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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Laura Roettiger and Review of An Accidental Hero

Laura Roettiger is a reading specialist from Chicago, IL who weaves her passion for STEM learning into stories for children. Her roots in Chicago remain deep but now her home and heart are firmly settled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with her Goldendoodle Charlie.

Author photo of Laura Roettiger.

Since moving to Colorado, Laura focused on writing for children, working in environmental education, and mentoring new teachers at a STEM school. Her teaching superpower of encouraging curiosity in children has transferred to her books.

 

Laura loves lifelong learning! She has worked in a variety of careers and volunteer roles, including banking, writing for a variety of publications, proofreading court documents, serving as a commissioner of the American Youth Soccer Organization, overseeing religious education, writing curriculum for a college test prep company, teaching elementary school in Chicago and the suburbs – all while earning degrees in business and a Master of Arts in Teaching and Reading, PLUS raising three children.

 

Laura combines her enthusiasm for helping others with the knowledge and experience she’s gained along the way.

Book cover - a girl reaching for the moon.

Laura’s the author of Aliana Reaches for the Moon, illustrated by Ariel Boroff (2019).

 

For additional information about Laura, see our earlier interview (here).

 

Her newest picture book, An Accidental Hero: A Mostly True Wombat Story, illustrated by Debbie Palen, releases on February 13th.

 

Welcome back Laura!


Hi Maria, it’s so wonderful to be back. Thank you for having me on your blog. I love reading your posts and try to comment on as many as I can. It’s enlightening to learn about new books and other authors and illustrators as we work on our own writing.

 

Thank you! What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written a manuscript?

 

I do my best ‘writing and revision' when I’m not sitting at my laptop. When I’m out on a trail I’ll get a whole new idea or revision breakthrough and I text it to myself, so I don’t have to remember it. I have a long text thread of cryptic messages that are lines from stories, character descriptions, words that I had been trying to come up with, but only come to me when I step away from the screen.

  

Seems like a very common occurrence for many writers. What was your inspiration or spark of curiosity for An Accidental Hero, A Mostly True Wombat Story?

Book cover - wombat on a stump surrounded by Australian animals.it saves from fires.

In January 2020, one of the biggest international news stories was the devastating bushfires in New South Wales, Australia. Day after day, the news felt overwhelming until I saw a story that showed rescuers found other animal species sheltering in wombat burrows. I knew this was a story that would make an engaging picture book. {It was early 2020, before the global pandemic and resulting shutdowns took front and center on everyone’s minds.} 

 

I remember that story, too. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for An Accidental Hero?

 

Short answer: I wrote the first draft January 21st, 2020 so it took four years from first draft to publication.


Fun fact: I recently opened the first draft to see how much of the original made it into the final book and it was amazingly similar. This is the opposite experience from my first draft of Aliana Reaches for the Moon which didn’t even have the same title when I first wrote it. I think this is because I learned so much about writing in the four years between starting Aliana and An Accidental Hero.

 

That's pretty cool. What was the toughest aspect of writing An Accidental Hero?

 

Once I settled on the structure of a newscast, the writing went quickly. I wanted to write informational fiction that kept the integrity of the real story. I did as much research as I could to make sure the animals found in the burrow were the animals I included in my manuscript. I felt the structure of a newscast worked well for the story I wanted to tell. By creating the news team of three other beloved and recognizable Australian animals, I could keep the accuracy of what animals were found in the burrow while adding another layer of learning about Australia and giving the book some fun touches to share the uniqueness of the country.

 

What an awesome idea for this story format. As an informational fiction, was there anything you learned in your research on wombats or the Australian fires that you couldn’t include in the story?

 

What a great question! I sometimes forget how much research I do for writing fiction. I have gone down the wombat burrow more times than I can count! It’s like going down the rabbit hole, but I’m trying to make this the new saying. Lol. I chose to focus on the hope and optimism surrounding the story of animals found in the wombat burrows rather than the overwhelming tragedy of fire and its aftermath. The book has 4 pages out of 32 devoted to back matter including descriptions of all the animals in the book, some of which were only added for Australian atmosphere by Debbie Palen (the illustrator) so Bilbies and Sugar gliders aren’t even mentioned in the text but they are included in the back matter.

 

Interesting. I like that you and/or the editor included the animals that the illustrator brought to the story. Did anything surprise or delight you when you first saw Debbie Palen’s illustrations? Which is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - 'newsperson' Koala sends viewers to Kangaroo and Wombat in a field interview at the scene of a fire.

Text © Laura Roettiger, 2024. Image © Debbie Palen, 2024.


I was able to see sketches early on and it was exciting to see the facial expression Debbie gave to the main characters even in black and white, they really came alive. It’s hard to choose a favorite but spread three where we transition from Koala in the newsroom to Kangaroo and Wombat is a key moment in the story and the illustrations capture what I had imagined four years ago.


Devastating and funny at the same time. What a great image. Is there something you want your readers to know about An Accidental Hero?

 

This book was inspired by a true event but I hope readers find the characters and messages in the story to be universal and timeless. There’s so much we can all learn from each other, even a nocturnal, burrow-dwelling animal like Wombat.

