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nonfiction

Author Michelle Lord: On Never Giving Up- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Michelle Lord, who wrote the nonfiction book Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight published by Sterling Publishing. What a phenomenal book, check out what she has to say!

BUT first- YAY! Michelle is generously giving away an arc of the book! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends October 30, 2020.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.

The idea for a book about Dr. Bath first came to me in the fall of 2016. My mother had just been diagnosed with cataracts and scheduled for laser surgery. Around this time, I read an article about Dr. Bath’s invention of the Laserphaco Probe and technique for laser cataract treatment. I reached out to her via email and we spoke over several phone calls in early 2017. I wrote several drafts before sending my work to my critique group. I dug into revisions, and finally sent my story to my agent. I received a contract in November 2017, completed more revisions with a series of editors, and Sterling published Patricia’s Vision in January 2020.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

In my conversations with Dr. Bath, she told me, “I was always a curious child.” I considered my own childhood. I too was an inquisitive youngster and questioned everything. I also related to Dr. Bath’s interest in science at a young age. I enjoyed assembling the spine and vital organs of my favorite toy, The Visible Woman, a model of the human body. My elementary science fair entry, The Eye, included a dissected cow eyeball.

Dr. Patricia Bath’s perseverance inspired me to share her story. A little girl in Harlem who had never heard of a female physician, grew up to become the first female African American doctor to receive a medical patent. Wow!  

She told Good Morning America, “Hater-ation, segregation, racism, that’s the noise. You have to ignore that and keep your eyes focused on the prize. It’s just like Dr. Martin Luther King said, so that’s what I did.” I found her words inspirational and hope young people will be encouraged      by her story.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I begin most of my projects with the research. Even with fiction, I feel that research gives a framework to my story. For me, the most difficult part of any project is writing that first draft. Once I have something to work with, I can tackle the challenge of revision. After revision. After revision.

What differentiates your book from others with similar content currently on the market?

One thing I think differentiates my book is the series of telephone interviews I conducted with Dr. Bath. I believe this gives a personal touch to Patricia’s Vision that similar books may lack. Sadly, Dr. Bath never saw the completed project. She passed away in 2019 before the book was published.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

“Walking into work that first morning, she had no idea she was the first woman on the faculty! Her eyes widened upon finding her new office…

…away from the others, in the basement, next to the lab animals…”

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I’ve written a picture book with eight-year-old NY State Chess Champion, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, that is scheduled for release from Thomas Nelson next month.

I’m writing a middle grade novel, though I find creativity hard to come by in this current climate. I recently read an article that describes these feelings as acedia. “We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We’re bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.” I hope new daily writing goals will get me back on track.

http://theconversation.com/acedia-the-lost-name-for-the-emotion-were-all-feeling-right-now-144058?fbclid=IwAR3IhYsWLUkMckK4Ejy65uHLPhq7O4Uis3FH8Ho1K5_lB8NJRMwFJsxrOOk

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?

Bread and Jam for Frances and other Frances books by Russell Hoban began my obsession with books. I learned to read at five-years-old, and these humorous stories grew my love of reading.

One of my favorite picture books is Frida by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Ana Juan. This book contains the perfect combination of words and images for emotional impact. While it wasn’t a mentor text per se, I also used the childhood to adulthood model for my book. Similar to Frida Kahlo, events in Dr. Bath’s childhood greatly influenced her later life.

The Queen of Physics, written by Teresa Robeson and illustrated by Recca Huang, simplifies the complicated subject of beta decay for young readers. This is not an easy task. I love Teresa’s poetic writing style!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 

When I first shared my goal of writing a children’s book twenty years ago, a family member said, “That’s a pipe dream.” While the comment felt like a punch to the gut, it also made me think, “watch me.” My advice to other writers? Never believe in the word, “impossible!”

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

I would choose to be my favorite flavor, Rocky Road. Chocolate boosts endorphins, improves mood, and tastes great. Almonds add interest. I’m not sure about the marshmallows, but I put up with them because the rest of it works.

BIO

Michelle Lord grew up in Carson City, Nevada, the oldest of three sisters. Ever since she could talk, she never stopped asking questions. These questions led to a passion for reading, research, and writing. To this day–to her family’s dismay–she still interrupts movies, musicals, and conversations with Who? How? What? Where? When? Why?
She is the author of Sterling’s A Girl Called Genghis Khan, as well as A Song for Cambodia, Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, and numerous science books. Michelle lives in Texas, with her family.

 

Author Patrician Newman: On Winning a Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Patrician Newman, one of my nonfiction mentors. She discusses her writing journey with her books EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS and SEA OTTER HEROES, published by Millbrook Press/Lerner, She’s got some super interesting things to say, enjoy!

BUT first- YAY! Patricia is generously giving away a 20-minute video chat critique with an author OR a 20-minute video chat with a classroom! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends October 20, 2020.

 

Where did you draw inspiration for the books EAVESDROPPING ON ELEPHANTS and SEA OTTER HEROES?

In Eavesdropping on Elephants, I featured a group of scientists from Cornell University’s Elephant Listening Project. I always knew I would write about ELP because my daughter worked for them as an undergrad. She sat in the lab with headphones on her ears listening to forest sounds, picking out the elephants amidst gorillas, crocodiles, frogs, and birds. On her weekly calls home, she told me more and more about ELP’s work. All it took was an email introduction on my daughter’s part, and I was off and running. Because Eavesdropping on Elephants is a book about sounds, ELP provided several video and audio files which we turned into QR codes to give readers an insider’s look at the forest.

These books have two very different back stories. After Plastic, Ahoy! was released, one of the scientists I interviewed invited me to present an all-day session about science books for children to a group of newly-minted PhDs at an environmental fellowship retreat. At dinner that night, one of the young scientists approached me to discuss his research. That scientist was Brent Hughes, the marine biologist in Sea Otter Heroes who unlocked the key to a new food web relationship featuring sea otters in the Elkhorn Slough off Monterey Bay in California. I knew in that moment his exciting research would become my next book.

 

 

Congratulations on receiving a Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor for SEA OTTER HEROES. How did you conduct your research for this book, and how long did the process take?

