Skip to content

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

 

Share this:

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

e

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 

Share this:

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.

 

 

Share this:

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Butt or Face?

 

BUTT OR FACE?
Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At?

by Kari Lavelle

(Sourcebooks Explore; $14.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Butt or Face cover can you tell which end is shown?

 

 

 

“The silly, simple premise is carried out splendidly; younger readers will be entranced by fascinating photos, bright colors, and googly eyes galore, while older readers will appreciate fast-fact boxes, clear explanations, and endless animal puns.”―Booklist, STARRED Review

 

When I saw the cover of this picture book by Kari Lavelle, I was immediately pulled in by the hilarious photo and questions posed by the title, Butt or Face?: Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? The cover image is an okapi’s rear with googly eyes added, but all the other animal parts are unaltered photos. If you’re someone who likes to play games and laugh, this book’s for you.

 

 

Butt_or_Face_int1_Cuyaba_dwarg_frog
Interior photos and art from Butt or Face? Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? by Kari Lavelle, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

Each quiz begins with a photo to analyze. Turn the page to see more of the animal along with lots of cool and unusual facts. I love the beautiful but deadly—watch out siblings!—orchid mantis (insect) whose appearance is otherworldly. While some of the information tells you basics such as where an animal lives, there are plenty of fascinating things like discovering a fish that’s really not a great swimmer. My favorite details are the ones that will make kids squeal in delight like the pearlfish that lives in a sea cucumber’s bottom. Yes, really.

 

Butt or Face int2 okapi and mole
Interior photos and art from Butt or Face? Can You Tell Which End You’re Looking At? by Kari Lavelle, Sourcebooks Explore ©2023.

 

Once kids know the answers, they’ll want to test their friends and share this book repeatedly. Beyond this being a learning tool at home and in classrooms, the book’s full-color photos are gorgeous. I’m ready for the sequel (out in April 2024) that continues on in this manner.

 

 

 

Share this:

An Interview with AlphaBot Author and Illustrator Vicky Fang

 

RAJANI LAROCCA INTERVIEWS VICKY FANG,

AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR OF

ALPHABOT

(MIT Kids Press/Candlewick Press; 14.99, Ages 3-7)

AlphaBot cover mix and match robots

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Found your circuit-board head? Your voice-control torso? Your hydrojet feet? Hooray! You’ve made one of the 729 mix-and-match robots that are possible with this innovative flip-flap book. Alongside the bright and cheery illustrations of robot parts is a basic alphabetical listing of terms—from android to gearsneural network to program, wheels to Z-drive—and a basic definition of each. With a concealed spiral binding and sturdy card stock pages to hold up to enthusiastic flap-turning, AlphaBot is full of appeal for young robot lovers, preschoolers who love machines, and anyone looking for STEM books for the younger set. Back matter includes a brief explanation of the three key abilities of robots: to sense, think, and act.

INTERVIEW:

Rajani LaRocca: How did you come up with this idea?

Vicky Fang: ALPHABOT actually started off with the title! As a former designer of robots for kids, I think about robots a lot, haha. Once the title and the idea of a robot alphabet book were in my head, I knew I wanted to make something interactive. I thought about different novelty formats (flaps, cutouts, etc.) until I had the idea for mix-and-match flaps. This meant kids would be able to mix-and-match the A-Z robotics terms to create their own robots. How fun and exciting! I spent a long time thinking about what terms would work and making paper dummies to prove out the concept.

e

RL: What kind of challenges did you face coming up with a novelty book idea like this?

Alphabot int2 circuit fan treads
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

e

VF: This book was definitely a puzzle to put together! I have several paper dummies where I was working to make sure I could make all the terms work together. Once I had a working dummy, it was also challenging to sell the book! Novelty books are expensive to construct, so even though several editors were interested, it took time to find a publisher that could figure out how to make the numbers work. I’m so glad that MIT Kids Press/Candlewick found a way and I’m so happy with the quality of the book!

e

RL: I see a strong parallel between this book and your debut, INVENT-A-PET. What do you see as the similarities and differences between them?

