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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lydia Lukidis and Review of Dancing Through Space

Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children.

Author photo of Lydia Lukidis.

A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books.

Collage of Lydia Lukidis' three book covers.

She's the author of Deep, Deep, Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023) which was shortlisted for a Silver Birch Express (Forest of Reading) award, The Broken Bees’ Nest (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award, and No Bears Allowed (Clear Fork Media, 2019).

 

Her newest picture book, Dancing through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights, was released on April 4th.

 

Welcome back Lydia, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books and writing.

 

Thanks for having me!

 

What helps you to be inspired? (perhaps a certain place, music, activity, etc.)?

 

Everything inspires me! Seriously, I’m constantly in awe of life and I keep a log of my ideas. In fact, I get too many ideas. My job is to analyze the market and understand which ideas can be developed into a strong book. Most don’t make the cut.

 

It's probably a good problem to have too many ideas. What was your spark of curiosity or inspiration for Dancing through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights


Book cover - Woman looking out a portal of the ISS at the earth.

Alli Brydon, who used to be an agent at Bright Agency, placed a call for a book about Mae Jemison 10 years ago. When I saw the tweet, something spoke to me. I knew a bit about Dr. Mae Jemison but as I dove into my research, I marveled at how persistent and courageous she is. I was sold.

 

That's a cool way to find an idea. How did the writing and journey to publication of Dancing through Space compare to your other picture books, particularly Deep, Deep, Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench?

 

Writing Dancing Through Space was a completely different experience. It took 10 years and 42 revisions, and I didn’t craft the actual hook until I was years into the writing. I was very much a kidlit newbie when I started out and it took a while to find the right structure (dual narrative). With Deep, Deep Down, things flowed much better, though it was still tons of work and research, with 55 drafts.

 

What I’ve learned along my journey is that each book is different. Things flow better for some books and I’m not sure why, I just go with it and trust my gut.

 

Interesting. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Dancing through Space?

 

I pumped out the first draft in a few months. In retrospect, it wasn’t strong enough and was missing a hook. I managed to snag 2 agents and various editors but still, I couldn’t sell the book. Once I found my hook, the writing finally began to flow better. I did almost give up on a few occasions. But my third (and dream) agent Miranda Paul said she would eventually find a home for it, and she was right!

 

Good thing you didn't give up on it. What was the hardest part of writing Dancing through Space? What was the most fun?

 

The hardest part was distilling all my research down to a compelling hook. Also, I didn’t get to interview Dr. Jemison, though I repeatedly tried to get in touch with her, and tried to find other people to interview. Luckily, I had read her autobiography and got many details I was missing there. I also listened to tons of interviews and was able to fill in the gaps.

 

The fun part was writing my first dual narrative. I have always loved this structure and was very inspired by the book The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall by Hannah Holt. Trying out a new structure was exciting!


I love Hannah's book and that dual structure is really interesting. When you first saw Sawyer Cloud’s illustrations, did anything surprise or amaze you? What is your favorite spread?

I knew Sawyer from before and already liked her work, so I felt blessed to be paired with her. When I first saw the cover, I loved it. There was a surreal, magical element to it though it was realistic. I appreciated that.

Internal spread - on left dad & daughter sitting and watching the night sky. On the right the girl dancing as a bird flies by.

Text © Lydia Lukidis, 2024. Image © Sawyer Cloud, 2024.


My favorite spread is when a young Mae looks up at the night sky with her father. It captures such a precious moment, showing how our dreams take root in childhood. Many of those dreams grow and turn into reality. Our parents, friends, family, and environment have a huge impact on who we are and how we see the world.

 

I really love this moment in the book, too. What's something you want your readers to know about Dancing through Space?

 

I would like to remind readers that they are complex beings and don’t have to follow just one path in life. They can follow multiple passions and in fact, this enriches their experience.


I also would like to remind them to DREAM BIG. Dr. Mae Jemison reminds us of that.

 

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

 

I’m excited to announce Up, Up High, a companion book to Deep, Deep Down published by Capstone. It ventures up high into the Earth’s atmosphere to uncover its secrets. Though it may seem like there’s nothing up there, readers will be surprised at what you can actually find. That book spins into our universe in 2025.

 

On a separate note, people may be surprised to hear that I also on occasion write funny fiction! I just landed a contract for a 2 book early graphic novel deal, Groucho The Grouchy Groundhog, coming soon as well.