Thank you! The Sibert Honor was an important milestone for my writing career because it’s the ALA’s only award for nonfiction. By validating the importance of Sea Otter Heroes, the ALA also recognized the power of STEM to help us uncover the mystery in our world and to affect change.

Whenever I research a book, I always try to travel to the source. For Eavesdropping on Elephants, I visited the scientists’ lab in Ithaca, NY. For Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, I visited three zoos across the country. Because I had already met Brent at the fellowship retreat, he and I began communicating. He sent me research papers for my proposal, and I interviewed him and his mentor, Lilian Carswell, a sea otter expert with US Fish and Wildlife.

After the proposal was accepted, I scheduled a two-day on-site visit. My daughter came along as my photographer/assistant. On the first day, we were in a boat on the Elkhorn Slough. We observed otters, diving pelicans, jellies, egrets, and harbor seals. We tromped across muddy salt flats and leaned out of the boat for handfuls of seagrass. I kept up a steady stream of questions over the hum of the boat’s motor, my digital recorder capturing every word.

On the second day, we went to Brent’s lab. He explained each part of his experiment and showed us how marine biologists make mesocosms – ecosystems in buckets – that are easily testable.

I had two months from proposal acceptance to manuscript delivery to finish my research, write Sea Otter Heroes, and pull together and sort through photos from Brent, his team, and my daughter.

What attracts you to the world of nonfiction?

I write about people whose contributions are currently shaping our world, and I find that exciting and rewarding. I especially love the interconnectedness of my books with so many facets of our lives. In Sea Otter Heroes, Eavesdropping on Elephants and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue, we meet endangered species and understand how we are affecting them, sometimes from thousands of miles away.

Beckett, a third grader, read several books, including Sea Otter Heroes, and was inspired to create a petition and a presentation to save sea otters along his Palos Verdes, CA coastline.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from SEA OTTER HEROES.

The Elkhorn Slough is one of the most nutrient-polluted estuaries on the planet, so Brent Hughes was trying to understand why seagrass thrived when it should be dead. But none of his knowledge could explain the mystery. In the following excerpt, one of Brent’s volunteers suggested he talk to Yohn Gideon, a tour company operator who’d gathered several years of sea otter data from the Elkhorn Slough. Brent was skeptical otters affected seagrass, but he had nothing to lose by talking to Captain Gideon.

When Brent took a look at the sea otter data, Elkhorn Slough Safaris had compiled more than twenty binders stuffed with data sheets from as far back as 1996. The huge amount of data allowed Brent to graph a trend line. He compared it to his seagrass data.

 “I overlaid Yohn’s data with the seagrass data, and it fit together like a glove,” Brent says. Otter sightings had risen and fallen in sync with seagrass abundance. “I’m like, what the heck. . . ?”

 Clearly, sea otters were somehow linked to seagrass health. But could the otters, apex predators in the protected slough, actually be responsible for the thriving seagrass? The question thrust Brent into a vigorous scientific debate that had been raging for years. Did forces at the bottom of the food chain, such as nutrient levels, control seagrass health? Or was it controlled by the presence of a predator at the top? Brent had always approached ecology from the bottom up, focusing on how nutrient levels and physical conditions such as storms, waves, and temperatures affected the health of the ocean. Accepting the idea that sea otters helped seagrass would change his entire perspective. He would have to admit that both the bottom and the top of the food chain had power over a marine ecosystem.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

Like most authors, I’m always thinking about the next book. I’ve found a niche in environmental nonfiction that excites and challenges me, and I think I’ll stay here for a while.

In March 2021, Millbrook Press/Lerner will release my new middle-grade title, Planet Ocean. Photographer Annie Crawley and I team up again after working on Plastic, Ahoy! and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. But this time, we explore three ocean ecosystems and how pollution and climate change are affecting the sustainability of our seas. We feature indigenous people and several inspiring kids and teens who are working to save our ocean.

Patricia Newman (l) and Annie Crawley team up again in a spring 2021 release titled Planet Ocean.

In the fall of 2022, Millbrook Press/Lerner will release a new nonfiction picture book currently titled The River’s Rebirth, illustrated by Natasha Donovan. The book is an uplifting conservation story about the restoration of the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington after the removal of two dams that nearly destroyed the ecosystem.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?

I’ve always loved The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen because it makes science fun. Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen inspires me with its beauty and simplicity, something I strive for in my middle-grade nonfiction even though I often deal with complicated subjects.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 

Nonfiction is more than facts; it comes from the heart. Your book should meet an emotional need within you. And if your writing also resonates with readers, you know they’ve found the heart you’ve woven through the pages.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

Hands down, New York Super Fudge Chunk because it has a little bit of everything in it. I grew up in Vermont and went to Ben and Jerry’s first ice cream store in downtown Burlington when it was nothing more than a storefront with several ice cream makers churning away on the polished cement floor.

BIO

Patricia Newman inspires readers to seek connections to the real world and encourages them to use their imaginations to solve real-world problems and act on behalf of their communities. Her books have received the Robert F. Sibert Honor from the American Library Association, starred reviews, Green Earth Book Awards, and numerous other awards. Find out more at www.patriciamnewman.com.

Social Media
Website: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/

Twitter: @PatriciaNewman (https://twitter.com/PatriciaNewman)

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/newmanbooks/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaNewmanBooks

LitLinks blog series highlighting the natural connection between STEM and language arts – lesson plans for grades K – high school: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/blog-4/

