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Picture Book Review for National Space Day 2024 – Dancing Through Space

 

 

DANCING THROUGH SPACE:
DR. MAE JEMISON SOARS TO NEW HEIGHTS

Written by Lydia Lukidis

Illustrated by Sawyer Cloud

(Albert Whitman; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 Dancing Through Space cover Dr. MaeJemison in space shuttle Endeavour.

From the Publisher:

“Today, Dr. Mae Jemison is famous for being the first Black woman to travel into
outer space. But when she was growing up, she felt torn between two passions: science and dance. It
seemed like an impossible choice. There had to be some way to make room for both—and Mae found
one. As an adult, she combined her gifts of scientific logic and artistic creativity and became an
astronaut.”

Review:

Author, Lydia Lukidis introduces her new book about astronaut Mae Jemison by highlighting Jemison’s
love of science and dance. “Mae’s curiosity was as wide as the sky … [but] Mae could not sit still.” She
continues, “Mae spotted science everywhere, from symmetry to gravity … [she also] spotted
choreography everywhere, from birds soaring to waves swirling.”
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Dancing Through Space int1 young MaeJemison at planetarium.
Interior art from Dancing Through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2024.
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Lukidis uses this dual narrative format to showcase how Jemison’s dual loves guide her through life
building her courage and determination, her mind, and her body. As Jemison considers her future, her
mother wisely counsels: “You can always dance if you’re a doctor, but you can’t doctor if you’re a
dancer.” So Mae studies both. Eventually, Mae’s dual-loves merge when she is invited to join the space program …
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Dancing Through Space int2 space training.
Interior art from Dancing Through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Sawyer Cloud, Albert Whitman & Co. ©2024.
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And in 1992, she became the first Black woman to “dance through space” when she traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Lukidis’ own love of science and art shines as she shares this phenomenal woman’s story, as does the art by Sawyer Cloud which illuminates Jemison’s determination to pursue her dreams.\
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Purchase the book:

Goodreads – Click here.

Barnes & Noble – Click here. 

Find out more about the book here.

•Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
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Five Children’s Books for Earth Day 2024

 

EARTH DAY 2024

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

 

 

 

 

Love, The Earth cover Earth with a face watching child.LOVE, THE EARTH
Written by Frances Stickley
Illustrated by Tim Hopgood
(Candlewick Press; $17.99,  Ages 3-7)

In Love, the Earth, by Frances Stickley, our beautiful blue planet promises to take care of us, if only we will take care of it. Scenes unfold showing us all the Earth has to offer: “Please share my food, my lakes, my land . . . / and try to lend a helping hand.” Yet, we also see that the Earth can’t do it without us.

The mixed-media illustrations by Tim Hopgood are lush and layered. The Earth is present throughout, either smiling benevolently or saddened when its land is covered in litter. The book concludes with the Earth signing off, “With All My Love, the Earth,” a heartfelt reminder of how the planet has sustained a truly vast amount of life.

 

Solar Bear cover boy and polar bearSOLAR BEAR
Written by Beth Ferry
Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
(HarperKids; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

In Beth Ferry’s rhyming picture book, Solar Bear, a magical solar bear gathers bears from around the globe to share stories about species extinction. By shining their glowing light “[on] otters, sloths, and manatees. / On coral reefs and chimpanzees,” they hope to foster a generation of “solar kids” who learn as much as possible about our animals, mindfully use resources, and talk to others to encourage environmental stewardship.

The art by Brendan Wenzel illuminates the animals. This is beautiful but also a preview of how close many of them are to becoming ghosts. When the solar animals interact with children worldwide, the love and hope come through in his illustrations rendered in “watercolor, pencil, acrylic, colored pencil, and pretty much everything else under the sun including an iMac.” While this blurb is funny, it’s also a great representation of pulling together to create. The heartwarming image on the cover sets the tone for this hopeful but urgent request for action.

 

Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet cover boy dog tree.GREEN: THE STORY OF PLANT LIFE ON OUR PLANET
Written by Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Emily Sutton
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

Starred Review – Kirkus

Nicola Davies’s nonfiction picture book, Green: The Story of Plant Life on Our Planet, opens with a line about how the tree pictured doesn’t seem to be doing much, just standing around being big and green. However, we come to find the many fascinating things that trees do from the huge importance of photosynthesis to its opposite: respiration, which keeps our air in balance. We learn the history of how plants have trapped carbon dioxide, changing the air from toxic to inhabitable for all kinds of life forms.

Emily Sutton’s illustrations showcase the color green. One scene shows green existing only on a single rooftop apartment building in a city where industry is upsetting the world’s delicate balance. The story finishes with a heartwarming companion image to the opening one that sums up why green is the “most important color in the world.”

 

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth cover Sona among plants.SONA SHARMA: LOOKING AFTER PLANET EARTH
Written by Chitra Soundar

Illustrated by Jen Khatun
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 6-9)

In Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth (book two of the Sona series by Chitra Soundar), Sona Sharma’s personality continues to shine. This time, Sona and her friends Renu and Joy learn that the Earth is in trouble. Their teacher, Miss Rao, has them pledge to help look after the planet. Well-meaning Sona takes this to heart and starts making changes at home—without anyone’s consent. Who needs lights? Diapers—no more!

While the story is funny, the reality of this crisis comes through, showing ways we all can pitch in. The setting is vivid as are the characters. I particularly like how much of the plot is centered around the town’s annual kolam-making contest (“traditional designs that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season”). Paatti (Grandma) uses rice flour to make the design but Sona’s other grandmother, the President, includes colored powders, glitter, and plastic decorations. Sona’s determined to stop participants from using artificial, bad-for-the-environment art supplies, but the contest is happening soon and it seems the rules allow these materials. Or do they . . .?

The black-and-white sketches by Jen Khatun throughout bring us right into Sona’s world showing her multigenerational family and the lovely kolam designs.

 

Be a Nature Explorer! cover backpack on grass.BE A NATURE EXPLORER!:
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND ADVENTURES
Written by Peter Wohlleben

Illustrated by Belle Wuthrich
English translation by Jane Billinghurst
(Greystone Books; $12.95, Ages 6-10)

Fans of Peter Wohlleben’s best-selling books about trees will be glad to see he now has a hands-on guide for children in an easy-to-carry size to encourage exploration of nature, Be a Nature Explorer!: Outdoor Activities and Adventures. This illustrated 100-page book contains 52 activity ideas to keep kids busy for many outings, or even when they’re just in the backyard.

“Following Slugs and Snails” is one of my favorites because I find these creatures fascinating. I learned that snail shells almost always spiral to the right (clockwise) and sit on the right side of their bodies. If you find a snail whose pattern runs counterclockwise, they’re called “snail kings”—so exciting, like finding a four-leaf clover! You can even record a snail or slug’s slime trail imprint onto a piece of plastic wrap, then add that to your journal as part of your collection and for further observations.

This fun guide’s pages are enlivened with illustrations by Belle Wuthrich, and photos. This winning combo elevates this book to the top of my list for gift-giving. Pair this welcoming book with a blank journal and watch kids get their nature explorer groove on. Parents will thank you!

 

 

Click here to read reviews from last year’s roundup.

 

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Picture Book Review – A Place for Rain

 

 

A PLACE FOR RAIN

Written by Michelle Schaub

Illustrated by Blanca Gómez

(Norton Young Readers; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

A Place for Rain cover children in rain beside a rain barrel

 

 

From the Publisher: “A spring storm brings the chance to build a rain garden in this charming, actionable picture book about protecting our waterways.”

From Publishers Weekly: “An upbeat problem-solving story…”

 

 

With rhyming verse and bright, colorful illustrations, Michelle Schaub and Blanca Gómez tell an upbeat story of rain

 

A Place for Rain int1 drizzle turns to roar downpour.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

that gives kids a hands-on way to participate in conservation—rain gardens—in the newly released A Place for Rain!

A unique concept in the picture book space, this book would make a great classroom read-aloud for Earth Day or throughout Earth Month to promote environmental awareness.

 

A Place for Rain int2 make a trail of stone or bricks.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Simple and cheerful illustrations that begin even before the title page fill the book and help encourage page turns.

 

A Place for Rain int3 make room for rain backmatter.
Interior spread from A Place for Rain written by Michelle Schaub and illustrated by Blanca Gómez, Norton Young Readers ©2024.

 

Backmatter offers a step-by-step guide to help families create their own rain gardens at home, additional conservation resources, as well as a cautionary line to call your utility company before you start digging. A recommended for all who care about our planet.

Click here to download an Educators’ Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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An Interview with Nora Nickum, Author of This Book is Full of Holes

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS

NORA NICKUM,

AUTHOR OF

THIS BOOK IS FULL OF HOLES

Illustrated by Robert Meganck

(Peachtree; $18.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 
Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This book is chock full of holes—shallow and miles deep, microscopic and visible from space, human-caused and natural, mysterious and maddeningly familiar.

When you think of holes, what comes to mind? Maybe the irritating hole in your sock. Or the hole on the shelf where you plucked out this book. But did you know there are holes that suddenly devour entire gas stations? Big holes in the ocean that are visible from space? Small holes in balls that prevent a backyard home run?

A hole is a part of something where there’s nothing at all. Holes are investigated by scientists, used by artists, designed by engineers, and fixed by problem-solvers. They can be natural or human-made, big or small, plentiful or scarce, mysterious or painfully familiar. Many are important to our everyday lives, whether we give them credit or not.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: THIS BOOK IS FULL OF HOLES is so fun and fascinating! You cover such a wide range of holes. How did you decide what to include and how to organize them?

