New Archaeology Book for Kids Uncovers How Children Once Lived [Interview]

By Carol Hinz, Editorial Director of Millbrook Press
 
We recently released a new archaeology book for kids with Lois Miner Huey, author of Ick! Yuck! Eew! Our Gross American HistoryForgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery, and Floodwaters and Flames: The 1913 Disaster in Dayton, Ohio. This title, Children of the Past, looks at what we know about the lives of kids at different times and places in history. 
archaeology book for kids Children of the Past

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this book? I’m curious what got you thinking specifically about the lives of kids long ago.

A: I’m an archaeologist, and I love finding evidence of children on sites I am digging. This inspired me to do more research about children in different time periods. I thought kids today would also be interested to learn about the lives of children in the past.

page from archaeology book for kids Children of the Past
Interior page from Children of the Past showing archaeologists at work and artifacts

Q: The book covers a range of places and time periods from “cave kids” in Western Europe 20,000 years ago to Native Americans in North America 1,000 years ago to escaped slaves Fort Mose, Florida, 250 years ago. If you could travel back in time to just one of these time periods, which would you choose and why?

A: Tough question. I would love to go back to any of these to see what their lives were like. Historical Archaeology means using materials people in the past used and left behind to figure out what was going on then. It would be fun to see if our analysis of those artifacts is anywhere near on target.

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned while researching this book?

A: I would have to say the information I found about how kids frequented the caves. Art historians have done most of the work studying these caves, with archaeologists following them. Many people think the caves were mostly used for religious ceremonies. But we now realize children played in these caves and in the back, they drew their own crude pictures. This is a whole new revelation to me.

spread from archaeology book for kids Children of the Past
Interior spread from Children of the Past


Q: Many American kids grow up today with multiple digital devices in their homes, access to on-demand TV and movies, and the world at their fingertips via the Internet. What do you think modern kids can learn from the lives of the children profiled in this book who grew up in very different circumstances?


A: I think kids are the same in all time periods. Kids today enjoy our kind of entertainments. Kids in the past enjoyed cave art, decorating pottery, making stone tools, and more. The main difference I found was that children in the past did activities as part of a family group. They contributed to the success of the family from a young age and must have felt much pride in their accomplishments. I tried to make this point in the book, and I hope kids today are struck by that.

Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with Sara Latta and Jeff Weigel of ‘Smash!’

In the eye-popping graphic novel Smash!, arriving this April, two cousins, Nick and Sophie, take a tour of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest machine. Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research use the collider to accelerate particles and smash them together. They study the results to find the hidden building blocks of matter. The trip’s a chance for Nick and Sophie to explore what the universe is made of—and what holds it all together. It also gives readers a new window into the history of particle physics, captured by Sara Latta’s witty, intensively-researched script, as well as Jeff Weigel’s inventive artwork.
To learn more about how this feat of pop science came together, and the challenges of explaining complex concepts in a visual manner, the Lerner blog asked Sara and Jeff to unpack their process.
Sara, let’s start with a question for you: When did you first begin to see the potential for a book about the Large Hadron Collider, and about a history of particle physics? Did you know from the start that you wanted to pursue it in the form of a graphic novel, or did that come later?
Sara Latta: It must have been around 2010. My husband is a particle physicist, and he was part of the collaboration searching for the Higgs boson* at the LHC. So we’d had lots of dinner table conversations about the search for the Higgs boson, and I thought it would be exciting if I could somehow find a way to make the science accessible to younger readers. I knew from the start that I wanted it to be illustrated; at first I had something in mind like Larry Gonick’s excellent series of cartoon guides to science. At the same time, I was starting to read a lot of graphic novels as well as graphic nonfiction (thanks to my kids!), and saw the potential of using visual and literary narrative to explain some pretty complex ideas. I knew and admired Jeff’s work, and approached him at a conference to ask if he’d be interested in working with me on this project. Thanks for saying yes, Jeff!
* Scientists found evidence of the Higgs boson, an elusive particle, as a result of work conducted at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The Higgs boson had been suspected to exist since the 1960s, and its detection reinforces the ‘Standard Model’ of particle physics (the most widely-accepted theory of particles and their interactions).
Jeff, what were your initial reactions to the idea? Did your brain start buzzing immediately? Any moments when you wondered, ‘How the heck will we do that on a comics page?’
Jeff Weigel: I’m a great believer in the medium of comics, and I’ve also done a lot of layperson’s reading on the history of physics, atomic structure, and astrophysics. The idea of employing comics to explain these subjects to kids immediately intrigued me when Sara brought it up. Comics’ potential to teach and convey abstract ideas isn’t mined nearly enough, and the challenge of dealing with these sorts of subjects graphically felt like it was right in my wheelhouse. I immediately told Sara I was on board if she decided to move ahead with it. Once I got her early script draft, I did—I’ll confess—wonder just how to convey a lot of the wonky subject matter in visuals that would make her ideas clear. Thumbnailing out the action in this book is absolutely the toughest comics storytelling problem I’ve ever tackled.
Sara: I want to add, Jeff, that your expertise in the visual aspects of storytelling absolutely brought the wonky aspects to life! One of my favorite examples is where you illustrated a description of particle collisions with a scene in which Sophie and Nick play pool. I love the way in which the ordinary act of pool balls colliding is transformed into the tracks of a particle collision.
OK now, a question for you both—what surprised you the most about the end result?
Jeff: The most surprising thing about the book to me was how tricky and delicate a storytelling problem it turned out to be. There’s got to be a consistent internal logic to how the characters react to and interact with all the impossible things that the narrative presents to them: conversations with dead scientists, interaction with diagrams and demonstrations of abstract ideas, transitions between the real world and an imagined world, etc. For instance, if the kids meet Albert Einstein, how should they react—should they be shocked? excited? awed?—or just treat it like an ordinary conversation, since the whole thing happens in their imagination as they discuss scientific principles? Allowing the kids to, say, stand on top of [an imagined, physical version of] the formula “E=mc2” hinged on important and delicate choices as we tried to keep the reader in the story without wondering, “How did that happen?” We can ask the reader to suspend disbelief as long as there’s an internal logic to how the surrealism is presented. If we violated that logic, the reader would be distracted and confused.
Sara: Scientific progress can move quickly, and sometimes unpredictably. When I first began thinking about the book, the Higgs boson had not yet been discovered, and so my thinking about the book was about the progress toward a scientific discovery. By the time we finished the book, and while the book was in production, the Higgs boson had not only been discovered but there was some evidence that the scientists at the LHC might have discovered a new Higgs-like particle. Fortunately for us (but maybe not for science), the data didn’t pan out, so we didn’t have to make significant changes to the book. Writing about cutting-edge science really keeps you on your toes!

Meet Kirstin Cronn-Mills and Alex Jackson Nelson

By Domenica Di Piazza, editorial director of Twenty-First Century Books
Domenica says:
I’m beyond thrilled that LGBTQ+ Athletes Claim the Field: Striving for Equality (TFCB, Fall 2016) is a finalist in this year’s Young Adult Literature category for the Minnesota Book Awards. The book’s brilliant author, Kirstin Cronn-Mills, will be at the award ceremony along with Alex Jackson Nelson. Alex is a certified ASL interpreter and the director of training and a senior therapist at RECLAIM!, a non-profit agency that provides mental health services to queer and trans youth in Minneapolis. Alex identifies as transgender and contributed the introduction to the book and served as our much respected consultant throughout the research, writing, and production life of this project.
I invited Kirstin and Alex to share some thought about working on this book together.
 Alex Jackson Nelson (left)
Alex says:
This book is important because seeing reflections of ourselves makes us real. Reflections can magically create a world where existing authentically becomes possible.  Not only inside of our identities, but alongside the sports we play, the music we listen to, and the communities we build. Seeing others like me in the world has created an opening for me to live authentically in my trans identity. Through her writing and advocacy in the LGBTQ+ community, Kirstin has created a platform for me to support the visibility of queer and trans folks through writing. I am grateful for the projects that have formed our friendship, and I’m thrilled that this book has been recognized for the Minnesota Book Awards.
 Kirstin Cronn-Mills (left)

 

Kirstin says:
I’ve known Alex for more than ten years, and I deeply respect all I’ve learned from him in our work together on three different projects. It’s an extra joy to be his friend. Being able to support him and the trans community is something I care deeply about. Creating this book was a way to say, “Hey, these folks are important—important to ALL OF US,” and to participate in a tiny dismantling of barriers for LGBTQ+ kids, especially young LGBTQ+ athletes. It’s also incredible to be recognized by the Minnesota writing community. There is no greater honor than respect from our peers.
Winners will be announced at the ceremony on April 8, 2017. Stay tuned!

