Today, I get to share a nonfiction picture book about an unusual topic: mushrooms!
During the pandemic when no one could travel, I signed up for the Universal Yum monthly box of snacks from around the world. A different country every month for a foodie like me and my hubby? YES PLEASE! It has become one of our monthly adventures and it’s more than snacks. Last month we got a box from France. Their chocolate truffles are to die for! Yet it was in the trivia that my hubby and I learned something about France I had never heard before.
Did you know that there are over 3,000 varieties of mushrooms growing in France (including that amazing truffle)? AND the French forage for fungi so frequently, that they could ask a pharmacist for free to help them identify what has been been picked. You see, all pharmacists in France are trained to identify the edible from the inedible just in case someone is accidentally poisoned!
Isn’t that fascinating! Or is that just me? So, consider me equally charmed when today’s absolutely stunning picture book came across my path. I love when life hands you connections like that!
Laura K. Zimmermann is a college professor by day and children’s writer by night. When not writing or teaching, she’s outdoors enjoying nature. Laura lives in Winchester, Virginia. You can learn more about Laura at her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
MUSHROOM RAIN is her picture book debut. It’s a nonfiction exploration of the wonderful world of mushrooms told through an exquisitely simple and lyrical text. It’s just enough information to entice the imagination of a young reader and provide more information in the back matter for those who are curious enough to explore more. And the illustrations by Jamie Green are absolutely gorgeous. You won’t want to miss this one.
Me: You are a college professor who has written numerous academic articles. Yet this is your debut non-fiction picture book. What drew you to this market? Can you tell us about your writing journey to the publication of this book?
Laura: Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Jena. Years ago, my university students and I created e-books for children in Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. It was a lot of work, but I loved it and when the program ended, I looked for new ways to write for children. That’s when I began writing for children’s magazines. My goal was, and is, to show children that learning can be a lot of fun. I began writing picture books during this time as well. Picture books require a writing style very different than what I was used to. There were many stories and even more revisions before I was at a place to write MUSHROOM RAIN, and many revisions after that before MUSHROOM RAIN found the perfect home at Sleeping Bear Press. Barb McNally, my editor, and everyone at Sleeping Bear have been amazing to work with. And the illustrator they chose, Jamie Green, has brought my words to life in a way I never imagined.
Me: This is such a fascinating topic that you have covered so artfully. It’s an incredible approach for young readers. What gave you the idea?
Laura: I have to give a shout-out to Tara Lazar’s Story Storm. Collecting ideas for that led me to Beatrix Potter who led me to mushrooms. Beatrix was a mushroom hunter as well as a researcher and it was her passion for mushrooms that led me into their weird and wonderful world. Sadly, I wasn’t able to sell my story about Beatrix’s life, but her love of mushrooms was always in the back of my mind. Then one day I stumbled across a story about mushroom spores serving as cloud seed and the title MUSHROOM RAIN jumped into my head. When I discovered “mushroom rain” was the translation of a Russian term that means a special kind of rain that can help mushrooms grow I knew I had to write it.
Me: What a connection! How much research did you need to do to write this book? What was one of your favorite facts that you learned about mushrooms?
Laura: I start every book by reading everything I can find on a topic and harassing very kind and patient experts with questions I can’t find the answer to on my own. Since the seeds for MUSHROOM RAIN began with a focus on Beatrix Potter’s research, it went on for years. I am not a mycologist so I had a lot to learn to really understand Beatrix’s work and what she accomplished. MUSHROOM RAIN covers several topics beyond mushrooms as well—like the water cycle and mushroom munching animals so there was a lot of research to be done. Nearly every line in the book has references dedicated to it. The submitted document had 30 references, but there were many more. Mushrooms are a constant surprise to me. Once I started looking down, I found a whole new world at my feet. Mushroom-producing fungi do so many amazing things, but one of my favorite facts is that some fungal mycelia may be able to learn and remember. As a psychologist who spends a lot of time looking at such things in humans, the fact that fungi may have similar abilities blew me away.
Me: Wow! I’ve never heard that before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book about mushrooms written quite like this. You cover so many different aspects of mushrooms in such a succinct text. It’s poetry! Was it like this from the first draft? How many revisions did it undergo?
Laura: Thank you! I frequently use this voice for nonfiction and MUSHROOM RAIN was written in this style from the first draft. The title and the circular framework have also remained the same, but beyond that so much has changed. MUSHROOM RAIN went through many revisions and incarnations before it became what it is today. I honestly have no idea how many it went through—there were a lot of them. The first draft was written in 2019 and it was being revised right up until it went to the printer.
Me: The back matter also covers many different aspects, from art to more science. Did you have those pieces already written when you first submitted your manuscript? Or did they come together as you worked with the editor and/or publisher?
Laura: Yes and yes. I submitted back matter with the book and then worked with my editor and many experts to refine it.
Me: The illustrations by Jamie Green are stunning. They remind me of vintage mushroom botanical art. Were there any illustration surprises for you? Do you have any favorite illustrations?
Laura: I never envisioned this art style as a part of the book, so it was all a surprise, but now I can’t imagine it any other way. Jamie’s love of mushrooms really shines through. It is hard to pick a favorite as they are so lovely in their own way. But I do have a soft spot for the squirrels and ants in the mushroom hunter spread, and the powerful image of mycelium spreading underground.
Me: Any advice for other new picture book writers?
Laura: Write because you don’t know how not to on topics that won’t let go. If you glimpse a glimmer of an idea that shines, grab onto it and follow it where it leads. And if you haven’t done so already, join SCBWI! I have learned so much at their conferences and met wonderful critique partners through connections I’ve made at their events. Story Storm and other challenges are also a great way to push yourself! Opportunities like these were the gribnoy dozhd’ that helped MUSHROOM RAIN grow.
I love that. Thank you for stopping by my blog Laura.
But wait, dear readers! There’s more. If you live in the Continental US, there is a giveaway for one copy of this lovely book! You can enter the Rafflecopter here.