Monday, April 29, 2013

Moroccan Desert Inspires Christine Brodien-Jones' 'Scorpions'

Author Christine Brodien-Jones is always up for adventure. At least, judging by her middle-grade novels she seems to be. A former journalist, editor, and teacher, Christine brings a spirit of inquiry and excitement to her writing. The Owl Keeper (Delacorte, 2010) tells the story of a brave young forest boy who must overcome the powers of the dark by harnessing the ancient forces of the owls. And her forthcoming The Glass Puzzle, which will be published by Delacorte in July, pits an 11-year-old girl and her cousin against sinister forces in a sleepy seaside town in Wales.

In her thrilling fantasy novel The Scorpions of Zahir (Delacorte, 2012), young people do battle against ancient and deadly powers again, this time in Morocco. The story features 11-year-old Zagora Pym, who has always dreamed of becoming a desert explorer. When a mysterious letter arrives for her father, she and her astronomy-obsessed brother travel with their dad to Morocco in search of a fellow with the curious name of Pitblade Yegen. He's an explorer who was lost in the desert years back near the ancient city of Zahir. There's a little something the daring Zagora has been keeping from Dad: she’s been reading the journal that Pitblade left behind. In it, Zagora discovers the forgotten legends of Zahir as well as ominous threats to the city itself. For the intrepid Zagora, she can't get there fast enough.

Question: The Scorpions of Zahir transports young readers to modern day Morocco as well as the exotic desert of the past. And your writing conjures up the tastes and smells of a distant, exciting land. What made you choose this setting and take readers to this part of the world?

Christine Brodien-Jones: Since I was very young I’ve been fascinated by the desert—I remember constructing a pyramid with a mummy inside for a school science fair project—and I’ve been to Cairo, Thebes, Tangiers, Fez, and Marrakech. The impetus for The Scorpions of Zahir goes back to the summer of 1998 when I traveled with my husband and two sons for three weeks through Morocco. The intensity of that experience haunted me for a long time afterwards: the heat and dust, the exotic smells and colors, the people, the music, the frenetic pace of Marrakech and, most evocative of all, the Sahara. We traveled by camel and camped under the stars in the desert, eating tagine baked under the sand and waking up the next morning to find our camels gone (the camel driver eventually rounded them up!). For this book I decided to send the Pym family on a similar journey to Morocco, based loosely on our experiences.

I was also influenced by a number of books I’d read, among them The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp, which describes the search for the fabled Arabian city of Ubar; Paul Bowles’ Under the Sheltering Sky follows three American travelers adrift in North Africa after World War II; and Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio, which tells of the last days of the Tuareg, who are being driven from their ancestral lands in North Africa. All three books explore the impassive cruelty and seemingly infinite emptiness of the desert, which started me thinking about how the desert can change you, a concept that became intrinsic to the book.

Q: Where did you get the idea for Zagora, the fearless heroine of The Scorpions of Zahir? Are you like her? Or was she inspired by women you've read about or known?  

CBJ: There’s some of me in eleven-year-old Zagora, for instance her burning desire to go to the Sahara and find the legendary city of Zahir. Along with wanting to be an author when I was a kid, I also dreamed of being an archaeologist and digging up a buried city. I like to think that in some ways I was like her when young—though perhaps not as brave!

Freya Stark is Zagora’s No. 1 heroine and both, as I see them, possess a true spirit of adventure.  I read about Freya in our Footprints handbook which, like the book Zagora’s dad carries around, was our travel book for Morocco. Freya Stark traveled to remote areas in Turkey and the Middle East where few Europeans, particularly women, had traveled before. She was celebrated in her lifetime as the quintessential explorer.
 
The New York Times called Bowles’ characters “tough and savvy and true to themselves” and I hope Zagora comes off that way by the end of the book, after going through so many harrowing desert experiences.

Q: I will never be able to think about a scorpion again without shuddering. How did you decide on such dreadful creatures to pit against Zagora and her band of adventurers? 

CBJ: I’ve never seen a real scorpion (and hope I never do), but I’ve read extensively about them.  And I have a friend who was stung by a scorpion and almost didn’t survive. The thought of scorpions truly gives me the shivers. Ugh. So when I was trying to come up with a scary desert creature, a scorpion was the first thing that popped into my head. Then I thought: what if there were lots of scorpions and they were growing bigger?

Q: The Scorpions of Zahir's plot moves at a breakneck pace, which keeps readers turning pages. Yet Zagora and her brother are well-drawn characters. Was it hard to write an adventure story while keeping an eye on making your characters real and believable?

