The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Kristen Nordstrom
Kristen Nordstrom is a full-time teacher and children's book author. She’s a founding member of a Title One, public elementary STEAM school called Ladera STARS Academy that serves a beautiful and diverse group of students including: foster youth, children on the autism spectrum, and bilingual learners.
Kristen has a master’s degree in Education and has trained extensively as a science teacher with the Lawrence Hall of Science, West Ed. Alliance, and the San Francisco Exploratorium. She is a teacher leader and is helping her school reach National STEM Certification with Rice University. She loves reading and writing nonfiction. Kristen’s passionate about connecting young children to nature and the sustainable ideas the living world offers.
Her debut picture book, Mimic Makers, releases July 13, 2021.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I grew up in a small farming community outside of Rochester, New York called Brockport. My family and I spent every waking moment in nature - hiking, skiing, sailing, biking. I loved all kinds of weather and every season. And looked forward to cross-country skiing on newly fallen snow or running in a torrential rain storm.
My love of writing really stems back to my love of scrapbooking, collage, and journal writing. These interests, that often involved the interplay of text and pictures, dovetailed perfectly with my love of reading and writing children’s books. As far as my preference as a writer, I read fiction and nonfiction, but I enjoy researching and writing nonfiction for children. The thrill of investigating a subject, the challenge of creating a structure that works, and the fun of finding an entry point into a topic that draws young readers in is irresistible.
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
My writer friends might not know that I lived for three years in Sweden. I’m married to a Swedish journalist. While living in Stockholm, I had a job as an interview researcher for Stina Dabrowski, who is the Barbara Walters of Sweden. I absolutely LOVED doing this job and, looking back, I realize it was the beginning of my love of stories about real people doing interesting things in the world.
That is so cool! What a fun job. Where did the idea for Mimic Makers come from?
It’s a long story, but I started researching biomimicry case studies to share with my first grade students. Those stories became a jumping off point into deeper explorations of nature and served as the inspiration for creating our own bio-inspired inventions. It was during the telling of the story of Nakatsu, Eiji from Japan, that one of my students came up with a question that we couldn’t find an answer to during our research. I spent a few weeks searching for ways to contact Dr. Nakatsu, and finally found a way to get my student’s question to him. Not long after that, Dr. Nakatsu came to visit my students thanks to a Japanese Foundation Grant, and the help of Dr. Brad Monsma at Cal State Channel Islands.
I bet that made a real impression on the kids! How many drafts, or revisions, did Mimic Makers? Was it always written in this format?
Wow, so many drafts that I lost count very early on. When I started Mimic Makers, I focused on structures in nature that led to amazing inventions. I got feedback from my brilliant editor, Alyssa Mito Pusey at Charlesbridge, that she was interested in a biomimicry picture book, but I had to find a way to integrate the back matter into the main text of the story. I began to fiddle with that idea, and Mimic Makers was born.
What was the hardest part of writing and/or researching this book?
I wanted to create a nonfiction STEM book that you could sit down and read aloud in the same way you read a fiction picture book aloud. Experimenting with ways to create a structure that flows was tricky. That challenge, coupled with the challenge of communicating the science correctly - the distilled essence not the watered down version, was the hardest part.
I like the structure you settled on - setting the scene with the invention then explaining who and how it was created. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or what was favorite book as a child?
I loved Beverly Cleary, and all her wonderful characters. Her books always made me laugh and helped me feel more comfortable about being an imperfect human. I also loved, thanks to my mom, Jane Goodall, Jacques Cousteau, and David Attenborough. These people were deep thinkers, brave explorers, and took me on adventures to discover the breathtaking natural world.
When you first saw Paul Boston’s illustrations, was there anything that surprised you? What is your favorite spread in the book?
Text © Kristen Nordstrom, 2021. Image ©Paul Boston, 2021.
I thought I would like the illustrations, but I was surprised how much I fell in love with them from the start. There were so many elements of the biomimicry story that Paul was able to brilliantly layer into his illustrations. From technical spot art of a fungus that isn’t visible to the human eye, to a vibrant double page spread of an enormous humpback whale, Paul was able to accurately communicate seamlessly the shifting scale from case study to case study. I also really enjoyed how Paul found a way to show the design process. We see the inventors investigate sharkskin or a Namibian beetle for example, next watch the design process as they draw models and create 3-D computerized designs, then see their final inventions.
Text © Kristen Nordstrom, 2021. Image ©Paul Boston, 2021.
I also appreciated how kid-friendly the illustrations are. They’re bright, colorful, and infused with a sense of play and discovery. Finally, this might be the best part, you’ll find children in almost all of the illustrations. This book was written to help children see themselves as mimic makers in the world, and throughout the entire book you see a child exploring and investigating nature.
I think Paul did a great job weaving children throughout the illustrations. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Mimic Makers?
I hope that children will see themselves as mimic makers and feel supported with the activities in the book and the ones on my website, to start their own Mimic Maker journal, investigations, and inventions.
What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
David Attenborough. He loves our beautiful planet and is using his international visibility and film making capabilities to bring attention to the crisis of global warming.
How are you staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well”?
I’m always reading and researching. It is a blast and gives me so much inspiration.
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Well...I’ve already got More Mimic Makers lined up in my head. This book profiles a young generation of biomimicry inventors from around the world. I’m also fascinated with water.
How do we have access to clean water? I’m interested in the scientists and science behind it all.
That sounds awesome. I can't wait for that one. Is there anything you’ve learned from your critique buddies (critique groups or writing partners) over the years? Or from your writing journey so far?
Enjoy the process, stay the course no matter how many rewrites you have to do because...even though we all have ambitions to be published, remember it is all about inspiring, validating, entertaining, educating, and befriending children through our stories. Your book, no matter how many copies it sells or awards it wins, could be just the book that deeply speaks to a child. That alone, makes it all worthwhile.
A very poignant point to remember. Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?
I’m reading about the Blakiston’s fish owl. This elusive bird has a wingspan of six feet and is rarely spotted in the Russian forests where it lives.
Thank you Kristen for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.
Be sure to come back Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Mimic Makers.
To find out more about Kristen Nordstrom, or get in touch with her: