The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with January STEAM Team Members
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to three authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I promise, it's not too long a post. I do hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and 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 – Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (North Star Editions/ABDO 1/1/2022) – I teach Children’s and YA Literature at Marist College and have five adult children and a grandson. I started writing professionally 22 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 am a night owl, and I work into the wee hours of the morning. 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 26 books including, 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, (2021) 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 (2020), Feeling Good About You (2019), Understanding Friendship (2019), Racing and Lure Coursing Dogs (2018), and Rachel Carson (2011).]
Matt Lilley – Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill (Tilbury House 1/11/21) – In high school, I attended an art school and majored in creative writing. That’s when I started writing, although writing itself has been a little off-and-on over time. When my first kid was born, I took him to tons and tons of story times. We were at the library several times a week. Spending so much time there inspired me to write more.
I have an M.S. in scientific and technical writing. Whether I’m writing for kids or grown-ups, it’s all about taking complicated information and putting it into a form that is easy to understand. Writing for kids is actually much harder and more rewarding. Books for kids have to be both easy to understand and fun. My favorite genre is narrative nonfiction. Most of my inspiration comes from the natural world. I like finding ways to make learning about nature fun. I love the challenge of taking interesting facts from the natural world and putting them into a compelling narrative.
[Author of 15 books including, Inventing Vaccines (Focus Readers 2022), Strong as an Ox: Are Oxen Powerful? (2021), Stubborn as a Mule: Are Mules Headstrong? (2021), Rattlesnakes (2021), Scorpions (2021), Steven Curry ( 2020), Why We Love: The Science of Affection (2019); Why We Cry: The Science of Tears (2019), Beavers (2018), and Canada Geese (2019).
Nancy Castaldo – When the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water in Crisis (Algonquin Young Readers 1/18/22) – I’ve been writing books about our planet for over 20 years. I studied biology and chemistry in college and later in grad school, children’s literature. I’m an environmental educator and National Geographic Certified Educator. As an author I strive to inform, inspire, and empower my readers with each book. STEAM subjects allow me to share my passion and who I am -- a nerdy naturalist -- with readers. I write whenever and wherever. Research is my jam.
[Author of – 23 books, including The Farm That Feeds Us (2020), The Story of Seeds (2020), DK Life Stories: Ada Lovelace (2019), Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction (2018), Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World (2017), Beastly Brains: Exploring How Animals Think, Talk, and Feel (2017), School of Dragons #2: Greatest Inventions (DreamWorks Dragons) (2016), The Race Around the World (Totally True Adventures): How Nellie Bly Chased an Impossible Dream (2015), This or That? 3: Even More Wacky Choices to Reveal the Hidden You (National Geographic Kids) (2015), and National Geographic Kids Mission: Polar Bear Rescue: All About Polar Bears and How to Save Them (2014).]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Marie-Therese Miller – I learned to crochet when I was thirteen years old. Each summer, I enter crocheted blankets and scarves in the Dutchess County Fair needlework competition. I have even won some lovely ribbons.
Matt Lilley – I’m really good at retro video games. Anything on the Atari or early Nintendo, I’ll play. I still enjoy those old games more than most of the new stuff.
Nancy Castaldo – I love adding stamps to my US and National Park passports. My passports are treasured possessions and remind me of many great adventures.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Marie-Therese Miller – Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (1/1/2022) – I love foxes! I even have a collection of fox items in my home. And the Marist College students are known as the Red Foxes. I jumped at the opportunity to research all about these beautiful and clever animals and share what I learned with readers.
Matt Lilley – Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill (1/11/21) – For reasons I can’t completely explain, my two favorite topics to write about are Antarctica and birds. Of course, Antarctica + Birds = Penguins! (I’ve got a few penguin manuscripts laying around, if anyone is interested.) But it’s not just penguins. I’ve written about snow petrels, albatrosses, skuas...Writing about Antarctic wildlife, there’s one thing that’s almost always showing up – krill. Almost all of the cool animals living down there – such as penguins, sea birds, seals, and whales – eat krill. After reading a little about krill, I decided they deserved their own book. Because they are so essential to their ecosystem, they bring a fresh window for introducing that amazing world of the ocean around Antarctica to kids.
Nancy Castaldo – When the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water in Crisis (1/18/22) – All my books have beginnings in my childhood. This one is no exception. My mom introduced me to the importance of clean water when I was in middle school. I even wrote a short article on water for my school newspaper. The interest resurfaced when I was writing The Story of Seeds and found how food security was so tied to our water crisis. There was so much more involved that the issue deserved its own book.
Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or 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.
