The Picture Book Buzz - March Interview with STEAM Team Books Members
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to nine authors from the STEAM Team Books group whose books release in March.
STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math books, including fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books, which "bring the spirit of inquiry, discovery, and creative problem-solving to learners while engaging them in rich literacy experiences."
Follow #STEAMTeamBooks to catch all the info on the new STEAM/STEM children's books heading your way.
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?...)
Patricia Newman – Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean (Millbrook Press 3/1/21) – I read – a lot – as a child, but never wrote (beyond school assignments). I started writing after my two children were born at the urging of my mother-in-law. Although I read widely and diversely, my writing gravitates toward true stories or stories based on fact, especially topics that pique my sense of injustice – ocean plastic, lack of access to education, endangered species, climate change. I love science because it explains our everyday world.
[Author of 17 books, including Eavesdropping on Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation (2018), Neema's Reason to Smile (2018), Zoo Scientists to the Rescue (2017), Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem (2017), Ebola: Fears and Facts (2015), and Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (2014).]
Traci Sorell - Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer (Millbrook/Lerner 3/2/2021) - I started writing for young people in 2013, but I couldn’t make it a primary focus until the late summer of 2015 when my son started school. I wrote We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga that November, submitted it unagented to publishers in December and sold it in the spring of 2016.
I don’t have a set writing schedule. It tends to happen in chunks of time – a few days or over a weekend. The pandemic has exacerbated that with all of my family at home 24/7 and still needing to write because I have books under contract and others I want to get submitted.
I don’t have a favorite type as I love nonfiction and fiction. I like to write both in a variety of formats across all age groups. That’s what keeps me going is trying something different in each work I create. In terms of STEAM books, Classified is my first picture book biography.
[Author of 5 books, including We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know (4/20/2021), Indian No More (2019), At the Mountain's Base (2019), and We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga (2018).]
Laurie Wallmark - Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (Abrams Kids 3/2/21) – 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 25 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. My hope is that my books will excite children about these fields. And if they learn a little bit about STEM, all the better.
[Author of 5 books, including- 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), & Ada Byron Lovelace & the Thinking Machine (2015).]
Louise Gooding – Just Like Me (Studio Press 3/4/2021) - I had always enjoyed writing, but it used to just be for a bit of fun. I was inspired to actually start writing soon after my Grandmother passed away, I wanted to share her story, and her journey with dementia. I soon found myself at a SCBWI conference with a picture book under my arms and left, with a totally different plan and idea. The idea to start writing Just Like Me. I realised that there seemed to be a gap in the market for a nonfiction book that discussed neurodiversity and disability, and being a neurodivergent person myself, I decided I wanted to see what I could do to help bridge that gap.
Susan Hughes - Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (Owl Kids 3/15/21) – I began writing as a child, probably because I loved reading books so much. Luckily, I had a few friends that also loved to write; when we were 8 and 9, we formed a writers’ club. We’d meet and exchange our poems and stories and give each other support and suggestions--a first critique group!
While at university, doing an English degree, I got an amazing summer job working for a local children’s publishing company. I had the opportunity to do research, write, edit, proofread … A true education in the highly collaborative publishing process.
When I graduated I knew I wanted to be a writer and editor. I have always worked as a freelancer, doing lots of writing and editing for educational publishers at first and now enjoying story coaching and critiquing manuscripts from clients around the world. I’ve been fortunate to be able to carve out time and space for my own writing of stories, both fiction and non-fiction, for a wide range of kid audiences!
[Author of 44 books, including Walking for Water: How One Boy Stood Up for Gender Equality (6/1/2021), Sounds All Around - The Science of How Sound Works (5/2021), Upsy-Daisy, Baby! (2019), Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs (2018), Suffrage: Canadian Women and the Vote (2018), and Maggie McGillicuddy's Eye for Trouble (2016).]
Meeg Pincus – Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me & a Cleaner Sea (Sleeping Bear Press 3/15/21) –I’ve been writing in one way or another my whole life, from working as a journalist in my twenties to being a children’s book author today. My children’s books are true stories of “solutionaries” who help people, animals and the planet. Solutionaries is a term from humane education, which I’ve also taught in schools, and the animals and planet part put several of my books in the STEAM category. I write in the nooks and crannies of my life as a homeschooling mom, at various hours of day or night. My writing time is a pleasure for me, using my creativity and curiosity (and having some quiet!).
[Author of 24 books including, Cougar Crossing (S&S/Beach Lane 2/2/2021), Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery (2020), Miep and the Most Famous Diary (2019), and 19 books with Educational Publishers.]
