The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kirsten Larson Plus Giveaway
Kirsten Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids.
Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Her house is filled with LEGOs, laughter, and lots of books!
Kirsten is the author of the nonfiction picture books A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021) and Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents An Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), in addition to 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market.
For more information on Kirsten, see out earlier interview (here).
Her newest nonfiction picture book, The Fire of Stars: The Life And Brilliance of The Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, releases tomorrow!
Welcome back Kirsten, what was your inspiration for The Fire of Stars: The Life And Brilliance of The Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of Something Wild ?
My inspiration came straight from the TV! I first heard about Cecilia’s story while watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s COSMOS. There was an episode called “Sisters of the Sun” about many of the women working at the Harvard College Observatory and their discoveries. Cecilia Payne was among them.
You never know where inspiration will come from. What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
I’m a creature of habit, and I like it that way. Most of my work is done at home – in my favorite chair, in my office, or outside on my back porch when the weather is nice. Having a set routine helps me slip more quickly into the world of my manuscript. Plus, nonfiction is often less portable, making it less practical to write in exciting locations. It’s hard lugging those file boxes around!
It definitely would make an impression on a passerby. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for The Fire of Stars? Was this similar to your other books?
This book had the longest trajectory of all my books. I wrote the very first draft in August 2014. It was the second book my agent and I sold in August 2017, but the third to be published. It took us a couple of years to find just the right illustrator (Sibert-honor winner Katherine Roy) and get her on board. Then pandemic publishing resulted in some publishing delays. So when Fire of Stars is published, it will be 5 1/2 years from the sale and 8 1/2 years from the very first draft!
Wow, that's quite a journey for this book. These have definitely been a couple of interesting years. What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for The Fire of Stars?
I think the most rewarding part of any book is the feeling that you finally got the story “just right” and are telling the story you truly wanted to tell. For me, that happened long before the sale, when I finally hit on the parallel structure with a linking line of text that would apply to both Cecilia’s and the star’s story. Just as Cecilia lived for the thrill of discovery, I live for that thrill of discovering my story.
Here's to many, many people discovering your book and Cecilia's story. What was the hardest, or most challenging part of writing and/or researching The Fire of Stars?
The challenge was definitely in the writing. I had two main characters – the star and Cecilia, and their arcs had to line up on each and every spread. And of course, both had to be factually accurate because this is nonfiction. Then, I had to craft a line of text that made sense for both stories on each spread. For added challenge, my editor, Chronicle’s Melissa Manlove, wanted to make sure that the single linking lines of text could be read independently across the pages, so the book could be read to the youngest readers. Talk about tough!
That is quite a writing challenge. Did anything surprise or amaze you when you first got to see Katherine Roy’s illustrations? What is your favorite spread?
Text © Kirsten Larson, 2023. Image © Katherine Roy, 2023.
What I love more than anything is learning about Katherine’s art process. She will tell you this book was challenging for her too, and she had to abandon some of her usual ways of working in favor of paint splatters and creating marks with toothbrushes. I love that we both got pushed and challenged by this book. As for the end results, I love each and every spread. One favorite is toward the end, when Cecilia has worked everything out and sits holding a mug of tea. The lighting in that spread, with the sun shining through the window behind her, is glorious.
I agree that the whole book is absolutely stunning! Is there something you want your readers to know about The Fire of Stars?
I want this book to help kids think like scientists. That means close observation, asking questions, and living with failure and frustration sometimes. It’s much like writing!
You and Katherine do a great job of modeling this process in the book. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
I have two projects in the pipeline. The picture book - This is How You Know, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024) which is a lyrical love letter to science. I also have a graphic novel - The Light of Resistance, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Roaring Brook 2023), the true story of Rose Valland, a French curator who saved precious art from the Nazis during World War II. I am eagerly awaiting sketches on both projects.
These are really intriguing. I can't wait to see them. What kind of marketing and promotion have you or your publisher done for this book? Do you have any marketing suggestions or ideas?
I think one of the most powerful things our publishers can do are often the less visible or exciting. The Chronicle marketing team has been great about sending the book out for trade reviews, featuring it at tradeshows, and sending it out to influencers in the school/library market.
Katherine and I have enjoyed working together on marketing, including making a book trailer for social media and a teacher tips postcard Chronicle is taking to conferences. She also requested videos from our printer in China of the book being made, which have been fun to share on social media, and will be wonderful to share with kids in classrooms. We also have been working with our independent bookstores on preorders. Katherine designed a lovely postcard as a preorder bonus.
Sounds exciting and like a lot of work. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?
I think one of my all-time favorite pieces of advice is from my friend Rajani LaRocca, who says, “You can fix everything in revision.” I truly believe revision is where you find your story. I always call my early drafts “the kitchen sink draft.” They are clunky and full of facts and details that don’t belong in the final draft. But I have to get those things out of my system so I feel free to tell the story in interesting and inventive ways.
And perhaps figure out what lives in the back matter.
Thanks so much, Kirsten for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you again.
It’s always a pleasure, Maria.
Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on The Fire of Stars: The Life And Brilliance of The Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of.
To find out more about Kirsten Larson, or contact her:
The Fire of Stars Giveaway
Awesome news! Kirsten is offering one lucky reader a copy of The Fire of Stars: The Life And Brilliance of The Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of.
- Simply comment below (or on the Friday #PPBF post - or both) to be entered in the random drawing on February 12th.
- Be sure to say where (if) you shared the post (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), and I'll add additional entries for you.
- *Sorry US Residents only.*