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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with November STEAM Team Authors

First, congratulations to

Patricia Nozell

for winning a copy of Susanna Leonard Hill's new picture book Alphabedtime!

Now back to the post. Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to three authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you forgive the length, 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 2022. It includes fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books.”

Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write or illustrate? How long have you been writing or illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate? What drew you to STEAM books?...)

Melissa Stewart –– Mega-Predators of the Past (Peachtree 11/1/2022) – 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 books, including Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks (2022), Summertime Sleepers (2021), Fourteen Monkeys: A Rain Forest Rhyme (2021), Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses (2020), Seashells: More than a Home (2019), Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs (2018), Can an Aardvark Bark? (2017), A Seed Is the Start (2017)]

Annette Whipple – Meow! The Truth About Cats (Reycraft 11/1/2022) – Hello! I think facts are fun, so I write informational books for kids. I’ve been a curious person for a long time, but I was not a writer as a child. It wasn’t until 2009 that I realized how much I loved to write about things I’m passionate about. I began blogging and took some writing courses. Early on I wrote for adults, but now I focus on writing informational books for children. Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs is my 11th book. The final book in the series will be out in the fall: Meow! The Truth About Cats. My goal is to celebrate curiosity while inspiring children to love science and history through my books and author visits.

[Author of 12 books, including Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs (2022), Scurry: The Truth About Spiders (2021), Woof: The Truth About Dogs (2021), The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (2020), Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls (2020), and The Story of the Wright Brothers (2020).]

Jocelyn RishBattle of the Brains (Running Kids Press 11/8/2022) – I’m a night owl, so I do most of my writing in the dead of night. I’ve been writing on and off for almost twenty years – YA and MG novels, short stories, screenplays. No matter what category I wrote, it was always fiction. I had one boring disastrous attempt at writing nonfiction, so I never thought I’d try again. Then I had the idea for Battle Of The Butts, and everything clicked! And now I’ve moved from the back end to the front end with Battle Of The Brains. Here’s hoping I can keep going with battles of other body parts!

I’ve always loved science (especially biology), but I never considered writing about it. But then I started tutoring elementary students struggling with reading and seeing how much they love books about animals, and I wanted to be part of that. So it’s been fun to look for facts they’d enjoy and write about them in ways that will draw them more fully into reading.

[Author of Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (2021)]

And what is your favorite thing to do outside?

Melissa Stewart – Go hiking a forest or wetland. Nature always has the power to restore my soul.

Annette Whipple – With the recent beautiful November weather, I had to get outside. Though I love hiking, this time I needed to weed my flowerbeds. Most of my outdoor time is spent walking for exercise. (As a writer I sit too much!) Most of my walks are in and near my neighborhood, but I appreciate the opportunity to wander around local parks or hike new trails.

Jocelyn Rish – As I mentioned, I’m a night owl, so my favorite time to be outside is at night. I go out and look at the stars and feel the air around me. The air at night just feels different. And when meteor showers, eclipses, or other interesting celestial events are happening, you’ll always find me outside with my head tipped back.

Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired each of you to write your book?

Melissa Stewart –– Mega-Predators of the Past (11/1/2022) – In August 2016, as I was looking at the articles and notes pinned to the Idea Board in my office, I stumbled upon an article I’d torn out of Smithsonian Magazine in 2012. What was it about? Titanoboa—a fearsome 40-foot-long snake that lived in the swamps of Colombia 60 million years ago.

I’d been holding onto it for 4 years, hoping the stupendous snake would eventually make its way into one of my books. As I re-read all the cool facts about this prehistoric predator, I suddenly remembered an article I’d recently read about a giant scorpion that lived long before the dinosaurs, and that brought to mind giant dragonflies and Megalodon—the biggest shark to ever live. I thought it was interesting that all these humongous hunters looked similar to animals alive today.

It seemed like a good idea for a book, so I did some research to see if I could find enough examples of giant predators that were related to and closely resembled modern animals. There were plenty.

For the book to work, I knew it needed something special, an irresistible hook that would excite and inspire young readers. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind.

But one day, as I was taking a shower, I began hearing a lively, humorous, sarcastic voice in my head. It was complaining that, when it comes to ancient animals, dinosaurs got all the attention, and it was time for that to change. That’s the moment Mega-Predators of the Past began to take shape in my mind.

Annette Whipple – Meow! The Truth About Cats (11/1/2022) – I love cats…but they’re also a bit of a mystery to me. (Especially my two current kitties. One is incredibly timid and the other scratches our walls like crazy despite our efforts to deter her.) I learned so much about an animal that I thought I knew a good it about before I began researching.

Jocelyn RishBattle of the Brains (11/8/2022) – Basically, Battle Of The Butts inspired me to write Battle Of The Brains! From the start, I hoped there would be multiple Battle books, and then luckily my editor was interested in doing another one. I wrote up a proposal for several different body parts – eyes, tongue, feet – and my agent was the one who suggested I add brains. So I did, and that’s the one Running Press Kids picked!

