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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Chiara Colombi and Review of Rocket Ship, Solo Trip

Chiara Colombi an Italian American author never knew she wanted to be a writer.

Author photo of Chiara Colombi standing in front of a lake.

She was quite confident she would grow up to be an astronaut. In fact, she is still quite confident that she will grow up to be an astronaut. But in the meantime, she enjoys counting her lucky stars and finding words for the countless stories they inspire. Chiara is dedicated to the art of engineering with words. She worked for a decade as a translator before pivoting into product marketing at a Silicon Valley startup in the data privacy space. She currently lives in California with her family and an open view of the sky.

Chiara’s debut picture book, Rocket Ship, Solo Trip, was released on February 27th.

Welcome Chiara, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and writing.


Thank you for having me, Maria! It’s a pleasure to connect with you and your readers.


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?)

In my bio, I say that I never knew I wanted to be a writer because I wasn’t one of those kids who was making their own books at the age of six. The first fiction I wrote for fun, of my own accord, was in high school, and it was only because I was/am a major Star Wars fan, and I wanted the universe to include a particular storyline that appealed specifically to 16-year-old me. But even then, I didn’t think of myself as a writer. It wasn’t until college, when I decided to take a poetry writing class to lighten my Bio-major-with-astronaut-aspirations workload that I discovered, “Oh, wait. I’m an English major, and I want to write stories forever.” I’ve been writing kidlit ever since, and I suspect that my fondness for kidlit, in particular, has a lot to do with the fact that my mom was a children’s librarian. The stories I write sit at the two opposite ends of the kidlit space: I write board books, picture books, and YA novels (mostly fantasy). I love the balance that it offers my creativity—there’s always something shortform and something longform that I can work on, each offering their own challenges and rewards.


I like the idea of writing on opposite ends of kidlit. It definitely involves different mindset, if not skills, to write board books & YA! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Collage of the covers of the six books Chiara mentions as her favorites books as a child.

Oh goodness, so many favorites! Thanks to her profession, my mom read all the classics to us and kept our shelves well stocked with new releases, too. Corduroy by Don Freeman was one of my favorite picture books, along with Space Case by James Marshall. Then the My Father’s Dragon series when it came to novels, and anything by Lynne Reid Banks. As for illustrators, there is a cherished spot in my heart for The Winter Bear, written by Ruth Craft and illustrated by Erik Blegvad. Something about Erik’s illustrations makes that book priceless to me. Oh, and of course, Wanda Gag—I adored Nothing At All and Millions of Cats!


Thank you for sharing these great books; a couple of favorites and a few 'new' ones, too. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Rocket Ship, Solo Trip?

Book cover - little rocket ship zoom away from earth into a sky with two satellites.

I have my older son to thank for inspiring Rocket Ship, Solo Trip. I was looking for a picture book about a rocket ship to give to him for Christmas the year that he was just two. We’d been reading Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and I yearned for an aerospace version.

At the time, I found several books about characters traveling in rocket ships or about rovers as characters, but I had trouble finding one in which the rocket ship itself was the main character of the story. It quickly occurred to me that I needed to write the story I was looking for. Five years later, Rocket Ship is everything that I hoped it would be! And my sons, both the one who first inspired it and his younger brother, love it.


I love it! What a fun thing to share with your boys. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

I’m a curled-up-in-an-armchair sort of writer, and I typically draft with pen and paper, so I’m not sure that I’ve written a manuscript in any place too unusual… But there was one night that I had an idea for a board book while I was sitting in the dark of my kids’ room, waiting for them to fall asleep. The second I was able to sneak out, I sat down and drafted the story start to finish in a matter of minutes. I sent it to my agent without any revisions, and they loved it. The only editorial feedback was to add a few art notes, of all things! I have strong hopes that that story will be picked up one day, but it’s still waiting for its moment to make the rounds.

Wow! That sounds amazing. Now, I'm really curious to see this book! How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Rocket Ship, Solo Trip?

