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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - June 2024 Interview with STEAM Team Books Members (Part 2)

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 super spectacular books!

Steam Team Books Logo - Name and a decending rainbow of books on a white grid globe and a black background.

Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to four authors from 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.” Check out their website for other interviews, activites, and bios.


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?...)

Darcy Pattison – Magnet: How William Gilbert Discovered the Earth is a Giant Magnet (Mims House 6/11/24) – I write both fiction and nonfiction for kids. Sometimes, a science topic is also a history topic. Many foundations of science were discovered hundreds of years ago, and I like to find the stories of the men and women who studied big questions and found answers that are still important today. These include scientists who discovered elements, invented basic equipment, or studied phenomena for the first time. To write these books, I have to dig into historical documents and primary sources, original writings by the scientists. It’s fun to dig around in history.

 

[Author of 29 books, including Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Porpoise (2024), I Am the Thirsty Desert (2023), A Little Bit of Dinosaur (2021) and the Moments in Science series - George Washington's Engineer: How Rufus Putnam Won the Siege of Boston without Firing a Shot (2023), A.I. How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol (2021), Erosion: How Hugh Bennett Saved America's Soil and Stopped the Dust Bowl (2020), Eclipse: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (2019), Pollen: Darwin’s 130-Year Prediction (2019), Clang! Ernst Chladni’s Sound Experiments (2018), and Burn: Michael Faraday’s Candle (2016). And the Another Extraordinary Animal series - Diego, the Galápagos Giant Tortoise: Saving a Species from Extinction (2022), Rosie the Ribeter: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (2019), Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: How a Jumping Spider Learned to Hunt in Space (2016), Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub (2014), and Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years (2013).]

Becca McMurdie – Building a Beak: How a Toucan's Rescue Inspired the World (Page Street Kids 6/11/2024) – I write both fiction and nonfiction STEM related stories, with a focus on rainforest rescues and urban wildlife. I absolutely love true stories that inspire kids to care for our precious planet. I have been an elementary school educator for 17 years, so I’ve long been entrenched in picture books. I’ve been researching and writing my own stories since the early COVID lockdown days and haven’t stopped! I write anytime I feel the urge, almost every weekend, and sometimes early in the morning before I go in to school.

 

[Debut Author] 

Kerry Aradhya – Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (Peachtree 6/11/2024) – I’ve been writing stories and poems since elementary school, although I took a very long break to attend college/graduate school and begin a career as a science writer and editor. I dove back into creative writing after I became a mother, mostly writing poetry for children’s magazines and honing my picture book craft in hopes that “one day” one of my manuscripts would become a book. I am overjoyed that “one day” is finally here! I seem to be drawn to writing about the creative process, which is so important and so prominent in STEAM fields. Perhaps my background in science and love of the arts, especially dance, has something to do with it!

 

[Debut Author]

Jessica Stremer – Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (Holiday House 6/25/2024)  I’ve been writing books for kids since 2019, although the desire to write had existed well before I first put pen to paper. Once I got started writing it didn’t take long to hone-in on the types of stories I wanted to tell – nonfiction narratives about lesser-known topics or events that inspire kids to look at the world differently. I’m also extremely passionate about creating books that create hope regarding the state of our planet. I want kids to feel empowered to make a change and optimistic about their future.

 

[Author of Lights Out: A Movement to Help Migrating Birds, illustrated by Bonnie Pang (2024) and Great Carrier Reef, illustrated by Gordy Wright (2023).]

 

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


Darcy Pattison – I am inspired by kids, curious kids. When kids encounter the world, they often ask the same questions that scientists of long ago asked. For example: How does a magnet work? The answers from kids are often insightful, but they need a nudge in the right direction. Reading a book about the original scientist to study a question will give a kid satisfaction that they were on the right track. But it will also leave questions about how to approach the topic from today’s perspective.

 

Becca McMurdie – I find inspiration by being outdoors and reading true news stories about wildlife rescues and ecosystem regeneration!


Kerry Aradhya – Movement inspires me. I’ve been dancing most of my life—from taking tap and ballet lessons as a toddler to performing as a modern dancer for the past three decades. Whenever I’m stuck on a story, or stressed for any other reason, movement is one of my go-tos. It's so freeing! I find that changing my writing environment also helps get the creative juices flowing. This could mean moving to a different room in the house, working in a library or coffee shop for the day, or finding a quiet and calming spot for writing outside.