It's so fun to see all the different things which inspired the creation of a book. Who was a favorite or special author, illustrator, and/or book as a child?

Melissa StewartMr. Mysterious and Company by Sid Fleischman. I was thrilled to meet Mr. Fleischman at a writers’ conference in New Hampshire and tell him how much his book meant to me.

Annette Whipple – Our family didn’t have a lot of books, but I did collect The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin from our Scholastic book flyers back when they were new.

Jocelyn Rish – I was a weird kid, and I started reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King books when I was really, really young. They inspired my love of horror and thrillers and planted the seeds for wanting to be a writer. My favorite was Koontz’s Watchers because it featured a super smart golden retriever who could communicate through Scrabble tiles. I had two goldens at the time and desperately wanted to chat with them that way. For a while, I thought about going into gene research to see if I could help engineer a talking dog!

Interesting combination! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?

Text © Melissa Stewart, 2022. Image © Howard Gray, 2022.

Melissa Stewart –– Mega-Predators of the Past (11/1/2022) – Yes! Readers can access the information in this book in lots of different ways. As you can see in the sample above, each animal spread has a main text with a humorous voice, a main illustration, a comparison box, a list of stats, and an animal description. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone.

Text © Anette Whipple, 2022.

Annette Whipple – Meow! The Truth About Cats (11/1/2022) – I am thrilled to share this question-and-answer book featuring bold photographs and humorous illustrations earned a starred review from Kirkus. Big bonus: The hardcover book jacket unfolds to become a cat full-size poster.

Text © Jocelyn Rish, 2022. Image © David Creighton-Pester, 2022.

Jocelyn RishBattle of the Brains (11/8/2022) – I love animals and tend to anthropomorphize them, but still I was blown away by their awesome brains. In some cases they do things that make them seem very human (like talk!). In other cases, it’s the fact that their brains are so very different from ours that makes them wow-worthy. And even though these facts are fun to read about, I hope readers also see that there are many types of intelligence out there. Just like the animals excel at being different types of “smart,” individual human brains also excel in different ways. Some people can run complex calculations in their heads, some people can memorize long plays, some people can name any musical note, some people can create people and places out of a string of letters. No type of intelligence is more important than the other, and all of our brains do incredible things.

So what was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, this specific book?

Melissa Stewart –– Mega-Predators of the Past (11/1/2022) – As I explain in the author’s note at the end of the book, when it comes to prehistoric life, there’s so much we don’t know (yet). It’s rare to find a complete skeleton, especially for large animals. That means it’s often hard to say with certainty how long a creature was or how much it weighed. Wading through all the estimates and deciding which measurements to include in a book takes a lot of time and patience.

Annette Whipple – Meow! The Truth About Cats (11/1/2022) – There were so many fun feline details I just couldn’t fit in to this book. I still chose the questions and answers I thought most important to young readers.

Jocelyn RishBattle of the Brains (11/8/2022) – With Butts, I just had to pick a tuchus trait and describe what it did and how it worked. But with Brains, so much of the information is based on experiments with the animals. In some cases, it was not-so-nice experiments, so I avoided those. But in general, science experiments are complex with controls and intricate procedures to act as guardrails. It was really challenging to try to boil those experiments down to bite-sized tidbits easy for young kids to digest. I couldn’t just state the conclusion without providing info on how the scientists got there, but often the steps were pretty convoluted. I hope I boiled things down in a way that is both informative and entertaining.

These sound like some pretty big challenges. What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, whether it’s about writing or not?

Melissa Stewart – Being a children’s book author requires a growth mindset. There are so many obstacles, so many challenges along the way. I have the saying, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying.” Pinned to the bulletin board above my desk. It’s a constant reminder that every book is a journey. All we can do is buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Annette Whipple – This is hard! I think the best advice for kidlit nonfiction writers is to write like you’re talking to one. Word choice really does matter!

Jocelyn Rish – My mom always told me, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” and that has served me well over the years. From my years in software development with taxing release schedules to now being part of the writing community, where we have to brace ourselves because rejection is prevalent making emotions run high, it always feels better to be kind. And most people respond back with kindness, making everything a bit easier.

Great advice to enjoy the ride, remember who you're writing for, and stay kind. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Melissa Stewart – Yes, I’m looking forward to the March 2023 publication of Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover.

Annette Whipple – Next year The Truth About series from Reycraft Books continues with sharks followed by lizards. The following year I’ll also have a book called Quirky Critter Devotions: 52 Wild Wonders for Kids will be published with Tyndale. These have been such fun to research and write!

Jocelyn Rish – I’ve got a few nonfiction ideas I keep dabbling with but nothing has fully coalesced yet. I’d really like to return to my fiction roots for a bit – I have an idea for a picture book about something creepy in the attic. Now that Brains is released, I’d like to lock myself away from book promo and the internet and really crank out some words.

I love that cover! And we'll have to keep our eyes open for the other upcoming books. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?

Melissa Stewart –– Rachel Carson. I think we’d have had a lot to talk about.