Nora Nickum: Brainstorming all different kinds of holes was a fun part of the process. But the book did require a good structure so it wouldn’t be just a list. I was intrigued by the fact that a hole seems like empty nothingness, but in fact, it can be really useful, or annoying, or dangerous, or life-saving. And holes appear in all different STEAM disciplines, from engineering and ecology to music and art. I began writing about all the different qualities that holes could have, and eventually shaped it into a consistent opposite structure on every spread. Readers will find fascinating examples of how holes can be tiny or enormous, form slowly or quickly, be used to speed something up or slow something down, and so on.

 

KT: The idea of a hole is both really concrete and really abstract. For example, the idea that a hole can be closed on the bottom as well as open. I wouldn’t have said an indentation was a hole, even though there are other holes with bottoms that I do think of as holes, like golf holes. So it gets a little mind-bendy when you start thinking about what makes a hole a hole! Were there challenges in figuring out how to explain those concepts?

NN: That’s one of the things that made this topic so fun for me! I spent time researching definitions of holes, and felt like I got to a place where I had a solid one that wasn’t full of holes itself (haha). And I started the book with that definition: “A hollow place. An empty space. A part of something where there’s nothing at all.” 

 

KT: That’s such an intriguing definition! Which type of hole is your favorite? I was fascinated by blue holes and the holes in airplane windows—I hadn’t heard of either before!

NN: Those two kinds of holes were the genesis of the book! I used to travel a lot and often wondered why there was a tiny hole in the airplane window. And later, when I read about blue holes in the ocean and saw beautiful photos taken from the air, I was really intrigued and thought about doing a picture book focused on those, but it turned out there hadn’t been a lot of research about blue holes yet. Then a light bulb went off in my head and I combined them into a book about holes, which let me add lots of other fascinating examples. My favorite hole in the book is actually the seal’s breathing hole in the Arctic ice–I liked that I could make the same hole represent both of the opposing concepts, danger versus safety. And I love how Robert Meganck illustrated it with one scene carrying across both pages, with the seal and the polar bear.

 

ThisBookisFullofHoles int1 Seal and polar
Interior art from This Book is Full of Holes: Text © 2024 Nora Nickum. Illustrations © 2024 Robert Meganck. Used with permission from Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

 

KT: Wow, that’s such a fun origin story! I love it when things come together like that. Were there holes that didn’t make it into the final book?

NN: Yes, sadly. Buttonholes, groundhog burrows, swimming holes, and holes in pinhole cameras were on my list at one point or another, but ultimately cut. Some types of holes didn’t make it in because they didn’t fit the opposites structure as nicely as I wanted. Others were too straightforward to feel interesting or to merit any sidebar text. Fortunately, all of my favorites made it in! 

 

KT: I’m glad you didn’t have to cut any of your favorites! The illustrations are great and add so much humor. Did any of them surprise you?

NN: Robert Meganck’s illustrations are so creative and funny, while also being accurate in the ways that are important for a nonfiction book. The one showing a person threading a needle was his idea–I hadn’t been that specific in the manuscript, and I updated the sidebar text to reflect his art. And I love how Robert has hidden other kinds of holes in the background of several illustrations (see what you can find in the “speed something up…slow it down” spread). But the illustration that might surprise readers the most is the one they’ll find on the flip side of the book jacket–it’s a big hide-and-seek playground scene where kids can search for all different kinds of holes!

 

ThisBookisFullofHoles int2 car and wiffle ball.
Interior art from This Book is Full of Holes: Text © 2024 Nora Nickum. Illustrations © 2024 Robert Meganck. Used with permission from Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

 

KT: Kids will love that! I think my favorite is how the front and back cover play off each other. So clever! I also love the backmatter—how did it develop? Including hole-related idioms was such a good idea!

NN: The idioms in the back matter–like “loophole” and “square peg in a round hole”–were originally in the main text, but as my editor and I worked more on the opposites structure, we decided they didn’t quite fit there. I also revised the back matter later to discuss the actual holes that those terms refer to, like loopholes in castle walls, before talking about their current usages in English. I was so eager to see how Robert would depict those idioms, and of course his fabulously quirky art there is delightful.

 

KT: Do you have any suggestions for other great picture books that could be paired with yours?

NN: Definitely! A bundle of books about holes would be a whole lot of fun. I’m excited about Skylaar Amann’s new picture book, Alone Sometimes: Everybody Needs a Hole in the Ground, which also releases in March 2024. And I love Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s funny book Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. Melissa Stewart and Amy Hevron also have a wonderful nonfiction book about animals called Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks.

 

KT: What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

NN: Some giggles, for one thing. But I also hope it will make readers look at the world around them differently, seeing holes and patterns and making connections they hadn’t made before. It was really fun for me to brainstorm different kinds of holes with my family, looking at things in our kitchen, outside on walks, and other places, and I think kids will have fun doing the same! 

KT: I know I definitely will! Thanks for sharing with us—it’s been a “hole” lot of fun!

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase a copy and support independent bookstores via Bookshop.org. 

Visit the Publisher’s Page here for more info.

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Nora Nickum is the author of This Book is Full of Holes (Peachtree, 2024) as well as the middle-grade book Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023). Both are Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections. Her stories and articles have appeared in children’s magazines like CricketLadybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more about her at www.noranickum.com

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AUTHOR’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

IG: https://instagram.com/noranickumbooks

Author website: www.noranickum.com

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023) was a Bookstagang Book of the Year and a Cybils Award Finalist. Find her at katrinatangen.com.

Katrina’s Social Media:

Website: https://katrinatangen.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/katrinatangenauthor

Instagram: @katrinatangen

Twitter (X): @katrinatangen 

Threads: @katrinatangen 

Bluesky: @katrinatangen.bsky.social 

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An Interview with Author Christine Van Zandt

 

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MILKWEED FOR MONARCHS

AUTHOR CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT

Illustrated by Alejandra Barajas

(Beaming Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Milkweed for Monarchs cover monarchs flying in milkweed plants.

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Bold, gold, the chrysalis gleams. And deep down inside . . . the butterfly dreams.

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate to warmer climates for overwintering months. However, changing environments make it continually more difficult to find food and places to lay eggs. In this nonfiction picture book, the monarch’s life cycle is detailed in lyrical verse as stunning art accompanies each stage in the butterfly’s life.

The most recognizable butterfly, monarchs are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN, and face drastic challenges when it comes to locating food sources–milkweed. Milkweed for Monarchs is the perfect resource for young readers to learn more about these beautiful insects and how they can foster monarch-friendly environments in their own backyard. Backmatter includes actionable ways for readers to help this vulnerable species.

 

INTERVIEW:

GoodReadsWithRonna: How did you decide to write about butterflies in your new nonfiction picture book, Milkweed for Monarchs?

Christine Van Zandt: During the pandemic, we bought a milkweed plant with the vague idea that we were helping butterflies in some way. Little did we know that our plant was loaded with eggs and soon we had a bunch of very cute caterpillars. Sadly, they were eaten by various predators in our garden, but that set me out on this journey, wondering about monarchs.


GRWR:
What eats monarchs? I thought they were poisonous.

CVZ: When the monarch caterpillars eat milkweed leaves, they do retain some of the plant’s toxins. And they have the bright “stay away” body markings consisting of yellow, white, and black stripes. But they still end up being dinner for other insects, spiders, birds, lizards, and mammals. In our garden, we’ve seen ants carrying little caterpillars away; raccoons and birds pluck them off.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int1 flitter flutter wings
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: Did you encounter any obstacles trying to sell this book?

CVZ: It took me a while to figure out how to write it. I tried it in prose and verse, in fiction and nonfiction. The version that ended up working best was a short rhyming poem with facts in sidebars and in the backmatter.

An earlier version of this manuscript won first place at SCBWI-LA’s 2021 Writers Day and also earned me the annual Sue Alexander Grant. Even so, when the manuscript went out on submissions, some publishers passed stating they already had a monarch book on their list and they didn’t want to compete against their own products.


GRWR:
So it sounds like butterfly books are considered evergreens like dinosaur, alphabet, or things-that-go books?

CVZ: Yes they are, so both my area of focus for the story and how I presented the text had to come from a fresh angle. I’m passionate about trying to help the monarchs. The western monarch’s population went from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 2000 butterflies in 2020. The just-in 2023 count shows the population is still ~95% down.

Monarchs need milkweed because that’s the only plant their caterpillars can eat; that became my focus, how the milkweed plant is essential for this insect’s survival. Milkweed plants are also amazing: they get eaten down to nothing and keep regrowing. I welcome munched-on plants in my yard because that means insects are being sustained through their life cycle which, in turn, benefits the larger food web.


GRWR:
As picture book writers we’re often told not to write in rhyme unless it is extremely well executed. Was that a problem you encountered?

CVZ: I actually didn’t but I also feel my rhyme was solid by the time we sent it out on submissions because I’d applied the various checks such as scansion. However, writing in rhyme makes revisions much harder because each round with the publisher meant not just updating the text but also redoing the rhyme. Sometimes I had to scrap stanzas and write new ones.

And rhyming books have limitations because they are not as likely to be translated into a foreign language since so much more is involved in translating poetry, though it does happen. With my first book, A Brief History of Underpants—which was written in prose—a Korean-language translation came out not long after it was published. I’d love for Milkweed for Monarchs to be translated, especially into Spanish since many monarch butterflies overwinter in Mexico’s mountains and the butterflies have been part of Mexican culture for generations. Also because the gorgeous illustrations are by Alejandra Barajas who is from Mexico.

