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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - September Interview with STEAM Team Books Members Part 2

I hope you enjoyed the authors and books featured in Part 1. Now, in Part 2, I have the four books releasing in the second half of September.

I have the pleasure to introduce you to four authors from the STEAM Team Books – a group of authors who joined together to celebrate and help promote their STEAM books - with books releasing after September 7th. I do hope you enjoy this peek at these great 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.”

Welcome all of you,

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?...)

Rajani LaRoccaThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA (little bee books 9/14/2021) - Hi! I’m a physician and author in the Boston area. I write middle grade and picture books. I write a mix of fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry.

I’ve always loved books, but I took a long hiatus from creative writing when I went to medical school and residency. I picked it back up again about nine years ago when I started taking online and then in-person classes and forming critique groups with fellow writers. As a working mom, I’ve learned to write in my living room, my bedroom, my kitchen, waiting for kids at piano lessons, in school parking lots, and dictating ideas on my phone in the car! As a doctor, STEM topics—especially science—are very dear to my heart.

[Author of 15 books, including - Much Ado About Baseball (2021), Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers (2021), Red, White, and Whole (2021), Seven Golden Rings: A Tale Of Music And Math (2020), Midsummer’s Mayhem (2019), and ten more upcoming books between 2021 and 2023.]

Vicky Fang - Blink and Block Bug Each Other (Friendbots #2) (Harper Alley 9/14/2021) - I am also a 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 of 8 books, including Layla & The Bots: Cupcake Fix (2021), Friendbots: Blink and Block Make a Wish (2021), I Can Code: If/Then (2020), I Can Code: And/Or (2020), Layla & The Bots: Built for Speed (2020), Invent-A-Pet (2020), Layla & The Bots: Happy Paws (2020).]

Carla Mooney - The Chemistry of Food (Inquire & Investigate) (Nomad 9/20/2021) – Hello! I write on a wide-range of nonfiction topics, from science to history to current events. I’ve been writing for more than ten years. I’m actually a former certified public accountant. In that job, I started writing business plans for a lot of science and technology start up companies. Through that work, I learned to take complicated topics and write about them in a way that non-scientific readers could understand. It’s a skill that has be very useful when writing STEAM books for kids! After I “retired” from accounting, I took a few online writing classes and joined my local SCBWI chapter. I experimented with different types of writing – fiction, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and nonfiction. I discovered that I really love researching and writing nonfiction.

[Author of about 100 books, including The Human Genome: Mapping the Blueprint of Human Life (Inquire & Investigate)(2020), Cutting Edge Careers in Engineering (Cutting Edge STEM Careers) (2020), How Can Gun Violence Be Stopped? (Issues Today) (2020), Big Data: Information in the Digital World with Science Activities for Kids (Build It Yourself)(2018), Industrial Design: Why Smartphones Aren't Round and Other Mysteries with Science Activities for Kids (Build It Yourself) (2018), The Holocaust: Racism and Genocide in World War II (Inquire and Investigate) (2017), Chemistry: Investigate the Matter that Makes Up Your World (Inquire and Investigate)(2016), Rocketry: Investigate the Science and Technology of Rockets and Ballistics (Build It Yourself) (2014), Forensics: Uncover the Science and Technology of Crime Scene Investigation (Inquire and Investigate)(2013), and Genetics: Breaking the Code of Your DNA (Inquire and Investigate) (2014).]

Annette Whipple - Scurry: The Truth About Spiders (Reycraft 9/30/2021) - Hello! I think facts are fun, so I write informational books for kids. I’ve been a curious person for a long time, but I was not a writer as a child. It wasn’t until 2009 that I realized how much I loved to write about things I’m passionate about. I began blogging and took some writing courses. Early on I wrote for adults, but now I focus on writing informational books for children. Scurry! The Truth About Spiders is my tenth book. It’s the third book in the series (with two more coming in 2022). My goal is to celebrate curiosity while inspiring children to love science and history.

[Author of 10 books including, Woof: The Truth About Dogs (2021), The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (2020), Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls (2020), and The Story of the Wright Brothers (2020).]

What is something no one (or few) knows about you?

Rajani LaRocca – I was president of my high school Drama Club!

Vicky Fang - I'm a terrible bike rider. But I have a lovely red bicycle that my husband and friends bought me, so I'm going to get better!

Carla Mooney - I hated my high school physics class, which led me to major in business and accounting in college!

Annette Whipple – I like to know what time it is so I get frustrated when I can’t see a clock.

Interesting, now that we know a little more about all of you, what inspired you to write your book?