VF: I love introducing kids to STEM concepts, but really, I want kids to be creative problem solvers. This is at the heart of both books! Even though INVENT-A-PET is a fiction story about a girl inventing fantastic pets and ALPHABOT is about non-fiction informational book about creating robots, you can see that both books invite kids to be inventive! Maybe the different approach will appeal to a different kid, but hopefully, all kids find a way to engage their imagination from the STEM content in these books.

AlphaBot int1 gears hydrojets
Interior illustrations and text from AlphaBot written and illustrated by Vicky Fang, MIT Kids Press ©2023.

e

RL: I loved the mix of familiar and not-so-familiar terms in this book! Was it hard to come up with a concept for each letter of the alphabet?

VF: There were letters that were more challenging than others, especially to make sure they would work in their positions in the book (head, torso, or feet.) I tried several different options, as well as shifting which flaps the letters would fall on. But since I was also illustrating, I was able to think creatively about how these robot parts might work and all fit together!

e

RL: What do you hope kids get from this book?

VF: Well, of course, I hope they understand robots a little bit better! The back matter is a pretty simple explanation of the capabilities of robots and came from my engineering partner, Chaitanya Gharpure. Hopefully, kids understand a little bit more about how robots work and what kinds of parts they might have!

But ultimately, as I was saying before, I want kids to have fun and be creative, I hope that this book sparks their imagination and gives them the confidence to create.

e

RL: What’s next for you?

VF: I am very excited about my next early reader series, BEST BUDDIES, illustrated by Luisa Leal, which is releasing in October with Scholastic. It’s about a dog named Sniff and a cat named Scratch who are best friends and get into mischief at home. It’s been fun to explore themes of friendship and teamwork with these two characters who approach things differently, but together.

After that, I have many more books coming! I’m currently working on a new early chapter book series, AVA LIN, about a relatable and funny 6-year-old Chinese-American girl with a knack for getting herself into—and out of—trouble. Keep an eye out for it, launching with Candlewick in June 2024!

BUY THE BOOK:

Support a local independent bookstore and get a signed copy. (Please type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.lindentreebooks.com/alphabot.html

Also: https://vickyfang.com/books/alphabot/

AUTHOR BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter (X): https://twitter.com/fangmous

IG: https://www.instagram.com/fangmousbooks/

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

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor and Walter Award-winning middle-grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She has always been an omnivorous reader, and now is an omnivorous writer of novels and picture books, fiction and nonfiction, in poetry and prose. You can learn more about her atwww.RajaniLaRocca.com.

Share this:

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

e

e
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

 

Share this:

An Interview with Wombats are Pretty Weird Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman

 

VICKY FANG INTERVIEWS ABI CUSHMAN

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD

(GREENWILLOW BOOKS; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Wombats are Pretty Weird cover four wombats

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Wombats might be pretty weird, but they’re pretty awesome, too! Wombats Are Pretty Weird is funny, kid-friendly, and informative, and features sidebars, comic panels, extensive backmatter, and a map. Acclaimed author-illustrator Abi Cushman’s nonfiction debut contains everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about wombats!

 

INTERVIEW:

Vicky Fang: Abi, WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is such a funny and informative book! I love how you use humorous dialog and illustrations to introduce so much fascinating information about wombats! How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Abi Cushman: Thank you, Vicky! I’ve been obsessed with wombats ever since I studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2001. I learned on a guided hike that wombats are the only animals in the world that have cube-shaped poop. This very odd tidbit of information along with the fact that wombats are adorable quickly made them one of my favorite animals. 

But it didn’t occur to me to write about them in a book until 2018 after I’d written several other fiction picture books. I was thinking about the cube poop fact, and I thought it would be funny to make a little comic where a wombat makes a tower out of its cubes of poop (similar to how a kid would make a tower out of blocks) and then is just really proud of how tall it was. I wasn’t sure at that point if there was enough there for a book, so I did more research, gathered more weird facts about wombats, and gained momentum.

 

VF: I love that scene in the book with the cube poop tower! Hilarious. Could you tell us about your process in writing this book?

