The Picture Book Buzz - November Interview with STEAM Team Books Members
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 terrific books and fascinating creatives.
"STEAM Team Books is a group of authors who have a STEM/STEAM book releasing in 2021. 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?...)
Jocelyn Rish - Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (Running Press Kids 11/2/2021) – I’m a night owl, so I do most of my writing in the dead of night. I’ve been writing on and off for almost twenty years – YA and MG novels, short stories, screenplays. No matter what category I wrote, it was always fiction. I had one boring disastrous attempt at writing nonfiction, so I never thought I’d try again. Then I had the idea for BUTTS, and everything clicked!
I tutor elementary students struggling with reading and had been looking to write something they would love to read, and I knew a book about animal butts was it, even if I had to do a lot of learning about how to write STEAM books. Luckily, the Highlights Foundation was offering The Nuts & Bolts of Science Writing right after I had the idea, so I was able to attend and learn a ton about researching and writing science for kids.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - Odd Beasts: Meet Nature's Weirdest Animals (Abrams 11/2/21) - I write board books, picture books, and early readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Picking a favorite type of book to write would be like picking a favorite one of my four kids—I love writing different kinds of books for different reasons. I also like working on both fiction and nonfiction at the same time, because when one project starts getting frustrating, I can hop over to another one. For example, if I can’t think of the perfect ending for a fiction picture book, I can switch to doing research for a nonfiction picture book. Definitely beats staring into space for hours on end!
I’ve always loved both writing and science. In third grade, I thought I was going to be a chemist, and I tried to memorize the periodic table…but I also worked on my first picture book. Flash forward almost twenty years, and I wrote my first published picture book, One Big Pair of Underwear, while working in a neurobiology lab. Many of my books have STEAM themes—not just my nonfiction books, but my fiction books as well.
[Author of 9 Board Books, including Brilliant Baby Fights Germs(2021) and Brilliant Baby Explores Science (2021), Brilliant Baby Plays Music (2021), Brilliant Baby Does Math (2021), Baby Paleontologist (2020), Baby Botanist (2020), Baby Oceanographer (2019), & Baby Astronaut (2019). 20 Picture Books, including Who Is A Scientist? (2021), The Ninja Club Sleepover (2020), May Saves the Day (2020), Happy Llamakkah (2020), Juniper Kai: Super Spy (2019), Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer (She Made History) (2019) and 2 early readers Goat Wants to Eat (July 2021) and Cat Has a Plan (2020).]
Kerrie Logan Hollihan - Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3) (Abrams 11/23/21) - It’s grand to be on the STEAM team this year. I majored in history a while back and I’ve never stopped asking questions! About five years ago I answered an editor’s request for two middle grade reads on historical happenings: one on mummies, and the other on murder and mayhem. Her publisher rejected both, so my agent and I went to Abrams Books for Young Readers. Two ideas evolved into the Creepy & True series published by Abrams Books for Young Readers. In Bones Unearthed!, as with Mummies Exposed!, I wrote about history and science. I show why digging into the history of human burials is both an artful and scientific journey. You need them both to tell the whole story!
I came to the authoring game rather late—I was a stay-at-home mom, did some part time work, and rabble roused at my kids’ schools. I started writing in my 50s, and today I write in my son’s old bedroom with planets and stars he pasted on the ceiling. When I’m on a project, ideas pretty much ride around in my head...and I have learned to write them down or dictate a note on my phone—or they’re gone!
[Author of 9 books, including Ghosts Unveiled!:Creepy and True #2 (2020), Mummies Exposed!: Creepy and True #1 (2019), In the Fields and the Trenches: The Famous & the Forgotten on the Battlefields of World War I (2016), Reporting Under Fire: 16 Daring Women War Correspondents and Photojournalists (2014), Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote (2012), Elizabeth I: The People's Queen (2011), Theodore Roosevelt for Kids (2010), and Isaac Newton & Physics for Kids (2009).]
