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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lisa Amstutz

Lisa Amstutz grew up playing with her mother’s old manual typewriter. However, she never thought about being a writer until much later in life. She just read…and read…and read. Finally, deciding it was now or never, she wrote an article for Home Education Magazine and soon started writing for the local newspaper and various other magazines. She then co-wrote her first book, Local Choices, with Karen Geiser.

Lisa has written about 150 books, mostly nonfiction for kids, and has been published in both the trade and educational markets. Some of her books include:

Her most recent nonfiction picture book, Plants Fight Back, releases tomorrow.

For some basic information on Lisa, see our earlier interviews (here) and (here).

Welcome back Lisa!

This is such a fascinating idea and adorable cover - what was your inspiration for Plants Fight Back?

The topic came first in this case – I was playing around with the idea of plant defenses, which I think are amazing, when the opening rhyme popped into my head. So, I went from there!

"Whenever plants find themselves

under attack,

They use their defenses.

That's right . . .

Plants fight back!"

That's so cool! Did the process of creating and publishing Plants Fight Back (besides the whole quarantine aspect) differ from that of Finding a Dove for Gramps or Applesauce Day?

This is my first published rhyming book, so that was a fun new challenge. Dawn Publications was a new-to-me publisher as well, and they were a perfect fit for this nature-inspired topic. My editor at Dawn had a fabulous vision for the book, and I love the way it turned out!

It can be lots of fun to try new things. What was the toughest part of researching Plants Fight Back?

Researching wasn’t too tough – making it rhyme was a little more challenging! 😊

I bet. Having worked with a couple of illustrators, what was your biggest surprise when you first saw Plants Fight Back illustrated?

Because I’m not an illustrator, I hadn’t thought about how tough it might be to illustrate things NOT happening – predators avoiding plants because of their defense mechanisms. But Rebecca Evans was up to the challenge! I love how she managed to convey the plants and animals accurately, yet with enough personality to make them fun.

I agree with you, she did an amazing job. Do you have a favorite illustration in Plants Fight Back?

The manchineel tree is one of my favorites. Rebecca talks in the back matter about how she had actually recently seen one of these deadly trees in Central America shortly before illustrating the book – I think that really brought it to life!

That was a fun tidbit to discover. I'm glad she put that into the back matter. In January, you released Amazing Amphibians. How different was the research, writing, or publication aspects for that book versus Plants Fight Back?

Researching and writing Amazing Amphibians was a lot more intense because, at 30,000 words, it’s a lot longer. But I love research, so that’s the fun part for me. I was also responsible for acquiring the photos for Amazing Amphibians, which was a new challenge. That process was more time-consuming than I expected, but I did enjoy having more creative input into the illustrations than usual.

[Want a little more information on Amazing Amphibians? Check out our STEAMTeam Books interview (here).]

That must have been interesting. What's something you want your readers to know about Plants Fight Back?

It’s presented in a fun way that kids will enjoy, but there’s a lot of educational material packed in too, as well as a teacher’s guide.

Nice. How are you staying creative during this crazy year? Any specific things you are doing to “prime the well”?

Spending time in nature is always rejuvenating to me, so I’ve tried to work in regular times to do that. I’ve been thankful for Zoom, which has allowed me to stay in touch with critique partners. But there have been months where I didn’t feel creative at all. During those times, I did other types of work – editing, marketing, updating my website, etc. This has been a tough year for all of us, for sure. If you find yourself in a creative slump, give yourself some grace!

I like your recipe for getting through this time - nature, Zoom, & grace. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I just finished reviewing proofs for Mammal Mania, which will be released in Spring 2021. It’s in the same series as Amazing Amphibians. Chicago Review Press did a beautiful job of putting it together, as always. I’m excited to see it in print and share it with readers!

It looks awesome. I loved the Amazing Amphibians, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Thank you, Lisa for stopping back by. It was wonderful to chat with you again.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the #PPBF post on Plants Fight Back.

To find out more about Lisa Amstutz, or get in touch with her:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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