Author Meeg Pincus & How her Love for Monarchs Turned into a Book- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author Meeg Pincus as she discusses her nonfiction book WINGED WONDERS: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery, illustrated by Yas Imamura and published by Sleeping Bear Press. Check out her journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Meeg is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book!! All you need to do is comment on this blog post. US residents only, contest ends October 2, 2020.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
I met my editor through a workshop critique, where she liked the original version of this story, which was a picture book biography of one little-known person involved in tracking the monarch butterfly migration. She offered on that book, then I ran into a big roadblock with the subject, so made the tough choice to not sign the contract and to put the story on a shelf and rethink it for a few months. (In the meantime, thankfully, the same editor acquired a different story of mine, which became our first picture book together, Miep and the Most Famous Diary!) After months of not knowing how to retell the monarch story, one day it hit me: this was not a story about one little-known person but about how many people it took to track this great migration over three decades. Once that hit me, the story flowed out. I sent the new version to my editor and it was (again, thankfully!) acquired.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I’ve always loved butterflies, wrote about them with wonder often in my youth. As a mom of young kids, I took them one day to see an IMAX film (in San Diego’s amazing domed science museum theater) about the monarch migration and I fell in love with monarchs specifically. I took the kids back to see the film two more times (!) and started digging more into the story of how the monarch migration was tracked. I felt it was a story full of wonder that could inspire kids to be solutionaries, which I think and hope it turned out to be!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
My writing process is, honestly, kind of sporadic. I’m not a writer who sits down at the same time every day or writes for a certain number of hours each week. As a homeschooling mom managing chronic health issues, I write when I can, in nooks and crannies of my days—in the car when the kids are at a lesson, during the hour they’re with their tutor, on the weekend when the rest of the family is at the pool, etc. When I get in the writing flow or I’m on a revision deadline, my family knows it—the dishes and laundry will pile up and the kids will step up and fend for themselves more, because Writer Mom is at work!

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
For me, nonfiction feeds my passions for social justice, people’s history, emotional storytelling, constant learning, and creativity. To be able to read and write true stories about inspiring people, which may open people’s eyes to new understandings about the world, is the greatest gift and a great responsibility. I love reading nonfiction and writing it. I’m a curious researcher at heart (daughter of two professors!) and an emotional writer, so kidlit nonfiction allows me to use both to connect children to true stories that may open their minds and hearts.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
For centuries, up and down North America, every year brought a mystery. Monarch butterflies swooped in for a spell, like clockwork, from somewhere beyond—then disappeared as curiously as they came. Where do they go? People pondered from southern Canada…through the middle of the United States…and all the way to central Mexico.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
My hope is to be able to just keep writing and publishing trade nonfiction picture books as I am now. I have three more NF PBs coming out in 2021—Cougar Crossing, Ocean Soup, and Make Way for Animals! (with Simon&Schuster/Beach Lane Books, Sleeping Bear Press, and Lerner/Millbrook)—and others on sub (fingers crossed!). I also hope to keep writing educational publisher picture books and doing teaching and editing projects, which I also enjoy. And I’m working on a passion project called #DiverseKidlitNF, to launch in 2021, to continue my work promoting diverse nonfiction picture books and diverse nonfiction kidlit creators, which is very important to me and I hope helps bolster the movement for more diversity in kidlit.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
In the nonfiction picture book world, my first inspiration were the classic books by Jeannette Winter, like The Watcher and The Librarian of Basra. Her books showed me that I could tell the kind of “solutionary stories” I wanted to tell (with art!) in amazingly creative ways for kids. A contemporary mentor text for me is The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson—this book took my breath away in its powerful message and creative approach. I love the innovative structure of it (with sparse poetry and stunning images in the main text and rich, informative back matter) and the emotionality of it—both elements I hope to infuse into my own books.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There’s no one right way to be a writer. Write when you can, how you can, where you can—and write the stories that you can best tell from your heart.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Oh, mint chocolate chip for sure! Refreshing, colorful, and not one thing (which definitely resonates with me).

BIO
Meeg Pincus is the author of six published and forthcoming nonfiction picture books about “solutionaries” who help people, animals, and the planet—including Kirkus starred reviewed Winged Wonders and Miep and the Most Famous Diary (which also received a School Library Journal starred review and was A Mighty Girl “Best Books of 2019” pick). A former newspaper reporter and college instructor, a humane educator and nonfiction book editor, Meeg has also authored 19 leveled readers for educational publishers and loves teaching nonfiction for SCBWI and The Writing Barn.

Social Media
Website: www.MeegPincus.com
Twitter: @MeegPincus
Book link: https://bookshop.org/books/winged-wonders-solving-the-monarch-migration-mystery/9781534110403

Author Laura Purdie Salas on Writing Nonfiction and Fiction (plus giveaway!)

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. I’m particularly excited for this Q & A, because I get to introduce an author who is not only a mentor to me, but who’s also one of the nicest and most approachable people on the planet: Laura Purdie Salas. For years, I have read her nonfiction books, and now she’s releasing a brand new fiction picture book, Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten! published by Two Lions. Check out Laura’s journey below.

BUT FIRST- yay, a giveaway: Laura is generously giving away a SIGNED copy of her book to one lucky winner. Simply comment on this blog, contest ends July 24, 2020 (US only).

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
I listened to the All the Wonders podcast where Matthew Winner interviewed Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant about their book, I Am (Not) Scared, back in 2017. They talked about writing about a common fear. Afterward, I asked myself, “What would be the most Uncommon fear a kid could have?” The answer that popped into my head was “a pile of puppies!” Here’s what I wrote in my Ideas file.
3/23/17: Not Puppy Kindergarten! A puppy is terrified of starting kindergarten and has all sorts of fears. What if everyone laughs at my spots? What if the other kids bite me? What if the snack is liver? What if I do everything wrong? This could be really funny, I think, and a good analogy to kids starting school. And what if everything bad really happened? Hmmm…While listening to All the Wonders episode with Anna Kang and her husband.  
I started playing with that, and the puppies morphed into kitties, and in just 10 or so drafts and with help from my Wordsmiths critique group, I created a manuscript I felt good about submitting. Over a few months, I sent it to four editors. Meanwhile Marilyn Brigham at Two Lions rejected a different picture book manuscript I had sent her. In her kind rejection note, she described the kind of manuscript she was looking for. I felt like Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten fit the bill, so I sent it in. She asked for a couple of revisions before acquiring it, but then everything moved forward quickly, with Hiroe Nakata coming on board to do the fabulous illustrations. And I realized somewhere during the acquisition process that Two Lions was the publisher who did I Am (Not) Scared! What a lovely feeling of coming full circle.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Oh. This would be the point where I say to myself, “I should have read all the questions first!” Hehe.
I will share that the inspiration for the sets of three rhyming lines appearing occasionally throughout the prose story came from Tammi Sauer’s text for Mr. Duck Means Business (Paula Wiseman Books, 2011). I loved the effect and set out to use it from the start. It disappeared from some versions as I tried different approaches, but it kept popping back up. Mentor texts, often for structure or voice or some specific technique like this, often play a role in my writing.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It does vary, but a few things hold true 99% of the time.