AC: I started with a lot of research about wombats. I listened to podcasts, watched videos, and read everything I could about them. Then I compiled the weirdest, most interesting facts. The next step was to see if I could make a joke about each fact. I have pages and pages in my sketchbook of facts plus doodles. I tried to come up with as many jokes as possible, and then and then really hone in on the funniest dialogue, facial expressions, and scenes. 

Once I was satisfied with the jokes, I worked on putting them together in a dummy (a rough mockup of the book) in a way that made sense and that would also build to a final scene with all the wombats together. 

 

Wombats are Pretty Weird Dummy Sample
Wombats are Pretty Weird Dummy Sample

 

 

VF: I love the addition of the snake adding color and commentary throughout the book. What made you decide to include the snake in a book about wombats?

AC: Adding the snake was a way for me to put a stand-in for the audience in the book. He could react and make comments that the reader was thinking when learning about these very weird animals. And this animal character had to be something other than a wombat. After all, the wombats wouldn’t consider themselves weird at all. In their world, it’s strange when poop is round. I chose a snake specifically because I wanted an animal that could technically live in the same area as a wombat, but was vastly different from them. 

 

WAPW burrowing marsupial spread
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

VF: Your illustrations do such a wonderful job of balancing humor and information. You’ve written funny books before (SOAKED! and ANIMALS GO VROOM! are so good!), but what was it like writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time?

AC: Writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time was a wonderful challenge. For this book, which includes factual information but also talking animals and other silly stuff, it was very important to me that kids didn’t think the facts were made up. One of the things I was very careful about was to ensure the narration was factual and accurate, and then have the wombats and snake react to those facts in the illustrations and speech bubbles. That way there was a clear separation.

For research, I consulted science journals and talked to wombat experts to verify and ensure the way I phrased things was correct. It was pretty wild to me that my work entailed being knee-deep in these dense scientific papers, trying to distill the information and make sense of them, and then using that to make the best poop joke I could.

For the illustrations, I wanted them to be very accessible and fun, but I also wanted them to show a decent resemblance to actual wombats and to clearly convey scientific information where appropriate. So I used a lot of references. I looked at photos of wombats’ feet, watched videos of them moving, and really studied the differences between three species. Then I drew them using hair dryers and wearing party hats.

 

VF: Can you talk about how you approach humor? Do you have any tips for writers who want to write funny books?

AC: The books I find funniest always contain a bit of absurdity. So that’s something I like to play with a lot in my books. For this book with weird animal facts, it was a chance to push the absurdity in the actual facts to a higher level. 

For example, one of the facts in the book is that there are three species of wombats: the southern hairy-nosed wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and the bare-nosed wombat. And I just thought the names were pretty silly. So I wanted to play with that idea of hairy (or unhairy) noses and push it further into absurdity by having two of them talk about nose hair styling to the annoyance of the bare-nosed wombat. 

e

WAPW hairy and bare noses
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

 

I think with humor, you have to let yourself be pretty vulnerable. I put everything I think is funny into a story and then show it to people with the full knowledge that a lot of the jokes will absolutely not land. But I have NO IDEA which ones those are. The trick is to put the weirdest, totally out-there jokes into your story and then see how many you can get away with.

 

VF: That’s such great advice, and it has clearly paid off for you. What do you hope young readers take away from this book?

AC: I hope this book will get kids excited about wombats and animals in general. There is so much in the natural world that is bizarre and captivating. Kids have a natural curiosity so I think it’s our job as authors to foster and encourage it. I also hope kids come away with the idea that being weird is a good thing. It’s what makes all of us special and unique. And finally, I just hope kids laugh and find this enjoyable to read. 

 

WAPW multiple joeys
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

VF: I love that. I feel like you’ve definitely accomplished those goals with this book and kids are going to love it. So what’s next for you?

AC: I am currently polishing up the next book in the “[Not So] Serious Guide” series. This follow-up to WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is all about the very strange, very tough FLAMINGO! And I’m happy to report that Joey the snake is back to experience it all with the reader. This book is scheduled to release in the summer of 2024.

