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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - May 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 three authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books. I hope you enjoy this peek at these delightful books and fascinating creatives.

"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2023. It includes fiction & nonfiction, trade or educational books.”

Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write? What drew you to STEAM books?...)

Author photo of Amanda West Lewis

Amanda West Lewis – A Planet is a Poem (Kids Can Press 5/7/2024) – I have a small studio office in my house. It’s where I park my computer and do my desk work. But my favorite writing place is in a nook in front of a window where I have an old pine table from my childhood, an armchair, notebooks, pens, and places to put my tea. That’s where the first drafts start. I always write first drafts in long hand as far from the computer as possible.

A Planet is a Poem is my first STEAM book since 1992! I have been primarily focused on craft books and historical fiction. But I have always been fascinated by cosmology. Perhaps I am reconnecting to a childhood experience of going to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. I vividly remember being six years old and awed by the idea of the planets and our solar system.

Everything I do comes from a place of passion and curiosity, and since I moved to the country and started to stare at the stars at night, I’ve wanted to dig deeper. I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that scientists are always trying to solve puzzles and with this book, I set myself to trying to understand some of their puzzles, while setting up some puzzles of my own to create within different poetic forms.

[Author of 10 books, including Focus. Click. Wind (2023), These Are Not the Words (2022), The Pact (2016), and September 17: The Sinking of the S.S. City of Benares (2014).]

Author photo of Darcy Pattison.

Darcy Pattison – Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Dolphin (Mims House 5/14/24) – I write both fiction and nonfiction for kids. One nonfiction series that has captured my heart is the Another Extraordinary Animal series. It started accidentally after the Japanese tsunami of 2011. I heard that the tsunami wave was traveling across the Pacific and would strike the island of Midway. On that island lives the oldest known wild bird in the world, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross. She survived the tsunami, and her story came first. But then, the illustrator Kitty Harvill suggested a story about a Brazilian puma cub which had been orphaned. Then, I heard the amazing story of a jumping spider who went to space—and learned to hunt in the microgravity of the International Space Station.


Now, the stories featured a bird, mammal, and spider. Accidentally, it had become a series! Of course, what I needed was an amphibian and a reptile. Enter Rosie, the female bullfrog who has held the triple-jump record for over 30 years, and Diego, the Galápagos giant tortoise who helped bring his species back from the brink of extinction. I thought I was done. However, in 2012, I visited New Zealand and heard the most amazing story about a dolphin. Dolphins are marine mammals, something different from the other animals in the series, and here we are!


[Author of 29 books, including I Am the Thirsty Desert (2023), George Washington's Engineer: How Rufus Putnam Won the Siege of Boston without Firing a Shot (2022), A Little Bit of Dinosaur (2021) and the Moments in Science series - Aquarium: How Jeannette Power Invented the Aquarium to Study Marine Life (2023) , Fever: How Tu Youyou Adapted Traditional Chinese Medicine to Find a Cure for Malaria (2022), 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).]

Author photo of Rebecca E.F. Barone.

Rebecca E.F. Barone – Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens (Henry Holt/Macmillan 5/14/2024) –  Hi Maria – thanks so much for hosting this interview!


I love meeting with young readers (school visits are so fun!), because I get to tell them how much I hated writing as a kid. So many authors have stories of how they began writing books when they were six, or that they still have their first book from when they were a kid. But that’s not me.


I didn’t really start to write until I was an engineer. As much as I hated writing, when I became an engineer, I found that I had to. It was the only way to let other people know the results of all of my research and work. The more I wrote about my engineering projects, the more I realized how much I loved telling the story of what I was doing.


Writing about my own engineering projects and translating the story of my work into words that other people could read, very naturally led me to writing books about STEM topics for young people. It’s not stretching the truth at all to say I’ve been writing STEM stories from the start!


[Author of Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis' Secret Code (2022) and Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica (2021).]


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

Amanda West Lewis – I live in the woods. I try to get out for a walk every day. Both the physical act of walking, as well as being open and aware of my surroundings, is a constant source of inspiration.

I am also inspired by the work I do in the theatre with young people, and by my work as a calligrapher. I am always working with beautiful words, both on the page and on stage. To quote Walt Whitman: “…the substantial/ Words are in the ground and sea/ They are in the air, they are in you.” Poetry has always been a source of consolation and inspiration.

Darcy Pattison – For Pelorus Jack, I was inspired by the New Zealand landscape, which was fortunate to visit.  The islands are beautiful, so green and lovely. It’s amazing to see the variety of plants, animals, and landscapes that make up our planet.

Photo of Darcy standing outside a hobbit house at the Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand.

Here's a photo of me visiting the Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand.


Rebecca E.F. Barone – I was told so many times as a kid that I asked too many questions! Inspiration, a different word for curiosity I think in this context, is all about paying attention. If I’m rushing and stressed out, I can’t listen to when my mind goes “Huh. That’s weird. I wonder why…” We’re naturally programmed to notice things that are different – when we pay attention to those differences, we can ask questions.


There are all sorts of things that help me pay attention. Having space and time to sit quietly and let my mind wander. Making sure I’m getting up and moving. …and I just realized how opposite those two answers are! But it’s true. I need both time for quiet and time for action.

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

Book cover - the sun with an array of the planets  and asteroid belt swooping around one side.

Amanda West Lewis – A Planet is a Poem (5/7/2024) – In 2015, images were being beamed back from the New Horizons spacecraft, which had been launched from Earth in 2006. Suddenly we saw amazing pictures of Pluto and Charon. I was flabbergasted by the idea the Plato had a red “heart-shaped” plateau, the Tombaugh Regio. The Tombaugh Regio is swept by gasses that are exchanged between Pluto and Charon. Scientists described the plateau as looking like a “beating” heart. Who wouldn’t want to write about that? It seemed like the most poetic thing I had ever heard. Somewhere in the reports about Pluto I read the phrase “volcanos of slow-moving nitrogen mud,” and thought, wait … that’s perfect iambic tetrameter. Soon, I found myself writing a Pantoum for Pluto. Pluto had only recently been reclassified as a “Dwarf Planet” so I wanted to show it a little love.

At about the same time, I had been introduced to the work of American children’s book writer Joyce Sidman. Reading her books encouraged me to go farther in terms of following my passion for space and my obsession with poetry.

Book cover - face and torso of a dolphin looking directly at the reader.

Darcy Pattison – Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Dolphin (5/14/24) – Adding this story to my series about animals was important because it’s a step in the conversation of our planet. It was the first time that a government passed a law to protect an individual animal. When I came home from New Zealand, I started doing the research and found it a fascinating story that I wanted to bring to kids.

Book cover - two kids running away from an exploding volcano.

Rebecca E.F. Barone – Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens (5/14/2024) – All of my stories come from questions I have. I didn’t know much about volcanoes, and I wanted to know more – so I decided to write a book about them! The story of Mount St. Helens in particular is fascinating because it affected so many people and is a collective recent memory. Every time I talk to people about this book, someone always says that they still have a jar of ash from the volcano, or that they remember the day it erupted, or that they remember watching Harry Truman on the news. In writing about Mount St. Helens, I was able to combine my curiosity about volcanoes with a gripping narrative.


Wow, I can see why you were each inspired to write these books. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of being a children’s author?


Amanda West Lewis – My children are all grown so I have fewer and fewer opportunities to spend time with young people. I try to go into schools and do a lot of workshops, but that isn’t the same as personally knowing a lot of young people. For almost 20 years, I was running theatre schools for youth, and that helped to keep me connected. But I left that in 2022, when my writing started to take off. So, the hardest thing for me is to meet new kids and talk to them about what they are thinking, seeing, and feeling in their lives.

Darcy Pattison – One of the challenges of being a children’s book author is finding more ways to put books into the hands of the right reader. Beyond that, there’s too little time and too many great stories to tell!


Rebecca E.F. Barone – I think it’s challenging to reach kids sometimes. As adults, we choose our own books. Kids, though, largely have books chosen for them. There’s an element of having to please multiple audiences that is unique to writing for children.


