The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with October STEAM Team Authors & Illustrator
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to six 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?...)
Nell Cross Beckerman – Caves (Orchard Books 10/4/2022) – My previous career was as a TV producer, making short “infotainment” segments for VH1, MTV, MSNBC, Nickelodeon, and the Discovery Channel. But I was always a writer in my soul, and I was the kid who checked out so many books from the library that I couldn’t see over my stack. I stepped back from work when I became a parent, and later I found my way to picture book writing after signing up for a class taught by non-fiction master, Michelle Markel, at UCLA Extension Writers Program. She introduced some poetic concept books that blew my mind, and gave instruction for structure. My first book, Down Under the Pier, started as a writing prompt in that class. And now I’m about to teach my first writing class at Storyteller Academy! I’m so grateful for Michelle and the UCLA Writer’s Program for starting me down this path.
[Author of When the Sky Glows (2022) and Down Under the Pier (2020).
Debra Kempf Shumaker – Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures (Running Press Kids 10/11/2022) – I grew up on a farm in a big family and we couldn’t do much outside of the immediate world around us. I was also quite shy. But books—books could take me anywhere. I could be anyone I wanted to be in a book. Books filled in some of those empty spaces . And as I grew up and did different things, books were always my constant. When I had kids and started reading picture books with them, I realized I wanted to be more than a reader. I wanted to write, and I wanted to write picture books. It took 12+ years, but it’s finally happening!
I’ve written so many manuscripts—both fiction and nonfiction—over the years. Most of what I write comes from a sense of wonder or awe, stumbling over a trivial fact I didn’t know, a historical event or person I had never heard of but still mattered. I want kids to open up books and get lost in them—like I did when I was a kid. And STEAM books are the perfect avenue to cultivate that wonder and awe.
[Author of Tell Someone (2021) and Freaky, Funky Fish: Odd Facts about Fascinating Fish (2021).]
Melissa Stewart – Tree Hole Homes (Random House 10/11/2022) – 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 182 books, including: Summertime Sleepers: Animals That Estivate (2021), Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses (2020), Seashells: More than a Home (2019); A Place for Turtles, Second Edition (2019); Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs (2018); Can an Aardvark Bark? (2018) ; A Place for Fish, Second Edition (2018); A Seed Is the Start (2017); Wolverines, National Geographic Readers (2017); Droughts, Let’s Read and Find Out Science (2017); Pinocchio Rex and Other Tyrannosaurs, Let’s Read and Find Out Science (2017); A Place for Bats, Second Edition (2017); Predator Face-Off (2017); Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science (2016); A Place for Frogs, Second Edition (2016); Caterpillar to Butterfly (2016); Feathers: Not Just for Flying (2014); and No Monkeys, No Chocolate (2013).]
Andrea J. Loney – Abby in Orbit - Blastoff and Space Race (Albert Whitman 10/18/2022) – I’ve enjoyed writing and storytelling ever since I was a child. Once I had the realization that I could touch people’s hearts (or funny bones) by arranging the right words in just the right order, I was hooked. When I was younger I wrote for film and television, but for the past ten years I’ve focused on writing children’s books. Since I’m usually working a few different jobs at any given time, I tend to write early in the morning, late at night, or during my lunch breaks. On my non-teaching days, I sit at my dining room table and write for most of the day.
As a kid, I loved to sit in front of the tv and immerse myself in science shows on PBS like NOVA and Cosmos, and shows on the early Discovery cable network. As a grownup, writing STEAM books gives me a great excuse to dive back into the mysteries of our universe – and then report back on my findings. I really enjoy taking complex topics and breaking them down into second-grader sized pieces of information.
[Author of 7 books, including Curve & Flow (2022), VIP: Stacey Abrams: Voting Visionary (2022) , Double Bass Blues (2019) , Bunnybear (2017), and Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! (2017).]
Shiho Pate – Animated Science: Rocks and Minerals by John Farndon (Scholastic 10/18/2022) – Hi I'm Shiho Pate (pronounced Shee-Ho Peit) and I Illustrated Animated Science: Rock and Minerals which comes out on October 18th! It's a follow-up book to Animated Science: Periodic Table which was released last year. I have been illustrating professionally for more than 15 years now. I started out as a game artist in New York. And now that I've moved to California, I expanded my career to being a children's book illustrator. I have a drawing desk but since I don't have a room, my daughter and my husband will always stop by or take a peak of my work. But they know I need to focus when I have my headphones on. Right now I'm illustrating several books. All of the books are so different from one another and I LOVE it. That was why I loved illustrating Periodic Table and Rocks and Minerals books too because I was illustrating picture books before that. I loved all the new challenges which I will explain in the question below.
