The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with May STEAM Team Authors
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to four authors from STEAM Team Books – a group of authors and illustrators who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. 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?...)
Laurie Wallmark – Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer (Creston 5/2/2023) – I usually write on my computer or scribble on Post-it notes when I’m lying in bed and can’t get to sleep. I started writing about 20 years ago (I’m a late bloomer). Picture books are by far my favorite category of books to write, although I’m presently working on a biography in verse for older children. I write books about scientists and mathematicians because I love science and math. Maybe my books will excite children about these fields. And if they learn a little bit about STEAM, all the better.
[Author of 7 books including, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (21), Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (2020), Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor (2019), Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017), and Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine (2015).]
Megan Clendenan – Cities: How Humans Live Together (Orca Books 5/16/2023) – I’ve always written stories and poems, and when my son was a newborn, I decided I would challenge myself and try writing a novel. I wrote the early drafts of my first book, a middle-grade novel, during his naptimes, scribbling away on paper as fast as I could. For many years, I worked full time as a writer for non-profit groups focusing on social and environmental justice, and now I take that knowledge and interest and write middle-grade non-fiction books. But I love variety and find I’m more productive when I have different types of work in a day, so I’m also working on some fiction projects and as well as a non-fiction picture book.
[Author of 4 books, including Fresh Air, Clean Water: Our Right to a Healthy Environment (2022), Design Like Nature: Biomimicry for a Healthy Planet (2021), and Offbeat (2018.]
Catherine Payne – Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science) (Science, Naturally 5/2023) –Writing has been a part of my life since I could hold a pencil. When I was a journalist, I focused on news writing. Fortunately, I tried children’s book writing on a whim a decade ago. Now, I can’t let it go because it brings me a lot of joy. I like brainstorming and writing picture books, my favorite genre, while I use my exercise bike. I recently started to write STEAM books, and I’m in awe of modern science books for children. In addition to being informative, they are innovative in storytelling.
[Author of 5 books including, Ten Little Surfers in Hawai’i (2018), Chepchop Unai (2018), These Little Kittens in Hawai’i (2021), and I Lalai i Bilembaotuyan (2022).]
Abi Cushman – Wombats are Pretty Weird: A [Not So] Serious Guide (Greenwillow/Harper Collins 5/23/2023) – I started writing and illustrating my own stories in earnest in 2015 after I had my first baby. Being surrounded by picture books reminded me that I loved them as a kid, and I still do. Usually the stories I write are humorous, though not always on purpose. Sometimes when I set out to write something more serious, the story seems to end up with jokes anyway. Although Wombats Are Pretty Weird is my first foray into writing informational STEAM books, I have always loved reading STEAM books, and they inspired me at a young age to take an interest in animals and conservation. I hope my STEAM books do the same for kids today.
[Author/Illustrator of 3 books, including Animals Go Vroom! (2021) and Soaked! (2020).]
What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
Laurie Wallmark – I’m afraid I’m rather boring when it comes to where I like to write. I usually write at my computer in my office. Occasionally I’ll take my laptop to my “satellite office,” aka a comfy chair in the living room. When it comes time to revise (as it does quite often, obviously), I print out my manuscript and work on it wherever I happen to be, whether it’s on my deck or in a hotel room or even on a plane.
Megan Clendenan – I will write pretty much anywhere! Though I enjoy sitting at my desk at home, where I have a view of the forest, I spend equal amounts of time writing in my car when I’m waiting for my son at his sports and activities, in dentist waiting rooms, on ferries when we travel – as long as I’ve got at least 20 minutes I try to use the time to write or edit. In the summer, I bring my computer or my journal on vacation and work on my fiction projects early in the morning while I drink my first coffee of the day.
Catherine Payne – I write manuscripts on my exercise bike. I lose track of time and calories!
Abi Cushman – I’d say the most fun place I’ve written a story is at the beach. When I was writing my debut picture book, Soaked!, I brought my sketchpad to the beach and doodled little scenes of a drenched bear being joyous and splashing in the rain. I based the ending of the book on these doodles. For me, writing a picture book story also involves drawing since I do both the words and the pictures together when drafting, and then piece everything together in the end. So doodling is an integral part of my writing process.
Thank you for sharing a bit about yourselves. Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you or sparked your curiosity to write your books?
