The Picture Book Buzz - October 2023 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!
Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to seven 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?...)
Heather Ferranti Kinser – In a Cave (Gnome Road Publishing 10/3/2023) – I’m a lifelong admirer of lyrical language and a former tech-pubs proofreader/editor/project manager. I had my first positive experience with writing in 3rd grade when my English teacher invited us to dictate a story into a tape recorder. She typed out all our stories for us (mine was five pages long), gave me a gold star, and told me “you’re a writer.” It felt good! I was hooked. After that, I scribbled poems and short stories in notebooks for years, studied English in college, got a language-related job, joined a writer’s group (though not one for kidlit, yet), and kept fanning that little writing ember. It wasn’t until I left the workforce and started a family that I understood the beauty and power of picture books. Their short form and poetic nature suited my writing style. The tipping point was surviving a cancer diagnosis, as a mom of an infant and toddler. I vowed to shift my writing dreams off the back burner, and I set my sights on learning to write picture books. My favorite type of book to write is any picture book that’s playful with language and also taps into a niche topic. I enjoy writing STEAM books because I know kids are curious about the natural world, and I love offering them a “way in” to greater appreciation of science and nature.
[Author of Nature is a Sculptor (2023) and Small Matters: The Hidden Power of the Unseen (2020).]
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Struggle for Ukraine (Quill Tree/Harper Collins 10/5/2023) - I started writing for kids about fifteen years ago. Prior to that, I wrote occasional newspaper and magazine articles. I love research. I’m very curious. I’m also persistent. And there’s a lot I don’t know. When you combine all those traits, writing STEAM books is the perfect fit.
When I write, I like to stretch out my legs and place my computer on my lap, so I often write while lying in bed or on a very soft chair. I keep promising to buy myself a serious desk chair (in the hopes of actually writing at a desk), but I haven’t yet done that. Someday…
My favorite type of book to write is one that starts somewhere deep in my soul. Maybe it comes from poem I read, a talk I heard, a phrase that sings to me…and then I think about it…and dig deeper.
[Author of 24 books, including Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness (2023), Sisters in Science: Marie Curie, Bronia Dluska, And The Atomic Power Of Sisterhood, illustrated by Anna & Elena Balbusso (2023), Measuring a Year: A Rosh Hashanah Story, illustrated by Zara González Hoang (2022), Anne Frank: The Girl Heard Around the World, illustrated by Aura Lewis (2020), The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine, illustrated by Lisa Anchin (2020), Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz, illustrated by Kyle Reed (2020), Shalom Bayit: A Peaceful Home, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska (2020), Saving The Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, Ilaria Urbinati (2020), and Good Night, Wind: A Yiddish Folktale, illustrated by Maelle Doliveux (2019).]
Melissa Stewart – Thank You, Moon: Celebrating Nature's Nightlight (Knopf 10/10/2023) – Many writers know what they want to do from a very young age, but I never considered writing as a career option until a college professor suggested it. Up until then, I didn’t even know writing was a job. No one I knew was a writer, and my school didn’t host author visits. I’ll always be very grateful to that professor for seeing a talent in me and letting me know.
I do most of my writing in a spare bedroom in my house. My husband leaves for work at 5:45 a.m., so that’s when I start to write. When I get stuck, I stop to take a shower. Something about the steam and running water frees my mind, and I usually solve the problem. After lunch, I switch my focus to researching, planning school visits, and taking care of business tasks. I stop working at 4:30 p.m., so I can start making dinner.
Rachel Carson once said, “Science gives me something to write about,” and I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy writing at a variety of different levels, from board books to books for adults, but grade 3 is really my sweet spot.
[Author of more than 200 books, including: Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-floor Ecosystem (2023); Tree Hole Homes (2022); Summertime Sleepers: Animals That Estivate (2021); Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses (2020); Seashells: More than a Home (2019; Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs (2018); Can an Aardvark Bark? (2018); A Seed Is the Start (2017); and Droughts, Let’s Read and Find Out Science (2017).]
Katie Mazeika – Beulah Has a Hunch: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry (Simon Schuster/Beach Lane Books 10/17/2023) – I started out as a children’s illustrator. I started writing several years back with a focus on picture book biographies of women with disabilities. I lost my right eye to cancer as a toddler so disability representation in childrens' books is something I’m passionate about. My author/illustrator debut was Annette Feels Free, a picture book biography about Annette Kellerman.
