The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with March STEAM Team Authors
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to seven authors from STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you forgive the length; I promise it's worth it. I do hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and their fascinating creatives.
"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2023. It includes fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books.”
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? What drew you to STEAM books?...)
Heather Lang – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (Candlewick Press 3/7/2023) – For as long as I can remember I’ve loved books and stories and creating things. When I started writing for children twenty years ago, I was also a full-time mom of 5-year-old triplets and a 7-year-old, so I learned quickly to write anywhere and everywhere.
I’m constantly in awe of nature and its countless gifts and surprises. Nothing sparks my curiosity more, so I especially enjoy researching and writing informational picture books that celebrate our natural world. I also love writing picture book biographies about trailblazing women. Since science topics fascinate me and women pursuing STEM careers have faced incredible challenges, I’m drawn to their stories. The women I write about inspire me every day to push myself, step out of my comfort zone, and persevere. They’ve taught me important life lessons, transformed fear into passion, and helped me grow in so many ways. And my ultimate hope is always to pass that inspiration on to my readers.
[Author of 7 books, including The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest (2021), Anybody's Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball (2018), Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark (2016), Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine (2016), The Original Cowgirl: The Wild Adventures of Lucille Mulhall (2015), Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion (2012). And contributor to Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing (2020).]
Jamie Harper – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (Candlewick Press 3/7/2023) – Once upon a time, I was a pastry chef, and before that I worked in an office crunching numbers. Writing and illustrating children’s books are by far the best jobs I’ve ever had (well, that is, after being a mom). I fell in love with picture books after reading so many to my children. Then I took some classes at MassArt and tried my hand at making one myself. I got my first job illustrating a poem for Click magazine in 2001. Two years later, my first picture book was published. I’ve made a lot more since then.
What’s my process? I have a nifty keyboard that attaches to my tablet, so I can write or draw pretty much anywhere. I love libraries, always have, so often I’ll walk to the library with my iPad and work for hours. And I like sitting in warm, comfy cafés to write and draw. My book ideas are all so different. The one common thread is humor. And each book idea calls for a particular style of illustration. I do like trying new styles, new things. Once I’ve made and collected different kinds of papers in an array of colors and textures, I scan them and then rely on my iPad to create the illustrations.
Working on Supermoms! made me want to learn a lot more about animals. Luckily my Supermoms! partner, Heather, who has made a bunch of picture book biographies, taught me lots about good sources for research and about STEAM books in general.
[Author/Illustrator of 13 books, including Miss Mingo and the 100th Day of School (2020), Bella's Best of All (2016), Miles to the Finish (2014), Miles to Go (2013), Miss Mingo Weathers the Storm (2012), Miss Mingo and the Fire Drill (2009), Splish Splash, Baby Bundt: A Recipe for Bath Time (2007), and the Illustrator of 16 books, including The Little Floofs' Book of Money (2020), the EllRay Jakes Series (9 books), and the Emma Series (6 books).]
Karen Jameson – A Llama in not an Alpaca; And Other Mistaken Animal Identities (Running Press Kids 3/7/2023) – I write lyrical picture books, mostly about nature and animals. My first four were lullabies. Coming up, I have some nonfiction picture books in the queue.
Becoming an author has been the realization of a lifelong dream. As an elementary teacher and mom of three, I fell in love with picture books and was inspired to create one of my own. I dabbled in it here and there, but didn’t seriously start writing until a friend encouraged me to join the SCBWI in 2012. Many writing classes and conferences later, I’m having the time of my life dreaming up books for kids, especially my two little grands!
[Author of 6 books, including Time to Shine: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals (2022), Where the Wee Ones Go: A Bedtime Wish for Endangered Animals (2022), Farm Lullaby (2021), Woodland Dreams (2020), Moon Babies (2019).]
Marie Boyd – Just A Worm (Greenwillow Books 3/14/2023) – Thanks for hosting us, Maria! Just a Worm is my debut picture book, but I’ve been writing since I was a kid. My first-grade teacher gave me a beautiful blank book and I knew then that I wanted to eventually publish a book. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve reading with my family.