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Jocelyn Rish - I’m terrified of cockroaches, so of course I live in South Carolina where Palmetto bugs get almost as big as the family pets. Even as an adult, if one came near me, I would freeze and shriek like a baby until someone would come rescue me. Then about ten years ago, I got assigned random prompts for a writing contest and ended up writing a romance flash fiction featuring roaches. I still find them disgusting, but now I can “calmly” rescue myself when they come creeping near.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - I hated watermelon for the first thirty years of my life. Now I adore it!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan – I’m four percent Neanderthal.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Jocelyn Rish - Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (11/2/2021) – I have a very bad Twitter habit, and late one night when I should have been writing (or sleeping!) I was mindlessly scrolling when I saw an adorable picture of a manatee. It was a meme, and the words on the picture said, “Manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting. There. That’s a thing you know now.”
I giggled and thought that can’t possibly be true. So I googled it. And it is true! The best part is the google search also brought up articles about other animals that do weird things with their butts. So I started reading all these cool facts, and I knew they would make a hilarious book for kids (and adults!).
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - Odd Beasts (11/2/21) - I’ve always enjoyed weird animal facts (and my kids do too). One of my first published pieces was a magazine article about poop-shooting caterpillars. So it was only a matter of time before I wrote a book about weird creatures!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan - Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3) (11/23/21) - My editor Howard Reeves helped me boil some wide-ranging ideas down to the bones, as it were. I drew inspiration from the many visits my family made when I was very young to the Field Museum in Chicago. I can still hear the echo of voices across vast halls of mummies and tombs and bones. I have never forgotten viewing a small diorama depicting human sacrifice of a young woman that absolutely horrified me—and a second one of volcanoes that made me fear them even though I lived nine miles west of Lake Michigan!
Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
Jocelyn Rish - I was a weird kid, and I started reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King books when I was really, really young. They inspired my love of horror and thrillers and planted the seeds for wanting to be a writer. My favorite was Koontz’s Watchers because it featured a super smart golden retriever who could communicate through Scrabble tiles. I had two goldens at the time and desperately wanted to chat with them that way. For a while, I thought about going into gene research to see if I could help engineer a talking dog!
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - I absolutely loved Richard Scarry’s books, and also the Frances books by Russell and Lillian Hoban—especially A Birthday for Frances!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan – My favorite nonfiction book was All about Dinosaurs by Roy Chapman Andrews. Mostly I read fiction—a bunch of good tales: My Side of the Mountain, The Silver Sword (now Escape from Warsaw), The Black Stallion, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, as well, which now has a dicey reputation among some. I took Laura’s stories at face value; they were seen through her (and likely her daughter’s) eyes. (As I researched a book on women war reporters, I read a lot about Rose Wilder Lane.) I learned from Wilder about the challenges of farm life—log homes and sod homes, dying crops, drought, grasshoppers, freezing to death, malaria, scarlet fever, animals for food and animals as pets, tornadoes, and more—all STEM/STEAM.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?
Text © Jocelyn Rish, 2021. Image © David Creighton-Pester, 2021.
Jocelyn Rish - Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (11/2/2021) – Since the book talks about butts and poop and farts, it is funny (I think … I hope!), but while giggling and eww-ing their way through the pages, readers will learn about biology, chemistry, and physics – so it’s a win for kids and their parents and teachers. A number of very generous scientists reviewed the sections for me, so all the rump-tastic information is accurate.
Text © Laura Chamberlain Gehl, 2021. Image © Gareth Lucas, 2021.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - Odd Beasts (11/2/21) - This board book is written in rhyme, with very simple, accessible verses for the youngest readers. The illustrations by Gareth Hines are absolutely gorgeous and will appeal to all ages! In the back of the book, you can find more information about each creature, along with photos. This back matter may appeal to older board book readers, as well as to older siblings and caregivers who are reading aloud to little ones. Coloring sheets for Odd Beasts can be downloaded for free from my website (www.lauragehl.com). Also, the sequel to Odd Beasts is Odd Birds, which is available for pre-order now!
Text © Kerrie Logan Hollihan, 2021.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan - Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3) (11/23/21) – It took a year to research, write, revise, and do photo research to get this book off to the printer. What you see is like the tip of an iceberg. Ninety percent of the work underlies ten percent of the product.
What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?