I have a studio above my garage and I get most of my work done there. It’s nice to be able to wander into work in my pajamas, and being home when my kids were young was a great bonus. But sometimes it’s hard to relax at the end of the day when I know I have work waiting to be done upstairs.
[Author/Illustrator of Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-life Mermaid (2022) and the illustrator of Chicken Soup for the Soul BABIES (3 book series) by Jamie Michalak (2021), Stink Fights, Earwax and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by Laura Perdew (2020), Water-walking, Sidewinding & Other Remarkable Reptile Adaptations by Laura Perdew (2020), Spit Nests, Puke Power and Other Brilliant Bird Adaptations by Laura Perdew (2020), Antifreeze, Leaf Costumes and Other Fabulous Fish Adaptations by Laura Perdew (2020), Sunscreen, Frogsicles, and Other Amazing Amphibian Adaptations by Laura Perdew (2020), Fossil Huntress; Mary Leakey, Paleontologist by Andi Diehn (2019), Human Computer; Mary Jackson, Engineer by Andi Diehn (2019), and Space Adventurer: Bonnie Dunbar, Astronaut by Andi Diehn (2019).]
Jen Malia - Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (Book 2 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (Beaming Books 10/24/2023) – I’m Professor of English and Creative Writing Coordinator at Norfolk State University. I have a Ph.D. in English from the University of Southern California. I started out publishing literary criticism. After my autism diagnosis as an adult, I wrote about my journey on the autism spectrum in personal essays, reported essays, and op-eds. I’ve written for or appeared on the New York Times, NPR, the Washington Post, Parents, Woman’s Day, Glamour, and others. My journalism indirectly led to an opportunity to write a children’s picture book with an autistic girl as the main character, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism, and eventually a chapter book series, The Infinity Rainbow Club. I’m pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Pittsburgh, I’m currently living in Virginia Beach with my husband and three kids.
[Author of the chapter book series The Infinity Rainbow Club, illustrated by Peter Francis - which includes Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (2023) and Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament (2024) - and author of the picture book, Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (2020).]
What is the most fun or unusual place where you’ve written a manuscript?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – One time I wrote a manuscript over the course of a three-hour plane flight. Oh, and my first published book was written in a side room of a church (I called it “the room of requirement”) in which my daughter was practicing with a girls’ choir. The choir practices were far from home, so I’d hang out for two hours and wait. This particular time, I was working on an R&R for the manuscript that later became my book Small Matters. I’d intended to use the time to cite my sources, but instead I decided the whole manuscript was overwritten, and that I ought to take a stab at a new approach. With the chorus singing sublimely in the background, I threw down the first draft of the spare and lyrical manuscript that would go on to be accepted for publication by Millbrook Press. It was magical!
Linda Elovitz Marshall – I wrote the first draft of Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit (Little Bee, 2020) in a CASTLE IN SCOTLAND!
While on a “children’s literature ramble” traveling through England with a group of children’s writers and illustrators, I was so surprised by what I learned about Beatrix Potter that I had to write about her. Before that trip, I’d thought she just wrote fluffy little stories. But I soon knew better! When our group settled down for a week of writing in a castle in Scotland, I put the project I’d intended to work on “on a back burned,” delved into Beatrix Potter, and wrote the first draft there!
Melissa Stewart – Hmm. I don’t really have an answer to this question. I do almost all of my writing at my home office. It’s my special spot.
Katie Mazeika – No unusual places. But I have worked on manuscripts while travelling. My dad has a house on the Ohio River, I find I get a lot accomplished when I’m visiting him. For me there is something about watching the water that gets creative juices flowing.
Jen Malia - I love to travel and always take my writing with me. It’s usually notetaking and writing snippets of scenes rather than drafting a manuscript when I’m on the move. My adventures like exploring volcanoes and hunting for dinosaur bones have led to stories. For writing, I need a room with a view or else I want to write outside.