I’ve been drawn to science and art for as long as I can remember. As a child I spent countless hours observing insects and other creatures in my parents’ garden, collecting, pressing, and sketching flowers, and studying seed catalogues. I also spent a lot of time making things with my parents and younger brother, including tissue paper flowers and beaded bugs. In college, my concentration was chemistry, but I also took biology, children’s literature, and art history courses, and spent time at Harvard’s natural history museum, where I was particularly drawn to its collection of glass flowers and biological specimens.
Melissa Stewart – Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem (Random House Studio 3/14/2023) – Many writers know what they want to do from a very young age, but I never considered writing as a career option until a college professor suggested it. Up until then, I didn’t even know writing was a job. No one I knew was a writer, and my school didn’t host author visits. I’ll always be very grateful to that professor for seeing a talent in me and letting me know.
I do most of my writing in a spare bedroom in my house. My husband leaves for work at 5:45 a.m., so that’s when I start to write. When I get stuck, I stop to take a shower. Something about the steam and running water frees my mind, and I usually solve the problem. After lunch, I switch my focus to researching, planning school visits, and taking care of business tasks. I stop working at 4:30 p.m., so I can start making dinner.
Rachel Carson once said, “Science gives me something to write about,” and I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy writing at a variety of different levels, from board books to books for adults, but grade 3 is really my sweet spot.
[[Author of more than 200 science-themed nonfiction books, including Tree Hole Homes, illustrated by Amy Hevron (2022), Sibert Medal Honoree Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen (2021). She also co-wrote 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books and edited the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing.]
Leslie Bullion – Galapagos, Islands of Change (Peachtree Publishing 3/21/2023) - I’ve always loved learning about science and exploring nature. I studied biology and then oceanography (I’m always in it for the field work!) and have been writing poetry since the fourth grade. When I had two young readers of my own I began writing: first a picture book, then a few science-infused middle grade novels. After signing up for an inspiring field entomology class called “The Way Bugs Work” I decided to try mixing science with poetry, and that’s the happy place I’ve landed these days. I hope readers will be inspired to grab a field notebook and head outside to enjoy nature adventures of their own.
[Author of 17 books including, Serengeti: Plains of Grass (2022), Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs (2021), Amphibian Acrobats (2020), Superlative Birds (2019), Leaf Litter Critters (2018), Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (2015), At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems (2011), The Trouble with Rules (2008), The Universe of Fair (2012), Uncharted Waters (2006), and Hey There, Stink Bug! (2006).]
Susan Johnston Taylor – Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures (Gnome Road Publishing 3/28/2023)- I’ve always been curious about the world around me. As a kid, I asked my parents a zillion questions, and as an adult, I turned that curiosity towards journalism. I’ve been a freelance writer since 2008, writing for websites and magazines. Most is my journalistic writing is for adults, but I’ve also written for children’s magazines including Highlights for Children and Scout Life. When I started to feel burnt out, I had the wacky idea to try writing picture books.
My late father also heavily influenced my interest in STEM. He was very into hiking, bird-watching, and camping, so he taught me and my brother to appreciate and wonder about the natural world. Whenever I see a monarch butterfly (or a queen butterfly, which looks very similar), it reminds me of Dad. I dedicated the book to him. He’d be giddy with excitement over this book!
[Author of The Dog Who Changed History (2022) and Ride Across Time (2019), with a poem in the 10.10 Poetry Anthology: Celebrating 10 in 10 Different Ways (2021)]
What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
Heather Lang – Most recently I went to Madagascar to research my upcoming middle grade collective biography. When I wasn’t in the rainforest searching for lemurs, I was writing up on the research center balcony, surrounded by wildlife and the sounds of the rainforest. One afternoon as I typed away on my laptop, a troop of lemurs jumped through the treetops right in front of me! Does it get any better than that? [Wow!]
Jamie Harper – On the deck of a swimming pool, waiting for a lane to open-up.
Karen Jameson – I love nothing more than to write on “Pajama Saturdays”- my name for lazy weekend mornings! In bed, in my jammies, with nothing more than a notebook and pencil is my idea of heaven! Well, that and a cup of coffee and it’s just about perfect.
