nonfiction

Author Kim Zachman on How to Craft Proposals- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome yet another talented nonfiction writer: Kim Zachman. Here she is, discussing her book There’s No Ham in Hamburger, a middle grade nonfiction book illustrated by Peter Donnelly and published by Running Press Kids. I was interested to hear what she said about crafting compelling nonfiction proposals, so read below for more information.

BUT first- YAY! Kim is generously giving away a free copy of her book (US only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 30, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for There’s No Ham in Hamburger.
After twelve years of writing for magazines and newspapers, I finally gave in to my secret desire to be a children’s author. In 2010, I joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and started learning everything I could about kids’ lit. The idea for this book came when I wondered why there wasn’t any ham in hamburgers. What I thought would be a quick internet search, turned into a year-long binge on food history and a proposal for a middle grade nonfiction book. I started querying agents and collected a sizable batch of rejections until John Rudolph of Dystel, Goderich & Bourret offered me representation. He gave me suggestions to revise the proposal, which I did, and then he sent it out on submission. A few months later, we got an offer from Running Press Kids. From concept to publication was a total of eight years.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
As I researched the origin stories of our favorite foods, it became clear that there was much more to tell than just who invented what and when. Societal changes had a big influence, specifically immigration, but science, technology, and religion also impacted our favorite foods. For example, the hydrogenation of peanut butter made an occasional treat into a pantry staple.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I used to work for Scholastic Book Fairs and didn’t get much writing done during the busy months when the schools were in session. So, I crammed most of my writing work into the summer break. Since the Pandemic has put me on permanent break, I try to be at my computer each afternoon for three to four hours. More than that, if I’m on a deadline. I don’t know how to quantify my research time because I’m almost always reading something that pertains to my current project or possible future project.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“We can’t talk about the history of ice cream without talking about the history of ice. About four thousand years ago, people discovered that ice helped keep foods from spoiling. However, getting ice was a problem. People knew how to build a fire and boil water, but only Mother Nature could freeze it.”

Can you give us some strategies on how to write a compelling MG nonfiction proposal?
I think the most important thing is that the proposal starts with a hook that is written with the same voice and style that you plan on using for the book. The second most important thing is to show the publisher why your book will be successful for them. Who is the target audience? How will it stand out? A strong market analysis with comparative titles is a must.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I plan on continuing with more nonfiction titles that are based on the social sciences. I’m researching a couple of topics right now, but I hesitate to mention them until after my agent has approved. I would also like to publish MG fiction. I have two first drafts completed, but they are NOT ready for anyone to read.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
When I read How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg and Poop Happened: A History of the World From the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee, I knew that I wanted a similar format and humorous tone for my book. They were both so much fun to read and packed with great information.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
There’s no RIGHT way to write. There are, however, lots of wrong ways. Learn to avoid the wrong ways.”

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A river otter. I love how playful and curious they are. But, I don’t like cold water, so maybe that’s not the best choice. I can be reptilian about my need for heat.

BIO
Kim Zachman is an author and freelance writer with more than a decade of experience contributing to regional and national publications. There’s No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods is her debut children’s book.

LINKS
Author webpage:   www.kimzachman.com
Blog:  www.nohaminhamburgers.com
Both have links to purchase.

Author Cynthia Levinson on Social Justice- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome yet another talented nonfiction writer: Cynthia Levinson. Here she is, discussing her book The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art, illustrated by Evan Turk and published by Abrams. The title alone captures the hook of the story, and I encourage you all to read it.

BUT first- YAY! Cynthia is generously giving away a free critique of of the first 1000 words of a nonfiction picture book. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 16, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art.
As with all of my books, the journey was long and circuitous. I am deeply grateful to my critique partners in both Austin and Boston as well as to veteran picture book author Chris Barton for helping me focus the story and hone the arc. From the beginning, which was way back in 2016, the manuscript (I’m too superstitious to call anything I’m working on a “book” until a publisher buys it) concentrated on Shahn as a story-teller. This approach allowed me to show how he bucked artistic conventions of the time by displaying real life instead of the pastoral scenes his teachers advocated. However, the early drafts read too much like a magazine article rather than a picture book. They were about Shahn’s life but not through his eyes. The book is layered—merging art and politics—and it took me a while to work out how to do that without having text that was dense.COVER

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Since all of my books so far deal with social justice in some way, you would think that I would have figured out more quickly that fairness and justice, which compelled Shahn’s life work, would form the backbone of my approach! Once I realized his concerns for immigrants, working people, civil rights, voting rights, basic human rights, anti-war activism, and other causes needed to be the core, I, too, felt inspired.
In addition, I’ve known about Shahn for many years because of his installations in synagogues, his Passover Haggadah, incorporation of Hebrew lettering, and other Jewish-related themes. He stood for tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repair the world.”