Annette Whipple – I’m so grateful to all the authors I’ve been able to meet over the past few years. But if I could go back in time, I think I’d like to have a theological chat with C. S. Lewis or a book chat with Louisa May Alcott or Harper Lee.

Jocelyn Rish – While I think it would be fascinating to meet the real Einstein, I’m actually going to pick the dog Einstein from Dean Koontz’s Watchers. I’ve had a number of dogs over the years, and I always want to know what they’re thinking. So it would be so fun (and probably useful, since dogs are one of the animals in Battle Of The Brains) to chat with a dog who could respond to my questions and give me insight into the wonderful minds of dogs.

Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Melissa Stewart – Mount Washington National Park in New Hampshire is one of my favorite spots. My husband and I love to hike there in the summer, and in the winter, we go snowshoeing.

Annette Whipple – I visit my local Chester County, Pennsylvania parks the most. Through their programming I’ve gone bird watching and night hiked in hopes of spotting owls. Earlier this year I visited the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. It was my first redwoods experience, and I loved every minute of it. I was on my way to a writing conference so I couldn’t stay long. However, it took us about two hours to walk less than a mile. We may have stopped to take a “few” pictures and just appreciated the beauty surrounding us.

Visiting the waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park (New York) takes me back to my childhood. I also love the historic national parks including Gettysburg and Independence in Pennsylvania. I’m eager to visit a few more national parks including the Grand Canyon, Redwoods, Yosemite, and Acadia.

Jocelyn Rish – Twenty years ago, I took a trip out west with my brother and sister, and we hit a bunch of the parks out there. They were all so beautiful, and I was in awe the entire time, but my favorite was Bryce Canyon National Park. The rock formations were just gorgeous!

Those are definitely a couple of wonderful parks to add to our bucket lists! NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!

Mega-Predators of the Past by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Howard Gray (Peachtree 11/1/2022) - With a wonderfully engaging and playful conversational tone, the book examines prehistoric predators with modern day relatives who haven't gotten a lot of attention. Such as a three-pound scorpion or a seven hundred pound American lion. As well as the one predator still living on earth right now! Amazing comparison figures show the actual size of these predators in relation to a rather startled human and their modern relatives. Combining fact statistics and interesting side bars, as well as a superb author's note delving into the problems of confirming contradictory information and an illustrator's note on discovering the features of the predators, it is an entertaining and educational collection of some pretty scary predators.

Synopsis: Award-winning nonfiction author and science specialist Melissa Stewart offers young readers a mega-exploration of little-known prehistoric predators that rival even the mightiest of dinosaurs!

It is time for T. rex and his dinosaur cousins to step aside and let other mega-predators like the terror bird and the giant ripper lizard take the spotlight! Travel back to prehistoric times and meet some of the most impressive creatures to ever roam the Earth.

You'll be amazed at the size and the fierceness of these lesser-known predators, many of them ancient ancestors of animals that we still see today.

Stewart's cheeky, humorous voice—along with a comical version of the familiar "comparison man"—put these creatures in perspective. Artist and former zoologist Howard Gray brings these predators (back) to life with dynamic, humorous, and scientifically accurate illustrations.

Sidebars and extensive back matter material provide more detailed information and context.

Meow! The Truth About Cats by Annette Whipple (Reycraft 11/1/2022) - Using a combination of questions, photographs, cheeky illustrations, and wonderful closeups, this fun nonfiction book joins others in the Truth About series exploring myths, facts, and interesting information about cats. Deciphering behaviors, examining interactions, and discussing physical features, this is a wonderful book for new or seasoned cat owners.

Synopsis: Why do cats have whiskers? How do cats land on their paws? Do people need cats? These and other questions are answered by the author, along with some extra information provided by the cats themselves.

Battle of the Brains by Jocelyn Rish, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester (Running Kids Press 11/8/2022) – After exploring the amazing intellectual capabilities of ten animals - including elephants, pigs, spiders, dogs, and ravens - and demonstrating some really remarkable abilities of these animals, the book asks the reader to "crown the winner of the Coolest Cranium." It is a fascinating read, full of facts, "brain bonus" sidebars, and wonderful anecdotes.

Synopsis: This hilarious companion to Battle of the Butts examines the way animals use their brainpower for survival in the wild and encourages readers to rank animals based on their intellectual prowess.

Birdbrained. Pigheaded. Batty. Bullheaded. When humans want to insult the intelligence of another person, they often compare them to an animal. But animals are smart. Really, really smart. There are animals that use tools. Others that can solve complex problems. Some have excellent memories. A few can even talk to us! With animals having such mighty minds, the question is: who has the best brainpower of them all? That’s for you to decide! Full of fascinating facts throughout in a fun "battle of the minds" format, The Battle of the Brains includes a glossary and links to sources and activities at the end, making it the perfect read for any curious mind.

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:

Melissa Stewart –– Mega-Predators of the Past (Peachtree 11/1/2022) –

Annette Whipple – Meow! The Truth About Cats (Reycraft 11/1/2022) –-

Jocelyn RishBattle of the Brains (Running Kids Press 11/8/2022) –


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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