The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with September STEAM Team Authors
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? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? What drew you to STEAM books?...)
Buffy Silverman –– On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures (Millbrook Press/Lerner 9/6/2022) – I started writing for children when my kids (now adults) were book-loving toddlers. Most days I write in my basement office, which has a view of the swamp and lake that border our home. I’m drawn to writing about the plants and animals that I find in the woods and lake where I walk every day. I enjoy outdoor time with my dog and watching and photographing nature. In the past, I’ve been a naturalist and environmental educator, and taught biology to college students.
[Author of over 90 nonfiction books, including On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring (2020), Cutting-Edge Medicine (2020), Surviving a Shipwreck: The Titanic (2019), Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?: And Other Questions about Animals (2019), The World of Gaming: Pokémon (2018), Little Pets Series (2018), Mars Missions: A Space Discovery Guide (2017), Shark World Series (2017), & How Vehicles Work Series (2016) , as well as numerous poems.]
Patricia Newman – A River’s Gift: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn (Millbrook Press/Lerner 9/6/2022) – I grew up in Vermont and was an "outdoor" kid who planted trees with my dad, sailed, and tried to save the fish we caught rather than eating them. I was also a serious book nerd who took a book wherever I went. (I still do.) At Cornell University, I pursued a child development major and later taught remedial math. Writing as a job, never crossed my mind.
When my children were born, we spent a lot of time reading picture books together. One day my mother-in-law surprised me by saying, "you can do this." The revelation led to a long apprenticeship figuring out what kids (and editors) want and then how to write it. I found small blocks of time to write, including during my kids’ karate and tennis lessons.
I usually have a general idea where I’m going when I start a book, but it takes several tries and lots of errors before I find my way. Most of my titles deal with some aspect of nature. I write about things that amaze me or make me angry. I want to figure out how to help and to encourage others to join me.
[Author of 18 books, including Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean (2021), Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation (2018), Neema's Reason to Smile (2018), Zoo Scientists to the Rescue (2017), Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem (2017), Ebola: Fears and Facts (2015), and Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2014).]
Marta Magellan – Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor Primatologist (Albert Whitman 9/22/2022) – I came to this country from Brazil at the age of seven and fell in love with the English language as soon as I could speak it. Portuguese was my first language. I’ve been writing and being published since I took Journalism in middle school (proud editor-in-chief of the Hialeah Jr. High Stampede). My professional life since then has revolved around writing. Before I became a full-time children’s book writer, I taught Survey of Children’s Literature, Creative Writing, and Composition at Miami Dade College. I wrote magazine and newspaper articles during that time but didn’t have as much time to dedicate to writing as I wanted.
It was my love of children, books, and nature that led me to writing children’s STEAM books. I like wild animals in their natural habitats, and that’s what I write about. Bats, pythons, and vultures aren’t everybody’s favorite animals, but I find them fascinating.
[Author of 9 books, including Flying Jewels: A Hummingbird Story (2021), Python Catchers Saving the Everglades (2020), Amazing, Misunderstood Bats (2019), Anole Invasion (2018), and The Nutty Little Vulture (2017).]
Andrea J. Looney – Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams (Knopf For Young Readers/Penguin Random House 9/27/2022) – 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. Writing STEAM books gives me a great excuse to dive into the mysteries of our universe – and then report back on my findings. I really enjoy taking complex topics and breaking them down into third-grader sized pieces of information.
[Author of 7 books, including VIP: Stacey Abrams: Voting Visionary (2022) , Double Bass Blues (2019) , Bunnybear (2017), and Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! (2017).]
Randi Sonenshine – The Lodge That Beaver Built (Candlewick Press 9/27/2022) – As a full-time middle school instructional/literacy specialist, it can sometimes be a challenge to find time to write, but I squeeze it in whenever and wherever I can, which is mostly evenings and weekends. I have an office, but I also love to write at my kitchen table, which looks out on my deck bird feeders. I’ve been writing all my life, but writing with the intent to publish for about ten years. I love writing in verse, but I also love to write prose. For the longer works I have in progress, I gravitate towards historical fiction, but for picture books, I am drawn to science and nature writing.
