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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - July 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 read to the end because you'll discover some amazing authors and spectacular books!

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to seven 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?...)

Katie Furze – Tuatara, A Living Treasure (Scholastic NZ 7/1/2023) – My writing journey officially began twelve years ago when I had a little time on my hands. My older children were at school and my youngest was at morning kindergarten – it was the perfect opportunity to reinvent myself. I’ve always loved children’s books, especially ones that stimulate the imagination, so I started to write and I haven’t looked back!

Even if it is just a sentence or two jotted in my journal, I write every day, wherever I am. I like to process my thoughts, ideas and first drafts the old-fashioned way with a pen on paper.

For me, variety is the spice of life – and that applies to writing – I write nonfiction and fiction for children of all ages including picture books, short stories, articles, novels, poems, plays, and early readers and sometimes I write for grown-ups too.

I’ve always loved science and the natural world and that’s what drew me to STEAM books.

[Debut Author]

Jessica Stremer – Great Carrier Reef (Holiday House 7/4/2023) – I’ve had a love for putting pen to paper for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until both of my daughters were in school full-time that I took the plunge and wrote my first picture book manuscript. It was sweet, playful, and utterly perfect. Just kidding! I made every newbie mistake there is, which is exactly how the writing process is supposed to go.

Once I got started, it didn’t take me long to hone into the types of stories I love to tell; narrative nonfiction, often with an environmental theme, that introduce kids to a lesser-known topic and encourages them to look at the world differently.

I often hand write my first drafts, so it’s not uncommon to find me scrawled across the floor or working in some other unconventional writing space. But when it comes to serious revisions, I need a desk and uninterrupted quiet.

[Debut Author]

Jennifer Swanson – Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space (Mayo Clinic Press Kids 7/18/2023) - I have been writing almost all of my life. I started creating books when I was in kindergarten. Throughout my life, I’ve kept journals. Mostly observations of things that have happened to me in my life and things I’ve found interesting. I started writing professionally about 12 years ago.

I typically write on my laptop or my desktop in my office. I feel most at home writing and researching there as that is where I’ve written almost all of my books. My writing day consists of getting up, having breakfast, and being in my office by around 8:30am. I work pretty much all day consistently until 5pm. I may stop to exercise or walk my dogs, but that is how I work for most of the week.

My favorite type of books to write are the ones about engineering and technology. I love learning! I have loved science my whole life. After all, I started a science club in my garage when I was 7 years old. My goal when I’m writing is to find a unique and exciting way to present my topic. Something that is natural, but unusual, like my book Save the Crash-test Dummies, which is the story of car safety engineering told through the lens of a crash-test dummy.

[Author of 47 books, including - Footprints Across the Planet (2022), Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, & Shell Hunting (2021), Everything You Need to Ace Chemistry in One Big Fat Notebook (2020), Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature (6/2020), Spies, Lies, and Disguise: The Daring Tricks and Deeds That Won World War II (2019), Save the Crash Test Dummies! (2019), Absolute Expert: Dolphins (2018), Pearl Harbor (American Girl: Real Stories From My Time)​ (2018), Building With Poop (Power of Poop) (2018), Astronaut Aquanaut (2018), Environmental Activist Wangari Maathai (2018),and Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System: Massive Mountains, Supersize Storms, Alien Atmospheres, and Other Out-of-This-World Space Science (2018).]

Kim Zachman – There’s No Cream in Cream Soda: The Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks (Running Press 7/18/2023) – I was a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers for 15 years before I turned my attention to children’s books. I fell in love with Children’s Literature while reading books to my two children. I’ve been writing for kids for about ten years now.

I’ve always been interested in how people used to live and what their everyday lives used to be like. With STEAM topics, I’m most fascinated by the history of science and how much we’ve learned. For example, in my “There’s No Cream in Cream Soda” I cover the discovery of gases, particularly carbon dioxide. In the late 18th century, people believed that carbonated water was medicinal and that’s why soda fountains ended up in drug stores.

I work in blocks of 2-3 hours, take a break to run errands or exercise, then fit in another block of 2-3 hours. If I have a lot of errands during the week, then I’ll make up the time in the evenings or on the weekend. I work in my office on a big desk because I like to spread out my research materials.

[Author of There’s No Ham in Hamburgers: The Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods (2021).]

Jilanne Hoffman – A River of Dust : The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon (Chronicle Books 7/25/2023) – I’ve been a writer since I was in middle school, where I wrote for the school newspaper. But I never took being a writer seriously even when one of my engineering professors said I didn't write like an engineer. He meant it as a compliment, LOL!

