3 Question Interview - RUTH SPIRO
I am happy to feature the multi-published author Ruth Spiro on the blog today. Ruth's books take complicated STEM topics and break them down for the youngest readers. Ruth shares her writing process and the inspiration behind her BABY LOVES series, and chats with us about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. She also offers excellent suggestions for connecting with readers in today's world. Welcome, Ruth!
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
Back in 2010, The New York Times ran the article “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” (www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html). It attributed a drop in overall picture book sales to the choice some parents were making to bypass picture books for their very young children in favor of more “sophisticated” reading material. I was discussing the article with friends and wondered aloud, “What do these parents want, quantum physics for babies?” The more I thought about it, I realized this was an idea with potential. But while it seemed like a good idea, I knew that my books would need to be accurate and age-appropriate if they were going to have value. So, in addition to researching the science I also read all I could about the acquisition of language and early literacy.
These latest books are #20 and #21 in what eventually became the Baby Loves board book series. When I first pitched the series idea to publishers in 2011, I received many “good rejections.” Editors loved the concept, but there was nothing else like it in the market and so they were reluctant to take a chance. (I’m glad my editor at Charlesbridge did!) Now, ten years later, it seems each season brings a new entry into the “STEM for littles” category. But I see that as a good thing, because the market is constantly growing - new babies are born every day!
The idea for these new books came about from a conversation with my editor. We maintain a long list of possible topics for new Baby Loves books and she asked if I’d consider writing one with a holiday theme. Of course, I had to consider how I would incorporate the science element because that’s the foundation of the series. So, as I do with all the Baby Loves books, I thought about how a child experiences the holidays, and then the science concepts related to the questions they may have. For Hanukkah, I explored the science of spinning a dreidel, or top. (It’s physics!) For Christmas, I followed my own curiosity about how electricity comes into our homes and how it works to illuminate the lights on a Christmas tree. Both are perfect examples of how science explains so many things we experience and observe every day.
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
In the children’s book community, we tend to talk about creativity in terms of writing or illustrating but I believe there are many, many ways to express creativity that go way beyond that. If you take a poll of writers and illustrators, you’ll find they probably enjoy other ways of expressing their creativity – knitting, baking and photography are just a few examples that come to mind when I think about my friends in the “kidlit” world.
I fuel my creativity by constantly taking in new information, reading books and articles on topics that are new to me, and following my curiosity wherever it leads. Ideas and inspiration are all around us, we only need to be open to discovering them. On the most basic level, I think creativity begins with mindfulness.
Interestingly, through my research and conversations with expert reviewers I’ve discovered that STEM fields also require creativity. Essentially, they’re about problem-solving, which requires creativity, flexibility, and persistence. The next time you cross a bridge or use a can opener, think of the creativity that went into designing it!
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
As I write this, we’ve all had to re-think what it means to “connect.” I was disappointed when my packed schedule of book festivals, conferences, bookstore signings and school visits was cancelled, especially with new books to promote. In previous years, these opportunities to interact with readers were integral to helping my books gain traction and visibility.
Still, this was only an inconvenience compared to the many hardships and challenges caused by the pandemic. Calling it a “plot twist,” I set about using the time and resources available to connect in other ways:
1. I set up visits via Zoom with schools that otherwise couldn’t afford to have me visit in person.
2. In February, a bookstore in Denver hosted my book launch for MAXINE AND THE GREATEST GARDEN EVER, which I attended from my home in Chicago. My editor and agent on the east coast were there, as were friends in several different states.
3. I did both live and recorded read alouds for two huge library systems and a STEM event attended by hundreds of families across the country.
I’ve had to revise the way I previously defined “connection” but in the process have discovered a broader meaning and new ways to develop and maintain my personal and professional relationships.
Ruth Spiro is the author of the Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge. There are 21 current and forthcoming titles including Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, Baby Loves Coding and Baby Loves the Five Senses. She continues her signature style of introducing complex subjects to little listeners with Baby Loves Political Science, a new series perfect for election year and beyond.
Ruth’s STEM-themed picture book series, Made by Maxine (Dial), is about an inspiring young Maker who knows that with enough effort, imagination and recyclables, it’s possible to invent anything. The second book in the series, Maxine and the Greatest Garden Ever, released in February.
A frequent speaker at schools and conferences, Ruth’s previous presentations include the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row LitFest, Children’s Festival of Stories, and the World Science Festival. Ruth hopes her books inspire kids to observe the world, ask questions, and when it comes to their futures, DREAM BIG!
CONNECT WITH RUTH: