The Picture Book Buzz - September 2023 Interview with STEAM Team Books Members
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?...)
Elizabeth Shreeve – The Upside-Down Book of Sloths (Norton Young Reader 9/5/2023) – I grew up in a family of writers and scientists along the Atlantic coastline. In 9th grade, my English teacher challenged us by saying that unless you can explain something in words, you really don’t understand it. Yikes! This statement doomed me to life as a writer. Starting with poetry and journaling as a child and then years of business writing, I started writing stories for my kids and became the author of children’s books. These days, from our home in the Bay Area, I’m focused on nonfiction, returning happily to early interests in geology, biology, and paleontology.
[Author of 8 books, including Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (2021), Captain Freddy Counts Down to School, illustrated by Joey Chou (2016), Oliver at the Window, illustrated by Candice Hartsough McDonald (2009), and The Adventures of Hector Fuller chapter book series, illustrated by Pamela R. Levy (2004).]
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness (South Dakota Historical Society Press 9/5/2023) - 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 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).]
Katrina Tangen – Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books 9/5/2023)– I’ve always loved to read and write, but I only started writing picture books in 2020. It’s a perfect fit for the amount of typing and screen time I can handle. (I’m disabled by ME/CFS.) I started with fiction, which I still love. Then, to be honest, I tried nonfiction in general and STEAM in particular because it seemed to be what was selling! I’m a nerd and have an analytical side, so I thought I’d be pretty good at research. And now I love writing nonfiction too!
Heather Ferranti Kinser – Nature is a Sculptor (Millbrook Press 9/5/2023) – 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 Small Matters: The Hidden Power of the Unseen (2020).]
Rachelle Burk - She's a Mensch!: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World (Intergalactic Afikoman 9/5/2023) – My first career (30+ years) was social work where I specialized in crisis intervention and short-term psychiatric care. I started writing stories for fun when my kids were young. I had work published in Highlights for Kids, Scholastic Science World, Scholastic Super Science, and other magazines. My first book publications were fiction, but I became more and more interested in fascinating nonfiction subjects. Now I write a mix of fiction and nonfiction, with books that range from picture books for the very young, to a middle grade science adventure novel.
[Author of 15 books, including: A Gift Of Life: A Story of Organ Donation and Transplant, illustrated by Benjamin Hummel (Dec 2023), Women Who Changed The World (2022), Let’s Play An Instrument, illustrated by Junissa Bianda (2022), Stomp, Wiggle, Clap, and Tap:My First Book of Dance, illustrated by Alyssa de Asis (2020), The Story of Simone Biles (2020), The Best Four Questions, illustrated by Melanie Florian (2019), The Walking Fish (2015), Painting in the Dark: Esref Armagan, Blind Artist, illustrated by Claudia Gadotti (2016), Sleep Soundly At Beaver’s Inn, illustrated by Elle Doh (2015) Don’t Turn the Page, illustrated by Julie Downing (2014),and Treehouse in a Storm, illustrated by Rex Schneider (2009).]
Vicky Fang – AlphaBot (MIT Kids Press 9/12/2023) - I am a former product designer who spent five years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology.
I began writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. My goal is for my books to inspire computer literacy for a wide range of kids—while letting their imaginations run wild with the possibilities of technology!
[Author/illustrator of 15 books, including The Boo Crew Needs You!: An Interactive Halloween Story, illustrated by Saoirse Lou (2023), Layla and the Bots: Making Waves, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama (2022), Layla & The Bots: Cupcake Fix, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama (2021) and Friendbots: Blink and Block Make a Wish (2021), Friendbots: Blink and Block Bug Each Other (2021), I Can Code: If/Then, Jade Orlando (2020), I Can Code: And/Or, Jade Orlando (2020), Layla & The Bots: Built for Speed, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama (2020), Invent-A-Pet, illustrated by Tidawan Thaipinnarong (2020), Layla & The Bots: Happy Paws, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama (2020).]
Jen Malia –- Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (Book 1 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (Beaming Books 9/26/2023) - 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), Violet and the Jurassic Land Exhibit (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?
Elizabeth Shreeve – I often start by spreading a giant roll of trace paper over a picture book template. Storyboarding is a habit from years of working in a design studio. I use the technique to frame out the structure of a book in physical form, with room to scribble and brainstorm. It helps with page turns and organizing content through the arc of a manuscript.