Laura Perdew - The Earth: One-of-a-Kind Planet, The Moon: Small-but-Mighty Neighbor, The Sun: Shining Star of the Solar System, and The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (Nomad Press 3/15/21) – I wrote one of my first stories in elementary school and it was clearly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets the Candyland game; of course I was the main character and got to enjoy chocolate rivers and gumdrop flowers. In college I was the dork who didn’t mind the writing assignments (please, a writing assignment instead of an exam!). As an adult I dove into writing for children when my own were small; it was my creative outlet and something to call my own. Eventually I began writing for the education market which is what led me to writing STEAM books. I’ve also always been somewhat of a conservationist and I love being outdoors; writing STEAM books has allowed me to combine two of my greatest passions! Now I love nothing more than writing at my desk during those quiet morning hours before the rest of the family gets up; it is truly sacred time.
[Author of 39 books, including Mammals (A Field Guide for Kids) (1/2021), 5-book Picture Book Science Series: Animal Adaptations (2020), Animal Conservationists (2019), Crazy Contraptions: Build Rube Goldberg Machines that Swoop, Spin, Stack, and Swivel (2019), Race to Renewable Energy (2019), Race to Discover Energy Independence (2019), Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth (2019), and 23 books with Educational Publishers.]
Gina Loveless - Puberty Is Gross But Also Really Awesome (Rosdale Kids 3/23/21) – I live in Eastern PA and I’ve wanted to be an author since I was in elementary school, but I started taking my writing really seriously in 2016. My favorite types of books to write are ones that help kids feel less alone, however that might happen. I was drawn to writing this STEAM book because I was excited to share the science behind something that happens to every single teen and tween on the planet.
[Author of 4 books, including Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw: Who Is The Bucks Bandit? (Book 3) (9/8/2021), Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw: The Friend Thief (Book 2) (2020), and Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw (2019).]
JoAnn Early Macken – Grow (Boyds Mills Press 3/23/21) – I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. Before I started writing for children, I wrote software manuals. Reading to our two young sons inspired me to submit my first picture book manuscript, based on a poem I wrote in a creative writing class. I’m a gardener, and I spend as much time as I can outside, usually carrying a pocket notebook and pen. I always enjoy learning about science and nature, and I love writing poetry. Writing in rhyme feels like solving a challenging puzzle.
[Author of 140+ books, including Baby Says "Moo!" (2015); Write a Poem Step by Step (2012), Waiting Out the Storm (2010); Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move (2008); and many with educational publishers.]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Patricia Newman – I was bullied in elementary and middle school, which probably had something to do with the fact I never wrote as a kid. I didn’t want to give the bullies more ammunition. The books I write now give voice to the voiceless.
Traci Sorell - I’ve never ever shared this with anyone, but I’d love to write song lyrics at some point. Music is my first love, and then hearing and writing stories is a close second.
Laurie Wallmark – People may know that I’m a former computer science professor. What they may not know is that in addition to teaching students on campus, I also taught students in maximum security prisons. My course, Computer Literacy, is required to earn an associate’s degree. Having a degree will help my students in prison get jobs when they’re released. Some of them had been incarcerated so long they had never used the Internet!
Louise Gooding – I think that most people now know that I’m neurodivergent but I grew up not knowing. A lot of my friends and colleagues are only aware of this fact since I started advocating for better understanding of what it is like to be neurodivergent. I also find that there are children who are so excited to know that someone with ADHD can be a writer and have the focus to stick with it. It’s nice to be able to show another side, a non-stereotypical view of being someone with ADHD and what they can do.
Susan Hughes - If I wasn’t a writer and editor of books, I’d like to be a writer and editor of radio or film. Or the person who travels around collecting art pieces for a gallery. Also, I wish I hadn’t stopped playing the piano … One day, I plan to begin playing again, perhaps even taking some lessons!
Meeg Pincus – I am inordinately excited to have a houseplant that is thriving, with lush, green vines trailing down my living room bookshelf, as I’ve killed too many houseplants to admit in the past!
Laura Perdew - In college I didn’t pursue a literature or writing degree – I got my master’s in sociology! It also never occurred to me to pursue a career as a naturalist, zoologist, or environmentalist. Why? Not sure. Today, everything I’ve learned about writing for children and science I’ve done on my own through conferences, workshops, friends, being outdoors, reading, researching, and, of course, SCBWI.
Gina Loveless - -I played the drums for 10 years and competed in drumline for two years.
JoAnn Early Macken – I love to sew! I especially enjoy upcycling thrifted clothes and vintage fabrics into new clothes to wear and reusable shopping bags and face masks to give away.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired each of you to write your story?
Patricia Newman – Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean (3/1/21) - Annie Crawley and I developed a friendship while working on Plastic, Ahoy! While traveling through a Colorado blizzard during our research for Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, we began talking about an ocean book – one that would highlight an unbreakable human connection to our vast watery world. Annie is a diver and underwater photographer/filmmaker, so we concocted the idea to use her experiences and images to tell our story. [What fun!]
Traci Sorell - Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer (3/2/2021) - My editor Carol Hinz asked me if I had any interest in writing about Mary. While the math and science aspect of the story intimidated me at first, I knew what I’d seen written about her in other women in STEM survey books did not capture her full identity as a Cherokee Nation citizen and how her background coupled with her incredible math abilities. I felt that people, especially young people, needed to know more about her inspiring life and work.