Now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – In a Cave (10/3/2023) – I was inspired to write my rhyming picture book In A Cave after visiting Mammoth Cave National Park in 2019, while in Kentucky for my husband’s family reunion. It was my second time visiting Mammoth Cave (the first having been many years prior), and the experience felt all the more vivid since I was sharing it with my kids. There are a lot of stewardship and safety rules associated with visiting a cave, and these were heavily on my mind as I walked through. You sort of have to constantly remind yourself not to touch the rock formations. Silently, I kept repeating, “How to behave in a cave.” I loved that rhyming phrase! The following year, while in lockdown and longing to revisit my travels, I turned my fun phrase into a picture book manuscript. Additionally, when I thought about mentor texts, it occurred to me that the journey—in and down, then up and out—felt very much like the journey described in Liz Garton Scanlon’s beautiful book In The Canyon. So that title became my mentor text, and I had the chance to mention the connection to Liz in person at a writer’s conference a couple of years later—and get my beloved book signed.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Struggle for Ukraine (10/5/2023) – I’d been in the midst of researching my family background, looking into a place called Zolochiv where my great-grandfather had lived. Turns out that Naftali Herz Imber, writer of the poem that became the song Hatikvah (Israel’s national anthem), also came from Zolochiv. That coincidence fascinated me. Someone famous from the same place my family came from! I began delving deeper into all-things-Zolochiv. Wanting to actually go there, I watched YouTube videos, read everything I could about it…I was deeply immersed in present-day Zolochiv (which is in Ukraine) in February, 2022…the same time Russia invaded Ukraine.
The 2022 invasion brought me back to 1969, when I had stood – terrified – in the streets of Prague as Russian tanks rolled by. I’d been a teen participant in an international work camp project in Czechoslovakia…and a group of participants (all European, except me) had gone to Prague on August 21, 1969. One person, a young man from Italy, took photos – and was promptly arrested and hauled off. Frightened, the rest of the group went to the train station to take trains home. But, as an American, I had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. I called a young Czech man whom I’d met earlier…and he took me to his mother’s apartment. They fed and sheltered me and, when things calmed down, they walked me to the train station. I left for Vienna…and safety.
Was it PTSD? Who knows? But what I DO know is that the combination of three factors: my family’s background in Zolochiv, Ukraine; my having been in Prague in 1969; and my being Jewish – like Volodymyr Zelensky – combined to make me want to do something to help Ukraine. I sent money but I wanted to do more. Then, as a writer, I knew what that “more” was. I would use my writing ability to share the story of Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Fight for Ukraine. So, that’s what I did. This is a book of my heart.
I hope this book helps. I hope people read it…and that they learn how important freedom is. And truth. We can’t take those things for granted.
As I wrote in Brave Volodymyr:
Freedom is a fragile thing.
It needs to be cherished.
It needs to be protected.
And freedom depends on truth.
Thank you, Maria, for asking this important question. And for anyone who’s interested in learning more about Czechoslovakia in 1969, I recommend reading the YA novel Torch by Lyn Miller-Lachmann, CarolRhoda LAB/Lerner, 2022. She’s captured it perfectly in this well-researched can’t-put-down novel.
Melissa Stewart – Thank You, Moon (10/10/2023) – The short answers is my editor, Katherine Harrison. In February 2020, she tagged me on Twitter, alerting me to a conversation about how animals respond to the Moon’s cycle, and asked “Is this something you’d potentially be interested in writing? I just can’t get enough of the moon these days, and I feel like you could bring something special to it.” She also included a beautiful, eerie, mysterious image of the Moon partially obscured by clouds. It was an irresistible invitation.
Katie Mazeika – Beulah Has a Hunch: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry (10/17/2023) – Even though Beulah never took any math or science classes beyond what a women needed to run a household in the early 1900’s, she held engineering patents. I wanted to know how she did it. So that is what led me down the research rabbit hole that eventually led to Beulah Has A Hunch! I knew she had synesthesia early on, as she talked about it often in interviews. It was when I heard her describe her hyperphantasia, and how her “hunches” came to her that it fell together. She was neurodivergent, and talking openly about neurodiversity in interviews in the 1930’s. That’s when I knew I wanted to write a book about her.