When I left engineering, I traveled around the world, and then kind of stumbled into working as a science and grant writer. For years I wrote for different organizations like the NIH (including writing a speech for DHHS Secretary Donna Shalala), but I didn’t start writing science-related books for kids until years after my son was born. I now spend many hours a day in front of my laptop, either at the kitchen table or in my corner “office” in a bedroom.

I tend to write lyrically and am fond of wordplay. I also enjoy writing narrative info-fiction with nonfiction back matter because that’s the type of nonfiction I tend to read. I love the mysteries of the world and how it works, and I think that wanting to know the What, the How, and the Why of things drives my wanting to share that curiosity with kids. My goal is to get as many kids as possible hooked on science. There are so many avenues available to them there!

[Author of The Honey Bear Hive Shaped Board Book (2023) and Happy Camper Shaped Board Book (2023).]

David A. Kelly – Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf (Calkins Creek/Astra 7/25/2023) I never expected to be a writer, although I always loved to read. I was terrible at spelling, didn’t care for grammar, and wasn’t creative. These are not great attributes if you want to be a writer, so I went to college for computer science—I was good with science and math. Eventually, I ended up in a software marketing job that required me to get better at writing. I branched out into travel stories (like one on the best hotel pool in Maui…) and children’s books when my sons were in elementary school when I started my Ballpark Mysteries series about 15 years ago.

I usually write my children’s books in the afternoons, including weekends, when I’m in the middle of a writing project or it’s working. I almost always write at my desk—I need to be able to focus. Usually, coffee shops and other locations provide too much distraction for me. My favorite type of book to write is one that includes some non-fiction elements, like my Ballpark Mysteries series, where stories are structured around real baseball teams and real stadiums and have details of history, or pure non-fiction books, like Miracle Mud (which tells the strange tale of baseball rubbing mud) or Tee Time on the Moon (which tells the story of Alan Shepard playing golf on the moon). I love STEAM books because you’re working with a story (or facts and people) that already exist, and, as the writer, I have to find a creative way to explore that story and include as much information as possible.

[Author of Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud That Changed Baseball (2013), Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse (Totally True Adventures): How the Red Sox Curse Became a Legend (2009), Most Valuable Players (MVP) chapter book series (4 books) , and Ballpark Mysteries chapter book series (23 books).]

Laurie Wallmark –– The Queen of Chess: How Judith Polgar Changed the Game (little bee books 7/25/2023) - I usually write on my computer or scribble on Post-it notes when I’m lying in bed and can’t get to sleep. I started writing about 20 years ago (I’m a late bloomer). Picture books are by far my favorite category of books to write, although I’m presently working on a biography in verse for older children. I write books about scientists and mathematicians because I love science and math. Maybe my books will excite children about these fields. And if they learn a little bit about STEAM, all the better.

[Author of 7 books including, Her Eyes On the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer (Creston 5/2/2023), Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (2021), Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics (2020), Hedy Lamarr's Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor (2019), Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (2017), and Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine (2015).]

What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?

Katie Furze – When my children were young, I wrote in short bursts whenever I had the opportunity. This meant most of my early manuscripts were written at swimming lessons, football practices, and dance lessons. Oddly, it seemed the more background noise the better! These days I have the luxury of being able to write at home on the dining table, where I can spread out all my notebooks and research papers – this is especially helpful when writing STEAM books.

Jessica Stremer – – I’ve written two manuscripts in hotel rooms. In both instances I had been marinating on an idea after doing research, but hadn’t yet had the chance to get down a first draft. The most recent one poured out of me after a move to Japan. I was delirious with jet lag but couldn’t stop until I had the manuscript in decent enough shape to share with my critique partners.

Jennifer Swanson – On a bike ride. The words for Footprints Across the Planet came to me one day as I was on a 5 mile bike ride. Thankfully, I had my phone with me so that I could text myself the words. But I’ve also written books in the middle of the night while on a plane flying across the ocean. That’s a great time to write. Everyone’s asleep or at least quiet and you have nowhere else to go. I’ve written on trains, in cars, and even museums. I write wherever I am. When the words hit you, you write them down.

Kim Zachman – My critique group tries to get together once or twice a year for a writers’ retreat in the mountains. The milk chapter and the fruit juice chapter were roughed out there. When the writing got hard, I went out for a hike up the mountain to clear my head.

