Getting to Know: Gabi Snyder

 

I love to look at the world. I love to look at books. And I find I’m really loving to look at the stunning new book, LOOK (Paula Wiseman Books/S&S, April 2024) by author Gabi Synder, which is all about – you got it – looking! I caught up Gabi to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on your wonderful new book, LOOK! As an art teacher, one of my main goals in training young artists is getting them to really SEE, so I’ll definitely be using this in my classroom. What inspired you to write this book?

Gabi: Thanks, Jonathan! Getting ourselves to really see the world around us can be challenging. It can be easy to walk through our days with a kind of tunnel vision, not really noticing much. I wrote LOOK as an ode to paying attention to patterns in the world around us, both in the natural world and in the world of human-made things. I’ve always enjoyed looking for patterns. As a child, I found patterns both fascinating and calming. Discovering a pattern can feel like unlocking a mystery or solving a puzzle. Patterns help us make sense of the world around us. And seeing or creating a pattern is intrinsically satisfying and reassuring – like being able to predict the next note in a song. I hope the story provides an example of how tuning into the world around us and paying attention to all the patterns we share can help us feel centered and connected.

Me: I’m not sure if it’s because I have an artistic sensibility, but I always find great joy just looking at things; the play of light, shadows, reflections. What do you find the most joy in looking at?

Gabi: I agree. There’s so much joy in looking at things. I love seeing the dance of light – sunlight or moonlight – across water. I love dappled light through trees. And starlight and constellations can be mesmerizing. And rainbows! Seeing a rainbow – or a double rainbow – always feels magical to me. In terms of patterns, I especially love fractals. Look at this Romanesco broccoli. The way the pattern repeats at different scales is simply beautiful!

Roman broccoli extreme close up

 

Me: The illustrations by Samantha Cotterill are stunning to say the least. How did you two get paired? Is there anything you can share about her process or your collaboration?

Gabi: Samantha Cotterill’s illustrations took my breath away! I suspect that we were paired because my editor knew that Sam’s intricate diorama style would be the perfect match for my manuscript with its focus on patterns. I love the intricate 3D worlds Sam creates, and I’m totally smitten with her super-saturated colors and exquisite lighting.

I know child me would’ve loved spending hours inside this book – seeking all the patterns, some easy to find and some hidden, within Sam’s art. And there’s a whole extra layer of story told through the art that’s only hinted at in the text. We see packed boxes and a “sold” sign on the family’s house. And we can see that the boy in the story will soon have a new sibling.

 

In terms of Sam’s process, she’s shared that she decided it would be “best to illustrate LOOK in a more realistic manner…one that would enable a smooth transition for the reader from the book to their own world surroundings” when looking for patterns. She also shared that before this book she did not enjoy drawing flowers and was avoiding the flora in this book for while. But what an incredible job she did with the flowers! Here’s Sam’s favorite from the book’s cover.

 

And a beautiful boat.

 

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Gabi: I dabbled in writing for several years before I took a leap and studied creative writing, with a focus on writing fiction for adults, at the University of Texas. After earning my MA, I took a succession of jobs that used writing (like grant writing and instructional design), but I struggled to find time for my own writing.

Fast forward to 2013: when my kids were little (3 and 5), we moved from Austin to Corvallis, Oregon. With a break from work following the move, I found time to get back to my own writing. Only by then, I’d become immersed in the world of picture books and fallen in love with this form of storytelling. In 2014, I wrote my first picture book drafts.

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Gabi: Currently I’m working on a story about dreaming and another about starlight. And I’m (very slowly) revising a middle grade manuscript with a touch of magic realism that’s set in Seattle.

Me: Intriguing! Thanks so much for sharing. Wishing LOOK much success!

BONUS! A few more days to enter this fun giveaway:

LOOK PRE-ORDER GIVEAWAY!

Illustrator Samanatha Cotterill is offering an amazing LOOK pre-order giveaway!