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wish my process had evolved over time! But, regardless of the project, I always do too much research. Then, I write multiple versions from different perspectives, throw them at my very patient and perceptive critique groups, slow-walk them past my agent, and, finally, after literally years and multiple drafts, hope to land with an editor who will really show me how to write the book.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
The final spread includes the line, “Ben drew until the end of his life, handing down his stories of justice from generation to generation.” But, what’s really compelling his Evan Turk’s art.

Many say the market for PB bios is saturated at the moment, do you have any tips on how to create fresh bios that capture the editor’s attention?
First, write the stories to which you feel and can show a personal connection. Secondly, consider writing historical fiction.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have no idea where my career is headed! Two books are under contract. One, which I think of as a biography of a place in free verse, is about the Highlander Folk School. The other is—surprise!—a historical fiction picture book about a Supreme Court case. Other WIPs remain manuscripts not books!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
For picture books, I strive but have so far failed to write with the economy and poetry of Patricia MacLachlan, Barb Rosenstock, Deborah Freedman, Barb Kerley, and Candace Fleming. Candy’s middle grade books, along with those of Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Steve Sheinkin, Deborah Heiligman, and Ann Bausum, whose research and story-telling skills are exemplary, guide me.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers? 
Listen to your book. Let it tell you what it needs to be.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
An elephant because they’re so empathetic.Ms favorite IMG_2810ac

BIO
Cynthia Levinson writes (mostly) nonfiction for (mostly) young readers, focusing on social justice. Her books have won a number of awards including the Jane Addams Book Award, SCBWI Golden Kite and NCTE Orbis Pictus Honors, NAACP Image Award Finalist, Junior Library Guild and Parents’ Choice selections, and the ILA Social Justice Award. She and her husband live in both Austin and Boston.

LINKS
Free virtual event on April 28: https://www.bookpeople.com/event/virtual-event-cynthia-levinson-evan-turk-peoples-painter
Website: https://cynthialevinson.com/
Facebook: Cynthia Levinson
Twitter: @cylev
Instagram: cylevinson

Author Lisa Amstutz on Connecting Kids with Nature- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a talented NF writer who’s a mentor to me, and who also just became an agent at Storm Literary, Lisa Amstutz. After writing over 150 books, she still had time to release another: Mammal Mania, middle grade nonfiction, published by Chicago Review Press. Check out her book journey below.

BUT first- YAY! Lisa is generously giving away a free critique of a PB or up to 10 pages of a longer ms (double-spaced). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends April 6, 2021.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for Mammal Mania.
I had previously written a book for Chicago Review Press’s Young Naturalists series called Amazing Amphibians. CRP was wonderful to work with, so my agent and I pitched some more ideas and this was the one my editor chose. My background is in ecology, so both of these books were right up my alley and fun to research and write.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Connecting kids with nature has always been one of my passions. Like the others in this series, this book is aimed at helping kids discover nature through engaging text, photos, and hands-on activities.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
It definitely varies by the project. The two books I wrote for this series were very research-heavy, so I would take one topic at a time, research it, and then figure out a good way to share that information in a kid-friendly way. Some of my others, like Applesauce Day and Finding a Dove for Gramps, were more like writing poetry – a spark of inspiration that flowed out onto the page—followed, of course, by lots of revisions.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
“Imagine that you took a beaver and a duck and mixed them together—you might come out with something like a platypus. In fact, when European scientists first saw a platy­pus specimen, they thought it had to be a fake! But they were eventually convinced that this odd-looking mammal was real.”