CBJ: The characters of Zagora and Duncan were always clear to me from the beginning, but as I journeyed with them through a number of drafts I got to know them much better. The two editors who worked on the book suggested I tone Zagora down a bit and make Duncan less whiny, which made it easier for these two characters to reconcile in the end.

I think that if you know your characters well and throw them into a dangerous, nail-biting situation, it’s not all that difficult to make them believable because you know pretty much how they’ll react.

Q: Zagora goes through some serious battles, and her bravery is tested at every turn. Will we expect to see more stories of everyday kids doing extraordinary things in your next novel?  

CBJ: You will! My next book The Glass Puzzle is set on the coast of Wales, in Tenby, a medieval walled town in Wales with secret tunnels running beneath the streets. The town is famous for its pirates, smugglers and caves, and some buildings are supposedly haunted by ghosts. I’ve twice visited Tenby, and it truly is a mysterious, windswept place. The book revolves around two cousins, Zoé and Ian, and their Welsh friend Pippin, who discover a glass puzzle that’s been hidden away for decades, unleashing ancient forces that threaten their idyllic summer town in sinister ways.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your books? And what do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

CBJ: I write for middle-grader readers because I loved books so much at that age—especially fantasy. Reading was always a journey for me, filled with danger, mystery and adventure, and I remember losing myself inside books for hours. Once I grew up, I rediscovered children’s books through my two sons; now I write the kinds of books I would’ve enjoyed reading as a kid. I hope my books will spark the imaginations of young readers, take them from their everyday lives to unexpected places, and maybe even inspire them to write a story of their own.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Celebrate Earth Day With Esme Raji Codell's 'Seed by Seed'

We love Earth Day around here, and there's no better way to invest in the planet's future than sitting down with a child and reading a powerful book. In honor of the occasion, we reached out to the lovely Esmé Raji Codell, whose non-fiction picture book Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John "Appleseed" Chapman (Greenwillow Books, 2012) is a must-have for every classroom and every family with a green hue. Illustrated by Newbery Award winner (and clearly multi-talented) Lynne Rae Perkins, this is a book with a dynamic duo at the helm. (Take one look at the gorgeous embroidery work illustrating Chapman's trees, and you'll be bowled over.)

Seed by Seed tells the story of John Chapman, a man who grew apples about 200 years ago. At first, readers might wonder why the world needs another telling of the Johnny Appleseed tale, why we should even bother thinking about a Massachusetts farmer whose life seems part fact, part fiction to begin with. But Esmé makes a convincing case that, in our hyped-up, complicated world, John Chapman's simple philosophy is more important now than ever: He lived by example.

Question: The story of Johnny Appleseed is a familiar one, but your take on it is fresh and compelling. What made you choose this particular story to write?

Esmé Raji Codell: I chose this story out of a teaching place in my heart. There are quite a few Johnny Appleseed books out there, and very good Johnny Appleseed books to boot, but I found that for me personally, none of them foot the bill for what I wanted to share about my hero. I was an inner-city kid who found a lot of inspiration in the story of Johnny Appleseed, so I wanted to write a Johnny Appleseed book that an inner-city kid could read and think, I have something in common with this person, even though he lived a long time ago, even though he might have a different skin color than I have, even though he lived in the country and the woods.

So I wrote the book exactly the way I teach about John Chapman in the schools of Chicago, breaking down his life into five footsteps he left for us to follow:

  • Share what you have.  
  • Use what you have.  
  • Respect nature.  
  • Make peace where there is war.  
  • You can reach your destination by taking small steps. 

When children see this sort of synopsis of the main idea of a person’s whole life, they think: I can follow in those footsteps right now…in fact, sometimes, I already do! The model can also be used with any picture book biography. Read any picture book and ask, “What footsteps did this person leave that I could follow?” Makes a hell of a bulletin board. I also chose this story to explore the idea of legend and truth, fact and fiction. I think discussing the difference is especially germane nowadays, and important to practice as a citizen, and Seed by Seed offers that opportunity.

Q: You're a prolific author who writes to a variety of audiences, from preschoolers to middle-grade readers to teachers and parents. So why a picture book? Is there an author-audience connection made in reading aloud to children that differs from other genres?

ERC: For this particular book, I had a picture book in mind because history is very abstract and can distance the reader from the subject. Pictures draw the reader in, using visual cues to help the readers easily tune in to what’s recognizable or in common between the past and the present, and make the differences beautiful and interesting. I think that’s why picture book biography is possibly the strongest genre in children’s literature right now; it uses the idea of art and the idea of using a book for information both to maximum effect. I think Lynne Rae Perkins, the illustrator, did a wonderful job with this; she turned it into a kind of a “time travel” experience, which is what reading can be.