Link to giveaway — https://www.formpl.us/form/6484744827437056

 

“I am excited to offer two glossy 5 x 7″ art prints from our upcoming book when you pre-order a copy from anywhere books are sold. Simply submit your proof of purchase (a simple photo of the receipt with sensitive information crossed out will suffice), and I will send you two prints, a doodle, AND enter you in to win one of 5 free custom journals to mark your own observations in! (Prints and journals will go out the first week of May. This giveaway ends April 15th at 11:59pm EST)”

And to learn more about Gabi, please visit: gabisnyder.com

Getting to Know: Dave Roman

 

One of the many fun things about always attending the Gaithersburg Book Festival has been getting to know perennial guest, Dave Roman (who comes down from NYC!) When I first met Dave, he was working on his cool series ASTRONAUT ACADEMY (hmm, guess I like books about kids going to school in space). But now he has a new hero: Unicorn Boy! I caught up with Dave to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on your awesome new graphic novel, UNICORN BOY (First Second, March 2024)! I love the mix of magic, talking muffins, friendship and – spoiler alert – the power of cats! How did you come up with this epic tale?

Dave: All my books are just big mashups of cartoons, movies, and books I’ve thrown into a blender and frapped into something with my own weird flavors added in. I initially started making a “fractured fairytales” anthology type book for all these random ideas that kept calling for attention from my sketchbook. I had drawn a simple doodle of a boy with a Unicorn horn and as I began fleshing out a story for him, I started to identify with him in ways I didn’t expect. It grew into a chance to do a very traditional hero’s journey story but with a personal connection.

 

Me: Can you share a little about your writing and illustrating process?

Dave: Usually, I write scattershot over the course of a long time! Ideas will come to me at random times, and I just jot them down in a notebook or google doc until enough of them collect into something that starts to excite me and take over my brain. Comics are visual so it’s often something about the characters that seem like they would be fun to draw! Sometimes I start with a short outline and other times I dive in and start sketching out rough comic pages to get a better sense of what this project could FEEL like. Best case scenario I don’t start to second guess myself too much! So often I’ll be really into the idea at first and then as I’m writing an inner critic takes over and dissects every aspect of the initial idea. Too often I shelve my work in progress and never show it to anyone. It takes a lot of disconnect from reality before I show a pitch to my agent or even close friends! Most of my comic pages still start off with pencil drawings and I used to ink with a brush and India ink. But about 100 pages into inking Unicorn Boy book one I started experimenting with inking in the Procreate app on an Ipad. I’m still getting used to it, but it was a chance to try something new and it allowed me to ink at the park and over friend’s houses which was good for my mental health!

Me: Editors always help improve work, but since you also edit graphic novels, what’s it like being edited yourself?

Dave: Ha! Yeah, I’m a really harsh editor on myself! I’m always reading and re-reading my work-in-progress and looking for story issues, better ways to say things, sometimes replacing entire scenes at the last minute! But even then, I can miss glaring issues, so I’m grateful to have the help of folks like Steve Foxe and Samia Fakih to keep my stories from going (too far) off the rails!

Me: “But that’s a story for another book…” Does this mean that we can expect a UNICORN BOY 2?

Dave: Yes! I was very fortunate that First Second said from the start that Unicorn Boy should be (at least) a three book series! It’s exciting and overwhelming because it means no breaks between drawing books! I’m halfway into drawing book 2 and currently feel like it’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever made. There’s a ton of new characters and the ones from book 1 get to really mature in heartfelt and also hilarious ways!

 

Me: Any other fun projects lined up?

Dave: I wish I had time to draw other projects! Unicorn Boy has totally taken over my life. But hopefully by the time I’m drawing Book 3, I’ll be able to sneak off a bit and play with some other characters waiting patiently for attention. I also have all these ideas for silly podcasts that I never get around to!

Me: Hey, I never get around to most ideas too! Guess that’s the nature of things…

In the meantime, wishing UNICORN BOY much success! And see you at this year’s GBF on May 18!

To learn more about Dave and his books, please visit: it’s yaytime! | dave roman

Getting to Know: Leslie Barnard Booth

 

Next up in my interviews with fellow STEAM TEAMERS (a group of kidlit authors and illustrators bonding over STEAM titles we have releasing this year) is Leslie Barnard Booth, who beautifully chronicled the life of a little found rock in A STONE IS A STORY, and now tackles the life cycle of a tree. I caught up with Leslie to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on your stunning new book, ONE DAY THIS TREE WILL FALL (Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2024). As a tree and nature lover, I really appreciate how you present a holistic look at how trees fit into ecosystems at all stages of their lives and even beyond. What inspired you to write this book?