  • An idea percolates in my heads for weeks or even months before I start writing.
  • I write a LOT of drafts circling around the topic or character, getting (hopefullyl) closer and closer as I try different things.
  • In many drafts, I focus on one or two things, e.g., Make all of Clover’s reactions more over the top in this draft or Use more cat-related wordplay in this draft.
  • The ending doesn’t usually fall into place until…the end. I struggle with endings, and it’s almost always the hardest part of the book for me to write.

What are the key differences in writing fiction vs nonfiction? Can authors write both?
Yes, authors can write both! Many of my favorite authors, like Joyce Sidman, Kate Messner, and Nikki Grimes, write in multiple genres! It might require different writing processes for each genre/form, but you learn as you go. For me, the way I figure out the structure is the biggest difference between writing nonfiction and writing fiction. In nonfiction, I spend more pre-writing time percolating. I play with ideas for different structures. I often even sketch or storyboard them out and discard most before ever writing an actual draft. But in fiction, I just have to dive in to actual full drafts, because I can’t figure out the pacing and narrative structure of the story until I actually start trying to write the scenes.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Clover could not wait for nap time.
But nap time was a disaster. Ms. Snappytail’s purrrrrfume stank like licorice.
“Sweet dreams, Clover,” said Oliver.
“Nap time!”
“Share my rug!”
“Rock-a-bye, kitty, in the treetop…”
A treetop! Clover’s belly swayed, and she couldn’t sleep on her scratchy mat. She tried. She sighed. Clover Kitty quietly cried.
School felt nine lives long.
Maybe ten.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
These are tough times for book creators, especially if you’re not a big name. I hope to continue working on picture books of all kinds—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. And I love easy readers, too! I also have a Patreon group where I share information with children’s writers. I’d like to grow that enough to make it sustainable, as I love to share information and inspiration with writers. We’ll see what happens
My books coming out in the next few years include:
If You Want to Knit Some Mittens (illus. by Angela Matteson, Boyds Mills Kane, 2021)
We Belong (illus. by M Kawashima, Carolrhoda, 2022)
Zap! Clap! Boom! (illus. by Elly McKay, Bloomsbury, 2022)

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
Does Dav Pilkey’s God Bless the Gargoyles (Voyager Books, 1999) count as a classic? This haunting, rich, rhyming picture book was one of the first that made me think, I want to create books like this. I thought of this book while writing We Belong for Carolrhoda (coming in 2022). Mr. Duck Means Business, by Tammi Sauer and Jeff Mack (Paula Wiseman Books, 2011), inspired me with its wry humor and the way so much is left unsaid, but a lot happens. This was definitely a mentor text for me for Clover Kitty. So many poetry and nonfiction picture books have been mentor texts for me, but this might be the first time I’ve acknowledged these two publicly!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Writing a picture book draft is like taking one step up Mt. Everest. That step might not place you at the summit, but it gets you to the next step, which gets you to step after that. And you can’t summit without all those steps. Also, donuts. They make every kind of climbing more fun.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Caramel Caribou: toffee ice cream, caramel-filled chocolate cups, and swirls of caramel. Because I think life is short and you should make yours a celebration. This ice cream says celebration to me

BIO
Former teacher Laura Purdie Salas believes reading small picture books and poems can have a huge impact on your life. She has written more than 130 books for kids, including Lion of the Sky (Kirkus Best Books and Parents Magazine Best Books of the Year), the Can Be… series (Bank Street Best Books, IRA Teachers’ Choice), and BookSpeak! (Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notable). Visit Laura at laurasalas.com.

Social Media

• site: www.laurasalas.com
• Clover Kitty page with lots of downloadables: laurasalas.com/clover
• order personalized copies of the book through Red Balloon: laurasalas.com/clover
• blog: laurasalas.com/blog
• Twitter: @LauraPSalas
• Instagram: LauraPSalas
• E-letter for educators: tinyurl.com/p5q54g8
• Patreon: patreon.com/LauraPurdieSalas

Clover Kitty Goes to Kittygarten is an Amazon First Reads pick, which means it’s at a huge discount for July only. Anybody can get the Kindle edition for $4.99 or the hardcover edition for $6.99. (And Prime members can get the Kindle edition free.) That link is https://amzn.to/31QKWMz
AND, through the end of July, there’s a Goodreads Giveaway! Hardcovers will be sent to 20 winners. That link is https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/309060-clover-kitty-goes-to-kittygarten
With both of these, the idea is to get Clover Kitty into more hands and hopefully get lots of honest reviews. I’m extra grateful to folks like you who help spotlight books in a big way, but I also really appreciate anyone who reviews the book on their platform of choice. Finding our way to readers is an extra challenge right now!

Author Vivian Kirkfield: How to Write about TWO Famous People in ONE Book

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented nonfiction author Vivian Kirkfield. You likely know her name because she’s one of the most hardworking and friendliest names in the kidlit world. She had a slew of books recently come out, with more on the way. Join us as we discuss her latest nonfiction PB, Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe published by Little Bee Books.