Marie Boyd – I have two young kids and am a law professor, so I do my creative writing when I have time. Often that’s when I’m waiting for my kids, late at night, or in the early mornings when school is out. Sometimes I write on my phone and I’ve written in all sorts of places that involve waiting or standing in line.
Melissa Stewart – Hmm. I don’t really have an answer to this question. I do almost all of my writing at my home office. It’s my special spot.
Leslie Bullion – – When my daughters were teens, I went with them to a local mall and wrote in the food court while they shopped. The steady din all around allowed me to immerse myself in the middle-grade novel I was writing…unless there was a particularly interesting conversation nearby. Writers are eavesdroppers!
Susan Johnston Taylor – Something about air travel and the change of environment helps me get the creative juices flowing. Pre-pandemic, I listened to a podcast on my way to the airport and it sparked an idea for a new picture book manuscript. By the time I landed at my destination, I had a messy first draft of the story!
Okay, now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Heather Lang – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (3/7/2023) – The initial spark for Supermoms! began with a question that kids often ask me: What’s your favorite animal? I’ve had lots of favorite animals over the years, but ever since I went on safari in 2013, my answer has been the same: the elephant! In Tanzania, I had marveled at the elephant mothers and sisters and aunties caring so tenderly and diligently for all the babies in the herd. I began to think about how I could write a book about them. When I came across other examples of incredible, dedicated animal moms, I took note. There were birds, fish, frogs, and a spider! My close friend author/illustrator Jamie Harper was also fascinated by animal parenting, so we decided to team up and develop an informational picture book about supermoms in the animal kingdom.
Jamie Harper – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (3/7/2023) – My friend and co-author, Heather Lang, was working on the idea of making a book about extraordinary mothers in the wild and asked if I wanted to join in. Making children’s books is a joy, but it can also be lonely. We met weekly to work on the book and I enjoyed the comradery and constant back and forth of ideas. I learned many things during the process, the biggest ones being the amount of research that’s involved and the best sources for finding information that’s both interesting and reliable.
Karen Jameson – A Llama in not an Alpaca; And Other Mistaken Animal Identities (3/7/2023) – A Llama Is Not An Alpaca was inspired on a nature walk. An animal suddenly zipped in front of me prompting the question of whether I’d just seen a chipmunk or a squirrel. Further up the trail, I paused to identify a plant and debated over whether it was a weed or a thistle. And so it went. All this reminded me that when I was teaching, my students often approached me with these types of questions. Frog or toad? Alligator or crocodile? Hmmm…Could this be a picture book? YES! Though the squirrel and chipmunk ultimately didn’t make it into the book, there were plenty of animal pairs to choose from in this quick dip into animal look-alikes.
Marie Boyd – Just A Worm (3/14/2023) – When my son was younger, I frequently told him “It’s just a worm” when he saw worms on the sidewalk after the rain. I imagined how a worm might respond if it could understand my words. This led to my debut picture book, JUST A WORM. In the book, after being called “just a worm” by two children, Worm embarks on a journey through the garden to prove them wrong. Along the way, Worm encounters several insects and other creatures, each of which has important qualities. But what can Worm do?
Melissa Stewart – Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem (3/14/2023) – The story behind this book traces back to 2019. While writing Ick! Delightfully, Disgusting Animals Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses, I stumbled upon an article about zombie worms, aka bone-eating snot flower worms.
Of course, I included them in that book. First of all, what a fabulous name! But also—believe it or not—dozens of teeny tiny male zombie worms live inside each female. Wow!
Each section in Ick! was limited to about 400 words. But there was SO much more to say about these curious critters. I tacked the article to my Idea Board as a reminder that I wanted to learn more about them.
Sometimes notes and articles stay on my Idea Board for a long time, collecting dust. But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, all my school visits were canceled and I had plenty of time for research.
As I began reading more about zombie worms, my mind was blown. I was completely captivated by the incredible collection of critters that live in, on, and around a whale fall. I knew I had to write a book about them.