Jen Malia - Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (Book 2 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (10/24/2023) – When I was growing up, I loved to go to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh with my parents and grandma. I dedicated the book to them. The towering dinosaur bones fascinated me then as a kid and still do as an adult. I wanted to write a story about a girl who volunteered with her club at a museum like the one in Pittsburgh. In my chapter book, Violet’s mom is a paleontologist and her dad a botanist. Her grandma also has an interest in dinosaurs. She participates in a dinosaur dig and helps out at the museum. In her notebook, Violet uses all the scientific names for Jurassic dinosaurs and records her observations like a paleontologist. All the Jurassic dinosaurs found in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History make an appearance in the story. Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit is informational fiction because it has a lot of facts about dinosaurs and the history of the Bone Wars woven into the narrative.
I love discovering all the various ways books start. What do you like to do outdoors by yourself or with your family and friends?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – I’m not very outdoorsy, but when I’m in nature I’m usually seeking out a redwood forest, or a flowing creek, a rocky seashore, or spectacular rock formations, or geysers and mud pots—or a cave. Before I wrote this book, I had visited three caves (one of them twice): Mercer Caverns, Moaning Caverns, and Mammoth Cave. Since writing my book, I’ve gone a little extra cave crazy and managed to squeeze my way into Cave of the Winds, Shasta Lake Caverns, and back to Mercer Caverns again. And—dare I say?—I’m getting close to booking a dream trip to New Zealand, where I hope to see the Waitomo glow worm caves. These are the caves that inspired the twinkling ceiling lights of my book’s climactic two-page spread. Illustrator extraordinaire Bonnie Kelso had been to see the Waitomo Caves, as I understand it, and she used her memories of that experience to add light and sparkle to a page I had originally envisioned as totally dark.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – I love swimming, hiking, and canoeing. I also love to walk – alone or with a friend – along the shore of a beach. I – like Bob Marshall in my book ¬– am much in need of nature. It’s where I gather strength and peace…and ideas, too.
Melissa Stewart – For me, nothing beats spending time in the natural world—walking, hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing. It’s beauty and wonder always rejuvenates me.
Katie Mazeika – I love my garden. It’s an ongoing art project for me that changes throughout the year. I like spending time in the garden working and on my patio enjoying it.
Jen Malia - I love running, hiking, and going on adventures. I recently took a family vacation to Alaska with my husband and kids. We hiked on a glacier, climbed a mountain, fed reindeer at a farm, flew in a small plane, and landed on a glacier in the mountains.
That all sounds fun. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?
Text © Heather Ferrenti Kinser, 2023. Image © Bonnie Kelso, 2023.
Heather Ferranti Kinser – In a Cave (10/3/2023) – I would like readers to know how fun and satisfying it was to write my book in rhyme. I’d like them to know that cave bacon truly does look like bacon! (And Bonnie Kelso depicted it beautifully in her illustration.) And I’d like readers to know how magical and mysterious it is to visit a cave in person. I hope they come away from my book feeling as if they’ve journeyed into a cave! And I hope they’ll be inspired to see a cave in person one day, remember my book—and not be afraid of the dark. Exploring a cave—safely, with a trained guide—is a special adventure. There are 90 show caves (caves that are easy and safe to walk through) listed on the National Caves Association directory (https://cavern.com/), and hundreds of other show caves worldwide. Go explore!
Text © Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2023. Image © Grasya Oliyko, 2023.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Struggle for Ukraine (10/5/2023) – I want readers to know the history of Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukraine, to understand how important it is to defend freedom. I want readers to understand just how dangerous the current situation is. I’m not being an alarmist. I’ve been there.
Text © Melissa Stewart, 2023. Image © Jessica Lanan, 2023.
Melissa Stewart – Thank You, Moon (10/10/2023) – People suggest book ideas to me all the time, but I rarely write them because I just don’t connect to the topic. One of the reasons I was so excited by my editor’s invitation to write a book about how animals depend on the Moon is because I knew immediately that I’d end the book by drawing on a personal experience—a special moment I’d shared with my nieces, Caroline and Claire, about 15 years ago.
As I discuss in this video, when Caroline was in kindergarten and Claire was in second grade, I did an author visit at their school in Maine. They wanted to ride to school with me rather than take the bus, and on the way, I spotted the Moon.
“Oh, look, there’s the Moon,” I said, pointing out the passenger-side window.
Claire, who was on that side of the car, could easily see it. “Oh yeah. Cool,” she replied.