The ideas for books often come at odd moments when I’m hiking, strolling the beach, or pulling weeds. That’s true for many of us writing STEAM books—we are inspired by the natural world! I used to keep little pads of paper, but these days I take notes or record voice memos on my phone. When it comes to composing words on the page, though, I’m at the computer with a big cup of tea.
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!
Katrina Tangen – I do all my writing in bed! Because of my chronic illness, I have a daytime bed and a nighttime bed. The daytime bed has a full desktop computer set-up, but I do most of my writing tapping away on my iPad. And a little via voice recorder which is then transcribed.
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!
Rachelle Burk - I do my best writing in the passenger seat of a truck during RV trips since there are no other tasks or activities during the long drives to distract me! I once wrote an entire book driving from New Jersey to Alaska and back. [WOW!]
Vicky Fang – Hmmm, I write anywhere and everywhere… in the car, on planes, in the bathtub, at the park. I suppose the most fun place I’ve ever written a manuscript is sitting by a pool in Greece. That’s actually the first place I ever wrote a manuscript, on a weekend away from my young kids! [Nice!]
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?
Elizabeth Shreeve – The Upside-Down Book of Sloths (9/5/2023) – I love PBS Eons, a video series about the history of life on Earth. Several years ago, I watched their video entitled “How Sloths Went from the Seas to the Trees.” It blew me away! How could I not have known about prehistoric ground sloths?
Right about that time I attended a lecture by Dr. Emily Lindsey, a paleontologist and curator at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Emily’s field work includes excavating fossils of ground sloths in Ecuador to understand their behavior within ancient ecosystems—including how one family group met an unfortunate end in a dry, poop-filled waterhole. Ugh! Cool! That sealed the deal—I had to write the book. I got in touch with sloth experts, including Emily, and they generously provided sources and reviewed drafts.
*On International Sloth Day, October 20, Emily and I are doing a book talk for a “Sloth Soiree” evening celebration at La Brea Tar Pits. Come by if you’re in the Los Angeles area!*
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness (9/5/2023) – Great question! First, I’ll share that my husband’s name is, also, Bob Marshall. I took the name “Marshall” when we got married. And, no, neither he nor I have any relationship with the Bob Marshall (although I wish there were).
Second, both my husband and Bob Marshall have roots in Syracuse, New York. Third, both my husband and Bob Marshall are Jewish. Fourth, my husband, Bob Marshall, and I have all spent a lot of time in New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. In fact, now that my husband and I sold our old farmhouse, we now make our home in the Adirondacks (we also have an apartment in NYC).
And fifth, my husband, Bob Marshall, and I all love – and need – quiet, unspoiled places.
The more I learned about Bob Marshall (1901-1939), the closer I felt to him and the more compelled I was to write about him. It also makes another Bob Marshall very happy!
Katrina Tangen – Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (9/5/2023) – Two things: First, Abi Cushman’s book Animals Go Vroom! It’s hilarious and uses diecuts and page turns so well. But I kept wanting it to rhyme! So I knew interrupted rhyme was a format I wanted to try sometime.
Second, Science Sister Power! I was brainstorming nonfiction ideas and asked my sister (who is a high school science teacher) for some interesting STEAM topics. She suggested biomimicry. And I was like, “What’s that?” As I researched (and started to understand what the heck it is!), I discovered several great biomimicry picture books. They tended to skew older and focus on cutting edge inventions. So I decided to focus on everyday inventions for a younger audience.
Heather Ferranti Kinser – Nature is a Sculptor (9/5/2023) – One day, I was looking through the Next-Generation Science Standards to see what topics students were studying. I was hoping I’d find a topic that aligned with my interests, and write another photo-illustrated book for Millbrook Press. When I came to the Earth’s Systems section, something clicked. I thought back to all the rock formations I’d admired over the years—on trips to Yosemite, Sedona, Hawaii, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and more—and, to my childhood rock collection. I used to collect rocks in the field behind my house, and purchase a geode or mineral whenever my family passed through a rest stop called the Nut Tree, in Vacaville, California. I browsed through some rock-formation photos on the Internet, and in no time, a lovely ode had found its way to the page. I knew it was the start of something special.
Rachelle Burk - She's a Mensch!: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World (9/5/2023) – It was the early days of COVID and my daughter (who is not a professional author but is an excellent writer) asked if we could write a book together to break some of the boredom of quarantine. Since she's a nurse, we couldn't physically be together, so we worked together over zoom for several months writing this book. I had already written a book for children called Women Who Changed the World, but there was no book specifically about Jewish women, at least not for young children. So we set out to write it.