Leslie Bullion – Galapagos, Islands of Change (3/21/2023) – The only class my husband and I took together in college was The History of Science. Exploring the spark place for Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was a lifelong dream. We did our research and made it happen in 2018: a SCUBA trip (we are both experienced divers) and a naturalist cruise with a certified Galápagos Islands National Park guide. I loved using a “whole ecosystem approach” in Serengeti: Plains of Grass and hoped the format fabulous illustrator Becca Stadtlander and I used for that book would also work well for our Galápagos project.
I took this photo of Darwin’s Arch, a landmark near Darwin Island, Galápagos. The arch collapsed in 2021 and was renamed “The Pillars of Evolution.”
Susan Johnston Taylor – Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures (3/28/2023) - In early 2020, I read about these squirrels in India that have really colorful fur, unlike the more neutral-colored squirrel fur we see in North America. I started thinking about a concept book exploring animals in unexpected colors, and I decided to try it as a poetry collection.
I love all the ways that family, the discovery of a fact, or an event sparked these books. Having all written books about nature, what do you like to do outdoors by yourself or with your family and friends?
Heather Lang – Whether on the beach, in a forest, in the mountains, or in my own yard, I love to explore and observe nature. I also love to garden and recently have been working hard on adding plants that attract monarch butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Habitat loss, pollution and pesticides have caused an alarming decline in these populations. It’s been a joy to watch the monarchs stop by my garden for some nectar during their fall migration to Mexico.
Jamie Harper – I take Louie, my dog, to places where we can walk without a leash. I love swimming on a bright, sunny day, knitting and/or reading under a big umbrella. Hiking with a bunch of friends is fun, and Pickleball is a blast.
Karen Jameson – I’ll take a day trip to the beach anytime of the year! Strolling along the sand and taking in the sea air is my idea of relaxation. Just magical!
Melissa Stewart – For me, nothing beats spending time in the natural world—walking, hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing. It’s beauty and wonder always rejuvenates me.
Leslie Bullion – Being out in nature—birding, looking for insects, spiders, and other critters, taking photographs, keeping a field journal—that’s my happy place! I love exploring on my own, with a buddy, or in a learning group with a knowledgeable scientist/educator.
Susan Johnston Taylor – I’m a member at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center here in Austin, Texas. A friend and I are both members, so we like to meet up there and chat as we walk the trails. It’s a great way to get some vitamin D, move our bodies, and catch up on each other’s lives.
It really is recharging to spend any amount of time in nature. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?
Text © Heather Lang & Jamie Harper, 2023. Image © Jamie Harper, 2023.
Heather Lang – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (3/7/2023) – Jamie and I knew we wanted to create a fascinating and funny book celebrating animal moms, but when we began, we didn’t have a clear vision of how best to do that. It took a lot of brainstorming and experimenting. We pushed each other and stayed open-minded until we knew we had found the perfect balance between a simple nonfiction text and humorous illustrations with funny baby animal callouts. We found this format also provided an opportunity for kids to relate to the baby animals and connect to some of the super qualities of their own mothers or caretakers. Collaborating on a book is hard work, but so rewarding, and we had many laughs along the way.
Text © Heather Lang & Jamie Harper, 2023. Image © Jamie Harper, 2023.
Jamie Harper – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (3/7/2023) – Research involves so much more than searching the web. My Miss Mingo books included factoids, so there was research involved in those books, but not to the level required for Supermoms!. I became familiar with more valuable tools. Visiting well-known nature sites like National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, and Scientific America provided a good start. I was surprised that looking up an animal on social media could result in very current and surprising information. Everyone in my family enjoyed “movie night,” where we watched Nature episodes on PBS or wildlife movies on different streaming services. But what I enjoyed most in this research journey was identifying a scientist studying a particular species, introducing the area of research and myself, and engaging in conversations with them. These scientists offered the most interesting and valuable data.
Text © Karen Jameson, 2023. Image © Lorna Scobie, 2023.
Karen Jameson – A Llama in not an Alpaca; And Other Mistaken Animal Identities (3/7/2023) – It was a lot of FUN learning about these animals, and above all I wanted to bring that fun to the text! That’s how it turned into a rhyming quiz (or game) of sorts, with puns, quips and riddles. And how wonderful that the illustrator, Lorna Scobie, brought her own sense of playfulness to the page! She captured that mood so beautifully!