Jocelyn Rish - Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (11/2/2021) – The hardest part was getting my hands on some of the research papers about animal butt studies. While reading one research paper, I’d find references to several other studies that might also be helpful. Some of those I could find free online, but often they were behind a pay wall. And I didn’t want to pay if I didn’t know for sure the info I needed was in there. Usually with creative googling, I could find alternate papers. A few times I emailed the scientists directly and asked for a copy. Recently, I was lucky to meet a new scientist friend who works for a university and volunteered to get articles for me, and it made researching the second book so much easier! Thanks, K!
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - Odd Beasts (11/2/21) - The hardest part by far was choosing which weird animals to include. There are so many wonderful options, and I could only pick a few to feature in the book!
Kerrie Logan Hollihan - Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3) (11/23/21) – Issues of cultural sensitivity are challenging. I wanted to feature at least one indigenous burial in BONES!, which meant no photos of any human remains. I was lucky to find the story of the remains of Shuká Káa, “The Man Ahead of Us,” in Alaska, which exemplified cooperation among indigenous people, researchers, and the US Forest Service.
How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?
Jocelyn Rish - I’ve always been a feast or famine writer. I go for long stretches without writing a word, and then I’ll start a project and write in a frenzy of long hours and minimal sleep. In between, I try to take time to read and catch up on Netflix shows to keep myself feeling creative. And I scroll science Twitter and skim articles in Nat Geo, Wired, The Scientist, etc. to see if a random fact jumps out at me as inspiration.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - During the pandemic, I’ve had trouble writing every day the way I used to. I feel more exhausted, more burned out, more stressed, more anxious. But I’m still jotting down story ideas, even if I don’t have time or headspace to pursue them right now, and I’m still READING as much as I can, because reading great books now will help me write great books later. I am also walking in the woods every chance I get—which is essential for my creativity and sanity and health.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan – I’m taking a breather for a few months after researching and writing nine 35,000-word (or more) books in fourteen years. Not only writing but photo research too. I could write a book about that…
Any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Jocelyn Rish - I turned in the final revisions for my next book a few months ago. It’s the second book in the Battle series called Battle Of The Brains. So we’re moving from the back end to the front end. This one was tougher to write because it doesn’t have the built-in humor of butts, but I’ve always been fascinated by different types of intelligence, and the ten animals featured do some really cool cranium things.
I’ve been so immersed in releasing Butts and my movie (Grave Intentions) the last two months that I haven’t started anything new, but I’m now ready to jump into a secret project that was also inspired by an animal fact I read on Twitter.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - I am super excited about my upcoming spring releases. Apple & Magnolia, releasing from Walker Books in the UK and Flyaway Books in the US, is about a little girl who knows that the trees in her backyard are best friends—even if her father and older sister don’t believe her. The story was inspired by real science about how trees help one another. The illustrations by Patrice Metola are breathtaking. The Hiking Viking, releasing from Capstone, illustrated by Timothy Banks, is about a little viking who would rather hike than brawl. It is sort of a modern twist on Ferdinand the Bull, highlighting the importance of nature and of marching to the beat of your own drum.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan – As we launch Bones Unearthed!, I'm working with An Open Book foundation based in Washington DC making virtual visits with area students in January. Plus I’m working on proposals for picture book bios. Very different writing than for middle graders. I’m also getting my own family’s photos and writing all online for future generations. My dad died at age 99 last year and he left a thick notebook of things he’d written over forty years or more. That plus photos that date back to before World War I are a small treasure that I need to curate.
If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?
Jocelyn Rish - While I think it would be fascinating to meet the real Einstein, I’m actually going to pick the Einstein from Dean Koontz’s Watchers. I’ve had a number of dogs over the years, and I always want to know what they’re thinking. So it would be so fun (and probably useful, since dogs are one of the animals in Battle Of The Brains) to chat with a dog who could respond to my questions and give me insight into the wonderful minds of dogs.
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - I’d love to enter Susan Cooper’s world from The Dark is Rising and meet Merriman Lyon. Or chat with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley when she was my age, comparing notes about our writing and our kids.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan – Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. What a challenging life! I’d love to sit down and pick her brain about how she as a woman and a human being has moved forward through these tumultuous years.
What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?
Jocelyn Rish - I go through favorite animal phases. Like many kids, I was obsessed with horses when I was young. Then I had a manatee phase (not knowing that would be the animal that would launch my publishing career!). The dolphin phase probably lasted the longest, and they actually show up in Battle of the Brains.