 

Milkweed for Monarchs int2 beyond human borders
Interior spread from Milkweed for Monarchs written by Christine Van Zandt and illustrated by Alejandra Barajas, Beaming Books ©2024.

 

GRWR: While the main text of the book is a short poem, the facts in the sidebar and backmatter are in prose, right?

CVZ: Yes, and that meant switching my brain back and forth as we worked through the various drafts!

GRWR: How did you do that?

CVZ: I would read through one pass focusing only on the poem, then on another pass, I’d work on the facts.


GRWR:
Beyond being a gardener, are you involved with monarchs in other ways?

CVZ: We’ve had our garden designated a sanctuary which basically means that we promise to garden without pesticides, providing a certain number and variety of different kinds of milkweed plants including native ones, and also providing nectaring plants for the butterflies and other pollinators.

Beyond that, I’ve applied for and been granted free plants for a local LAUSD inner-city school and started their butterfly garden. I’ve also volunteered for Xerces for several years now, helping count the butterflies overwintering along the Southern California coast, and uploading that data to their central database.


GRWR:
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

CVZ: I hope my book imparts a sense of wonder and a feeling of hopefulness. It doesn’t take much to make a difference whether for the monarchs or for other creatures in our world.


GRWR:
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your amazing experience with us today. I’ve learned so much!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support independent booksellers by purchasing a copy of Milkweed for Monarchs here.

FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

•Christine Van Zandt 

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/christinevz

Facebook: www.facebook.com/christine.vanzandt.9

Instagram: christinevanzandt9

Bluesky: christinevanzandt.bsky.social

•Alejandra Barajas 

Instagram: ale.barajas.illustration

•Publisher – Beaming Books

Twitter (X): www.twitter.com/BeamingBooksMIN

Facebook: www.facebook.com/BeamingBooksPublishing

Instagram: www.instagram.com/beamingbooksmn

 

 

Christine Van Zandt author photo
Author Christine Van Zandt Photo Credit: Marlena Van Zandt

AUTHOR BIO:

Christine Van Zandt is an editor, writer, and award-winning author. Her nonfiction picture books include A Brief History of Underpants (becker&mayer! kids, 2021) and, Milkweed for Monarchs (Beaming Books, 2024). She lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family. You can find her at www.ChristineVanZandt.com.

 

 

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Picture Book Review – The Pie That Molly Grew

 

THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW

Written by Sue Heavenrich

Illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg

(Sleeping Bear Press; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

 

The Pie That Molly Grew cover Molly with huge pumpkin

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Beginning with the planting of a single seed, the journey of bringing a pumpkin to harvest comes to life for young readers. Under Molly’s watchful eye and care, each stage of growth is showcased. And at the end, Molly’s lovely pumpkin is turned into a delicious pie for one and all to share in a celebration of gratitude. Back matter includes fun facts about pumpkins, the important pollinators who help them grow, as well as a pumpkin pie recipe.”

 

Review:

It’s amazing what comes from a single seed—a plant, a bountiful harvest, a delicious recipe—but on another level that seed also sprouts tradition and community. And that’s the story Sue Heavenrich and Chamisa Kellogg tell in their new book, THE PIE THAT MOLLY GREW.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int1 this is the seed
Interior art from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Following the cumulative structure and rhyme scheme of A House That Jack Built, Heavenrich follows a plant’s journey from seed to sprout … vine to flower … and fruit to table while touching on science concepts like photosynthesis and pollination. Illustrator, Chamisa Kellogg, adds to the book’s seasonal appeal with textural artwork in muted tones.

And while I’m not usually a fan of cumulative stories (or stories that riff on a familiar rhyme), this one is exceptionally well-written. Nothing comes across as forced or monotonous. It flows wonderfully. The phrases are varied each time they appear yet never deviate from the established rhyme pattern. I also love that each variation inspires a deeper understanding of the scientific processes involved in growing plants.

 

The Pie That Molly Grew int2 this is the vine
Interior spread from The Pie That Molly Grew written by Sue Heavenrich and illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg, Sleeping Bear Press ©2023.

 

Accessible backmatter offers readers and/or teachers more information about pumpkins, pollinators, and a pie recipe. A delight to read! Click here to download a pdf of kids’ activities.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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An Interview with Sara E. Echenique Author of Our Roof is Blue

 

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS SARA E. ECHENIQUE,

AUTHOR OF

OUR ROOF IS BLUE

Illustrated by Ashley Vargas

(Charlesbridge; $17.99, Ages 5-8;
also available in Spanish as NUESTRO TECHO ES AZUL)

 

 

Our Roof is Blue cover blue tarp covers roof in Puerto Rico after hurricane

 

Nuestro Techo is Azul cover spanish edition

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This heartfelt story of resilience follows two siblings as they work to recover and rebuild after Hurricane Maria destroys their home in Puerto Rico.

Before an intense hurricane hits their home in Puerto Rico, Antonio told his sister vibrant stories each night. During the storm, they huddled with their parents in a closet and hear the storm blow the roof right off their home. After the storm, their family uses a temporary blue tarp for a roof, and Antonio stops speaking. Gradually the siblings imagine their blue roof playfully–as the ocean above them or a parachute helping them fall from the sky. As the narrator helps her little brother feel safe once more–and after the family and community build a new roof–the little boy begins to speak again.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: One of the reasons Our Roof is Blue is so touching is that it was inspired by your own childhood. Did you do research too?

Sara Echenique: Oh, absolutely. In addition to drawing from my personal experiences with hurricanes, I spoke with family and friends on the island who lived through Hurricane Maria, and read article after article about the experience of Puerto Ricans on the island post-Maria. I spoke with parents of children who have lived under blue tarp roofs to better understand their own experiences. And for the book’s back matter, I researched pretty extensively the latest science on climate change, and how it is exacerbating hurricanes and other major weather events.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int1 Antonio tell me a story
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: I thought this was a color book at first, so the storm came out of the blue for me (so to speak)! I think that made it even more impactful. Was it hard to find the right level of scariness?

SE: That’s so funny because you just never know what a reader is going to take into your story. My own young children have always been drawn to books that don’t shy away from the truth. I went into writing this story knowing that I needed to trust my readers, both old and young, because they want and need these types of stories. Unfortunately, many of them will be impacted by inclement weather events stemming from climate change at some point in their lives. I wanted to be honest about that, but it was important to me that it didn’t feel hopeless or inaccessible. Yes, the storm is scary, but my hope is that it doesn’t overshadow their bond, and their use of play, imagination and storytelling to help each other.

 

KT: It’s heartbreaking how many kids this story is directly relevant for. But you did a great job finding that balance. One of the ways you do that is through the central image of the roof and its colors. How did that evolve?

SE: I drew from several mentor texts, including A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams. Among so many beautiful parts of her book, I was drawn to how, on its surface, the story could be about a chair, but she brings depth and layers to the experience. I tried using the roof this way to make the tragedy more accessible, which allowed me to anchor Antonio and his sister’s emotional journey around their roof’s visible journey.

 

KT: I really love the sibling relationship—was that always part of the story?

SE: Yes (and thank you)! Throughout the story’s many, many iterations, their relationship was always central. Family is such an important part of the Puerto Rican community. I was fortunate to grow up with siblings who anchor me, and am raising children who will hopefully feel the same way. In Our Roof is Blue, Antonio and his sister were always going to find the other side of trauma because of, and for, each other.

 

 

Our Roof is Blue int2 parachuting gently down
Interior spread from Our Roof is Blue written by Sara E. Echenique and illustrated by Ashley Vargas, Charlesbridge Publishing ©2023.

 

 

KT: How did you become a writer?

SE: I’ve always loved reading and writing, filling dozens of notebooks throughout my childhood. I dreamt of becoming a veterinarian who writes stories about their job (like James Herriot) and got in the habit of scribbling haphazard character profiles of all the people in my life. I put that particular dream on pause when I pursued my English degree from Williams College and law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. Shortly after having my oldest two children, I reconnected meaningfully with children’s literature and rediscovered writing as a creative outlet. Several years (and one additional child later), my writing dream has become a reality!

 

KT: What was your favorite book as a kid?

SE: I can’t choose just one! I most fondly remember the Babysitters’ Club series by Ann M. Martin, which my mom often read along with me. It was a glimpse into life on the mainland and I vividly remember my heart racing when I discovered a new book in the Scholastic Book Fair flyer. I love that the series has had a revival in graphic novel form and now get to enjoy re-reading them with my own daughter.

KT: I loved the Babysitter’s Club too! Thanks for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at Our Roof is Blue. It’s going to be a meaningful book for so many people.

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase from Books and Books.

Click here to purchase from Bookshop.org.

Click here to purchase via the Publisher’s Page.

 

Author Sara Echenique photo credit Rebecca Zilenziger
Sara E. Echenique Photo Credit: Rebecca Zilenziger

AUTHOR BIO:

Sara E. Echenique is a Puerto Rican lawyer and children’s author living in South Florida with her three young children, husband, and their rescue dog, Luna. She acquired a degree in English from Williams College and a law degree from the University of Michigan School of Law. After almost a decade practicing as a litigator in cold New York City, Sara decided to move her family to a place that felt more like her childhood home.

Roaring Brook Press published her debut middle-grade book, Hispanic Star: Roberto Clemente in September 2022 in both English and Spanish, which received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was long-listed for the SCBWI Impact & Legacy Fund’s Russell Freedman Award for Nonfiction for a Better World. Charlesbridge Publishing published her debut picture book, Our Roof is Blue (Nuestro techo es azul), in April 2023 in both English and Spanish.

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut picture book, Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023), uses riddles to introduce biomimicry.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

AUTHOR:

Twitter: @autoraechenique 

IG: @autoraechenique 

Website:  www.saraechenique.com

ILLUSTRATOR:

Ashley Vargas

Instagram: @art.ley

Website: https://artley.myportfolio.com

PUBLISHER:

Twitter: @charlesbridge

IG: @charlesbridgepublishing 

Facebook: Charlesbridge Publishing Inc

INTERVIEWER:

Twitter: @katrinatangen 

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: Katrina Tangen Author

Website: www.katrinatangen.com

PROMO GROUP BUSY PBS:

Twitter: @busyPBs

IG: @busypb

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An Interview with Katrina Tangen, Author of Copy That, Copy Cat!

 

 

NORA NICKUM INTERVIEWS KATRINA TANGEN, 

Author of COPY THAT, COPY CAT!

Illustrated by Giulia Orecchia

(Barefoot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Copy That Copy Cat! cover multiple animals

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This rhyming, lift-the-flap picture book of riddles introduces children to biomimicry in a thoroughly fun format. From sonar to snowshoes, discover concrete examples of human inventions that copy things found in nature. The story invites readers to guess the answers to riddles based on rhymes and visual cues that peek through die-cuts. Page turns reveal surprise answers that show how inventions mimic biology, with additional information under flaps. Endnotes include lift-the-flap guessing games to reinforce learning.

INTERVIEW:

Nora Nickum: Katrina, Copy That, Copy Cat! is such a fantastic book. I love how you used rhyming riddles where the answer isn’t what the reader expects. Kids love surprises! Can you tell us what inspired you to write about this topic and use this rhyming riddle approach?

Katrina Tangen: Thank you! Fittingly enough, I was quite a copycat for this book! It was inspired by two main things. The first was Abi Cushman’s Animals Go Vroom!, which uses misdirection to set up hilarious page turn surprises. I loved it, but kept wanting it to rhyme to set the joke up even more. So I tucked that away as an idea of a format I wanted to try sometime. 

The other was my sister Heather, who is a high school science teacher. I was brainstorming nonfiction ideas and asked her for some STEM topics. One of her suggestions was biomimicry—which I’d never heard of! So she explained (although I only sort of understood) and I stuck it in my notes, along with a vague idea of a puzzle component. 

A month or two later, the idea of combining them popped into my head. I started researching that day and finally started to understand what biomimicry actually was!

 

Copy_That_Copy_Cat_int1_Bird
Interior spread from Copy That, Copy Cat! written by Katrina Tangen and illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Barefoot Books ©2023.

 

NN: How did you decide which inventions to include? 

KT: There are several other great picture books about biomimicry, but they tend to skew older and focus on cutting-edge inventions. I wanted to go younger and focus on everyday inventions. So, it’s about how airplanes work at a basic level, rather than a specific way of improving an airplane, like winglets. That felt more accessible and also let me explain the basic science behind the inventions. As a bonus, I wound up being able to include a lot of the cutting edge inventions on the cover and in the backmatter!

 

NN: Were there any fun inventions you ended up not having room to keep in the book?

KT: It was hard to choose—there are so many cool ones! Octopus/suction cup made it into the manuscript but got cut in editing because of space. (Although the first suction cups were actually gourds.) Finding anything to rhyme with “octopus” took forever!

And Velcro (which was inspired by burrs stuck in a dog’s fur) never made it in at all. I wanted to include it because it’s such a fun, kid-friendly invention. But all of my others were animals, and this was really about the plant. Plus, I didn’t think any kid was going to be able to predict the word “burr”!

 

NN: Did you pitch the book with the interactive die-cuts and lift-the-flaps, or was that element added later? 

KT: No, that all came later. I never thought I’d have die-cuts or flaps—much less both!

One of the first things my editor Autumn wanted to talk about was adding some kind of interactive element. Originally, the idea was specifically “like flaps, but something else.” So I researched lots of board book interactive elements. We looked at different mechanisms for the transition from the animal to the invention. We also considered interactive demos of the science or invention. My favorite idea was a wheel you could turn to fill and empty the submarine tank, which would have been cool!

Eventually, we decided that the page turn already worked well for the reveal, but adding the die-cut would make it even better. So then we researched different ways to use die-cuts (Giulia Orecchia, the illustrator, has some other books that do cool things with them!). In the end, we decided to copy from Animals Go Vroom! again. Abi’s book uses a die-cut to show the animal and then when you turn the page, you see the animal in the context of the whole scene, which reveals the joke. Copy That, Copy Cat has the extra layer of tricking you into seeing an animal in part of the invention. Giulia did such a good job with that!

The big flaps work really well to add space for the science explanations without taking up all the illustration space. And they can even be in a nice big font, which I appreciate! 

 

NN: It’s so cool to hear about how all those design decisions were made. And Giulia’s art is wonderful. The interactive back matter is really intriguing, too. Kids will have so much fun with it! How did you decide what to include in the main rhyming text, and what would fit better here at the end?   

KT: Originally, I just had normal backmatter—further reading and a podcast and music to check out, and a bibliography. The fun backmatter all came after the plan to add interactive elements during editing. We talked about having an interactive element on each spread, so I came up with one for each invention. Then there wasn’t space, so they got moved to the back and a couple were replaced by Fun Facts. 

The airplane/bird one was changed quite late because we couldn’t get a for-sure answer on part of the science in the original version. That was stressful because I had to research the new one very quickly. Figuring out which wing goes up to turn which way was tricky—I still have to act it out to be sure! But I think it turned out well and, as my nephew has discovered, it makes a fun (very) mini flip book!

 

NN: Those last-minute changes can be hard, but it turned out great! Something else I’m curious about: You have a small space for the “How does it work” text under each flap, and you’ve done a great job making things concise and clear within those constraints. Was it difficult to pare those explanations back to the most important elements and write them in kid-friendly ways?  

KT: Yes! First I had to study the topic enough to understand it, then explain it clearly but succinctly, using simple words. (Much easier to do any two of those three at a time!) Some of them were pretty straightforward, like the flippers and snowshoes. But the airplane wing was a little tricky, and the bike reflector was almost the death of me! Explaining how eyes work, how mirrors work, and then how retroreflectors work all in a couple of sentences is not for the faint of heart. I’m glad we were able to have the diagrams take on some of that job—particularly because in figuring those out, I realized that, in streamlining the text, I’d messed up part of the science. Glad we caught that in time!

 

Copy_That_Copy_Cat_int2_Plane
Interior spread from Copy That, Copy Cat! written by Katrina Tangen and illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Barefoot Books ©2023.

 

NN: Shifting from you as an author to you as a reader: What books did you most enjoy when you were a kid? 

KT: I loved to read, especially mysteries. And writing nonfiction is kind of like solving a mystery. You investigate, collect evidence, make connections, and fit it all into a pattern that (hopefully) snaps together at the end in a satisfying way.

 

NN: I love that comparison between writing nonfiction and solving mysteries! Were there any nonfiction children’s books that drew you in when you were young?

KT: I wasn’t really a nonfiction kid. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, there wasn’t the range of kid’s nonfiction we have today. I’m sure there were some great books that I missed, and I bet there were nonfiction books in my picture book reading that I don’t remember. One I do remember (for the unusual title) is How God Gives Us Peanut Butter, which showed how peanut butter is made. And I did love process videos, like when Mr. Rogers would take us to see how a mailroom runs, etc. 

But my impression in elementary school was that nonfiction was all educational textbook-y books or browsable photo-illustrated books designed for reluctant readers. (Plus they always seemed to be about sports, and I was not a sporty kid!) 

 

NN: It really is great that there’s so much more creative nonfiction for kids to find on shelves today–with your book being a fantastic new addition. Now, to wrap up, a super important burning question: Would you rather have flippers like a frog, or sticky feet like a gecko?

KT: Gecko feet would be super fun—or maybe echolocation, so I’d never run into things in the dark!

NN: Even better! Thank you, Katrina, for sharing the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Copy That, Copy Cat! I know kids and adults alike are going to really get a kick out of it and learn a ton. 

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/copy-that-copy-cat-inventions-inspired-by-animals-katrina-tangen/19800210?ean=9781646869992 

Publisher’s Page: https://www.barefootbooks.com/3/copy-that-copy-cat-board-book

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @katrinatangen

IG: @katrinatangen

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

Author website: www.katrinatangen.com 

 

Author Katrina Tangen
Photo of Katrina Tangen courtesy of the author

AUTHOR BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Katrina is disabled by severe ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). She writes fiction and nonfiction for kids of all ages; Copy That, Copy Cat! is her debut. Profile pic photo credit: Katrina Tangen

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Nora Nickum is the author of Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023) and the forthcoming nonfiction picture book This Book is Full of Holes (Peachtree, 2024). Her stories and articles have appeared in children’s magazines like CricketLadybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more about her at www.noranickum.com

Twitter: @noranickumbooks

IG: @noranickumbooks

 

FIND THE ILLUSTRATOR AT THE LINKS BELOW:

Twitter: @GiuliaOrecchia

Instagram: @giuliaorecchia

Website: https://giuliaorecchia.it

BUSY PBs PROMO GROUP:

Twitter: @busyPBs

Instagram: @busypbs

STEAM TEAM PROMO GROUP:

Twitter: @SteamTeamBooks

Instagram: @steamteambooks

 

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An Interview with Rajani LaRocca, Author of Your One and Only Heart

DARSHANA KHIANI INTERVIEWS RAJANI LAROCCA,

AUTHOR OF

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART

ILLUSTRATED BY LAUREN PAIGE CONRAD

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Your One and Only Heart Cover

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:
A lyrical introduction to the many wonders of the human heart, from award-winning author and practicing doctor, Dr. Rajani LaRocca

In this stunning non-fiction picture book, poetry and science come together with playful cut-paper illustrations to create a moving ode to the human heart and all that it does. Complete with illustrative diagrams and copious backmatter, this is a one-of-a-kind non-fiction picture book that gently guides readers through the various systems make up our most vital organ.

