The Picture Book Buzz - March Interview with STEAM Team Authors
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to three authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I promise, it's not too long a post. I do 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 2022. It includes fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books.”
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? What drew you to STEAM books?...)
Leslie Bulion – Serengeti: Plains of Grass (Peachtree Publishing 3/1/2022) –
I’ve always loved exploring nature. I studied biology and then oceanography (I’m always in it for the field work!) and have been writing poetry since the fourth grade. When I had two young readers of my own I began writing: first a picture book, then a few science-infused middle grade novels. After signing up for an inspiring field entomology class called “The Way Bugs Work” I decided to try mixing science with poetry, and that’s the happy place I’ve landed. I hope readers will grab a field notebook and head outside to enjoy nature adventures of their own.
[Author of 16 books including, Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs (2021), Amphibian Acrobats (2020), Superlative Birds (2019), Leaf Litter Critters (2018), Random Body Parts: Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse (2015), At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems (2011), The Trouble with Rules (2008), The Universe of Fair (2012), Uncharted Waters (2006), and Hey There, Stink Bug! (2006).]
Vicky Fang – Making Waves: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots #4) (Scholastic 3/1/22) – I am also a product designer who spent five years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology.
I began writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. My goal is for my books to inspire computer literacy for a wide range of kids—while letting their imaginations run wild with the possibilities of technology!
[Author/illustrator of 9 books, including Layla & The Bots: Cupcake Fix (2021) and Friendbots: Blink and Block Make a Wish (2021), Friendbots: Blink and Block Bug Each Other (2021), I Can Code: If/Then (2020), I Can Code: And/Or (2020), Layla & The Bots: Built for Speed (2020), Invent-A-Pet (2020), Layla & The Bots: Happy Paws (2020).]
Darcy Pattison – Fever: How Tu YouYou Used Traditional Chinese Medicine to Find a Cure for Malaria (Mims House 3/8/22) – I once took an aptitude test to determine which kind of children’s book would be best for me to write. Should I write preschool concept books, YA novels, or nonfiction? The result was nonfiction picture books. I resisted this idea for a long time! I wanted to write fiction. But once I started writing nonfiction, I’ve never stopped. It seems the aptitude test was right. (I still write fiction, though!)
[Author of over 51 books, including The Plan for the Gingerbread House: A STEM Engineering Story (2021), A.I.: How Patterns Helped Artificial Intelligence Defeat World Champion Lee Sedol (2021), The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest (2/9/2021), Erosion: How Hugh Bennett Saved America's Soil and Stopped the Dust Bowl (2020), Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: How a Jumping Spider Learned to Hunt in Space (2016), Liberty (2016), Rowdy: The Pirate Who Could Not Sleep (2016), Burn: Michael Faraday’s Candle (2016), Longing for Normal (2015), The Read and Write Series (2015), Vagabonds (2014), The Girl, the Gypsy and the Gargoyle (2014), Saucy and Bubba (2014), The Aliens Inc. Series – short chapter books (2014), Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub (2014), Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for Over 60 Years (2013).]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Leslie Bulion – I love playing board games and card games. When I was a teen I bought a deck of cards as a travel souvenir, and I still do that wherever I go.
Vicky Fang – I'm a terrible bike rider. But I have a lovely red bicycle that my husband and friends bought me, so I'm going to get better!
Darcy Pattison – I grew up in a family of seven children. I’m fifth out of seven. This meant I didn’t have the pressure of a first-born or the luxury of being the baby in the family. I could just do what I wanted.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Leslie Bulion – Serengeti: Plains of Grass (3/1/2022) – My sister-in-law invited our family to travel to East Africa when she was teaching there. During our visit, we went on a safari to Lake Manyara, Oldupai Gorge, Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. Every moment of that trip was memorable, and the Serengeti captured my heart and my imagination. My first published book, Fatuma’s New Cloth, was set in East Africa and won the Children’s Africana Book Award in 2002. It took me many years to return to the Serengeti with an idea that could convey something special about this remarkable ecosystem, and I hope I now have.
Vicky Fang – Making Waves: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots #4)( 3/1/22) – This book is inspired by my kids and my niece Sophie, who love sea creatures! My family spends a lot of time at the Monterey Aquarium, and we love looking at all of the amazing sea creatures and underwater habitats. I thought it would be fun to have Layla and the Bots design something to help a dolphin!
Darcy Pattison – Fever: How Tu YouYou Used Traditional Chinese Medicine to Find a Cure for Malaria (3/8/22) –Sometimes when you’re looking around for book topics, one hits home. My daughter was living and working in Papua New Guinea where she contracted malaria – while pregnant. Suddenly, I was intensely interested in malaria and its various cures over the years. I also have a close friend who is Chinese and could translate original documents and help me do original research. The result was a look at how the amazing scientist Tu Youyou found a cure for malaria. The story fit into my MOMENTS IN SCIENCE series, but it was the personal connection that made it the right story for me to research and write.
