I Ship: An Interview with Author Kelly Rice Schmitt

Cast off on a journey across the ocean with a container ship as a guide in the delightful picture book I Ship: A Container Ship’s Colossal Journey by Kelly Rice Schmitt and illustrated by Jam Dong. The crew encounters a stuck ship in a canal, reroutes, and weathers a mighty storm, but they are determined to deliver goods to people who need them.

Today author Kelly Rice Schmitt joins us to talk about her inspiration, creative challenges, hopes for young readers and more! Read on to download the free educator resource and watch the official book trailer.

What was your inspiration for I Ship?

I had been wanting to write a book about shipping for many years, but could never figure out the right approach. In 2015 I wrote the idea “Eric Carle’s 10 Rubber Ducks process focused on a cargo ship.” In 2019 I wrote down “Ox Cart Man meets container shipping industry.” Despite the fact that I SHIP has a lot in common with those ideas, at the time, I couldn’t make those work! It wasn’t until a writing partner suggested the 2021 Suez Crisis as an angle that I had the beginnings of I SHIP. Now I had a motive for the ship—to deliver important items on time! Early drafts were entirely about the Ever Given and how it was stuck. Eventually, with a nudge from my wise editor, Carol Hinz, I realized that the book has a wider, more timeless appeal as a general shipping book.

I Ship is informational fiction, not pure non-fiction. What does that mean?

Informational fiction wraps intentional layers of truth in a compelling fictional narrative arc. In I SHIP’s case, the book is packed with real facts and, we hope, a very realistic portrayal of sea life, but the book’s container ship narrator makes it fiction—obviously a ship cannot talk, think, or narrate a story. The ship was also not based on specific ship, or the crew based on real people. However, Jam Dong, the book’s illustrator, and I worked very closely with a container ship deck officer and sea life YouTuber, Bryan Boyle, to ensure the text and illustrations were accurate to real ships and real mariner experiences. Using this approach allows us to get kids excited about learning—perhaps those that may not like traditional expository non-fiction, or that usually prefer fiction.

What is the hardest part about writing informational fiction books? How does it differ from non-fiction?

With today’s ease of access to the internet, it’s more important that ever for kids to understand the difference between truth and fiction. Just because a book is educational doesn’t mean it is nonfiction. Early picture book readers range from toddlers to elementary school students, and they need grounding in reality. So when writing informational fiction, there is a tricky balance between factual portrayal of the information you want to convey and narrative elements that keep a reader turning the pages. You have to decide what is important to be true, and what can be bent for dramatic effect.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while researching or writing the book?

I am continually in awe of the massive size of the largest containerships and the relatively small crew size that commands them, often fewer than thirty people. The largest ships are about 400 meters or 1,300 ft long—longer than 4 soccer fields, taller than the Eiffel tower, or about 34 school buses lined up!

I was also surprised to see that only 1.2% of seafarers are female (~24,000 women). I thought it would be low, but not that low! I love how Jam Dong, the book’s illustrator, chose to inspire girls by giving our main character, a large containership, a female captain.

Do you have a personal connection to this industry?

My first full-time job was in a rotational program that trained me to be an energy trader. My first two roles in this program had “ship tracker” in the title. Using technology, I tracked fuel vessels around the world to estimate U.S. imports, global trade flows, and their impact on global supply balances for that week. I later worked in a role where I scheduled the logistics for barge operations for shipments moving on the Mississippi river. Though I never physically worked on a ship directly, I was fortunate enough to have a window into this fascinating world.

What do you hope readers will discover in your book?

I hope readers of all ages discover details about the amazing shipping process that enables 80 to 90% of global trade. Container ships, their ports, and the incredible teams that run them are the backbone of the global economy, and we can see the ripple effects in the supply chain when elements of their journey are interrupted. Urgent medication and vaccines may be delayed, toys may not arrive for a holiday, certain produce may not be available due to weather conditions on the journey at sea, in publishing—books due for a release date are delayed. Surprisingly, many of us know little about an industry that fundamentally impacts our daily lives.

Praise for I Ship

“An informative peek at our global infrastructure’s major lifeline.” —Kirkus Reviews

Free Educator Resource

Download this free teaching guide to use in your classroom here or on the Lerner website. With coloring pages, math problems, and critical thinking questions students will be engaged long after story time is over!

Official Book Trailer

Share this book trailer with students before reading for a fun glimpse into the story!

Connect with the Author

Kelly Rice Schmitt is an author of STEAM children’s literature. She holds a B.B.A in Finance and Chinese from the University of Notre Dame and is an advocate for girls in STEM, business, and other fields with gender gaps. She can be found in North Carolina helping other traders grow their businesses, writing for children, and exploring, singing, and creating with her husband and young children.

Connect with the Illustrator

Jam Dong was born in Shanghai, China. She has an MA degree of Moving Image at University of Arts London and graduated from MFA Illustration Practice of Maryland Institute College of Art in 2021. She likes to use bright colors and simple shapes to build the imaginary world inside her mind. The nature provides her with ultimate inspirations all the time. She is a freelance illustrator based in Boston, US.

Leave a Reply