[I totally agree.]
Laurie Wallmark - Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (3/2/21) – I was fascinated by Elizebeth’s
story because she has one major difference from the other women in STEM I’ve written about. Unlike the others, Elizebeth had little interest in math and science as a child. Instead, she preferred to read books and study foreign languages. I thought it would be interesting for kids to see that your entire professional life does not have to be pre-ordained by your interests at a young age. [*smiling*]
Louise Gooding – Just Like Me (3/4/2021) - As I have said above, I’m neurodivergent, 2 of my own children are also neurodivergent and one also lived with chronic back pain for many many years. They used to say that they felt alone, that they didn't know anyone like them and just felt ‘weird’. Everyone had a stereotypical view of what an autistic person was, or what someone like ADHD was like, and this was unfair. I wanted to find role models, and people that my kids could see themselves in and be able to share with others to start breaking these stereotypes. [So glad you did!]
Susan Hughes - Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (3/15/21) – I travelled to Barcelona, Spain, a few years ago and was bowled over when I saw the out-of-this-world breathtaking architectural structures designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, especially Casa Batllo. I was especially inspired and moved by his own sense of connection to nature and his passion for revealing this in his buildings. He said, “Sunshine is the best painter,” and “There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature.” I wanted to share his ideas in a story for children--but in a way that made these ideas come alive to them. I wanted them to see and feel the meaning of his words, much as I felt them when I saw and then stepped inside and toured Casa Batllo. [So interesting!]
Meeg Pincus – Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea (3/15/21) – Growing up near the Pacific Ocean, I’ve walked on beaches my whole life, so I despair about the destruction happening to our oceans and beaches from plastic pollution, which I see on my local beaches. I decided to focus specifically on microplastics after diving deep into the work of the 5 Gyres Institute (whose co-founder became our scientist expert reader on the book). Their work makes clear that more people need to understand microplastics specifically (i.e., that ocean plastic can’t just be “cleaned up”) and what’s really going on with plastic production (i.e., that recycling campaigns aren’t exactly what they seem). Importantly, solutions to these issues are the real takeaway from the book. I thought kids could really understand these issues and be inspired to action by learning about them. [I hope so!]
Laura Perdew - The Earth: One-of-a-Kind Planet, The Moon: Small-but-Mighty Neighbor, The Sun: Shining Star of the Solar System, and The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (3/15/21) – Writing this series of picture books was offered to me by Nomad Press. Of course I said yes! Other than the topics, the earth, moon, stars, and sun, I had the freedom to develop the books the way I wanted which included finding the WHOA factor in each aspect of space science and delivering the information to kids in a way that is both engaging and informative. I will say that I was inspired to add the aliens because I wanted layered text that was funny and made kids want to read those extra facts. Besides, I’ve always liked friendly aliens. [Love the aliens!]
Gina Loveless - Puberty Is Gross But Also Really Awesome (3/23/21) – You know how on Shark Tank, Mark Cuban used to say you can either invent something new or you can build a better mouse trap? I was inspired to build a better mouse trap when it came to Puberty books. The language of puberty books – a book for “girls” or a book for “boys” – is outdated for what we know about gender identity. That, and much of what happens for those assigned male or female is the same. Nearly all kids will go through a change in height, voice, even breast development. So why are we acting as if they should be talked about separately?
[Honestly, no idea.]
JoAnn Early Macken – Grow (3/23/21) – The plants and creatures in Grow are all familiar. Our small suburban yard is a Certified Monarch Waystation where caterpillars munch milkweed, turn into butterflies, and fly off every summer. A pond in a nearby park hosts tadpoles, turtles, and ducks. I’m always excited to spot wildlife on canoe and camping trips—every glimpse is an inspiration.
Wow, some many ways and reasons to be inspired to write a STEAM book. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Patricia Newman – I love Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, particularly Harriet’s powers of observation and her spy notebook. I start a new notebook for every book I write!
Traci Sorell - I didn’t have a favorite book, but Jon Stone’s The Monster at the End of This Book was a favorite read aloud in my house when I was young. I enjoyed mysteries, nonfiction, and fiction. Cherokee author Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys as well as Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry are three that I remember caring deeply about when I read them.
Laurie Wallmark – I was a big science fiction fan as a kid, and still am. My favorite books were written by the classic authors in the field at the time: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke.
Louise Gooding – My favourite illustrator is Quentin Blake, he was the original artist for the Roald Dahl books. I am extremely lucky to own a signed book of his artwork. Writers? I adore the styles of Roald Dahl, Terry Deary, Dr Seuss, Babette Cole. While Just Like Me doesn’t have this sort of wacky zany style, I'm hopeful in future, my readers will get to see that side of my writing too.
Susan Hughes - I think I read every single dog and horse book ever written. I loved the pony books written by the British sisters Christine and Josephine Pullein-Thompson. I loved Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings. The first book I ever bought as a child was The Bushbaby by William Stevenson.