Jilanne Hoffman – I’ve written in a lot of places, but the most notable is probably a bungalow on Catholic Lane in Key West, Florida, where Tom McGuane supposedly wrote 92 Degrees in the Shade. My husband and I lived there for a couple of months back when we were vagabonds, and I wrote at a small desk in the living room/dining room. That house had tiny ghost ants that would climb up the laptop cord from the wall and onto the desk and bite me. Maybe I should write a dystopian MG novel about ants.

David A. Kelly – The most fun place I’ve written a manuscript was on my back deck a few years ago when I was writing my MVP sports chapter book series. It was summer, the grass was green, and the temperature was a perfect 78 degrees. Besides that, I usually write at my desk in my home office. The most fun for me usually comes during my research phase, before I start writing since I might be attending a baseball game, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame, or heading to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to learn about a subject I’m writing about.

Laurie Wallmark –– I’m afraid I’m rather boring when it comes to where I like to write. I usually write at my computer in my office. Occasionally I’ll take my laptop to my “satellite office,” aka a comfy chair in the living room. When it comes time to revise (as it does quite often, obviously), I print out my manuscript and work on it wherever I happen to be, whether it’s on my deck or in a hotel room or even on a plane.

Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?

Katie Furze – Tuatara, A Living Treasure (7/1/2023) – Tuatara are incredible creatures and recent research tells us they are even more unusual and special than previously thought. I wanted to share this knowledge with young people, and at the same time help tuatara, by writing a picture book that would bring this amazing creature to the attention of a wide audience.

Jessica Stremer – Great Carrier Reef (7/4/2023) – I first discovered the Mighty-O’s story in early March of 2021, when my youngest daughter turned on a documentary about reefing ships. The USS Oriskany was one of the ships featured, and as I discovered in my research, the largest ship intentionally reefed to date.

The USS Oriskany, nicknamed “the Mighty-O,” is a Navy aircraft carrier. As a military spouse whose husband has deployed multiple times on aircraft carriers, I was instantly intrigued by the fact that a military vessel designed to be unsinkable was deliberately sent to the bottom of the ocean. I also love all things nature/science so the topic appealed to me even more. I knew the story was one I had to tell. I also knew it was unique and only one person would have the opportunity to tell it first. I wanted to be that person!

Jennifer Swanson – Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space (7/18/2023) – I was actually contacted by an editor and asked to write this book for them. I was given the title and the idea that this book should be about space medicine. I took it from there! While the idea wasn’t mine, the topics, structure, and tone were all mine. This type of work is about half of what I do. It’s just as fun and produces amazing results as a book that is my original idea.

Kim Zachman – There’s No Cream in Cream Soda: The Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks (7/18/2023) – I read Georgia Bragg’s book How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous. Not only did I love the humor, I enjoyed learning about ancient medical practices. I became curious about the history and scientific discoveries that led to the development of everyday items. For example, we take aluminum cans for granted, but I think the discovery of aluminum extraction is really cool!

Jilanne Hoffman – A River of Dust : The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon (7/25/2023) – A River Of Dust was inspired by the lucky intersection of an incident from my childhood and an email from NASA. The email arrived in 2015, declaring that scientists were quantifying and tracking the river of dust flowing from North Africa across the Atlantic to the Amazon via satellite imagery and LIDAR. And I recalled that as a kid, I watched an evening news story about dust reaching the U.S. from Africa. At that time, I was flabbergasted, and wanted to hear more, but not much else was known. So when the email from NASA arrived decades later, I knew it was a sign that I should share this information with kids like the one I used to be, the ones who want to know more about the world.

David A. Kelly – Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf (7/25/2023) I wrote my latest book, Tee-Time on the Moon, because I came across a news story about how an imaging specialist in England used new techniques to remaster photographs of NASA’s Apollo missions, including Apollo 14 when astronaut Alan Shepard played golf on the moon. When I looked into what Andy Saunders was doing, I was amazed and thought it was a great way to not only introduce a new generation of readers to some of the accomplishments of the 1960s and 1970s Apollo missions but also to explore how new technologies and approaches, like Andy’s image processing capabilities, could be used to extract new information from old sources.

Laurie Wallmark –– The Queen of Chess: How Judith Polgar Changed the Game (7/25/2023) - My editor is a chess nut. He thought there needed to be a book about the greatest female chess grandmaster in history, Judit Polgar. Since he was familiar with my other #WomenInSTEM titles, he thought I’d be the perfect person to write a picture book biography about her. The more I researched her amazing life, the more I couldn’t wait to share her story with the world.

What do you like to do outdoors by yourself or with your family and friends?