Matt Lilley – I honestly didn’t like reading until high school. I struggled and didn’t enjoy it. One thing that was kind of my gateway into reading was Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. I still have all the old collections of his. Calvin was a character that I could relate to, which is so important. I was lucky to have come across Calvin and Hobbes when I was young and struggling to read. Every kid should have lots of opportunities to see characters in books who are like themselves, who they can relate to.
Nancy Castaldo – I had a favorite book as a toddler titled, What Shall I Put In The Hole That I Dig? Clearly, I loved nonfiction and seeds at an early age. In fact, I even attempted to write my own wonder book in second grade. Some things stick with you throughout your life.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Marie-Therese Miller – Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (1/1/2022) – While researching, I discovered many fascinating facts about foxes. Readers will be surprised to learn about the crafty ways foxes build their dens, hunt for food, and even escape predators.
Matt Lilley – Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill (1/11/21) – Good Eating is humorous, and I hope kids have lots of fun reading it. But I also hope they come away with a little bit of a sense of wonder. Krill are fun little creatures, but they also do some amazing things. From when they are just miniscule eggs sinking over a mile underwater to when they are part of swarms so big that they can be seen from space, they are filling a unique and essential role in the web of life. At their most basic, they are whale food, which is great. But when you learn about how they are so successful (and therefore good at becoming whale food), you have to be a little amazed.
Nancy Castaldo – When the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water in Crisis (1/18/22) – I couldn’t write about our water in crisis without providing hope. There are lots of ways that we can all make a difference. I’ve highlighted many in the book, and also included examples of the many teens who are raising their voices to help protect our water resources. This book is about jumping to action.
What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?
Text © Marie-Therese Miller, 2022
Marie-Therese Miller – Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (1/1/2022) – For this book, I had one particular fact that I worked long hours to verify: how high red foxes could jump. I finally found a number upon which experts agreed, and I included the fact in the manuscript. I had to laugh when my editor changed the line to “Foxes jump very high” for the sake of the young audience.
Text © Matt Lilley, 2022. Image © Dan Tavis, 2022.
Matt Lilley – Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill (1/11/21) – Getting the details. It was easy to figure out the general information about krill – that they are essential to the Southern Ocean ecosystem, that most of the animals down there eat them. But I tried to know all the specific details about their lives, even if all those details didn’t make it into the text. For instance, the text mentions “fish” that might want to eat them, but not specific species of fish. I spent a lot of time researching to find out exactly which fish would be likely to eat krill. The text doesn’t mention specific fish species, but I can tell you that the two species featured in the book are Antarctic lanternfish and mackerel icefish. The text only mentions “penguins,” but the penguins in the book are chinstrap, gentoo, king and Adélie. Of those 4 species, Adélies are the most reliant on krill. I was even researching things like what depths the specific fish live at, to see which ones were most likely to encounter the krill at the correct point in the story.
Text © Nancy Castaldo, 2022.
Nancy Castaldo – When the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water in Crisis (1/18/22) – I spent a great deal of time during my research with families impacted by a water crisis. Some had no water. Others had only toxic water. It was heartbreaking to see so many challenged and hurting, and also extremely frustrating to see so many communities in crisis.
How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Marie-Therese Miller – I was fortunate to have many deadlines to meet this past year. Deadlines keep me focused and creative. In addition, I was thrilled to participate in my first book festival. It was inspiring to be surrounded by and visit with other kidlit writers.
Matt Lilley – This is definitely a struggle, especially since the pandemic started. One thing that helps me is to have an assignment with deadlines. On that end, taking writing gigs with the educational market has helped me to continue writing during this time. For those who might not be familiar, for educational market books, the publisher comes up with the topic and the details of the book, such as how long it should be and at what reading level. Then they hire the author to write to their specs. It’s not the same as writing your own picture book, but it does keep you in the practice of researching and writing.
Nancy Castaldo – Getting outside whenever I can and doing lots of reading primes my writing pump. I also love to practice wordplay by writing poetry. It is a great way for me to flex my writing muscles.
Any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Marie-Therese Miller – I am pleased to say that I have partnered with Lerner and Sesame Street for a book about friendship, which will be published next month: Five-Minute Friendship Starters: A Sesame Street Guide to Making a Friend. [2/1/2022]
Matt Lilley – I have some educational market books specifically for reluctant readers that are slated to come out next fall. For picture books, I definitely have more narrative nonfiction titles in the works, including some about other animals that live around Antarctica. Those books don’t have publishing homes yet, but hopefully they will eventually.
Nancy Castaldo – I have two other books releasing in 2022 that I’m very excited about. The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale releases from Clarion as part of their Scientists in the Field series. Buildings That Breathe releases in the fall from Twenty-First Century Books. I also have two Hudson Valley focused titles in the works. More on them soon!
We'll have to keep a look out for these books. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Marie Theresa-Miller – Winnie-the-Pooh. I believe I could benefit from his insightful bear philosophy, while we share some honey and my favorite, Jif peanut butter.