[Illustrator of Animated Science: Periodic Table by John Farndon (2021), and 2 Pirates + 1 Robot by Henry Herz (2019).]
Elaine Kachala – Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution (Orca Books 10/18/2022) – I work as a health policy researcher, writer, and advisor. When I’m writing and doing deep dives into research, I’m really in my element. I find it exciting to research a new topic, distill the information, and then write about it in a way that compels people to want to take action.
I’d never considered writing for kids, but I was looking for a creative outlet about six years ago. I love picture books; they’re brilliant pieces of art. Why not write a picture book? I revealed this goal to my family, and they bought me Anne Whitford Paul’s, A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication for Christmas. Many courses, conferences, and manuscript drafts later, I was at a workshop when I found myself discussing STEM/STEAM topics for middle readers. I’d started down the road of writing picture books, then, in one conversation, everything changed!
We talked about the impact of technology on people and the world and what would be the hook for this age group. I’m intrigued by STEM/STEAM topics because I have two daughters who work in these fields, and I’m always trying to understand their work. In my job at the time, I was learning about incredible technologies underway to improve people’s lives, especially those with disabilities. But I didn’t want to write a book merely about technology; I was curious about the implications of technology. Suddenly, many threads came together, and this book was born!
When Kirstie Hudson at Orca Book Publishers said she wanted to publish Superpower? as part of Orca Think, a nonfiction series for middle-readers, I was thrilled beyond belief! I’m ever grateful to Kirstie and the Orca team for their unending enthusiasm and support. We signed in April 2020, and this book became my passion project. I stepped back from full-time work and found myself researching and writing mornings, afternoons, and evenings, though I prefer mornings in my quiet office space with our Golden Retriever, Tucker, nestled under the desk.
What’s your favorite thing to do outside?
Nell Cross Beckerman - I like going on hikes alone. There is a trail I can walk to from my house in Culver City, called the Park to Playa trail. It is a 13 mile trail from the city to the beach. I go on the portion near me at least three times a week and it is my everything. It grounds me, gives me exercise, connects me to nature. Since I live in a city, the natural aspect of it is especially important. Over the years I’ve seen a snake ingesting a bunny, I’ve gotten to know a hawk who stays in one area and once landed on a railing just feet from me, spotted pocket gophers, and enjoyed hundreds of lizards. I also listen to podcasts during these hikes, and let my mind wander in the background. After having a very long creative dry spell, I was in total despair one day and decided to go on my hike to get out of my funk. On the hike I had the inspiration to write a story about the hike! My Park to Playa will come out from Cameron Kids/Abrams in 2024 with Sophie Diao illustrating.
Debra Kempf Shumaker –– I take a morning walk to the Potomac River most days. It’s my favorite time to be outside—to see the natural world wake up. I love the scent of the woods, hearing the birds, seeing fox and deer dart across my path, etc. It gives me a sense of calm to prepare me for the rest of the day.
Melissa Stewart – Go hiking a forest or wetland. Nature always has the power to restore my soul.
Andrea J. Loney – It’s autumn now, but I grew up in New Jersey where fall often FALLS in dramatic and thrilling ways (Colorful trees! Crunchy leaves! Sweater weather!!!). Even so, I’ve come to appreciate the more subtle changes of the seasons here in Southern California. I like to watch how the plants outside my house move through their life cycles. And the cooler temperatures allow me to take longer walks during the day.
Shiho Pate – I promise it's NOT because of the book, but I honestly love collecting rocks. I was (and still am) the kid that always looked down when walking because I always searched for things on the ground. I get so happy when I find rocks that feels good in your hand or looks interesting.
Elaine Kachala – Hiking and biking! For every vacation, we plan our trip around one of these activities. They’re fabulous ways to travel, see incredible scenery, be out in nature, and enjoy a physical challenge. The most significant challenge was when my husband and I hiked the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, Canada. But I have to add a third: walking our dog. Taking afternoon walks with our sweet boy, Tucker is my way of slowing down in the day, grabbing a breadth of fresh air, and chatting with neighbors.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write or illustrate your book?