Vicky Fang – AlphaBot (9/12/2023) – Alphabot actually started off with the title! As a former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book was in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.
Jen Malia –- Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (Book 1 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (9/26/2023) – My kids have a playroom full of brick builder cities in our house. It’s like having a laboratory where I watch my kids use the basic principles of engineering to build with plastic bricks. I draw on my own and my kids’ experiences for all the neurodivergent characters in my books. In my family of five we have different combinations of ASD, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia. My autistic main character, Nick, is a little like me and a little like my son—a composite character of sorts.
It is always so interesting to learn what inspires or intrigues authors. What do you like to do outdoors by yourself or with your family and friends?
Elizabeth Shreeve – I walk every day, whether it’s a neighborhood stroll with our dog or a mountain climb, beach ramble, or all-day exploration through city streets. Walking is the ultimate human movement—we’ve been bipedal creatures for some 7 million years, after all! There’s something about that natural, rhythmic swing that settles the nervous system and frees up a flow of ideas. My husband and I met when we were both scullers, rowing narrow little boats on San Francisco Bay. I love to cross-country ski and bicycle, too. These days, though, I prefer walking. If I’m lucky, the muse might just sneak up and walk alongside.
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.
Katrina Tangen – I’m more of an indoor cat. :) Although I did always love beach bonfires—if eating s’mores counts as an outdoor activity! [Definitely!]
Heather Ferranti Kinser – I’m not very outdoorsy, but once in a while the family heads out on an easy hike in the nearby hills, or to visit the gorgeous gardens of a historic manor house called Filoli, or to birdwatch by the San Francisco Bay (we use the Sound ID function on our Merlin Bird ID app), or to the beach. I do love a rocky West Coast beach, especially if it has a tidepool. When the kids were little, we camped at Big Basin (sadly lost now, to a forest fire), or Yosemite, or Burney Falls—a spring-fed waterfall in northern California. I’ve dragged my family on a couple of daytrips to Pinnacles National Park, where I was happy to trek among boulders. Once, I read an article in the local news about a huge rock tucked away in a hilly neighborhood in my town. The next weekend, we found it and spent a fun hour climbing all over it. In my early 30s, I took my mom on a girls-only vacation to Sedona, Arizona. Soon after, I met my future husband and quickly whisked him away to see Sedona, too, and its breathtaking red rocks. If I get a chance to plan a vacation, it’s usually to someplace rocky. We spent a glorious week in Yellowstone a few years back, checking out geysers and bubbling mud pots. Last year, I wheedled my way onto a Colorado business trip with my husband, and got to see Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds. And over the past year or so, while visiting family and touring colleges with my teens, I’ve managed to squeeze in two cave tours, a stroll through Calaveras Big Trees State Park, a peek at a geyser and a petrified forest, and a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Asilomar Beach. Not bad, considering the rest of the time I’m sitting at home writing, or folding laundry.
Rachelle Burk - I’m fortunate that my husband, daughters, and I all love the outdoors. We hike, scuba dive, even cave (I belong to a New Jersey caving club). In fact, all those activities found their way into my science adventure novel, The Walking Fish, which won an award from the National Science Teaching Association (the only fiction title on their list that year).
Vicky Fang – I love going to the tide pools with my kids. We’ll bring a picnic and spend the day looking for sea creatures and shells and seals and whatever else we may see. It’s always a great time.
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, feed reindeer at a farm, flew in a small plane, and landed on a glacier in the mountains.
Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book?
Text © Elizabeth Shreeve, 2023. Image © Isabella Grott, 2023.
Elizabeth Shreeve – The Upside-Down Book of Sloths (9/5/2023) – Sloths are hugely popular—they are weird, almost other-worldly in their slow habits. Some sloth species are endangered as their habitats disappear. I hope that readers will also be excited to learn about prehistoric sloths. They’re amazing—some grew as large as elephants! They roamed all over the Americas, all the way up to Alaska. They swam in the ocean like sea lions!
Text © Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2023. Image © Jeanne Bowman, 2023.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness (9/5/2023) –Bob Marshall, a Jewish kid from New York City, accomplished many things in his short life, such as saving millions of acres of wilderness and starting The Wilderness Society. He also made sure that the National Forests – which allowed concessionaires to operate resorts that, in some cases, closed doors to Jews and people of color – were prohibited from such behavior.