[Author of The Nest That Wren Built (2020).]
Nell Cross Beckerman - When the Sky Glows (Beach Lane Books 9/13/2022) – 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 Down Under the Pier (2020).]
What’s your favorite thing to do outside?
Buffy Silverman – I love to hike in all seasons of the year and usually bring my camera with me. While photographing, I slow down and carefully observe the plants and animals I find. I especially love photographing insects because you can get a close-up view of their lives. Today I watched bumble bees and other insects swarming over goldenrod, sipping nectar, and stuffing pollen into their pollen baskets. They went about their business as I snapped my shutter.
Patricia Newman – I love anything related to the water—rafting, swimming, snorkeling, sunning, boating. I find moving water cathartic. It restores me, and I feel like it improves my overall performance when I return to my desk.
Marta Magellan – One of my favorite things is birding. I have a good pair of binoculars which I take out wherever I travel to gaze at colorful birds. I like being outdoors as long as it’s in a natural area, and I love bobbing in the warm oceans near Miami and riding on any boat someone else will drive.
Andrea J. Looney – When I go for my daily walks around my neighborhood, I always look forward to visiting the local cats, dogs, and occasional chickens. Sometimes I take close up pictures of the flowers, or stop to smell the night-blooming jasmine blossoms. And whenever I get the time, I head to the beach and just watch the ocean waves roll in and out. If I’m lucky I’ll see a dolphin or two!
Randi Sonenshine - I love to explore natural places, especially in the mountains or near the water. Canoeing and kayaking are big favorites, but wandering in the woods and being surrounded by birdsong and trees is enough for me!
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.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Buffy Silverman –– On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures (9/6/2022) – On a Gold-Blooming Day is a companion book to On a Snow-Melting Day, published in February 2020. It follows the same rhythmic pattern, exploring the changes that occur from summer to fall instead of winter to spring. Writing the second book felt a bit like plagiarism--but I guess you can't plagiarize yourself!
I wrote the first draft of On a Gold-Blooming Day during my critique group's annual retreat. We couldn't spend time together during the summer of 2020, so we met on zoom for a few days. Each night we shared what we wrote during the day. Like many people, I had trouble finding motivation to write during the height of covid shutdowns. But peer-pressure is good motivation and inspiration.
Patricia Newman – A River’s Gift: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn (9/6/2022) – My husband came home from work one day and told me about a colleague’s teenager, Theo, who interned on the Elwha River Restoration Project. After living with me for 38 years my husband recognizes a book idea when he hears one. I did some preliminary research, interviewed Theo, and was hooked.
For thousands of years, the Elwha River flowed north to the sea. The river churned with salmon, which helped feed bears, otters, and eagles. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe of the Pacific Northwest were grateful for the river’s abundance. All that changed in the 1790s when settlers arrived who did not understand the river’s gifts. The settlers built two dams, and the environmental consequences were disastrous.
But one hundred years after the first dam was built, The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, the National Park Service, government officials, local citizens, and scientists formed an alliance to remove the dams and restore the ecosystem.
The rebirth of the Elwha River is a happy conservation story that shows we can achieve much more when we unite to honor the intrinsic value of nature and celebrate our connections to it.
Marta Magellan – Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor Primatologist (9/22/2022) - I love wildlife, and the subject of my book became the first female National Geographic correspondent. In many ways, she lived a life I would have loved for myself with one exception. While in college, she was a National Football League cheerleader for the Miami Dolphins. But that also made her quite an interesting character. She had been a student where I taught at Miami Dade College, and when she discovered a new species of lemur, we featured her in the campus magazine which I advised. Years later, she came back to Miami to teach at Florida International University, and I interviewed her and read her adult biography.