Rajani LaRoccaThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA (9/14/2021) - This book idea came to me as a refrain while I was walking my dog, and it was a rhyming book from the start. Ever since I took genetics in medical school, I was fascinated by the amount of information found inside every cell in our DNA. But I also know through my medical training that our choices are also crucial to our health. I wanted to convey to kids both fascinating information about genetics and the importance of our chosen actions in determining who we are and who we become.

Vicky Fang - Blink and Block Bug Each Other (Friendbots #2) (9/7/2021) - The Friendbots books are inspired by my kids and watching them navigate friendships for the first time. As siblings and friends, they often run into disagreements and have to figure out how to get along. Blink and Block Bug Each Other is about just such a disagreement: two friends have different ideas of what would be fun to do! Plus, my kids LOVE bugs, so I snuck some bug references into the book.

Carla Mooney - The Chemistry of Food (Inquire & Investigate) (9/20/2021) – When my editor at Nomad Press approached me with the idea for this book, I was really excited. The topic is so relatable because food and cooking are an everyday part of our lives. Everyone eats and cooks. But have you ever though about what’s happening to food when you combine and cook it? And how science explains how those ingredients become a delicious meal? (hopefully!). I hadn’t really though about food in that way before, so it was really interesting to me. And hopefully it will be interesting to readers as well!

Annette Whipple Scurry: The Truth About Spiders (6/30/2021) –

For The Truth About series, I knew I wanted to write about spiders. They’re mysterious and often misunderstood, so they fit in perfectly with this series. I love all the photographs and fun illustrations included in the book, too. The Q&A format works well with all animals, but I had fun choosing which spider questions I would ask and answer in the book.

Fascination (or inquisitiveness) seems to be a major inspiration. Who was a favorite/special author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?

Rajani LaRocca – My favorite book as a child was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I still can’t resist a fun story about smart kids solving puzzles!

Vicky Fang - I loved Enid Blyton books - I couldn't get enough of their adventures and snacks.

Carla Mooney - I have so many! Growing up, I went to the library almost every Thursday night (while my mother took my grandmother to have her hair done on the same block). I loved mysteries – I think I read almost every Agatha Christie book they had! I also loved the Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon series by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Annette Whipple – Our family didn’t have a lot of books, but I did collect The Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin from our Scholastic book flyers back when they were new.

These are all such great books! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about your book ?

Text © Rajani LaRocca, 2021. Image © Steve Salerno, 2021.

Rajani LaRoccaThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA (9/14/2021) - The book is written in rhyme! It’s vividly illustrated by Steven Salerno, and at the end of the book there are more DNA facts and an experiment.

Text and Image © Vicky Fang, 2021.

Vicky Fang - Blink and Block Bug Each Other (Friendbots #2) (9/7/2021) - I hope that readers have fun spotting the how Blink and Block “bug” each other and all the bugs in the book! I also have an activity guide on my website for readers to explore more fun ideas with Blink and Block:

Text © Carla Mooney, 2021. Image © Traci Van Wagoner, 2021.

Carla Mooney - The Chemistry of Food (Inquire & Investigate) (9/20/2021) – Science is a part of our lives in ways that we don’t even realize, even in the kitchen. In this book, readers will learn about how basic chemistry concepts affect what we eat and how we prepare it. Learning how science affects food might even make them better chefs!

Text © Annette Whipple, 2021. Image © Juanbjuan Oliver/Franco Rivolli, 2021.

Annette Whipple Scurry: The Truth About Spiders (6/30/2021) – You don’t have to be a fan of spiders to read this book. In fact, I’ve already had some people comment that they hate spiders, but they could tolerate looking at the images as they learned more about spiders. Hopefully all readers will come away better understanding spiders—and respecting them. One last thing I’ll mention is the hardcover editions of The Truth About series features a full-size poster!

What was the hardest, or most challenging, part of writing, or researching, your book?

Rajani LaRoccaThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA (9/14/2021) - There were many times that I wondered why I’d chosen to write a nonfiction science book in rhyme — that made revision extra-challenging! But this book started in rhyme and stayed that way, no matter how many times I tried to de-rhyme it. I only recently realized that this is because DNA nucleotides pair up the same way every time—adenine with thymine, and cytosine with guanine—and that is similar to how lines “pair” in rhyming manuscripts! My subconscious figured that out long before my conscious mind did.

Vicky Fang - Blink and Block Bug Each Other (Friendbots #2) (9/7/2021) - As a new illustrator, I took a lot of what I learned from Book 1 and put it to work in Book 2. I hope it shows! But the hardest part for me was when I got an art note like “hey, can we change the position of the book Block is holding?” and then I have to redraw every panel with a book in it! (There are a lot.) But I’m learning to expect those notes and the time involved as part of my illustration process!