Q&A with Pointe, Claw Author Amber J. Keyser

By Alix Reid, editorial director of Carolrhoda Lab

 

On April 1, Carolrhoda Lab will publish Pointe, Claw, a brilliant new novel by Amber Keyser, author of The Way Back from Broken. The story is a tale of magical realism in which two best friends—Jessie, who wants to be a professional ballerina no matter what pain she has to endure, and Dawn, who is having blackouts and fugues, and is experiencing changes in her body and language that she doesnt understand. The girlsintense relationship becomes a way for them to confront societys narrow definition of what a female body should look like, and allows them the strength to embrace their own wildness, discovering theres nothing unfeminine about embracing a new definition of femininity. The book has already received two starred reviews, which praise it for its raw and unsparing look at what it means to be a young woman.

I had the great privilege of being the editor of this book, and I wanted to take the opportunity to interview Amber about how she came to write this unique and unexpected book, which takes the reader on an unexpected journey, to a conclusion that is unforgettable.
Amber, can you tell us about how the idea for Pointe, Claw came to you?
My debut novel, The Way Back from Broken, is based on the hardest, saddest thing that ever happened to me—the death of my daughter. Pointe, Claw is about the second hardest thing that ever happened to me—losing ballet.
I guess that means you draw on personal experience. Can you tell us more?
Amber as a young ballerina

From seventh grade through high school, ballet was everything to me. I danced six days a week, often riding the bus for an hour and a half to get to the studio. I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer with a ravenous, all-consuming, bone-aching desire. My entire identity revolved around dance. When my ballet career ground to a soul-crushing end (long story), I thought it might kill me. In fact, it almost did. The year that followed was a dark cocktail of depression, drug use,
isolation, and abuse.

What motivated you to write the book?
I wrote Pointe, Claw to wrestle with big themes for which ballet is a pointed metaphor. What is the relationship between a girl and her body? Can she fully inhabit her own skin? How is she navigating the pushpullshove of an exacting art, adults with their own baggage, and a society that imposes impossible ideals on what it means to be a girl?
What was it like writing the book? Did you find it came easily to you?
Pointe, Claw is the most ambitious book I have ever written. Structurally it is much more complex than The Way Back from Broken. Thematically, it is more ambiguous and contradictory. I completely rewrote the book three times before I had a draft with the right bones. Honestly, it was a painful process, but I’m proud of it now. I feel like I got close to my original vision.
You have two main protagonists in the book. What was it like to write two different voices?
Ack! Jessie was easy. There is so much of me in her. Dawn was another story. I found it impossible to switch back and forth between the two. Jessie’s voice took over everything if I did that. Dawn’s narrative fell into place when I forced myself to work exclusively on her sections. I did one whole pass through the novel writing and revising Dawn’s sections then I went back through and pieced in Jessie.
Its always fascinating to hear about how an author actually sits down and writes a book. Did you write a certain number of pages or hours a day? Did you revise as you went along, or complete a first draft before revising?
Amber and her dog

My kids leave for school at 7:00 am. I pour a cup of coffee, open Scrivener, and get right to work. My goal when drafting is to get 1000 words on the page each day. That is a very modest goal. I would say typically I draft about 1500 words a day. That can take a couple hours or a lot more depending on the day. At the draft stage, I tweak sentences but don’t fuss too much with big picture revision. I want the raw material to work with. When I’m revising, I go for butt-in-chair hours. Sometimes it will take all day to revise a single page. Whether I’m drafting or revising, my super cute dog comes to the computer about 9:30 and whines until we go for a walk. I’m usually ready for a break! Post-walk, I draft or revise for a few more hours and then turn to the biz stuff—social media, events, and the like.