Andrea J. Looney – Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams (9/27/2022) – When my first picture book biography on NYC photographer James VanDerZee came out, a local children’s bookseller suggested that I look into a Black architect named Paul Revere Williams. At first, I noticed that his name kept popping up in different places around LA. But when I started to read about his life and works, I realized that I’d been surrounded by his thousands of buildings the entire time I’d lived in Los Angeles. I was captivated by the way his personal life history was completely entwined with the history of Los Angeles. His dreams helped to build this glamorous metropolis and in turn, Los Angeles helped to turn his dreams into reality. I found him to be endlessly fascinating and I wanted to find a way to share his story with children across the country.
Randi Sonenshine - The Lodge That Beaver Built (9/27/2022) – After writing The Nest That Wren Built, I did a lot of research on other animals architects, looking for the interesting and unique. Beavers easily rose to the top of my list for their mad ecoengineering skills!
Nell Cross Beckerman - When the Sky Glows (9/13/2022) – I was chasing after the feeling of seeing a rainbow. The breathless wonderment and joy, and the impulse to share the experience with whoever is nearby, whether they are people you know or total strangers. I wanted to capture the magic of how nature can connect you to yourself, the people you are with, and the universe. But the story kept feeling too thin. Finally, a member of my critique group named Julia Wasson asked me a great question: what other kinds of magical skies are there? Suddenly, the book got a lot meatier and felt like it had more of a marketable chance.
I love that inspiration comes from so many sources. Who was a favorite or special author, illustrator, and/or book as a child?
Buffy Silverman –– I distinctly remember the joy of reading my first book on my own—Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman. How I loved those dogs in their little cars! And that glorious dog party. The first longer book that I recall reading was Charlotte’s Web. I remember reading Charlotte’s Web several times as a child, imagining what it would be like to be Fern, living on a farm, and raising Wilbur. Perhaps that book contributed to my current fascination with watching spiders and insects!
Patricia Newman – Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh remains one of my favorites. I admire Harriet’s powers of observation and her spy notebook. In fact, I’m a notebook fanatic, too! I start a new one for every book I write.
Marta Magellan – After I read Little Women, I wanted to read everything by Louisa May Alcott. I read Little Men and Jo’s Boys, but didn’t like them that much. Then, I picked up Eight Cousins. That’s when I said to myself at age nine, “I want to write books like this.”
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.
Randi Sonenshine - When I was young, I loved Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, and the Curious George books. When I was a little older, I loved Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown, as well as Ramona books, but I would read anything, including the National Geographic magazines and vinyl-covered Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedias that were housed in our den.
I also loved poetry, especially Edgar Allen Poe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and other poets that were probably way too deep for me at the time. My dad would read these poets aloud to me, and even if I didn’t understand everything, I was entranced by the beautiful language, imagery and musicality of those poems and awed by the genius of those poets.
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.
What a great list of books! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
© Buffy Silverman, 2022.
Buffy Silverman –– On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures (9/6/2022) – On a Gold-Blooming Day invites children to go outside and notice the world around them. It focuses primarily on plants and animals that a child might find in a neighborhood park or their own backyard. I hope that my book inspires a child to explore their environment and become fascinated with nature. I think a love of nature is the first step to growing into the environmental stewards our Earth desperately needs.
Text © Patricia Newman, 2022. Image © Natasha Donovan, 2022.
Patricia Newman – A River’s Gift: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn (9/6/2022) – The Elwha River’s story is not an isolated incident. More than 1,700 dams have been removed in the U.S. since 1912. In fact, every state in the union has removed one or more old or unsafe dams that no longer produce electricity for nearby communities. In 2020 alone, 69 dams were removed. [Source: AmericanRivers.org]
By removing dams, we allow rivers to flow free to nourish our planet. Rivers flow through our history, our lives, and our livelihoods. They connect our cities and towns, provide drinking water, irrigate crops, slow flooding, and support wildlife. Every one of us lives in a river basin—the area of land drained by a river and its tributaries. I live in the Sacramento River Basin in Sacramento, California, where the American and Sacramento Rivers meet. Discover your river basin and learn to appreciate your connections to it.
Text © Marta Magellan, 2022. Image © Clémentine Rocheron, 2022.
