3 Question Interview - LAURA GEHL
I'm happy to feature the multi-published children's author, Laura Gehl, on the blog today. Laura has THREE books out this fall! I'm intrigued that her adorable young spy character, Juniper Kai, was inspired by the James Bond movies and gadgets. And I loved learning about the behind-the-scenes work surrounding her two latest science-related books. Read on for Laura's ideas about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.
STORIES - Discuss what inspires your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
Hi Melissa! I’ve enjoyed reading about other authors’ inspirations and processes on your blog. Thanks so much for inviting me to do the same.
This fall I had three different books come out from three different publishers, JUNIPER KAI: SUPER SPY (Two Lions), illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis; ALWAYS LOOKING UP: NANCY GRACE ROMAN, ASTRONOMER (Albert Whitman), illustrated by Louise Pigott and Alex Oxton; and BABY BOTANIST (HarperCollins), illustrated by Daniel Wiseman.
The inspiration for JUNIPER KAI came from my love of books and movies about spies. While the James Bond movies have too much action and not enough plot for my taste, I do adore all the gadgets that Bond has. I envisioned a junior spy with huge curiosity and all sorts of neat spy gear…and Juniper Kai was born!
My dad is a big astronomy fan, and I remember vividly the first time I saw Saturn through his telescope. But I never imagined writing a biography, let alone the biography of an astronomer. Then my friend Steve Garber, who works for NASA, suggested I consider writing about Dr. Nancy Grace Roman, best known for her role in making the Hubble Space Telescope a reality. I started reading everything I could find about Dr. Roman, and I was hooked! She lived quite close to me, and I was able to interview her in person. The best part was that she shared her childhood photographs and memorabilia with me - including a school essay she wrote about Galileo, and another about the moon. Dr. Roman died before ALWAYS LOOKING UP came out, and I regret that she never got to see the gorgeous illustrations. But she did get to approve the final text, and I’m glad she at least knew that lots of kids would get to read about—and be inspired by—her life.
BABY BOTANIST is the third book in the BABY SCIENTIST series. When I was working in a neurobiology lab in graduate school, my thesis advisor, Joe Neale, was one of those rare people who truly loved his job. He had this infectious enthusiasm, and in his eyes being a “scientist” meant making discoveries and contributing new knowledge to the world. I wanted to distill that passion—Joe’s vision of science as fun and exciting, of “scientist” as the best job ever—into the very simplest terms. Toddlers are all natural scientists, but a lot of the curiosity and love of science disappears later in life, when kids get bored or overwhelmed by the way science is taught in schools. I wanted to catch kids at an early age and get them to think, “I could be a scientist!” and to wonder “Which kind of scientist do I want to be?”
CREATIVITY - How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I enjoyed drama as a kid, and I directed plays and taught drama and improvisation in college. All that drama and improv really comes in handy now for my school visit presentations.
I also love art, and I usually take a class every summer to learn some new art form. I’ve tried needle felting, oil pastels, and wood burning, among others. I’ll never be a professional artist or illustrator, but it is positively delightful to try new ways of being creative.
While drama and art are both enjoyable for me, 99% of my creativity goes into my writing. Writing is what I truly love. When kids ask me about my job, I tell them that I write with a huge smile on my face—and it’s true! I am so happy when I’m writing! Of course, there are moments of brow-wrinkling frustrating too…but I have a lot more of those moments when I am wrestling with publicity or marketing issues than when I am writing. I love first drafts, I love revising…and I still can’t believe I am lucky enough to have writing as my actual JOB!
CONNECTION - How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
As much as I love writing, visiting schools, libraries, bookstores, and other venues to connect with kids is the most rewarding part of my job. Making kids laugh...inspiring kids to write…showing kids that “author” is actually a real job that real people can have…telling kids about the crazy number of revisions that went into a book, or seeing their eyes widen when they realize it took as many years for a book to go from idea to publication as they have been ALIVE…those connections are very important to me. I also do a lot of Skype visits—many with schools that never get live author visits.
I connect with the KidLit community on Facebook and Twitter, and at festivals, conferences, and retreats. It never ceases to amaze me what a generous, caring community we have. I’ve also had the pleasure of mentoring fabulous up-and-coming picture book writers through Tara Luebbe’s Picture Book Writing with the Stars program, and mentoring elementary school students through the #KidsNeedMentors program.
Laura Gehl is the author of nearly twenty picture and board books with humor and heart, including ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR (Mathical Award, Booklist Editors’ Choice), the PEEP AND EGG series (Children’s Choice Book Award Finalist, Parents’ Choice Recommendation), I GOT A CHICKEN FOR MY BIRTHDAY (a Kirkus best picture book of the year), and MY PILLOW KEEPS MOVING (a Junior Library Guild selection). Her 2019 releases include EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T; ALWAYS LOOKING UP: NANCY GRACE ROMAN, ASTRONOMER; JUNIPER KAI: SUPER SPY; and the first three titles in the BABY SCIENTIST series. Laura lives in Chevy Chase, MD with her husband and four kids. She loves chocolate, walking in the woods, travel, and reading, in nearly any combination.
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