Meeg Pincus – I mentioned in my last interview that I was a big fan of Richard Scarry books. I also loved Shel Silverstein, Clifford, and Frances books, and that 70s classic illustrated book Gnomes, which I still have my tattered copy of!
Laura Perdew - It is a well-known fact in my family that I don’t have favorites, which is an endless source of annoyance for my kids. With books, the ones I’m drawn to depend on my mood and my experiences. Among the books I remember as a kid, The Lorax was perhaps the only STEAM book I loved. Waaaaay back then there were few STEAM books that were engaging or fun; I’ve been a thankful witness to the evolution of children’s nonfiction literature that approaches STEAM topics in a kid-friendly way. As a child, I also enjoyed all the other books by Dr. Seuss (and still do!), the Berenstain Bears, and Curious George.
Gina Loveless - Dav Pilkey and The Dumb Bunny books were a favorite of mine. As were Todd Strasser’s Help I’m Trapped… series.
JoAnn Early Macken – I grew up with six sisters, all enthusiastic readers. Our mother (who wrote poetry) read us books like Madeline, The Color Kittens, and Pippi Longstocking. When we were older, we inherited a cousin’s collection of Nancy Drew mysteries. I also loved Sherlock Holmes.
These are all such amazing authors and books. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Text © Patricia Newman, 2021. Images/photographs © Annie Crawley, 2021.
Patricia Newman – Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean (3/1/21) - Annie and I created Planet Ocean with an underwater perspective because most of us only hear the pounding surf, walk the beach, or admire the sunset over the water. We dive deep into three ocean regions to demonstrate why we can’t live without the ocean. We feature the words of scientists, Indigenous peoples, artists, kids and teens for a variety of perspectives and approaches to saving our sea. Eleven QR code videos take readers under the water with Annie for a richer reading experience.
Text © Traci Sorell, 2021. Image © Natasha Donovan, 2021.
Traci Sorell - Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer (3/2/2021) - Mary Golda Ross helped me so much herself to tell her story. I had an idea of what to say, but she donated her papers and work materials that weren’t classified to the archives at her undergraduate alma mater. Her cousin alerted me to this. There, I filled in so many details of her life that I never would have known otherwise. Also, what she shared in an interview with our tribal newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, just a few weeks before she died confirmed the through line I had outlined for the story.
Text © Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Image © Brooke Smart, 2021.
Laurie Wallmark - Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (3/2/21) – When you read the book pay attention to the amazing illustrations by Brooke Smart. See those ribbons twisting through some of the pages and the cover? They contain coded messages. I supplied the code, and Brooke had the difficult task of hand-lettering them.
Text © Louise Gooding, 2021. Images © Melissa Iwai, Angel Chang,
Cathy Hookey, Caterina Delli Carri & Brooke Smart, 2021.
Louise Gooding – Just Like Me (3/4/2021) - This book isn’t just for kids who are disabled or neurodivergent. It’s a book for everyone. It’s a book that challenges stereotypes and allows a window into these amazing people's lives. There is more we have in common with people than we first think. When my youngest daughter first saw me writing about Simone Biles, she was excited that she could see someone with ADHD “Just Like ME” (She subsequently named the book because of this reaction), but it didn't stop with Simone, Frida Kahlo was an artist, Stephen Hawking loved deep space and cosmology, and Ellie Simmonds was the fastest swimmer in her group. All things my daughter could relate to. I’m hopeful that other children will also find they have so many things in common with the people featured in Just Like Me.
Text © Susan Hughes, 2021. Image © Marianne Ferrer, 2021.
Susan Hughes - Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (3/15/21) – My story is set in Spain, in both the countryside and the city. It has a focus on Casa Batllo, a real building, includes the real architectural concepts of a real person, Antoni Gaudi, and there really was a real Carmen Batllo who came to live in the house that Gaudi built. But the story transcends the facts--it is about coming to terms with change and what makes a home--and can be easily enjoyed by children who have never heard of Casa Batllo, Barcelona, or Antoni Gaudi.
Text © Meeg Pincus, 2021. Image © Lucy Semple, 2021.
Meeg Pincus – Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea (3/15/21) – I want them to know that they really do have the power to make a difference for the oceans, wherever they live!
Text © Laura Perdew, 2021. Image © Hui Li, 2021.
Laura Perdew - The Earth: One-of-a-Kind Planet, The Moon: Small-but-Mighty Neighbor, The Sun: Shining Star of the Solar System, and The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (3/15/21) – I had to fight (okay, not THAT hard) for the aliens. At first my editor was worried about word count on each spread and felt that snarky aliens might crowd the pages. And yet she did say she was willing to give it a try (thanks Andi!) and here we are. The illustrator, Hui Li also did an incredible job bringing those aliens to life. In my opinion, they’re one of the best parts of the books. Who doesn’t love a snarky, friendly alien?
