Today’s picture book is yet another glorious exploration of nature: caves!
Heather Kinser has visited my blog before. She truly writes at the intersection of story, poetry, and nature from her home on the San Francisco Peninsula. She’s a former technical editor who now spends her days writing small stories―to make a big difference for kids! Heather loves to enter natural landscapes with an open mind and leave with a head full of poetry. She has been plunged into darkness at Mammoth Cave, trekked a spiral stair into Moaning Caverns, spotted bats at Lake Shasta Caverns, and been dazzled by formations at Mercer Caverns and Cave of the Winds. Visiting more show caves is high on her to-do list! In addition to IN A CAVE, she is the author of SMALL MATTERS and NATURE IS A SCULPTOR, both from Millbrook Press. You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter.
IN A CAVE is a wonderful adventure that takes readers on a journey of discovery of the multitude of things to be found underground in the deep depths of the earth. In this story, two young explorers and their trusty guide head into a cave to investigate and learn about caves. Heather once again manages to bring a lyrical rhyming text that teaches as it delves deep into scientific curiosity. Despite being a dark environment lit only by flashlights, the illustrations in the book are full of light and wonder. I even learned some things about caves I’ve never heard before. This is a book you will want to study yourself.
Welcome back Heather.
Me: Gnome Road Publishing is a relatively new publisher. Can you tell us about the marketing of this book? How did you manage to get published with them?
Heather: Thanks so much for hosting me, Jena. True, Gnome Road is a new publishing house. They first came to my attention in 2021 when I participated in #pitmad (a Twitter pitch party), and received a “like” from Sandra Sutter, Gnome Road’s publisher. It turned out that she had been specifically looking for a book about caves—and I had one! At the time I signed with Gnome Road, they were a big “un-gnome”…I mean, “un-known”! They hadn’t yet published any titles. So it did feel risky to say yes. But Sandra has been 100% kind, capable, and collaborative. I’ve had a terrific experience with her and know she’s working extremely hard behind the scenes to get all her titles printed, distributed, and noticed in the industry. My book crosses over well between the trade and education markets, and also has the potential for gift shop sales. One thing I’ve done to help my publisher is gather contact info for cave gift shop purchasers. Sandra plans to send them a promotional postcard, and I’m excited about that opportunity.
Me: You have written about microscopic details, and large geographic features around the world. This book fits right in your body of work as it’s about another natural phenomenon: underground caves. What gave you the idea to explore this aspect of nature?
Heather: I like rocks and rock formations. As a kid, I was always picking up pretty rocks from the field behind my house and washing them off to reveal their colors, or purchasing geodes and such from souvenir shops. As an adult, while visiting Calaveras County in California on a vacation years ago, I had a chance to tour two caves—Moaning Caverns and Mercer Caverns. A subterranean world of rocks! And in 2019, after attending a family reunion on my husband’s side, we toured Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Since I’m always on the lookout for picture book ideas, I met my Muse in that cave and received the gift of a story idea. There are lots of rules to know—regarding both stewardship and safety—when you enter a cave. While walking through Mammoth and reminding myself not to touch the walls, I kept thinking of the rhyming phrase, “How to behave in a cave.” When I got home, I wrote it down. And it landed on my Storystorm ideas list in January of 2020. After that, well, In a Cave became my pandemic lockdown manuscript—a story about travel and exploration to bolster my soul while I waited for the world to re-open. One reason why I knew I could make this project fun and kid-friendly was because of all the cave formations named after foods and other objects, like cave popcorn, soda straws, and cave pearls.
Me: Again I’m so blown away by your rhyming text. One of my favorite passages is “Dripstone, and flowstone, and helictite swirls!/ Rimstone, and shelfstone, and curtains, and ‘pearls’!” WOW! What made you decide to write this book in rhyme?