BUT FIRST- yay, a giveaway: Vivian is generously giving away a signed copy of her book Four Otters Toboggan with the 8-page activity book that the illustrator created and a couple of Otters bookmarks. Simply comment on this blog. US only, ends June 26, 2020.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it is that each manuscript has its own journey…even if it is with the same publisher as a previous book. I haven’t had that experience yet, because each of my books is with a different house.
Making Their Voices Heard had a very interesting path to publication. I wrote the story early in 2015…and brought it to a conference where I was able to show it to an editor. Even though it was a rough draft, she loved it and asked for me to finish it and send it to her. I signed with my agent later that year and by early 2016, we sent it to the editor. She asked for revisions. I did them and she loved it…but couldn’t get her team to acquire it. They worried that it was a white savior story. That summer, had the opportunity to chat with another editor at a conference and she asked to see it. We sent it, she loved it, asked for revisions, but even though she loved the revision, she also couldn’t get her team to acquire it. Same problem. I continued to revise the story to try to bring more balance to the relationship between Ella and Marilyn. And when we sent it to Courtney Fahy at Little Bee Books, the magic happened. She loved it, asked for revisions (are you getting the picture of how this process works? Even when we think the story is singing, the editor may have a different harmony in mind 😊)…loved the revisions and acquired the manuscript.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The internet is my friend! I came across a photo of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe sitting shoulder to shoulder in a nightclub and the caption spoke of their friendship and how Marilyn had helped Ella break down some barriers. My curiosity was piqued…I grew up in the 50’s and admired the talent of these women, but had no idea there was a friendship between them. I had to find out. When I dug deeper and discovered what had happened, I knew it was a story that kids needed to hear…about friendship, inclusion, respect for others, no matter what their race, creed, or color.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m dedicated to this writing journey. Fortunately for me, I am retired and can write all day, all night, whenever I choose. I tend to work on various projects at the same time…and juggle these with giving feedback to my critique partners and critique clients. The best thing is that I love it so much, it is not work…it is my passion…so I always want to be writing.

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
As a kid, I read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover…I absolutely love to find out about people, places, events…especially hidden gems about ordinary people who did extraordinary things…but who didn’t get the recognition they deserve…and whose lives and accomplishments kids need to know about – I’m hoping that if they engage in the story, it might spark their curiosity and lead them down a path of new knowledge and interest.

 Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside they were alike—full of hopes and dreams and plans of what might be.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I’m not sure where my career is headed…but I do know that I am definitely enjoying this wild adventure! I feel blessed to be living my dream. Upcoming books in the pipeline are FROM HERE TO THERE: Invention That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 19, 2021, illustrated by Gilbert Ford) and PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World (Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills & Kane, Spring 2023, illustrated by Jana Christy). We also have four stories (all nonfiction pb bios) out on submission right now, so fingers crossed that one or more of them finds the right home. Because that’s the thing about this business…you can write the best story, but if it doesn’t get to the right editor, it’s a no go. And by the way…last year when I did the guest post here, I mentioned that an editor had asked for a particular story and I told you all that I had written it and we were hoping she would like it. Well, it wasn’t what she was looking for…and so my agent submitted it elsewhere…and that is the Pedal, Balance, Steer story that will be coming out in Spring 2023. Word to the wise…Never Give Up!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
This is definitely the hardest question of all…asking a lover of books which are her favorite ones. I’ve always loved The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton…I loved the story of a house that felt out of place…where change was happening all around her…and then finally, she is rescued and brought to a new surroundings where she can start a new life all over again. Newer picture books are mostly nonfiction: Laurie Wallmark’s Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine; Nancy Churnin’s Irving Berlin: The Boy Who Made America Sing; Hannah Holt’s The Diamond and the Boy. The writing in all is so lyrical…and the characters make a hero’s journey. I love them because they are inspiring stories for children and adults.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
The only failure is the failure to keep trying.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Moosetracks…chocolate with nuts and caramel!!!! And you ask why? Because I LOVE chocolate and the nuts and caramel only make it better!

BIO
Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, banana-boat riding, and visiting critique buddies all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the quaint village of Amherst, NH where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog, Picture Books Help Kids Soar where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. She is the author many picture books including Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books); and the upcoming From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 19, 2021) and Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Cycle Around the World (Calkins Creek, Spring 2023).

Social Media
You can connect with her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, or just about any place people with picture books are found.

Author Jennifer Swanson and her love of STEM

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the talented nonfiction author Jennifer Swanson. I absolutely love her book Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact. And, she just recently released a few gem, Beastly Bionics published National Geographic Kids. Check out her book journey below:

Please describe the journey to publication for this book.
I have always been fascinated by engineering and technology. For me, the excitement of this topic is what work is being done NOW. I felt very strongly that this book should not just include technology that has been proven, but also technology that is still in the creative process. I want to show young readers what is possible and how they can imagine something and work to make it a reality. The idea is a bit revolutionary in terms of children’s books, because most books cover information that has already been proven. But I had worked closely with my National Geographic Kids editor on several books and she was really intrigued by my idea and excited to have it at her imprint.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
This book is about animals, which are cool, and robots, which are also cool. So, why not? I loved the idea of writing about bionics and biomimicry. Nature is a wonderful way to be inspired to create objects that can help humans. I started reading about all of these amazing inventions, and knew kids would find them fascinating.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
Since I write about a lot of very technical topics, I tend to do my research as I write. I will have multiple tabs open on the computer, stacks of books next to me, as I read, digest, and write my manuscript. If  possible, I try to visit the places that I’m writing about. For me research trips are the BEST! I’ve been lucky enough and honored to be invited to many amazing science venues.

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
My whole life I’ve been curious. Mostly I wanted to know how things work. How is that made? Why does it work that way? What are those coils and cords that provide the electricity? Most of all, I love learning. For me, learning is best when it is FUN! Which means that in my books I always look for a unique way to convey information. A different take on something. I want my readers to constantly say, “WOW. I didn’t know that.” Because that is how I feel when I do my research.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Sticky feet that climb anything. Trunk-like robotic arms.  Super-senstive hearing. What is this? Some kind of new superhero? Nope. These are examples of robots that are engineered with bionics, or nature-inspired technology. It is innovation in action! Animal-style.
Packed with cutting-edge robotics, this book gives readers a peek inside creations that may have only been previously seen in a rainforest, ocean, or even just flying right outside your window.  Perfect for makerspaces, or kids who love robotics but not necessarily just coding.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I will continue to write books for kids about science and STEM. It is my passion and if they are able to inspire even one child to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or math, I would be extremely happy. As a way to further my reach, I have also just started a new STEM podcast called Solve It! for Kids. https://solveitforkids.com/

Solve It! for Kids
The science podcast for curious & creative kids and their families.
Peek into the world of real-life scientists, engineers, and experts as they solve problems in their every day jobs. Kids and families are then invited to take on a challenge and solve a problem themselves! Join Jennifer and Jed as they ask questions, solve problems, and offer challenges that take curiosity and creativity to a whole new level.
Don’t forget to participate in our weekly challenges! If you do, you can be entered to win a free book. (Different book every month!)