Jessica Stremer – I find inspiration all around me, especially when spending time outside. I like listening to podcasts and reading, of course. Sometimes just a word or two will pique my curiosity and lead me down the research rabbit hole.


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

Darcy Pattison – Magnet: How William Gilbert Discovered the Earth is a Giant Magnet (6/11/24) – I love magnets! I love playing with iron filings, playing with magnetic balls, or even throwing a decorative magnet onto a refrigerator. When I started studying the topic, I realized that understanding magnetism has a bigger reach than just play. It affects the entire world because Earth is a “great magnet,” as Gilbert said. When something starts small but enlarges as you study it, that’s a good story for me.

Becca McMurdie – Building a Beak: How a Toucan's Rescue Inspired the World (6/11/2024) – In the winter of 2022, I was on a two-month sabbatical from my elementary school principal position. I spent the time in Costa Rica, volunteering at a local school, going on lots of hikes in the rainforest, and of course, writing. It was on a birdwatching trip during that time that I saw my first wild toucan, and the guide told me the story about Grecia, a toucan who had received a prosthetic beak. I was intrigued, so I began researching the story and contacted the rescue center where she was taken care of. The rest is history!

Kerry Aradhya – Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (6/11/2024) – I grew up with the Rubik’s Cube in the early 1980s, when it was wildly popular, and then noticed a few years how much kids are still fascinated by it. One day, while buying a Rubik’s Cube as a gift for a family friend, I found myself wondering about its origin. That was my spark, and my interest just grew and grew as I learned more about Ernő Rubik and his own interests and creative genius.

Jessica Stremer – Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (6/25/2024)  – We lived in southern California for twelve years and during that time the threat of wildfires grew each year. Once we were on watch for evacuation, and a friend of ours nearly lost their house. Wildfire seemed to be on everyone’s mind even outside the normal fire season.


About two years after that nearby fire, my family and I went hiking in a totally different area a few hours from our house. The forest had experienced wildfire at some point in the past, yet it was thriving. After that hike I knew I wanted to write about a different side of wildfires. I wanted to show that they’re not only about destruction. That there are so many ways fire benefits the ecosystem.


I originally set out to write a picture book, but there were too many details I wanted to include. I realized that if I was going to pursue this idea, I would need to make the leap from picture book to middle grade. I pitched the idea to my agent who pitched the idea to my editor. She loved it and encouraged me to write a proposal and first chapter.


The jump to middle grade was scarry, primarily because there was a bigger commitment in terms of research and time, but I figured I had nothing to lose by trying. Plus, I had some amazing kidlit friends in my corner offering me support and guidance. The book was a lot of work and worth every bit of effort. I’m extremely proud of what I created.


It's so cool what initial nugget inspired each of you to write your book. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a children’s author?

 

Darcy Pattison – For this story, the challenge was finding historical information. When I discovered that William Gilbert wrote a book about magnets, and that I could easily find and read it, then I knew the story would follow.

 

Becca McMurdie – The patience and waiting. It never ends. First, you query for months or years to get an agent. Then you wait again while your book is on sub for months, or years. Then you wait to hear who the illustrator will be, what season your book will come out. In a fast-paced world, the children’s publishing industry will truly humble you and slow you down.


Kerry Aradhya – For me, the hardest part is figuring out how to balance my author life with all the other aspects of my life. It can get pretty overwhelming at times! Because picture books take a while to piece together (often two to three years between acquisition and publication), it’s good to have manuscripts at different points in the pipeline if you can. I will probably never be a prolific writer, but I will keep trying!


Jessica Stremer – The waiting! There’s waiting in finding out if a book I’ve written will be published, waiting to find the perfect illustrator, waiting for the publication date. I also sometimes find it difficult to choose what I want to write about next. There are so many interesting topics I’d like to explore and only so much time in a day. And I know I have to pace myself because there’s only so much room in the market at a given time. Sometimes I’ll sit on an idea until the timing feels right, then dive into research and let that drive the direction for how the story will be told.


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

Text © Darcy Pattison, 2024. Image © Peter Willis, 2024.


Darcy Pattison – Magnet: How William Gilbert Discovered the Earth is a Giant Magnet (6/11/24) – Magnet is illustrated by the British illustrator, Peter Willis. He does a digital collage for the art. The art for William Gilbert are separate files for his body, head, and arms. Willis can enlarge, shrink, twist, or exaggerate the digital file to create each image. See more books illustrated by Peter Willis here: https://mimshousebooks.com/collections/moments-in-science

Text © Becca McMurdie, 2024. Image © Diana Hernández 2024.