Text © Gina Loveless, 2021. Image © Lauri Johnston, 2021.
Gina Loveless - Puberty Is Gross But Also Really Awesome (3/23/21) – This book is truly meant to be for everyone. If you’re going through puberty, which you likely are if you’re between the ages of 9-14, this book is for you. The illustrations are representative of all different types of bodies, and the text showcases all different ways for kids to live their lives.
Text © Joann Early Macken, 2021. Image © Stephanie Fizer Colman, 2021.
JoAnn Early Macken – Grow (3/23/21) – When I started writing Grow, I was thinking about our two young sons and wondering how they would make their way in the world. By the time the manuscript was accepted for publication, they were both grown and on their own.
So, what was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?
Patricia Newman – Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean (3/1/21) - The science. I must figure out how to explain concepts such as climate change and the chemistry of ocean acidification to the middle-grade reader. I poured over studies and worked with experts to make sure every detail in Planet Ocean is accurate. Recently, Jill Heinerth, Underwater Explorer and Explorer in Residence with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society said, “They nailed it! Ocean Annie and Patricia Newman have created a positive, action-oriented educational initiative that will inspire the next generation to be good stewards of our ocean planet!"
Traci Sorell - Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer (3/2/2021) - Trying to decipher Mary’s notebooks full of equations in her beautiful handwriting! I honestly had no idea what I was looking at most of the time, but I photographed everything I could and asked Native engineers who work at NASA for help in identifying what she wrote. I’m so grateful they knew!
Laurie Wallmark - Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars (3/2/21) – There is so much text and juicy back matter in this book, that it was hard to fit everything in. In addition to the standard timeline, selected bibliography, and notes in the back matter, there’s “Crack the Code,” where I describe how kids can use a Caesar cipher to send secret messages. Also, since most of Elizebeth’s codebreaking work was done pre-computer, I bring the information about the field up to date in “Cryptography Today.”
Louise Gooding – Just Like Me (3/4/2021) - For me it was the fact I didn't want to be taking this space from anyone. Whilst I am a neurodivergent person, and felt comfortable talking about living life as neurodivergent, I was worried that the inclusion of disability, despite being something we can relate to on some level, would take this voice away from someone else. I am a believer in sharing Own Voice experiences and making sure that when we research and share our work we are respectful of our own lanes, and how we represent others who maybe, have a different experience than our own. Since writing my book, I have become more aware of an organisation called Inclusive Minds, who work with authors who are writing about marginalised voices, their own or others. This organisation pairs up authors with readers who have relevant lived experience to those featured in your book, and can give you feedback and guidance on your text. I’d love, in future, to work with these guys should I write any more neurodivergent books, to make sure I get a broader range of voices and experiences, to add to my own, and make sure that it is as authentic and honest as possible. My voice is one of many neurodivergent voices, not THE voice.
Susan Hughes - Carmen and the House That Gaudi Built (3/15/21) – The hardest part was trying to leave so much amazing description of Casa Batllo out of the text and allow the art to show it! Also, in the early drafts, I had Gaudi saying many of his famous quotes. Now there are only three. Again, it was so difficult to choose which ones to keep and which ones to leave out. Ah, the eternal struggle of the picture book writer--trying to keep it short!
Meeg Pincus – Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea (3/15/21) – I was trying to get some complicated science and ideas into a specific rhyme and meter. This was tough, but I loved the challenge!
Laura Perdew - The Earth: One-of-a-Kind Planet, The Moon: Small-but-Mighty Neighbor, The Sun: Shining Star of the Solar System, and The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (3/15/21) – The earth, moon, stars, and sun are BIG subjects. For me, the most difficult thing about this series was deciding what information to include and in what order. I had notecards for each book strewn across my worktable so I could move the cards around to find an organic way to connect all the information. It also helped me see what I could leave out. The next challenge was taking all that complex information and figuring out how to make it accessible and engaging for young readers.
Gina Loveless - Puberty Is Gross But Also Really Awesome (3/23/21) – The hardest part was finding interesting studies that related to kids and were about the topics discussed in a particular chapter. It was difficult, but not impossible. :-)
JoAnn Early Macken – Grow (3/23/21) – Over a number of years, with the help of my very patient writing group, I revised the manuscript several times. Each time it was rejected was a disappointment. I put it away and worked on something else for a while, but it kept calling to me, so I pulled it out again and revised some more. I’m thrilled to see it finally in print, and I’m grateful for the contributions of a brilliant editor and a wonderful illustrator.
How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Patricia Newman – I look to sharks for inspiration. They must swim or die, right? It seems like a great philosophy for a nonfiction author in a pandemic, so I keep swimming. Although I can’t travel for research, I’m working on two nonfiction proposals and have written two other nonfiction picture books using knowledge I already have.
Traci Sorell - I haven’t been doing a great job at this during the pandemic. Normally I read a lot more which helps my creativity. But I’m still getting writing done, so that helps.
