The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with January STEAM Team Authors
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to four authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you forgive the length, it's worth it. I do hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and their 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?...)
Marie-Therese Miller – States of Matter: A Sesame Street Science Book; Sink or Float: A Sesame Street Science Book; and Simple Machines: A Sesame Street Science Book (Lerner 1/1/2023) – I am an English teacher at Marist College and have five adult children and a grandson. I started writing 20 years ago. I have a home office, but I can usually be found, pen in hand, hunched over a notebook on my bed-- books and articles strewn around my floor. I enjoy all aspects of creating nonfiction books for kids, from the research and interviews to the writing and editing. I write about all sorts of topics, but my most recent books have been focused on social science subjects. My undergraduate degree is in psychology and all things psychological still interest me.
[Author of 28 books including, Dogs (An Early Encyclopedia)(2022), A Dog's Best Friend: A Sesame Street Guide to Caring for Your Dog (2021), It's All Art! From Drawing to Dress-up with Sesame Street (2021), Crayola Our Colorful Earth: Celebrating the Natural World (2021), Handling Depression (2021), Parents Here and There: A Kid’s Guide to Deployment (2021), Me Love to Share with Cookie Monster: A Book About Generosity. (2021), Everyone Has Value with Zoe: A Book About Respect, Caring With Bert and Ernie: A Book About Empathy (2021), Teens and Cyberbullying (2020), Rock Climbing (2020), Many Ways series: Families Like Mine/ Feelings Like Mine/ Homes Like Mine/ Parents Like Mine (2020), Dealing With Psychotic Disorders (Dealing With Mental Disorders) (2020), How to Deal Feeling Good About You (2019), How to Deal Understanding Friendship (2019), Racing and Lure Coursing Dogs/Herding/Agility/& Sled (Canine Athletes) (2018), and Rachel Carson (2011).]
Linda Zajac – Minecraft Crafting: An Unofficial Kid's Guide (Lightning Bolt Books® - Minecraft 101) and Minecraft Mobs: An Unofficial Kid's Guide (Lightning Bolt Books® - Minecraft 101) (Lerner 1/1/2023) – I started writing for children’s magazines in 2002. Since I’m a former computer programmer, systems designer, and consultant, I am drawn to stories about how scientists are using technology to advance science.
It gives me a lot of satisfaction when I can be a voice for the underdog. I write about animals that can’t speak for themselves and climate science that faces fierce opposition from a barrage of misinformation.
My preferred writing spots vary by the season. In winter, I’m on the couch by a crackling fire. When the weather warms, I head to my back deck. I love settling in my Adirondack chair with a notebook and pen. I’m at peace, surrounded by window boxes and barrel planters packed with colorful flowers. Words flow easier when the birds are chirping and trilling.
[Author of 7 books, including The Unofficial Guide to Minecraft Maps (2020), The Unofficial Guide to Minecraft Redstone (2020), The Unofficial Guide to Minecraft Enchantments (2020), The Unofficial Guide to Minecraft Creative Mode (2020).]
Nadia Ali – Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; Animals Have Jobs; and Read All About Horses (Pebble Books/Capstone 1/1/2023) – I was born in London, UK and have been writing professionally for more than 15 years. I began writing greeting cards and branched out to writing for magazines and websites. Later, I progressed to writing academic pieces as a contributor to reference books published by Oxford University Press and ABC-CLIO. I then took the plunge into writing picture books and was encouraged to apply for work-for-hire projects. I was thrilled when Capstone contacted me and offered me the opportunity to write for them!
Laura Perdew - Hydroelectric Power (Power of Energy) and Solar Power (Power of Energy) (The Child’s World 1/1/2023) – I wrote one of my first stories in elementary school and it was clearly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets the Candyland game; of course I was the main character and got to enjoy chocolate rivers and gumdrop flowers. In college, I was the dork who didn’t mind the writing assignments (please, a writing assignment instead of an exam!). As an adult, I dove into writing for children when my own were small; it was my creative outlet and something to call my own. Eventually, I began writing for the education market which is what led me to writing STEAM books. I’ve also always been somewhat of a conservationist and I love being outdoors; writing STEAM books has allowed me to combine two of my greatest passions!