Katie Furze – I love observing wildlife! My favorite outdoor activities are hiking, mountain biking, swimming, and snorkeling, and I also enjoy just hanging out and relaxing in nature.

Jessica Stremer – I love to hike, fish, kayak, and camp with my family. We recently moved back to Wisconsin and are surrounded by natural areas that we can’t wait to explore. I also love to travel, learn about other cultures, and try new foods. Even on vacation I love to be on the go.

Jennifer Swanson – I love being outside! That’s probably because when I’m working I’m inside all day. My husband and I go to the beach, go hiking, go to museums, and travel all over the world. We bike, run, walk, and swim all the time. My goal in life is to enjoy it and never to stop learning.

Kim Zachman – Besides walking my dog every day, I also run and play tennis.

Jilanne Hoffman – I grew up traipsing alone through the woods on our farm, so I love hanging out in all types of wilderness. Tree leaves rustling, the scent of sun-warmed pine needles, owls hooting, hawks riding mountain updrafts, the “cat’s paws” of ripples on top of the water revealing where the wind is—all feed my love of the natural world. It’s amazing to watch a Great Blue Heron hunt on land, the way they perch like a motionless shipping crane over a hole until there’s a flash of movement that means a gopher’s a goner. I can close my eyes right now and feel the solid warmth on my belly of a boulder in a creek in the sun. I’m lying with my chin hanging over the edge to watch the water striders skate in the eddies. Definitely a nature girl to the core.

David A. Kelly – Besides reading a book at the beach, my favorite outdoor activity is kayaking. My wife Alice and I love to take our kayaks to all the great ponds, lakes, and bays in Massachusetts and nearby states.

Laurie Wallmark –– My favorite thing to do outdoors is to find a peaceful spot, preferable near a lake or the ocean, and read a book.

Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?

Text © Katie Furze, 2023. Image © Ned Barraud, 2023.

Katie Furze – Tuatara, A Living Treasure (7/1/2023) – If you ever see a tuatara in real life, take a deep breath – what you are looking at is not a lizard – it is way more special! The tuatara is the only living member of the group of reptiles named Rhynchocephalia. All other rhynchocephalians, from the time of the dinosaurs, are extinct.

Text © Jessica Stremer, 2023. Image © Gordy Wright, 2023.

Jessica Stremer – Great Carrier Reef ( 7/4/2023) – The central theme of this book is transformation, but it has so many additional layers that I hope will appeal to kids. From coral reefs and ocean health, to engineering, critical thinking, and problem solving, to ships and military history, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. But ultimately when readers finish this book, I hope they walk away with a sense of optimism. That they see this success story and feel inspired to continue to invent creative solutions to other environmental struggles our planet faces.

Text © Jennifer Swanson, 2023.

Jennifer Swanson – Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space (7/18/2023) – If you want to go into space one day—either as an astronaut or just a passenger on a commercial spacecraft, this book has all you’ll need to know about how space affects your body. There are some really interesting pieces of information that you’d probably want to know. For example, practically everyone who goes into space gets “Space sickness” and yes, you do sometimes lose your lunch. That is because it takes time for your brain to adjust to being without a solid way to get your bearings. You float around, so UP is not UP. It’s just a different perspective. This book is chock full of fun facts about living in space.

Text © Kim Zachman, 2023. Image © Peter Donnelly, 2023.

Kim Zachman – There’s No Cream in Cream Soda: The Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks (7/18/2023) – I think readers will be surprised at how much they learn about everyday items. Readers of my first book There’s No Ham in Hamburgers often tell me that they liked to share the fun tidbits of info with their family at the dinner table.

Text © Jilanne Hoffman, 2023. Image © Eugenia Mello, 2023.

Jilanne Hoffman – A River of Dust : The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon (7/25/2023) – A River Of Dust is not “just” a book about science. It’s also about how we’re all intricately connected, how tiny things in one part of the world can make a huge difference in another part, and how no one is too small to make a difference. The story also reassures kids metaphorically that even though they may be separated from someone they love; they can still find ways to stay connected. It’s one reason why I call it STEM with a beating heart.

Text © David A. Kelly, 2023. Image © Edwin Fotheringham, 2023.

David A. Kelly – Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf (7/25/2023) That it shows a great example of how something new can come from something old and how history can be alive. The Apollo moon missions happened over fifty years ago, yet scientists and historians are still learning new things from them. Whether it’s Andy Saunders pulling new details, like how far Alan Shepard’s golf balls really went, or pristine moon rocks that have been sealed away now being analyzed using 21st-century technologies, there’s a lot still to learn from things like the Apollo moon missions that happened a half-century ago. That means that today’s students may be the next ones making new connections or identifying new discoveries from yesterday’s history.