Laurie Wallmark – Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer (5/2/2023) – I like writing about women in STEM, because their contributions have so often been overlooked or claimed by others. I want to shine a light on the accomplishments of these unsung heroes. To do this, I keep an ongoing list of women whose stories I think would be of interest to children. When it comes time to start a new biography, I narrow down this list. I’ve always been fascinated by astronomy, so writing about Maria Mitchell gave me the opportunity to read more about the field.
Megan Clendenan – Cities: How Humans Live Together (5/16/2023) – At university, one of the subjects I studied was environmental urban planning, but I ended up on a different professional path, one that allowed me to focus on research and writing. But I’ve remained curious and interested in cities and urban planning. By 2050, an estimated 70% of people will live in cities, so the more sustainable cities can become, the better for our planet, our health and our quality of life. With this in mind, I wanted to write a book that would bring readers to cities around the world, to show different ways cities have been built through time, and what might work for our future.
Catherine Payne – Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science) (5/2023) – I enjoy all kinds of holidays because they make life interesting. When I stumbled upon YouTube videos about Mole Day, I was intrigued. As an English instructor, I was interested in the variety of mole homonyms. I knew that I had to write about the fun that Mole Day brings.
Abi Cushman – Wombats are Pretty Weird (5/23/2023) – In 2001, I studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia. On a guided hike, I learned that wombats have cube-shaped poop. I didn’t even know that was possible! And after learning more about wombats and their unique characteristics, I absolutely fell in love and wanted more people to get to know them too. I was thrilled when I finally figured out a fun way to share all the cool things about wombats years later in Wombats Are Pretty Weird.
It's so fun to learn where a book's idea originated. What do you like to do outdoors by yourself or with your family and friends?
Laurie Wallmark – My favorite thing to do outdoors is to find a peaceful spot, preferable near a lake or the ocean, and read a book.
Megan Clendenan – I love being outside on the local trails running, biking or hiking, and I also love to go paddle boarding. Our family trips usually involve a combination of these activities, and much of my socializing with my friends starts with an outdoor adventure of some kind. I also love spending time in my backyard planting and caring for my vegetables.
Catherine Payne – I love reading a good book and sipping an iced coffee at an outdoor cafe.
Abi Cushman – I love going for runs outside and going for hikes in the woods. In the summer, my family and I spend a lot of time at the beach, since we live on the shoreline in CT.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your books?
Text © Laurie Wallmark, 2023. Image © Liz Wong, 2023.
Laurie Wallmark – Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer (5/2/2023) – Maria Mitchell not only made her own contributions as an astronomer, but she encouraged generations of women to enter the field. All this was at a time when she was one of the few women to be paid as a scientist.
Text © Megan Clendenan, 2023. Image © Suharu Ogawa, 2023.
Megan Clendenan – Cities: How Humans Live Together (5/16/2023) – I hope that this book sparks questions, discussion and curiosity about how humans live together in cities, and what the challenges and solutions might be for the future. At the end of the book I invite readers to ‘Imagine the City You’d Like to Call Home.’ I offer some suggestions on what a welcoming and sustainable city might be, but I also see this page as an opportunity for readers to offer their own ideas, insight and opinions on what makes a great city to live in. I’ve also got a free educator resource guide on my website (www.meganclendan.com).
Text © Catherine Payne and John Payne, II, 2023. Image © Elisa Rocchi, 2023.
Catherine Payne – Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science) (5/2023)- Besides being a fun science book, Mole and Tell is a story about a diverse class learning together. I love seeing children of different abilities and backgrounds collaborating as they explore science.
Text & Image © Abi Cushman, 2023.
Abi Cushman – Wombats are Pretty Weird (5/23/2023) – I hope after reading Wombats Are Pretty Weird kids see that being weird is a GOOD thing. We’re all a little weird, and we should celebrate it!
I hope lots of readers find these amazing books! What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your books? Was there a bit of your research you didn’t get to include?
Laurie Wallmark – Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer (5/2/2023) – When you write a picture book biography, there are always so many parts of the person’s life that you don’t have room for. A piece of research that I didn’t include was Maria’s work in the abolitionist movement since the book was more about her scientific achievements.
Megan Clendenan – Cities: How Humans Live Together (5/16/2023) – The hardest part of writing this book was the sheer volume of research that was needed! It was an immensely broad topic. Another challenging part was choosing the cities I would use for examples. I wanted to have a variety of cities from around the world so that the book would have a global outlook. In the end, I’ve given specific examples from more than 75 cities, so I hope I’ve achieved that goal.