Marta Magellan – Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor Primatologist (9/22/2022) - My book is not only about a Cuban American explorer. It is also about the environment and conservation because the primatologist, Mireya Mayor, not only discovered a new species but also convinced the prime minister of Madagascar to declare its habitat a protected area.
Text © Andrea J. Looney, 2022. Image © Keith Mallett, 2022.
Andrea J. Looney – Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams (9/27/2022) – I am still amazed by everything that Paul R. Williams accomplished in his time on earth and beyond. Even though he passed away in the 1980s, he somehow keeps making headlines with posthumous honors, the sales of his buildings, and new discoveries of his works. But most of all, I want readers to know what he knew – that if you can find ingenious ways to curve around obstacles and flow in a different direction, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve.
Text © Randi Sonenshine, 2022. Image © Anne Hunter, 2022.
Randi Sonenshine - The Lodge That Beaver Built (9/27/2022) – Beavers are such intelligent and ingenious creatures, and there are some things in the book that will make you say, “No way!” They are truly fascinating, super-cool creatures who have earned a place in the spotlight lately for good reason; scientists believe they play a key role in combatting climate change!
Text © Nell Cross Beckerman, 2022. Image © David Litchfield, 2022.
Nell Cross Beckerman - When the Sky Glows (9/13/2022) – There are two things in particular that I am proud of with this book. The first is how the text, page turns, and illustration work in true partnership to help create the same sort of wonderment and awe seeing amazing skies like the Northern Lights or a solar eclipse do in person. Each stanza is broken by a page turn to raise the tension, then reveal the answer. The illustration on the first part of the page only gives you a hint of what sort of sky will be featured in the gorgeous, glowing, spine-tingling double spread sky that David Litchfield has masterfully created. I watched a friend read the book for the first time and after each “reveal” she said “Wow!” There was literally NOTHING more satisfying for me than that.
Second, after enchanting the reader with all of David’s gorgeous art of sunrises, sunsets, full moons, shooting stars, rainbows, etc., we end with just the smallest bit of backmatter introducing the concept of light pollution. We explain why the reader may be prevented from seeing a full sky of stars and point to the International Dark-Sky Association to learn how to protect our nighttime skies. So I’m proud to help promote their message and I’m donating part of my proceeds to this organization.
What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, this specific book?
Buffy Silverman –– On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures (9/6/2022) – Writing a book that follows a set rhyming and rhythmic pattern is a bit like putting together a puzzle. I searched for plants and animals that represented the season, could be shown with interesting photographs, and would fit the pattern I had established in On Snow-Melting Day. However, writing the back matter was probably the hardest part of this book. Each word pair has an approximately 50-word explanation. Boiling down concepts like why thunder rumbles or leaves change color in an accurate and interesting way is a challenge!
Patricia Newman – A River’s Gift: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn (9/6/2022) – The Elwha River Restoration project had several different stakeholders, so I needed to interview representatives from each group to tell the most balanced, most accurate story. I learned about salmon from a fish biologist at Olympic National Park. A tribal host gave me a tour of the Lower Elwha Klallam Museum. She shared the tribe’s connection to salmon, plus their stories, language, and ceremonies. I visited a tribal fish hatchery built to keep the salmon run alive for The Strong People while the river was dammed. A botanist took me on a hike to one of the former lakebeds, now a riot of plants native to the area.
Additionally, while Natasha Donovan was working on the illustrations, we ran into a thorny problem about what The Strong People’s fishing weirs looked like. An Olympic National Park expert suggested one possibility; the Tribe suggested another. To complicate matters, evidence for the Tribe’s suggestion was not publicly available until next year. I weighed both choices and decided in favor of the Tribe’s traditional knowledge.
Adipose fins became another issue. Wild salmon are born with tiny adipose fins on their backs near their tails. But hatcheries remove these fins to identify their fish because for many years only hatchery fish were legal for fishermen to catch. As A River’s Gifts progressed from the past to the present, we had to count the adipose fins in Natasha’s illustrations! While the dams were in place very few wild salmon returned to the Elwha and successfully spawned. Now that the dams have been removed, scientists are beginning to see more wild salmon with those lovely little adipose fins.