Text © Laurie Wallmark, 2023. Image © Stevie Lewis, 2023.

Laurie Wallmark –– The Queen of Chess: How Judith Polgar Changed the Game (7/25/2023) - My book isn’t only for kids who play chess. All readers will appreciate the story of how Judith Polgar triumphed in the mostly-male world of chess champions. If that makes more people want to play the game, all the better.

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?

Katie Furze – Tuatara, A Living Treasure (7/1/2023) – The hardest part in creating this book was deciding which facts to leave out – tuatara are such fascinating and unique creatures, the more I found out, the more I wanted to include, and new information is coming to light all the time! Originally, I had too many fact boxes and my editor helped me cut them back to the juiciest tidbits, and we moved history and conservation information to the back of the book.

Jessica Stremer – Great Carrier Reef (Holiday House 7/4/2023) – The hardest part was finding a balance between sharing about the Oriskany’s history and its importance to those service members, and its importance to the marine life the ship now serves. My editor was supportive in incorporating more about the ship’s past in the back matter, which really allows the story to focus on the health of the ocean, coral reefs and other marine life.

Jennifer Swanson – Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space (7/18/2023) – This book was fun to research and there is a lot of information about people living in space. The hardest part, honestly, was trying to decide what wouldn’t go into the book. Because it wouldn’t fit. There are tons of fun facts I learned that we just didn’t have room for.

Kim Zachman – There’s No Cream in Cream Soda: The Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks (7/18/2023) – The hardest part of writing my books is parsing the material down into short chapters. For example, I read two adult nonfiction books about the history of water, a total of over 100,000 words. My limit for the water chapter was 3,000 words. There was so much that I had to leave out and choosing what stayed and what didn’t was very difficult. My mantra was “Would a kid like this?”

Jilanne Hoffman – A River of Dust : The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon (7/25/2023) – One of my biggest challenges is how I inconsistently name research files for every project. I KNOW what I should do, but there’s a certain part of me that chafes at consistency. It might be related to my ADHD brain. Ha! It’s my most contrary habit to deal with. So I am, as they say, my own worst enemy. I’m trying to reform.

David A. Kelly – Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf (7/25/2023) Frankly, the hardest part of researching and writing my book was figuring out what NOT to research and what NOT to write about. There is just so much information on NASA and the Apollo moon missions that you could (and I’m sure some do) make a career out of studying it. Yet when you’re writing a picture book with about 1,200 words in it, you have to basically exclude 99% or more of all the possible information you could include.

Laurie Wallmark –– The Queen of Chess: How Judith Polgar Changed the Game (7/25/2023) - By far the hardest part of writing this book is that Judith Polgar is an amazing chess player. It was hard to add tension to the story when she rarely lost a game. I needed to concentrated on the challenges she faced as a girl playing mostly against boys and men.

Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Katie Furze – I have a second STEAM book on the way from Scholastic New Zealand with illustrator Ned Barraud in 2024. Like Tuatara, A Living Treasure it is a narrative nonfiction picture book about an incredible and beloved native animal of New Zealand.

Jessica Stremer – My next picture book, Lights Out: A Movement to Help Migrating Birds (Paula Wiseman Books) publishes spring of ’24. This book is based on the real-life Lights Out movement and shows kids how even the smallest of actions can make a big difference in helping birds and other wildlife, especially during migration.

I’m also working on my first nonfiction middle grade book, Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (Holiday House), publishing in summer of ’24. I noticed there were a lot of picture books being published about wildfires, but nothing in the middle grade realm that covered both the benefits and downfalls of wildfire, or what happens to animals and plants when fire rips through their home. With more and more people being affected by wildfires, I feel it’s a very timely and important topic that I can’t wait to share with young readers.

Jennifer Swanson – I just finished edits on a book about a team of scientists who were the only ones allowed to dive on and study an underwater forest. It’s called The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery Beneath the Waves. I was lucky enough to be invited to be a part of this awesome team of scientists as they exploring a sunken cypress forest that had been undisturbed in the Gulf of Mexico for over fifty thousand years. Page Plus links lead to videos of the scientists at work. The book releases from Lerner/Millbrook Press in April 2024. [see link at]

Kim Zachman – I’m currently researching a couple of different projects and putting proposals together.