[Author of 46 books, including Biome Explorers Series - Aquatic Adventures, Destination Desert, Footsteps in the Forests, Grassland Globetrotting, Tour the Tundra (2022); The Earth: One-of-a-Kind Planet (2021), The Moon: Small-but-Mighty Neighbor (2021), The Sun: Shining Star of the Solar System (2021), and The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (2021), Mammals (A Field Guide for Kids) (1/2021), 5-book Picture Book Science Series: Animal Adaptations (2020), Animal Conservationists (2019), Crazy Contraptions: Build Rube Goldberg Machines that Swoop, Spin, Stack, and Swivel (2019), Race to Renewable Energy (2019), Race to Discover Energy Independence (2019), Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth (2019), and 23 books with Educational Publishers.]
What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
Marie-Therese Miller – When my kids were young, I used to hole up in my walk-in closet to write. It was like a game of hide-and-seek, but I was hoping not to be found. If I kept quiet, I could get 200 words down on paper before they located me. [😊 Ha!]
Linda Zajac – Once I did some writing and revising in a tent at Acadia National Park. My husband had changed his mind about camping, so rather than lose the reservations, I ventured out on a solo trip. It was empowering. Alone in the tent, I thoroughly enjoyed working by the light of a Coleman lantern. [That sounds so fun! 😊]
Nadi Ali – The most unusual place I have written would be onboard a plane. I think the time on a plane declutters the mind and allows creativity to flow. I always keep a notebook and pen handy as opposed to an electronic device. [😊- as long as you don't get the chatty neighbor!]
Laura Perdew – I wish I had a fun or unusual answer for that question, but the truth is that my best work is always done at my desk, surrounded by books, resources, and other writerly things. I will add though, that I regularly write random things down on scraps of paper if I’m not at my desk and I often get ideas and/or breakthroughs when I’m on a run. [😊- and adds a challenge to remember them.]
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your books?
Marie-Therese Miller – States of Matter; Sink or Float; and Simple Machines (1/1/2023) – I jumped at the chance to write these early science books when Lerner offered. I knew they would be fun topics to explore. It’s so important to get kids excited about science concepts at a young age. I had terrific science teachers throughout school, especially my eighth grade science teacher, Mr. Chester Tenenbaum. I still remember the muddy model he created to show the class how a peninsula is formed. He sparked a love of science in me that has carried over to the next generation. My kids are all scientists and engineers!
Linda Zajac – Minecraft Crafting and Minecraft Mobs (1/1/2023) – At the end of 2021, I received an email from my publisher asking if I’d be interested in writing these two books for a K–2 audience. They gave me the specifications. At the time, they were part of a 4-book series. Lerner has since expanded the series to 10 books.
Nadia Ali – Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; and Animals Have Jobs (1/1/2023) - The Animal Societies series is a work-for-hire project. It gave me the opportunity to write about my favorite topic – animals. My love for animals or insects in this case, began as a child alongside my little brother in the garden, where we collected ants in a jar. Inspired by my curiosity, I have written about a variety of animals and at present I am a regular contributor to a holistic pet magazine.
Read All About Horses (1/1/2023) – To write this work-for-hire book, I remembered my teenage years. Where my love for horses began on a horse trek across the rolling hills of Marple outside of Manchester in the UK.
Laura Perdew - Hydroelectric Power and Solar Power (1/1/2023) – These books were actually assigned to me – the topics and parameters were dictated by the publisher. However, the editors know that my expertise and interests lie in topics related to nature, the environment, and environmental issues, which is one reason I was given the opportunity to write these books.
Interesting, I don't think we've had a month of entirely work-for-hire projects; that's really cool. Who was a favorite or special author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?