Text & Image © Marie Boyd, 2023.
Marie Boyd – Just A Worm (3/14/2023) – I illustrated JUST A WORM with quilled paper. I cut, coiled, and curled narrow strips of paper and used them to l construct colorful illustrations. The garden in Just a Worm was inspired by plants I’ve seen on walks, plants from my and my parent’s garden, and flowers from local flower farms.
Text © Melissa Stewart, 2023. Image © Rob Dunlevay, 2023.
Melissa Stewart – Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem (3/14/2023) – One of the most exciting things about this book is that the art includes microscopic images that have never been seen before—not in a children’s book or an adult book or even a scientific paper. Illustrator Rob Dunlavey did a spectacular job!
Text © Leslie Bullion, 2023. Image © Becca Stadtlander, 2023.
Leslie Bullion – Galapagos, Islands of Change (3/21/2023) – Serengeti: Plains of Grass is a reverential look at a remarkable ecosystem. I wrote Galápagos: Islands of Change with awe and a splash of humor because our encounters with animals were so much more “up close and personal” since critters on the islands have little experience with humans as direct threats.
Text © Susan Johnston Taylor, 2023. Image © Annie Bakst, 2023.
Susan Johnston Taylor – Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures (3/28/2023) - Although I don’t use the term biodiversity (meaning a variety of plants and animals) in my book; the concept is woven throughout. My book celebrates animals in all different shades, because they make our world more vibrant and sustainable.
I love these little peeks into the books and your connections with them. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your book? Was there a bit of your research you didn’t get to include?
Heather Lang – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (3/7/2023) – There are so many amazing animal moms, it was difficult deciding which ones to leave out. We decided to divide the text up into categories by highlighting five different parenting behaviors (making homes, feeding, transportation, protection, teaching), so that helped us make some decisions. We also had to make sure we had a diversity of animals and animal behaviors. And of course, Jamie’s vision for the art impacted our choices.
Jamie Harper – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (3/7/2023) – It just so happens that there are so many amazing animal moms. How do you choose just 18? In the beginning we had something like 45 moms that we wanted to include, but the page count requirements dictated that we had to start cutting. That was hard.
Karen Jameson – A Llama in not an Alpaca; And Other Mistaken Animal Identities (3/7/2023) – Choosing which animals to feature was a challenge, as there were enough on my original list to fill two or three books! Nice problem to have, right? Ha! Maybe this book will prompt a sequel? We’ll see…
Marie Boyd – Just A Worm (3/14/2023) – There are a couple of pages in JUST A WORM where I wanted it to look like the edge of the page was being rolled back. It took me many tries to get those right. Quilling a spider web was also challenging.
Melissa Stewart – Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem (3/14/2023) – This is a book that only could have been written during the pandemic. Because there’s so little information about whale falls available, it was critical to have the help of scientists studying them. In normal times, the scientists spend their spring and summer aboard research vessels in the ocean and are hard to reach. But the covid lockdown meant that researchers were stuck at home with lots of free time on their hands. They were more than happy to spend time talking to me about whale falls, helping me understand how all the creatures living there interact with one another.
Leslie Bullion – Galapagos, Islands of Change (3/21/2023) - The organization of this book was VERY challenging! There is a seasonal progression, a food web progression, and a land/sea framework. GAH!! Not to mention my difficulty choosing which animal and plant species to include and which of my favorites wouldn’t make the cut…
Susan Johnston Taylor – Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures (3/28/2023) - I nerd out for quirky animal facts, so sometimes it was hard to narrow things down. In fact, I wrote more poems than fit into the final book, because I needed to experiment and figure out which poetic forms worked for which animals, which poems could deliver maximum surprise, and so on. Even though the Malabar squirrels inspired this project and I wrote a poem about them, that poem didn’t make it into the final manuscript. I ultimately decided that some of the other poems were stronger.