Jilanne Hoffman – I’m excited to say that I’ve just sold a lyrical nonfiction picture book that’s written in the style of A River Of Dust. Details will follow sometime down the road. I’ve got a middle grade historical fiction novel in verse and an SEL concept book with back matter out on sub. By the time this goes to print, I should have a humorous narrative info-fiction book with back matter ready to go, too. And I’m gathering background material for a new middle grade novel that will contain historical elements.

David A. Kelly – I have a new book coming out in August featuring the main characters, Mike and Kate, in my Ballpark Mysteries series. But this new chapter book isn’t a baseball mystery—it’s a football mystery. In my new chapter book, Football Mysteries #1:The Two Minute Warning, Mike and Kate travel to Texas for a Dallas Cowboys game, where they learn that someone is trying to throw the Cowboys star quarterback off his game. A crucial part of the mystery revolves around the Dallas Cowboys’ giant art collection. It turns out the Cowboys have a huge collection of modern art on display throughout their stadium, so I thought it might be fun to build a football mystery around that unique angle.

Laurie Wallmark –– I have another #WomenInSTEM book coming out in 2024. It hasn’t been announced yet, so I can get into specifics, but it’s about an astronaut. This is also the first book I’ve co-written, which has been a great deal of fun.

These all sound so interesting. I can't wait to see them. Good luck with all of these projects. What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?

Katie Furze – Exercise – especially walking and yoga. I need to relax and recharge and my best creative ideas always arrive when I’m moving.

Jessica Stremer – Chocolate and peanut butter! It’s my go-to snack anytime I’m drafting or revising. And daily walks to get my body moving and let my mind wander.

Jennifer Swanson – I take my laptop everywhere because that is what I write on. I don’t write on paper first and transfer over. However, I am never without a pad of paper. That is where I write down the thoughts I have about a current manuscript, ideas for others, or just keep up with my always fairly large to-do list.

Kim Zachman – Of course, the answer is my family, but after them, I’d say my dog. She’s the perfect distraction and always ready for a walk when I need to get away from my computer for a while.

Jilanne Hoffman – I need my morning coffee: medium roast, organic cafe la duena with its chocolate notes, and two teaspoons of dark brown sugar. So a mug of coffee, a book, and a pencil/paper or a keyboard. It’s very hard for me to go a day without reading, and writing something, even if it’s a limerick.

David A. Kelly – For my writing, a computer—I can’t write longhand. Typing words and sentences on my keyboard is the only way I can think through the story. For myself, I find that using some deep focus YouTube videos for background noise helps me focus and makes me more productive.

Laurie Wallmark –– For my writing—a thesaurus. For myself—books, books, and more books.

Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not?

Katie Furze – The best advice I’ve ever received is to take life ‘one day at a time.’ I remind myself of this often.

Jessica Stremer – Butt in chair. It’s really about setting goals, making a commitment to yourself and keeping it, but also know when you’re feeling fatigued and allowing yourself time to rest.

Jennifer Swanson – BE BOLD! That is what I tell all of my students when I teach writing. Take risks, and put yourself out there. You may fail, yes, but you could also be spectacularly successful.

Kim Zachman – Don’t rush the process. Take time to get feedback and revise before submitting.

Jilanne Hoffman – Laugh as often and with as many people as you can. It is central to recognizing and celebrating our own and each other's humanity.

David A. Kelly – The best advice I’ve gotten came from my wife, Alice. When I’ve been stuck with a plot point, a mystery idea, or how to structure an unmanageable collection of facts to be ordered or explained in one of my non-fiction books, she tells me, “There’s always a way.” As a writer, it’s easy to get stuck on the writing path you start down, and sometimes it feels like you hit a dead end or get trapped, and it’s impossible to say what you want to say. But I’ve seen over the years when that happens how super important it is to step back, look at the bigger picture, ask others for ideas and help, and find a way to take a different approach to whatever it is I’m working on. It’s just words on a page, so I’ve learned there is always a way, even if it’s a way you never thought you’d take.

Laurie Wallmark –– My best advice is something I give to others rather than advice I’ve received. I called it Laurie’s Law #1—Something is better than nothing. This advice works in so many circumstances, including writing. For example, it’s better to have a messy first draft (something) rather than a blank document (nothing).

So much awesome advice! Thank you all for sharing it. NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!