Nell Cross Beckerman – Caves (10/4/2022) – I was at my annual family reunion at Alligator Point in Florida. Every year we visit Wakulla Springs, going on the safari boat tour, braving the cold water to swim in, and seeing who dares jump off the high dive. There are also limestone caves in the area—and one summer I realized in horror that my kids had never been in a limestone cave and seen stalactites and stalagmites. My inspiration exploded thinking about how cool caves are, and the fact that Wakulla Springs has the US’s longest underwater cave…I jumped into cave research with gusto!
Debra Kempf Shumaker – Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures (10/11/2022) – Peculiar Primates is a follow-up to my debut book, Freaky, Funky Fish. I had an option clause when I signed my contract and thought a companion book about a different species of animals made sense. Initially I wrote Bizarre Birds. While my editor enjoyed the book, the Running Press Kids team felt that there were plenty of books about birds for kids and they were more interested in seeing one about bears or primates. After researching both, I felt that primates provided enough variety and fun facts to support a book, so off I went. I had SO much fun writing it!
Melissa Stewart – Tree Hole Homes (10/11/2022) – Tree Hole Homes (10/11/2022) – The idea for this book traces all the way back to the summer between third and fourth grade, when I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Oh, how I longed to live off the land and make a hollow tree my home, just like the main character, Sam. [I loved this book so much!]
Time passed, and I forgot about the book until a trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia,
Canada, in 2011. The instant I spotted a tree with a hole big enough for me to squeeze inside,
Sam’s story came rushing back. And as I stood inside and looked up into the hollow tree, I knew I’d write a book about tree hole homes.
I created a file on my computer and added information from my nature journals. Whenever I read or heard anything about tree holes or animals that live in them, I added more notes to the file. Eventually, I knew I had enough information, but I didn’t know how to structure the book or how it should begin or end. I was stuck.
But then in 2018, while hiking in Topsfield, Massachusetts, I stumbled upon another large tree hole. As I awoke the next morning, the beginning of the book popped into my mind.
I ran to my office, and as I wrote it down, the ‘opposites’ text structure came to me. Using index cards and sticky notes, I mapped out the book in just a few days. Then it was time to start writing. [Wow!]
Andrea J. Loney – Abby in Orbit - Blastoff - The original idea for the Abby in Orbit series came from an editor at Albert Whitman & Company. When I heard the pitch, something like --“Anne of Green Gables in space starring a spirited little Black girl who struggles with focus and microgravity”-- I just knew I had to write it. It sounded like so much fun. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
But part of the idea for Blast Off, which is about Abby’s first day of school in the international space station, came from my experiences while traveling with The Big Apple Circus. The circus was like a traveling village of about 100 people, including families. The kids went to a “one ring schoolhouse” where children of all ages learned together in one big trailer. I was fascinated by how these children, some who’d been born into circus families that had been performing for hundreds of years, spent their everyday lives in such a fantastical grownup workspace.
Space Race (10/18/2022) – In Space Race, Abby, her best friend, and her best frenemy create a virtual reality game to be played during a class-wide athletic competition. But after they get into an argument and accidentally glitch the coding of the game, Abby and her classmates have to figure out how to resolve their issues and fix the code so they can finish the game. The interpersonal conflict in this story was inspired by my years as an elementary school substitute teacher, and the epic dramas these kids experienced while learning how to make and keep friends. Also, after teaching computer classes for 18 years, I’m still fascinated by the fun new ways kids can learn how to write code. Writing this book was a blast!
Shiho Pate – Animated Science: Rocks and Minerals by John Farndon (10/18/2022) – I didn't write the book but did illustrate it! Scientist and author John Farndon wrote them. I was immediately drawn because I knew it was a very special opportunity. I got to create characters for every element, rocks and minerals! How cool is that! And to think that my characters might be some kid's first impression of an element or a rock is just... so dreamy. I had to say YES to this incredible opportunity.
Elaine Kachala – Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution (10/18/2022) – My earliest drafts were about many different technologies. The style was descriptive, and there was too much information; I had to sharpen the focus and needed a narrative arc. I reflected on what I saw in healthcare and dug deeper into the research. I read books like Klaus Schwab’s The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Shaping the Future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age by Microsoft’s Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne. I was learning about the importance of the responsible design of technology and what that meant. I researched the children’s market. While there were many brilliant STEM/STEAM books and books that explained technological advancements and their impacts on society, I wasn’t finding any current books that combined these themes.