It’s been a five-year journey! I began drafting Rocket Ship at the tail end of 2018, but I didn’t finish it until the summer of 2019, by which time I had moved all the way across the country and was also 7 months pregnant with kiddo number 2. I set myself a goal of beginning to query agents before my second was born, and as the fates would have it, I managed to sign with an agent right before his due date. We sent Rocket Ship out on sub just a few weeks later, and it sold to Viking a few months after that. Revisions took place over the first half of 2020, and Scott Magoon joined the team as the illustrator in the fall of 2020. When Viking acquired Rocket Ship, the publication year had initially been set for 2022, but of course, the pandemic pushed that date out!


Just as with NASA, sometimes book launches get postponed. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Scott Magoon’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - ISS using an arm to take a stellite out of rocket ship's cone top.

Text © Chiara Colombi, 2024. Image © Scott Magoon, 2024.

All of it amazed me, honestly. The color palate choices are so wonderfully unexpected at the start, capturing that early morning light, and then so bold and authentic up in space. I’m always impressed by the ingenious ways he incorporates the science into his art—check out the “night to day to night again” page to know what I mean. And Rocket’s endearing, pitch-perfect expressions…I can’t get enough of them! It’s very hard to choose a favorite spread but I do love the full spread featuring the Space Station. Scott’s art balances scientific reality with childlike heart in an inimitable way. I’m so grateful to be working with him on these books.

I love the subtle personalities he's given the space station and rocket ship, especially while maintaining their accurate structures. What's something you want your readers to know about Rocket Ship, Solo Trip?

We are each of us Rocket Ships braving the unknown on a regular basis. It isn’t just rocket launches that take courage. It can be as simple a thing as standing up in front of your class to share something you’ve brought from home or taking that first trip down the big slide. We’re not alone in feeling nervous about first experiences or big challenges. But sometimes all we need is one small step to set our bravery into action and realize that we’ve got everything we need to succeed. I wrote Rocket Ship to help us each find our small steps and the courage those steps give us to go after our goals.

That is something which will benefit many, many people of all ages. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing Rocket Ship, Solo Trip? What was the most fun?

The most challenging and the most fun part were one in the same: revisions. Challenging because it’s always so hard to break with what you’ve already written, especially when it comes to rhyming texts. But extremely fun because by the time we were working on revisions, I had already grown somewhat as a writer, and I was able to approach the story with a new understanding and clarity around what I wanted to achieve. Having an editor who is excited about your words and cheering you on is also a magical addition to the writing process. It's thanks to Aneeka Kalia, my editor at Viking, that Rocket Ship has the well-shaped structure and strong heart that it has today. The story blossomed so much under her guidance.


Sounds like the perfect team all around! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Yes, I’m very happy to share that we’re wrapping up the final details on a second Rocket Ship book with the Viking team! It hasn’t been announced just yet, but I can’t wait for readers to learn where Rocket is headed next. The story introduces a new setting and a new character, and it touches on an SEL theme that is dear to my heart: the importance of finding joy, despite disappointment.

Outside of Rocket Ship, I’m always working on at least one picture book idea and a YA novel. For the former, I’m in the early drafting stages of a new space-themed story, and for the later, I recently wrapped up the first draft of a novel and will soon be diving into revisions.


Good luck with all of these endeavors. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo collage of Yosemite NP & Grizzly Giant tree.

This past summer, my family and I visited Yosemite National Park and fell fully in love. There’s nothing quite like your first glimpse of those soaring rock faces and billowing waterfalls. And when it comes to hiking trails, I love that there’s something for everyone. The paths we chose were dictated by two shorter pairs of legs, so we didn’t tackle any of the trickier routes, but we had plenty of trails to explore nonetheless and saw all the sites on our wish list. I also adore trees, so seeing the Mariposa Grove and the Grizzly Giant was magical.


Thank you, Chiara, for stopping by to share with us your newest picture book.

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit, Maria! I appreciate the opportunity to share my story with you!

To find out more about Chiara Colombi, or to contact her:

Review of Rocket Ship, Solo Trip

Book cover - little rocket ship zoom away from earth into a sky with two satellites.