 

Leslie: Thank you, Jonathan! I’m so glad those themes resonated with you! Yes, a tree’s life (and death) can’t be separated from the forest ecosystem! And a tree is itself a whole ecosystem! The seed of this story came from a few places. At the preschool my children attended and where I worked for a time, a group of kids were doing this amazing study of a rotting stump. They were dissecting it and learning about all the little critters that lived inside it. At the same time, I was reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. This book made me think of trees differently—as responsive organisms with dramatic life histories. The incredible drama of a tree’s life is often hidden from us because it occurs on a timescale too long for us to observe and appreciate. But in a book, we have all the time we want! We can spend 1,000 years watching a single tree! So, I knew I wanted this book to cover a tree’s whole life, and to be dramatic—to show the tree’s active struggle to live. I decided I wanted the reader to care about the tree, to love the tree, to identify with it, so that the idea of the tree eventually falling and dying is sad. But then, I wanted to prove to the reader that trees live on, even after they die. Which is true! A dead tree, as those preschoolers discovered, is absolutely chock full of life. So, knowing that’s what I wanted to accomplish, it occurred to me to set up the story of the tree almost like a cradle to grave biography, but one where the concept of “grave” is upended. Because, in the context of a forest ecosystem, a tree’s story has no end.

Me: I have favorite trees I like to observe (and say hi to). Do you have any favorite trees?

Leslie: I love that you asked this question (and I want to meet your favorite trees!). I most certainly do have a favorite tree. I walk past this tree on my everyday neighborhood walk. It’s an old, gnarled maple with great big strong twisted arms and a hollowed-out heart. If you look in that hollow (as I do each day in greeting 😊) you’ll see that it’s full of beautiful bracket fungi! And word to the wise: sometimes when you peek in, you may also encounter a surprised squirrel!

 

Me: The illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman really bring life to the tree and its setting. How did you two get paired? Is there anything you can share about her process or your collaboration?

Leslie: Yes, isn’t Stephanie’s work amazing! The publisher paired us, and I am so grateful for it! It’s been wonderful to see how Stephanie took this text and deepened it by showing the tree from different perspectives. I also love her portrayal of the wildlife in this book. She does a phenomenal job bringing animals to life—showing the bounce of a squirrel on a branch, the cuddling of owls, the connection between a woodpecker and her chicks.

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Leslie: I’ve always been a huge admirer of picture books, but I transitioned into writing for kids when I had young kids of my own. At home, I was completely immersed in picture books! I read them day in and day out—and sometimes in the middle of the night! So, I set aside the novel I’d been working on for years and got serious about learning how to write picture books. I attended SCBWI events and started submitting work to children’s magazines. That’s how it all began!

 

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Leslie: My next book, I AM WE: A STORY OF SURVIVAL, releases with Chronicle in fall 2025, and it’s all about crows! During lockdown my children and I started paying more attention to our neighborhood crows. We began to really enjoy their daily rhythms. We noticed that huge flight lines of crows would stream west over our area at about the same time each evening. This spurred my interest in crows’ roosting behavior. I learned that in winter crows gather together by the thousands to sleep. After lockdown I was in downtown Portland one night, and I finally got to see for myself where they were all gathering. It was an unbelievable, heart-thundering spectacle of thousands of chattering birds. I AM WE explores this phenomenon!

Me: Can’t wait to see it! I love to watch the huge gathering of crows that flies here across Rockville, Maryland each day, often over our house. Cool concept! Wishing all your books much success!

To learn more, please visit: Leslie Barnard Booth | Children’s Book Author | STEM | Portland, Oregon

Getting to Know: Jennifer Swanson

 

While my first non-fiction book comes out this year, some authors are masters at bringing true stories and facts to kids. It’s especially exciting when a book covers a topic that hasn’t yet been covered before! I caught up with Jennifer Swanson to learn more about her new book, THE LOST FOREST:

Me: Congratulations on your fascinating new book, THE LOST FOREST: AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY BENEATH THE WAVES (Millbrook Press, April 2024)! What an interesting subject, I had no idea. And about a secret location too (kids will love that)! What inspired you to write this book?

Jennifer: I happen to know one of the scientists at Nahant Marine Science Center. His name is Dr. Brian Helmuth, and he was one of the experts on my Astronaut-Aquanaut book. When he learned that his team was getting a grant from NOAA to be the only team to conduct a research dive on a secret underwater forest off the coast in Alabama, he called me. Brian wanted to share his exciting news and also ask if I was interested in writing a book about this.

Was I? Absolutely!

Me: How did you research this topic and get to know the team? Have you been to the site?