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


Amanda West Lewis – A Planet is a Poem (5/7/2024) – I don’t think of science and art as being in two separate boxes. Scientists are trying to make sense of the world around us. Artists are also trying to make sense of the world. I don’t think there is a big difference between trying to make sense of the world through math and theoretical physics than through music, art, dancing, or poetry. We are all seeking and searching for meaning. Astronomers have to be incredibly creative and poetic to imagine the unimaginable and explain the inexplicable.

Internal spead - a close look at the craters on Mercury. Some fun facts and a poem to Mercury.

Text © Amanda West Lewis, 2024. Image © Oliver Averill, 2024.

What I’ve done with the book is to try to match the characteristics of each planet with a structural style of poem. It is a way for me to make sense of things. I would love young people to feel similarly challenged, and to know that there are many different ways to explore ideas.

Internal spread - Dolphin skimming through shimmering water.

Text © Darcy Pattison, 2024. Image © Eva Dooley, 2024.

Darcy Pattison – Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Dolphin (5/14/24) – This is a debut picture book for the New Zealand illustrator Eva Dooley. I saw her portfolio and was thrilled when she agreed to do the book. Her understanding of the New Zealand wildlife was amazing. Her watercolor style was perfectly suited to the story. 

Internal spread - two maps showing key people and places involved in Mt St Helen's eruption.

Text © Rebecca E.F. Barone, 2024.

Rebecca E.F. Barone – Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens (5/14/2024) – There’s a chapter after the eruption that veers away from narrative to a more direct style of writing where I use a bunch of comparisons to try and explain the scale of destruction. I love those examples! Trying to put into context just how massive the eruption was – that was fun!


Here’s one of my favorite paragraphs: “The energy released from Mount St. Helens was equivalent to four hundred megatons of nuclear explosives. But this energy was released throughout the day, so it was more like twenty-seven thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs going off one per second for nine hours.” (p. 135)


I hope readers appreciate both styles within this book!


Thank you so much for these interesting nuggets about your books! Darcy, it's so cool that Eva is a debut New Zealand illustrator. 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?


Amanda West Lewis – A Planet is a Poem (5/7/2024) – I think the most challenging thing was that information about the planets was changing as I was writing. With New Horizons and the James Webb Telescope, we are learning things at an incredible pace. I knew that the book would probably be out of date before it hit the shelves! I had to find a way to be at peace with that, and to continue to inspire kids to discover new things. My “Hip-Hop Poem for Future Astronomers” covers that, I hope.

I’m really sorry that we couldn’t fit in the Oort Cloud. But the concept was just too big. We couldn’t make it fit. And really, it hurts your brain just to think about it!

Darcy Pattison – Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Dolphin (5/14/24) – Usually when I write a story about an animal, I talk with a scientist who has done research with that animal. This time, the story took place around 1900, which meant I had to draw upon newspapers from the time period. Fortunately, many of the New Zealand newspapers are archived online. Creating a timeline of events was crucial to writing this story because Pelorus Jack was briefly mentioned here or there, which meant I had to keep things in time order.


Rebecca E.F. Barone – Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens (5/14/2024) – Not everyone survived the eruption, and writing about those who died was very difficult. There’s a scientist, David Johnston, who died, and he was a big part of the first half of the book. Writing about his death and the days before his death was hard.


I’m so grateful to all of the scientists who enthusiastically agreed to be interviewed. Hearing from them more than anything else helped me to craft this story. I wish I could have included more of their experiences! I’m proud that this book is short (157 pages plus backmatter). We need more short, accessible books at the middle grade level. But that meant that so many good parts were cut. There were a few times where it was tough to decide what to keep and what to leave out.


Those are some pretty big challenges. I am glad you were able to deal with them. Thanks for sharing them with us. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Amanda West Lewis – I’m working on a graphic novel about the life and pedagogy of Polish pediatrician and children’s right’s advocate, Janusz Korczak. It’s a project I’ve been researching on and off for fifteen years. I believe strongly in Korczak’s philosophy of respect for children. His educational approach is child centered and focuses on the importance of giving children the tools to make good choices.