Marta Magellan – Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor Primatologist (9/22/2022) - The hardest part was trying to get a hold of the subject after the initial interview. She was always traveling and working on an Animal Planet series at the time.
Andrea J. Looney – Curve & Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams (9/27/2022) – For me, the most challenging part of working on this particular book were the seemingly endless rabbit holes of research. Paul R. Williams was such a busy person at such an important time in Los Angeles history. I really had to boil down all those facts into a single narrative that an elementary school kid could still find compelling. And because the subject of my book is still making headlines, my friends and family are still sending me articles about him – because now they find him fascinating too!
Randi Sonenshine - The Lodge That Beaver Built (9/27/2022) – There were two big challenges writing this book. When beavers build a dam, they engineer a pond ecosystem that benefits many plant and animal species, so the first challenge was trying to narrow down which animals to include. The second challenge was how to order and organize all those animals and details. I chose to organize them around the seasons, as the building cycle follows a seasonal pattern, and different animals benefit at different times of the year.
Nell Cross Beckerman - When the Sky Glows (9/13/2022) – The hardest part of research was definitely nailing down how many times Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela is struck by lightning! It is featured on our spread about lightning, as there is a near continuous lightning storm there. I had to ask my dad, who is a retired university biology professor, to help me get through the scholarly articles to be as accurate as possible.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Buffy Silverman – I’m working on a few different projects, including a winter book for this same series.
Patricia Newman – I have two proposals written for two new environmental stories, and another picture book about a STEM/nature/music connection. Send me some positive vibes so editors buy these projects!
Marta Magellan – My new book will be titled Bee Catastrophe: We’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone. Most people have heard of the disappearing bees, and I wrote a book about why it’s happening. I focused on the pesticides that are doing the most damage.
Andrea J. Looney – Yes, in October 2022 I have a chapter book series coming out – Abby in Orbit. It’s set in the year 2051 on an international space station that houses entire families. The daughter of two famous scientists, high-spirited third-grader Abby Baxter bounces from one adventure to another as she manages big kid feelings and microgravity in her new home and school environment. The backmatter of each book contains facts about our current international space station “for kids back in the 2020s.”
Randi Sonenshine - There is a third book in production, and it is about a certain eight-armed sea creature that builds an underwater den! I’m also working on revisions for an early chapter book based on a historical fiction piece of mine that was previously published in Cricket Magazine. That will be out next summer or fall.
Nell Cross Beckerman - Ooh so many! Next up for me is Caves from Scholastic, coming in October. It is a tour of fascinating caves all over the world, and the many things you can find in them. Scholastic has contracted me for a follow up to this book, not yet announced, but let’s say it is “explosively exciting”! And also, as I mentioned, My Park to Playa will be coming in 2024. Inspired by a 13 miles urban trail in Los Angeles, and the different families who come together to enjoy it in different ways. Fingers crossed for a few others out on sub now!
Definitely crossing fingers for you and we'll have to keep our eyes open for these new books. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Buffy Silverman –– I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking when I was young. Not only would I like to meet the fictional Pippi and go on an adventure with her, I would love to have met her author, the late Astrid Lindgren.
Patricia Newman – I’ve had the good fortune to meet so many fascinating people in my life -- kidlit authors and illustrators, a US Senator, a Supreme Court Justice, brilliant scientists, a cartoonist, teens in juvenile hall, firefighters, law enforcement, and actors. I think I’ll continue to trust in fate for the next person to cross my path.
Marta Magellan – I’d love to meet Emily Dickinson. I heard she was a wonderful conversationalist.
Andrea J. Looney – Oh, I would love to invite Zora Neale Hurston and Octavia Butler to brunch and just be there for a fascinating, millennia-spanning conversation.
Randi Sonenshine - I’d love to have a tea party with Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Maurice Sendak, and Shel Silverstein...quite an eclectic bunch, but wouldn’t that be something?