But if you read my previous answers, you can probably guess my consistently favorite animal – DOGS!!! They are sweet and smart and silly and mischievous and playful and loving and totally know how to work the humans in their orbit. They’re the best!
Laura Chamberlain Gehl - It’s hard to choose just one, but I think I’ll go with the anglerfish, which is one of the creatures featured in Odd Beasts. It lives deep in the ocean, and the female anglerfish has a fishing pole sticking out of its head with a glowing tip to attract prey (the fishing pole is actually a piece of spine, with a luminous piece of flesh at the end). So creepy and so cool.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan – Hmmm… dogs and cats….my very own pets. Currently my pup, Maleficent (nicknamed Malley) is ten and has kidney failure so I’m grateful for those morning “kisses” each day.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
Synopsis: Did you know manatees swim using farts? Or that herrings communicate by passing gas?
Butts are used for breathing, eating, swimming, talking, and even killing in the animal kingdom. Focusing on ten different animals and their derrières, and offering fun facts about their origin, habitat, and "posterior power," this hilarious book captures the wonder of our ecosystem. Which animal has the coolest butt power? That's up to you to decide!
Made the judge "of who has the best buttocks of all," the reader is given a coding system - from "terrific tushie" to "boring backside" and then introduced to the challengers. Such as "The Pudgy Pooter - The Manatee" and "The Tough Tushie - The Wombat." A brief chart sets the stage and then a Jocelyn Rish conversationally offers the low down on some amazing animals. This book is sure to gather a ton of chuckles from young and old. What an entertaining ways to teach science.
Synopsis: Meet nature’s oddballs in this charming board book about some of the strangest animals in the world
Barnyard animals—move over! Odd Beasts introduces babies and toddlers to more unusual species, including the glass frog with transparent skin and the pangolin—the only mammal with scales! Gentle rhyming verses provide the comforting repetition that little ones crave, even as their minds are opened to new and fascinating creatures from around the world. At the end of the book, readers will find photographs of each animal, along with more detailed factual information. The eight animals featured are the pangolin, ocean sunfish, glass frog, anglerfish, long-horned orb-weaver spider, Eastern snake-necked turtle, bush baby, and giant jumping stick.
Big, brightly colored illustrations of unusual animals with big eyes will captivate young kids and their readers. As well as some food for thought about what animals must think about us. Unlike many board books, the final two spreads offer photographs and a little more information about these eight animals. It's a fun early #STEM book.
Synopsis: Discover all the mysteries, facts, and discoveries about skeletons that are creepy—and true—in the much-anticipated companion to Mummies Exposed! and Ghosts Unveiled!
The Creepy and True series explores strange phenomena, fun facts, and out of the ordinary discoveries.
Have you ever wondered what lies beneath our feet? Bones have a story to tell—and not always a happy one.
Bones Unearthed!, book 3 of the Creepy and True series, investigates remarkable discoveries of skeletal remains and what they reveal about human civilization. Combining fascinating history with science, award-winning author Kerrie Logan Hollihan unearths the truth about famous bones by exploring forensic evidence, archaeology, anthropology, medicine, and folklore. Meticulously researched and respectful, yet light and humorous in tone, these cryptic tales of murder and mayhem span across cultures and millennia, covering everything from Aztec skull racks, the cannibals of Jamestown, and Benjamin Franklin’s basement boneyard, to frozen sailors in the Arctic and the centuries-long search for the body of King Richard III. From cemeteries to laboratories to excavation sites around the world, Bones Unearthed! digs deep into the graves of the dearly departed. For readers who can’t get enough of the macabre, this quirky nonfiction narrative will disturb and delight. Includes color illustrations throughout, as well as endnotes, bibliography, and index.
Kerrie Logan Hollihan's conversational tone and ability to make numbers and events relevant to a middle grader, as well as not shying away from the gruesome facts or fascinating discoveries makes this a book that many tweens/teens will enjoy.
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 get in touch with them:
Jocelyn Rish - Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds (Running Press Kids 11/2/2021) –
Laura Chamberlain Gehl – Odd Beasts: Meet Nature's Weirdest Animals (Abrams 11/2/21) -
Kerrie Logan Hollihan - Bones Unearthed! (Creepy and True #3) (Abrams 11/23/21) -