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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - January 2024 Interview with STEAM Team Books Members

Whether you're here to support the STEAM Team authors, curiosity, or because you love nonfiction books, I hope you enjoy discovering some amazing authors and super spectacular books!

Logo of STEAM Team Books

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to two authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and fascinating creatives.


"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2023. 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?...)

Author photo of Cedar Pruit

Cedar Pruit – Fire Flight: A Wildfire Escape (Capstone Editions 1/1/2023) – I was an idea-hungry kid, devouring books and putting together poems as soon as I could. I remember sitting at my desk in second grade, hearing my name crackling over the school intercom as the principal congratulated me for getting a poetry award.


The work that I liked the most dug at truth, which poetry and STEM both do, although in different ways. That same kind of truth-seeking has helped inform how I parent my children, and my work as a facilitator and coach at a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) firm, as much as in writing. I write lyrical nonfiction, funny fiction, funny nonfiction, and lyrical fiction. in picture books and longer work for children including chapter books and a middle grade novel.


As much as I’d like to say I write every day, I don’t. Instead, I stick to a weekly routine in which I carve out specific times and days of the week to immerse myself in poetry and writing. I try to be versatile enough to do it anywhere, but sometimes, mixing up the location can really help juice up the writing.

 

[Debut Author]


Author photo of Marie-Therese Miller

Marie-Therese Miller – 34 Amazing Facts About Space & 34 Amazing Facts About Minecraft (Lerner 1/1/2024) – I am an English teacher at Marist College and have five adult children and a grandson. I started writing 20 years ago. I have a home office, but I can usually be found, pen in hand, hunched over a notebook on my bed-- books and articles strewn around my floor. I enjoy all aspects of creating nonfiction books for kids, from the research and interviews to the writing and editing. I write about all sorts of topics, but my most recent books have been focused on social science subjects. My undergraduate degree is in psychology and all things psychological still interest me.

 

[[Author of 46 books including, States of Matter: A Sesame Street Science Book (2023), Sink or Float: A Sesame Street Science Book (2023), Simple Machines: A Sesame Street Science Book (2023), Dogs (An Early Encyclopedia) (2022), A Dog's Best Friend: A Sesame Street Guide to Caring for Your Dog (2021), It's All Art! From Drawing to Dress-up with Sesame Street (2021), Sly as a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? (2021), Crayola Our Colorful Earth: Celebrating the Natural World (2021), Handling Depression (2021), Parents Here and There: A Kid’s Guide to Deployment (2021), Me Love to Share with Cookie Monster: A Book About Generosity. (2021), Everyone Has Value with Zoe: A Book About Respect, Caring with Bert and Ernie: A Book About Empathy (2021).]

 

What helps you to be inspired? (perhaps a certain place, music, activity, etc.)

 

Cedar Pruit – I want to say, raindrops on the window; a latte in the cup; a fire escape to the sky; but…I can’t. What I’ve learned is that inspiration is just discipline and the commitment to keep digging for ideas and feelings and the willingness to drop everything else and get those ideas down and keep going in an effort to get better and better at finding the stories that connect all of us.

 

Marie-Therese Miller – I surround myself with others who are making a positive difference in the world. They inspire me. Charitable, kind, and creative people motivate me to be my best self.

 

Now that we know a little more about all of you, what sparked your interest and caused you to write this book?

Book cover - Screech owl flying away from a forest fire.

Cedar Pruit – Fire Flight: A Wildfire Escape (1/1/2023) – Fire Flight is a story ripped from the headlines about an owl who, while fleeing a forest fire, had a surprise encounter with a helicopter pilot. The pilot was not only brave enough to fight the fire in the first place but was somehow able to take a picture of the owl riding along with him. When I read about this in the newspaper, I felt such empathy for every animal and human ever forced to leave their home. I was amazed by the contradictions and possibilities in the story and wrote a poem about it. That poem became this picture book.

Book cover - photo of a black hole.

Marie-Therese Miller – 34 Amazing Facts About Space (1/1/24) - I have always been fascinated by everything related to space. As a young person, I seriously considered becoming an astronomer. I wrote this book because I wanted to share my awe of space with readers.

Book cover - photo of a minecraft character climbing a mountain.