But Caroline couldn’t see it. She squirmed wildly in her car seat. “Where? Where?” she yelled. As her frustration grew, she exclaimed, “I’ve never seen the Moon in the day in my whole long life!”
So I pulled the car over, and we all got out to admire that lovely, surprising daytime Moon.
I’ll never forget Caroline’s joy and astonishment in that moment. She was discovering something new and exciting about how nature works.
Even as an adult, spotting the Moon in the day is still a special treat. It feels a tiny bit magical because you aren’t expecting it. I wanted to capture that emotion at the end of the book.
Text & Image © Katie Mazeika, 2023.
Katie Mazeika – Beulah Has a Hunch: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry (10/17/2023) – Beulah was known as “lady Edison” and, to this day, held more mechanical patents than any other woman. Yet, her education was limited to finishing school.
Text © Jen Malia, 2023. Image © Peter Francis, 2023.
Jen Malia - Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (Book 2 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (10/24/2023) – I wrote the Infinity Rainbow Club series especially for neurodivergent kids. At least 1 in 5 kids have differently wired brains. These are the kids who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other brain differences. Each book in the series is told from the point of view of a different neurodivergent fourth grader. Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit is told from the perspective of a girl with OCD who volunteers to help with an augmented reality dinosaur exhibit in the local natural history museum. This series is for not only neurodivergent but also neurotypical kids so they can understand better what it’s like to have a differently wired brain.
So, 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?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – In a Cave (10/3/2023) – The parts I had to research most were the different types of cave formations, the various animals that can live in a cave, and the glossary of terms in the back of the book. As for things left out of the final draft, originally, I’d included a section about the now-defunct practice of writing your name or initials on the ceiling of a cave using candle smoke. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, cave guides would sometimes encourage visitors to take part in this practice, while touring by candlelight. But the practice defaces the natural surface of the stone and has been discouraged/discontinued in modern times. Also, candles have been replaced by other forms of lighting. In some caves though, you can still see this antique smoky graffiti overhead. Here’s a line I cut from an early draft: “Although it is tempting, please hold back the feeling—don’t write your initials, in smoke, on the ceiling.” Ha-ha! I’d thought the line was cute and clever. But I’m glad I cut it out, since it’s not anything a modern kid would or could do! I had to listen to my critique partners on that one.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Struggle for Ukraine (10/5/2023) – While writing any book is hard, writing a book about something current provides its own challenges. Things change quickly. Information is limited and/or contradictory. No one knows how the story will end. Fortunately, I found an expert early on who was most helpful (note: I’m always looking for experts). That was an acquaintance from NYC who, if I remembered correctly, knew much more about Ukraine than I did. When I told her about the project, she asked to read what I’d written. She made excellent suggestions and clarified many things. Turns out, my expert was the Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton for Russia, Ukraine, and the Eurasian states. And in the course of working together, she also became a friend. Thank you, Toby Gati!
As for what I left out: that Zelensky lived in Siberia when he was small, that he credits his Jewish parents with giving him his moral compass, and that (because I didn’t know at the time) bake sales, international outrage, and humanitarian aid would not stop Russia from continuing its invasion.
Melissa Stewart – Thank You, Moon (10/10/2023) – For most of the books I write, finding the perfect text structure is the most challenging part of the process, and this book was no exception.
I used to start writing with the belief that the text structure would eventually emerge, but as I describe in this video, that approach led to lots and lots and lots of rewriting. Seriously, it could take me years to find just the right way to present the information.
More recently, I’ve realized that writing can be much more efficient (and less frustrating) if I do a lot of thinking before I do any writing. It’s about working smarter and letting my unconscious mind figure things out behind the scenes while I’m focused on something else.
Before I started writing Thank You, Moon, I experimented with arranging the animals by the phases of the Moon (didn’t work), then the seasons of the year (didn’t work). Then I had the idea to present the animals in linked pairs, focusing on what they need to do to survive—find food, avoid predators, raise a family. This led to a list book with a compare and contrast text structure.
Katie Mazeika – Beulah Has a Hunch: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry (10/17/2023) – Beulah’s life was surprisingly easy to research-she came from a prominent family that was often in the newspapers. I could pull patents from the U.S. Patent Office to put together a timeline of inventions. I was very lucky that North Carolina has a thorough archive of yearbooks going back to the early 1900’s. From those I learned exactly what classes were taught when she was at school. I even found the original Henry home, as part of a Charlotte historical home tour.