Darcy Pattison – Next year, my seventh animal book will come out, Jeremy, The English Garden Snail, a fascinating story about genetics. Who knew? When I wrote the first book, Wisdom, The Midway Albatross, I expected it to be a stand-alone book. Now, the series has grown to seven books! And I’m actively looking for more.


The challenge of adding to the Another Extraordinary Animal series is that each book is an exciting story about an individual animal, not a species. It must be one animal who is named because of interaction with humans, and it must be a different type of animal from the previous books. What’s left? Right now, I’m looking for stories about a shark and a platypus. But I’ve boxed myself in with the requirements of an individual, named animal with an interesting story.  I find sharks with a name, but no one knows that individual’s life story. Or I find a named platypus, but basically, she’s just lived in a zoo all her life, not very exciting.


Still, I’m keeping my eyes open for new animal stories to tell.


Rebecca E.F. Barone – I have another project that’s with my editor now, but it’s lips sealed for the moment!


These all sound intriguing. We'll have to keep our eyes open for these upcoming books. How do you deal with, or celebrate, rejections?

Amanda West Lewis – I don’t deal with rejection well. I need to walk a lot when I get that email or letter. Sometimes I walk on our road crying, screaming, and raging. After I’ve given myself a day to wallow, I go back, look at the rejection letter and see if there is anything in it that is useful, anything I can learn.

When I was nine years old, I had a manuscript rejected by an editor at Doubleday Press. I kid you not. A real editor took the time to write me, a nine-year-old kid, a gentle rejection letter. But it hurt and I didn’t write anything else for thirty years. Clearly that was not a good response! I think about that letter every time I get a rejection and think, well, I don’t need to take that long to get over it! So, I celebrate that I have at least learned something about handling rejection.

Rebecca E.F. Barone – Rejections never get easier for me. Every project is something I’ve poured myself into, and it’s hard not to see that celebrated every time. I’ve spent enough time in publishing, though, to accept that rejections will never go away.


There’s always a moment of shock when I first see a rejection, and then I’m not above allowing myself to wallow. It doesn’t do any good to pretend that I’m not sad. But having a next project that I’m excited about always helps. The hope of that next book, next article, next idea – that hope gets me through a lot of rough spots. Getting back into the next project and putting words on a page is the best balm!


Excellent suggestions and ways of dealing with any setback or rejections. Thank you. Last question, is there a plant or flower you love growing, or wish you could grow, in your yard or garden?

Amanda West Lewis – I have quite an extensive garden of vegetables and flowers. But I live in the north and my gardening is dictated by the climate. I wish I lived in a warmer climate where I could grow avocados! [Me too!]

Darcy Pattison – We have an old rose that smells amazing. The flowers are pretty enough, but the smell is the classic rose smell. I have some cut and in a vase right now. [I love roses, too!]

Rebecca E.F. Barone – Somehow, I seem to have a knack for growing basil! Overall, my thumb is more black than green, but I can usually keep basil alive. There was one year when I was in grad school where my indoor basil plant was so big that I put presents under it and called it my Christmas Basil. [😂]


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

Book cover - the sun with an array of the planets  and asteroid belt swooping around one side.

A Planet is a Poem by Amanda West Lewis, illustrated by Oliver Averill (Kids Can Press 5/7/2024) – After explaining how, "A planet is a poem. A poem is a planet," 14 poems and amazing fun facts interact to jointly explore our solar system. Using a fun format, the poem, which accompanies stunning illustrations of planets and celestial bodies, folds out to reveal enticing facts and an explanation of the poem structure and why it was chosen for that particular solar object. It's a wonderful union of science and poetry. An enticing call to young astronomers and future poets alike, with the dual challenge to explore the universe and discover new things and to write a Planet X poem. A glossary and a gorgeous illustration of the solar system finish off this remarkable STEM book.

Synopsis: From a ballad of Earth and an ode to the sun to a villanelle for Venus and a sestina for Saturn, here are 14 original poems about planets and other bodies in our solar system. Each poem is written in a different poetic form that’s been chosen to reflect the object’s unique characteristics, and each is bursting with intriguing details sure to capture readers’ imaginations. Why is Mars known as the Red Planet? How many moons does Jupiter have? And what exactly is the Kuiper Belt? Budding astronomers, young and old, can find the answers to these questions and many more in this innovative, enchanting book.