 

Congrats on these books. We'll have to keep our eyes open for them. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why? 

Photo of the angel statute in Mount Royal Park, Montreal. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

My favorite park is the one I grew up in, Mount Royal Park in Montreal. I have many fond memories there. It’s a beautiful mountain and I took many hikes up and down its winding paths. I also love the angel statue in the middle.

 

Thank you, Lydia, for stopping by to share about yourself and your newest picture book. It was wonderful to chat with you.

 

Thank you!

 

To find out more about Lydia Lukidis, or contact her:

Website & order links: http://www.lydialukidis.com/


Review of Dancing through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights


It's so fun to discover nonfiction books with unusual formatting. This beautifully illustrated picture book sets up the dichotomy and fusion of two passions of a young girl, science and dance, which weave throughout her life and ultimately help her achieve her goal of becoming an astronaut.


Book cover - Woman looking out a portal of the ISS at the earth.

Dancing through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights

Author: Lydia Lukidis

Illustrator: Sawyer Cloud

Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company (2024)

Ages: 4-8

Nonfiction


Themes:

Science, dance, astronauts, and biography.


Synopsis:

The true story of Dr. Mae Jemison, whose lifelong passions of science and dance prepared her to become a trailblazing astronaut.


Today, Dr. Mae Jemison is famous for being the first Black woman to travel into outer space. But when she was growing up, she felt torn between two passions: science and dance. It seemed like an impossible choice. There had to be some way to make room for both—and Mae found one. As an adult, she combined her gifts of scientific logic and artistic creativity and became an astronaut.


Opening Lines:

Mae's curiosity was as wide as the sky.

She spent her days questioning,

exploring,

learning.


She absolutely loved . . .

SCIENCE!


Mae could not sit still.

She spent her days jumping,

flipping,

rolling.


She absolutely loved . . .

DANCE!


What I LOVED about this book:

This is such a fun way to showcase the "two sides" of Mae Jamison and simultaneously set up Lydia Lukidis' dual narrative for this fascinating biography. And Sawyer Cloud's cheerful illustrations capture a young girl who equally loved science (especially astronomy) and dance.

Internal spread - on left, young girl examining ants with a magnifying glass. On the right young girl dancing.

Text © Lydia Lukidis, 2024. Image © Sawyer Cloud, 2024.


Highlighting milestones throughout Mae's life, the mirroring text follows Mae through her struggles (discrimination, sexism. and wearing her parents down for dance lessons), acquisition of courage and a "strong and sharp" mind (from science) and determination and a "strong and muscular" body (from dance), and years of hard physical and mental work.

Internal spread - woman thinking about science and dance.

Text © Lydia Lukidis, 2024. Image © Sawyer Cloud, 2024.


After graduating from college, Mae wondered what to do next.

Medicine was exciting!

It was yet another branch of science she was curious about. She

wanted to learn more about the human body and how to cure disease.


Dance was energizing!

It was part of Mae's soul and her body longed to express itself.

She felt pulled in two different directions, so she decided . . .


Ultimately, Mae had to make a focus choice and her mother's wisdom that "You can always dance if you're a doctor, but you can't doctor if you're a dancer" led her to study and train to be a doctor. But she never gave up dancing, as it was such an important part of herself. A source of confidence and strength. When she was finally accepted to NASA's astronaut program, Mae discovered that both her scientific and artistic training came in very handy. The ending does a great job of wrapping back to the wording and heart of the opening spreads and Mae's dual love of science and art.


The back matter explores the interconnectivity of science and art and offers an interesting timeline for Mae Jamison, which highlights who inspired her. It is a fun format for a nonfiction biography. This inspiring and encouraging biography of the first Black woman in space, explores the work necessary to fully follow one's dreams and validates pursuit of multiple passions.


Resources:

Photo of a cardboard ISS.
  • make your own space station using recycled materials. What special spaces or modules would you create in your space station? This YouTube series takes you inside the International Space Station (ISS).

  • create your own dance about space. Think about all the different things you could include, such as rockets, rovers, aliens, shooting stars, planet orbits, satellites, gravity, and space walks.

  • what do you enjoy doing? Do some of your interests seem to conflict? Brainstorm ways where they might ultimately work together.


Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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