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
Classic books that inspired me: The Nancy Drew Mystery series. While it’s a fiction book, this series got me hooked on investigation and inquiry, something every good nonfiction author needs in their search for knowledge.
Contemporary book: A Black Hole is NOT a Hole by Carolyn DeCristofano (Charlesbridge Publishing). This is an awesome book is  a fun and exciting look an extremely challenging topic. Well done and a great mentor text for me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? (I will make an ecard with your quote and circulate it)
Write what you are passionate about! That is the key to everything. If you love your topic, that passion will show through to all of your readers.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
I love chocolate chip cookie dough. It’s a bunch of different things all mixed together and  yet it all works as a great flavor.

BIO
Now, Jennifer Swanson is the award winning author of over 40+ nonfiction books for children, mostly about science and technology. Jennifer’s love of STEM began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. While no longer working from the garage, Jennifer’s passion for science and technology resonates in all her books but especially, BRAIN GAMES (NGKids) and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up (Charlesbridge), Astronaut-Aquanaut, and Save the Crash-test Dummies. Her books have received many accolades including the starred reviews, Booklist Best Tech books list, Green Earth Book Honor Award, a Florida Book Award, and multiple California Reading Association awards, and National Science Teaching BEST STEM awards. her BRAIN GAMES book was even #13 on the The Planets.org 50 Best Science books Ever Written.
An accomplished and exciting speaker, Jennifer has presented at National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the Atlanta Science Festival, the World Science Festival in NYC and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival. Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the Science all around them!

Social Media
www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com
Starred review from School Library Journal: https://www.slj.com/?reviewDetail=beastly-bionics-rad-robots-brilliant-biomimicry-and-incredible-inventions-inspired-by-nature&fbclid=IwAR2igmNpfaI4gqRfT69q6e5IdqIOUAY3pK5cHksLwifCUMxuBZpyliE1Fwg
Twitter: @JenSwanBooks

Author Debra Kempf Shumaker on the Art of Perseverance

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Hello world!

Welcome to my Blissfully Bookish book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Debra Kempf Shumaker. I’ve known her for some time, and was always amazing at her patience and level of perseverance. In November 2019, she posted about her upcoming book deal (FREAKY FUNKY FISH, published by Running Kids Press in 2021) in the KidLit411 Facebook group. Here’s what she said, which may inspire many of you.

But first, exciting news- Debra is generously giving away a FREE PB critique! It could be fiction or nonfiction, and/or rhyming. Simply comment below. Contest ends May 4, 2020. Good luck!

When I signed with my agent in July of 2017, I shared in this group that I had been subbing for about 7 or 8 years, had subbed 11 different PBs, and had about 160 rejections before I got that first YES. Well, I finally had my second YES:
My debut PB was announced last night. BUT, this was the 13th or 14th (maybe 15th) PB that I had written and revised enough to feel it sub-worthy. (I won’t count the rough drafts that I wrote that I never went back to.) AND, it’s the 5th PB that my agent went on sub with. Two others had gone to acquisitions a few times but didn’t sell.
Bottom line: Don’t give up. Be willing to revise, revise, revise. And work on craft. BUT—also be willing to move on and write new things. When I first started, I spent 2 or 3 years revising the same 2 stories over and over again, thinking I just needed to tweak them and they would sell. Sometimes, some stories are just practice and that’s OK.
For those of you who are pre-published, hang in there! I hope that my story and my long journey to two “YESes” encourages you to keep pushing forward!
PS: The first thing I should have said is that I owe a million thanks to my critique groups and various CPs! None of my stories would have been ready without all of them!

During your many years of writing, editing, and receiving slews of rejections, what kept you going? (And how did you stay sane with all the waiting?)
Math. I knew I had a 100% chance of failure if I stopped writing. The only way to get a book deal was to keep writing. I knew that my writing would get better if I kept reading and analyzing picture books, being open to feedback, and being willing to revise. My critique partners were crucial as cheerleaders and for helpful input into my stories.

Was there a turning point or an “aha” moment, or was the process of learning your craft slow and steady?
Actually, it was a combination of the two. My “aha” moment came during a local SCBWI conference early in my writing career. In a Q&A session, someone asked an editor, “After you submit your story, how long do you wait to hear back?” He replied, “You don’t. You forget about it and write something new.” That’s when it hit me. I had been rewriting and revising the same two PBs for over a year. Those two were my “big ideas.” Where was I going to get more ideas? I was depressed and thought about quitting.
Thankfully, the next day, somewhere online, I read about Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month, now known as StoryStorm) which was starting within a few days. From there I found Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 (a challenge where you attempt to write 12 rough drafts in 12 months) and those two groups changed the way I approached my writing. From there, it was a slow and steady journey, dotted with many peaks and valleys. It was at least 6 or 7 years after that “aha” moment before I signed with my agent.

What are your top 3 pieces of advice for querying authors?
One: Develop thick skin and do not take rejection personally. Agents and editors are not rejecting YOU, they are rejecting the story you have written.
Two: The odds are high your first story won’t sell. Or your second. The 11th story I subbed caught my agent’s eye in 2017. And we never sold that story. It was the fifth story we went on sub with that finally sold. (That doesn’t include the dozens of rough drafts I’ve ever written.)
Three: Write something new. When you send one story off, write another one immediately. Fresh new projects help me to forget about the waiting.

How long did it take you to get your agent? What was that process like?
It took seven or eight years after my first query. In that time, I took several “query sabbaticals” when I realized my stories weren’t up to par and I needed to revise or write new stories. Though I had several close calls with both agents and editors in 2014 and 2015, I didn’t sign with my agent until July 2017. And it was January 2019 before we sold a book. This submitting process is not for the faint of heart!