Catherine Payne – Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science) (5/2023)- I found it a bit challenging to discuss some scientific concepts in a kid-friendly way. I wanted the information to be not only accurate but also engaging. I tried to include everything that was relevant.
Abi Cushman – Wombats are Pretty Weird (5/23/2023) – One thing I definitely wanted to get right was my sidebar about HOW cube poops are made. It was only in the last few years that scientists finally figured out exactly how wombats made the corners in their poop. It had been a mystery up until then.
I examined the study that the scientists had written up about their experiments and findings on wombat cube poop, which included some math that was, in all honesty, a little over my head. I then looked at what other people had written about the study to see if that clarified things for me. But what I had seen written was too vague and didn’t actually explain how all the corners were formed. They kind of glossed over that part. But I wanted to truly understand the process so that I could explain AND illustrate the phenomenon in a clear way for kids. So I contacted one of the scientists involved in the study, and asked if he would answer a few questions. Fortunately, he responded and worked with me to get my wording and pictures just right. So while this part of the research took more steps, I am so glad I took them so that the book could be the very best it could be.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Laurie Wallmark – I have two other books coming out in 2023. One of these is another woman in STEM title: The Queen Of Chess: How Judit Polgár Changed The Game. Judit is a chess grandmaster, and chess tactics are strongly influenced by mathematics. My other book, Rivka’s Presents, is an historical picture book about a little girl in 1918 who can’t wait to go to school, but since Papa is sick with the flu, she has to stay home and mind her baby sister.
Megan Clendenan – Right now I have two more books under contract that are in edits, one is another middle grade non-fiction and one is a picture book non-fiction. Both are on the topic of food sustainability, but they will be very different books!
Catherine Payne – I am working on fantasy and science-fiction short stories for the young-adult age group. I enjoy studying plot twists in short stories and trying to write my own.
Abi Cushman – I am so excited to be working on the second book in the “[Not So] Serious Guide” series. It showcases an animal most people are very familiar with, but you would never guess just how weird they are. In the second book, Joey the snake is back to discover all the ways FLAMINGOS are unique. Through my research, I have learned that flamingos have so many special capabilities, and although they may not look it, they are TOUGH. This book is scheduled for 2024.
I also have another 2024 book coming out that I illustrated. The book, The Quiet Forest, is written by Charlotte Offsay, published by Paula Wiseman Books, and will come out in the spring. It is full of mischief, chaos, humor, and LOTS of forest animals. It was so much fun to draw, and I think kids will enjoy following the mischievous mouse and trying to guess what comes next.
I look forward to seeing all of these upcoming books and wish you all the best of luck with your projects! What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?
Laurie Wallmark – For my writing—a thesaurus. For myself—books, books, and more books.
Megan Clendenan – I cannot do without trail running in the forest. It is both essential exercise for my brain as well as an essential mental break where I can let my thoughts roam free. I also rely on my local library, both for research and for entertainment. Also coffee. Coffee is essential. 😊
Catherine Payne – I can’t imagine a life without traveling because it recharges me. I enjoy researching a city or country I’ve never visited before. Once I’m there, I soak up new experiences, from dining at local restaurants to strolling down colorful streets.
Abi Cushman – Probably the most important thing I need in order to write is just a bit of quiet time by myself.
These all sound like wonderful ways to recharge and ensure a bit of self-care. Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
Laurie Wallmark – My best advice is something I give to others rather than advice I’ve received. I called it Laurie’s Law #1—Something is better than nothing. This advice works in so many circumstances, including writing. For example, it’s better to have a messy first draft (something) rather than a blank document (nothing).
Megan Clendenan – Read as much as you can, in as many genres as you can, and read tons of mentor texts for what you would like to write.
Catherine Payne – I’m glad that someone told me to be myself. I studied acclaimed writers, and I continue to read mentor texts. However, I know that I should fine-tune my own voice.
Abi Cushman – There are so many things in publishing you can’t control. Just focus on making a great story.
Great nuggets of advice, thanks! NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Liz Wong (Creston 5/2/2023) – A wonderful biography exploring the journey of an American girl fascinated by the stars whose later discovery of a comet and employment as the first professional female astronomer and female astronomy professor spurred generations of women astronomers and scientists.
Synopsis: Maria Mitchell’s curiosity about the night sky led her to spend hours studying the stars. She discovered a comet as a young woman, winning an award from the King of Denmark for being the first person to discover a new comet using a telescope.