You’re asking how reading aloud picture books is a different experience than reading other genres? Well, for one, it’s a lot faster than a chapter book! There’s a more immediate reward and sense of completion and success, feelings that contribute to more reading and lifelong reading. That’s another reason I imagined Seed by Seed as a picture book; I wanted readers to connect quickly and viscerally. I think picture books are also especially important because kids nowadays are exposed to more visual media than any generation before. So the more we show children picture books and talk about them across the grade levels, the more we are preparing them to negotiate signals they get from the modern world…even if the subject is a man who lived over two hundred years ago.

Q: Authors can often get tangled up when trying to weave in a "message" to readers. But Seed by Seed works so beautifully because you seem to let John Chapman's message speak for itself. What do you hope readers take away from the book? 

ERC: Empowerment. Everything about Johnny Appleseed’s story is about using resources and recognizing what you have…not only material things, but also the people around you, what you believe, the stories inside of you. Everybody has these. In the act of planting small seeds, John Chapman was able to change the landscape of the nation. I hope readers use the book as an occasion to reflect on one small, consistent thing they can do every day that makes a difference in our country, and recognize that they don’t need money or power to begin. For me, the one small thing I can do every day that can change the nation, that’s read-aloud! But everyone has a different seed to plant. That’s why the book ends with the question: “what seed will you plant?” Your turn. You can do it.

Q: As a school librarian by day, author by night, you are immersed in a world of books and the power of written language. What do you hope readers take away from your body of writing?

ERC: Wow, what a question. A brilliant independent bookseller named Deb at the Reading Reptile in Kansas City once synopsized my writing as being about little girls working very hard to be good people. I think, more broadly, that’s what my books are about: people who are trying to do the right thing and actualize their best selves, whether they are teachers, parents, little girls, witches, basketball players, or orchard farmers. It does take a lot of work, sometimes. I hope in the course of experiencing my writing, readers laugh a little, feel someone else’s feelings as their own, or decide something is possible. And/or. Actually, now that your question made me spell it out, I guess these are the goals of my teaching, too. Teaching is a really big part of my life, and probably my writing is an extension of teaching for me. This kind of leads into your next question…

Q: Can you talk about your creative process. How do you choose your next project? Does it come from a void you see on a library shelf? Or does it come from a child you engage with at the library? What drives you to want to start that next book?

ERC: The start of my process comes from being a reader. When I look at a bookshelf, I don’t just see bound paper, I see rows and rows of authors and artists trying to share something with me. It’s like in every book, the author or illustrator has made a little gift of a piece of themselves: like a little prism through which I can peer, and see the world through someone else’s eyes or mind or heart. In this way, books are always presents (even if sometimes you want to return or re-gift the present). What could be lovelier?

Authors and illustrators must be very nice, to go to all that trouble to take that part of themselves and put it in this accessible, hopefully joyful and rather vulnerable form. As a reader, I can reciprocate by receiving the gift graciously. Not saying nasty, flippant things on the Internet (like authors don’t have the Internet, seriously?! We know who you are), accepting or rejecting the ideas in the book civilly, reading carefully, appreciating the effort of many people who worked together to make something. That’s all that's expected of the exchange, I think.

But anyone knows, it’s better to give than to receive, even when it’s not Christmastime. So I guess the urge to create a book to add to that shelf is the same impetus that one might have in giving a present to someone else, especially after you’ve gotten so many lovely gifts yourself.

First of all, I have to imagine my audience. That makes me want to make something lovely and try my best for you. Then, what is the best thing I have that I could give you? Depends on who you are. If you are a new teacher, it might be a chance to look in my private diary, Educating Esmé, so you feel less alone while you do your very hard work. If you are a parent or teacher who needs to equalize education in a country that is socioeconomically “separate but equal,” I guess I would give you the power of trade literature, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading.

If you were a little girl who wants to grant her own wishes instead of waiting for wands or princes, I’d give you Diary of a Fairy Godmother. If you are a preschooler who needs to laugh and likes to say “no!”  I’d give you Fairly Fairy Tales. If you were just starting school, I’d give you It’s Time for Preschool, and if you’re trying to survive the labeling and bullying that happens in schools, I’d give you Sahara Special or Vive la Paris. What drives me to write a new book for publication is seeing someone I love who needs a present, or sensing that something needs to be shared to make things better...do you know that feeling?

