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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Sue Heavenrich

First off I get to give away two amazing books by Maria Gianferrari -


CONGRATULATIONS


Danielle Hammelef - winner of THANK A FARMER and Mona Pease - winner of FUNGI GROW!!


Now, I have the privilege of introducing you to another wondeful writer and her perfect Halloween/Thanksgiving picture book.


Sue Heavenrich’s childhood was filled with outdoor family adventures, girl scouts, and books - She loved to read!

Author photo of Sue Heavenrich holding a large pumpkin.

So you might think that she’d study writing. Instead, Sue studied biology. After a month trading seeds with harvester ants, she decided insects are cool and headed to grad school to learn more about them. After teaching science at an alternative high school, Sue began writing about backyard science explorations for Home Education Magazine. She took over the science column for a parenting bimonthly and began reporting for community newspapers.

Collage of Sue Heavenrich's book covers.

Her books include 2023 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize-winning Funky Fungi: 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More, w/ co-author Alisha Gabriel (2022), 13 Ways to Eat a Fly, illustrated by David Clark (2021), Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought w/ co-author Christy Mihaly (2018), and a handful of educational books.


For more information on Sue, see our earlier interview (here).


Her newest picture book, The Pie That Molly Grew, released August 15th.


Welcome back Sue,


What was your inspiration for The Pie That Molly Grew? And how did you decide to base the format on the House That Jack Built?

Book cover - girl peering over a huge pumpkin as a bee flies past.

I’m pretty sure the seed for this book came from my garden – that’s where the best ideas grow. It was a single line that stuck in my brain, an earworm that wouldn’t leave me alone: this is the pie that Molly made. And the question: how do we get from a seed to pie? That line set a beat and I figured I would just go along with it. I tried to write about pumpkins and how vines grow in plain old prose, but it came out half-baked. [Ha! 😊]


But here’s the thing with “The House That Jack Built” – everything is repeated verse after verse and it becomes repetitious and heavy to carry from one page to the next. So I shortened some lines, changed words, and even eliminated entire sentences to keep things moving along. Especially on the last two spreads, because who wants to wait so long to get to the pie?


I totally agree with you about the original and I really love the way you tweaked the format of that rhyme. How long did it take The Pie That Molly Grew to go from idea to publication?


I pulled out my old manilla file to answer this one! The idea first germinated in 2014, and in 2015 I embraced the “House that Jack Built” structure. After positive comments from an editor at a conference, I sent it out to a couple editors and a handful of agents. Then I let it sit in a drawer for about three years… I know! Why? Fortunately, my current agent encouraged me to revise it so that the story began with planting the seed. Sleeping Bear Press acquired it in June 2021 and it was published this August.


I'm glad you followed your agent's advice! Is there something you both want your readers to know about, or take away from The Pie That Molly Grew?


Judging by the cover and the title, you know this is a book about growing a pumpkin. But it’s also about connections. There are basic environmental connections: soil, sun, rain. There are animal connections: the flowers provide nectar to the bees that, in turn, carry pollen from male flowers to female flowers. Without their pollination services, we’d have no pie. There are social connections: harvest, community meals, and gratitude for the farmers and gardeners who grow the food we eat. And, in the back matter, there are historical connections. I hope reading my book will encourage children (and their adults) to try growing something – maybe carrots and lettuce in a container on their balcony or even their own pumpkin. I can’t think of a better way to help connect kids to where their food comes from.


I love the connections which you and Chamisa together wove through the book. What was the hardest or most challenging thing for you about writing The Pie That Molly Grew? And though we don’t often ask, what was the most fun?


I think the hardest thing is keeping the science real and true while maintaining the rhyme and rhythm. The most fun? Playing with words! Creating word banks of rhyming words really fed my inner listophile.


Rhyming nonfiction must be one of the hardest things to create. When you first saw Chamisa Kellogg’s illustration, did anything surprise or amaze you? What is your favorite spread?

Internal spread - girl sitting by pumpkin vine writing observations in a notebook.

Text © Sue Heavenrich, 2023. Image © Chamissa Kellogg, 2023.


I fell in love with Chamisa’s art when I saw the first sketches. It was obvious that she understood plants – in fact, she grows pumpkins, too! And I love the way she shows how long it takes for a pumpkin seed to sprout (a bird building a nest in the tree outside!). While I love all the spreads, I think my favorite is Molly in the garden with her notebook. She could be sketching pumpkins (like Chamisa would do) or observing pollinators (like what I do) – or even writing her very own book!


I agree that Chamisa did a great job with this book! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I have a bunch of ideas that I’m exploring, but no projects to share yet. When I do, you’ll know!


Good luck with alkl of them! What is the best piece of advice you’ve received, whether about writing or not?


Do what you love without expectations of what the outcome will be.

Book cover - girl peering over a huge pumpkin as a bee flies past.

Great quote....but sometimes SO hard to follow. Though, if you love what you do, it makes it much easier. Thank you, Sue for stopping back by and sharing with us. It was delightful to chat with you.


Be sure to stop back by on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on The Pie That Molly Grew.

To find out more about Sue Heavenrich, or contact her:

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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