After more research, the topic of wearable technology cast a spell on me. I had to think, why was I suddenly so invested? I realized two things: That deep down, this multifaceted topic has to do with health, well-being, and equity—issues that are important to me and are at the core of my professional work. Beyond the blow-your-socks-off cool factor, our society faces many challenges with wearables as these incredibly sophisticated devices go mainstream. Writing a book that explores how wearables are changing our lives and that delves into the pros and cons of technology is the book I wanted to write. I wasn’t seeing these issues reflected in books for young readers, yet kids have a significant role in helping steer the world toward a better future. Also, when I interviewed youth for the book, I was seriously impressed by their thoughts, insights, and passion for creating technology for a better world; I had to write a book that included their ideas and opinions.
Who was a favorite or special author, illustrator, and/or book as a child?
Nell Cross Beckerman - Some of the picture books that I returned to again and again were Swimmy by Leo Leoni, Corduroy by Don Freeman, Who, Said Sue, Said Who? by Ellen Raskin, Noses and Toes by Richard Hefter, plus loads and loads of Shel Silverstein. I also had this huge Golden Treasury of Children's Literature that had all sorts of amazing illustrators that I read over and over. And one of the most influential, given by my dear feminist mom, was Girls Can Be Anything by Norma Klein. Super illustrations by Roy Dotty—I wish they would reprint this one! It was way ahead of its time and I’m grateful that it was part of my upbringing.
Debra Kempf Shumaker – I don’t remember picture books from my childhood, but I do remember these Disney Encyclopedias we had gotten second hand. It was a set of 12 or 15 books and they were full of facts, like encyclopedias, but with a Disney character narrator and fun commentary. I thumbed through those for years.
Melissa Stewart – Mr. 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.
Andrea J. Looney – When I was three, my grandmother introduced me to the world of books with The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats and Corduroy by Don Freeman. She wanted me to see a loving space in the world of books for children who looked like us. As a young Black girl in 1920s Alabama, she didn’t get to have that experience herself. I also loved the poetry of Langston Hughes, books by Virginia Hamilton, and the artwork of Leo and Diane Dillon.
Shiho Pate – I grew up in Japan so all of the favorites are Japanese. I love Akiko Hayashi's picture books! She captures children's emotions so well. And I love how she keeps a distance from her characters. It's almost like she is respecting character's space. My mother let me read かがくのとも (Kagaku No Tomo) which is a monthly nonfiction book you can buy or subscribe to. I fell in love with STEAM books because of that.
Elaine Kachala – Curious George and Dr. Seuss are the books that most stand out in my mind from my childhood. I just found that monkey entertaining and loved Dr. Seuss's rhyming. But I must tell you that my all-time favorite picture book is one that I read to my kids (more than twenty years ago!), and that is Robert Munsch's Love You Forever. That story sent chills up my spine and made me cry; it still does today.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Text © Nell Cross Beckerman, 2022. Image © Kalen Chock, 2022.
Nell Cross Beckerman – Caves (10/4/2022) – What I love the most about caves is that almost anyone can go have an adventure in a cave, especially when you are talking about “show caves” which are run by an organization, have a pathway that goes through them, tour guides, and lighting. With little effort you can have an amazing nature adventure and see a hidden world that will blow your mind! You don’t need to be an incredibly fit athlete, have any special training or equipment, and some caves are even wheelchair accessible. I hope my book inspires readers to seek out caves open to the public close to where they live and wherever they travel. A great place to get started is https://cavern.com/directory/
Text © Debra Kempf Shumaker, 2022. Image © Claire Powell, 2022.
Debra Kempf Shumaker – Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures (10/11/2022) – Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures (10/11/2022) – I want readers to know that there are other primates besides monkeys and apes (and us) and many have interesting ways they look or act to survive in the environments they live in. I hope they see that science can be cool and fun. I also hope readers are inspired to do more to save the diversity we have on this Earth. We are at risk of losing so many of these amazing creatures. Deforestation is a huge concern.
