I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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Happy #BookBirthday ELSE B. IN THE SEA + 6 Qs with Jeanne Walker Harvey

June 4, 2024

Happy Book Birthday to this beautiful and fascinating story,

ELSE B. IN THE SEA: The Woman Who Painted the Wonders of the Deep,

written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Melodie Stacey (Cameron Kids).  

“Readers will feel as if they have taken the plunge, too…Her ever-expanding solutions from subsequent dives are fascinating and a testament to her resilience. The illustrations…will hook readers, both with the drama of Else’s dives and with the delicious creepiness of some of the sea creatures…A hugely appealing story”

Booklist –starred review

“[D]azzling and convey[s] how extraordinary undersea life is. A little-known female artist receives well-deserved attention.” —Kirkus

Welcome to the blog, Jeanne!

JWH: Thanks so much, Erin, for inviting me back to be interviewed on your wonderful blog!

But first of all, armfuls of congratulations (and flowers) for your delightful new book, JUST FLOWERS! First of all, I love gardening so your topic immediately connected with me. The story celebrates kindness, forming friendships, and appreciating beauty. What could be better?! A truly lovely book!

Ok, let’s chat! I always enjoy your interesting and thoughtful questions.

ED: Thank you so much, Jeanne.

Yes, let’s get started!

Q 1. Congratulations on discovering another uniquely creative person. When and where did you first learn about Else Bostelmann?

JWH: I’m so glad you think Else Bostelmann is an intriguing creative person. I’m always seeking to learn about creative inspiring people to write about, and I was particularly thrilled that this book has a science connection.

Several years ago, I first learned about her when I read a comprehensive 2016 article by the oceanographer Dr. Edith Widder in Oceanography magazine titled “The Fine Art of Exploration.” Dr Widder, CEO and Senior Scientist for the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, described Else Bostelmann and her deep sea painting adventure in enticing details. I knew I needed to learn more about her.  

Writing Nonfiction

Q 2. Has starting a new nonfiction bio picture book ever felt as daunting as Else B. taking those “first steps down the ladder,” and sinking into the choppy water wearing an enormous, heavy copper helmet?

JWH: Ha ha! I like that comparison of writing a book to sinking into choppy water wearing an enormous, 60-pound copper helmet. I think I often feel “a frisson of fear” when I’m not sure where I’m going with a story.

I like this photo as it shows the helmet under her desk as she’s drawing.

JWH: And “daunting” is a good word choice for the process, at times, of writing a non-fiction picture book biography. I can spend an enormous amount of time researching a topic, and I never know if I’ll find what I feel I need to write a picture book biography.

I’ve travelled down many roads when I think I have a great idea only to discover I can’t find enough about that person to write a book. I always want to find primary sources, such as interviews, writings, and journals. And that type of research can take a lot of sleuthing.

Fortunately, in the case of Else Bostelmann, I was helped by the amazing librarians at the Library of Congress who found articles Else B. had written and additional sourceds.

After I feel I have found enough information and anecdotes and compelling background, then I need to decide how I want to tell the story. Where shall I begin the story? What is the throughline I want to pursue? But the challenges that may seem “daunting” at first become a creative puzzle to be solved which is satisfying.

Making Else B. the star of the story.

Q 3. How did you decide what to focus on in Else’s story? Were there sections you had to cut?

JWH: At first, I included much more about William Beebe who was the scientist who led the record-breaking expedition near Bermuda in bathysphere dives in the 1930s. I learned that he actually broadcast his descents and millions of people listened on the radio, a prime source of entertainment during the Great Depression.

But I soon realized I wanted Else B. to be the star of this story, the woman whose amazing paintings allowed the world to experience the deep-water discoveries while reading William Beebe’s descriptions in the 1931 and 1934 editions of The National Geographic Magazine. Paintings and words together told the story, just like a picture book!

Interior illustration by Melodie Stacey from ELSE B. IN THE SEA,
written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, (Cameron Kids).  

And yes, it’s always a balancing act to decide what to include or delete from a picture book biography. One part I didn’t include in the final version was the story behind how she became a widow with a child at the age of 38. At the age of 27, Else B. married an American, and moved from Germany to America. Her husband, Monroe, worked as a concert cellist in New York City. Then Monroe decided he wanted to be a cotton farmer in Texas!

Without any farming experience, his endeavor didn’t work. And at age 40, he died of “apoplexy brought on from over-exertion.” After this tragedy, Else B. returned to New York City with their young daughter and found sketching commercial work to support them for the next ten years.

And then, when she was almost 50, Else B. took some of her scientific nature-based pen and ink sketches to William Beebe at the Zoological Society of Tropical Research, hoping he would find a spot for her on his expeditions. And he did – for five years in Bermuda!

ED Note: I love how you find these amazing “Late Bloomers”–women who find their true paths later in their lives. Like Else B. and also Alma Thomas. So inspirational!

Illustration Surprises

Q 4. What surprises did illustrator Melodie Stacey bring to the project?

JWH: I was absolutely astounded by the beauty and scope of Melodie Stacey’s illustrations. She carefully researched the details, down to the type of trawler used by the scientists.

And I love the eeriness of the page with the deep-water bioluminescent creatures, complete with tentacles and gaping mouths, and their delightful names, such as “the saber-toothed viper fish” handwritten.

I think Melodie’s choice to use gouache, watercolor, pastels, and colored pencils for the book’s illustrations perfectly reflect Else B. who was trained in Germany as a fine artist.

Interior illustration by Melodie Stacey from ELSE B. IN THE SEA,
written by Jeanne Walker Harvey, (Cameron Kids).  


Q 5. What do you hope readers will take away from ELSE B. IN THE SEA?

JWH: I love that Else B. was almost 50 when she tackled new challenges and overcame fears as part of the Bermuda expedition which was completely different from her upbringing as a painter in Germany. I hope readers can embody that courage and boldness!

I also want readers to know that every person’s contribution is important behind the scenes of major discoveries. And as I say in my Author’s Note, “I hope Else’s story inspires us to care for and protect our marvelous oceans and creatures, so much of which is still unknown.”

What’s next?

Q 6. What’s next for you? Anything you can share?

JWH: Yes! I’m excited to share that my next picture book biography is coming out next summer – THE GLASS PYRAMID – Architect I.M. Pei and the Louvre Museum (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster). It’s another STEAM story detailing the power of I.M Pei’s creativity, problem-solving, and persistence while facing objections and challenges to building his now famous pyramid design for the Louvre. I’ve seen the sketches by the amazing illustrator, Khoa Le, and I can tell the illustrations will be dazzling! I can’t wait to see them!

As always, thank you Erin! I appreciate not only this fun opportunity to talk about ELSE B. IN THE SEA, but also how much you do for our writing community as a constant supporter of everyone’s endeavors. You make a difference!

Thank YOU, Jeanne, for joining us today.

To learn more about Jeanne Walker Harvey’s books,

check out her website and blog posts at: www.jeanneharvey.com

and follow her on social media:

Insta: jeannewharvey

TwitterX: @JeanneWHarvey

Pinterest: JeanneWalkerHarvey

Up next on the blog:

We chat with Annette M. Clayton about

PAPA AND PEARL: A Tale About Divorce, New Beginnings, and Love That Never Changes

(Free Spirit)

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