Interesting how each of your families helped create the initial spark for the manuscripts. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Leslie Bulion – So many! I always read a lot of fantasy when I was young: The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander, Joan Aiken’s books such as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Rescuers books by Margery Sharp, Edward Eager’s Half Magic. I also read and reread A.A. Milne’s poetry: When We Were Very Young, and Now We are Six.
Vicky Fang – I loved Enid Blyton books - I couldn't get enough of their adventures and snacks.
Darcy Pattison – Once during elementary school, the library was culling old books. Each student was allowed to choose two books to take home. One of mine was a Doctor Doolittle book, Doctor Doolittle in the Moon. I loved that book partly because it was an interesting story, but partly because it was all mine.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Vicky Fang – Making Waves: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots #4)( 3/1/22) – Besides meeting some sea creatures and learning about sound waves (Making Waves, get it!?), there’s a DIY STEM activity in the back of the book, as with all of the books in the series! This one is for a rubber band musical instrument that you can customize yourself. My kids had a lot of fun with this one, so I hope readers will too!
Darcy Pattison – Fever: How Tu YouYou Used Traditional Chinese Medicine to Find a Cure for Malaria (3/8/22) –Chinese scientist Tu Youyou sacrificed much to do her malaria research. At one point, she went three years without seeing her two daughters. She even volunteered to use the drug on herself. Science isn’t just about finding facts. It’s about determination, hope, and refusing to give up. To be a scientist says something about your character, not just your intellect.
I like that both books involve trial and error and determination. What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?
Text © Leslie Bulion, 2022. Image © Becca Stadtlander, 2022.
Leslie Bulion – Serengeti: Plains of Grass (3/1/2022) – After I wrote the poem stanzas in Serengeti, the manuscript needed something more. When I finally thought to add science notes, I knew I had to keep them spare. THAT was challenging!
Text © Vicky Fang, 2022. Image © Christine Nishiyama, 2022.
Vicky Fang – Making Waves: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots #4)( 3/1/22) – Funnily enough, the hardest part was figuring out the logic of the dolphin’s eating and music needs so that it was clear throughout the book how close or far Layla and the Bots were to their goal. My editor and I spent a LOT of time discussing the logic of dolphins eating fish and listening to music, with utmost seriousness!
© C. IISH collection, the Stefan R. Landsberger collection, 1983. Call NO. BG E15/812, https://chineseposters.net/posters/e15-812.
Darcy Pattison – Fever: How Tu YouYou Used Traditional Chinese Medicine to Find a Cure for Malaria (3/8/22) –Because Tu Youyou was Chinese, it was often difficult to find the right information about her and her work. I drew upon published resources, but also did diligent search of online sources. For example, this one, which is a Chinese progoganda poster about preventing hepatitis by washing. The illustrator referenced it as he drew the hospital scenes and patients in beds, especially the vignette on the bottom right.
If I may ask, how are, or have you, all been staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Leslie Bulion – I spend time in nature, observing, listening, photographing, exploring. Those experiences fill my well to overflowing!
Vicky Fang – It’s been so hard! I’m lucky because I do have in-laws nearby who can take the kids sometimes. Otherwise, I try to talk to my fellow writers when I have a chance - that always re-inspires me!
Darcy Pattison – To stay fresh, I’m taking classes! I’ve taken a poetry class and I’m planning a novel-in-verse class this spring.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Leslie Bulion – My next book will explore another remarkable ecosystem: the Galápagos Islands.
Vicky Fang – I’m so excited about my next book, AlphaBot, releasing in 2023 with Candlewick/MIT Press. It’s a mix-and-match flap book that lets kids create their own mix-and-match robots while learning basic definitions of robot terms! I’m illustrating again, and will be for more future projects as well. I have a couple of unannounced picture books and chapter books coming, so keep an eye out for those announcements.
Darcy Pattison – Diego, the Galapágos Giant Tortoise comes out in June 2022. It is Book 5 of the Another Extraordinary Animal series, which will now include a bird, spider, mammal, amphibian, and reptile. Welcome to the Animal Kingdom.
These books are biographies of a single animal, not a species. The animals are named because they’ve interacted with humans. Diego’s story is especially wonderful because it’s a success story, a story of saving a species from extinction.
These all sound so interesting; we'll have to keep our eyes open for them. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Leslie Bulion – I would have loved to meet the late Steve Jenkins and take a collage illustration workshop in his studio. He and his process, which I watched him generously share online at some point, was magical.