Becca McMurdie – Building a Beak: How a Toucan's Rescue Inspired the World (6/11/2024) – Please go to www.rescatewildlife.org to learn about the Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center team, the true real-life heroes who made this story happen!

Text © Kerry Aradhya, 2024. Image © Kara Kramer, 2024.


Kerry Aradhya – Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (6/11/2024) – I would like readers to know—and to see for themselves—the brilliance of Kara Kramer’s art in this book. Her bright, imaginative illustrations are a perfect complement to the story. You can also find some hidden gems in the art, including references to artists that inspired Ernő Rubik, a nod to Ernő Rubik’s father (who was an aviation engineer), and a visual spatial puzzle or two! 

Text © Jessica Stremer, 2024. Image © Michael Garland, 2024.


Jessica Stremer – Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (6/25/2024)  – First, I want people to know that I am never trying to downplay the impact fires have on people. My heart goes out to everyone who has experienced loss due to fire.


Second, I’d like people to take a moment to think about the other people who are involved in creating a book of this magnitude. Once you get beyond finalizing the text, there’s photographs, layout considerations, triple-fact-checking, and more. Staying organized on the author end will make the jobs of your publishing team a bit easier. It truly takes a team.


These are all such fascinating nonfiction STEM books! 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?

 

Darcy Pattison – Magnet: How William Gilbert Discovered the Earth is a Giant Magnet (6/11/24) – I included most of my research material, but sometimes it gets overlooked. In the back matter, you’ll learn that William Gilbert was the physician to Queen Elizabeth I of England. The story focuses on William Gilbert, the scientist. But it’s always fun to see what other jobs or roles the scientists had. As a queen’s physician, I imagine many visits to the royal court and friendships among nobility. But isn’t it interesting that he’s remembered most for his experiments with lodestones, garlic, and diamonds! [That is interesting to ponder!]

 

Becca McMurdie – Building a Beak: How a Toucan's Rescue Inspired the World (6/11/2024) – There were so many fun facts that we had to cut out of the story for different reasons. For example, Grecia’s true gender is unknown. To figure it out, veterinarians would have had to do a blood test. But Grecia had already endured so much trauma, that putting her through that didn’t make sense. Some facts, like that one, ended up in the backmatter. But others we had to cut completely. [Unfortunately, there is only so much room.]

For additional information on Becca's research, check out the post on Archimedes Notebook.

 

Kerry Aradhya – Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (6/11/2024) –The most challenging part was finding a way to get in touch with Ernő Rubik, who is known for being very private. Even though he is a public figure (and it is acceptable to write about a public figure without their approval), I really wanted to connect with him. Although I couldn't reach him directly, I eventually found someone who was connected with him directly, and that person told me that Professor Rubik would be “happy to check the manuscript and raise concerns (if any).” I sent the manuscript and never heard back, so I chalked that up to “no news is good news” and was very relieved!


As far as research that didn't make it into the book, we weren't able to include every step in the creation of the prototype, or how the cube changed before it went on the market. I may include some of those details in school visits and/or on my website, though! [Great idea!]


Jessica Stremer – Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (6/25/2024)  – We moved to Japan while I was in the middle of researching and writing this book. I would have loved to speak to the people I interviewed in-person, but it just wasn’t possible since I lived so far away.


As far as the details of the story are concerned, I think I was able to get most everything included that I wanted. You’ll notice a lot of “fire fact” boxes throughout the book. I used these to convey those extra bits of information that didn’t fit into the narrative. [I love these side fact portions.]


There were photographs I would have loved to include, but so many of them were cost prohibitive. I can’t tell you how much time I spent hunting down just the perfect image only to hit a massive paywall or not receive a response to my inquiry from the photograph owner.


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


Darcy Pattison – Yes! Magnet is book 9 of the Moments in Science series. In 2025, look for Book 10, Climate: How Wladimir Köppen Studied Weather and Drew the First Climate Map.

 

Becca McMurdie – I have a very exciting two-book project that was inspired by my two-year-old nephews love of puddle jumping. Details soon!


Kerry Aradhya – Hmm…I always have projects in the back of my mind that I want to work on, so hopefully thinking about projects counts as working on them? Just kidding…kind of! I am very very slowly working on another picture book biography that I am excited about. I’m planning a research trip to the East Coast this summer to help me finish it up. It’s also a biography of someone in a STEAM field, so perhaps I will be back here one day to tell you more about it. I hope so!


