slightly shy, obsessive character. His power was in his pen and meticulousness, and he preferred to let others speak. Digging into setting is also fascinating, especially when something you learn defies assumptions and gets you thinking differently. This is what I really enjoy about these forays into the past—uncovering humanity and how it all shifts one’s world view and understanding as you start to reconsider all the “givens” you’ve carried around for many years.  

It's interesting how stilted, or wrong, the history we think we know can actually be. Did anything surprise you when you first saw Jeremy Holmes’s illustrations? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - on left, capitol building, fireworks, and first U.S. flag. On right, Jefferson writing his book with thoughts

Text © Beth Anderson, 2024. Image © Jeremy Holmes, 2024.

Jeremy’s art is truly amazing and so creative! He merged text and art seamlessly, brought so much emotion and humor, and enhanced the science throughout. I love all the details and that he dug into research himself so deeply and used primary source information to add so much interest within the art. It’s really hard to choose a favorite. I identify with Jefferson’s exploding thoughts as he’s writing, so that’s a favorite…but I find the page really special where he wonders how Buffon came up with such biased and wrong information—Don’t show it! No spoilers, please!—and has a big realization moment. The art slows the pacing and increases the tension so perfectly!


This is such a fun, and funny, image. How long did Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science take from idea to publication?


I started it in the spring of 2018, and it went under contract at the end of 2019. Editorial revisions happened February and March 2020…and then…we entered the strange world of Covid that resulted in a few delays. So I guess, the grand total is six years. It was a long time coming with a complicated process, but I’m so thrilled it’s time to share it with you all!

I am glad it made it through Covid! Is there something you’d like to share from your research which did not make it into the book or back matter?


There are many little tidbits that lent additional “flavor” to the narrative, but when you’re trying to keep the tight focus required by an illustrated text, you just have to let them go. The whole “capture of the moose” seemed to be fraught with problems. They caught a moose that had already shed its antlers, so they tossed in some random deer antlers. Then the crate with the moose was left on the dock, forgotten by the captain who had agreed to take it to France, and Jefferson’s friend had to find someone else to take it. Of course that contributed to the “monstrous stench.”

And another bit that was cut happened when Jefferson arrived for dinner with Buffon. Already nervous about confronting the ultimate authority about his errors, Jefferson faced further intimidation when he was given a paper of Buffon’s to read upon arrival—a paper that would prove that Buffon was right.

Though these anecdotes aren’t in the book, they affect my word choice and telling of the story by providing a better sense of character and connection.


Wow, thanks for sharing these tidbits with us. Is there anything you want your readers to know about Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science?


We know that there’s a lot of complicated history involving Jefferson, definitely a challenge to deal with. But I’m hoping that by sharing one of the simpler events involving the consequences of assumptions, misinformation, and bias with animals, it will serve as a bridge to understanding more complex, dangerous, and significant issues resulting from such thinking.


I really hope that this book serves as just such a bridge. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I’m so excited about the two books coming out about young women, one about Kate Warne, the first female detective in the U.S (2025), and the other, about Vinnie Ream, who sculpted the statue of Lincoln that stands in the Capitol rotunda—as a teen! (2026). These are both in illustration so lots of fun as I get to see how those stories will come alive with art. And…I have another American Revolution story that just went under contract.


 Last question, what is the best piece of advice, whether for writing or otherwise, that you have received?


A piece of advice that has served me well in many areas is…connect, support, and learn from others.


Excellent advice! Thank you, Beth, for stopping by for this interview. I always enjoy talking with you.

Thank you, Maria, for connecting and supporting the kid lit community and providing a way for us to learn from each other!

Book cover of Jefferson with a ruler, standing by a cannon shooting a cloud of facts about America.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post of Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose!

To find out more about Beth Anderson, or contact her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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