Jen Malia - Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (Book 2 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (10/24/2023) – The most challenging part was researching the history of the Bone Wars and the known facts about the Jurassic dinosaurs found in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Even though this chapter book is fiction, I wanted to make sure all the information about dinosaurs was based on what paleontologists currently know about them. For example, I wanted kids reading the book to know how small therapods descended from birds and where and how Andrew Carnegie, the founder of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, first acquired dinosaur bones for the museum.
To make the opening chapters where the kids are digging for dinosaur bones as realistic as possible, I went to an active dig site in Maryland called Dinosaur Park. My husband, three kids, and I searched for dinosaur bones from the Cretaceous period there. For Insider, I wrote about our experience at Dinosaur Park in an essay, “I’m an Autistic Mom of 3 Autistic Kids. We Hunted for Dinosaur Bones and Surprisingly We All Enjoyed It.” My research on what dinosaur bones and other fossils had been found at Dinosaur Park in the past inspired my story. In Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit, I renamed the dig site Paleo Park but based the landscape closely on Dinosaur Park.
Thank you all for sharing the struggles or challenges each book presented. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – Oh gosh. I can’t say much. But I am thrilled to report that I’m newly agented, and that my agent, Sarah Stephens of Red Fox Literary, has three manuscripts to shop around. These works have trade/education crossover potential. They touch upon mathematical and environmental topics and showcase language in ways both lovely and lively. Please wish us luck!
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Yes! There are lots of things, but the information’s not yet public. What I can tell is that I’m working with a friend on another picture book biography and with another friend on an idea we hatched while sitting at lunch. I’ve got two chapter book series in manuscript form that need attention, a MG novel that I’ve been working on forever, and countless projects in embryonic stages.
Melissa Stewart – I’m excited that a nonfiction picture book I’ve been working on for 15 years was finally acquired a few weeks ago. It just goes to show that every book is a journey, and you never know how long it’s going to take to get it right. You just have to keep trying.
The book hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t share the title or tell you what it’s about. But here’s a hint: (Hmm, interesting!)
Katie Mazeika – I’m working on my first fiction picture book Maybe, Just Ask Me. It’s loosely based on my childhood experience. a little girl wearing a scarf and eyepatch who starts at a new school and faces curious stares and over-the-top speculations about her missing eye and hair; her frustration grows until she finds the courage to tell the other kids that maybe it's better to just ask her about it.
Jen Malia - The third book in The Infinity Rainbow Club series, Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, will be coming out March 12, 2024. Connor uses his knowledge of the physics of Taekwondo when training and testing for his black belt. The book is told from the point of view of a boy with ADHD who has to work hard to keep his focus during sparring sessions and when learning new forms. But when Wyatt—his nemesis—starts training at the same dojang, staying focused suddenly becomes a lot harder. Can he persevere and find his focus in time for the big tournament?
Congratulations to all of you and I do wish everyone good luck with their projects. What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – I can’t do without time alone…nice, long, uninterrupted blocks of time, which come along so rarely. Also, I like to read my work aloud. But I won’t do it if anyone is nearby. Snacks are essential for writing, too. I write during the day when I can, while school’s in session. But the most reliable writing time for me, in any season, is late in the evening. And it does help to have a little bowl of roasted pistachios, toasted sunflower seeds, or dark chocolate-covered raisins nearby—to keep me alert and typing, in the wee hours.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Time. Quiet, peaceful time. Chocolate helps, too. I really need time alone. I can’t write – or even concentrate – if anyone else is around.
Melissa Stewart – Chocolate.
Katie Mazeika – Yoga. I had terrible shoulder and neck pain. I started yoga classes early in the summer and now when I feel my shoulders tighten and ache I know how to stretch and breath until I’m loose again.
Jen Malia - The best self-care for me that also benefits my writing is running, hiking, and exploring nature. Most of my ideas for stories come to me when I’m outside. When exercising, I find myself playing out scenes in my head or figuring out worldbuilding details. I also enjoy kickboxing and have a black belt in Taekwondo, which inspired one of my books.
