Author Jolene Gutiérrez: Writing about STEM- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world, and Happy New Year!!

After a rough start to the year thanks to my computer crashing (remember to backup your files, people!), I’m back. Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Jolene Gutiérrez, author of the nonfiction book Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks published by Millbrook/Lerner Publishing. Check out her author journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Jolene is generously giving away a critique for a non-rhyming PB (750 words or less). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends Jan 29, 2021.


Please describe the journey to publication for Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks.
My Bionic Beasts book journey started in 2018 when Millbrook/Lerner Publishing editor Carol Hinz put out a call for STEM picture books. I’d never written a nonfiction picture book, but I’m fascinated by many STEM topics, so I decided to give it a try! I wrote a 1,000 word picture book titled Bionic Beasts and explored ways humans are helping animals through science, technology, and engineering.
Within a few months, I heard back from Carol. She asked if I’d be willing to expand the book from a picture book to a middle grade book with five chapters, each about a different animal. Of course, I said yes!

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I chose to write about animals with prosthetic limbs/body parts because I grew up on a farm where injured animals were oftentimes “put down.” This broke my heart, then and now, and I wanted to help animals in some way. After shadowing a veterinarian as a teenager, I realized that wasn’t my path, and now I know that writing one of the ways I can help animals. My hope is that this book will inspire children to become people who think about how they might help animals.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Not long ago, a bird without a beak might have starved to death. An elephant without a foot would have hobbled painfully, permanently damaging her spine and remaining legs. Now animals like these are becoming bionic beasts, animals who have artificial body parts that help them move or function.
Using innovative designs and technology such as 3-D printing, humans can help animals in need. People around the globe—including students like you—are making custom prostheses, replacement bionic body parts that allow animals to move, eat, and live their best lives.”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process changes depends on the project. I teach full time, so I’ve learned to use every spare bit of time and postpone bigger projects until I have breaks from school if possible. Because I’m a mom and my kids have always been active in extracurriculars, I’ve also learned how to write while sitting on the sidelines at soccer practice, in the school cafeteria, or in my car. I also try to approach different parts of a project at times when I’m mentally able to handle them. That means I might be organizing research and reading through notes after work and then doing some of my social media promoting and connecting at night after dinner. I might save my actual writing for the weekends when my brain is energized and better able to function. While I believe that the practice of writing every day is important and can be beneficial for writers, I’m not always able to do that, so I offer myself grace around that and just find time when I can.

Please tell us a bit about your book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader.
Oliver wants nothing more than to be a good friend. As he’s studying class guinea pigs Mac and Cheese, Oliver hears his teacher mention how Mac and Cheese are the best of friends. Oliver thinks, “Oh, NOW I know how to be a good friend!” But when he tries nuzzling and snuggling his classmates like guinea pigs do, Oliver’s classmates quickly show him that they don’t like when he invades their personal space bubbles. With the help of his teacher and classmates, Oliver learns that being a friend means respecting personal space.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
This past July, I signed with agent Kaitlyn Sanchez! Kaitlyn is amazing and has helped me get some of my manuscripts ready for submission. I’m so excited for what the future holds because, as you know, Kaitlyn is a powerhouse in so many ways. I also just released the series Stars of Latin Pop with Rourke Educational, and I learned that a poem of mine will be included in a poetry anthology from Charlesbridge.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Oh, goodness! I’m a librarian and write for basically all ages, so that’s a tough question. I love stories that will make a difference in children’s lives and lyrically written books. Some of my favorites include Elena K. Arnold’s An Ordinary Day, Francisco Jiménez’s The Christmas Gift: El regalo de Navidad, Yuyi Morales’s Dreamers, Patricia MacLachlan’s The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse, and Laurel Snyder’s Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova. At the middle grade/young adult levels, some of my favorites are Jerry Craft’s New Kid, Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch, Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Under the Mesquite, Leslie Connor’s The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, Paul Mosier’s The Train I Ride, and Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
If writing is your calling and publication is one of your goals, keep writing! Your journey may be long and arduous, but take comfort in the thought that you are on the right path and growing as a writer and person. Every day, know that you’re one day closer to achieving your goals. If you don’t give up, you will eventually make your own dreams come true!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
This one’s easy—a horse! I think they’re the most beautiful animals. I love speed, so the fact that horses can gallop is an added bonus. I used to ride when I was younger, and there was nothing better than sitting on a horse’s back and feeling like I was flying.