What was the editorial process like? Did you share the manuscript with a writing group as well as your editor?
Well… I have this great editor…
Seriously though, you are a genius editor. I loved that you really got what I was trying to do with this book even in the beginning when it was a giant, hot mess. I really appreciate that you ask lots and lots of questions as part of your editorial work. Typically, that is far more useful for me than specific solutions to problems. I think talented editors use questions like knives to cut to the beating heart of a scene.
I have a wonderful writing group, the Viva Scrivas, who read early drafts of all my work. They are super smart and bring so much insight to the page.
How do you approach revisions?
There is always a stage in every book where I have to tear it apart. (True confessions: that happened three times with Pointe, Claw). Every single time, I am convinced that the book will go Humpty-Dumpty on me, and I’ll never be able to put it back together again. Luckily, I have enough books under my belt (both unpublished novels and published nonfiction) to avoid despair. I’ve learned that heart-racing panic precedes the moment when I unlock the puzzle and everything falls into place. After I have the bones right, I revise in multiple iterations: voice, sensory, timeline, consistency. I used to hate revising, but I have come, somewhat grudgingly, to love it because it is satisfying to watch the work get better.
Is there anything else youd like to share with us about Pointe, Claw?
I want to say a couple of things about the ending (without giving anything away). Before I even started writing, I knew what the final scene in the book should be. I wrote toward that ending, but what happens is weird and fierce, and I was scared of it. I’d been writing around and around the ending, trying to hedge my bets and never fully committing to going all the way there. Two re-writes in, we had an editorial conversation on the phone. You gave me the courage to pull out all the stops and commit. I am so grateful to you. Without that ending, I’m not sure I would have ever felt right about the book.
Oh… and one other thing… readers should know that Carolrhoda Lab prints a secret message on the hardcover under the dust jacket of each book. Mine is perfect.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Amber! I personally cant wait to read your next book!

Writing on a Dare: Guest Post by YA Author Mary McCoy

Author Mary McCoy shares the story behind Camp So-and-So, her second YA novel. 

As perhaps befits a book set at summer camp, I wrote Camp So-and-So on a dare.

My first novel, Dead to Me, is a crime novel, a mystery set in 1948 Los Angeles, and once I’d finished writing it, I was itching to try my hand at the most wildly disparate and distant thing I could imagine.

You see, I didn’t want to be a crime novelist. I didn’t want to be a mystery writer. I didn’t want to be the author of historical fictions.

I wanted to be the Author of Everything.

To that end, I dared myself to find a way to write every kind of novel I’d ever wanted to write at the same time.

What came out of this self-imposed dare and quest to be the Author of Everything was a story involving five cabins of girls at a summer camp, each one finding themselves trapped into acting out a different classic summer camp story: the rivalry with the rich, cool kids on the other side of the lake; the slasher movie; the quest story; the summer romance; the tale of wilderness survival.

In earlier drafts, there was a sixth cabin, one where all the girls got super powers that they proceeded to use in the worst possible ways. Alas, their chapters were awful, and they were cut (though one character, Renata, survived and found her way to Cabin 3, where I realized she’d truly belonged all along).

Did I mention earlier drafts? Because there were earlier drafts. A shocking number of earlier drafts. So many times I ripped out the floors, ripped out the walls, and built them again. I cut tens of thousands of words and wrote them again. I took Samuel Beckett’s words to heart: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Writing a story with twenty-five characters and five major plot lines, all of which intersect and weave together is like building a Rube Goldberg machine. You change one little piece, and the whole enterprise falls apart. And who cares if you’ve made a perfect little jewel box of a novel unless the characters are real, and there are stakes, and you care if they get a happy ending?

Because that’s what stories have in common, whether they’re fantasies, horror, romances, or adventures. That’s what storytellers have in common, whether they’re crime writers, mystery writers, wild-eyed dreamers sitting by the fireside with bits of day-old stew in their beards, or fools who set out to be authors of everything.

We are trying to make you believe. We are trying to make you care. We are trying to make you remember, forget, cry, fall in love, visit a different world, see something you’ve never seen before, gasp, swoon, and hold your breath.

And in that way, every story is a mystery, a horror story, a fantasy, a romance, and adventure, and every author is the Author of Everything.

Thanks, Mary!
Camp So-and-So is coming to bookstores and libraries near you on Tuesday, March 1. Can’t wait to start reading? Check out a sample chapter