For Seed by Seed, I wanted to share the life of somebody who inspired me, so you can be inspired, too, and so you could feel like you have enough inside of yourself to begin whatever work you need to do. I think what they all have in common is that I always have a teacher or a classroom in mind when I write. I read-aloud what I write, imagining the teacher who will read it aloud down the line. I imagine what questions or discussions might come out of what I write. I wrote a whole book, Sing a Song of Tuna Fish, to encourage classroom journaling; every first sentence of every section could be used as a writing prompt. Of course, the books don’t have to be read this way, but they can be, I make sure. I am very driven by fortifying the teacher and the child. I like both of them a lot and want to give them presents.

Technically, I wrote about my process in a pep talk for young writers at NaNoWriMo, and I used the theme of a seed there, too, so many years before this Johnny Appleseed book was published. I guess seeds take time to germinate.

Q: And what will we see next from you?

ERC: Oh, no you don’t! My high school English teacher told me, “if it comes out of your mouth, it won’t come out of your pen,” so I’m very superstitious about that. I have books and other writing in progress, I have to decide if they are for sharing when they are done. Meanwhile, I will be working hard at teaching in the Chicago Public Schools, which takes a lot of energy. Maybe as much as growing an apple orchard.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Renee Watson's 'Blackbird' Celebrates Harlem Renaissance

The best non-fiction books for children bring facts and historical events to life in colorful and memorable ways. They make understanding our past more accessible and interesting, and Renée Watson's picture book Harlem's Little Blackbird (Random House, 2012) is a perfect example. An author of picture books, middle-grade, as well as poetry and performance, Renée is also a teacher. And it shows in her beautiful telling of the story of Florence Mills, a lesser-known figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Earning a starred review in Booklist, Harlem's Little Blackbird is lushly illustrated in a mixed-media, folk-art style by Christian Robinson.

Florence Mills could sing as sweetly as the birds, and she performed across the United States and London, even wowing the Prince of Wales. But she was painfully aware of the racism of the times and that her friends and family were kept out of the theaters where she performed. She became an activist against discrimination, refusing to perform unless the white-owned theaters allowed her loved ones to be part of the audience. She even turned down an opportunity to join the Ziegfeld Follies, opting instead to work a show that promoted young black talent.

Question: Florence Mills is a lesser-known artist of the Harlem Renaissance. How did you come to learn her story, and what inspired you to share it with a young audience?

Renée Watson: After finishing my first picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, 2010), my editor and I discussed what I wanted to write next. I told her I wanted to tell a story about an African American woman who did extraordinary things, that young people might not know about. We learn about the brave and legendary women Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman often. I wanted to add an unsung hero to the list.

My editor recommended I research Florence Mills. I had never heard of her but as soon as I started learning her story, I knew I wanted to tell it.

Q: One of the challenges of writing a picture book is distilling your story to its most important elements. Was it hard to choose what details of her life to include and what to leave out?

RW: Yes, it was definitely a challenge to figure out what to put in and what to leave out. A question I asked myself with every scene of the book was, “Why is this important to tell a child?”  or “Why does this matter?”

My hope was that young people—regardless of if they wanted to be a singer—would see that you’re never too young to use your voice for something good and that regardless of where you come from, you can achieve great things.

Q: Because no recordings or films of Florence Mills' performances exist, it must have made researching her life a challenge. How did you go about getting the information you needed to tell her story?

RW: I did most of my research at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is located in Harlem. The Schomburg Center has a research collection on Florence that has news clippings from the '20s, playbills from her shows, letters she wrote—all kinds of personal artifacts. I was able to read firsthand accounts and see photos of her. The book wouldn’t have been possible without the resources at the Schomburg. I also read Bill Egan’s book, Harlem Jazz Queen.  Bill’s extensive research on Florence was also a great resource for me.

Q: You are the author of other picture books, a middle-grade novel, you write poetry, perform onstage–what do you hope to achieve in your art? What message do you hope your readers take away from your writing?

RW: I don’t think there’s one specific thing I hope readers take away from my work. In general, I hope I am bringing characters and situations to young people that they can relate to. My writing mixes the bitter and the sweet. It puts deep sorrow and profound joy right next to each other because often times, that’s how it is in life. We are experiencing many emotions at once, having good days and bad days in one week. I hope that young people walk away from my books accepting that and feeling like they can handle whatever life throws at them.