Heather: Thanks Jena! I’m thrilled to know that you loved that line. The illustrations on that page (by Bonnie Kelso) are also especially clever, right? To address your question, this idea first came to me in rhyme—“How to behave in a cave”. I’m not a writer who experiments with taking a piece in and out of rhyme. For me, a piece either wants to rhyme or it doesn’t. This one rhymed from the get-go, and I got a kick out every clever bit of wordplay, and adored the driving engine provided by the meter, which urges us to read/walk onward through the cave. I think that meter suits the story well. The line you just mentioned, which names a bunch of different cave formations and manages to rhyme in the process…that was special triumph. I remember thinking, Wouldn’t it be cool if I could list some of the formations and find a way to rhyme them? I can’t believe it worked! When I wrote that line, I probably ran around the house reciting it to my husband and kids with a giddy laugh and saying, “I rock!” That’s my usual reaction to writing a great rhyming line.
Me: LOL! Too funny. I’ve seen several books about caves, but never one written quite like this. I had NO idea there were so many different types of natural formations or that the oil from my fingers could damage them! Was it this tight from the first draft? How many revisions did it undergo?
Heather: Let’s just say I started the project in April of 2020 and submitted it to Gnome Road in September of 2021. A LOT went on in between. No, the writing wasn’t very tight in the beginning. It was dense and overwritten. Also, didactic. I asked a lot of friends for opinions, and they gently steered me away from a story about “don’ts” to a story about wonder and exploration (thanks, writing friends!). And along the way, the text became more lively and light.
For fun, here is the first stanza from my very first draft, before I showed it to anyone or even found the ending to the piece:
Here is the way to behave in a cave.
The number one rule is You have to be brave.
The number two rule is to Bring a good light.
The number three rule is Step careful and light
since you cannot predict where your boot will be put
or what neat, creepy creature might be underfoot.
Me: How did you pick the aspects of caves that you talk about in the book? Did you have to do a lot of research? Did you visit any of them? Can you tell us a bit about your research process for this story?
Heather: I had visited three different caves (one of them twice) before writing my manuscript. I started by putting down what I knew from experience and memory. After I got the first draft down, I began to research and weave new information in. I can see that by day 2 of this manuscript’s existence, I had saved the file under a new name with the extension “sciaccuracy” and had started adding research notes and web links into the file, for reference. I would have needed reminders of the names of the various cave formations, the composition of the rocks, and also info about what types of creatures live in caves. Those I had not seen in person.
Me: The illustrations by Bonnie Kelso are wonderful. They really capture the magic of caves. Were there any illustration surprises for you? Any favorites?
Heather: Yes, isn’t Bonnie amazing? She was already contracted with Gnome Road as an author/illustrator before my manuscript came to them, with her title Nudi Gill—an undersea story about a nudibranch. As I understand it, when Bonnie heard about my book, she asked to be considered for the job of illustrating it because she loves caves. Bonnie brought a playful mood to the story, as well as skill in depicting the natural world. I had a chance to look as three sample drawings before she signed on, and I was especially impressed by her use of different “camera angles.” I loved the image where the explorers are looking into a pool of water at some cave creatures, and we see the ripples above as if we are looking out through the pool as well. When I saw the finished project, I was wholly impressed by the dynamic text on the spread that names lots of cave formations. Bonnie made the words follow the shapes of the formations! And it was Bonnie who made sure the bat had a few additional guest appearances on the pages, and who created the surprise at the end where we find out that the children’s cave guide was also their mom.
Me: There are so many amazing stone formations described in this book. What is your favorite (either in the book or left out of the book) that you discovered while writing this book?
Heather: A favorite formation? Cave bacon, for sure! It really is so very bacon-like when you see it in person. It was important to me that the cave bacon be well illustrated—a task that, to me, seemed really hard—and Bonnie did a great job! I hope my book will inspire readers to visit a cave and see cave bacon, and many other fantastic formations, for themselves! And if they can’t get to a cave (yet!), I hope they will feel as if they’ve visited a cave, by reading my book.
I love that. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Heather.
Dear readers, today is this book’s birthday! Track down a copy to help Heather celebrate. It’s full of science, rhyme, exploration, and nature all rolled into one. I highly recommend it.