Nell Cross Beckerman - Oh wow all these answers are really inspiring. Can we have a party with all of them (I want to sit at Pippi’s table!)
Wouldn't that be so much fun! What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Buffy Silverman – My parents were not nature-loving folks, but we once took a family trip to Acadia National Park in Maine. While my parents went shopping in town, my sister, brother, and I went on a hike with a naturalist. After that hike I decided that I would someday be a naturalist—and was for many years! One of these days I’d love to visit Bryce Canyon and some other western parks.
Patricia Newman – Great question! I love Yellowstone and will be visiting later this month. I also had the good fortune to visit two national parks in Croatia this summer: Mljet National Park on Mljet Island in the Adriatic Sea and Krka National Park near the town of Šibenik. Both these parks have beautiful turquoise lakes and waterfalls, as well as stunning trees, plants, and wildlife.
© We Seek Travel 2022
Andrea J. Looney – 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.
Randi Sonenshine - I would love to visit Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Georgia, which is an underwater park! It’s a live-bottom (or hard-bottom) reef, which inspired both Anne Hunter (the illustrator of the builder books) and me when we were working on The Den That Octopus Built (to be released in 2024). For research, I used the excellent website for the reef, maintained by NOAA, and I was fortunate to have several interviews with a researcher/professor who leads dive research expeditions there, but I’d love to see the sanctuary for myself someday.
Nell Cross Beckerman – I have never been to Yellowstone and would love to! Such dramatic nature there.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures by Buffy Silverman (Millbrook Press/Lerner 9/6/2022) - A fun rhyming book, illustrated with gorgeous fall photographs, which explores the wonders to be found on a "gold-blooming, bee zooming, sun-dazzling day" as animals and plants prepare for fall. Wonderful backmatter provides additional information on the changes and winter preparations shown in the photographs., along with further reading and a glossary.
Synopsis: From Buffy Silverman, author of On a Snow-Melting Day, comes an exciting companion book. As autumn begins, plants and animals in nature begin to change in all kinds of ways to prepare for winter. Brilliant photos and rhyming text work together in this engaging read-aloud to highlight these changes, and back matter offers more information about each creature and change featured.
A River’s Gift: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn by Patricia Newman, illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Millbrook Press/Lerner 9/6/2022) - Written in a flowing free verse, this book chronicles the life of the Elwha river as provider and nurturer of its ecosystem and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. As the emaciated hostage to two dams. And finally, as the mighty river again full of salmon, supporting animals, vegetation, and the Strong People and their culture. It's a beautiful testament to the determination and dedication of many to restore the river and it's habitat. And a ray of hope that the environment can heal. Detailed sidebars expand upon ideas in the text, a wonderful author's note details the process involved in researching the book, and a detailed timeline includes historic and contemporary photographs. It's a wonderful book on the interconnectedness of all of nature.
Synopsis: A mighty river. A long history.
For thousands of years, the Elwha river flowed north to the sea. The river churned with salmon, which helped feed bears, otters, and eagles. The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, known as the Strong People located in the Pacific Northwest, were grateful for the river's abundance. All that changed in the 1790s when strangers came who did not understand the river's gifts. The strangers built dams, and the environmental consequences were disastrous.
Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor Primatologist by Marta Magellan, illustrated by Clémentine Rocheron (Albert Whitman 9/22/2022) – Growing up fascinated by animals, Mireya's forays into ballet and cheerleading couldn't diminish the lure of primates. Drawn to science and jungle exploration, neither the dangers nor the naysayers (convinced she didn't look "like a scientist") could dull her curious and adventurous spirit. Deep in the forests of Madagascar, she not only found the wild she hunted for, but a new lemur species. The author's note and back matter further explain her role in the creation of a national reserve in Madagascar. It's a great ecological adventure story.
Synopsis: Primatologist Mireya Mayor is living proof that courage and determination can make the impossible possible.