Marie-Therese Miller – I had so many, but E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was a favorite of mine. Serendipitously, White became a research subject of mine when I wrote my dissertation about his best friend and colleague at The New Yorker, James Thurber.
Linda Zajac – I devoured mysteries like Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators series.
Nadi Ali – I enjoyed lots of books as a child, but there is one picture book that comes to mind, Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. There was just something about the story that resonated with me. I also liked the fantasy stories for older kids by Roald Dahl much to the dismay of my sister who was a huge Enid Blyton fan.
Laura Perdew - I have a hard time naming favorites of anything (a trait that my children find annoying). With books, the ones I’m drawn to depend on my mood and my experiences. Among the books I remember as a kid, The Lorax was perhaps the only STEAM book I loved. Waaaaay back then there were so few STEAM books that were engaging or fun. As a child, I also enjoyed all the other books by Dr. Seuss (and still do!), the Berenstain Bears, and Curious George.
It's always interesting to see which books authors choose from their childhood. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your books?
Marie-Therese Miller – States of Matter; Sink or Float; and Simple Machines (1/1/2023) – I am always amazed at how generous experts are with sharing their knowledge. For these books, I bounced questions off biomedical and aerospace engineers. At one point, I was stuck on how to explain the difference between steam and water vapor. I asked a NASA scientist, and he said that steam isn’t a gas; it’s small liquid drops of water. The gaseous form of water is water vapor, which is invisible to the naked eye!
Linda Zajac – Minecraft Crafting and Minecraft Mobs (1/1/2023) – I took all the screenshots for both books. My editor gave me a list of the scenes they wanted.
Nadia Ali – Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; and Animals Have Jobs (1/1/2023) - The Animal Societies series shows readers where animals live, who their families are and how they communicate. And a topic that was of particular interest was that of animal jobs. I never really thought of animals having jobs or chores. Some are responsible for building the house, others for babysitting and a few keeping guard. The series has beautiful photographic images that are prominent and kid-friendly.
Read All About Horses (1/1/2023) – The tight, short sentences give golden nuggets of information which of course is complimented by gorgeous photos of horses.
Laura Perdew - Hydroelectric Power and Solar Power (1/1/2023) – These books are two in a series about energy sources, and the pros and cons of each source. I chose to write these two specifically because both hydroelectric and solar power are renewable sources of energy, and I strongly believe that investing in and improving green energy is vital to protect our planet. Solar energy is especially promising because the sun gives off enough energy in 90 minutes to meet the world’s energy demands for a year! For both solar and hydroelectric power, scientists and engineers are coming up with new innovations all the time to help us harness these sources of energy.
What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your books? Was there a bit of your research you didn’t get to include?
Marie-Therese Miller – States of Matter; Sink or Float; and Simple Machines (1/1/2023) – It is challenging to explain scientific concepts with a limited word count and simple vocabulary. The science has to be understandable to the primary school audience. And yes, the research must be edited to the core points, so some of it is not included in the books.
Linda Zajac – Minecraft Crafting and Minecraft Mobs (1/1/2023) – The screenshots for the mobs book turned out to be more of a challenge than the writing and the research. Every moving creature in Minecraft is a mob, so my subjects were capable of walking off the photo shoot. Since the monsters (hostile mobs) come out at night, lighting was an issue. I had to make sure there was enough light to see the creatures. The two screenshots that took the most time were the iron golem and the witch. My editor wanted a screenshot of an iron golem fighting a hostile mob. The golem is strong and hurls its opponent high in the air—and sometimes out of the picture.
They also wanted a witch throwing a potion. First, I had to find a swamp and a witch hut. The witch isn’t as common as other mobs, like skeletons, zombies, and creepers. Then I had to step to the side while taking the screenshot so the potion flying through the air didn’t obstruct the cackling witch’s face. My biggest problem, however, was that the witch killed me in more ways than one. Once you die in Minecraft, the game is over and you have to restart it.