Maybe the 'extras' will end up in another book or were just a really fun rabbit holes to dive down for a bit. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Heather Lang – Jamie and I are busy working on books two and three of this Animal Heroes series. Superdads! will hit the shelves in 2024 in time for Father’s Day. I’m also finishing revisions for a middle grade collective biography called, For the Love of Animals: How Twelve Conservationists Turned Passion into Action, coming out with Calkins Creek in 2025.
Jamie Harper – More SUPER books and a whole lot of good ideas I’d like to turn into books.
Karen Jameson – I recently got to weigh in on the (almost) final galleys of Wake Up, Woodlands, the companion book to Woodland Dreams! Working with the incredible team at Chronicle Kids and illustrator Marc Boutavant, has brought me so much joy. Look for this ode to springtime in the woods, coming in 2024!
Marie Boyd – I don’t have any other projects that I can share right now, but I will note that my contract with Greenwillow is for two books, and I have several dummies I’m hoping to send out this year. So, stay tuned for more!
Melissa Stewart – Yes, I’m very excited to have another book coming out later this year. Thank You, Moon will be illustrated by the uber-talented Jessica Lanan. I can’t wait for everyone to see her luminous art, showing the moon in all its glory.
Leslie Bullion – I’m working on a new science poetry project that seemed simple at the outset and is turning into something quite complex and challenging—in other words—typical!! I hope readers will stay tuned!
Susan Johnston Taylor – No news yet, but I’m really excited about several projects I’m submitting to editors and hope to be able to share with kids someday. Curiosity and kindness are the common threads running through all kidlit projects.
Melissa, that cover looks amazing. We will definitely have to keep our eyes open for these books. What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?
Heather Lang – I would be lost without my support system of writing friends. I’m so grateful for their guidance, wisdom, and encouragement. I know I’m very lucky to be part of such a special community.
Jamie Harper – Company of a dog(s), a library nearby where I can work and borrow and return books with ease, people who can critique my work, Apple products (Macbook, iPad, iPhone), and a whole lot of art supplies.
Karen Jameson – I love my little writing room, where I can close the door and escape into dreams. Great books and dark chocolate are necessary, too!!!
Marie Boyd – Coffee and herbal tea! There is something comforting about the ritual of drinking coffee in the morning and tea at night.
Melissa Stewart – Chocolate. [And monkeys! Sorry, I couldn't resist.]
Leslie Bullion – I think the answer to both prongs of that question is the same: a hands-on experience or adventure that sparks my curiosity and/or deepens my understanding of a book topic.
Susan Johnston Taylor – My critique partners! They’ve given me so many valuable ideas for revision (even when I’m sending a draft for the zillionth time) and also picked me up when I’ve felt discouraged.
Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
Heather Lang – When I first considered making writing a career, Jamie suggested I join a critique group. She connected me with a friend of hers, and I’m still a member of the Concord Critique Group, as well as another group. I’m forever grateful to Jamie for helping me get started, which is another reason this collaboration is so meaningful.
Jamie Harper – 1. Just get your story down on paper. Don’t fuss about anything else, just write it. Editing can come after.
2. Write what interests you and what you love. Do not just write what you think is popular or what you think a particular buyer might like.
3. Read, read, read, read, read children’s books. And then read some more.
Karen Jameson – Write about whatever makes your heart sing! If you write with joy and passion, it will shine through in your books.
Marie Boyd – The best writing advice I’ve received is the only thing you must do to be a writer is to write.
Melissa Stewart – Here’s the advice I keep on giving myself and other writers I know: “Enjoy the journey and celebrate successes—even the small ones! “So many things about book publishing are out of our control, and there are lots of challenges and disappointments along the way. That’s why it’s important to make a big deal out of every single bit of progress, from a ‘good’ rejection to a starred review.”
Leslie Bullion – Now write the next one!
Susan Johnston Taylor – The best advice I’ve gotten is to read your work aloud! It may feel a little silly, but especially for poetry, the sounds and rhythms of words are so important. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so it’s important for the author to consider that read-aloud experience as they’re writing and revising.
Thank you all so much!
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Supermoms! Animal Heroes by Heather Lang & Jamie Harper, illustrated by Jamie Harper (Candlewick Press 3/7/2023) - This informational fiction picture book humorously explores how 18 animal mothers make homes, carry, teach and protect their babies. Speech bubbles and comic-like formatting make it fun to learn about these "super" moms.