 

INTERVIEW:

Darshana Khiani: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is amazing in how it takes a complex organ and breaks it down into chunks. What inspired you to write about the heart?

Rajani LaRocca: Ever since medical school, when I learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this most vital organ. I wrote a first draft of this book way back in 2013 (!), and it was called “The Hardest Working Muscle.” It was written in prose and was over 800 words long. But it didn’t have a unifying theme or a hook.

I worked on this book on and off (mainly off) for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then one day in 2018, I had a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I wanted to carry through the book. I realized I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart! Then I immediately decided to write about these characteristics in poetry—with several sets of paired poems. This made sense because to me, the beauty of poetry reflects the beauty of the human body.

 

DK: Well, you are one of the hardest-working writers I know. You do an amazing job at getting the main ideas across without getting bogged down in details. How did you master that balance? Also, the nerd in me wants to know why larger organisms have slower heart rates. I was surprised to learn that a mouse’s heart beats 310-840 beats/min while an elephant is only 30!

RL: I tried to focus on keeping the poetry simple enough for young kids to understand, yet interesting enough to capture their attention. There are plenty of facts that I reserved for the back matter so that the poetry could shine.

In terms of the answer to your question, are you ready to nerd out a bit? Smaller animals have higher surface area to volume ratio than larger ones. Because of this, smaller animals (especially warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds) lose heat much more quickly than their larger counterparts. So their hearts (which are smaller, too) need to beat faster to circulate more blood to offset the heat loss and maintain their body temperatures.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int1 Your heart is Singular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: Wow! Thank you for geeking out with me. Surface area … never would’ve guessed that. The book is divided into 15 poems, 7 pairs of antonym poems (yup, I made that up), and then a final stand-alone one. It is a unique structure, one I can’t say I’ve seen before. At what point in the writing process did you decide to organize the poems in this way?

RL: I designed those first 14 poems as “antonyms” or paired poems from the moment of that epiphany in 2018! When the book got acquired and my editor contacted illustrator Lauren Paige Conrad, Lauren came back with the incredible idea of using shades of different colors for each pair of poems. For example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are in shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” are in shades of orange; “Energetic” and “Relaxed” are in shades of yellow, and so on, resulting in a rainbow of colors! The back matter is also “color coded” to link back to the appropriate pages! Lauren works in cut paper collage, and it blows my mind how beautifully and precisely she depicted so many aspects of the heart with her art.

There are two poems at the end, and the very last poem brings everything together by restating the contrasting characteristics of the heart and noting that kids share the same characteristics themselves!

 

DK: I must admit the last poem took me by surprise since it is so matter-of-fact. I could almost hear the EKG flatline as I read the last words. Did you always know you wanted to end the story with this poem?

RL: Years ago, when I was at a writing retreat, I shared this manuscript with renowned nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge. She loved it and advised me that I absolutely needed to include what happens when the heart stops beating. She said that death is something that children are curious about, and that by including it in a nonfiction book about the heart, I could demystify it and put it in perspective for kids from a scientific point of view. It took me a while to figure out how to write that poem; Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustration on that spread is absolutely perfect.

 

DK: Smart suggestion, and you presented it in such a matter-of-fact way. You’ve authored two novels-in-verse, MIRROR-TO-MIRROR and RED, WHITE, and WHOLE, and a rhyming non-fiction picture book, The SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU. Do you have any tips for writers who want to write lyrically?

RL: My first tip would be to understand what you want to say—for novels in verse, that means knowing at the very least the broad outlines of the plot and emotional arcs. And for nonfiction, that means compiling all the information you want to convey.

Next, I recommend getting in a “poetic mindset” by going out into nature, reading poetry, and/or listening to music.

And then you should just try writing the poems! Don’t worry too much about whether they’re any good.

When it’s time to edit: avoid cliches, use powerful words, condense and eliminate as much as possible, and endeavor to convey your message in a fresh or different way. I always read my poetry aloud in revision, because sometimes our ears are better than our eyes at noting when something isn’t quite right.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int2 Your Heart is Muscular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: What’s up next for you?

RL: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is my fourth out of six books releasing this year!

Next up is THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, an epistolary novel that I co-wrote with my friend Chris Baron. It’s about Tripti and Sam, two kids who meet at summer camp and find some unusual silvery rocks, which they each take home to California and Massachusetts. Then they start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chats, because strange things keep happening, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are more than just rocks. THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS releases on August 29!

My picture book MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW, beautifully illustrated by Neha Rawat, releases on September 5. This is a story about a boy who likes to go fast and his grandfather, who likes to take things slow. Every day, they make masala chai together. One day, the grandfather sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, and the grandson decides to make some to cheer up his beloved grandfather . . . and hilarity ensues. This story is about learning to slow down and enjoy moments with those we love.

And next year on March 12 comes the release of my first middle grade fantasy, SONA AND THE GOLDEN BEASTS! Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, this story involves music and magic, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. I can’t wait to share it with the world!

DK: Yay for more books! We’ll be keeping a look out for them.

 

 

Author Rajani LaRocca headshot
Rajani LaRocca Photo Credit ©Carter Hasegawa

AUTHOR BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

BUY THE BOOK: 

https://www.rajanilarocca.com/picture-books/your-one-and-only-heart/

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

 

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An Interview with The Glow Show Author-Illustrator Susi Schaefer

 

 

AIXA PÉREZ-PRADO INTERVIEWS

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR

SUSI SCHAEFER

ABOUT HER NEW PICTURE BOOK

THE GLOW SHOW

(SOURCEBOOKS EXPLORE; $14.99, AGES 4-8)

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The Glow Show cover purple octopus

 

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PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

Glow is a bioluminescent squid who loves to dance and twirl. And the faster he twirls, the brighter he GLOWS! He loves to show off his skills … and becomes quite a show-off with a bad attitude. He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight. And when he ditches his friends in search of fans, he loses his glow! Can Glow find his way home—and if he does, will his friends take him back?

As readers follow Glow’s journey, they’ll learn all about bioluminescence and fascinating ocean creatures along the way.

INTERVIEW:

Aixa Pérez-Prado: Congrats on your picture book, THE GLOW SHOW! How did you get into creating books for young readers?

Susi Schaefer: Thank you so much for the interview. I was born and raised in Austria, where I completed an apprenticeship as a glass painter. That style still influences my illustrations today.

Once I reached my early twenties, I got a case of Wanderlust and came to the U.S. to work as a nanny. While reading tons of picture books to the kids, I fell in love with the format. Eventually, I studied graphic design and worked in that field for many years.

And once I had my own kiddos, I decided to try my hand at illustrating and writing.  With the help of the SCBWI and my critique groups, I steadily improved my craft until I landed an agent in 2016. THE GLOW SHOW will be my third book.

 

The Glow Show int2 welcome to the Shallows sign
Interior spread from The Glow Show written and illustrated by Susi Schaefer, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

APP: Tell us what inspired this book.

SS: I am a huge nature lover and have always been fascinated by the ocean, partially because I grew up in a landlocked country. Soon after arriving here, I got my scuba diving certification to explore the underwater world for myself.

Then, a few years ago, we had a lot of bioluminescent plankton in the surf here in Southern California. I really became interested in glowing marine life.

Also, I wanted to tell a story about friendship versus followers or fans. And that’s how that idea for THE GLOW SHOW was born.

 

The Glow Show int3 glow twirls look at me
Interior spread from The Glow Show written and illustrated by Susi Schaefer, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

 

APP: Can you share your process?

SS: For this book, I started by illustrating a finished underwater scene, including a purple, bioluminescent squid. I loved the character so much that I began to write a messy first draft of the manuscript. After a couple of revisions, I created the dummy. The feedback from my critique group was very positive, and I decided to share the idea with my agent. She loved it and helped me refine the dummy. And then, we sent it out on submission and found a wonderful home.

My illustration process is digital collage combined with traditional watercolor washes. First, I create manual sketches on paper, then bring them into Procreate on my Apple iPad Pro and finalize each file in Photoshop on my Mac.

 

APP: Are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

SS: Yes, I am thrilled to share that I have recently signed two more contracts, one as an illustrator for a book scheduled for publication later in 2023 and the second as an author/illustrator for a book coming in 2025.

 

APP: Where can people find you out there?