34 Amazing Facts About Minecraft (1/1/2024) – Honestly, I am not much of a gamer, but my son is. His enthusiasm for gaming, including Minecraft, was contagious. As I researched, he explained the intricacies of the game to me. We even played Minecraft together; it was a bonding experience!

 

It's fun how all three books came from discovering something exciting and wanting to share that with kids. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a children’s author?

 

Cedar Pruit – I imagine all creators have characters and astonishing discoveries that they can’t wait to share. That’s how I feel about the picture books and chapter books and a middle grade novel that are all very present for me but haven’t found their way to publication yet – and it can be challenging when I get distracted or self-critical about that. The more I write, the more stories I feel need my advocacy! But I know I just need to stay focused and keep building my craft and celebrating what I am able to share.

 

Marie-Therese Miller –I think querying editors is the most challenging part of being a children’s author. It’s exciting to submit a new project to an editor. However, the long wait for a response, while hoping to connect with an editor who shares your passion for the subject matter, is difficult.

 

There will be many writers and illustrators who share your feelings. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?

 

Cedar Pruit – Fire Flight: A Wildfire Escape (1/1/2023) – I got so lucky with my illustrator. Capstone found Chiara Fedele, who knew just how to depict a story brimming with empathy but not anthropomorphism; gravity and also humor; urgency and also, somehow, a calm and unforgettable beauty. I really am indebted to my editor, Ali Deering, and art director, Nathan Gassman, for their collaboration with Chiara to bring these words to life. 

Internal spread - on left a photo of the Artemis spaceshuttle crew. On right, a photo of a mock moon base camp.

Text © Lerner Publishing Group, Inc, 2024.


Marie-Therese Miller – 34 Amazing Facts About Space (1/1/24) - A portion of my book discusses NASA’s Artemis program. This exciting program will send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon. A moon base camp will also be constructed. I have a real-life connection to Artemis. My daughter is an aerospace engineer for Boeing, and she is working on the Space Launch System Rocket for Artemis!

Internal spread - On left, photo of a player collecting redstone. On right, photo of a Minecraft rollercoaster.

Text © Lerner Publishing Group, Inc, 2024.


34 Amazing Facts About Minecraft (1/1/2024) – I was amazed to discover the fantastic things players are building in Minecraft. They mine redstone and use it to make arcade games and even rollercoasters.

 

Those are wonderful things to learn about these books. Thank you, both. So, what was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing or researching your book? Was there a bit of your research you didn’t get to include?

Internal spread - owl sitting on the back of the passenger seat in a helicopter fighting a forest fire.

Text © Cedar Pruit, 2024. Image © Chiara Fedele, 2024.


Cedar Pruit – Fire Flight: A Wildfire Escape (1/1/2023) – Writing about the experience of another person is something I don’t take lightly. I approached the situation with as much care as I could. I am profoundly lucky that it was a person who was willing to let me connect with him, to explore his story, and to trust me enough with the photograph he took. I’m also very humbled to be writing about forest fires and have nothing but respect for the people who fight them, and the people and animals who are impacted by them. It’s very important to me that other perspectives and lived experiences are incorporated and represented respectfully in my work, and that will always be worth the effort.


Marie-Therese Miller – 34 Amazing Facts About Space (1/1/24) - The physics of planets’ orbits and rotations was somewhat difficult to grasp. Luckily, I had generous experts willing to explain the science to me.

 

34 Amazing Facts About Minecraft (1/1/2024) - Yes, in both the Minecraft and space books, I wasn’t able to include all the amazing facts I found during my research phase. I had to pick and choose because the word count for this reading level is limited. If I wasn’t selective, a 300-word book could easily become a 2,000-word book. 

 

What a great way to describe the care and effort you both put into your books. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

Cedar Pruit – I’m excited to share the story of the kids who tunneled under a forest in France only to discover the unbelievable cave art of Lascaux. With the monsters of World War II raging over them, it was the humanity of 17,000 years ago that loomed large in their hearts and minds – if only for a day underground. What Marcel Found is being illustrated by David Litchfield, launching in 2026 from Simon & Schuster’s Beach Lane Books imprint.