Jessica Stremer – I have three books publishing in 2025 that I’m excited to share: Plight Of The Pelican: How Scientists Saved a Species is about bioaccumulation and the discovery of DDT. It’ll be out in the spring of 2025. Next up that summer is Wonderfully Wild, which is about a school who re-wilds their campus after an old willow tree goes down in a storm. And finally, fall of 2025 I have Trapped in the Tar Pit, about the discovery of fossils in the La Brea Tar Pits. It’ll be a busy year, and I hope people will consider requesting my books be added to their libraries.


These books all sound so interesting. We will have to keep our eyes open for them. How do you deal with, or celebrate, rejections?


Becca McMurdie – Every time I get a rejection, I get to update my submission spreadsheet. When I update my submission spreadsheet, I get the feeling that something is “happening” with my books on sub. In that sense, I turn it into a little adrenaline rush.


Kerry Aradhya – As a professional science writer and editor, and in my long journey to become a picture book author, I’ve gotten more comfortable with people reading my work than I used to be. When I was a college student, I would cover up my computer screen if anyone peeked over to see what I was writing, so I’ve come a long way! I’ve also gotten used to rejections over the years and am happy and proud to have a much thicker skin these days. I try my best to let rejections roll off my back…and just keep moving forward. In terms of celebrations, I do happy dances in my head and share my good news with family and close friends. Recently, it's also been fun to celebrate news related to Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube with my agent and the whole team working on the book! 


Jessica Stremer – If I receive a pass, I’ll let myself feel whatever I need to feel for a bit, then redirect my energy into something that makes me feel good, like exercising or writing.


If I get good news, I celebrate right there on the spot. One time my agent called while I was floating down the lazy river at our local pool. I awkwardly climbed out of the water, ran to my phone started jumping up and down as she told me the good news. I didn’t care how silly I looked in front of everyone else at the pool. I sold a book!


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


Darcy Pattison – I love bonsai trees and would love to grow some. But the shallow pots mean you must water them twice a day, and I forget. I wish I was better at remembering because then, I’d have bonsai trees all over my yard.

 

Becca McMurdie – I live in a New York City apartment, so I don’t have a yard or a garden of my own. But, my sister lives on a farm in Maryland and we do have a garden at my school. I love root vegetables. The most exciting part of the plant is hidden!


Kerry Aradhya – Oh gosh! I am so far from being or wanting to be a gardener, but I do appreciate being outside on our patio, where my husband has planted some flowers and potted some small citrus trees. I enjoy their presence and am delighted when the trees produce some lemons or oranges, especially when we use them for making cocktails! 


Jessica Stremer – We’re actually in the process of rewilding our yard, planting trees and wildflowers that are native to the area. I’m hoping to plant as many natives as I can to support the local ecosystem. I’d also love to have a huge willow tree in the yard someday.


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

Magnet: How William Gilbert Discovered the Earth is a Giant Magnet by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis (Mims House 6/11/24) – An excellent and engaging biography of the "Father of Magnetism." Combining succinct text and fun collage illustrations, the book explores the scientific process that William Gilbert used to bust myths, prove facts, and discover unknown truths about magnets and the magnetic properties of lodestone and the earth. The back matter offers some additional information and fun experiments. An excellent biography and introduction to magnets.


Synopsis: The compass needle always pointed north.


This simple observation sent William Gilbert deep into research about magnets. William's insatiable curiosity led him to collect lodestones from all over the world, conducting fascinating experiments that debunked myths and revealed astonishing facts about magnets.


But he kept coming back to the question of why the compass needle pointed north. He finally concluded that Earth itself is "a great magnet."


Gilbert's research led to a book about magnetism and earned him the name, the Father of Magnetism. Come on a journey of curiosity to discover the wonder of magnets and Earth's magnetic mysteries.

Building a Beak: How a Toucan's Rescue Inspired the World by Becca McMurdie, illustrated by Diana Hernández (Page Street Kids 6/11/2024) – A wonderful poignant and powerful nonfiction picture book about the people who worked hard to save a toucan whose beak was damaged by vandals. Grecia's determination to live touched the community, vets, and an engineer who created a 3-D printed prosthetic beak. The inclusion of blueprints, an author's note, and more information on Grecia round out this excellent book celebrating human ingenuity and the need for compassion for everything on earth.