I also recently finished illustrating a wonderfully clever book written by Charlotte Offsay called THE QUIET FOREST. This book will be released in March 2024 from Paula Wiseman Books. It’s about a very mischievous mouse who starts a chain of chaos in a formerly quiet forest, and it involves a lot of very disgruntled forest animals. It’s a ton of fun, and I’m really excited about it. This was the first time I illustrated a book I didn’t write, and it was fun to see how Charlotte’s words and my pictures came together.

 

VF: Those both sound fantastic! I look forward to seeing them next year. Thank you so much for sharing your journey for WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD with us. I’ve learned so much from chatting with you and from getting a peek at this hilarious book!

AC: Thanks so much for the interview, Vicky! This was fun. And I’m looking forward to chatting with you again later this summer about your upcoming book, THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU!

VF: Looking forward to it too! Thank you again for sharing your insights with us today, Abi!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click below for a local indie to purchase signed copies (type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.banksquarebooks.com/book/9780063234437

Publisher’s Page: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/wombats-are-pretty-weird-abi-cushman

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AbiCushman

IG: https://www.instagram.com/abi.cushman/

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

Author/Illustrator Website: https://abicushman.com

 

Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman Photo credit: P.A. Smith

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of SOAKED! (Viking, 2020), ANIMALS GO VROOM! (Viking, 2021) and WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD (Greenwillow, 2023).

She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care site, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a “Great Website for Kids” by the American Library Association. Did you know that wombat poop is cube-shaped? You do now! (And no, you’ll never un-know that.)

Abi lives in a small Connecticut beach town with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.)

She is represented by BookStop Literary Agency and is a proud member of the Soaring 20s, a group of picture book authors and illustrators who debuted in 2020/21.

 

INTERVIEW BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

Share this:

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.

Share this:

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

 

Share this:

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – The River That Wolves Moved

 

 

THE RIVER THAT WOLVES MOVED:
A True Tale from Yellowstone

Written by Mary Kay Carson

Illustrated by David Hohn

(Sleeping Bear Press; $17.99,  Ages 5-9)

 

 

The River That Wolves Moved cover wolves river fish in Yellowstone

 

The title of Mary Kay Carson’s new picture book drew me in: The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone. What?! How? I wanted to find out. Using the structure of “The House That Jack Built,” we learn why wolves are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Without them, elk overpopulate, overgraze, and, ultimately, cause muddied rivers to forge different paths.

Pages incorporate new lines while repeating what’s come before. Additional information is provided below the main text to paint a broader picture of each animal’s contribution to diversifying the environment.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int1 pack of wolves along river
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872. In the subsequent years, wolves were legally hunted, trapped, and poisoned by rangers and ranchers. By the early 1900s, wolves were gone. Facts are presented in a manner that kids can understand and, rather than seeing wolves as the bad guys, we learn they are helpful and necessary.

 

The River That Wolves Moved int2 walking along the riverbank
Interior spread from The River That Wolves Moved written by Mary Kay Carson and illustrated by David Hohn, Sleeping Bear Press ©2022.

 

The illustrations by David Hohn capture the beauty of nature through the eyes of a young girl and her grandfather. Evocative, warm art combined with the lyrical text make this important topic accessible for the youngest child, hopefully fostering environmental stewardship.

 

 

Share this:

Nonfiction STEM Picture Book Review – Deep, Deep Down

 

DEEP, DEEP DOWN:
The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench

Written by Lydia Lukidis

Illustrated by Juan Calle

(Capstone; $18.99; Ages 7-11)

 

Deep, Deep Down cover art of Mariana Trench

 

 

From the Publisher:

“Deep, deep down, at the very bottom of the ocean, lies a secret world. Through lyrical narration, this spare-text STEM picture book takes readers on a journey to a place very few humans have ever been—the Mariana Trench. The imagined voyage debunks scary myths about this mysterious place with surprising and beautiful truths about life at Earth’s deepest point. Deep, Deep Down shows a vibrant world far below, and teaches readers how interconnected our lives are to every place on the planet.”
e

Deep Deep Down int1 submersible
Interior spread from Deep, Deep Down written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, Capstone Publishing © 2023.