SS: swww.susischaefer.com and on Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to buy the book from Bookshop.org

 

 Author Susi Schaefer Photo Credit Rich Schaefer
Susi Schaefer Photo Credit Rich Schaefer

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Born and raised in the Austrian Alps, Susi Schaefer trained as a glass painter in the medieval town of Rattenberg. After moving to Southern California for sun and adventure, Susi studied graphic design. She’s the illustrator of ZOO ZEN by Kristen Fischer, author-Illustrator of CAT LADIES and THE GLOW SHOW. Susi lives in North Tustin, California, with her family. www.susischaefer.com

Twitter @susischaeferart and on Instagram @susischaeferart

 

 

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Aixa Pérez-Prado is a native of Argentina who immigrated to the US as a small child. She is a writer, illustrator, translator, sensitivity reader and professor with a PhD in Social Science and Education. Aixa has lived in several different countries, and draws inspiration for her stories and illustrations from diverse locations. Her passion is writing and illustrating picture books aimed at giving diverse children a chance to see their multilayered identities represented through stories that resonate with heart and humor. Aixa writes in Spanish and English and enjoys mixing languages in her prose. Similarly, she loves illustrating by employing different techniques in a whimsical style that includes watercolor, acrylic, ink, and digital. She especially enjoys combining all of these elements through collage. Her 2023 books are CITY FEET (Reycraft), and OUR WORLD: ARGENTINA (Barefoot Books), and coming in 2024, MERCEDES SOSA: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (Lee & Low). Aixa is represented by Joyce Sweeney from the Seymour Agency.

Twitter: @ProfessorAixa

Instagram: @aixasdoodlesandbooks

 

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me

MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME 

Written by Roxanne Troup

Illustrated by Kendra Binney

(Yeehoo Press; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me cover granddaughter grandfather sit beneath pecan tree

 

There’s a timeless, feel-good quality to Roxanne Troup’s debut fiction picture book My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me, illustrated by Kendra Binney. After finishing it, I wanted to sit back and imagine myself in the bucolic surroundings where the story takes place.

Binney’s appealing artwork transported me to a pecan orchard for the first time where the action unfolds as a little girl spends time with her grandfather and narrates, “My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.” She also tells us that, despite having an orchard full of pecan trees, Grandpa’s favorite tree is that particular one, thus establishing the strong bond these two characters share.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int1 girl and grandpa spreading mulch
Interior spread from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

Through changing seasons starting in winter when it’s pruning time, and the annual growth cycle of the orchard, we learn how pecans mature and are harvested. At the same time, the special relationship between the child and her grandpa exudes from the warm, muted illustrations coupled with Trout’s lyrical prose. I especially felt that each time I read the lovely repeating phrase “But not my tree.” In spread after spread the young girl describes how the other pecan trees are treated en masse as part of the commercial harvesting process, while hers receives individualized care from her grandpa. Together the two tend to her tree with love and respect which also serves as a metaphor for their relationship.

 

My Grandpa My Tree and Me int2 prepping pecans for harvester
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

At last, when the husks open, it’s harvest time. The joy is palpable on the page. Then “Grandpa attaches a padded arm to his tractor. It hugs the trees’ trunks and shakes until leaves and twigs and pecans rain down.” When it’s her turn and with Grandpa there to savor the experience, the girl uses a long pole to make the pecans drop. The orchard’s pecans will be collected by the harvester for sale but the girl’s pecans will be baked into a scrumptious pecan pie. And, not to spoil the beautiful ending, suffice it to say that Troup and Mother Nature’s miraculous cycle of growth delivers a delightful and very satisfying dénouement in this touching layered tale.

 

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me int3 eating pecan pie time
Interior illustrations from My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me written by Roxanne Troup and illustrated by Kendra Binney, Yeehoo Press ©2023.

 

 

Troup, who is not a newcomer to writing, knows how to tell an engaging and tender story while infusing interesting information into it, clearly owing to her extensive nonfiction background. The pacing of My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me moves forward easily like the seasons in the orchard. There’s a soothing rhythm to the language that makes the book an ideal read any time of the day, including bedtime. Did you know that pecans are considered a native nut to North America? Find an All About Pecans note detailing the history of the commercial pecan industry along with a helpful glossary in the back matter.

Download a free teacher’s guide here.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NOTE: I’m thrilled that Roxanne is a reviewer at this blog so subscribe today so you don’t miss her thoughtful coverage.

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Children’s Books for Earth Day 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS 

FOR EARTH DAY 2023

 

 

 

The Tree and the River cover bucolic river scene with industry reflectionTHE TREE AND THE RIVER
by Aaron Becker

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Foreward Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection

Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, The Tree and the River, shows how humans impact a specific plot of vibrant land. The time-lapse process he uses is fascinating and powerful. Some of the imagery is fictionalized yet this doesn’t take away from the understanding that people’s cities, industry, and war wreak havoc on the land.

I like how the almost totally destroyed landscape can, with a simple acorn, reestablish itself, giving the book (and our world) the possibility that we can recover from damage inflicted.

Beyond the stunning illustrations, Becker did so much more: he prepared by constructing a scale model which he then slowly transformed with clay and wood over many months. The book was inspired by “the rich history of layered civilizations” in Granada, Spain. Be sure to peek under the dust jacket for an alternate image.

 

The Forest Keeper cover Jadav Payeng in forestTHE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Written by Rina Singh
Illustrated by Ishita Jain
(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

Rina Singh’s picture book, The Forest Keeper, introduces us to a tribesman from Majuli named Jadav Molai Payeng who labored in isolated anonymity for thirty years, growing a forest on an abandoned sandbar in a remote corner of northeastern India. He began in 1979 when the river burst its banks and left hundreds of water snakes to perish in the hot sun. When he sought help from elders and the forest department, he was told “trees don’t grow on sandbars” and was given a bag of bamboo seedlings. His diligence and dedication created habitats for a number of creatures in this 1,359-acre oasis—larger than New York’s Central Park.

The soft-focus illustrations by Ishita Jain bring India’s beauty alive. I particularly like the tiger, elephants, and dramatic trees filled with birds in the twilight.

This book reminds us that Earth Day truly is every day, and that one person can make a huge difference. Be sure to look under the dust jacket for a bonus image that reinforces this story’s humble beginnings. Read an exclusive interview with illustrator Ishita Jain here.

 

Water: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater cover children in village pumping waterWATER: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater 
Written by Catherine Barr

Illustrated by Christiane Engel
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Catherine Barr’s picture book, Water: How We Can Protect Our Waterways, is broken down into easy-to-follow sections from “The First Water on Earth” through “It’s Water Action Decade!” The facts are thorough yet explained simply. It’s mind-blowing that only 3% of all water on Earth is freshwater; three-quarters of it exists in glaciers and polar ice sheets. I like how each section has an item that relates to a specific place: “These girls in sub-Saharan Africa can go to school because they have a water pump and tap in their village.” This makes the issues feel real and connects us all around the planet.

Christiane Engel’s detailed illustrations bring the world and its water sources to life such as the polluted rivers in India and salmon leaping up a fish ladder in Scotland (because their migration path has been dammed). The brightly colored art is something kids can look over again and again, finding new things each time.

The “How Can I Use Water Wisely?” section at the end is conveyed in a fun, wraparound style. Suggestions include realizing that most everything we use takes water to make and visiting local lakes or rivers to discover the animals and plants living there—if we care about something, we’re more likely to want to help protect it. Taking a few minutes to better understand our water is time well spent.

 

Something Happened to Our Planet cover kids cleaning trashSOMETHING HAPPENED TO OUR PLANET
Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series)
Written by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins 
Illustrated by Bhagya Madanasinghe
(Magination Press; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

In Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins’s Something Happened to Our Planet: Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series), a young girl is worried about the far-reaching effects of plastics in our waterways. Encouraged by her family, she decides one person can make a difference so she starts an Earth Control group at her elementary school to make improvements in the cafeteria.

I enjoyed the illustrations by Bhagya Madanasinghe, especially the facial expressions of the unnamed main character. We feel the ups and downs these kids experience as their desire to help is met with setbacks.

Truly remarkable is the information provided in the Reader’s Note: facts beyond what’s found in similar texts, including a Q&A section to help parents answer hard questions posed by kids. While this section is huge, it’s manageably divided and the possible steps we can all take to mitigate climate change are surprisingly doable with suggestions such as reducing food waste, eating less meat, and using “art and music to give hope and remind others about the importance of nature and a sustainable planet.” This book is a must-have in classrooms, libraries, and at home. The publisher’s website contains several helpful downloadable pdfs.

 

Total Garbage cover kid sitting on trash pileTOTAL GARBAGE:
A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World

Written by Rebecca Donnelly
Illustrated by John Hendrix
(Henry Holt BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Reviews -Hornbook Magazine, Kirkus Reviews

Being able to “talk trash” in a way that’s engaging and even funny at times is quite an accomplishment. Rebecca Donnelly succeeds in her middle-grade book, Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World. It is messy because we’re talking about the mountains of things we cast aside.

The text is guided by simple questions: “What is garbage, where does it come from, where does it go, why do we make so much of it, and how can we do better?” For such an overwhelming issue, the underlying message is hopeful yet does not shy away from the massive scope of this problem, acknowledging there’s no quick solution. Something we can all do is to buy less and use less, keeping in mind what it took to make that item and understanding that things don’t just go away because there’s not such place as “away.”

The book’s blue font is appealing and illustrations by John Hendrix add some levity. I would love to see informative and optimistic books like this one being used in classrooms because being oblivious about the garbage problem really stinks.

 

 

the day the river caught fire cover children watch flames on riverTHE DAY THE RIVER CAUGHT FIRE
Written by Barry Wittenstein
Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

In award-winning author Barry Wittenstein’s eye-opening narrative nonfiction picture book, children are brought back in time to the year of a moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the Stonewall Rebellion. But do they know that this was also the year before Earth Day was founded? Or that a big event that led to its creation was the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire?