Text © Katrina Tangen, 2023. Image © Giulia Orecchia, 2023.
Katrina Tangen – Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (9/5/2023) – It uses riddles with funny page turn surprises—you think it will be the animal, but then it’s the invention! And it has interactive features (diecuts *and* flaps) that make it super fun!
Text © Heather Ferranti Kinser, 2023.
Heather Ferranti Kinser – Nature is a Sculptor (9/5/2023) – I wrote Nature Is A Sculptor during the pandemic lockdown, when I couldn’t go anywhere. It was refreshing to at least browse through images of fantastic rock formations in far-flung places. Similarly, young readers don’t have much control over whether or not they can physically get to new and exciting landscapes. But when you can’t experience something in life, reading is the next best thing. It’s vicarious, and it’s aspirational. I hope young readers will get to see many majestic rock formations in person, over the course of their lives. Until then, I hope they read my book and feel “as if” they’ve seen them!
Text © Rachelle Burk & Alana Barouch, 2023. Image © Arielle Trenk, 2023.
Rachelle Burk - She's a Mensch!: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World (9/5/2023) – When my daughter and I wrote She’s a Mensch! Jewish Women Who Rocked the World, we wanted it to be fun, inspiring, and diverse. My daughter and I both really love writing in rhyme, and the format we chose gave us the opportunity.
Text & Image © Vicky Fang, 2023.
Vicky Fang – AlphaBot (9/12/2023) – In addition to being able to mix-and-match robot parts to create your own robot, there is backmatter in the book that talks about what makes a robot a robot. How is a robot different from another machine? This simple backmatter works well with a free robot design activity sheet I created as well!
Text © Jen Malia, 2023. Image © Peter Francis, 2023.
Jen Malia –- Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (Book 1 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (9/26/2023) – At least one in five kids are neurodivergent. They are the kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other brain differences. In a classroom of twenty-five students, at least five kids have different brains. I wrote Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge for neurodivergent kids so they can see themselves in a book and for their neurotypical peers so they can have a better understanding of what it’s like to have a brain that works differently. It’s the book I wish I had as an undiagnosed autistic girl and the book I want my neurodivergent kids to have now.
This is such a great group of amazing books. 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?
Elizabeth Shreeve – The Upside-Down Book of Sloths (9/5/2023) – I always dive deep into research and swim around for a while until I find a structure for the book. This one was no exception—I left so much on the cutting room floor. One topic I’d like to address, at some point, is how scientists determine dates for events in Earth history. How do we know when a species evolved or went extinct? There’s plenty of evidence in the fossil record, backed up by new techniques like molecular dating. Too technical for this book, though!
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness (9/5/2023) – Part of the background story of Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness, concerns the rampant antisemitism of the time. But because of the age of my readers and the focus of my story, I went light on that. Much of that antisemitism became public when, in 1877, Joseph Seligman, a banker from NYC who had vacationed the previous 10 summers in Saratoga Springs, NY at the Grand Union Hotel, was refused entrance to that hotel despite Seligman having valid reservations. The clerk told him that Hebrews were no longer welcome.
Seligman’s family eventually bought their own property in the Adirondacks. Other Jewish families, including Bob Marshall’s, later did the same.
The backstory of antisemitism – and the importance of advocating for the Jewish people – was part of Bob’s upbringing. Indeed, Bob’s father – Louis Marshall – was one of the founders of the American Jewish Committee. Louis Marshall was also responsible for including the words in the New York State Constitution that later became the “forever wild” clause.
Katrina Tangen – Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (9/5/2023) – I spent sooo long trying to rhyme octopus! And then of course that’s the animal that got cut. I also wanted to include Velcro because it’s such a kid-friendly invention. But I decided to focus on animals and although there was a dog involved, it was really inspired by a burr.
Heather Ferranti Kinser – Nature is a Sculptor (9/5/2023) – For me, the backmatter is always hardest. I’m more of a poet than a scientist or researcher. But I dig in and do the work to create that extra level of fact-based material and make sure it’s accurate. And my editors help me to refine and clarify the text, and keep it kid-friendly. For this particular book, there wasn’t any research I was itching to include that didn’t make it into the final product. It’s all there, and I love the total package—a perfect blend of geology and poetry!
Rachelle Burk - She's a Mensch!: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World (9/5/2023) – We started with a very long list of women that we were considering. It was very hard to narrow the list down to only 20 extraordinary women. We did manage to add a spread of 18 “Honorable Menschen” (menschen is literally the plural of mensch!).