Q: Harlem's Little Blackbird is a beautiful book in both its story and in the remarkable pictures by Christian Robinson. Do you have a soft spot for picture books and the way they can bring a story to life so creatively? What medium do you enjoy the most and why?

RW: As an educator, I love using picture books in the classroom to teach even my older middle- or high-school students. I use them to teach plot, story arc, symbolism—there’s so much you can do in the classroom with picture books.

And then, there’s my role as an auntie. I love snuggling with my nephews and nieces and reading morning or bedtime stories with them. There really is something special about witnessing a child discover words, point to pictures, and name the things they see.

So, yes, I do have a soft spot for picture books. As a writer, it is so moving to see my words inspire a visual artist to create illustrations. Every time I receive a sketch, I am in awe. I enjoy the collaboration that happens between an author and an illustrator. There’s a certain level of trust and humility that goes into this work, and I have been so fortunate to work with two very talented artists. Both Shadra Strickland and Christian Robinson deepened the meaning of my words with their illustrations and that’s what you hope happens.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Hero We Can All Get Behind: Liesl Shurtliff's 'Rump'

Fairytales never grow old, just like many of the characters who inhabit them. And Liesl Shurtliff's Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Knopf, April 2013) is a delightfully cheeky (forgive me) retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. Consider it a backstory of the curious and misunderstood little man of spinning gold and stolen babies. This is Liesl's debut novel, and with a starred review from Kirkus, as well as Publisher's Weekly trumpeting that "the picaresque-style narrative gives the maligned character a refreshingly plainspoken voice," we're sure to see more wonderful works from her.

Twelve-year-old Rump has never known his full name. Having lost his mother young, before she could utter or explain it, he's been the butt of everyone's jokes for as long as he can remember. However, things begin to change for Rump when he stumbles upon an old spinning wheel. Suddenly, Rump has something to offer as he learns he can spin straw into magical gold. On Rump's journey to figure out his full name and his destiny, he discovers much more about himself.

Question: What inspired you to put your own spin on the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale?

Liesl Shurtliff: I was actually brainstorming another story idea when I imagined a world where names are much more than just a title, but a person’s destiny. Instantly my mind gravitated toward the Rumpelstiltskin tale, for if there was ever a name of great importance in a story, it’s that one. And yet, for the crucial role he and his name play in the story, we know so little of Rumpelstiltskin in the traditional tale. We know nothing of where he comes from, what his name means, how he learned to spin straw into gold, or why on earth he would want someone’s first born child. I’ve read a few retellings that are well written and answer some of these questions, but I wanted to tell a story from Rumpelstiltksin’s point-of-view, and not only so we would understand him, but also love him. Shortening his name to Rump got me on the right track and everything grew from there.

Q: In the world of fairytales, the princesses tend to get most of the attention and shelf space. Did you choose to write about Rump and his plucky best friend, Red, for a reason? Were you trying to reach a particular audience?

LS: I can’t say that I was writing it for any reason other than to carry out an idea that was growing inside of me. I didn’t think of what is or isn’t on the shelf, necessarily. (Though I will admit that I felt my premise was a unique one and that gave me confidence.)

It was clear to me from the beginning that this was going to be a middle-grade book, not because that’s what I wanted, but because that’s just where the voice and story naturally fell. Rump always had a lightness and humor that felt very natural to the age. I guess my inner 10-year-old is alive and well.

Q: Rump has some delightful quirks to his personality, especially a knack for making up rhymes. Do you share Rump's idiosyncrasies? 

LS: I do! Though I’m not so carefree with showing those idiosyncrasies with people I don’t know. Admittedly I cover myself up a lot of time, and don’t reveal my “weirdness” until I feel comfortable that a person isn’t going to think I’m completely mad. But really, we’re all a little mad around here, aren’t we?

Q: Rump makes wonderful realizations as he wrestles with his destiny. "Deep inside I have a power that no one can take away from me. A deep magic more powerful than any magic placed upon me. A magic I that I was born with, that grew inside me, deep in my bones." What do you hope kids take away from your story?

LS: Mostly, I just hope kids will enjoy the story, and come away with a sense of satisfaction that my version of a classic tale filled in the holes of a tale with many holes. I never write something with the motive to make people learn or understand something I feel they should know. However, if readers so choose to contemplate a lasting message from Rump I hope it will be that as humans, we are living paradoxes. We are complete messes sometimes, whether we inherited the mess or created the mess ourselves, but we also have this incredible power inside of us to confront those messes and untangle them and clean them up. No one gets through life without encountering hard things, but we can do hard things!