Yes, the river caught fire and it wasn’t the first time! “Since 1886, it happened thirteen times.” Pollution from big industry covered the water in “a thick, gooey layering of sludge, oil, and sewage …” So when KABOOM! flames rose in what would ordinarily have been rather frightening, most citizens viewed it as no big deal. Only it was a big deal! Rivers are not supposed to burn. However, since the Industrial Revolution, rivers around the world were treated as dumping sites with no concern for the health of their inhabitants in the water or nearby.

Thankfully, Cleveland’s Mayor Carl Stokes made his voice heard. The “exploding river” even made it to the cover of Time magazine, but Cleveland was not alone. Fires on rivers were happening in other cities too. Ultimately, Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, though these are still under attack today.

Not long after, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day took place and more people made their voices heard. It was time to start caring for the planet we all call home. Earth Day is now celebrated around the world with a billion or more people taking part in hundreds of cities. The history of the fire and the lead-up to the first Earth Day is illustrated by Jessie Hartland in colorful gouache. The folk art style spreads will especially resonate with young readers with their warmth and whimsy. I cannot pick a favorite scene since there were multiple spreads I loved, particularly due to her depiction of people (Note: big hair lady on riverboat cruise).

53 years on, this important global movement continues with efforts to curb climate change and all forms of pollution. Seven pages of back matter include a compelling author’s note, a time line, reads and resources, and a black and white photo of an earlier Cuyahoga River fire in 1952. And though the Cuyahoga River eventually got cleaned up, and fish returned, that can easily change if enforcement of environmental laws grows lax and restrictions that help the environment get lifted. Wittenstein’s informative prose is a call to action that none of us can ignore.

 

Another Band's Treasure cover recycled instrument orchestra on landfillANOTHER BAND’S TREASURE:
A Story of Recycled Instruments
by Hua Lin Xie
Translated by Edward Gauvin
(Graphic Universe; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

Xie’s graphic novel debut was inspired by the true story of Favio Chávez, a musician and educator from Paraguay who founded the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in 2006. To me, this quote at the end speaks volumes, “The world sends us its garbage. We give it back music.”

The story’s main characters are Diego, a musician and music instructor, his friend, Nicolas, a carpenter, and Ada and her younger brother Daniel. They come from a single-parent home, and they, like many of the residents in this poor village likely live hand to mouth. The kids find entertainment treasure hunting on the landfill while their mother would like them to contribute to the household. There is little excitement or motivation in the children’s lives. That is until Diego puts out a flyer offering music lessons. In hopes of helping the kids grow emotionally by exposing them to music and self-expression, Diego and Nicolas also hope this will keep local kids out of trouble.

The graphic novel is divided into seven chapters as the relationships with the students, Diego and Nicolas develop. At first, it’s only Nicolas who scavenges amongst the discards of the landfill for usable items to turn into instruments. Before long, as the kids’ pride in what they’re a part of blossoms, it’s wonderful to watch them start searching for potential musical instruments. Maybe this could be a drum, or maybe a violin.

When Diego receives an invitation from the mayor for the orchestra to perform at a musical event in Asunción, everyone is not only thrilled for a chance to visit the capital but honored at being recognized. So much so that Ada and Daniel tell every single person they meet heading home and shout it from the top of the landfill. “Hey, clouds! We’re going places!!” Of course, they’re a hit and so begins a journey to play concerts all over the world! In an epilogue, Daniel has grown up and now, when he is on summer break, he and other children from the first class come back to Diego’s new class to help out new students and return the kindness that changed their lives.

Seamlessly translated from the French original, this English version has almost no color. Executed in muted greyish-black tones, the art looks like pen and ink but may have been created digitally. The choice of color or lack of it conveys the dullness of life alongside a landfill. The only time color appears apart from the cover is when a guitar is made from an orange-striped paint can. This middle-grade graphic novel is a hopeful story and a beautiful tribute to the dream and dedication of Favio Chávez. Find out more at www.recycledorchestracateura.com.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Earth Day

 

No World Too Big cover children holding up EarthNO WORLD TOO BIG: 
Young People Fighting Global Climate Change
Written by Lindsay H. Metcalf 
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Written by Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Climate Warriors coverCLIMATE WARRIORS:
Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet
by Laura Gehl

(Millbrook Press; $24.99, Ages 9-14)

 

 

 

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Picture Book Review – Light Speaks

 

LIGHT SPEAKS

Written by Christine Layton

Illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell

(Tilbury House Publishers; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Light Speaks cover boy in night reaching for firefly

 

From the Publisher:

“An enchanting picture book about the joyful, mysterious, awe-inspiring messages of light.”

 

Review:

This beautiful book begins with light’s first daily message to a young child: Awake

 

Light Speaks interior art1 boy sleeping in tent with flashlight
Interior spread from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

And continues to explain all the ways light speaks to us—in our daily lives…

 

 Light Speaks interior art2 boy in 3 outdoor scenes at night
Interior art from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

through nature…

 

Light Speaks interior art3 light in nature
Interior art from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

and throughout space and time—covering both natural and manmade light sources.

 

Light Speaks interior art4 suns burned out long ago
Interior spread from Light Speaks written by Christine Layton and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell, Tilbury House Publishers ©2023.

 

Christine Layton’s spare, poetic text leaves plenty of room for illustrator, Luciana Navarro Powell’s luminous art to shine in this nonfiction concept book. Young listeners will pour over Powells’ beautiful art as they listen to Layton’s lyrical, mysterious text while older readers delight in unraveling its mystery. (And for those who just can’t wait, Layton provides a more detailed, scientific look at some of the abstract concepts in the book like the way light “echoes off planets and moons” or “tells lies.”

Light Speaks would make an excellent science and ELA text for the classroom—especially when paired with more straightforward nonfiction like Light Waves by David Adler and Anna Raff (Holiday House, 2018)—as it would lend itself to cross-curricular discussions about science and poetry.

*Highly recommended

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

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An Interview with Ishita Jain – Debut Illustrator of The Forest Keeper

 AN INTERVIEW WITH ISHITA JAIN

ABOUT HER ILLUSTRATOR DEBUT

THE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng 

(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

 

the forest keeper the true story of jadav payeng cover Jadav in forest

INTRO:

I’m honored to have been invited to host this NorthSouth Books interview exclusively in the U.S. Elena Rittinghausen, Zurich-based editor of NordSüd Verlag/NorthSouth Books recently spoke with Ishita Jain, debut illustrator of The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh, (on sale April 18 and available for preorder now), and the timing couldn’t be better as we approach Earth Day 2023.

 

INTERVIEW:

Elena Rittinghausen: What part does nature play in your life? How would you describe your relationship with nature? For you personally, what is the main lesson we can learn from this true story?

Ishita Jain: I consider myself a part of nature, all humans are, even though it’s easy to forget it in our fast-paced lives. I grew up in New Delhi and now live in New York, both of which are big, urban cities, yet I have been fortunate to spend a lot of my childhood and my present days in the midst of greenery.

 

The Forest Keeper endpapers
Endpapers by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

When I moved to NY, I was often homesick, and trees and parks became a source of comfort to me. I love going on long walks and it is fascinating to watch the seasons turn in my neighborhood. The same tree that is lush green turns to a fiery red in the fall and is then almost unrecognizable in the winter. Watching all these visceral changes in natural things around me has made me far more open to change and evolution within myself.

I am often told that individual acts matter very little when it comes to changing the world- that it all comes down to corporations and government policies. I don’t entirely agree, and this story is a reminder that no matter how small you are, you matter and even if you can’t change the world, you can change your world around you.

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 05
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: You’ve lived in the US for some years now. Did it feel special to go back to illustrating a story set in India?

IJ: It’s interesting, the longer I live in the U.S., my sense of identity of being Indian and thinking of India as my home only grows stronger. So, in some ways, it didn’t matter where I was when I illustrated this book. Though I did illustrate some of the trees for the endpapers while I was in India, and to be drawing a neem tree when there is one right outside your window makes the process so fun!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 11 Jadev watering plants
Interior art from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: What was your first thought when you received our e-mail asking if you wanted to illustrate for a Swiss publisher?

IJ: This is my first picture book and when I got the email from you, I thought it was wild that someone was asking me to do this because I have very few drawings of kids, or even people in my portfolio! I am so grateful that you took that chance because I enjoyed the process, and it was a huge learning curve for me.

Funnily, the first time when I traveled outside of India was to Switzerland. I was 10 or 11 and my grandparents took me with them to Lucerne and I have very vivid memories of that trip. I used to spend all the loose change from the day on ice creams and for years, if anyone I knew went to Switzerland, I would jokingly ask them to bring me an ice cream. I was very close to my grandfather and I think he would have been thrilled to know that I got to work with a Swiss publisher!

 

The Forest Keeper wholebook Page 16 hungry elephants smashing huts
Interior spread from The Forest Keeper written by Rina Singh and illustrated by Ishita Jain, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

ER: How did you approach the illustrations? Which technique did you use? Did you look for specific references for your images?

IJ: I love working analog and all the pictures are done in ink and watercolor. For this book, I also did my thumbnails as loose little paintings. It was important for me to get a sense of the color, texture, and mood in the sketch phase to be able to proceed to finals. I also made a tiny dummy to flip through to get a sense of the page turns and the visual pacing of the story.