Jennifer: So, I was invited to go on one of their research trips into the Gulf, but those were postponed due to covid. So, instead, I got to participate in several of the online team meetings they had. They gave me access to all of their reports, the photos, and the videos. It was so exciting to get an inside look at how scientists conduct research in the field. Unfortunately, I have not been to visit the site, yet. I’m hoping to do so maybe one day.

 

Me: One of my most profound experiences is diving down along The Wall (part of the Puerto Rico Trench) off St. Croix. Are you a diver?

Jennifer: I snorkel. I wish I could scuba dive, but I have a condition with one of my ears that prevents me from going deeper than 10 feet. I love watching videos, movies, and looking at pictures of dives. The closest I got was “diving” near Aquarius (the underwater research lab off the coast of Florida) through VR – virtual reality—goggles. It was AMAZING!

 

Me: How did you get into writing for kids?

Jennifer: I am a huge reader! I’ve always loved reading stories and writing ones of my own. About sixteen years ago, I thought it might be fun to take a writing class. For me, writing for kids was the best choice because the writing voice “in my head” is about 9 years old. It’s fun, it’s mischievous and very, very curious. I have also loved science my whole life. It seemed the perfect connection to write science books for kids. And it is! I really love sharing my curiosity about the world with kids of all ages.

I got started writing for kids by doing work-for-hire books for various educational publishers. My first break into trade came with the offer to write a book about the hugely popular National Geographic TV show, BRAIN GAMES.

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Jennifer: I am in final edits on the next Atlas Obscura book for kids that comes out summer 2025. I’m SO excited for this one! It’s called The Atlas Obscura Explorers Guide to Inventing the World, and I’m the coauthor. This is going to be such a cool book!!

Me: Can’t wait to see it! Thank you so much for being here. Wishing your book much success!

To learn more, please go to Jennifer Swanson – Author, Speaker, Teacher – Science Rocks – Jennifer Swanson (jenniferswansonbooks.com)

Getting to Know: Katy Tanis

 

This year I’m banding with a cool group of authors at SteamTeam Books to talk about and share our STEAM titles for kids releasing this year. Next up is the stunning board book, LOVE UNDER THE STARS (Mudpuppy, March 19 2024) by Katy Tanis. I caught up with Katy to learn more:

Me: Congratulations on your beautiful new book, LOVE UNDER THE STARS! I love how it combines animals at night with ways animals care for each other. What inspired you to write this book?

Katy: The first book in the series, Love in the Wild, came to be after I researched animals that exhibited LGBTQ+ behaviors, so I could paint a coming out gift for my cousin. There are so many heart-warming animal love stories I thought deserved to be highlighted and they didn’t all fit in the first book! I’ve always been fascinated by nocturnal animals, so I already knew some good love stories for that group. Whenever I travel, I take at least one nighttime forest walk (usually with guides because I am fascinated but also scared of the dark forests). I also love the way rainbow colors pop off black backgrounds, so I thought that would make a nice cover.

 

Me: How did you pick the animals? And how did you choose who got an entire spread or page vs. the forest scene at the end?

Katy: I wanted animals that had interesting love stories, but also wanted to make sure I had some diversity in the animals I chose. I LOVE nocturnal primates, so it was a battle with myself to not make the entire book about them! Animals who got their own spreads had unique behaviors I wanted to highlight, could make interesting illustrations, and worked in the rhyme scheme. That last spread was where a lot of the animals I didn’t get to feature elsewhere lived. I also specifically chose animals that sleep in tree holes for that spread.

 

Me: How did you get into creating books for kids?

Katy: I have answered this question quite a few times now in different interviews. And I doubt I have given the same answer every time. Because it seemed the many career paths I was exploring all eventually led to creating children’s books. In short, it’s a good mix of art, science, curiosity, and storytelling.

Me: The illustrations are stunning; I’m sure you’ll get a lot of love for the colors. What’s your illustration process?

Katy: I often use local library and bookstore art shows to explore a concept in images before I write any text. So quite a few of these illustrations started as pieces for art shows or personal art pieces before the book ever came together. I then adapt them for the size and format of the book. So many of these artworks start as real paintings and are redrawn digitally. Digital is clean and graphic which is nice for young readers. These days I mostly work on my iPad but I love layers so it’s a lot of back and forth between the ArtStudioPro on my iPad and Photoshop on my desktop.

 

Me: Can you share what you’re working on next?

Katy: I am currently working on the third book in this series, Love Under the Sea.

Me: Can’t wait to see it! Thank you so much, Katy. Wishing your book much success!

To learn more, please go to Katy’s site, Daughter Earth.