Melissa Stewart – Tree Hole Homes (10/11/2022) – Teachers often like authors to discuss their creative process, so they can share it with students, so here’s a little bit of info about how I went about constructing the manuscript.
For me, text structure is the biggest challenge, the biggest piece of the puzzle when writing expository literature. Once I decided to go with the ‘opposites’ text structure, as described above and shown in the sample below, I focused on voice and rich language, which are closely linked.
Text © Melissa Stewart, 2022. Image © Amy Hevron, 2022.
For Tree Hole Homes, I thought a wondrous, lyrical voice would be the best choice, so I worked
hard to select words and phrases that would enchant young, curious minds. Choosing verbs carefully and incorporating figurative language help to give a piece of writing its voice.
Text © Andrea J. Loney, 2022. Image © Fuuji Takashi, 2022.
Andrea J. Loney – Abby in Orbit - Blastoff and Space Race (10/18/2022) – All of my books carry a central theme of “just be yourself, even if others don’t understand you at first”. But when it comes to the Abby in Orbit books, I hope that readers will also think about how different people can get along, how we can celebrate each other’s individuality, and how we can work together for a common cause. Because just like the residents of the OASIS ISS, the people of our towns, our states, our countries, and our entire planet are all in this together.
Text © John Farndon, 2022. Image © Shiho Pate, 2022.
Shiho Pate – Animated Science: Rocks and Minerals by John Farndon (10/18/2022) – Since Rocks and Minerals book is a follow-up book, you might see some characters from Periodic Table book! I loved creating rocks and minerals characters with elements characters in mind. I also think characterizing rocks and minerals is so unique. I hope this book inspires kids to take the book outside and maybe even create their own versions!
Text © Elaine Kachala, 2022. Image © Belle Wuthrich, 2022.
Elaine Kachala – Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution (10/18/2022) – Before writing this book, I’d never heard of the term “wearable,” and I had no idea how quickly these devices were becoming mainstream. At first, I thought it might be just me, and then I asked other people, who were also surprised. I began to realize that I was onto an important topic. I hope the book inspires young people to think and ask questions about the pros and cons of wearables and to consider how inventors often dream big and have a big responsibility when developing technology. They have to face the question of just because we can build this technology, should we? I also hope it sparks their curiosity to imagine the possibilities of wearables and inspires STEM/STEAM learning.
They all sound amazing. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, this (these) specific book(s)?
Nell Cross Beckerman – Caves (10/4/2022) – Lots of things were challenging, but the most challenging was trying to figure out how to illustrate the Rising Star Cave system where Homo naledi was discovered. I knew kids would love to hear about the “Superman Pose” the excavators had to do to squeeze through the very narrow chambers, and how they had to basically drop into a very narrow chute, so narrow that their helmets would get stuck if they didn’t turn their heads to the side—but how to illustrate all that and make sure it was accurate? I think Kalen Chock, the illustrator, and Brian Larossa, the art director, came up with a great solution.
Debra Kempf Shumaker – Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures (10/11/2022) – Since Freaky, Funky Fish was in rhyme, it made sense that Peculiar Primates would rhyme, too. So finding interesting facts, wording things to create rhymes, keeping a consistent meter, AND being accurate was definitely challenging, but fun. I especially struggled writing the opening and closing. Like Freaky, Funky Fish, I wanted the opening to present the common adaptations that all primates have before focusing on the unique ones. Finding common adaptations to work in rhyme was HARD. And for the ending, I knew I wanted to tie in the fact that humans are primates, too, and we are unique and amazing as well. My first few drafts had a laughably weak ending that I used as a place holder as I polished the rest of the manuscript. I worried I would never figure it out, but finally inspiration hit. The ending is one of my favorite spreads.
Melissa Stewart – Tree Hole Homes (10/11/2022) – Tree Hole Homes (10/11/2022) – As I described above, it was coming up with the text structure. I think kids really struggle with that too. In this case, I was lucky that the beginning came to me in a flash of inspiration and that the text structure flowed naturally out of that. Here’s how the book starts:
Text © Melissa Stewart, 2022. Image © Amy Hevron, 2022.