 

The Forest Keeper Ishita Jain's thumbnails
Ink and watercolor thumbnails by Ishita Jain from The Forest Keeper by Rina Singh, NorthSouth Books ©2023.

 

In some illustrations, all the elements are painted separately and then stitched together digitally. This gives me the flexibility to make changes without having to start from scratch.  Other times I just go for it and love embracing the unpredictability that comes with watercolor.

India is huge and very diverse in terms of its people, its culture, and its geographies. I am from Delhi, which is quite far, and different, from Majuli. I did extensive research and referenced movies, news, documentaries, and the work of photographers from Assam and the northeast to make sure that I understood the flora and fauna, the physical features of the locals, their attire, and the visual geography of the region. I also looked for videos about the Brahmaputra floods, time lapses of bamboo growing, and travelers’ videos of Majuli to get a sense of the overall environment.

Ishita Jain's Studio
Studio of The Forest Keeper illustrator Ishita Jain

 

ER: Would you like to illustrate picture books in the future?

IJ: Without a doubt, yes!

Thank you Elena Rittinghausen and NorthSouth Books for this exciting opportunity to introduce Ishita Jain and her artwork to readers here in the U.S.

 

Click here to order a copy of The Forest Keeper today

Click here to read an interview with The Forest Keeper author Rina Singh

Get a teacher’s guide here.

 

Jain Ishita ©Anirudh-Garg 2021 sRGB
Photo of illustrator Ishita Jain ©Anirudh-Garg, courtesy of NorthSouth Books

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Ishita Jain is an illustrator from Delhi, India, though she is now based in New York. She is an alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, and the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay Program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. Ishita loves to draw on location and enjoys documenting the people, places, and stories that surround her. Her work is inspired by day-to-day moments and the wonder that comes from being around nature. The Forest Keeper is Ishita’s first picture book. Find her on social media here: @ishitajain24

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Elisa Boxer Interviews Author Kirsten W. Larson

 

AN INTERVIEW

WITH

KIRSTEN W. LARSON

AUTHOR OF

THE FIRE OF STARS

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

The Fire of Stars cover Cecilia Payne

 

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Shelf Awareness

INTERVIEW:

Elisa Boxer: I’m so happy to be here interviewing my Soaring 20s colleague and friend Kirsten W. Larson about her newest picture book, The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars are Made Of. It’s an absolutely stellar book! Kirsten weaves together two stories in one: The creation of a star, and the evolution of astronomer Cecilia Payne, who discovered what stars are made of …

Kirsten, you make the dual narrative structure look easy. But I know it is anything but! Did you set out with the intention to write a dual narrative? If not, at what point in the process did you decide on this format?

Kirsten W. Larson: This was a last-minute decision, believe it or not. In May 2017, my agent Lara Perkins (of Andrea Brown Literary Agency) and I were preparing to sub this book as a run-of-the-mill picture book biography. Meanwhile,  I was working on a blog post featuring Hannah Holt’s query letter for THE DIAMOND AND THE BOY (Balzar + Bray, 2018). The book itself was still over a year away from release, but the query stuck with me. Hannah pitched her biography of Tracy Hall, who invented lab-produced diamonds, asa two-tale picture book—a turn and flip. … The two stories meet in the middle with a shared phrase.”

That was a total lightning bolt moment. I finally saw a way to add more hooks to my story and appeal to readers of both biography and informational books – by telling two stories at the same time. I went back and added the story of star formation alongside Cecilia’s formation as a star scientist.


EB:
That’s fascinating! The story is so seamlessly woven, I never would have guessed that it was a last-minute decision. What was the most challenging part about writing a book with this structure?

KWL: I think what sets this book apart from other parallel biographies (and made it very challenging to write) was the idea of having a shared line of text on every spread that applied to both stories – the star and Cecilia. It seemed like a good idea when I came up with it, but then it proved to be much harder to pull off. At one point I told Lara I couldn’t do it, and we should forget about it. But she kept encouraging me. She knew I could do it. But it was so, so hard.

Then, once I was working with editor Melissa Manlove of Chronicle Books, she had the additional idea of wanting to be able to read those shared lines only, without the additional text about Cecilia, and have it make sense for the youngest readers. The whole thing was a real puzzle, but I’m so happy we were able to get everything to work. It makes this book truly special.

 

EB: I’m so glad that Lara kept encouraging you, and that you stuck with it. You’ve created the perfect mentor text for aspiring authors of dual narratives. What advice would you give them?

KWL: I think this is a case where you have to be careful about the form not overtaking the writing, much like when you are writing poetry or even lyrically. For me, it helped to plot out both stories independently, step by step. I nailed down Cecilia’s major plot points, asking myself questions like “What’s the inciting incident?” “What’s the all is lost moment?” etc. Then I wrote down step-by-step how stars formed before trying to line the two stories up and brainstorming what language might connect them. I am a very visual writer, and I actually thumbnailed the stories in my journal trying to match things up and experimenting with language. You can see some of my journal pages here.

 

EB: I love the scene at the beginning, where Cecilia’s mother sets her down in the snow, and she expects a warm blanket, but instead finds her toes freezing! “It’s the first time Cecilia learns things aren’t always as they seem,” is such a powerful statement that foreshadows her discoveries to come. At what point in your research did you come across that particular anecdote, and how instrumental was it in building your scenes and threading that theme?

 

The Fire of Stars int1 young Cecilia Payne with mother in snow
Interior art from The Fire of Stars written by Kirsten W. Larson a nd illustrated by Katherine Roy, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

KWL: The theme of this book was always the “ingredients” of a successful scientist, characteristics like being a good observer, curiosity, passion, and persistence. The book always showed how Cecilia exhibited those characteristics even as a child. For example, the scene where she watches slimy slugs in the garden was there from the start as was the scene about the bee and the bee orchid, which really set her on her quest for discovery.

But, to your question, I came across that story of Cecilia and the snow very early on in my research. Yet even though I knew about that story from the beginning, I didn’t include it until I started working on the parallel structure! I needed something that came before Cecilia in the dust and dirt of the garden, something that nodded to the star she would become.

That’s when I added this moment in the snow. I just tracked down a document on my computer when I “unwrote” Cecilia’s story, summarizing what needed to happen spread-by-spread in a line or two. That’s the last thing I wrote before I pieced the two stories together.

 

EB: Those same ingredients of curiosity, passion, and persistence clearly apply to you and your research as well! Can you tell us a bit more about your research process?

KWL: This book was a bit of a departure from my usual research process. Typically, I like to start with secondary sources for context before digging into primary sources to hear my characters’ voices in letters, diaries, and autobiographies.

At the time I started my research, there weren’t many book-length secondary sources about Cecilia at all. Dava Sobel’s GLASS UNIVERSE wasn’t out yet, nor was Donovan Moore’s biography. So I moved pretty quickly to primary sources like Cecilia’s published autobiography, her oral history from Harvard, and her research papers including her dissertation.

I did a lot of research around the edges, including the women who worked at Harvard Observatory and the field of astronomy and astrophysics to understand what was known in the field of astronomy at the time Cecilia was working. I talked to physicists and astronomers to discern the magnitude of her contributions.

EB: How much of yourself do you see in Cecilia?

KWL: What I’ve learned through this book and WOOD, WIRE, WINGS is that “STEM people” and “creative people” have so much in common. We’re all creative. We’re all problem solvers. We all take feedback. We all fail. So, yes, I feel a great affinity for Cecilia, especially that feeling of being lost and feeling hopeless, as well as that thrill of the shiny bright moment when an idea comes together and a new piece of knowledge or art comes into the world.

 

The Fire of Stars int2 astronomer Cecilia Payne studying stars
Interior art from The Fire of Stars written by Kirsten W. Larson and illustrated by Katherine Roy, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

EB: Speaking of shiny and bright and everything coming together, Katherine Roy’s illustrations are breathtaking. What was it like seeing her preliminary sketches and watching them evolve?

KWL: Katherine’s work on this book is incredible, and it’s such a thrill to see her splattering paint and using toothbrushes to give the impression of star formation. 

The original visual idea for this book, which I put in art notes for our editor, was to split the story horizontally, with the star’s story on the top and Cecilia’s below. I saw some early sketches, and it wasn’t working the way we hoped. The star story seemed very disconnected from Cecilia’s. When Katherine shifted the two stories to a side-by-side the whole thing really started coming together. This just goes to show you the tremendous power of illustrators who know far more about visual storytelling than authors do. This book was such an adventure!

EB: I couldn’t agree more, from a reader’s perspective, that this book is an incredible adventure! One of my new all-time favorite picture books. Thank you so much for giving all of us a peek into your process.

Click here to purchase a copy of the book.

Click here for the publisher page for a good way to access activities, discussion topics, etc.

Social Media Links: @kirstenwlarson @kroystudio (Twitter) @chroniclekids

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle-grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Visit her website at https://kirsten-w-larson.com

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Elisa Boxer is an Emmy and Murrow award-winning journalist whose work has been featured in publications including The New York Times and Fast Company. She has reported for newspapers, magazines, and TV stations, and has a passion for telling stories about people finding the courage to create change. She is the author of several nonfiction picture books including The Voice That Won the VoteA Seat at the TableOne Turtle’s Last Straw, SPLASH! (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection), Covered in Color (called “compelling from cover to cover” in a Kirkus starred review) and Hidden Hope (called “an important true account to add to all collections” in a School Library Journal starred review). Elisa lives in Maine, and has more children’s books on the way. Visit her at https://www.elisaboxer.com

 

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