You’re skilled at writing nonfiction, what are some effective strategies to engage young readers while disseminating information?
Writing nonfiction is really no different from writing fiction, except that you can’t make stuff up. The same rules of good writing apply – use strong nouns, active verbs, metaphors/similes, wordplay, a compelling story arc (if writing narrative NF) – in other words, general good writing techniques.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
Because this was part of a series, I used previous books in the series as mentor texts. Others that have inspired me in terms of engaging middle grade nonfiction include Some Writer by Melissa Sweet, All Thirteen by Christina Soontornvat, Something Rotten by Heather Montgomery, Astronaut-Aquanaut by Jen Swanson, and many more.

You recently became an agent at Storm Literary, how do you balance writing and agenting?
Well, my pace has slowed a bit, but I’ve always had to fit my own writing in around freelance client work (writing, editing, etc.), so this doesn’t feel much different. Like anyone else with a day job or other full-time responsibilities, I write in my spare time – evenings, weekends, etc.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
When an opportunity presents itself, don’t let fear and ‘what if’s’ stop you. Say yes—then go figure out how to do it. My writing mentor gave me this piece of advice early on, and it has served me well, even though it often stretches me out of my comfort zone.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
Hmm. Maybe a cat—judging by my own three, it’s a pretty luxurious life!

BIO
Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. She spent eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors as well as corporate publishers. She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. Lisa recently joined Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent.
Lisa’s background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. A former outdoor educator, she specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. She lives on a small farm with her family.

LINKS
Website: www.LisaAmstutz.com
Twitter: @LJAmstutz
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LJAmstutz
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lisaamstutz.author/
Mammal Mania is available anywhere books are sold.
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mammal-Mania-Activities-Observations-Naturalists/dp/1641604360/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mammal-mania-lisa-j-amstutz/1137370629?ean=9781641604369
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781641604369

Author Barb Rosenstock on How to Craft NF Bios- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who needs no introduction, and who landed a Caldecott Honor in 2015 among many other awards: Barb Rosenstock. Read below to see her journey creating Mornings with Monet, a nonfiction picture book, illustrated by Mary Grandpré and published by Knopf / Penguin Random House. It’s fascinating how she sifted through various facts during her research phase, and focused on what she felt a personal connection to, and what had kid-appeal.

BUT first- YAY! Barb is generously giving away a free copy of Mornings with Monet (U.S. shipping only). All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 29, 2021.

 

Please describe the journey to publication for Mornings with Monet.
I grew up in Chicago and have loved the Monet and his artist friends since first seeing their work in the Impressionist Wing at The Art Institute as a child. It’s easy art to love, colorful and for the most part gentle subject matter. Mary Grandpré and I have done 3 art books together: The Noisy Paint Box, Vincent Can’t Sleep and Through the Window. I kind of wanted to round it to an even number of four books. I first started looking into female Impressionist, Mary Cassatt. After a bit of research, I just wasn’t drawn to the subject. I decided to try to tackle the most famous Impressionist, the first Impressionist, Claude Monet.  I thought I’d be writing about Monet and his garden, or Monet and the first Impressionist exhibition, or his Haystack series paintings, which were all big topics. But books do what they need to do, and this one needed to be a very small story.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
I would typically attempt to start a book in a subject’s childhood, but Monet’s young years were not all that compelling. Also, as I began researching, there was a lot about Monet the man that I found unappealing. In spite of his many character flaws, his glorious art kept calling me. I decided to look into specifically how he created his art, his process. I wasn’t originally aware that at times Monet actually painted from a boat. I liked that boat more than anything else in his whole life, and so I thought I’d set myself the challenge of building an entire picture book biography that takes place in about a roughly 4-hour painting session on the boat. It worked, thanks to Mary Grandpré’s stunning art!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I’m never sure enough of myself as a writer that I’m at all clear on what my “writing process” is anyhow. I sit down and write, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it does not, that is the process.  Every book takes the time and energy it needs and each time I sit down to do a book, I’m not sure how (or if) it’s going to work out. Basically, I just keep asking questions, first of the research and later of my own words. Questions like:  So what? What does that mean? Is that what you’re trying to say really? Is that logical? What does it feel like? Will kids find this interesting? For me the process is answering my own questions. After a decade at it, it’s just a process of trusting that my curiosity will eventually shape itself onto the page.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
Wow, maybe you should tell ME which parts are compelling. But here goes, at least this is my favorite part, drawn from my own life (as well as Monet’s):
“Anyone who creates understands—that art is not magic. It is work…and work…and work, and then…it is magic.”