Great answers, especially the chocolate! Okay, last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
Heather Ferranti Kinser – This isn’t exactly advice. But one of the best things I ever did for my writing was attend an Illustrator’s Day event with my local SCBWI chapter—with Marla Frazee and Allyn Johnston. It was an eye-opening experience, and I came away with a greater perspective on the interplay between text and images in a picture book. After that, my mind’s eye was always working to visualize as I was writing.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – 1) Be persistent. 2) Don’t give up (that’s related to being persistent). And 3) No matter what – keep your sense of humor. Keep a spreadsheet, too. That way, you’ll know what’s where…and you can see how diligent you’ve been. Keep writing. Try new things. Write with your heart.
Melissa Stewart – Here’s the advice I keep on giving myself and other writers I know:
“Enjoy the journey and celebrate successes—even the small ones!
“So many things about book publishing are out of our control, and there are lots of challenges and disappointments along the way. That’s why it’s important to make a big deal out of every single bit of progress, from a ‘good’ rejection to a starred review.”
Katie Mazeika – We all get discouraged and want to quit. The people who succeed don’t quit. They just keep at it.
Jen Malia - In Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, my main character Connor keeps coming back to the Taekwondo tenet of perseverance. He says to himself, “To not give up even when it is hard to keep going.” I have always followed this advice when practicing Taekwondo, writing a book, climbing a mountain, or attempting any other challenges.
NOW, let me take a moment to introduce you to these amazing STEAM books!
In a Cave by Heather Ferranti Kinser, illustrated by Bonnie Kelso (Gnome Road Publishing 10/3/2023) – Rhyming text and stunning illustrations accompany two kids' guided tour of an underground cave. Startled by bats, amazed by troglobites, and awed by helectite swirls and "pearls," the kids discover some of the amazing features and creatures found in caves. And they creep, duck, and slip through the cave, readers are gently reminded of the sign at the entry of the cave - “Take nothing but pictures.
Leave nothing but footprints. Kill nothing but time.” The end papers, an author's note and "vo-cave-ulary" offer additional fun information on caves. Calm and awe inspiring, this is a wonderful book for preparing to explore, or snuggling as a bedtime book.
Synopsis: Work up an appetite for cave popcorn as you journey into a subterranean world filled with dazzling cave formations and cave-dwelling creatures!
Join two young explorers and their trusted guide as they head off on a wonder-filled underground adventure. Slip through crevices, creep through passageways, and stop to admire the beauty of a fascinating ecosystem. From stalactites and stalagmites, to dripstone, shelfstone, and pearls - there is something to discover at every turn. Troglobites, glow worms, spiders, and bats make your acquaintance before your return to the light and familiarity of places above.
With a lyrical, rhyming text, and illustrations that illuminate and bring warmth to an otherwise dark and damp environment, In A Cave is sure to please science and nature lovers of all ages.
Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Struggle for Ukraine by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Grasya Oliyko (Quill Tree/Harper Collins 10/5/2023) – This biography is enlightening and powerful. Using a poignant refrain - "freedom is a fragile thing,/ It needs to be cherished./ It needs to be protected./ And freedom depends on truth." - the book explores the childhood and young adult influences upon Volodymyr Zelensky. Ukrainian freedom from the Soviet Union, employment in the entertainment industry, puppet governments, and his country's continued struggle for true freedom. Two years after becoming President, Zelensky and Ukraine faced their biggest challenge yet - Russian invasion. This book does a great job exploring his bravery and determination to keep Ukraine free.
Synopsis: Volodymyr Zelensky wanted to make Ukraine a better, kinder, more joyful place. Born to Jewish parents, Volodymyr had much love and pride for his country. Growing up, even with Ukraine’s various conflicts, he liked to make people laugh. After university, he became a comedian and actor. But he knew humor wasn’t enough to fix his nation’s ongoing problems. So, in 2019, he ran for president—and won!
Leading with honesty, heart, and humor, President Zelensky stood up for what he believed in, no matter how tough the situation. And when Ukraine was invaded, he bravely defended his country, the Ukrainian people, and their right to freedom at all costs.
Featuring an author’s note, educational timeline, and more, this powerful nonfiction account beautifully captures President Volodymyr Zelensky’s journey to office and Ukraine’s fight for truth and independence amidst rising tensions.