Carla Mooney - The Chemistry of Food (Inquire & Investigate) (9/20/2021) – Full disclosure – I’m not the best cook. I have a few things that I can do well, but there’s been more than a few kitchen “experiments” that have not been very successful. Just ask my kids! However, I’m hoping that what I’ve learned about chemistry and food through researching and writing this book will help me improve my skills in the kitchen! It’s given me a new way to think about cooking!

Annette Whipple – Scurry: The Truth About Spiders (6/30/2021) – I had so many cool facts about spiders to include, it was hard to limit what to include and what to leave out. Researching and writing about spiders was fascinating!

How are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?

Rajani LaRocca – I’m focusing on keeping mornings clear for writing and leaving email and social media to the afternoon. I always try to have multiple projects going at once, so when I need a break from one, I can jump to another. I’m reading a lot of adult mystery and romance right now, which is different enough from what I write that I don’t get confused. And I’m soaking up time with my family and in nature whenever I can.

Vicky Fang - It’s been so hard! I’m lucky because I do have in-laws nearby who can take the kids sometimes. Otherwise, I try to talk to my fellow writers when I have a chance - that always re-inspires me!

Carla Mooney - My in-laws gave me a subscription to a book club for my last birthday. I get two random mystery/horror/suspense books each month in the mail. I love it! I’ve been discovering new authors and really enjoying reading for fun!

Annette Whipple – Honestly, deadlines help me to keep on writing even when it’s hard. I’ve had the chance to research and write about some new topics recently. That’s been a lot of fun. I tried something new this summer that I’ll continue: nature journaling. I’m not a great artist, but I really appreciate examining bits of nature up close.

Nature, family, and friends have been so helpful these past two years. Are there any upcoming projects that you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Rajani LaRocca – My next picture book, I’ll Go and Come Back, releases with Candlewick Press on March 29, 2022! This story of my heart is about a girl who visits her family in India and feels lonely and homesick. Then her grandmother makes her feel better through play and reading and food. When the grandmother visits the girl in the U.S. and feels homesick herself, her granddaughter makes her feel better. The story is built around a phrase people use in Tamil: they never say “goodbye,” but instead “I’ll go and come back,” which holds the promise of return.

My next middle grade novel with HarperCollins comes out in fall 2022. It’s called Switch, and it’s about musical twin sisters who grow apart, impersonate each other at their summer camp on a dare, and find that music helps them find their way back to each other.

Vicky Fang - My latest book has just been announced! It’s an interactive alphabet board book called AlphaBot. I’m so excited to be illustrating again, and to encourage kids to creatively mix-and-match robot flaps to create their very own AlphaBot!

Carla Mooney - I have another book with Nomad Press coming out in October – The Physics of Fun. And I’m also working on a title about the climate crisis that is due to come out in 2022. That one has been eye-opening and fascinating to research and write. There is so much going on in the world today that relates to what’s happening to our climate.

Annette Whipple – I’m really excited to share that Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs and Meow! The Truth About Cats (tentative titles) will be out with Reycraft Books in 2022. I have a few other science and history projects that I hope will find homes soon, too.

We are going to have to keep a look out for these books. If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?

Rajani LaRocca – I would love to meet Lin-Manual Miranda. I think Hamilton is one of the greatest contributions to our country in hundreds of years. It has changed the way we view the founding of our country and energized us about our history and civic action in a way that few things have. And the music is just so incredible!

Vicky Fang - I keep giving different answers to this question… My last two were Sondheim and Nikola Tesla. I think I’ll say Madonna this time. That trifecta probably gives some insight into my personality.

Carla Mooney - Wow, that’s hard to narrow down. I’m going to say George Washington. I wrote a book about him years ago with Nomad Press and found him fascinating. I would love the chance to sit down with him and talk about his journey and the choices he made throughout his life.

Annette Whipple – I’m so grateful to all the authors I’ve been able to meet over the past few years. But if I could go back in time, I think I’d like to have a theological chat with C. S. Lewis or a book chat with Louisa May Alcott or Harper Lee.

I always get such interesting choices for this question. What is your favorite animal? Or one you are enamored with right now. Why?

Rajani LaRocca – I love my dog Boomer (he’s a Havanese) for his cuteness, his gentle soul, and his boundless affection. He reminds me to enjoy the simple things, like family, walks, and good snacks.

Vicky Fang- I really just want a kitten, but my mother is scared of cats and will never come visit me again. For some reason, the urge to get a cat has been growing recently… Sorry, Mom!