Please share a few details about your forthcoming book.
FREAKY FUNKY FISH is a rhyming NF PB with Running Kids Press. From zapping, stinging, even singing, to playing dead or a see-through head, discover the funky, even freaky, ways fish look or act to survive in the rivers, lakes, and oceans they live in. It is scheduled for publication in Spring 2021.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Hopefully lots more published picture books! I love picture books so much and can’t imagine writing anything else! I write both fiction and nonfiction and we are out on submission with a few manuscripts. Hopefully I’ll have news to share again soon!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
I’m going to cheat a bit and instead give you authors that inspire me. I love science related NF PBs and three authors’ books that I study over and over again are Laura Purdie Salas, Melissa Stewart, and April Pulley Sayre. Their words flow off the page and seem effortless, though I know that every word was chosen carefully and probably with blood, sweat, and tears!
For a classic, when my teens were little, we read seasonal alphabet acrostic books written by Steven Schnur and illustrated by Leslie Evans. The pairing of the poems and art just spoke to me and I decided I wanted to write words that would inspire art like that!

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Type up the text of picture books you love, especially if they’ve been published in the last 3 years. You’ll learn so much about pacing and word choice. Seeing the words separated from the art give you a better idea on what editors read and love when they buy books.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Mint chocolate chip. Mint, because it’s refreshing, and chocolate because you cannot get through rejections without chocolate.

BIO
I write both picture books and magazine articles. My magazine articles have been published in Spider, Fun For Kidz, and Boys’ Quest. I also cohost #PBPitch, a Twitter pitch party for picture books held three times each year. I am repped by Natascha Morris with BookEnds Literary.

Social Media
https://debrashumaker.com/
https://twitter.com/ShumakerDebra
https://www.instagram.com/debrakshumaker/

Author Tara Lazar: How to Work on your Craft

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome an award winning author who’s one of my mentors (and who’s hilariously funny): Tara Lazar. We recently had an interesting conversation via Twitter and I wanted to share some of it here because it was it was fascinating. And oh, did you know she just released yet another picture book? It’s Three Ways to Trap a Leprechaun published by HarperCollins, you should definitely check it out.

.What is your writing process, and does it change depending on the project?
 My process begins with collecting ideas and then sorting through them, often with the help of my agent, and deciding which is the most exciting concept to work on. Then there’s a lot of THINKING. I like to call it “marinating”. The idea is working itself through my brain while I grind through my daily…umm, grind. Somehow the idea announces that it’s ready—I get this full-body creative squirm that forces me to sit down and write it out.

What do you do when you get stuck in a manuscript?
I work on something else. Or I do laundry. Or take a shower. Something rote and mundane lets the creative gears spin in the background. There is always the question of “why” popping up—why does this character act this way? The story has to use logic as it moves along. There is action and reaction, and it has to make sense, even in that pretend world.
I like to write flash fiction short stories for adults, too, and I find that genre helps me whittle things down to only the most important details, and that’s a skill essential to picture books as well.

Tara and I had an interesting discussion a few months ago about how writers need to keep writing and practicing. Some manuscripts never get published, but each project is another stepping stone on the road to publication. All that practice pays off and you may one day write a story that comes out smoothly because of it. Tara, how many times has this happened to you?
It’s just how I have approached the business. Not everything you write will get published, so you must accept that some projects get shelved. Maybe you can turn back after some time and examine it with fresh eyes, more experienced eyes, and make changes that propel it onward. Or sometimes, you see why a story was not destined to get out there. Writing is never wasted time. Baseball players have batting practice—they never stop trying to improve. Not every hit will be a home run. But taking many swings is what matters.

Once you get to that magical place where things flow more organically, does the experience repeat itself or is it always different?
Every story is different. Things gel for me a little more quickly than they did in the past, but still, not every story is a winner. There are many variables that you cannot control in this business. What you can control is writing as many stories as you can.
It reminds me of that Picasso fable. Someone asked Picasso to draw something on a cocktail napkin for them. Picasso drew it, handed it to them and said, “That will be $1 million.” And the person scoffed, “A million? But that took you a few seconds to draw.” Picasso replied…”Yes, because it took 30 years of work for me to draw that in a few seconds.”
You should look that up because I just paraphrased it—but that is essentially the story! You put in years of work to work more efficiently, to work more successfully.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Write, read, network. Never stop learning and growing.

 And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??
Pistachio. It’s my favorite. I could lick my fingers when I’m hungry!

Who’s Tara?

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been.

Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books where anything is possible.

Her picture books available now are:

Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Her last name rhymes with “bazaar”—you can listen to Tara pronounce her name on TeachingBooks.net. She’s not Tara Laser-beam (although that would be awesome).

For more information: https://taralazar.com/

Author Laurie Wallmark on Female STEM Pioneers

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Hello world!

Welcome to my Blissfully Bookish book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author Laurie Wallmark. I really enjoy her nonfcition books that tend to focus on women and STEM, topics that are dear to my heart. Here she is discussing her new book, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Mathematician illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg and published by Creston Books.

Book quote:

“As the only woman in her classes, Sophie rarely spoke up. One day, while the professor was lecturing, she spotted a mistake on the blackboard. With a pounding heart, she walked to the front of the room.”

  1. Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?

I love math and wanted to share this love with children. Although two of the women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in my picture book biographies have been mathematicians, they were known more for their contributions to computer science. I thought it was time to give a mathematician her due.

  1. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

Once I knew I wanted to write about a mathematician, I had to choose which one. I thought about the women mathematicians I knew about and looked through lists to find about ones I didn’t. I chose Sophie for two reasons. Her major mathematical accomplishment, the rotation of solid bodies, has real world applications that children can understand. Second, she solved the problem known as the mathematical mermaid. Who would ever think that those two words would appear in the same sentence?

  1. What is your writing process like, and does it change depending on the project?

For my picture book biographies, my writing process starts with lots and lots of research. Along the way, I make a list of the possible scenes I might include. This helps me figure out the perspective and focus of the book. Then it’s the usual–write, revise, repeat–occasionally doing more research. For fiction, I still might have only to do a little bit of research, but the rest of the process is the same.

  1. What differentiates your book from others with similar content currently on the market?

Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics is the first biography of this important mathematician. She’s so important, that every year the Association of Women in Mathematics celebrates a Sonia Kowalevky Day. (To find out why this is a slightly different name, look in my book’s back matter that explains transliteration from the Russian alphabet.

6. Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I have another woman in STEM book coming out next year. In addition, I have three fiction picture books on the way. I can’t be more specific than that except for the one book that’s already been announced–Dino Pajama Party. I’m currently working on several more picture books and a novel in verse.

  1. Please share your favourite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?

I don’t have a good answer to this question (a common one asked during school visits). It’s too hard to narrow the field. There are so many excellent books out there. I will say that in general what moves me about books is the use of language and the way the story unfolds.

  1. What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 

Keep on keeping on.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any flavor of ice cream, which one would you be and why??

I’d be vanilla, because it’s my favorite ice cream flavor. But I’d hang out with all the other flavors, because what’s life without the great diversity of ice cream flavors (or people for that matter) in the world?

BIO
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture book biographies of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in fields ranging from computer science to mathematics to astronomy. Her books have earned multiple starred trade reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, AAAS/Subaru Prize Longlist, and Parents’ Choice Gold Medal. Laurie has an MFA in Writing from VCFA. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor.

Social Media
Website: https://www.lauriewallmark.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
Twitter: @lauriewallmark

To Buy
Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781939547637
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Numbers-Motion-Sophie-Kowalevski-Mathematics/dp/1939547636/

Author Kirsten Larson: From NASA to STEM Kidlit

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog. For this Q & A, please welcome author (and my friend) Kirsten W. Larson. Trust me, this woman is going to make her mark in the world of kidlit. Jois us as she discusses her new book, WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE published by Calkins Creek. 

Can you describe the journey to publication for this book?
I first researched and wrote WOOD, WIRE, WINGS in March 2014 as part of Susanna Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic” class, so it took almost six years from first draft to published book. For two years, I revised with my critique group and in response to agent and editor feedback at conferences and from queries. In February 2016, I queried agents with the book and signed with my agent, Lara Perkins of ABLA, soon thereafter. This was the first manuscript we sent out. My editor, Carolyn Yoder, asked for an R&R (revise and resubmit) before offering in February 2017. After that, there were still two more rounds of revision. So my takeaway: The publishing process, especially for picture books, is slow.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
The book Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts inspired this book. The name of Lilian Todd and a note that she was the first female airplane designer appeared in one of David’s illustrations. Though I’d lived and worked around airplanes my whole life, I’d never heard of Lilian. Neither had my husband, who’s a test pilot and aviation history buff. I knew Lilian’s story was one I needed to tell.

Please share some of your writing process.
My writing process has evolved quite a bit since WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, but for each book my research process is similar. I start with secondary sources and read widely about the person and/or time period I’m tackling. Secondary sources provide needed context for primary sources and also point the way to primary sources through endnotes and bibliographies. I typically have both a file box for books, copies of print sources, and drafts. But I also create a file in Evernote for electronic sources. I use the Evernote web clipper to clip journal and newspaper articles, online letters and diary entries, etc.

When I feel like I’m starting to see the same information over and over again, it’s time to write. Normally I start with a timeline or what I call my “kitchen sink draft,” which has all the names, dates, and details that probably won’t appear in the final draft. Then I can let all specifics go and be more creative with my structure, storytelling, and voice. I also carefully consider what must be said with words and what can appear in the illustrations.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always been a writer in some fashion, and my interest and experience has mostly been nonfiction, specifically journalism. I wrote a newsletter filled with articles about  my family when I was in high school. It included breaking news about birthday parties and trips to the dentist. In college I was a reporter and editor at the college newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, and wrote for two different newspapers in my hometown. I also interned at NASA as a college student, working in the public relations department. (We call it Public Affairs at government agencies). That’s the career field I eventually went into. I didn’t turn to writing picture books until I had two children who devoured nonfiction children’s books about space, weather, and everything else imaginable. Reading those books, I realized I could write them and would probably have a blast doing it.

How did working at NASA influence your writing?
Working at NASA Public Affairs, I considered myself a translator for technical information. My job was to work with the news media providing the information they needed to inform the general public about NASA’s work. That often involved “translating” technical talk and engineer-speak into everyday language when writing press releases and newsletter articles, for example. This was great practice for writing STEM-based picture books where I often read journals and talk with experts. Working at NASA also influenced the subject matter of my first two picture books, which focus on women in aviation and astronomy.

Why do you write nonfiction?
I write primarily to satisfy my own curiosity. Whenever I tackle a new subject, it’s an excuse to become an expert in that field. If I can write a children’s book about the topic, then I know I truly understand the material myself.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have two more forthcoming nonfiction picture books, only one of which is announced. THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of, is being illustrated by Katherine Roy and will be published by Chronicle Books. I continue to research and write nonfiction picture books but have also tackled graphic novels, another favorite genre. I’m revising a Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales-type graphic novel that marries history with fictional elements.

Please share your favourite kidlit books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts. Pick one classic and one contemporary book. What is it about them that moved you?
I’m a huge fan of mentor texts, and the books I use are tailored to each project. For WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, I had Debbie Levy’s I DISSENT (illus. Elizabeth Baddeley, Simon & Schuster, 2016) by my side. That book really showed me how to provide just enough historical context in an interesting way. One of my favorites from childhood was THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, a Little Golden Book featuring Grover, by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin (1971). It’s such a perfect example of strong page turns propelling the story forward and a surprising ending. I still have a copy.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Because of the nature of publishing, I think the best thing we can do for our work is to enjoy the journey. We must make sure each book is the story we want to tell, even if it never sells. Finally, there are always people who can help us tell the story better, whether it’s a critique partner, an agent, an editor or an illustrator. Being able to really revise and reimagine a story in response feedback is perhaps the greatest skill a creator can have.

And a bonus Q- If you could be any flavour of ice cream, which one would you be and why?
I’m a big fan of pistachio gelato, which I learned to make in Italy.

BIO
Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020) and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle Books), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Her house is filled with LEGOs, laughter, and lots of books!

Social Media
Website: www.kirsten –w-larson.com
Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest: @KirstenWLarson
Facebook: @KirstenLarsonWrites

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