 

Review:

Lydia Lukidis and Juan Calle bring the underwater world of the Mariana Trench to life in Deep, Deep Down,  a narrative nonfiction title with art that hints at the color and form that may be hidden down below. (Since no one knows for sure what that world would be like to the human eye, I appreciate the disclaimer given on the copyright page, though would like it to be larger to grab readers’ attention.) And while I would not call this a “lyrical” title (it doesn’t have the consistent rhythm I would expect from a lyrical title—even the non-rhyming ones), the text reads smoothly and the author has done a good job of describing this world using vivid, child-friendly verbs and adjectives.

 

Deep Deep Down int2 Sea Cucumber
Interior spread from Deep, Deep Down written by Lydia Lukidis and illustrated by Juan Calle, Capstone Publishing © 2023.

 

I especially love the added sidebars and captions on each spread that indicate both where we are in the ocean and the creature highlighted in the illustration. These added bits of information (and the three pages of backmatter!) make this title perfect for all ages of fact-hounds; however, I’d like to point out that the suggested age for this picture book is seven to eleven years old. I can see this title being used in the classroom both as a science text and an excellent example of vivid language, and becoming a favorite of students who just want to sit and browse the beautiful illustrations.

*A Recommended Read

Click here for an Educators Guide.

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

Share this:

Wordless Picture Book Review – Whirl

 

 

WHIRL

by Deborah Kerbel

Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon 

(Owlkids Books; $18.95; Ages 4-8)

 

Whirl cover

 

 

From the Publisher: “A stray maple seed, is picked up by the wind and begins a long, wordless journey through a local neighborhood…Eventually, it finds a place to rest …Years later, a family that encountered the whirligig on its journey takes a walk in the forest and meets the seed again—this time as a fully grown maple tree.”

 

Whirl interior art1
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In this appealing wordless picture book with inviting art and a diverse cast of characters, Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon describe the unpredictable journey a seed takes as it whirls its way through a family’s backyard, past the wheels and paws of several park visitors, into the hands of a few curious kids, and onto the artwork of another.

 

 

Whirl interior art2
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

Before, eventually being found (and fought over) by birds and accidentally planted by a dog.

 

Whirl Interior art3
Interior illustration from Whirl by Deborah Kerbel and Josée Bisaillon, Owlkids Books ©2022.

 

In time, the seed sprouts and grows, and is discovered by another park visitor who delights over its “magic.” A swirl of wind grounds the story and guides the reader through this visual tale perfect for spending time in nature. A back page of maple seed facts also offers readers inspiration for conducting their own research into similar topics.

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

Share this:

Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Battle of the Butts

 

 

 

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS:

THE SCIENCE BEHIND ANIMAL BEHINDS

Illustrated by David Creighton-Pester

(Running Press Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

 

Battle of the Butts cover

 

 

Get ready to laugh as you learn while enjoying this funny, nonfiction picture book, Battle of the Butts by Jocelyn Rish. I thought I knew a lot of animal facts but was amazed by what this author uncovered in her research. The book is set up as a competition between ten creatures, inviting the reader to vote on each animal (rank them from Terrific Tush to Boring Backside), then choose a winner at the end.

 

Battle of the Butts int3 toot
Interior spread from Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds written by Jocelyn Rish and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, Running Press Kids ©2021.

 

 

One of my favorite contenders is the bombardier beetle. Its booty blasts a scalding 212°F chemical mixture at predators. This liquid can reach a speed of 22 miles per hour and its 270-degree swiveling butt can emit 20 blasts in a row before running out. What a superpower! However, it’s hard to deny the awesome, multitasking sea cucumber: it breathes, eats, and shoots organs out of its butt—“a Swiss Army knife of abilities.” Some species have anal teeth; yet, even with that kind of protection, long, skinny pearlfish like to live in a sea cucumber’s rear.