Amanda West Lewis’s unique and engaging poems and text are lavishly illustrated with stunning artwork by Oliver Averill that celebrates the vastness of space while bringing its curious objects to vivid life. Every spread features a stunning space scene, a poem and a fold-out flap that, when opened, reveals easy-to-understand science facts about the object as well as an explanation of the poetic form used and why it was matched with that object. From sonnet, free verse and persona to prose, acrostic and hip-hop poems, there are 14 poetic forms to enjoy. With loads of curriculum connections in Earth science and language arts, this immersive and beautifully crafted book is a terrific choice for STEAM lesson plans. The back of the book contains a glossary, references, an activity, an illustration of our solar system and an index.

Book cover - face and torso of a dolphin looking directly at the reader.

Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Dolphin by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Eva Dooley (Mims House 5/14/24) – A gorgeously illustrated look at an unusual dolphin who enjoyed racing in the wakes of steamer ships in New Zealand' s Pelorus Sound. Capturing the hearts and curiosity of sailors, locals, and tourists, the dolphin - named Pelorus Jack - interacted with ships for twenty-four years. Sparking debates over his species and ultimately spurring the New Zealand government to take an unusual action and provide protection for an individual animal. Lyrical and heartfelt, this is a wonderful book about a special dolphin and a glimpse into Risso's Dolphins, the native New Zealand Māori, and New Zealand history.


Synopsis: In the late 1800s, a worldwide conservation movement started to gain momentum. One question people asked was this: How can we save the wild animals?

A mysterious fish, in a remote waterway, swam into history and helped answer this question. Meet Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand dolphin who won the hearts of travelers and inspired a nation to protect him with legislation in 1904.

Pelorus Jack lived near French Pass, a notorious waterway in the South Island of New Zealand. With gorgeous, lifelike illustrations, this story transports readers to New Zealand's rugged shores where Pelorus Jack befriends sailors and locals in his role as guardian of the steam ships.

As his fame grew, though, so did the danger from collectors, hunters, and adventurers. How could people protect this amazing dolphin?

Book cover - two kids running away from an exploding volcano.

Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens by Rebecca E.F. Barone (Holt/Macmillan) 5/14/2024) – Having lived through the eruption of Mount St Helens, I remember the roiling, pitch black, ash cloud which came over the mountains and engulfed the town. I found this book to be a wonderful exploration of the science, scientists, and individuals involved in the two-month saga from the first impressive quake to the ultimate eruption. Where the book changes from scientific evaluation and study to a fast-paced race for survival which is almost impossible to put down. It ends with a note that the mountain isn't dormant and explores how scientists continue to monitor her. As well as a wonderful section about "Lessons Learned," a detailed bibliography, and a QR code linked to photos of people, places, the eruption, and its aftermath. It is both a heat-racing and detailed scientific evaluation of a powerful volcano.

Synopsis: For weeks, the ground around Mount St. Helens shuddered like a dynamite keg ready to explode. There were legends of previous eruptions: violent fire, treacherous floods, and heat that had scoured the area. But the shaking and swelling was unlike any volcanic activity ever seen before. Day and night, scientists tried to piece together the mountain’s clues―yet nothing could prepare them for the destruction to come.

The long-dormant volcano seethed away, boiling rock far below the surface. Washington’s governor, Dixie Lee Ray, understood the despair that would follow from people being forced from their homes. How and when should she give orders to evacuate the area? And would that be enough to save the people from the eruption of Mount St. Helens?

Includes a QR code for a website featuring eye-catching photos of the eruption.

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:

Amanda West Lewis – A Planet is a Poem (Kids Can Press 5/7/2024) –


Darcy Pattison – Pelorus Jack, the New Zealand Dolphin (Mims House 5/14/24) –

Rebecca E.F. Barone – Mountain of Fire: The Eruption and Survivors of Mount St. Helens (Henry Holt/Macmillan) 5/14/2024) – 



Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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