Matt Lilley – Louise Erdrich. She’s such an amazing storyteller. I know I could learn a lot from her. My daughter and I read all of her Birchbark House books together.
Nancy Castaldo – Rachel Carson, hands down. Her book, Silent Spring, resides on my desk and provides me with endless inspiration.
That would be a fun tea. What is your favorite National Park, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Marie-Therese Miller – I am a beach person and a Jersey girl, so I love Cape May Point State Park. It is a magical place to watch birds and search for Cape May diamonds, which are really pieces of clear quartz. The Cape May Lighthouse is part of the park and is fun to climb to the top.
Matt Lilley – Yellowstone. Because wolves (and everything else that is there too).
Nancy Castaldo – Keep an eye out this summer for my next book, The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale, which is set in one of my very favorite National Parks. As a New Yorker, our beautiful, wild Adirondack Park is the place I visit most often.
These sound like awesome places! I hope to visit them someday. Now, let me take a moment to introduce you all to these amazing STEAM books!
Synopsis: Are foxes clever? This title dives into foxes' unique traits, behaviors, and characteristics and examines the truth behind the idiom sly as a fox. Easy-to-read text, vivid and colorful images and graphics, and helpful text features gives readers a clear look into this subject.
Part of an interesting series looking at animal idioms Specifically, whether the behaviors, adaptability, hunting, and means of escape actually prove how clever foxes are. Links and activities involving primary sources and evidentiary support of facts make this an interactive book encouraging critical thinking and further investigation. It's a fun introduction to foxes.
Synopsis: Just 2 inches long full-grown, this little guy is the foundation of the Southern Ocean food chain... “Hi. What are you? You appear to be an egg. You are an egg sinking. For many days, you sink. You sink a mile down, and you keep sinking down… down… until…”
The unidentified narrator follows one krill among billions as it pursues its brief existence, eating and eating while metamorphosing from one thing into another and trying to avoid being eaten. Questions and advice are hurled at the krill on every page, but the krill never responds―because, after all, krill can’t talk, and this is nonfiction. Krill are the largest animals able to catch and eat phytoplankton, and they in turn are eaten by the largest animals ever to live on earth―blue whales―as well as by seals, penguins, and a host of others. In other words, krill are really good at eating, and they make really good eating. And that makes them the most important animals in the high-latitude oceans. As in The Whale Fall Café, Dan Tavis’s illustrations combine scientific accuracy with Nemo liveliness and humor. Our star krill is so good at gobbling up phytoplankton that he turns green, so we can pick him out from the crowd racing to escape a penguin’s beak or a blue whale’s gaping maw. The book has been reviewed and endorsed by global krill expert Dr. Stephen Nichol, and the manuscript earned an honorable mention in Minnesota’s McKnight Artist Fellowships for Writers. Helpful backmatter is included.
Using a conversational tone, the narrator questions and explains the development and actions of a krill from an egg, through its multiple stages of metamorphosis, to full development. Includes wonderful illustrations of the tiny phytoplankton which the krill eat and its narrow escapes from penguins, seals, and giant blue whales. Back matter offers "More Krill Facts" and additional resources. It's an active, engaging dive into the world of krill.
Synopsis: What would you do if you turned on the faucet one day and nothing happened? What if you learned the water in your home was harmful to drink? Water is essential for life on this planet, but not every community has the safe, clean water it needs. In When the World Runs Dry, award-winning science writer Nancy Castaldo takes readers from Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, to Iran and Cape Town, South Africa, to explore the various ways in which water around the world is in danger, why we must act now, and why you’re never too young to make a difference.
Topics include: Lead and water infrastructure problems, pollution, fracking contamination, harmful algal blooms, water supply issues, rising sea levels, and potential solutions.
This book is both horrifying and hopeful. With a very engaging voice, the book examines the problems - numerous instances of mineral, chemical, and drug contamination, droughts, floods, and conflicts - affecting water throughout the world. Problems that have threatened, poisoned, and killed numerous adults and children. Using numerous case studies, Nancy Castaldo explores the events, the fall out, and the timing and degree of response that local and national governments have made. Take action sidebars offer suggestions for protecting oneself and suggestions to help ease the stress on this precious resource. Besides protestors, the book details, organizations, government, and kids who are working to find solutions to finding and stopping pollution and for encouraging water conservation. And ends with a call to action to protect our water.
Thank you Marie-Therese, Matt, & Nancy 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 – Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (North Star Editions/ABDO 1/1/2022)
Matt Lilley – Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill (Tilbury House 1/11/21) –
Nancy Castaldo – When the World Runs Dry: Earth’s Water in Crisis (Algonquin Young Readers 1/18/22) – Website: https://nancycastaldo.com/