Vicky Fang – AlphaBot (9/12/2023) – The hardest part was making sure I had relevant terms for all of the letters of the alphabet and that I could make them work for the positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) Since I was also illustrating, it was helpful for me to think creatively about how these robot parts might work in their respective positions and all fit together!
Jen Malia –- Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (Book 1 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (9/26/2023) – The hardest part of writing this book was finding a way to structure the main plot where the school brick building challenge plays out and the subplot in the playroom where my main character Nick and his siblings create their brick builder cities. My chapter book needed to be tightly plotted so it stayed within a certain word count too, so even after I figured out the structure, I had to make sure the pacing was right.
I love learning these snippets of the back story of the books. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Elizabeth Shreeve – Lots of fun projects in the works! Norton Young Readers publishes The Oddball Book of Armadillos next year, with more lovely art from Isabella Grott, followed by Fast Feet, Big Brains: The Story of Human Origins, with illustrations by Juan Carlos Alonso. I’m currently drafting a middle grade nonfiction book, Dinosaurs to Dragons: The Lore and Science of Mythical Animals, coming from Atheneum in 2025 with illustrations by Violeta Encarnacion. It’s a challenging project; I’m learning so much about history, culture, and mythology. And a short, rhyming picture book, On an Ocean Journey, comes out from Sasquatch Books in 2025 with gorgeous artwork by Ray Troll.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Next month, Brave Volodymyr: The Story of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Fight for Ukraine (HarperCollins) comes out. It is illustrated by Grasya Oliyko, a Ukrainian artist in Ukraine, who has put her heart and soul into it. I hope Brave Volodymyr helps young readers and their family learn more about Ukraine and the importance of fighting for freedom. I’m working on other projects, too, but that’s what’s coming next.
Katrina Tangen – I just started working on a picture book about genetics that I think is going to be a lot of fun!
Heather Ferranti Kinser - I have an informational fiction book coming out October 3, from Gnome Road Publishing. In A Cave is a rhyming walk through a cave system with two spelunking siblings and their guide, charmingly illustrated by Bonnie Kelso (who’s an even bigger fan of caves than I am). Young readers will emerge from the book feeling like they’ve been on a journey inside the earth. Along the way, they’ll encounter cave-dwelling creatures and fascinating cave formations, and learn how to treat this special environment with care and respect. I don’t have any other work under contract at this time, but I do have something out on submission that—well, let’s just say it relates to the “M” in STEAM. Wish me luck!
Rachelle Burk - I'm very excited about A Gift of Life: A Story of Organ Donation and Transplant. It’s a picture book intended primarily for children who have been affected by the death of someone who donated their organs, or who have themselves received, or know someone who has received, an organ transplant. My daughter is a nurse for New Jersey’s organ procurement organization, and she told me their family services department lacked any book to help children in these families deal with the grief, as well as the knowledge that their loved one saved lives. I discovered that no such book even exists, and so I decided to be the one to write it. The illustrator is a liver transplant recipient. The book should be out by the end of the year.
Vicky Fang – Yes! I am very excited about my next early reader series, Best Buddies, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.
Jen Malia –- Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge is the first book in the Infinity Rainbow Club series. Each book 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. The third book in the series, Connor and the Taekwondo Tournament, is told from the point of view of a boy with ADHD who uses his knowledge of the physics of Taekwondo in his belt test and tournament.
Wow. We're going to keep our eyes open for these books! What’s something you can’t do without either for your writing or for yourself?
Elizabeth Shreeve – My husband, Ken Robinson, is a wonderful fan and first reader. He owns and runs a couple of toy stores, so he’s tuned into popular culture for kids. (He is also, like me, a nine-year-old at heart.) My writer friends are treasures, too. Writing can be a tough, lonely pursuit. It’s a comfort and inspiration to share ideas, drafts, triumphs, and rejections with people you admire and trust.
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Time. Quiet, peaceful time. Chocolate helps, too.
Katrina Tangen – Scrivener. I don’t get to use all of the features, since I’m mainly on mobile, but I can’t write without it!
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.
Rachelle Burk – Nature. [Hopefully, you never will!]
Vicky Fang – My critique partners, who have also become such great friends! They are such important and amazing sources of support and inspiration. Much love to Christine Evans (DEAR MR. G, Union Square Kids; THE WISH LIBRARY series, Albert Whitman)and Faith Kazmi (BOX OF DREAMS, HarperCollins.)
