Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who’s a nonfiction giant I’ve admired for many years; Heather L. Montgomery. Her books serve as mentor texts, and this new one will be no different. Here she is discussing the book journey for What’s in Your Pocket: Collecting Nature’s Treasures, a nonfiction picture book illustrated by Maribel Lechuga and published by Charlesbridge.
Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
In August of 2013, I wrote my first research note about this idea. My first draft is dated April, 2014. I didn’t have anything submission-worthy March 2018. Even then I wasn’t convinced it was ready, but an editor (and her enthusiasm for the premise) egged me on. The offer came that June. Publication was scheduled for 2020, but was pushed to 2021. Thanks COVID.
Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
This project started as a little wiggle and wormed its way into to something larger. Editors were asking for picture book biographies. I thought: I don’t do history. There’s nothing in that for me. But eventually, I found myself reading biographies of scientists. When I spotted anecdotes that reminded me of kids I know, kids who drive their parents crazy with crud crammed in their pockets, kids like grown-up me who have mounds of bones and stones cluttering up the house, I thought: maybe there’s something here. . .
What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It does vary, especially between picture books and middle grade projects. For Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, it started with a question—who uses roadkill—and turned into a quest that took over my life. I became so immersed in the research that I didn’t write anything until I could not stop it from spilling out on paper (sometimes a 4 AM). For picture books, though, I tend to draft earlier in the process and end up going back to search for a structure that works.
Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from one of your books.
“Throughout history, kids have found all kinds of strange and wonderful things.
They’ve created collections.
They’ve made discoveries.
They’ve changed the world of science.
Every discovery started with just one thing.
One little thing that could fit in a pocket.
What’s in your pocket?”
What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures
You write a lot of stellar nonfiction, what do you think is the key in making science interesting and engaging for children?
For me, curiosity is the key. If the subject is not interesting to you, find a way to get curious! I’m serious. It is critical that we model for kids just how exciting science is. Ask lots of questions—like 100 questions—until you find the ones you care the most about. Then let those questions lose and just try to keep up!
Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Nothing that I can talk freely about yet, but I will say it is chock full of pus and snot and awesome animals!
Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I study mentor texts constantly and analytically, but I don’t stick to kidlit. Movies, ad copy, even video games teach me what works with kids these days. An adult book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach showed me how compelling a first-person, author-as-investigator approach could be. I adapted that for my middle grade books. For inspiration/solace about the writing process I turn to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.
What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Listen for the little wiggle in the back of your brain. Be brave. Follow it.
And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Dragonfly! Because dragonfly “kids” are the coolest!
Heather L. Montgomery writes for kids who are wild about animals. An award-winning author and educator, Heather uses yuck appeal to engage young minds. Her books include: Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill, Bugs Don’t Hug: Six-legged Parents and Their Kids, and What’s in Your Pocket? Collecting Nature’s Treasures.
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Purchase Link: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/search/site/Heather%20L.%20Montgomery
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