Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Behind the Books: Writing STEM Picture Books, Part 1

If you take a look at the revision timelines I created for my books No Monkeys, No Chocolate and Can an Aardvark Bark?, you can see that they took 10 years and 7 years, respectively, to create.

Writing a picture book of any kind, fiction or nonfiction, takes time and effort. To succeed, writers have to be patient and they have to be passionate. For me, the passionate nonfiction writing that goes into expository concept picture books about STEM topics starts with . . . a question.

Feathers: Not Just for Flying began with one sentence in a magazine article: “Hummingbird eyelashes are the smallest feathers in the world.”

When I read those words, my mind filled with questions. Birds have eyelashes? And they’re made of feathers? Exactly how small are they, and what do they look like?

All these questions eventually led me to a bigger question: How else do birds use their feathers in unexpected ways? Feathers: Not Just for Flying answers that question by providing sixteen examples.

The seed for Can an Aardvark Bark? was planted in my mind during a family trip to Disney World in 2010. At the time, my nephew was 9 and my nieces were 7 and 5.

One day we decided to take a break from the rides and see some of the animals in the park, including some adorable cotton-top tamarin monkeys. The informational plaque on their cage told us where the monkeys live, what they eat, and the sounds they make. It said they bark.

My nieces and nephew were skeptical. And then, as if on cue, the monkeys started vocalizing. That night my nephew asked a great question: “Do you think there are a lot of different animals that bark?” Researching that question with him eventually led me to write a book about a wide variety of animal sounds.

As I look back at all sixteen of the picture books I’ve written, it’s clear that questions and curiosity are at the core of each one. How can you invite your sense of curiosity to come out and play? You'll find some great suggestions in this fantastic post author Jess Keating (@Jess_Keating ) recently wrote for Storystorm, a month-long story brainstorming event developed and hosted by author Tara Lazar (@taralazar).

Next week, I’ll be talking about a second characteristic of passionate nonfiction. Stay tuned.


  1. Wonderful post! Curiosity is at the heart of of so much -- passion, learning, and connecting to others.