Laurie Wallmark – I’ve never believed in writer’s block. I used to be a software engineer, and you could just as easily say there was programmer’s block. No matter the field, you’re not always in the mood or the headset to do the work. To me, the best way to stay creative is to keep writing, no matter what. What you produce won’t always be book-worthy, but it’s still exercising your writing muscles. :-)
Louise Gooding – I have a huge range of writing styles so I like exploring all those different styles. By changing things up, mixing things around, even with shorter stories or saving bits of research (emailing myself ideas around how I could explore these topics, I allow myself a pool of ideas to jump into when I feel ready. Lockdown has been hard to stay creative. I do well when surrounded by other people, I feed off the energy in a room, and obviously that has been something that's not been possible over the last year. I am thinking positively though, we have to find ways to keep moving onwards and upwards.
Susan Hughes - Actually, I find I’m busier than ever. So many clients are sending me their own work now, so I am inspired by assisting them in their creative endeavors. And I’ve pleased that I’m continuing to get more ideas of my own and am continuing to dedicate time every week to pursue my writing. I always have manuscripts on the go in various forms--doodle notes, first drafts, more-polished drafts--while there are others I’m sending out on submission to publishers.
Meeg Pincus – I’m trying to find more time off of screens, in nature—walking in the eucalyptus grove near my house, driving over to the beach, sitting on my back patio and watching the birds, bunnies, and squirrels—to let my brain wonder and wander.
Laura Perdew - It seems like I always have a million ideas pinging around in my head. In the past months I’ve worked on a few ideas that have pestered me to write them (all STEAM topics). I also participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, which is such a great way to start the year and get the creativity going.
Gina Loveless - I write in a lot of different categories to keep my creativity coming. I come up with fiction and non-fiction ideas, plus writing for middle grade, chapter books, young adult, and even adult!
JoAnn Early Macken – I can be much more productive if I don’t let myself be pulled away by email or social media—at least until later in the day—so I try to write first thing in the morning. I walk just about every afternoon, usually to Lake Michigan or the Milwaukee River, where I’m bound to see something interesting.
Got it wonder, wander, and WRITE! Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Patricia Newman – I’m currently working on a conservation story with a happy ending. Carol Hinz, the Associate Publisher at Millbrook Press, purchased the 48-page picture book. Unlike my other nonfiction, this book will be illustrated and by the talented Natasha Donovan (who just illustrated Traci Sorell’s Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer). We should see early sketches soon! I wish I could tell you the title, but we’re still working on that!
Traci Sorell - I’m co-writing a middle grade, photo-illustrated book on how the Cherokee Nation created a Remember the Removal Ride as a way for young adults (ages 16-24) to honor their Cherokee ancestors’ forced removal by biking across the northern route of the Trail of Tears from our southeastern homelands to what was Indian Territory (now northeastern Oklahoma). It’s an annual leadership development program that is grounded in history, the Cherokee language, genealogy, and culture in addition to rigorous physical training to ride over 900 miles for three weeks in June. I’m doing background reading now and hope to follow the riders this spring if conditions permit. Last year’s ride was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Laurie Wallmark – I have another (dead) women in STEM book coming out in Fall 2022, with two more out on submission. And now, for something completely different, I have a fiction picture book, Dino Pajama Party (Running Press Kids) publishing in Fall 2021. All I can do is laugh when people ask if it’s nonfiction.
Louise Gooding – I have gone back to the original project I started working on, my Grandma’s journey with dementia. I can't say much but I am really happy with how this story has progressed and changed so much. I’m hopeful I'll have more news to share with you all soon about this!
Susan Hughes - I’m writing another picture book biography--this one is non-fiction. I think I’m on the 100th draft but perhaps it is close to being polished?
Meeg Pincus – Yes, two more books coming in 2022: Make Way for Animals! about wildlife crossings around the world (this one was years in the making!) is coming from Lerner/Millbrook and So Much More To Helen about the many sides of Helen Keller (she was quite an activist, a dog lover, and she won an Oscar!) is coming from Sleeping Bear Press.
Laura Perdew - I have one fiction STEAM book under contract, but I can’t talk about it yet. Soon, I hope! I also have several works-in-progress, all with nature and environmental themes.
Gina Loveless - None that I can share publicly, but I’ve always got more ideas coming, it’s just a matter of finding the right publisher for them.
JoAnn Early Macken – I’m working on a young adult nonfiction manuscript about everyday ways we can all help the planet. It provides practical information about how to address environmental issues, encourages readers to act in small, everyday ways, and reassures everyone that it’s not too late to make a difference, especially if we work together. I think the information is important and needed right now, and I hope to find a publisher soon.
We'll have to keep our eyes open. Now for a slightly odd-ball question, if you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Patricia Newman – I’ve had the good fortune to meet so many fascinating people in my life -- kidlit authors and illustrators, a US Senator, a Supreme Court Justice, brilliant scientists, a cartoonist, teens in juvenile hall, firefighters, law enforcement, and actors. I think I’ll continue to trust in fate for the next person to cross my path.