Thank You, Moon: Celebrating Nature's Nightlight by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Knopf 10/10/2023) – A loving ode to the moon, this stunning book examines many of the ways in which life on earth benefits from the moon. Starting first and foremost with "making life on our planet possible." The accompanying illustration is a phenomenal work of art, seamlessly interconnecting a child's room and multiple biomes throughout the world. Each soft-colored, double page spread has a wonderfully sweet appreciation of the moon's role in helping plants and animals survive as well as a more in-depth sidebar. The additional information on the moon and it's phases as well as the featured plants and animals, makes this a wonderful book for everyone to enjoy.
Synopsis: Under the glow of a shimmering moon, creatures great and small creep out of their dens, using its light to hunt, fend off predators, build their nests or build families. As the moon changes phases these animals adapt their behavior to match its waxing and waning—while human animals look on in wonder.
As Earth's closest companion in space, the moon has fascinated humankind for generations, and this nonfiction picture book sheds light on the mysterious ways it affects life on Earth. With luminous illustrations by Jessica Lanan and a lyrical text that is part lullaby and part scientific resource, Thank You, Moon is a treasure for all ages to enjoy.
Beulah Has a Hunch: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry by Katie Mazeika (Simon Schuster/Beach Lane Books 10/17/2023) - By beautifully capturing, in text and illustrations, the difference in the way Beulah Louise Henry's mind saw solutions to problems and words and music as colors, this book offers insight into this amazing woman. Beulah refused to let customs, misunderstandings, or discrimination deter her from following her hunches and creating solutions to problems (toys too stiff to snuggle) she saw. This book is a great biography which celebrates the accomplishments of Beulah - an entrepreneur, inventor, and neurodiverse advocate whose inventions still affect our lives today.
Synopsis: Growing up in the 1890s, when Beulah Louise Henry spotted a problem, she had to find a solution, turning it around and around in her mind until…aha! She had a hunch—what she called the inventions she came up with to solve the puzzles she saw all around her.
Beulah’s brain worked differently. She had hyperphantasia, which meant she saw things in extreme detail in her mind, as well as synesthesia, which caused words and numbers and even music notes to show up as different colors in her brain. Beulah’s unique way of seeing the world helped her think up vivid solutions to problems—her hunches came to her fully formed with gears whirring and wheels spinning. She invented everything from a new and improved parasol to cuddly stuffed animals and from ice cream makers to factory machinery. Beulah’s inventions improved daily life in lots of ways, earning her the nickname “Lady Edison,” and she became one of the most prolific inventors in American history.
Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (Book 2 The Infinity Rainbow Club) by Jen Malia, illustrated by Peter Francis (Beaming Books 10/24/2023) – The second book in this series is written from the point of view of Violet, a fourth grader with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and a member of the after-school Infinity Rainbow Club for "kids who felt different." Beginning at Paleo Park, a working dig site, the five neurodivergent club members and their families discover, excavate, and protect a number of fossils. Like the first book, this one does a great job of exploring Violet's intense need to do everything in sevens - making lists, taking steps, even counting breaths when deep breathing. When Violet and the rest of the club assist in a new augmented reality portion of the natural history museum's dinosaur exhibit, Violet discovers that she can make decisions the first time and she doesn't have to be perfect every time. This is another fun book in this great chapter book series.
Synopsis: Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit by Jen Malia, and illustrator, Peter Francis, The Infinity Rainbow Club is volunteering at the local natural history museum where Violet's parents work. Violet loves setting up the new augmented reality exhibit, but she worries that something will go wrong. Violet's OCD has her checking for errors over and over again, and can be quite stressful. Will Violet find a way to trust her work, and enjoy the exhibit?
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:
Heather Ferranti Kinser – In a Cave (Gnome Road Publishing 10/3/2023) –
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Struggle for Ukraine (Quill Tree/Harper Collins 10/5/2023) –
Melissa Stewart – Thank You, Moon (Knopf 10/10/2023) –
Katie Mazeika – Beulah Has a Hunch: Inside the Colorful Mind of Master Inventor Beulah Louise Henry (Simon Schuster/Beach Lane Books 10/17/2023) -
Jen Malia - Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (Book 2 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (Beaming Books 10/24/2023) –