Carla Mooney - My dog! Lily is a mini-goldendoodle and full of unconditional love. She also thinks she’s my office assistant. She sits with me in my office when I’m working. In fact, she’s actually on the chair with me right now!

Annette Whipple – Oh, my! Just one? How about two? Owls (really, all the species are quite incredible) or the firefly (which you might call a lightning bug). It was a dream come true when I got to hold a Eurasian Eagle Owl during my research about owls! During my research for Scurry! The Truth About Spiders, I had the chance to hold a tarantula! That was really cool. My spider expert even gave me a few spider skins (exoskeletons) that I’ve been able to share during book events and author visits.

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

Synopsis: Learn about the secret code that is DNA in this vibrant and informative picture book!

There's a secret code inside you, a code called DNA.

A code that tells your body's cells what they should do each day.

It looks like twisted ladders, or tiny, twirling noodles.

It makes us into people, instead of into poodles.

Why can't humans breathe underwater? Why are some people tall and others short? Why do we resemble our parents and grandparents? This book explores all this and more in flowing, rhyming text, explaining cells, DNA, and genetics in a way that is simple and easy for children to understand. Colorful and brilliantly illustrated, The Secret Code Inside You illustrates that while DNA may be the blueprint for how a person looks, what you choose to do with your body is entirely up to you!

Opening with questions about why we aren't fuzzy, can't breathe underwater, or see clearly in the dark, the book uses fun illustrations and fascinating graphics to look at our cells and the "secret codes" or DNA that makes all living things what they are. Back matter with "DNA Facts," accessible websites, and a banana experiment round out this fun book.

Synopsis: Blink and Block are back in another STEM-inspired I Can Read Comic by author-illustrator Vicky Fang!

This time, Block is drawing in the park, but Blink wants to play. So much, in fact, that Blink can’t stop pressing Block’s buttons . . . literally. Blink is silly and Block is logical, and they’re best when they’re together! Whether they’re searching for treasure, playing pretend, or learning to compromise, Blink's imagination and Block's clever ideas turn any ordinary day into the most fun ever.

Friendbots: Blink and Block Bug Each Other is a Level Two I Can Read Comic, geared for kids who are comfortable with comics and can read on their own, but still need a little help.

Beautifully channeling young kids' impatience, Blink pretends to be a bee and "pushes" Block's buttons. Until one energetic poke appears to turn Block off. The readers are in on the ruse, while Blink frets over his friend. Both learn that friendship requires compromise and boundaries. A punny joke at the end with delight kids (and maybe a few adults).

Synopsis: A fun way for middle schoolers to learn about chemistry―through food! Includes hands-on science projects and graphic novel type illustrations.

Why does tomato sauce taste different from fresh tomatoes? Why does pasta go limp when you cook it in boiling water? What makes ice cream melt?

In The Chemistry of Food, middle school readers learn the science behind the food they love to eat as they explore the chemistry within the meal, how nutrition works, what creates flavor, and why texture is important. What better place to learn the fundamentals of chemistry than in the kitchen? This book offers detailed explanations of five ways chemistry is part of the food they eat. Hands-on, science-minded investigations, links to online resources and media, career connections, and text-to-world questions all create a delicious learning experience for ages 12 to 15. Plus recipes!

After defining chemistry and examining the chemicals found in foods, this middle grade book looks at the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids within foods by caramelizing sugar, making ice cream, and baking " the perfect cookie." It also touches on nutrition and recipes that demonstrate flavor and texture. Sidebars, reader-directed questions, QR codes, and comic sequences make learning chemistry fun.

Synopsis: Where do spiders live? How do spiders make silk? Are spiders dangerous? These and other questions are answered by the arachnophile author, along with some extra information provided by the spiders themselves in this third book in THE TRUTH ABOUT series.

Okay, I have to admit I do NOT like spiders! Though I do admire their webs - from a F A R distance. And this up close look at the diversity in their fangs, hairy legs, habitat, web structures, prey choices, and reproduction, while beautifully photographed did not change my mind. Though I did enjoy the illustrators' "Spider Spin" sidebars, the spider-web challenge activity, and the rest of the detailed back matter. It would be a wonderful book for a kid who likes spiders or loves to get "grossed out."

Thank you all for giving us a little peek into yourselves and your books. Wishing you all great success.

To learn more about these writers, or to get in touch with them:

Rajani LaRoccaThe Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA (little bee books 9/14/2021) -

Vicky Fang – Blink and Block Bug Each Other (Friendbots #2) (Harper Alley 9/7/2021) -

Carla Mooney -The Chemistry of Food (Inquire & Investigate) (Nomad 9/20/2021) –

Annette Whipple Scurry: The Truth About Spiders (Reycraft 6/30/2021) –


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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