What draws you to the world of nonfiction?
I have always liked true stories ever since my maternal grandfather told me “true” (or mostly true J) family stories. I liked historical fiction and history-based nonfiction the most as a child and read a ton of it at my public and school libraries. I still like true or “based on truth” movies better than anything fictional. I think the idea that a story is real makes is MUCH more compelling than anything made up.

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
I have a book on citizen science and monarch butterflies coming out next year with illustrator Erika Meza from Knopf. And I’m excited to be working with Katherine Roy again on a book about the Sargasso Sea from Norton.  It was great to take a step away from history for a bit, but I’ll get back to it I’m sure. There’s a few more titles in the works, but no use talking about them so early, you know how long picture books take!

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
The picture books that started me writing are still mentors: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley, Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, and my all-time favorite, Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. Favorite picture book authors include: Jen Bryant, Carole Weatherford, and Candace Fleming. I have been obsessed with every single thing Cynthia Rylant ever put down on paper for almost 30 years. I have favorite illustrators too other than the ones I’ve worked with: Elisha Cooper, Kadir Nelson, Emily Sutton, Floyd Cooper, Eliza Wheeler, The Fan Brothers, Jason Chin, Brendan Wenzel, Frank Morrison, Hadley Hooper, and the late Mordicai Gerstein.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Get the actions right and the feelings right, and the rest will follow.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A dog, because…DOGS! They are curious, loyal, loving, understanding, people feed them and they can take naps virtually any time they want.

 

BIO
Barb Rosenstock likes true stories best. She is the author of eighteen nonfiction and historical fiction picture books that combine deep research with playful language. Her book, The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpré, received a Caldecott Honor in 2015. Other awards include the SCBWI Golden Kite, an Orbis Pictus Honor, a Sydney Taylor Honor, and the South Asia Book Award, as well as numerous national and state recognitions. Barb loves sharing stories and inspiring students in schools and libraries across the country. She lives with her family north of Chicago.

LINKS
www.barbrosenstock.com
Twitter: @barbrosenstock
Instagram: @brosenstock
Mornings with Monet can be purchased from:
https://bookshop.org/books/mornings-with-monet-9780525708186/9780525708179

Author Patricia Newman on Getting Through Rough Drafts- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome author an award winning author I admire greatly for her skilled NF writing, Patrician Newman. Read below to see her journey creating Planet Ocean, middle grade NF, with the lovely photographs of Annie Crawley, published by Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing.

BUT first- YAY! Patricia is generously giving away a free manuscript critique (max. 10 pages) or a 20-minute virtual school visit. All you have to do is comment on this blog post. Contest ends March 19, 2021.

Please describe the journey to publication for Planet Ocean.
I first met Annie via telephone in 2010 or 2011. I had cold-called her to see if she’d like to be the photographer for a book I was proposing called Plastic, Ahoy! Annnie had been on the ship with the scientists and had the only photos available. She was thrilled someone else wanted to “talk trash” and jumped at the opportunity. We became friends and looked for other opportunities to work together.
In 2016, Annie and I were driving through a Colorado blizzard to visit a black-footed ferret conservation center that we featured in Zoo Scientists to the Rescue. During the long drive, we began discussing our next book – because well, I guess we’re over achievers. Annie’s underwater photography and her advocacy for the ocean seemed a natural fit for an ocean book.
While the ocean book idea percolated, I researched and wrote Eavesdropping on Elephants. And finally, in 2018 the timing was right to begin working together again. In November 2018, we submitted a proposal to Carol Hinz at Millbrook Press who had published our Plastic, Ahoy! and Zoo Scientists to the Rescue collaborations. By February 2019, we had an offer.
Then the fun began. I traveled to Annie’s hometown in Seattle where we interviewed several people for our Salish Sea chapter. Annie traveled to Indonesia and Utquiaġvik, Alaska for the Coral Triangle and Arctic chapters. In between trips, I interviewed Annie. We shared information via email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Facebook, text message, and phone.
In the meantime, I wrote. Fast and furiously. Our contract stipulated a September 2019 manuscript delivery deadline. While Carol and I revised the text, Annie and I began work on the videos for the QR codes. I wrote drafts of the scripts and Annie narrated and produced the videos.
When COVID-19 pushed our fall 2020 release date to spring 2021, we took the extra time to meticulously select photos for every page of Planet Ocean – even the QR code icons. Millbrook Press finalized the layout and sent the book to the printer in late 2020.
Throughout every step, Annie and I worked as a team, sharing ideas and more than a few laughs. Planet Ocean is our heart book.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?
Our ocean itself. The ocean makes me happy and I have several ocean memories that helped fuel this project. Scientists are just beginning to understand that the ocean soothes us and boosts our creativity.
Annie Crawley was another inspiration. She feels at home underwater and has gathered a staggering amount of ocean knowledge on her expeditions with scientists and explorers.