  

So true! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

I’m working on a contemporary middle grade novel, although it’s borderline historical fiction because it is taking me so long to write. 2024 is the year I am devoting to finishing this manuscript and will then plan how to revise it. I have a partner who is guiding my process and I already feel renewed commitment. I’m always working on picture books, and I have a fairly new one that I’m revising that has me dancing ;)

 

Good luck with your projects. It will be fun to see what you create next. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of Haleakalā National Park on Maui © Laura Roettiger

I was lucky enough to visit Haleakalā National Park on Maui in April 2023 for the legendary 360 view sunrise. We got up at 3:00 am, made the drive up the volcano, and bundled up for the cold temperatures when we arrived. It lived up to the hype. It felt like a spiritual journey and while I was present in the moment, the photographer in me couldn’t help but take a couple hundred photos of the sunrise. It was surreal being above the clouds and felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Note, this was before the devastating fires in August 2023.

  

Wow, such a gorgeous picture. It must have been stunning and awe inspiring. Though I don't envy the 3 am wake-up. 😊 Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing, publishing, or not?

 

Best advice: Offer help when you can and ask for help when you need it.

 

Excellent. Thank you, Laura, for stopping back by and sharing with us. It was a pleasure chatting with you again.

 Thank you, Maria!

 

To find out more about Laura Roettiger, or contact her:


Review of An Accidental Hero:

A Mostly True Wombat Story


During the brutal and devastating bushfires of 2019-2020 in New South Wales, Australia, scientists discovered an unusual and unlikely hero. Animal heroes who saved the lives of many other animals, by letting harbor in their burrows. This ingenious informational fiction gorgeously chronicles this event through the lens of a animal newscasters.

Book cover - wombat on a stump surrounded by Australian animals.it saves from fires.

An Accidental Hero: A Mostly True Wombat Story

Author: Laura Roettiger

Illustrator: Debbie Palen

Publisher: Eifrig Publishers (2024)

Ages: 3-10

Informational Fiction


Themes:

Animal heroes, bushfires, wombats, Australia, friendships, STEM, and hope.


Synopsis:

When Wombat sees the bushfires raging out of control, she learns that helping those in need of sanctuary in a time of crises provides unexpected rewards. This STEM picture book, written as a newscast, was inspired by true events during the fires that spread through New South Wales in 2019/2020.


This story was inspired by rescuers who discovered animals sheltering with wombats in their underground burrows. These animals had lost their own homes and needed to escape the heat and smoke during the 2019-2020 bushfires in New South Wales, Australia.


Scientists warn that as climate change continues to increase, the intensity of devastating natural disasters from fires to floods will impact everyone. Fire season is now 365 days a year.


Opening Line:

Koala: G'day, Australia! In our top story, bushfires continue to destroy our region. Many area residents have lost their homes. Those attempting to flee have nowhere to go.


Emu: That’s right, Koala. Experts report the problem began months ago. Spring usually brings soaking rains restoring our habitat to prepare for summer heat.


What I LOVED about this book:

From the title page, we know the book will be humorous as three mice charge across the page with headphones and a microphone, under a banner suspended by kookaburras. Then talk about an original setting and opening! While some of the younger kids might not have seen TV news, yet. They will adore the voices and the gorgeous image of these two announcers. I love the background behind them and the emu's boomerang necklace and feather pen! I really enjoyed the details and little touches tucked throughout the illustrations.

Internal spread - a koala and an emu, as tv news reporters address the reader, as the audience, about a breaking story.

Text © Laura Roettiger, 2024. Image © Debbie Palen, 2024.


Pulling back to a view of the newsroom reveals a scene of chaos. Mice and a bilby charging about and a screen with a live feed of animals fleeing the ravaging bushfires. Then they cut to the kangaroo reporter in the field (image above, in Laura's interview). And the quintessential question - "Can you hear me?" As the kangaroo reporter interviews wombat about her "previous claim to fame?" and action which made her a community hero, Laura Roettiger and Debbie Palen ingeniously and humorously explore special attributes of wombats.


Debbie's beautiful illustrations are endearing. From the realistic danger of the fires and destroyed landscape to the anthropomorphic and expressive animals. I love that Debbie inserted additional animals (bilby, kookaburra, and a sugar glider) into the illustrations - the sugar glider camera person is so cute - and that most of these were included in the back matter descriptions as well.

Internal spread - upper left, wombat emerging into the fires. Upper right, wombat running back to den. Bottom of both sides kangaroo interviews wombat.

Text © Laura Roettiger, 2024. Image © Debbie Palen, 2024.


Coming out of her den and discovering not only the raging fires, but other animals struggling in the smoke and heat, wombat selflessly encouraged echidnas, skinks, rabbits, and wallabies to shelter from the fires, after all, "What would you do hearing cries for help? Their homes were gone, and they needed shelter from the heat and smoke." I love that this is based on real life. That scientists actually found animals waiting out the bushfires in wombat dens.

Internal spread - kangaroo reporter in wombats den looking at 8 rabbits, 5 wallabies, and 6 skinks

Text © Laura Roettiger, 2024. Image © Debbie Palen, 2024.


This is a wonderful story of caring, friendship, and ultimately hope. With a thread of STEM woven throughout the enagaing text and enhanced by the back matter which contains an image of rejuvenation, information about the special, and in many cases unique, Australian animals, fire facts and prevention tips, and a touching author's note. In addition to being a great introduction to a number of Australian animals, it's a poignant book that posits a soul-searching question - will you "show kindness when given the opportunity"? A tender story, sprinkled humor, which confronts the rapid environmental changes we all face.


Resources:

Photo of a wombat toilet paper craft.
  • make your own wombat. Who would your wombat invite into its den?

  • pair this with Wombat Underground: A Wildfire Survival Story by Sarah L. Thomson, illustrated by Charles Santoso and Wombat Said Come In by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Brian Lies. How are these books different and/or similar?

  • how could you or your family help neighbors or others in a crisis?

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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