I’m not gone, just … drowning. I’ve started my classroom (or re-started) 3 times now, this school year alone. The last major change was 2 weeks ago when I suddenly became a full Kindergarten teacher (which I’ve never been so this is a HUGE learning curve for me). It was very dramatic for the first graders that had to leave my classroom after 6 weeks of school (as well as myself–I tried really hard not to cry in front of them, but it was terrible as they were sobbing at the end of the day on that last day). It’s been incredibly stressful and consuming. And my creativity (and online presence) has taken a huge hit as a result.
I can’t participate in Inktober this year because there simply isn’t enough time in the day for ME. I’m swamped and I keep hoping it will get better, but … so far it hasn’t. It’s only gotten worse. I told myself, “just survive September.” But now the mantra has become “just survive October.” I’m beginning to wonder if it will be “just survive this school year” soon enough.
On the other hand, I finally had a “long dreamed of” dream come true. My hubby and I bought our first house together. Both of us have longed for this for more years than we can actually figure out, and it took a LOT of work to get here. I will actually get my own space to art in! We’re thrilled and working on it when we can (around work), BUT the move was stressful (end of September), right on top of classroom changes again, and family changes, etc. It’s a LOT going on at the same time.
WHY bring all of this up at the beginning of a Simply 7 interview? Well, it’s simple. When life gets tough, I look for inspiration in true stories of those who struggled, survived, and succeeded. Today’s story is very much like this and it reminds me that I’m not dealing with anything I cannot survive. This is just a bump, no … a hill, in the road on my journey. I will get over it, or around it, in one way or another. As we all do.
Today’s Simply 7 is with a long time online friend of mine, Teresa Robeson. We’ve interacted through a variety of online groups, but mostly through 12 X 12. I’ve known her for years and it’s always exciting when one of your friends sees their dreams come true. You can learn more about her at her website.
Her author picture book debut happened this month and I was delighted to see her first book birthday come for such a wonderful story. “Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secret of the Atom” tells the incredible story of one woman’s journey to pursue the science she loved, despite odds against her for being a female in a time set against females, despite odds against her for wanting an education in a time when it wasn’t proper to educate girls, and despite odds against her for being Chinese in a time when it was not favorable to be so. A story like this reminds me that big obstacles are NOT stumbling or stopping blocks, but stepping stones. No matter how tall they might seem.
Me: What is it that draws you to picture books?
Teresa: The pairing of text and art is a marriage made in heaven! I have always loved picture books, kids’ magazines, comics, and graphic novels because of the (nearly) even words-to-illustration ratio. As a kid, I devoured them and I just never outgrew that as an adult. Since I love to read them, they inspire me to write them.
I also tend to be verbose in writing, though I’m quiet in person, so picture books are a good way to help me not blather on like one could in novels. It is such a challenge to distill my messy ideas into as few words as possible, choosing only those that make the text sing.
Me: “Queen of Physics” is a picture book nonfiction biography. How did you first hear about Wu Chien Shiung?
Teresa: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember where I first learned of C.S. Wu but it was before 2012 since that was when I wrote my first draft. I was always reading hubby’s copies of Physics Today magazine, though, so I imagine I might have read about her in one of those issues.
Me: What was it about Wu Chien Shiung’s story that grabbed you and drew you to write about it?
Teresa: Our shared background (Chinese) and passion (physics) immediately drew me to her. Plus, I felt it important for the world to know about the contributions women and immigrants have made to the field of science. Wu is a figure who can inspire anyone who’ve had to fight discrimination.
Me: Definitely! She inspires me for many reasons! Did you have to do a lot of research for this story? Can you tell us a bit about that process?
Teresa: The research for this probably wasn’t much more complicated than research for any other biography. I began with reading about her in other kids’ books. There were no picture books on her at all and only one middle grade book devoted to her. It was published in 2004 which is ancient history in the publishing world, as you know. There were some other kids’ books that are compilations of essays on women in science that included pieces on her, so I read all those, too.
I noted all the referenced resources in these books which led me to books for adults that are about her. When I began the first draft, there were no adult book solely about her either (one did come out in 2014 which I used for revising later drafts), but there was an excellent essay on her in Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s book Nobel Women In Science. At the time, in 2013, she was the only author who had actually interviewed Wu and her family. Because Wu and her husband had both passed away already, I tried to reach their son as a primary source but never could get ahold of him. So the next best thing was contacting Sharon to asked if I could have her permission to quote from her book, which she kindly consented to.
From the references, I also read magazine articles on Wu and the textbook she had written, which proved helpful in suggesting some illustrations for my book.
The other research I had to do was to figure out how to describe Wu’s research in beta decay. Since I’m not a working physicist, let alone a particle physicist, I had to read up on the topic extensively in order to be able to describe it in such a way that that kids can understand but that doesn’t mangle the science in the process. I’ve noticed that in some books, in order to get explanations to a level kids can understand, the science is simplified so much that it’s not precisely right anymore.
(My takeaway is that it’s so much easier to write about qualitative than quantitative science. I am tempted to focus on biology instead. LOL!)
Me: LOL! Oh dear! That sounds like a challenge! Rebecca Huang’s illustrations in this book are pitch perfect. Did you communicate with her at all during the creation of them? Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Teresa: I didn’t get a chance to communicate directly with Rebecca. I think Sterling, like many publishers, prefers to keep all communications through the central hub of the editorial team.
However, I was asked to proof the illustrations for accuracy, not only about the science aspect but also about things like, “Would the Manhattan skyline look like this in the 1940s?” That was a surprise for me. I thought that my duties as the author would be to get the text part accurate but that it was up to the illustrator to get the details in the illustrations right. I didn’t expect to have to verify the illustrations, too.
Me: Any advice for other picture book writers?
Teresa: In addition to studying how to write picture books specifically (like Susanna Hill’s Making Picture Book Magic class), I also highly recommend that picture book writers take classes geared towards thinking like a picture book illustrator. I like the ones offered by Joy Chu at University of California San Diego Extension and also Arree Chung’s Storyteller Academy.
To feel like a part of the picture book community, I suggest joining Julie Hedlund’s year-long 12×12 Picture Book Challenge, and taking part in fun contests/challenges like Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee and Tara Lazar’s Storystorm. These will all give you a sense of camaraderie and propel you along in the excitement.
Me: Do you have any upcoming projects in the near future? Any other books we can look forward to?
Teresa: I am so excited to share that my next picture book, a fun, fictional #OwnVoices story set in Beijing, will be out in the spring! I’m sharing the cover for the first time on social media here. =) The illustrations by Junyi Wu are simply stunning! It is ready for preorder at all of your favorite stores (I have links on my website), or ask your library to carry a copy for you!
Oh wow! That’s SO exciting! Thank you for sharing your cover reveal here with us Teresa. It looks fantastic. I can’t wait to read it.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to read “Queen of Physics” I highly recommend it. Maybe it too will inspire you to see your struggles as stepping stones, instead of mountains.