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?
I wouldn’t wish my process on anyone. It’s messy, especially at the beginning. I agonize throughout the first draft but find my stride during revision. Usually, I stop tinkering when Carol says the book must go to the printer.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.
For the Salish Sea chapter of Planet Ocean, Annie and I interviewed Dana Wilson, a Lummi elder fisherman. I love this passage because it shows Dana’s deep connection to the sea.

While science marches on, members of the Lummi Nation mourn the lack of salmon. For centuries these Coast Salish people have called themselves the Salmon People because of their dependence on salmon fishing.

“We lived our lives around salmon,” says Dana. “We migrated with them. Salmon are who we are—our economy, our trade, our songs and dances. It’s how we always sustained ourselves.” According to Lummi culture, the salmon’s migration symbolizes the struggle that makes life worthwhile. The annual Lummi salmon ceremony used to give thanks for the abundance of salmon.

“At the ceremony I attended,” Annie says, “the Lummi prayed for the salmon’s return. For the first time in his life, Dana is not fishing for salmon because not enough of them are returning.”

How can aspiring NF writers make their writing more trade oriented and engage writers on a universal level?
Nonfiction writing is more than just the facts. Successful nonfiction authors start every project with a personal connection that comes from the heart. For narrative nonfiction, we tell stories that connect readers to their world in ways that resonate with them. You have only to read Planet Ocean to discover how invested Annie and I are with the ocean’s story as our story.
In expository nonfiction, we organize facts according to some unifying focus unique to us. For an example, Melissa Stewart’s Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs morphed into an anti-bullying book. In a blog post Melissa says, “I’d have to revisit some painful parts of my childhood” to write this book.
I suggest budding nonfiction authors read Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep for inspiration. The book, edited by Melissa, features craft essays from fifty award-winning nonfiction authors.

Where do you see your career headed? Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?
Plastic, Ahoy! was my first foray into environmental nonfiction for children, and I think I’m going to say here. There are so many stories left to tell.
My next book releases in the fall of 2022. Illustrated by the talented Natasha Donovan, it tells a happy conservation story about a river.

Please share your favorite books that have inspired you and served as mentor texts.
I always have trouble with this question because I love so many books. Most recently, I used Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon and Ashley Spire’s The Most Magnificent Thing as mentor texts for two different projects I’m working on.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other writers?
Find a personal connection to your writing project. Your prose will be richer, and ideas will flow from your heart.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
An elephant. Who wouldn’t want to have a trunk?

BIO

Patricia Newman’s books show young readers how their actions can ripple around the world. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration, she empowers young readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. A Robert F. Sibert Honor recipient, Patricia’s books have received starred reviews, ALA Notable recognition, Green Earth Book Awards, an Outstanding Science Trade Book Award, a Parents’ Choice Award; been honored as Junior Library Guild selections; and been included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists.
One Texas librarian recently wrote, “Patricia is one of THE BEST nonfiction authors writing for our students in today’s market, and one of our MUST HAVE AUTHORS for every collection.”
Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Her presentations are described as “phenomenal,” “fantastic,” “mesmerizing,” “passionate,” and “inspirational.”