 

Synopsis: In the wild, Grecia the toucan loved to soar from branch to branch and sing for all the creatures of the rainforest. Until, one night, loud voices echoed through the trees, sticks and rocks flew, and Grecia fell from her favorite avocado tree, tragically breaking her beak.


She was unable to move. Unable to sing.


Animal rescuers examined Grecia and found that she needed a new beak to survive. Though no one had ever made a toucan beak before, Grecia’s determination to live drove their search for a creative solution―an innovative 3D-printed beak. As news of her story spread, people of all ages around the world came together, finding their own ways to help Grecia sing again.


While witnessing Grecia’s determined spirit, readers will learn how this single plucky toucan became a symbol for the international wildlife protection movement and inspired real change in anti-animal cruelty law, saving countless animals from harm. Perfect for the young activist, engineer, or animal lover, Grecia’s triumphant true story will resonate with readers of all ages, showing how determination and teamwork can make an impact and create lasting change.

Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube by Kerry Aradhya, illustrated by Kara Kramer (Peachtree 6/11/2024) – A fascinating biography of a kid from Budapest who loved puzzles and geometric shapes and became the creator of the Rubik Cube. Interesting collage illustrations do a great job of showing the experiments which failed and play with Ernő's love of puzzles to show how his curiosity and fascination with nature provided the key for his cube. A puzzle that has intrigued and frustrated people for 50 years. An engaging tribute to a determined and persistent inventor.


Synopsis: In the hills of Budapest, near the banks of the Danube River, lived a quiet boy named Ernő Rubik. He loved books, art, nature, and—most of all—puzzles. And he grew up to create the most popular puzzle in history. This picture book biography explores the experience and interests that inspired the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube.


From the time he was a child, Ernő was curious about the objects around him. What did they look like on the inside? What about geometric shapes? How many ways could he fit them together? Could he combine them so they somehow became something that was greater than its components?


Ernő grew up and became a professor of architecture and design. Still fascinated with how shapes worked together, he fashioned an object, a cube made up of smaller cubes that twisted and turned without breaking. This object eventually became known as the most popular puzzle in history, the Rubik’s Cube.


Kerry Aradhya’s accessible text takes us behind the scenes of the creative process and into the mind and imagination of a remarkable inventor. Kara Kramer’s cheerful, multi-media illustrations encourage readers to think about inspiration, reflection, and the joy of puzzles—and solutions.


Check out the wonderful activity guide that is available.

Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires by Jessica Stremer, illustrated by Michael Garland (Holiday House 6/25/2024)  – With a conversational narrative and stunning illustrations and photographs, this middle grade nonfiction book explores the ways wild, domestic, and even zoo animals sense and react to wildfires, how people team up to find, rescue, and rehabilitate injured animals, and animals and plants who "depend" on fires to survive. As well as a discussion of megafires and climate change's effects on fires. Wonderful "Fire Fact" sidebars include lots of interesting facts, such as the chemicals in smoke, seed banks, and fire regimes. A valuable book for families and schools as the number of wildfires continue to increase around the world.


Synopsis: A timely middle grade nonfiction overview of the incredible ways animals detect, respond, and adapt to wildfires, as well as how climate change is affecting the frequency and severity of these devastating events in nature.


Goats and beavers. Drones and parachutes. Pinecones and beetles. What do they have in common? Believe it or not, they are all crucial tools in fighting, preventing, and adapting to wildfires!


These vicious fires are spreading faster and burning hotter than at any other time in history. Ongoing droughts, warming weather, and a history of poor forest management have extended the traditional wildfire season beyond the summer months. It is a matter of life and death for wildlife worldwide.


This breathtaking nonfiction book focuses on unique angles to a hot topic, including injury rehabilitation efforts, species that use wildfires to their advantage, how to help area repopulation, and the animals that help to prevent/fight wildfires. A riveting, kid friendly text is accompanied by stunning woodcut illustrations and full-color photographs, as well as extensive back matter with glossary, sources, and index.

 

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:

Darcy Pattison – Magnet: How William Gilbert Discovered the Earth is a Giant Magnet (Mims House 6/11/24) – 

 

Becca McMurdie – Building a Beak: How a Toucan's Rescue Inspired the World (Page Street Kids 6/11/2024) –


Kerry Aradhya – Ernő Rubik and His Magic Cube (Peachtree 6/11/2024) –

 

Jessica Stremer – Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires (Holiday House 6/25/2024) 

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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