Traci Sorell - I’d love to meet my Cherokee ancestors who experienced removal to talk about life in our homelands as well as what they endured in the forced march of late fall 1838 through the winter of 1839. The author I’d love to meet is Maya Angelou, whose works have inspired me since early adulthood.
Laurie Wallmark – Isaac Asimov. He was such a polymath and wrote books in so many fields, not just science. I’ve heard him talk several times, and his stories and insights were always fascinating. I think it would be delightful to sit down with him and let our conversation wander from topic to topic.
Louise Gooding – I’m so boring when it comes to this sort of question! I just like meeting people, there's no one person that stands out to me above another as people are all people. Maybe it would be nice to sit and doodle with Quentin Blake (although I’m not an artist!). Otherwise, I think I'd actually just like to meet up with a few fellow debut authors I've been getting to know recently. It would be nice to actually meet in person and talk books, and new releases, rather than just always online.
Susan Hughes - I would very much like to meet Glenn Gould, the amazing Canadian pianist. His grave is actually in the cemetery that is a few blocks near my home. I go for a run every other day and often pop in to say hello to him. I’d love to go for a walk with him, and chat, and maybe I’d even be able to convince him to play a short piece for me.
Meeg Pincus – Today I’ll say Emily Dickinson, the poet, as I have so many questions for her.
Laura Perdew - Again, I don’t have favorites. My top 10, though, would most certainly include Michelle Obama and Jane Goodall. I also wouldn’t mind spending the day with Sir David Attenborough!
Gina Loveless - I would love to meet all of the kids in Erin Entrada Kelly’s books. They’re always so dynamic and sweet and complicated – just like real kids are, and I think they’d be fun to spend a day with. Especially the main characters in Blackbird Fly.
JoAnn Early Macken – I’m looking forward to interviewing scientists and activists who are working to make the Earth a cleaner, safer, better place for all living things.
Last question, what is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Patricia Newman – Elephants. Their cognitive abilities are amazing. The mothers take prodigious care of their young. The matriarch is like pachyderm GPS with thousands of miles of migration routes and resources in her head. And they have a trunk. I wrote an article about elephants with my zookeeper-daughter, and she introduced me to the scientists at Cornell’s Elephant Listening Project so I could write Eavesdropping on Elephants.
Traci Sorell - I do not have a favorite animal. So many cross behind our house every day. But I’ll admit I’m enamored with Joe, our Silver Laced Wyandotte rooster. He stands outside my office window regularly, crowing at me to get up and come visit with him. He’s a sweetheart.
Laurie Wallmark – I’m definitely a cat person. At one point we had three, because a cat decided our garage rafters would be a good place to hang out. We couldn’t find its owner, so it joined our menagerie.
Louise Gooding – I love British Wildlife. So badgers, foxes, field mice, weasels, squirrels, hedgehogs. I have a feeling this is down to my absolute adoration of a book called The Animals of Farthing Wood which I was obsessed with as a kid. If I have to choose one right now…. it would be a weasel, as that was also my nickname as a kid. A friend couldn't pronounce Louise, and instead called me weasel, so it’s kind of cute.
Susan Hughes - Dogs, always!
Meeg Pincus – My two standby faves have always been giraffes and butterflies, but in recent years I’ve grown very fond of birds and love watching them in the wild as well as holding our adopted parakeets. (It still amazes me that they’ll sit on my finger!)
Laura Perdew - Pet-wise I’m a dog person, hands down (okay, so I DO have a favorite!). In the natural world, though, there is no way I can choose. At every turn I feel like I’m finding out some new and amazing fact about animals; right now my focus seems to be on birds, though. But not just one species, all birds. Even the ones at my feeder in the yard are amazing to me.
Gina Loveless - Giraffes are my favorite animal! I have a tattoo of a large giraffe on my back.
JoAnn Early Macken – Our sweet dog Rosy is my walking and working companion. I’m also a fan of monarch butterflies, chimney swifts, and whooping cranes.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Synopsis: A little more than 70 percent of Planet Earth is ocean. So wouldn’t a better name for our global home be Planet Ocean? You may be surprised at just how closely YOU are connected to the ocean. Regardless of where you live, every breath you take and every drop of water you drink links you to the ocean. And because of this connection, the ocean’s health affects all of us. Dive in with author Patricia Newman and photographer Annie Crawley―visit the Coral Triangle near Indonesia, the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest, and the Arctic Ocean at the top of the world. Find out about problems including climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution, and meet inspiring local people who are leading the way to reverse the ways in which humans have harmed the ocean.
Planet Ocean shows us how to stop thinking of ourselves as existing separate from the ocean and how to start taking better care of this precious resource.