 

Battle of the Butts int4 toot
Interior spread from Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds written by Jocelyn Rish and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, Running Press Kids ©2021.

 

Bright, engaging, and hilarious illustrations by David Creighton-Pester add even more humor. For example, cutie-patootie wombats use their shield-like backsides for defense, and smiling, gassy schools of herring communicate by farting. These unusual attributes are conveyed in a kid-friendly manner making this book a hit in classrooms, libraries, and at home. Stay tuned for Battle of the Brains (fall, 2022) by this same fanny-tastic team.

 

Share this:

Picture Book Review – Wake, Sleepy One

 

 

WAKE, SLEEPY ONE:

California Poppies and the Super Bloom

by Lisa Kerr

Illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun

(West Margin Press; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

From seed to “super bloom,” debut author, Lisa Kerr, introduces readers to the California desert poppy in a combination of lyrical and expository nonfiction text. From the publisher: “A lyrical ode to California’s most treasured wildflower, Wake, Sleepy One gently captures the quiet strength of the poppy in all its breathtaking wonder.”

 

Wake Sleepy One int1 desert
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

As the sleepy poppy wakes, it “rises” from the ground “reaching” for the sun and “waiting” for her time to shine. This “tiny dancer” swirls and twirls in the breeze as it is joined by hundreds of other waking seeds in a rare natural phenomenon of the desert super bloom.

 

Wake Sleepy One int2 poppies wake
Interior spread from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Lisa Powell Braun’s charming artwork supports Kerr’s spare text and offers a variety of reading options for this book. The youngest of listeners will be able to grasp the story’s concept and watch the poppy “wake…rise…reach…wait…unfold…dance” and “shimmer” with a simple reading of each page’s single italicized line. Preschool and kindergarten listeners will delight in the added emotional tension of the entire main text, while older readers will appreciate the facts in Kerr’s nonfiction sidebars.

 

Wake Sleepy One int3 backmatter
Interior art from Wake, Sleepy One written by Lisa Kerr and illustrated by Lisa Powell Braun, West Margin Press ©2022.

 

Two full spreads of stellar backmatter add to its usability in the classroom, and make this a perfect resource for learning about desert landscapes!

  •  Reviewed by Roxanne Troup
Share this:

Picture Book Review – Ducks Overboard!

DUCKS OVERBOARD!:
A TRUE STORY OF PLASTIC IN OUR OCEANS 

by Markus Motum

(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Ducks Overboard! cover

 

We Don’t Need to Wait Until Earth Day to Pay Attention to Our Environment

 

If you’re looking for a nonfiction book that reads like a story, you’ve found it! Narrated by a rubber ducky, this picture book by author-illustrator Markus Motum, Ducks Overboard!: A True Story of Plastic in Our Oceans, explains how 28,000 ducks ended up in the middle of the ocean. The reader adventures along with the ducks in unknown territory as they encounter sea creatures and garbage. Viewing it from the duck’s perspective reinforces how animals are endangered by plastics in their environment, eating them or becoming entangled.

 

Ducks Overboard int1
DUCKS OVERBOARD! © 2021 Markus Motum. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

 

A world map clearly explains how the ducks traveled on ocean currents to various destinations. Our duck, however, becomes stuck in the swirling Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a mass of trash about twice the size of Texas—until, finally, freed. Though this duck’s story has a happy ending, much is learned in the process that gives us cause to think about how our everyday choices are hurting our planet.

 

Ducks Overboard int2
DUCKS OVERBOARD! © 2021 Markus Motum. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

e

The mixed-media illustrations are done in beautiful ocean blues which showcase the bright yellow duck(s). Back matter includes “Lost at Sea” (about other missing shipping containers) and “Ocean Currents” (explaining ocean movement and gyres). “Plastic Facts” and “How You Can Help” reminds us that 40 percent of plastic is single-use and, because most cannot be recycled, those items break down into smaller and smaller pieces causing far-reaching damage. I appreciate how this book handles such a dire topic in a manner that feels as lightweight as your bathtub ducky.

 

 

 

 

Share this:
Back To Top