Andrea J. Loney – Abby in Orbit - Blastoff and Space Race (10/18/2022) - Writing each book in this series feels like solving a series of interlocking puzzles. Even though the Abby in Orbit books are fictional and set 30 years in the future, I do a lot of research on past, present, and emerging technology during the writing process. I read dozens of articles, watch videos and lectures from experts in aerospace from space agencies all over the world, and visit local science museums and aerospace companies. And as it turns out, Nivair Gabriel, my awesome editor for the Abby in Orbit series, used to be an aerospace engineer! So, we discuss the technical and historical aspects of the stories as well during the editing process. But after I research and process all of the scientific, technical, and socio-emotional information for each story, then I need to shape it all into the kind of fun and exciting narrative that would delight a third grader and keep them asking “Then what?” at the end of each chapter. It’s my favorite kind of challenge.
Shiho Pate – Animated Science: Rocks and Minerals by John Farndon (10/18/2022) – The biggest challenge was making sure I understood each rocks and minerals and capture their personality. It was a bit easier than coming up with characters for elements (because some elements are just gas or even invisible). But it wasn't just putting face on a rocks. For example I made Ruby to look prideful and almost showing off because it's a rare gem. I made Mica to look worried because it can easily break off.
Elaine Kachala – Superpower?: The Wearable-Tech Revolution (10/18/2022) – Since Superpower? was my first book, the entire project was a sharp learning curve. My top challenges were managing version control, keeping references organized, controlling word count, and ensuring accuracy.
As the drafts evolved, I found it hard to keep track of older ideas; I’m still not sure I have the best system. But for reference management, Zotero saved me! I learned about this software for managing bibliographic data from a presenter at an SCBWI conference, and I’m ever grateful.
The last chapter is called How Do We Design Responsible Technology? SET UP! RISE UP! TEAM UP! Initially, each one was a separate chapter. My editor asked if I’d consider condensing them into one chapter. I had a moment, but then I said, no problem! She was absolutely right. Condensing, SET UP! RISE UP! TEAM UP! into one chapter helped me restructure the material, present ideas more clearly and concisely, and reduce the word count. When I read it now, nothing important is missing!
Finally, I did an insane amount of research on this topic; I had over 500 references, including expert interviews. I was meticulous about ensuring accuracy. I’m so grateful to the experts who reviewed the manuscript. They’d made a few recommendations, but overall, I’d been accurate, so my research paid off!
Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Nell Cross Beckerman – Yes! I’m working on a project very close to my heart called My Park To Playa, inspired by a hiking trail here in LA that connects the city to the beach. I hike a portion of this trail many times a week and can get there by foot from my front door. I was having a bit of a creative dry spell and started to spiral a bit, so I did what I always do when I’m low—I went for a hike. On the hike I saw a bunny—and so did a hiker coming from the other direction. We both froze, looked at the bunny, looked at each other—and bam! Inspiration! I wanted to write about “my” trail and how it connects people to nature and each other. It will come out in 2024 from Cameron Kids/Abrams with Sophie Diao illustrating.
Debra Kempf Shumaker – My next picture book is WIND IS. . .a lyrical story about different types of wind, told in metaphors. It comes out Fall 2024. Another picture book, a fiction one about dealing with a tough emotion, is also under contract. I have a fun animal-connected nonfiction book out on sub that I would love to see out in the world some day. And a couple more are in the various stages of drafting/revision. Each nonfiction book I write triggers an idea for another one!
Melissa Stewart – Yes, I’m looking forward to the March 2023 publication of Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey.
Andrea J. Loney – Yes! There are more Abby in Orbit books in the works and some other projects I’m excited to share soon.
Shiho Pate – I am currently working on illustrating The Rescues (written by Tommy Greenwald and Charlie Greenwald, published by Red Comet Press) which is an easy-to-read chapter book about rescue pets. I also illustrated a picture book, Ramen for Everyone (written by Pat Tanumihardja, published by Atheneum) which will be releasing in Spring 2023.
Elaine Kachala – I wish I could, but I can’t. I have four projects underway, all STEM/STEAM themed, at various stages of development, but nothing is finished enough or under a contract that I can mention, sorry!
So many exciting books and projects coming in the next couple of years. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Nell Cross Beckerman – Oh wow all these answers are really inspiring. Can we have a party with all of them?
Debra Kempf Shumaker – Louisa Swain. She isn’t well known but I did write a picture book about her after I read that she was the first woman to legally vote in an election under equal suffrage laws—in 1870 in Wyoming. Louisa was born in Virginia, orphaned young, and spent her childhood in the first public orphanage in Charleston, SC. She lived at the edge of poverty most of her life but still got up early on the morning of September 7th, at the age of 70, to stand first in line to vote. I want to ask her so many questions! Alas, the book never sold.
