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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sarafina Nance and Greg Paprocki

I have the honor to introduce you all to two fun creatives and give you with a sneak peek at their picture book, Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Astronomy.

Sarafina Nance is an Astrophysics PhD student at UC Berkeley, studying supernovae & cosmology. She is an astrophysicist, analog astronaut, author, host of astronomy show "Constellations", and fervent women's health advocate.

This is Sarafina's debut as a picture book author.

Greg Paprocki is a prolific artist always trying to push the limits of his imagination. His creativity, drive and careful attention to detail is reflected in his art. And though he is a one-man shop, Greg’s polished, inventive work evokes the skills set of an entire team of artists. Hundreds of companies have called on Greg to create something memorable for them.

He is an author/illustrator of numerous board book series, including the Babylit National Park and Historical-themed ABC series, the Baby's Classics series, and a Count and Finder Primer series.

He is also the illustrator of numerous books, including the Baby Loves Political Science . . . four board book series by Ruth Spiro, Little Leonardo's MakerLab: Building, Space, & Robot books by Bart King (2019), Here and There by Susie Rae (2018), The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King (2014), and other books in the Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World series.

Their picture book, Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Astronomy, releases September 7th.

Welcome Sarafina and Greg,

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 does it mean to be an “analog astronaut”?)

SARAFINA: Thanks for having me! I’ve loved to write since I was a kid and always joke that I’m a far more talented writer than physicist. I enjoy highly illustrative writing, the type that really puts you in the moment and sets the scene. I always carried books around with me as a kid, and used them as my “escape” from the daily world—along with the night sky, of course. I write in the same way, illustrating escapes from our day-to-day.

Alongside writing, I’m an astrophysicist. In August, I’m embarking on an analog astronaut mission, where I’ll be living like I’m on Mars for two weeks. My crew and I will be stationed in a habitat at 8200 feet on Mauna Loa, where we’ll be completing mission tasks, doing fieldwork, and essentially living like we’re on the Red Planet. We’ll wear spacesuits every time we leave the Hab, have rationed food, limited water, and will experience a Martian time delay of 20 minutes for all comms back to “Earth.” I’ll be conducting research on supernovae while I’m there, using a handheld device to analyze rocks and determine how they’re the products of exploding stars. [This sounds like SO much fun! 😊]

GREG: Hi Maria. I am the author of my book series but I consider myself more of an illustrator than author. Probably because my authored books are ABC books.

I work from a studio in my house. A work day starts at 6 am till 6 pm. But when things get busy my day can go from 6 am till 8 or 9 at night. These are becoming more of the norm because of the number of books I put out in a year, which is about 10. By the end of next year, I’ll have worked on at least 100 books.

I’ve been drawing from as far back as I remember but it was right after the 911 attacks when I was pushed to go on my own. Before that I worked in advertising and graphic design agencies. I was terminated about 2 weeks after the September 11th terrorist attacks. That November, I flew to New York to meet with Scholastic, they had bought one of my books, and I began my freelance career. I guess that puts me at 20 years doing this on my own. In that time, I’ve worked for nearly 500 companies, such as Taco Bell, McDonalds, Proctor and Gamble, and the list goes on doing design and illustration. It’s been an incredibly diverse and fast-paced career. But out of the thousands of art pieces I’ve done over the years, I enjoy my ABC and 123 art the most. It’s only me working without an art director and just going with what I like. [Totally understandable. And congrats on all those books!]

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

SARAFINA: I was a highly competitive tennis player for most of my life and trained to go pro!

GREG: That’s a hard one because I’m an open book. I guess no one knows that every morning I walk the dog and when we get done I spend a few minutes sitting down with him on the driveway, hugging him and looking around the neighborhood. It relaxes the both of us.

My guilty pleasure that only my family knows about is that I love to watch trashy reality shows with my 2 daughters at the end of a long workday.

Thanks for sharing these with us. Sarafina, what was your inspiration for Little Leonard’s Fascinating World of Astronomy?

SARAFINA: I wanted to write the children’s book about astronomy that I would’ve wanted to read as a kid. My options for children’s astronomy books were fairly limited as a child, and most (if not all) depicted protagonists as white and male. I wanted to write a book that was intersectional in scope, depicting all children and inspiring kids to pursue their dreams and shoot for the stars.

I love that it's the one you'd have wanted as a kid. Greg, how did you come to illustrate the Little Leonard’s Fascinating World of ... series? [the LLFW of Paleontology by Jeff Bond (2021), and the LLFW of the Arts, Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering by Bob Cooper (2018)]

GREG: In 2014, Gibbs Smith approached me to illustrate the Big Book of Superheroes, written by Bart King. After that I had been playing with different art styles.

Up till that point, most of my art was very slick, high fashion art. But in 2016, I began playing around with a more retro hand drawn look. I illustrated an entire ABC book on the Wild West. I had a hunch that it would fit into the books Gibbs Smith was selling at the time. I pitched the idea and they bought it. After several ABC books, Gibbs Smith had the idea of a STEAM series. I designed the look of the books and it just took off from there.

I love learning about books with atypical origin stories. Sarafina, what was the hardest part of writing (or researching) Little Leonard’s Fascinating World of Astronomy? Which is harder a scientific paper or a picture book?