Jolene grew up on a farm, surrounded by animals, plants, and history. She is an award-winning teacher-librarian and has been working with diverse learners at Denver Academy for the past 25 years. She holds a Master’s degree in Library Science. She’s a wife of 22 years and mama to two teenage humans, three preteen dogs, a kitten who plays fetch, and an ever-rotating variety of other animals including a crested gecko, a ferret, and a rescue squirrel. She’s an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist, a Writing with the Stars mentee, a Highlights Foundation scholarship winner, and the winner of the Cynthia Levinson nonfiction picture book biography scholarship to the Writing Barn. She’s an active member of the Perfect 2020 PBs group, a member of the critique group 6 Ladies and a MANuscript, and a co-creator of #KidlitZombieWeek.
Jolene is the author of a picture book, MAC AND CHEESE AND THE PERSONAL SPACE INVADER (Spork, 8/20), a nonfiction middle grade book, BIONIC BEASTS: SAVING ANIMAL LIVES WITH ARTIFICIAL FLIPPERS, LEGS, AND BEAKS (Lerner, 10/20), and the biographical 4-book series STARS OF LATIN POP: SHAKIRA, OZUNA, J BALVIN, and SOFÍA REYES (Carson Dellosa, 01/21). She is represented by Kaitlyn Sanchez of Olswanger Literary.

My books can be purchased here:

49 thoughts on “Author Jolene Gutiérrez: Writing about STEM- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

    Sara Fajardo said:
    January 30, 2021 at 7:34 am

    I love hearing the story behind the birth of Bionic Beasts, thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts on writing.

    Liked by 2 people

    storiesbythesea said:
    January 30, 2021 at 12:44 am

    What a wonderful journey!

    Liked by 2 people

    skl002 said:
    January 29, 2021 at 6:26 am

    I’m glad you mentioned giving yourself grace about writing everyday. I’ve been trying to write everyday, because I know that’s what writers are “supposed to do,” but as a mom of 1&3 year olds, sometimes I just don’t have the headspace for it! It’s helpful to know that others feel that, too.

    Bionic Beasts looks amazing, can’t wait to read it with my boys when they are a little older!

    Liked by 2 people

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 30, 2021 at 2:27 pm

      Thank you so much for reading! Please, please give yourself grace around the writing every day concept. You are the mom of littles–you have enough stress in your life without these added rules, and you don’t want to take the beauty of writing away by adding guilt to it, right? But I’m so, so glad that you’re taking care of yourself and doing something for YOU–that important, too. ❤


    Sheila Alford said:
    January 28, 2021 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks for the encouraging words. It’s inspiring to hear your story—and I love how you signed with such a great agent.

    Liked by 1 person

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 28, 2021 at 10:24 pm

      Thank you so much for reading, Sheila! And yes, I’m thankful for my partnership with Kaitlyn every day! 🙂


    rindabeach said:
    January 22, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    I love stories! Thanks for sharing yours! My fingers are crossed . . . I’d love to win one of your books for my daughter’s 4th grade class!

    Liked by 2 people

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 23, 2021 at 12:29 am

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Rinda! The giveaway here is a critique, but you may want to check with your daughter’s teacher or librarian and see if they’ll consider purchasing one or both of my books. Lerner offers the print version of BIONIC BEASTS but they also have an affordable ebook version that all kids could read at the same time as well as two audio versions.


    rindabeach said:
    January 22, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    I love hearing stories! Thanks for sharing yours! Finger’s crossed – I’d love to win a copy for my daughter who teaches 4th grade.

    Liked by 2 people

    Sarah Meade said:
    January 21, 2021 at 10:13 am

    Lovely interview, Jolene! I always appreciate reading your encouraging words. Congratulations on your new publications!