Vicky Fang – I keep giving different answers to this question… My last two were Sondheim and Nikola Tesla. I think I’ll say Madonna this time. That trifecta probably gives some insight into my personality.
Darcy Pattison – If I could meet anyone, I’d love to meet Tu Youyou.
Wouldn't that be a fun party. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
Leslie Bulion – The National Parks are our collective treasures. I never met one I didn’t love.
Vicky Fang – We love, love, love going to the Asilomar tide pools. (Sea creatures again!) My kids have grown up looking for snails, crabs, starfish, and other fascinating critters in the tide pools.
© Doug Jones
Darcy Pattison – I’ve hiked and photographed many national parks. But I still haven’t made it to Yellowstone National Park. Maybe next year!
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Synopsis: Award-winning science poetry master Leslie Bulion presents a lyrical salute to Africa’s Serengeti Plain, one of the most spectacular and productive ecosystems on Earth.
Leslie Bulion, a virtuoso science poet, has created a portrait of the rainy season on East Africa’s southern Serengeti Plain, offering young readers a compelling look at an ecosystem in motion.
Using a series of interconnected verses inspired by an East African Swahili poem form―the utendi―Bulion’s cadences and rhythmic lines mimic the web of life in the Serengeti, following the great migration of wildebeest, zebras, and others into and then out of the vast short-grass plain.
Lush, evocative gouache illustrations by Becca Stadtlander showcase the grandeur of this immense and complex ecosystem and provide close-up details of its wildlife inhabitants. Scientific notes on each spread and comprehensive back matter material offer more specifics. This, paired with Bulion’s brilliant poetic form, make the book ideal for cross-curricular learning.
This is a wonderful look at the Serengeti plain after a monsoon. Tracing the animals and insects which interact with the explosion of plant life on the plain and each other - including dung beetles, cheetahs, giraffes, and many lesser known or considered creatures. Written in verses "derived from an East African, Swahili poem form with Arabic origins, the utendi," a helpful author's note describes the unique characteristics and format of her version. Scientific passages on every spread, a glossary, notes on organizations protecting the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, and further reading help augment this beautiful, poetic nonfiction.
Synopsis: This series is part of Scholastic's early chapter book line Branches, aimed at newly independent readers. With easy-to-read text, high-interest content, fast-paced plots, and illustrations on every page, these books will boost reading confidence and stamina. Branches books help readers grow!
Layla and the Bots are so excited to meet the animals at the Surfside Rescue Center! They meet a sea turtle, a sea lion, and a dolphin named Splash, who needs their help. Splash won’t eat unless there is music playing... but he likes to pick his own music! Can Layla and the Bots build a music machine that will do the job? With full-color artwork on every page, speech bubbles throughout, and a fun DIY activity that’s perfect for at-home learning, this early chapter book series brings kid-friendly STEAM topics to young readers!
In this graphic chapter book, Layla and the Bots are playing a concert for a fundraiser at the Surfside Rescue Center. When they arrive to look over the area, they meet a dolphin, Splash, who refuses to eat - until one of the Bots sings to it. Excited by this discovery, Lala and the Bots soon learn Splash's also picky about which music he likes and for how long. Determined to help him recover, they work to design a machine that lets him choose his music. It's a wonderful early introduction to sound waves, animal rescue, and the scientific process.
Synopsis: People were dying! Malaria is a deadly mosquito-borne disease that causes fevers, chills and often death. In 1969, the People's Republic of China created a task force to find a cure.
Working in the 1970s, Chinese scientist Tu Youyou reviewed the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) scrolls for ideas on where to start her research. She found 640 traditional treatments, and methodically started extracting compounds and testing them against malaria. Would any of them work?
Courage, resilience, and perseverance--follow the struggles of Nobel Prize scientist Tu Youyou as she works to find a cure to malaria.
An engaging nonfiction exploring the ground breaking cure for Malaria by Tu Youyou; the first female Chinese scientist Nobel Prize winner. Combining straightforward explanations, science and Chinese terminology, and colorful illustrations, along with the ever-present mosquitoes buzzing through each spread, Darcy Pattison conveys the urgency and frustration of finding a cure. After many personal sacrifices, testing 200 possibilities, changing her extraction technique, and then trying 190 more plant extracts, Tu Youyou finally found the cure. More about Tu Youyou, the Malaria parasite, mosquito, and a timeline round out this tribute to a remarkably tenacious and important scientist.
Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success.
To learn more about these writers, or to contact them:
Leslie Bulion – Serengeti: Plains of Grass (Peachtree Publishing 3/1/2022) –
Vicky Fang – Making Waves: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots #4)(Scholastic 3/1/22) –
Darcy Pattison – Fever: How Tu YouYou Used Traditional Chinese Medicine to Find a Cure for Malaria (Mims House 3/8/22) –