Synopsis: In comics-style panels full of facts and humor, this lively picture book investigates the amazing lengths animal mothers go to in caring for their young.
An emperor penguin mom treks up to fifty miles to bring food to her hungry chick. A toothy American alligator carefully carries hatchlings in her mouth, shuttling them safely to the water. A piping plover uses her best acting skills to feign an injury, luring predators away from her offspring. Whether building elaborate burrows, forgoing food for months on end to feed their cubs, toting hundreds of spiderlings on their backs, conducting patient swimming lessons, or fearlessly kicking away hyenas, mothers in the animal kingdom—whatever their species—give it their all (and then some!) to keep their little ones safe, fed, and ready to face the world on their own. This first book in a young series on animal science includes in its back matter a look at the “super” qualities of some of the animals and offers a collection of resources for budding naturalists.
A Llama in not an Alpaca; And Other Mistaken Animal Identities by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Lorna Scobie (Running Press Kids 3/7/2023) – Opening with a challenge, this book invites the reader to puzzle out the rhyming stanzas and guess which look-alike is right. Combining bright comical illustrations with puns and additional snippets of information on each species, this is an entertaining nonfiction picture book for curious kids.
Synopsis: Combining scientific facts with the art of poetry, this is a humorous and educational picture book about animals that look alike.
How do you tell a llama from an alpaca, an alligator from a crocodile, or a dolphin from a porpoise? The animal kingdom is full of creatures that look so similar to others that they are often confused for each other. A Llama Is Not an Alpaca pairs rhyming animal riddles with factual responses to both teach and engage young readers as they compare and contrast features of commonly misidentified animals. How many will you get right?!
Just A Worm by Marie Boyd (Greenwillow Books 3/14/2023) – Marveling at all the fascinating things that other insects, spiders, and snails can do, Worm dejectedly crawls through the garden, until it discovers its own super powers. Really fun, intricate quilled paper illustrations, a butterfly quilling activity, and a few cool worm facts round out this informational fiction picture book.
Synopsis: After being called “just a worm” by two children, Worm embarks on a journey around the garden to prove them wrong. Debut author-illustrator Marie Boyd seamlessly incorporates concepts of nature, natural selection, habitats, and interdependence in this picture book beautifully illustrated with a cut-paper technique called quilling.
Worm isn’t “just a worm,” no matter what anyone says. Worm is special! Right? Worm sets out across the garden to prove it, interviewing one garden inhabitant after another. Butterfly seems to have all kinds of important qualities—as do Snail, Dragonfly, Ladybug, and Spider. But what can Worm do? What makes Worm special? Maybe Worm is just a worm after all . . . and what’s so bad about that!
This STEAM-themed picture book explores the many wonderful and unique ways in which Worm and friends contribute to the garden and work together to make it grow. Just a Worm celebrates everyone’s individuality and highlights the importance of interdependence—how it’s necessary for a stable, collaborative, and healthy environment. Using the ancient craft of quilling, Marie Boyd meticulously created each illustration out of strips of colored paper that she shaped, layered, and glued to produce a lush three-dimensional world.
Just a Worm is a great read-aloud for family sharing and is a terrific choice for classrooms where the concepts of nature and the natural world are introduced, as well as for teaching social skills such as collaboration and empathy.
Includes a quilling craft for young readers, facts about earthworms, a glossary, and a special message to readers from Worm.
Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Rob Dunlevay(Random House Studio 3/14/2023) - Explore an entire ecosystem 5,000 feet down on the ocean floor. Discover how a whale carcass can feed the ocean for the next 50 years. This stunningly illustrated nonfiction examines the many unusual species - like the “snubnose eelpouts,” “sea pigs,” “blob sculpin” - who benefit from a whale fall. Curious readers will enjoy the additional information on these animals in the back matter.
Synopsis: This fascinating nonfiction picture book filled with stunning illustrations details the end of life for a whale, also known as a whale fall, when its body sinks to the ocean floor and becomes an energy-rich food source for organisms living in the deep sea.