LINKS

Link to a 4-min video Patricia and Annie made about why your library needs Planet Ocean: https://youtu.be/OWMoEcABvL0
Support independent booksellers and buy Planet Ocean at Bookshop.org.
Website: https://www.patriciamnewman.com/
LitLinks – a blog series that highlights connections between STEM and language arts
Twitter: @PatriciaNewman
Facebook: Patricia Newman, Author & Literacy Advocate
Pinterest: Patricia Newman, Children’s Book Author

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.

BIO
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.

LINKS
Website: www.jolenegutierrez.com
Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene
Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene
Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene
Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene
My books can be purchased here: https://bookshop.org/shop/writerjolene

Nonfiction Author Melissa Stewart on Digging Deep

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Hello world!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome a nonfiction author I consider both a mentor and a friend- Melissa Stewart. She just released Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing published by the National Council of Teachers of English. This is a MUST HAVE for all nonfiction authors!

Please describe the journey to publication for Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-Winning Children’s Book Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing.

The idea for this book traces back to the 2017 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, when I was fortunate to participate in a panel titled “The Secret of Crafting Engaging Nonfiction” with two of the most talented children’s nonfiction authors of our time—Candace Fleming and Deborah Heiligman.

During our discussion, moderated by educator and children’s nonfiction enthusiast Alyson Beecher, we dove deeply into what fuels our work and why we routinely dedicate years of our lives to a single manuscript. As we compared our thoughts and experiences, we came to realize something critically important—each of our books has a piece of us at its heart. And that personal connection is what drives us to keep working despite the inevitable obstacles and setbacks.

Several other nonfiction authors attended our presentation, and afterward they praised our insights. That conversation helped us all understand our creative process in a new and exciting way. I wanted to bring this important discovery to teachers, students, and aspiring writers, so during the 2018-2019 school year, I invited a wide range of nonfiction writers I admire to discuss the topic on my blog.

Educators loved the essays and almost immediately started asking me to compile them, so they could be read as a group as used to inspire young writers. Eventually, my effort to fulfill their request led to this anthology.

This book is a wealth of knowledge, how long did this project take?
It took me a while to find a suitable publisher for the project and way to finance it, but since the essays were already written, once NCTE expressed interest, things moved pretty quickly.

After sorting the essays into three broad categories—choosing a topic, finding a focus, and making personal connections—I wrote an introduction to the entire book and introductions to each of the three chapters. Then I developed three sets of activities and teaching strategies to round out the presentation. This process took about 6 months. And then production took another 6 months or so.

I’m dying to know—what is the secret of engaging nonfiction? What can readers learn from this anthology?

The book’s primary audience is educators, who we hope will use it as a teaching tool to help their students become stronger nonfiction writers. But the book also has A LOT to offer aspiring children’s book writers. First of all, it can provide inspiration. But it also includes practical activities to help writers find a hook, theme, or central focus that will engage readers. And it emphasizes the importance of writers at all levels having skin in the game—that’s the secret.

I think author Laura Purdie Salas really captures what the book is all about in this quotation from her essay:

“There’s a common, crushing misconception that fiction is creative writing drawn from the depths of a writer’s soul, while nonfiction is simply a recitation of facts that any basic robot could spit out. The reality is very different. My personality, my beliefs, and my experiences are deeply embedded in the books I write.”

In the end, the underlying message of Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep is simple but powerful: To create nonfiction that delights as well as informs, professional writers as well as student writers have to dig deep to make the writing truly their own—something that only they could create. The goal of the anthology is to share personal stories as well as tips, tools, and activities that can help writers at all levels feel personally invested in their writing, so they can craft prose that sings.

What else should people know about this anthology?

100 percent of the proceeds from Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep will be divided among the National Council of Teachers for English (NCTE), We Need Divers Books (WNDB), and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

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

Enjoy the journey and celebrate successes—even the small ones!

So many things about book publishing are out of our control, and there are lots of challenges and disappointments along the way. That’s why it’s important to make a big deal out of every single bit of progress, from a “good” rejection to a starred review.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be another kind of animal, what would you be and why?

That’s easy. I’d be a chipmunk. I love the way they zip around during the summer, and I’d love to be able to hibernate all winter long

BIO

Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.  

Links

Website: https://www.melissa-stewart.com/

Blog: http://celebratescience.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @mstewartscience

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/melissa.stewart.33865

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

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