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.
I love all these different answers! Last question, what is the best advice you’ve ever gotten - whether it’s regarding writing/ illustrating or not ?
Elizabeth Shreeve – Stay focused on the work at hand. Much of writing for publication is out of our control—the responses from editors or agents, the trade reviews, the pushed-back pub dates. It’s so frustrating! The best advice I’ve heard is to simply get back to writing. Dig deeper into craft. Put aside what doesn’t work. Conjure something new. Practice, practice, practice!
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.
Katrina Tangen – You can use art notes. Which sounds weird, but it was an agent on a podcast saying she liked art notes that got me to start writing picture books! You just have to know what kind of art notes to use and when to use them.
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.
Rachelle Burk - Would it be okay if I gave MY best advice? Don't ever say, “One day I’m going to….” If there's something you want to do, make up your mind to do it. “One day” is now.
Vicky Fang – Whenever I’m not sure if I can do something, I like to think “What would Jane Yolen do?” because I remember her saying to always go for it when given an opportunity—to just say yes and figure it out.
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!
The Upside-Down Book of Sloths by Elizabeth Shreeve, illustrated by Isabella Grott (Norton Young Reader 9/5/2023) – The conversational tone and gorgeous illustrations, the comparison of modern sloths activities, food. habitats to those of prehistoric sloths, and the inclusion of wonderful side bar notes on the various species and all things sloth, make this a wonderful book for casually reading about sloths or deeply diving into some fascinating facts. It's a superb book on sloths.
Synopsis: Slow, sleepy―and adorable. This playful and informative picture book follows the fascinating history of one of the world’s most beloved animals.
Many find sloths cute, while some find them just plain bizarre. In The Upside-Down Book of Sloths, Elizabeth Shreeve uncovers their less-well-known evolutionary history and how they became the beloved―and unique―creatures of today. She pairs and compares the six extant modern species, like the pygmy sloth, the brown-throated sloth, and the ai, with their prehistoric counterparts, such as Thalassocnus, the tough seafaring sloth; Paramylodon, which had armor-like skin and walked on the sides of its feet; and Megatherium, which could weigh up to 8,000 pounds. She even reveals how modern sloths have adapted to hang upside down, how they learned to swim, and even how they poop!
As entertaining as it is educational, The Upside-Down Book of Sloths offers a brilliant deep dive into sloths, their evolution, and their connections to our planet’s natural history―and future.
Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Jeanne Bowman (South Dakota Historical Society Press 9/5/2023) – This gorgeous biography explores the motivation and determination of Bob Marshall to save as much wild land as possible and to ensure it was accessible for everyone. Even though he died at 38, Bob Marshall "saved five million acres of American wilderness....and contributed to the protection of over 110 million acres of wilderness." It is an engaging and fascinating read.
Synopsis: Thanks to Bob Marshall (1901-1939) there are still places in America where people can listen to the wind in the trees, scramble up a mountain, and perhaps spot a grizzly cub (or two). Born into a German-Jewish family in NYC, Bob developed an appreciation for wilderness through his Adirondack summers. He changed racist policies barring Jews and Blacks from some National Forest facilities, protected wilderness from becoming highways and railways, started the Adirondack 46’ers, and The Wilderness Society.. This beautifully illustrated children's book follows Bob's journey from outdoor-loving child to wilderness champion.
Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals by Katrina Tangen, illustrated by Giulia Orecchia (Barefoot Books 9/5/.2023) – A rhyming guessing game, enhanced by the glorious cut paper collage illustrations, "misleading" hints within the die-cuts., and fun flaps full of information Kids will easily guess the expected answer and after a few examples, might start guessing the invention (such as flippers, submarines, and sonar) and enjoy going back to see how the hint in the illustration could be either the animal or the invention. It's a really fun way to introduce young kids to biomimicry.
Synopsis: This rhyming, lift-the-flap picture book of riddles introduces children to biomimicry in a thoroughly fun format. From sonar to snowshoes, discover concrete examples of human inventions that copy things found in nature. The story invites readers to guess the answers to riddles based on rhymes and visual cues that peek through die-cuts. Page turns reveal surprise answers that show how inventions mimic biology, with additional information under flaps. Endnotes include lift-the-flap guessing games to reinforce learning.