Melissa Stewart – Rachel Carson. I think we’d have had a lot to talk about.
Andrea J. Loney – Oh, I would love to invite Zora Neale Hurston and Octavia Butler to brunch and just be there for a fascinating, millennia-spanning conversation.
Shiho Pate – I would love to meet Akiko Hayashi, Taro Gomi and Maurice Sendak and learn about book art. I would also love to meet any National Geographic photographers and listen to their stories. What they capture is always fascinating and I know there's an epic story behind every photo.
Elaine Kachala – Among Benjamin Franklin’s many brilliant accomplishments, he also has inspirational quotes about achieving success. One I love is “energy and persistence conquer all things.” I think these guiding words are essential for writing books; it would have been fun to talk to him.
I agree with Nell. WOuldn't this be a great party! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Nell Cross Beckerman – I have never been to Yellowstone and would love to! Such dramatic nature there.
Debra Kempf Shumaker –– Yellowstone National Park. I worked there one summer when I was in college and it was the first time I was out of my home state of Wisconsin. When I wasn’t working my 40 hours at the fast food restaurant at the Mammoth Hot Springs location, I explored the park with my fellow workers. I had never seen mountains before and I was in awe of the landscape the entire summer. It was the best summer of my life.
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. ©Mike Pelchat
Andrea J. Loney – As a kid growing up in the New York City area, Central Park was always a magical place for me. It was this verdant wonderland of peace and joy in the middle of the cold, hard city. Now that I live on the other side of the country, Santa Monica Beach is my wonderland of peace and joy and endless waves. But I still love both.
Shiho Pate – Since I moved to California, my husband, my daughter and I LOVE visiting National Parks! Death Valley's night sky was incredible. I have a trypophobia (fear of many dots and holes) so seeing that many stars made my skin crawl. But it was still fantastic! Sedona was another highlight. Being surrounded by that intense earthy red and that rock formation was something I've never seen before. © Beboy_Ltd/iStockphoto
Elaine Kachala – I can’t believe I have to pick just one! I’ll say Snowdonia National Park in Wales. I was on a trip with my two adult daughters; it was a memorable mother-daughters trip, and we hiked up Mt Snowdon (3,506 ft or 1,85 meters); the scenery was breathtaking.
I’ve had the good fortune of visiting many national parks throughout Canada and the United States. All have awe-inspiring scenery, and I have fond family hiking and camping memories in each one.
There you have it. If you haven't visited these beautiful places yet, hopefully you are now inspired to.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Caves by Nell Cross Beckerman, illustrated by Kalen Chock (Orchard Books 10/4/2022) - Exquisite illustrations of varied and unusual caves from across the globe interplay with a layered text of almost staccato free-verse and longer explanatory passages detailing the specific caves, scientific terms (such as Speleology and Homo naledi ), and discoveries found within the caves. Numerous groups, families, and scientists within the illustrations help illuminate the magnificent wonders and mysteries of these caves. The book opens and closes with the challenge to the reader - Do you dare? The author and illustrator's notes encourage such exploration and the lists of "cave rules" and "spelunking equipment" offer guidance for inquisitive readers. it's a great book whether you're learning about caves or just enjoying looking at them.
Synopsis: In the shade of the woods is a hill with a hole. Beaconing black. Goosebump chills. Excitement and fear battle. What will win? You want to go in... do you dare?
Using evocative storytelling, Nell Cross Beckerman urges children to explore one of nature's most curious ecosystems. Dramatic, poetic language guides kids through different caves around the world while nonfiction text allows for deeper understanding.
Debut illustrator Kalen Chock's stunning illustrations will astonish readers, as each new page brings another delightful surprise.
Extensive backmatter includes an author's note, best practices for safe cave exploration, and additional information about the caves featured in the book.
Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures by Debra Kempf Shumaker , illustrated by Claire Powell (Running Press Kids 10/11/2022) – Resembling an explorer's notebook, this humorous look at primates uses rhyming couplets, scientific notations, and hysterical facial expressions to examine eighteen pretty unusual things about primates. It also includes a sly "Peculiarity Department Ranking" from one to ten for many of the primates. As well as a surprise primate at the end. The back matter expands on the one or more species with these peculiar features or habits. These lively, unusual primates will captivate young readers.