Nadia Ali – Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; Animals Have Jobs (1/1/2023) - I personally really enjoy researching. Finding multiple sources, cross checking facts, and compiling information. The challenge comes when constructing the sentences into nuggets of information to meet the criteria and the wordcount.
Read All About Horses (1/1/2023) – Researching horses opened my eyes to the world of horses. There is so much information that can easily be tied to one of the chapters. It is challenging to know what to keep and what to cut and to decipher the rank of importance – thank goodness for guidelines and my wonderful editor.
Laura Perdew - Hydroelectric Power and Solar Power (1/1/2023) – Like with any nonfiction project, the subjects are huge. There is so much information available about hydroelectric and solar power. I had to do a lot of research, absorb the information, and then decide which facts to include in the books. Not only that, I had to relate the information so 2nd-5th graders can understand it.
Congrats to you all for taking large and complex topics and distilling them into interesting nuggets for young readers. What kind of marketing and promotion have you or your publisher done for these books? Do you have any marketing suggestions or ideas?
Marie-Therese Miller – States of Matter; Sink or Float; and Simple Machines (1/1/2023) – The PR team at Lerner is terrific! They send the books out for reviews and enter them for appropriate book awards. Being a member of a promotional group is a great help too. With STEAM Team Books, we highlight one another’s books on social media. We also share lots of information about nonfiction writing for kids and support each other in the writing process. The group connected me with you, Maria. You and your blog have been a big boost to my books, as well as to the books of other members. In addition, I participate in all the book events and festivals that I can. I love to meet my readers in person and chat with other kidlit writers!
Linda Zajac – Minecraft Crafting and Minecraft Mobs (1/1/2023) – Thanks for asking! I’m making graphics with Canva and promoting the books on social media. I highly recommend a group effort, such as STEAM Team Books, when marketing a book.
Our website is an excellent resource for teachers. If you want to find out about new and upcoming STEAM books, take a look at our website. You can find author interviews and some activities too. Many of the books on our site have associated lesson plans that can be found on Patricia Newman’s LitLinks blog. For more information, check out www.steamteambooks.com and definitely connect with us on Twitter and/or Instagram. Hope to see you there!
Nadia Ali – Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; Animals Have Jobs; and Read All About Horses (1/1/2023) – As a work-for-hire project, I was not aware that marketing was permitted by the author, until I was encouraged by STEAM Team Books to join and promote my books. I spoke with my publisher who was over-the-moon to have me assist with marketing.
My advice is, if you want to market your work-for-hire books and in essence yourself as a published author, check with your publisher and go for it.
Any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Marie-Therese Miller – I love to work with Lerner and Sesame Street on their social-emotional learning books. How Are You Feeling? Naming Your Emotions with Sesame Street is coming out February 7th and I have another selection about thankfulness being published in August. My book about esports superstars, with lots of cool interviews with esports stars, is also slated for publication in August.
Linda Zajac – I’m currently focused on two manuscripts. One is a fictional picture book with nonfiction back matter. The other is a middle grade nonfiction manuscript with an environmental theme.
Nadi Ali – I’m egg-cited to have a picture book coming out in Spring 2023. It is currently on pre-order and it’s called Humphrey the Egg-splorer (Yeehoo Press). It is a fictional tale though there is a subtle scientific theme which is - how do you make an egg stronger?
Laura Perdew – I always have projects I’m working on and ideas I’m noodling on! Two of my favorite WIPs include one about seashells and another about birds. In addition, I have several books out on submission (nonfiction picture books and a middle grade novel). All of them have STEAM ties with a focus on nature, the environment, and environmental issues.
Wow, these all sound interesting. We'll have to keep our eyes open for these two books and future announcements! Good luck. What’s something you can’t do without?