Nature is a Sculptor by Heather Ferranti Kinser (Millbrook Press 9/5/2023) – A wonderfully lyrical, succinct, and powerful exploration of the gorgeous shapes and features nature creates using "water, ice, and wind." It's awe inspiring. Helpful notes accompany each image and provide the name of the specific feature and its location. And the back matter offers additional information about weathering, erosion, and general types of rock formations.
Synopsis: Glaciers, rivers, wind, and rain are a few of the elements that shape the landscape in powerful ways.
They form features big and small―from grand canyons and enormous caves to smooth pebbles and fine grains of sand. Lyrical verse by Heather Ferranti Kinser introduces weathering, erosion, and deposition, and eye-catching photos provide a look at some of the world's geological marvels. Back matter gives more information about the processes that sculpt the landscape and highlights formations including Half Dome, a hoodoo, and basalt columns.
She's a Mensch!: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World by Rachelle Burk & Alana Barouch, illustrated by Arielle Trenk (Intergalactic Afikoman 9/5/2023) – A really fun biographical compilation on 20 Jewish women and their amazing accomplishments. The mother/daughter author team highlight lesser know (Marthe Cohn & Devra Kleiman) to well known (Barabara Streisand & Judy Blume) women in law, sports, science, medicine, and the arts. In addition to wonderful rhyming quartains for each, there is a question/challenge for the reader, a fun quote or fact, and a mini biography. A time-line, 18 Honorable Menschen, and the definition of a "Mench" round out this wonderful tribute to some amazing women!
Synopsis: Meet a judo champion, a chess grandmaster, a spacewalking astronaut, a World War II spy, and more. . .
What do all these people have in common?
They are all inspiring Jewish women―mensches who rocked the world!
AlphaBot by Vicky Fang (MIT Kids Press 9/12/2023) – Combining a fun alphabet, "flip-the-page" format with robots is ingenious. As the reader mixes and matches heads, torsos, and bottoms, creating many adorable robots, they learn robot and programing terms. It's a wonderful interactive introduction to robotics and a great STEM book for younger kids.
Synopsis: Even the youngest robotocists will love flipping the flaps to create their own robot—while exploring a simple A to Z roundup of robotics terms.
Found your circuit-board head? Your voice-control torso? Your hydrojet feet? Hooray! You’ve made one of the 729 mix-and-match robots that are possible with this innovative flip-flap book. Alongside the bright and cheery illustrations of robot parts is a basic alphabetical listing of terms—from android to gears, neural network to program, wheels to Z-drive—and a basic definition of each. With a concealed spiral binding and sturdy card stock pages to hold up to enthusiastic flap-turning, AlphaBot is full of appeal for young robot lovers, preschoolers who love machines, and anyone looking for STEM books for the younger set. Back matter includes a brief explanation of the three key abilities of robots: to sense, think, and act.
Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (Book 1 The Infinity Rainbow Club) by Jen Malia, illustrated by Peter Francis (Beaming Books 9/26/2023) – Written from the point of view of a fourth grade autistic boy. It offers insight into the actions and reactions of five neurodivergent children as they learn to work as a team, interact with new kids, and gain understanding of their own and other's abilities and personalities. It's the first in a funny series which honestly represents sensory issues, OCD, dyslexia, and social interactions.
Synopsis: When the Infinity Rainbow Club at school competes in a brick builder challenge, Nick can't wait to participate! Until he learns he must have a partner--the new girl. Nick wants to work alone. But to win, he'll have to figure out how to be part of a team.
A story about the universal struggle of learning to work together on a team, told from the perspective of an autistic child.
The Infinity Rainbow Club is a chapter book series featuring five neurodivergent children in a club at their elementary school. The club provides a safe space for stims and different communication styles to be accepted and celebrated.
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:
Elizabeth Shreeve – The Upside-Down Book of Sloths (Norton Young Reader 9/5/2023) –
Linda Elovitz Marshall – Bob Marshall, Defender of the Wilderness (South Dakota Historical Society Press 9/5/2023) –
Katrina Tangen – Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books 9/5/.2023) –
Heather Ferranti Kinser – Nature is a Sculptor (Millbrook Press 9/5/2023) –
Rachelle Burk - She's a Mensch!: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World (Intergalactic Afikoman 9/5/2023) –
Vicky Fang – AlphaBot (MIT Kids Press 9/12/2023) –
Jen Malia – Nick and the Brick Builder Challenge (Book 1 The Infinity Rainbow Club) (Beaming Books 9/26/2023) –