SARAFINA: The hardest part was choosing my favorite facts about the universe to fit into a small book! There are so many amazing, wonderful parts about our universe that I wish everyone knew.

I think a scientific paper is still harder than a picture book.

The bane of all nonfiction authors! Until we don't have enough facts. Greg, what was the hardest part of illustrating Little Leonard’s Fascinating World of Astronomy? How many drafts did it take to get the illustrations right? Was it easier or harder than other books in the series?

GREG: Starting with a blank piece of paper and sketching out interesting scenes out of thin air is the hardest part of this and any book. But the subject matter really allowed for my imagination to just take off and explore!

I guess we all have that in common. Is there something you both want your readers to know about Little Leonard’s Fascinating World of Astronomy?

SARAFINA: My number one goal in writing this book was to inspire all kids, no matter their identity or background, to pursue their dreams and shoot for the stars. Everyone should have a place in STEM (or whatever it is they want to do!), and my hope is that this book helps inspire and excite the next generation of dreamers.

GREG: Getting a basic understanding of the mysteries of the universe is a goal of this book and hopefully the copy along with my visuals with help kids achieve this.

This book definitely encapsulated both of these goals. How many revisions did Little Leonard’s Fascinating World of Astronomy?

SARAFINA: Probably three total. We went back and forth on specific sentences, to ensure that they were accessible for young kids’ reading levels.

WOW! When you got to see Greg Paprocki’s illustrations, did any of the spreads surprise you? Which is your favorite spread? Why?

Text © Sarafina Nance, 2021. Image © Greg Paprocki, 2021.

SARAFINA: Honestly, I was in shock! He is so wildly talented, and I was in awe of his ability to translate these difficult concepts into beautiful illustrations. It’s so hard to choose a favorite spread! Mine is probably either the black hole page (it’s absolutely stunning!), or the one with all the kids in the spaceship looking out of the window (the diversity of representation here makes my heart swell).

The black hole is one of my favorites, too. Greg, many illustrators leave treasures tucked throughout their illustrations. Could you share one or more with us? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Sarafina Nance, 2021. Image © Greg Paprocki, 2021.

GREG: I try to include treasures in every piece of art I create. As a kid, I was into details and so as an adult I like to include lots of stuff into my work.

My favorite spread is the kids rocketing through the Milky Way. Technically, it was really challenging to look at a photo of what the Milky Way looks like and creating my own version of it. Adding the kids with their cat rocketing through the galaxy just put the cherry on top.

I love that you added their cat! How are, or have you both been, staying creative during these times? Have you found anything that helps you “prime the well”?

SARAFINA: I read a lot, which helps inspire me! I also try to write every day, or every other day, to just put words on the paper. That helps set the tone and establish a baseline level of motivation. I also go on long walks with my dog, which helps keep me grounded and calm.

GREG: Luckily I’m always creative. There are days that are tougher than others, but for the most part, once I get myself into the creative mindset I can create something fun. My schedule is always so busy that I try not to get to hung up on a project and just let the ideas flow. Typically, the less I struggle over the concept the looser and better the art turns out.

And it seems like you both have a great, calming canine assistant. If you could meet anyone real, literary, or imaginary who would that be?

SARAFINA: Probably Carl Sagan or Hermione Granger! Carl is the science communicator and astrophysicist that I strive to be - accessible, inclusive, inspiring, and awe-struck by the universe. Hermione Granger inspires me to be driven, assertive, and to learn as much as I can.

GREG: I think it would be a blast to sit down with Charles Addams, the creator of the Addams Family. I have several of his cartoon collection books from the 1940’s. He has a twisted sense of humor but it’s funny. I’ve worked on at least 100 books up to this point in my career. I’d love to hear stories about the publishing world when he began getting published in the 1930s.

Oh cool! Those are two choices I haven't heard yet. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

SARAFINA: I’m currently working on a science-driven memoir, called STARSTRUCK, with Dutton Press at Penguin Random House. I’m so excited to share more about my journey as a young Egyptian-American woman in STEM, how I fell in love with the stars, and to delve more deeply into some of my favorite scientific concepts. The book will be released in early 2023.

GREG: One project that is coming along really great are 2 huge mural sized art scenes that are going to be hung in the ER at a children’s hospital. Each is a version of a city populated by animals. They are dense with color and details. I’ve been in the ER 3 times with my own kids. Each time for broken arms. So I know how scary and boring it can be. Hopefully, it will bring a smile to the face of the unfortunate person who winds up there.

Sarafina, I am excited to read your memoir. And Greg - just wow - that will definitely touch a lot of lives and help kids. Last question for you both, what is your favorite animal? Or the one you are currently enamored with? Why?

SARAFINA: Favorite animal is definitely a dog. If I could have 100, I would!

GREG: I like giraffes! First of all they look cool. They have great coloring and amazing proportions. If someone described a giraffe to you without knowing about them, a person would think they were made up. When you hear about the physiological mechanics involved in getting blood and food etc. through that long neck, it should be possible. They’re a marvel of evolution.

Thank you Sarafina and Greg so much for stopping by. It was wonderful to get to know you and chat with you both.

Be sure to come back on Friday for a Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on Little Leonardo's Fascinating World of Astronomy.

To find out more about Sarafina Nance, or get in touch with her:

To find out more about Greg Paprocki, or get in touch with him:


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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