When a whale dies, its massive body silently sinks down, down, through the inky darkness, finally coming to rest on the silty seafloor. For the whale, it's the end of a 70-year-long life. But for a little-known community of deep-sea dwellers, it's a new beginning. First come the hungry hagfish, which can smell the whale from miles around. Then the sleeper sharks begin their prowl, feasting on skin and blubber. After about six months, the meat is gone. Year after year, decade after decade, the whale nourishes all kinds of organisms from zombie worms to squat lobsters to deep-sea microbes.
This completely fascinating real-life phenomenon is brought to vivid and poetic life by nonfiction master Melissa Stewart and acclaimed illustrator Rob Dunlavey.
Galapagos, Islands of Change by Leslie Bullion, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (Peachtree Publishing 3/21/2023) – Beautiful illustrations complement a variety of poetic forms and scientific sidebar notes as this book follows the islands' seasons throughout a year. This wonderful nonfiction explores the interconnected plant and wildlife - from the phytoplankton to the great whale shark - on and around the Galapagos Islands. A welcome poetry note explains each poetic form, and the glossary, map, species list, further reading, and call to action entice readers to learn more and think about their daily actions..
Synopsis: A poetic introduction to a distinctive island ecosystem that is home to many species found nowhere else on Earth.
Using the same poetry/science note format as Serengeti, Galápagos tells the complex story of a young volcanic ecosystem influenced by seasonal ocean currents, where food energy moves through integrated land and sea communities, each in its own season of growth and renewal.
Millions of years ago, undersea volcanos in the eastern Pacific Ocean erupted, spewing up lava, rocks, and ash that eventually formed a cluster of islands: the archipelago known as the Galápagos Islands. Over time, castaway plants and animals from hundreds of miles away arrived on the rocky shores and adapted to each island’s changing volcanic landscape and seasonal weather variations.
In these isolated locations constantly affected by shifting winds and swift ocean currents, much of the wildlife evolved into species found nowhere else on Earth. Some of the many distinctive organisms featured include giant daisy trees, Galápagos penguins, marine iguanas, blue footed boobies, and Galápagos giant tortoises.
The well-researched back matter includes poetry notes, a glossary, resources, and a list of the species from this remarkable ecosystem that are highlighted in the book.
Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures by Susan Johnston Taylor, illustrated by Annie Bakst (Gnome Road Publishing 3/28/2023) - Starting with a direct address of the reader, this nonfiction picture book combines poetry and scientific sidebars in an examination of twelve unusual, colorful creatures. Each entry is accompanied by a description of the poem and a scientific sidebar. And a challenge to the reader to identify the final four poems. Humor, and dash of curiosity at the diversity in nature, permeates the poems and the illustrations.
Synopsis: For young poets who love science and young scientists who love poetry, this thoughtful collection of poems about fascinating and colorful creatures found throughout the world invites readers to linger and wonder on every page. Learn why the Blue-footed Booby puts on a special dance or how the Picasso Bug uses its masterful chemical defense against predators. Explore simple and fun poetic forms like the tanka, haiku, and quatrain. Just be sure to take good notes! An interactive component rewards practicing poets seeking to challenge themselves further.
With gorgeous illustrations and a rainbow of colors to complement the lyrical and engaging text, this book will fit nicely on the shelves of any classroom or library where kids are interested in science, writing or the arts.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all enormous success.
To learn more about these writers, or to contact them:
Heather Lang – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (Candlewick Press 3/7/2023) -
Jamie Harper – Supermoms! Animal Heroes (Candlewick Press 3/7/2023) -
Karen Jameson – A Llama in not an Alpaca; And Other Mistaken Animal Identities (Running Press Kids 3/7/2023) –
Marie Boyd – Just A Worm (Greenwillow Books 3/14/2023) –
Melissa Stewart – Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem (Random House Studio 3/14/2023) –
Leslie Bullion – Galapagos, Islands of Change (Peachtree Publishing 3/21/2023) –
Susan Johnston Taylor – Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems about Earth’s Colorful Creatures (Gnome Road Publishing 3/28/2023)-