 

Marie-Therese Miller – I was proud to work with Sesame Street and Lerner Publications on four tough topics books, which will come out this summer. I also have four books about cool military vehicles from Lerner publishing in August 2024. And I am especially excited about a book focused on orcas that is slated for the fall. Thank you for asking.

 

We'll definitely keep our eyes open for these fascinating books. How do you deal with, or celebrate, rejections?

 

Cedar Pruit – I try to learn everything I can from them, but once that is done, I move on as quickly as possible – literally within seconds if I can! I’ve gotten hundreds, so I’m well-practiced. Still, rejections have dramatically impacted my work; even a line like “I wish she had incorporated more [of one thing or another]” can prompt me to rework entire sections to see if I can take that feedback and make a narrative better.

 

Marie-Therese Miller – Admittedly, form rejections are difficult to celebrate. However, I have received some lovely, encouraging rejections that bolster my confidence and spur me to continue with the manuscript. Most often, I just keep writing and submitting no matter what. Persistence and perseverance are necessary if you want to have books published. And the reward for persistence is getting your work into young readers’ hands and perhaps meeting those readers someday at a book festival or bookstore. Now, that’s reason for celebration!

 

Thank you for sharing these hard-won insights. Last question, is there a plant or flower you love growing, or wish you could grow, in your yard or garden?


Cedar Pruit – We have a towering, wild perennial garden that features a healthy amount of milkweed, a plant with beautiful flowers, a luscious scent, autumn tufts and summer butterflies. But if we didn’t, it would be dinnerplate dahlias all the way, baby!

.

Marie-Therese Miller – That’s a tough one. I love all that grows in my garden, but I am especially happy that roses, lilacs, and hydrangea feel at home there. Maybe one day I will try my hand at fruit trees.

 

I hope you both enjoy the plants you have and discover some fun new ones this year.


NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!

Book cover - Screech owl flying away from a forest fire.

Fire Flights: A Wildfire Escape by Cedar Pruitt, illustrated by Chiara Fedele (Capstone Editions 1/1/2024) – This beautiful, touching book chronicles the effect of a forest fire on a screech owl and its amazing interaction with a fire fighter. Flying over a fire in a helicopter with a container of water, the fire fighter is surprised and honored that the owl hitches a ride for a while; watching as the fire is doused. Wonderful lyrical text, fun onomatopoeia, and gorgeous illustrations perfectly capture the emotions and tension as the book shares the stunning "once-in-a-lifetime" moment between a pilot and an owl. The author's note offers interesting behind the scenes information.

 

Synopsis: Flames consume a forest, and an owl seeks refuge. Helicopter wings chop, and water drops to drench the branches below. Using spare, lyrical language, this debut picture book takes readers inside the journey of a screech owl that fled the flames to ride along with a firefighting helicopter during the 2020 California Creek wildfire. Vivid imagery highlights the fear and danger of the experience-as well as an astonishing moment of connection.

Book cover - photo of a black hole.

34 Amazing Facts About Space by Marie-Therese Miller (Lerner 1/1/2024) – Fun, succinct facts about astronauts and the space program, planets and the moon, black holes and the sun accompany stunning photographs in this enticing picture book on space.


 Synopsis: Space holds some of the universe's biggest mysteries. Blast off into the unknown with stunning photographs and gentle introductions to new vocabulary. Readers will discover incredible facts about moon missions, planets, stars, and more in this entertaining, high-interest book.

Book cover - photo of a minecraft character climbing a mountain.

34 Amazing facts about Minecraft by Marie-Therese Miller (Lerner 1/1/2024) – An interesting primer to Minecraft, this picture book follows the series format and offers cool succinct facts about the levels of play, enemies to avoid, the game's creator and Minecraft's relationship to Legos.


Synopsis: Minecraft is one of the world's hottest games, with millions of active players globally. Multiple modes give players freedom to choose how they want to play the game and interact with their surroundings. Read about the game's most dangerous enemies, its rarest ores, and more in this one-stop collection of fun facts!

 

Thank you both for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you both enormous successes.

 

To learn more about these writers, or to contact them:

 

Cedar Pruitt – Fire Flight: A Wildfire Escape (Capstone Editions 1/1/2024) – 

 

Marie-Therese Miller – 34 Amazing Facts About Space & 34 Amazing facts about Minecraft (Lerner 1/1/2024) –

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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