Now famous as “the lady astronomer,” Maria went on to become a professional astronomer, an unheard of achievement for a woman in the 19th century. She was the first woman to get any kind of government job when she was hired by the United States Naval Observatory. Then as the first woman astronomy professor in the world, Maria used her position at Vassar College to teach young women to set their sights on the sky, training new generations of female astronomers. Her story inspires all of us to reach for the stars.
Cities: How Humans Live Together by Megan Clendenan, illustrated by Suharu Ogawa (Orca Books 5/16/2023) – This extensive, illustrated middle grade nonfiction book explores the construction, benefits, and issues involved in creating and living in a city around the world and throughout time. Packed with information and fun little known facts (creating energy from sewage), it explores various cities' construction, sewage, water and food resources, and poses questions about what future cities will like. It's a fascinating look at cities throughout time.
Synopsis: If you could design a city that would be both a great place to live and good for the planet, what would it look like?
Today, about four billion people—more than half the world’s population—live in cities. This number could rise to seven billion by 2050. Cities face big challenges, including threats from climate change, food insecurity, a lack of clean water and rapid population growth, but they are also places where innovation and sustainability can thrive.
Cities: How Humans Live Together travels through time to explore questions like When and why did cities form? How did people access food and water? Where did they go to the bathroom? Peek into the past to see how cities have changed through time and explore what could make cities more sustainable and welcoming for today and tomorrow.
Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science) by Catherine Payne, illustrated by Elisa Rocchi (Science, Naturally 5/2023) - Using fun interactive dialogue and a bunch of homonyms, a science class discovers the scientific definition and meaning of "mole." With a play on "show and tell," the kids compare a mole of sugar to a mole of water and explore the periodic table. Bright, colorful illustrations of a diverse class, highlight their teamwork and help create a wonderful introduction to moles. It's a great introduction for kids into the definition and use of moles in science.
Synopsis: How do scientists share ideas across the world?
Mole and Tell gives kids their first taste of universal standards of measurement, teaching them about scientific notation in a way that's fun and easy to understand. Mr. Cantello's classroom is full of lively characters who ask the same questions a young reader is wondering—like how can a mole of sugar be larger than a mole of water, and how is it possible to measure something smaller than you can see? Mole and Tell introduces readers to concepts like the periodic table, molar mass, elements, and of course, moles. Using the familiar activity Show and Tell, readers will explore several different measurements of moles. The story is grounded in fact and shows kids how science is used in the real world. Written by authors with years of experience working with children, this book is a snapshot of the dream classroom experience. After finishing this book, readers will look forward to having a Mole Day celebration of their own!
Wombats are Pretty Weird: A [Not So] Serious Guide by Abi Cushman (Greenwillow/Harper Collins 5/23/2023) – This lively & funny informational picture book combines a straightforward narrative describing the different species of wombats, their habitat, and fun characteristics like endlessly growing teeth, cartilage rumps, and square poop, with witty commentary from Joey, the snake, dialogue from other Australian marsupials, and engaging sidebars. It is an entertaining and creative way to explore the weird and wonderful world of the wombat.
Synopsis: Wombats might be pretty weird, but they’re pretty awesome, too! Wombats Are Pretty Weird is funny, kid-friendly, and informative, and features sidebars, comic panels, extensive backmatter, and a map. Acclaimed author-illustrator Abi Cushman’s nonfiction debut contains everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about wombats!
Wombats are elusive, burrowing marsupials. Their teeth never stop growing, they have backward-facing pouches, and they’re the only animal to have cube-shaped poop. And if you ask their snake friend, Joey, those aren’t the only things that are weird about wombats!
Abi Cushman’s Wombats Are Pretty Weird contains informative, expressive, and funny illustrations, and offers an entertaining blend of narration, sidebars, speech balloons, and dialogue between Joey the snake and the wombats he meets in the wild. A refreshing departure from traditional informational books, Wombats Are Pretty Weird is a child-friendly guide to understanding the weird and wonderful world of wombats.
Features extensive backmatter, including a glossary.
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:
Laurie Wallmark – Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer (Creston 5/2/2023) –
Megan Clendenan – Cities: How Humans Live Together (Orca Books 5/16/2023) –
Catherine Payne – Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science) (Science, Naturally 5/2023)-
Abi Cushman – Wombats are Pretty Weird: A [Not So] Serious Guide (Greenwillow/Harper Collins 5/23/2023) –