Synopsis: From flossing and howling, to building nests and thumping chests, this delightful follow up to Freaky, Funky Fish explores the amazing things primates do.
All primates climb and breathe in air. They have big brains and hands and hair. But. . . some live alone, some live in groups. One primate has a nose that droops. Peculiar Primates is an adorable picture book with a scientific—and child-friendly—underpinning. With examples of different primates for each description, as well as extensive backmatter explaining the fascinating science behind their behaviors, this bizarre book captures the wonders of our ecosystem.
Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Amy Hevron (Random House 10/11/2022) – While perhaps many are familiar with owls, bats, and squirrels living in trees, how about a crab, frog, or iguana? With a wonderful, layered text, this book explores animals which nest or rest in tree holes. A brief simple text offers a description of the hole, "a springtime refuge," and the secondary text offers information about the animal (a female wood duck) and its use of the tree hole. The detailed back matter offers statistics and a fun fact for each animal. It's a wonderful book to encourage examining and thinking about nature.
Synopsis: Imagine this: one day you're walking through the woods and spot a tree hole large enough to slip inside. So you do. And you wonder, what kind of creature lived here?
In this science and nature-themed picture book, nonfiction expert Melissa Stewart and illustrator Amy Hevron offer up an inviting peek into the secret world of tree hole dwellers.
From black bears to tree frogs and bobcats, it's surprising just who you'll find! A main text gives general information about tree holes ("a treehole can be a daytime den") and a secondary text provides more detail. This inviting look at trees, tree holes, and fascinating animals is sure to be a classroom and kid favorite.
Abby in Orbit - Blastoff and Space Race (Albert Whitman 10/18/2022) – Blast Off! (1) (Abby in Orbit) by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Fuuji Takashi (Albert Whitman 10/18/2022) - Starting third grade in a new school is tough enough, but starting school on the space station adds a whole new level of anxiety. Especially when you've never been in space before. This is a really fun story about an irrepressible and active eight-year-old and her family dynamics, making friends, and accidental adventures on the first day of school in her One Pod Schoolhouse. It's a great twist on back-to-school stories, full of puns, humor, and action, with lots of fun, gray-toned illustrations.
Synopsis: As Abby gets used to life in space, can she keep the things that are most important to her from drifting away?
It's the first day of third grade, and Abby Baxter is determined not to make any mistakes. It’s a little trickier than it was last year, though, because Abby is starting school on the OASIS International Space Station, where her parents are scientists. Abby is so focused on getting used to microgravity, watching her little brother, Nico, and meeting her new classmates that she almost messes up Mami’s big experiment. Can she figure out how to make things right, or is she destined to be sent back to Earth?
Space Race (2) (Abby in Orbit) by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Fuuji Takashi (Albert Whitman 10/18/2022) - Abby, Gracie, and Dmitry are back for another fun adventure where their friendship and compassion are tested as they have to figure out a way to cooperate. This is going to be a really fun new chapter book series.
Synopsis: Is Abby too far ahead to see that she's left her friends behind?
It’s time for the first ever OASIS Space Race, a virtual reality obstacle course designed to make space’s required exercise fun. Abby and her classmate Dmitry both want to win for their age group, so much so that they don’t pay attention to the rules and accidentally get stuck in the simulation, glitching their friend Gracie’s designs. If they want to find a way out, they’re going to have to work together.
Animated Science: Rocks and Minerals by John Farndon, illustrated by Shiho Pate (Scholastic 10/18/2022) – Animated rocks and minerals take the reader on a trip through their world. Amazing faces and kid friendly descriptions in the opening "Rock Table" and "Mineral Table" humorously explore the classifications of rocks and minerals. Then individually illustrated, superhero-like, cameos (a spear wielding Rhyolite) and a conversational voice, provide an engaging way to explore the origin and characteristics of rocks and minerals, as well as a little history (the creation of Mt. Rushmore) and mini biographies (Mary Anning). A mineral detective section helps identify minerals by color, shape, luster, and testing. A wonderful book for rock collectors and comic lovers a like.
Synopsis: Rocks and minerals come alive in the next Animated Science book, an outstanding comic series illustrated by Shiho Pate!