It’s a quadruple celebration today, an interview with #kidlit authors
who have joined us to share their
FOUR new picture books about nature and our environment:
Each of these four GreenPB23 titles, told in lyrical language, share the wonders of planet Earth. Two highlight fascinating animals and behaviors, one creates a thunderstorm, and one shows how we are all a part of this amazing planet.
Let’s get started!
Q 1. What inspired you to write these wonderful books? Where did the ideas come from?
Aimee Isaac: Thank you so much for having us! My inspiration for THE PLANET WE CALL HOME (Illus. Jaime Kim, Philomel) was a mishmash of reflecting on my work as an environmental advocate, my father’s work and dreams as an environmentalist, and beach clean ups I was doing with my daughter. What emerged was this idea that our planet is interconnected and our behavior (positive and negative) can have an impact near and far. If we appreciate our “home,” maybe we will change our behavior to care for it!
Laura Purdie Salas: ZAP! CLAP! BOOM! (Illus. Ellie MacKay, Bloomsbury) grew out of my love of thunderstorms. I was born in Florida, where spectacular thunderstorms were a common thing in my childhood. It was fun to really delve into the science of storms and to share the storm life cycle in beautiful rhyme.
The idea for my other book, FINDING FAMILY: THE DUCKLING RAISED BY LOONS (Illus Alexandria Neonakis, Millbrook /Lerner) actually came from Editor Carol Hinz at Lerner. She had read about the unusual family and seen adorable photos on social media. She knew I’d written another loon picture book (SECRETS OF THE LOON), and she wondered if I’d be interested in writing the true story of this interspecies family. Yes, please!
Q 2. All of these books are written in lyrical, poetic language. Where did you hone these skills?
Susan Johnston Taylor : Outside of writing, I’m a classically trained singer, so I think that’s really helped me develop an awareness of meter and how words sound. Not all of the poems in ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES (Illus. Annie Bakst, Gnome Road) rhyme, but the rhyming ones really seem to resonate!
Aimee: When I first started writing, I didn’t think of myself as poetic, but one day I found a journal of poems I had written as a teenager and it shifted my mindset. (I’ll credit the mixed tapes I made when I was younger for fueling my teenage creativity!) I’m drawn to the power language holds and spent many revisions perfecting my diction and meter. After writing PLANET, I signed up for Renee LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab to further hone my skills.
Laura: Poetry is my first love, and it informs all of my writing. Reading poetry and song lyrics by the hundreds (or thousands) over many years has been my main course of study. I also love using mentor texts. Candace Fleming’s GIANT SQUID was a mentor text for FINDING FAMILY. Her lyrical, rhythmic text that acknowledged and even celebrated what we *don’t* know about a topic was a guiding light for me in FINDING FAMILY.
Q 3. What surprises did the illustrators bring to your projects?
Laura: People and goats! I knew from an editor’s early comment that people might appear in ZAP! CLAP! BOOM! As I wrote it, I didn’t picture human characters at all. I’m honestly not usually drawn to illustrations of kids. But Elly MacKay’s artwork not only astonished me with its beauty–which I fully did expect, but it also surprised me with how appealing and dynamic the kids are. They give readers kids to connect to. The goats (a really huge surprise) showcase the drama of the storm, since they stay out in it, while the children scurry to safety inside.
Aimee: I originally envisioned a piece of trash landing on a mountain and traveling by water to the ocean. I was struck by this possibility that the infamous straw pulled from the sea turtle’s nose could have been dropped anywhere. My editor wasn’t keen on specific art notes so it was in Jaime’s masterful hands to tie the spreads together. She did so by illustrating children and families enjoying nature and it was absolute perfection.
Q 4. What surprises or roadblocks did you encounter while researching these fascinating subjects?
Laura: The loon researchers who discovered the loon-duckling family gave the wrong lake name to the press. They did this for totally ethical reasons–to keep hordes of social media folks from flocking to the correct lake and disrupting the waterbird family. However, it meant my research into the weather, trees, and fish of that incorrect lake was a waste of time. Then again research always involves some wrong turns and dead ends, so nothing new there!
Q 5. How have your careers as teachers (Laura, Aimee ) and journalist (Susan) influenced your path as a children’s author?
Susan: My experiences as a journalist helped me get published in children’s magazines like Scout Life and Highlights, because I already knew how to pitch stories, conduct interviews, and synthesize information. Although I have research skills and I’m pretty good at wordplay, there was still a pretty steep learning curve when it comes to writing and publishing books for kids. The structure of a nonfiction picture book is very different from a nonfiction magazine article, so I’ve read over 2,500 picture books and really studied the craft and business.
Aimee: My teacher hat never came off so I tend to consider how my manuscripts could be used in the classroom. I once had a first grader who told me he hated reading. I had to figure out a way to bring some joy to reading for him and that came in the form of nonfiction. Once he picked up nonfiction, he was hooked. I’m drawn to writing informational fiction and nonfiction because of that experience and I’m thrilled to see so much more being published.
Q 6. What tips would you give pre-published you that you wish you’d known then?
Laura: For me, becoming a better writer and building a career is about both quitting and persevering. I regularly quit projects that I’ve lost interest in or that I can’t make better. I think letting go of what’s not working is important, so that I can make room for new ideas and manuscripts. But I’ll stay with a project for an awfully long time if I still feel passionate about it. (I wrote ZAP! CLAP! BOOM! in 2008, which gives you an idea of how long I spent trying to place it with a publisher.)
Q 7. What new projects are you working on now?
Susan: I’m shopping around another animal-related poetry collection (if there are any agents or editors reading this, let’s chat!), working on two picture book biographies of unsung women, and I have several more projects in various stages of submission or revision.
Laura: Besides various books already in the pipeline, I’m working on a couple of Christmas board books and a rhyming, lyrical board book or picture book–not sure what it is yet! Next month, I might have a totally different answer :>)
Aimee: I’m working on a lyrically-written picture book about a mysterious animal with a fascinating history as well as a fictional picture book about an animal-loving boy. Every now and then I plug away at a novel in verse and I hope to be able to announce my 2024 project soon!
Happy #BookBirthday(s) to these fabulous GreenPB23 books!
And thanks to ALL of you for joining us today.
To learn more about these authors, checks out their
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