Rocket Ship, Solo Trip

Author: Chiara Colombi

Illustrator: Scott Magoon

Publisher: Viking Books/Penguin Young Readers (2024)

Ages: 4-8

Informational Fiction


Life's first, bravery, solo trips, family, loved ones, and rhyming.


A delightful, rhyming picture book that is perfect for fans of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and captures all the excitement and nervousness of life's big firsts; art by New York Times bestselling illustrator, Scott Magoon!

Rocket is embarking on her first solo mission. Her goal? Place a satellite into orbit to take pictures of the beautiful unknown. With a few words of encouragement from Ground Control, Rocket sparks ignition and blasts off to discover all the beauty of outer space. But when it’s time for reentry, she wonders if she can do it alone. With Ground Control’s parting words in mind, Rocket trusts that she knows exactly what to do. She returns home at hypersonic speed and excited for her future expeditions…maybe next time, to the moon.

With delightful rhyming stanzas, and pictures by New York Times bestselling illustrator Scott Magoon, Rocket Ship, Solo Trip explores all the complicated emotions of big firsts and reminds readers that no matter how far they go, the ones they love are always close by.

Opening Lines:

Rocket Ship. Solo trip.

First time flying off the strip.

Launch pad's ready.

Wind's not strong.

Rocket prepped all summer long.

It's nearly time for her to soar!


Yes...but nervous more.

What I Loved about this book:

While maintaining the integrity and aspects of science and construction, Scott Magoon does a wonderful job of adding just the right touch of personality and playfulness to appeal to the younger readers. The rhyming text captures the mixed emotions of a little rocket ship preparing for a first launch. Something young kids will identify with as they conquer so many firsts themselves. It' fun to imagine the tower (as surrogate parent) giving the rocket ship a hug before it heads into space.

internal spread - tower holding onto little rocket ship as the await launch time.

Text © Chiara Colombi, 2024. Image © Scott Magoon, 2024.

Even ground control sends out signals as hearts as it tells the little rocket...

Internal spread - on the left, ground control sending out messages with hearts to Rocket Ship. On upper right cameo of worried Rocket. On lower right, more serene rocket getting ready for flight.

Text © Chiara Colombi, 2024. Image © Scott Magoon, 2024.

First time jitters? That's okay,

Find one small step to lead the way.

Use the countdown as your cue.

You'll see. You'll know just what to do.

Launching into space, carrying a camera satellite, Rocket proudly completes step two and docks with the space station. As they circle Earth and the Northern lights, Rocket marvels that "in the dark sky opposite, / So many stars, they barely fit." And Scott Magoon beautifully captures the lights dancing across the earth in a star laden sky. With the help of the space station, Rocket completes step three and releases the satellite. [Check out the image in the interview above.]

But now, it's time to go home. And this time, there's "No helping hand. She's on her own. / Another first - this time alone." Using the booster flames, curving sentences, and the swirl of light, Scott Magoon does a great job of capturing and portraying the movement of reentry and Rocket's anxiety in the lonely darkness of space.

Internal image - Upper left, Rocket ans two satellites float in space. Lower left, and circling around the right side, Rocket fires boosters with a burst of flame circles Earth.

Text © Chiara Colombi, 2024. Image © Scott Magoon, 2024.

Kids who love space and rockets will enjoy this book! Chiara gently reminds Rocket and the reader that even if loved ones aren't always with us, their suggestions remain with us, and their love guides us. The ending is touching and endearing. It's a fun fusing of SEL (bravery) and STEM that will make trying new things a blast.


Photo collage of a paper roll rocket and a picture of four other rocket crafts.
  • make your own little Rocket Ship. Where will yours travel and what will it see? Will it have any helpers?

  • try some of these other rocket crafts.

  • Have you ever been worried or afraid of starting something new or doing something for the first time? Do you remember who helped Rocket Ship? What or who helped you?

  • pair this with The Little Spacecraft That Could by Joyce Lapin, illustrated by Simona Ceccarelli and Heart on Pluto by Karl Jones, illustrated by Andrew J. Ross.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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