Tuatara, a Living Treasure by Katie Furze, illustrated by Ned Barraud (Scholastic NZ 7/1/2023) - This wonderfully engaging picture book follows a new hatchling, as the narrative text and stunning illustrations explore the unusual life cycle and habits of the Tuatara. A unique animal, (only survivors of the order of Rhynchocephalia which "roamed the earth with the dinosaurs"), who currently exists only in New Zealand. Wonderful sidebars and back matter expand on the Tuatara, their protection, and fun facts - like they have three rows of teeth.

Synopsis: Meet Tuatara, ancient wonder, wildlife treasure ... and survivor! Blinking, she pulls her scaly body into the light. She's as long as a finger, and with the row of spines on her back she looks like a baby dragon. Tuatara are survivors of an ancient era and sometimes referred to as living wonders - their closest relatives died out during the time of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago! This book is a fascinating look at the life cycle of a tuatara.

Great Carrier Reef by Jessica Stremer, illustrated by Gordy Wright (Holiday House 7/4/2023) – The amazing story of a big aircraft carrier whose retirement ended up helping the environment. Once it was stripped of precious metals and drained of poisonous substances, the Mighty O (now an enormous shell) was anchored, and expertly sunk off the Florida coast. Beautiful images and concise text explore both the ship's transformation, the degradation of the natural reefs, and the acceptance of the Mighty O by the ocean. The back matter offers more information on reefs and the aircraft carrier's military history.

Synopsis: An outstanding STEM picture book documenting the transformation of an aircraft carrier that was gutted and turned into the world’s largest artificial reef.

What happens when something designed to be unsinkable gets bombed to the bottom of the ocean floor? With careful preparation, new life can take root!

This incredible story brings young readers along on the journey of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany—the Mighty O—as it gets stripped down to a steel shell for a new life below the waves. After 25 years of service, launching more aircraft than any other carrier of its time, the ship found a new mission as an artificial reef off the coast of Florida. The Mighty O was prepped and reefed by a team of more than 150 scientists, engineers, and technicians. Today, it is home to a flourishing variety of marine animals.

Designed to encourage regrowth and protect vulnerable marine life, artificial reefs are a crucial tool in the fight against overfishing, pollution, and warming water temperatures. Extensive back matter reveals more about the Mighty O’s history, the diseases eating away at the world’s natural reef systems, and the role artificial reefs play under the sea, and budding marine biologists will love poring over the exquisite illustrations.

Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space by Jennifer Swanson (Mayo Clinic Press Kids 7/18/2023) – A lively and engaging look at life aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Packed with information on how astronauts live, play, sleep, and conduct experiments on the ISS, it also includes a note from astronaut Megan McArthur, astronaut answers to kid's actual questions, and stunning (and funny) photos from space and throughout the ISS. "Mayo Medi-Facts" sidebars connect the astronaut's discoveries to the reader's own life. It's a must-read for anyone dreaming of being an astronaut and anyone curious about how discoveries on the ISS have improved life on Earth.

Synopsis: Have you ever wondered how astronauts stay healthy in space? What if an astronaut gets sick on the space station? Does snot run in space? This fascinating photo-illustrated look at space and medicine explores how scientists and physicians study astronauts in space, how they help keep them safe, and what we've learned about the human body through space exploration. Questions from real kids and answers from astronauts, along with photos from NASA, combine for an out-of-this-world exploration of health.

There's No Cream in Cream Soda: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks by Kim Zachman, illustrated by Peter Donnelly (Running Press 7/18/2023) – Stirring puns and humor into a conversational narrative, each chapter delves into the history, science, cultural aspects, healthiness (or unhealthiness), and a few "drink heroes" for many popular drinks like water, milk, tea, coffee, Pepsi, Gatorade, etc. A few yellow and blue, cartoonish illustrations, nutritional notes, and experiments round out a fascinating book on our search for ways to quench our thirst.

Synopsis: From soda to water to milk and juice, this refreshing follow-up to There's No Ham in Hamburgers is full of fun facts and origin stories of some of America’s most popular drinks.

People have been inventing drinks for thousands of years. Kinda weird when you consider that humans only need two liquids to survive—water and milk—and we don’t need milk once we can eat solid foods. So, why did humans, unlike other mammals, begin concocting new beverages? It likely started with safety—boiling water to make it safer to drink, and then adding in berries or leaves or roots to make it taste better. Sometimes, it was thought that enhancing drinks made them healthier (i.e. bubbly water restored vitality). Did you know that some of the most popular sodas were created by pharmacists? Americans spend approximately $150 billion on soft drinks, coffee, and tea each year. Why? This book offers some possible answers!