Using a wonderful conversational tone, Patricia Newman, teams up with scuba diver/photographer Annie Crawley to explore three sections of the world's ocean. Using photographs, discussions with teens and other citizen activists, and beautiful videos (accessed through QR codes) Patricia and Annie hope to help readers fall in love with the amazing flora and fauna of our ocean - "because we protect what we love." They show how our actions and ignorance have threatened the ocean and all life on this planet. How we need to, and can, act before it's too late. A joint note, list of additional books, resources and videos, and a glossary round out this amazing book.
Synopsis: Mary Golda Ross designed classified airplanes and spacecraft as Lockheed Aircraft Corporation's first female engineer. Find out how her passion for math and the Cherokee values she was raised with shaped her life and work.
Cherokee author Traci Sorell and Métis illustrator Natasha Donovan trace Ross's journey from being the only girl in a high school math class to becoming a teacher to pursuing an engineering degree, joining the top-secret Skunk Works division of Lockheed, and being a mentor for Native Americans and young women interested in engineering. In addition, the narrative highlights Cherokee values including education, working cooperatively, remaining humble, and helping ensure equal opportunity and education for all.
The book traces the Cherokee values of cooperation, humility, fighting for education opportunities for all, and always doing one's best throughout Mary Golda Ross's life. From a girl who not only bucked tradition by liking math and science, but also by being better at it than the boys who teased her, to teaching math and science to other girls, helping Lockheed fix airplane designs, and finally a top-secret program with Nasa, Ross pushed boundaries and opened doors for others. A wonderful addition to women in STEM book lists.
Synopsis: In this picture book biography, young readers will learn all about Elizebeth Friedman (1892–1980), a brilliant American code breaker who smashed Nazi spy rings, took down gangsters, and created the CIA's first cryptology unit. Her story came to light when her secret papers were finally declassified in 2015. From thwarting notorious rumrunners with only paper and pencil to “counter-spying into the minds and activities of” Nazis, Elizebeth held a pivotal role in the early days of US cryptology. No code was too challenging for her to crack, and Elizebeth’s work undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. Extensive back matter includes explanations of codes and ciphers, further information on cryptology, a bibliography, a timeline of Elizebeth’s life, plus secret messages for young readers to decode.
Utilizing ribbons of coded messages, direct quotations interspersed into the illustrations, and examples of some of the codes, Laurie Wallmark brings to life the previously classified code and cypher work of Elizebeth Friedman during WWI and WWII. A woman at the forefront of this country's code creation and code breaking; responsible for the development of the nations' cryptography departments. The included back matter information and activities extend and apply cryptography to the readers.
Synopsis: The world is full of people who are a little different in one way or another. Our uniqueness is what makes us stand out and makes us who we are.
You can not judge someone on something you can see or even on the things you can not see. We are all special. We are all unique. We are all 'different; not less'.
A collection of true stories about inspiring people and famous figures from around the world, all who are physically or neurologically diverse.
This anthology features 40 figures including well known personalities like Simone Biles, Stephen Hawking, and Helen Keller and lesser well known ones such as Naoki Higashida, Sudha Chandran, and Ellie Simmonds. All of them role models who succeeded, despite their limitations, in achieving their goals. It includes a mini biography, their accomplishments, and a side bar discussion of their challenge for each individual.
Synopsis: Carmen Batlló and Dragon, her imaginary salamander friend, love exploring the woods behind their home. But when Carmen’s family announces a move to the city, Carmen is miserable. Not only will she lose her connection to nature, she will also lose Dragon. After all, the city is no place for salamanders.
As she watches her family’s new house take shape under famous architect Antoni Gaudí, Carmen discovers Gaudí also has a passion for the natural world. Walls curve and rise like a cave, mosaic flooring sparkles like lilies on a pond, and a fireplace shaped like a mushroom keeps the house warm. Best of all, there’s even a place for Dragon!
Inspired by the real Batlló family and the house Gaudí designed for them, this picture book encourages readers to find inspiration in their surroundings and keep their hearts open to change. Stunning watercolor illustrations bring Gaudí’s inventive designs to life. An author’s note provides more information about the real story behind the house and Gaudí’s lifelong passion for nature.
This is a fascinating informational STEAM fiction. Interspersed with the actual architecture of a Spanish house and statements by the architect Antoni Gaudí, Susan Hughes imagines an interaction with the youngest daughter Carmen Batlló that could explain the "spine-like ridge along a sinuous, scaly roof that looked remarkably like a dragon or a salamander." The author's note clearly separates the fictional and nonfiction elements and offers an actual photograph of the house.
Synopsis: From the shore, the ocean looks like clear, sparkling blue but look closely at a small scoop and you'll find the ocean looks more like soup! Our oceans are filled with plastics, from water bottles and take-out containers to the teeny tiny plastic particles you need a microscope to see. But who exactly cooked up this stinky soup? And, more importantly, what is the recipe for getting (and keeping) our oceans clean? This bouncing, rhyming story pulls no punches about how we ended up in this sticky mess but also offers hope and help for cleaning up this ocean soup.