    Liked by 2 people

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 21, 2021 at 10:48 pm

      Oh, thank you so much for your support, Sarah! I’m so grateful for you and your thoughtful critiques!! ❤


    seschipper said:
    January 20, 2021 at 6:15 pm

    Great post! Thanks, Jolene, for sharing your journey as well as encouraging us to follow our passion for writing!( My mom always thought I would become a vet but I turned to teaching instead! We always had pets in our classroom! ) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 20, 2021 at 7:34 pm

      I’m always happy to hear from another animal-loving teacher! I appreciate you taking the time to drop in and share your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

    Ann Harrell said:
    January 20, 2021 at 3:01 pm

    Congrats, Jolene! As an animal lover and a therapist for children with special needs, your books speak to me. Best wishes for continued success!

    Liked by 3 people

      dedradavis03 said:
      January 20, 2021 at 3:32 pm

      Agree! This is such a special, sweet book. It’s amazing what people do to help animals! Warms my heart! Jolene wrote a beautiful book!!

      Liked by 2 people

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 20, 2021 at 7:31 pm

      Ann, thank you so much! I love that we have such similar interests and life’s work. I appreciate your support and kind wishes!


    chardixon47 said:
    January 20, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    Congratulations Jolene! Thank you for sharing your journey and the inspiration that informed BIONIC BEASTS. I’m looking forward to your next book releases.

    Liked by 2 people

    authoraileenstewart said:
    January 20, 2021 at 1:39 pm

    Don’t give up! That’s my mantra :0)

    Liked by 2 people

    rosecappelli said:
    January 20, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, Jolene! Bionic Beasts looks amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

    Lisa Roullard said:
    January 20, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    I’m excited to read Bionic Beasts with my daughter who is passionate about animal welfare. And I feel encouraged to take the plunge and try writing nonfiction as there are many topics I am curious about. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

      Lydia Lukidis responded:
      January 20, 2021 at 12:42 pm

      Yes, it’s inspiring isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 20, 2021 at 12:47 pm

      Thank you so much for your support, Lisa! I hope that your daughter enjoys the book! I hope you try writing some nonfiction manuscripts as well!


    kskeesling said:
    January 20, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    I love your tips on compartmentalizing your writing and that you could use it to help animals. Thanks for the encouraging words to keep going!

    Liked by 2 people

    yangmommy said:
    January 20, 2021 at 11:34 am

    Love seeing your writing career soar, Jolene! (And yes, back up those files,Lydia–yikes! 🙂 )

    Liked by 2 people

    Angie said:
    January 20, 2021 at 11:26 am

    It is amazing to see how technology can help animals! (And humans, of course.) Congrats to you, Jolene! Best wishes as you and Kaitlin send out those manuscripts!

    Liked by 2 people

    Dianna Sirkovsky said:
    January 20, 2021 at 11:07 am

    Any story about helping animals has me hooked from the get-go! How wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

    calliebdean said:
    January 20, 2021 at 10:50 am

    This sounds like such an interesting book! I’m always interested in hearing about how authors make the leap from picture books into MG, too. I’ve written a few NF STEM picture books so far but have several ideas that I think would make better chapter books! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 20, 2021 at 10:57 am

      That’s wonderful, Callie! It might be worth playing around with those manuscripts to see how they look/feel as chapter books or MG. Best of luck!

      Liked by 1 person

    Lindsey Hobson said:
    January 20, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Great interview! Your MG book sounds so interesting! I’ve just lately become interested in writing NF STEM and this is very inspiring!

    Liked by 2 people

    Jany Campana said:
    January 20, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Thanks Jolene–You’ve inspired me to add helping animals to my stories!

    Liked by 1 person

      Christine Henderson said:
      January 20, 2021 at 10:37 am

      Jolene, congratulations on finding an agent who will guide and direct your career. It’s great to have someone who is “the wind beneath your wings.’

      Liked by 1 person

        Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
        January 20, 2021 at 12:51 pm

        Thank you so much for reading, Christine! And yes, I’m thankful for Kaitlyn’s support every single day!!


      Jolene Ballard Gutiérrez said:
      January 20, 2021 at 12:51 pm

      Wonderful! Thank you so much for reading, Jany!


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