A River of Dust: The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon

by Jilanne Hoffmann, illustrated by Eugenia Mello (Chronicle Books 7/25/2023) – An ingenious, poetic narrative, written from the point of view of African dust, about the dust's journey to reach the Amazon forest in South America. Gorgeous and captivating illustrations swirl and bend not only the dust, but the text, through a village, around an elephant, and down the Amazon river helping convey the interconnectedness of the whole Earth. A section with "Questions for Curious Minds" delves deeper into the science of the African dust storms, how they are studies, their important relationship to life on Earth, and areas scientists still need to study.

Synopsis: Over and Under the Rainforest meets This Is How We Do It in A River of Dust—a celebration of global interconnectedness with an environmental lens, at a time when we need it most. It is science with a beating heart.

The dust of the Sahel—a ribbon of land between the Sahara and the savannah—lifts with the harmattan wind each winter season. But this is not just any dust. The Sahel's dust will mix with dust from the Sahara and travel thousands of miles westward, across the African continent and the Atlantic Ocean, to reunite with its unforgotten home deep in the Amazon basin.

Told from the perspective of dust, A River of Dust takes readers on a journey through vibrantly illustrated landscapes, celebrating the power and wonder of Earth's ecosystems, and showing how these tiny particles are key to the health of our planet. It is a lyrical ode to global connection and to the vital roles that even the smallest among us can play.

Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Calkins Creek/Astra 7/25/2023) – Alan Shepard and his fellow astronaut Edgar Mitchell made history in 1971 by walking across the moon, away from their lander, to gather rocks and leave experiments. Then Alan Sheppard became the first man to golf (or play any sport) on the moon. Ingenious illustrations combine to create a tee-rific book exploring the Apollo 14 mission, discoveries, and recent inventions that allow scientists to determine how far Alan actually hit the ball. Extensive back matter discusses the other Apollo missions and additional information on Alan Shepard and what scientists learned from their mission. A great book for space and golf buffs.

Synopsis: In 1971, Alan Shepard and his fellow astronauts made their way to the Moon in the cramped Apollo 14 capsule. Their mission: Study the moon in more detail than ever before. While the world watched on TV, Shepard and Edgar Mitchell gathered rock and soil samples wearing stiff, heavy spacesuits. But Alan Shepard had a secret hidden in his sock: two tiny golf balls. Golf was Shepard’s favorite sport. And since the moon has virtually no atmosphere and gravity that is only a fraction of the Earth’s, a golf ball should have been able to go far. But did it?

Here's the little-known but true story of an experiment that may have started as a stunt, but ended up making people think differently about the moon, ask questions, and look for answers.

The Queen of Chess: How Judit Polgár Changed the Game by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Stevie Lewis (little bee books 7/25/2023) – An engaging and fascinating biography of a young girl who loved chess. A girl who by the age of nine had already beaten many adult and entered the "open section" of the New York Open, battling against boys and men. Not only did she win the tournament, she earned the "Brilliancy Prize, for the best, most creative, and most strategic game." This phenomenal, beautifully illustrated book follows Judit's amazing journey as she works hard toward her goal of becoming the first female chess grandmaster. Some additional information on Judit and a look at the mathematics of chess round out this wonderful book.

Synopsis: This is the true story of how Judit Polgár captivated the world as she battled to become the youngest chess grandmaster in history!

The queen of chess, Judit Polgár, dazzled the world as a prodigy, winning tournaments, gold medals, and defeating eleven world champions, including Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen. At her peak, Judit was rated the eighth best chess player in the world.

But before these tremendous successes, Judit burst onto the chess scene as a ferocious, child competitor. Beating adults by five-years-old, and winning international tournaments by age nine, Judit was destined for greatness. Follow her incredible journey as she strives for chess immortality, hunting to become the youngest chess grandmaster in history.

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:

Katie Furze – Tuatara, A Living Treasure (Scholastic NZ 7/1/2023) –

Jessica Stremer – Great Carrier Reef (Holiday House 7/4/2023) –

Jennifer Swanson – Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space (Mayo Clinic Press Kids 7/18/2023) –

Kim Zachman – There’s No Cream in Cream Soda: The Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Drinks (Running Press 7/18/2023) –

Jilanne Hoffman – A River of Dust : The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon (Chronicle Books 7/25/2023) –

David A. Kelly – Tee Time on the Moon: How Astronaut Alan Shepard Played Lunar Golf (Calkins Creek/Astra 7/25/2023)

Laurie WallmarkThe Queen of Chess: How Judith Polgar Changed the Game (little bee books 7/25/2023) –


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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