For Mireya Mayor, even as a young child whose house was filed with cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, a chicken, and a snapping turtle, nothing was quite wild enough. Older, she traded her pom-poms as a cheerleader for the National Football League for the swamps of the South American jungle. The first woman wildlife TV reporter for National Geographic, she traveled the world, but things still weren't quite wild enough. It was only when Mireya went to Madagascar that things FINALLY got wild enough. This biography of the woman who convinced the prime minister of Madagascar to make the mouse lemur’s rain forest a protected national park is an inspiring―and wild story.
Curve and Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett (Penguin Random House/Knopf 9/27/2022) - Synopsis: Discover the remarkable story of an orphaned Black boy who grew up to become the groundbreaking architect to the stars, Paul R. Williams. A stunning nonfiction picture-book biography from the Caldecott Honor–winning author and NAACP Image Award–nominated artist.
As an orphaned Black boy growing up in America in the early 1900s, Paul R. Williams became obsessed by the concept of "home." He not only dreamed of building his own home, he turned his dreams into drawings. Defying the odds and breaking down the wall of racism, Williams was able to curve around the obstacles in his way to become a world-renowned architect. He designed homes for the biggest celebrities of the day, such as Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, and created a number of buildings in Los Angeles that are now considered landmarks.
The Lodge That Beaver Built by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter (Candlewick Press 9/27/2022) – Employing a modified version of The House That Jack Built, with a repeated refrain - "the lodge the beaver's built" - but without a full cumulative sequence - the lyrical text explores the life cycle of the beaver, the animals helped by the beaver's dam, and a spring flood which brings the book full circle to the beaver's building a new lodge. The back matter offers beaver facts, a glossary, and more resources. It's a fun read aloud and a good introduction to this important keystone species.
Synopsis: A lush companion to The Nest That Wren Built brings to light the habits of a secretive creature with lifelike illustrations and a lyrical, informative text.
Resourceful Beaver and his family work every day to build the perfect lodge in the pond, made of branches from the shore willow and silty mud from the streambed. Secure and safe from the elements and all the forest animals who come by, the beavers sleep, play, and grow inside the lodge. But come springtime’s flood, this family of beavers will move on, leaving behind the remains of the lodge that Beaver built. Gently scientific and accessible, with soft, glowing illustrations from award-winning artist Anne Hunter, this lilting, poetic companion to The Nest That Wren Built introduces young children to the engineering feat of dam-building and the life cycle of beaver families. Budding nature lovers can explore more beaver facts, a glossary, and a list of suggested resources in the back matter.
When the Sky Glows by Nell Cross Beckerman, illustrated by David Litchfield (Beach Lane Books 9/13/2022) – Using a layered text, a lyrical main text highlights a location and a hint at an event "when the sky glows." A subsequent page turn reveals a stunningly luminescent double page spread, with smaller informational text explaining the phenomena - such as a sunrise, lightening, rainbows, and northern lights. In addition to showing people interacting and appreciating nature, it includes back matter with information and resources on the phenomenon and light pollution. It is a stunning picture book sure to spark interest and further discussions.
Synopsis: Uncover the science behind the beautiful and vast array of natural events that make the sky glow all over the world in this enlightening nonfiction picture book.
Sunrises and lightning storms, rainbows and volcanoes, meteors and eclipses—these beautiful, awe-inspiring events that light up the sky might seem like magic. But there is a fascinating scientific explanation for each. Nell Cross Beckerman’s playful and illuminating text and David Litchfield’s vibrant illustrations are certain to capture the curiosity of young sky watchers everywhere.
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:
Buffy Silverman – On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures (Millbrook Press/Lerner 9/6/2022) –
Patricia Newman – A River’s Gift: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn (Millbrook Press/Lerner 9/6/2022) –
Marta Magellan – Just Wild Enough: Mireya Mayor Primatologist (Albert Whitman 9/22/2022) –
Andrea J. Looney – Curve and Flow: The Elegant Vision of L.A. Architect Paul R. Williams (Penguin Random House Knopf 9/27/2022) -
Randi Sonenshine – The Lodge That Beaver Built (Candlewick 9/27/2022) –
Nell Cross Beckerman - When the Sky Glows (Beach Lane Books 9/13/2022) –