Marie-Therese Miller – Naturally, I couldn’t do without my family. I’m also rather fond of my granddog, Luna, and grandcat, Mozzarella. I’m also really attached to my computer. I remember that as my mom got older, she would clutch her purse and carry it from room to room; I tote my computer.
Linda Zajac – Aside from Maslow's basic needs, I need my insulated Polar water bottle. On steamy summer days, it keeps drinking water from getting hot and nasty. The bottle comes with me when I hike, bike, kayak, and travel. It's by my side at conferences, critique group meetings, and Zoom events. If I work at a park, I’ll bring my laptop and my water bottle.
Nadi Ali – there are a number of obvious answers – air, water, sleep, shelter, family and chocolate – oh yes! But I would say the Internet. I cannot imagine writing, printing, putting paper into envelopes and going to the post office every time I needed to correspond. Without the Internet, writing a book would take a whole lot longer.
Laura Perdew – That’s a tough question! Family is tops on the list, followed closely by my friends and my writing community. I’d also say that hikes to a high alpine lake in the summertime and time at the beach are what feed my soul.
Such fun answers! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
Marie-Therese Miller – To take things one step at a time. Writing projects can feel overwhelming sometimes, so I break them up into little manageable bits. This advice also translates to life in general: embrace it moment by moment.
Linda Zajac – When I started writing, I spent a lot of time trying to get that first paragraph perfect. I couldn’t move on until it was done. At a nature writing course at the Highlights Foundation, I learned to set a timer for 15 minutes and write as much as possible. It was enough time to get past my stumbling block and into the work. I still set the timer if I’m having trouble putting words on paper. Frankly, all the other advice is meaningless if you don’t do the work.
Nadi Ali – For the best advice I’ve ever received, I have to refer to a quote I read from a famous writer:
“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they'll take you.” ~ Beatrix Potter
Laura Perdew – I’ve gotten great advice about many things throughout my life, from many different sources. With respect to writing, a professor in college advised me to find my own style in writing as opposed to trying to emulate others. Many years later, a friend wisely noted that each of us needs to write the rules for ourselves. She was saying something very similar to that professor: be yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in “expectations” as defined by the world around us. Instead, we should follow our own path and use our unique voices.
Thank you all for such wonderful thoughts! 😊
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
States of Matter: A Sesame Street Science Book; Sink or Float: A Sesame Street Science Book; and Simple Machines: A Sesame Street Science Book (Lerner 1/1/2023) - Using a combination of Sesame Street characters, photos of kids, and succinct text, these books introduce young readers to science concepts in a fun and familiar way. The inclusion of a couple of "Science All Around" questions (with answers) and glossary make these wonderful early STEM books.
Synopsis: Sink or Float - Why do some things sink and others float? Simple text introduces readers to key science curriculum, and commentary from Sesame Street characters makes the learning fun.
States of Matter - Matter is all around you! Join the Sesame Street gang as they teach young learners about solids, liquids, and gases with simple, accessible text and full-color photos.
Simple Machines - Simple machines are tools that make work easier to do. Sesame Street characters help make learning about the six simple machines accessible and engaging for young learners.
Minecraft Crafting: An Unofficial Kids' Guide (Lightning Bolt Books ® ― Minecraft 101) and Minecraft Mobs: An Unofficial Kids' Guide (Lightning Bolt Books ® ― Minecraft 101) (Lerner 1/1/2023) – Supported by photographs of the actual screens and an easy to navigate chapter format, these perfect guides for young players of Minecraft explain interesting elements of crafting and features of Mobs (moving creatures), as well as making a real-life connection to both crafting and biologists.
Synopsis: Minecraft Crafting - Explore the exciting possibilities of crafting in Minecraft. Readers will learn how to use recipes to create the many blocks, tools, and items they need to succeed in their Minecraft world.
Minecraft Mobs: The game of Minecraft is full of strange and familiar creatures. Readers will learn how to farm with friendly animals, trade with villagers, and avoid dangerous mobs at night.
Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; and Animals Have Jobs (Pebble Books 1/1/2023) - Using a conversational, second-person point-of-view, these books explore aspects of animal's lives (families, houses, communicating, and jobs) in a fun and easy to read early chapter format. Wonderful photo illustrations enhance the appeal, while the interwoven facts, glossary, and further information offer a great starting point for researching these animals or particular aspects of their lives.
Synopsis: Animals Have Families - A baby kangaroo lives in its mother’s pouch. A zebra group is called a dazzle. A mother octopus has 50,000 babies! Find out how animal families care for their young, keep one another safe, and share duties. Accessible and fun K–3 level information reveals the animal world to young readers and researchers in this Pebble Explore title from the Animal Societies series.
Animals Live in Homes - A bear sleeps in a den. A snake might coil around a branch to rest. A crab carries its home on its back! Find out where all kinds of animals live—in the water, up in the trees, or burrowed underground. Accessible and fun K–3 level information reveals the animal world to young readers and researchers in this Pebble Explore title from the Animal Societies series.
Animals Communicate - Whales whistle, fireflies glow, and skunks spray—that’s how they communicate! Find out how mammals, reptiles, birds, and other animals send messages and signals to stay safe, make friends, and care for their young. Accessible and fun K–3 level information reveals the animal world to young readers and researchers in this Pebble Explore title from the Animal Societies series.
Animals Have Jobs - Animals are busy! Sea dragon fathers care for babies. Eagle parents build giant nests. Sea lions stand guard for one another. In every animal community, animals have jobs to do, just like people! Accessible and fun K–3 level information reveals the animal world to young readers and researchers in this Pebble Explore title from the Animal Societies series.
Read All About Horses (Pebble Books 1/1/2023) – Accompanying a brief discussion at the beginning of each chapter on horse history, breeds, life cycle, body, senses, and behavior, the gorgeous photos and short, succinctly digestible fact nuggets offer young readers a wonderful look into the amazing world of horses.
Synopsis: Did you know that horses can sleep standing up? Or that horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal? Find out all about horses’ senses, life cycle, behavior, and more in this fact-filled book. Stunning photos give readers an up-close look at these loyal, majestic companions that have been living and working alongside people for thousands of years.
Hydroelectric Power (Power of Energy) and Solar Power (Power of Energy) (The Child’s World 1/1/2023) – Photos and detailed graphics assist in a balanced explanation and evaluation of hydroelectric and solar power as renewable energy sources. These 2nd-3rd grade books examine both the positive aspects and the serious negative consequences of each power source before exploring some future potential - harnessing tides or solar windows. Additionally, interesting side bars add information on aspects like "the solar car race" and "fish ladders." A great starting point for learning about clean energy.
Synopsis: Hydroelectric Power - Introduces readers to what hydroelectric power is, how it is used today and how it might be used in the future, and the benefits and drawbacks of this energy source. Additional features include a table of contents, infographics to help readers learn more about the topic, sidebars, Fast Facts, critical thinking questions, a phonetic glossary, an index, and sources for further research.
Solar Power - Introduces readers to what solar power is, how it is used today and how it might be used in the future, and the benefits and drawbacks of this energy source. Additional features include a table of contents, infographics to help readers learn more about the topic, sidebars, Fast Facts, critical thinking questions, a phonetic glossary, an index, and sources for further research.
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:
Marie-Therese Miller – States of Matter: A Sesame Street Science Book; Sink or Float: A Sesame Street Science Book; and Simple Machines: A Sesame Street Science Book (Lerner 1/1/2023) -
Linda Zajac – Minecraft Crafting and Minecraft Mobs (Lerner 1/1/2023) –
Nadia Ali – Animals Have Families; Animals Live in Homes; Animals Communicate; Animals Have Jobs; and Read All About Horses (Pebble Books 1/1/2023) –
Laura Perdew - Hydroelectric Power (Power of Energy) and Solar Power (Power of Energy) (The Child’s World 1/1/2023) –