Q: What's ahead in your writing? Will we see more of Rump and Red? Or another completely original take on a traditional fairytale?

I think Rump’s tale has essentially been told. He could possibly crop up in a very off-hand way in another tale, but I don’t have any plans for him. As for Red, I adore her character and hope to tell her story some day, but for now she is taking a rest because, good golly, she went through a lot, too, and I imagine her own path is a difficult one.

I am working on another fairy-tale! One that I think will be just as fun and satisfying as Rump, if not more so, but I am keeping the details a secret until I am certain it’s going to work out. It’s still in the beginning stages and I don’t want to tell anyone what’s up next when I’m not certain that it’s actually going to happen. I hope it does!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Laurie Lawlor 's 'Rachel Carson' Shows the Power of One

With Earth Day around the corner, it seems a perfect time to spotlight Laurie Lawlor's terrific non-fiction picture book Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World (Holiday House, 2012). And even better timing is that Laurie and her book will be receiving the prestigious John
Burroughs Riverby Award, which recognizes outstanding nature books for young readers, today at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Rachel Carson and Her Book, which is illustrated by Laura Beingessner, has also been named to the ALA Amelia Bloomer Project List for children's books that promote a feminist outlook.

Question: Your book is not only a look at Rachel Carson's life, but at the importance of her book Silent Spring. What made you decide to write about this? Where did the spark come from?

Laurie Lawlor: I have always been interested in books about the environment, specifically how to inspire children and young adult readers to go outside and explore and understand where they live. The great challenge is to create a book that is not all gloom and doom – the kind we see so often about species extinction and the rapid deterioration of the planet. While it’s important to understand these ongoing threats, it’s easy as a young reader to begin to sense only despair and defeat. How can one person make a difference? Asking this question helped me re-discover Rachel Carson and her seminal work, Silent Spring, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

I began exploring her early work about the ocean. What amazed me most was the freshness of Silent Spring – how it speaks to us today. Carson took incredible risks to publish Silent Spring, which had such an enormous impact on the beginning of the environmental movement in this country and around the world. I found her courage and dedication to writing clearly and truthfully very heroic, especially in light of her own battle with cancer as she was struggling to finish.

Q: The challenge to writing a picture book is the economy of language – distilling your thoughts down to a few tight sentences. How hard was this to do with a book like this one, where the ideas are so immense?

LL: This was probably one of the biggest challenges. I have written much longer biographies of such individuals as Daniel Boone, Captain James Cook, Edward Curtis, William Henry Jackson, and Helen Keller. Creating an accessible yet accurate and engaging biography about Rachel Carson with a limited format was very difficult. What to include? What to leave out? I was very pleased to have the back-matter area of the book to give more in-depth information about the impact of Silent Spring on environmental laws and the furor that she faced from the well-funded chemical industry.

Q: Your book has just been named an Amelia Bloomer Book: What does this mean to you? And what does this mean for the book?

LL: I am absolutely thrilled about this list because Rachel Carson was an individual, like Amelia Bloomer, who bucked the system. During the mid-20th century years, when she was struggling to become a biologist, few women were accepted in this field. She faced enormous prejudice not only
in her collegiate training but in her job search. Yet she did not give up on her dream of writing and research. I think that today this message is very powerful for young girls and young adult women who are still woefully underrepresented in the fields of science and technology. I have two bright granddaughters who I hope will feel free to explore these fields and pursue their passions, too!

Q: You're the author of more than 30 books and counting. What do you hope young readers take from your stories?

LL: The desire to explore, to find out more, to think about possibilities that maybe they’ve never considered before.

Q: With so many books to your name already, you might run out of ideas. Where do your inspirations for new books come from? How do you decide the next project you're going to tackle? And what will we see next from you?

LL: I love research, and so I hope to never run out of ideas. One “detective” trail usually leads to another and then another. If I could, I’d just keep sleuthing in libraries and museums and special collection departments and trips to cemeteries and ruins and never write the book. Research is
so much more fun. I am currently working on a young adult love story set in western England during the tumultuous years of the early 17th century – a time not so different from our own. This book has an environmental theme as well because it is about the political unrest and turmoil centered around the little known story of the draining and sale of the moors by wealthy land owners.  These early English wetlands had traditionally been held as common land by poor crofters and cottagers, and provided them with a way to keep their families alive with fish, fowl, reeds for their thatch roofs, and turf for their fires. The customs, magic, and folktales surrounding this fragile ecosystem are fascinating – and so are the tough people who lived there.