Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
We have a super interesting interview today with the wonderful Beth Anderson about her newest picture book “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City Subway!
Kaitlyn: Hi Beth thanks so much for joining us today! I’m so excited for this book to come out in October!
Beth: Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog!
Kaitlyn: The pleasure is all mine. First off, I just adore this title: I am hooked, hooked, HOOKED! and cannot wait to find out more. Was this the title from the start or did it take some finessing to get there?
Beth: Titles can be a huge challenge! Here’s the evolution of this one which wasn’t as difficult as some of my manuscripts have been: Smelly Kelly, Super Sensory Subway Sleuth (4/2017 – this is when I was playing with it as a detective story) > Smelly Kelly, Super Subway Sniffer (6/2017 – by June I was focusing on framing it as a superhero story) > Smelly Kelly and His Super Senses (7/2017 – I needed to get his super hearing in it, too.). In the publishing process we added the subtitle and also quotation marks around “Smelly” so it would present the name as something special and not a negative.
Kaitlyn: That’s such a cool process, thanks for sharing, and I love how perfect the final title is! What inspired you to write this story?
Beth: This story was a little different than An Inconvenient Alphabet, which immediately grabbed the teacher in me, and Lizzie Demands a Seat, about Elizabeth Jennings whose story struck me at gut level. For “Smelly” Kelly, the inspiration came more slowly and in pieces. First it was this good natured character who rose to any challenge with ingenuity and dedication, along with his humorous, bizarre, and dangerous experiences. And with his super sense of smell, a curse and a blessing – what could be more fun to play with in a picture book than that!
In addition to this character, the mysterious underground world of the subway pulled me in, as well as the aspect of how the subject matter involved the intersection of so many content areas—lots of social studies and science topics. Lots of potential there. But given the very limited information on him, his story wasn’t the full package.
I needed inspiration at the emotional level—something that would help me find the “heart” of the story, something that would tie together the anecdotes I’d found and help me build an arc. As I contemplated heroes, all the parallels I found for him with superheroes provided that inspiration, as well as a lot of fun for me in the telling.
Kaitlyn: That is so awesome! It really is a remarkable story from many angles; I’m so glad I got to learn about it through you! What was the most interesting part of your research for this story?
Beth: I’m not a city girl, so learning about the underground world was fascinating, especially when I realized how social studies and science aspects converged. As I dug into the sensory environment in hopes of being able to share Kelly’s world as he would have perceived it, I discovered amazing maps. I love maps! I found an old “stench map” and a “sound map” in addition to the early subway maps. You might think – why would anyone want to create a map of stinks? Well, that makes sense when you consider that people used to think that odors caused sickness. The sound information came from complaints to the city and included short video clips showing life—and noises—at the time. I enjoyed that rabbit hole immensely! (Though very little of that made it into the book, it gave me a real sense of setting.) And one of James Kelly’s tools as the first “leak detective” for the subway was a 1763 “spring” map of Manhattan Island. Water added value to land, so mapping the underground streams helped determine prime property.
Kaitlyn: That does sound like a fun rabbit hole, especially because old movies are so cool! Speaking of cool, the movie poster is such a cool part of the story, did this happen in real life?
Beth: This was a really fun piece of the puzzle that served several purposes. In the 1930s-40s superheroes became a part of American culture. I was building the superhero frame, trying to find all the parallels for Kelly and superheroes. At one point, I needed to transition to him training and using assistants. So…superheroes have sidekicks, right? Perfect! We just needed to put the idea into a scene.
There really were movie posters in the stations and on the platforms. I found pictures with the help of the New York Transit Museum. Jenn tried out the spread with a real poster first, then to avoid any copyright or trademark issues, she changed the characters. Did Kelly look at a movie poster and decide to train others? I don’t know. I had already added a bit of fiction to the opening, making the book historical fiction, so this little piece was not a problem. It strengthened the superhero frame, added some fun, and provided a perfect transition.
Kaitlyn: I love that! And it’s incredibly cool to see historical fiction in the picture book arena. We don’t get them very often (and they’re my favorite novel genre) so I hope that means there’s more to come! The art in this story is so wonderful, what’s your favorite part of Jenn Harney‘s illustrations?
Beth: I loved the way she used two palettes and made the underground world of the subway so dramatic. It just popped! And also how she used cross sections to show elements of infrastructure and unseen dangers. And then there are the odors wafting through the story – so much fun!
Kaitlyn: Yes, yes, YES to all of what you said; I totally agree! Can you share a bit about the editorial experience for this book after you got your deal?
Beth: The challenge for this story was how to string together the limited anecdotes I’d found and to build the intensity for the plot, flesh out the character, and create an emotional arc. Most all my revisions with editor Carolyn Yoder involved adding details to “crank up” different aspects, including the character’s super-ness, STEM concepts, context to help readers understand that world and the stakes involved with leaks, and why James Kelly’s story matters.
It was such a delight to see what Jenn Harney came up with for the illustrations. She too enjoyed the research process and included so many amazing historical details. The energy of the character she put on the page and the palettes she used for above and below ground just blew me away!
Kaitlyn: Wow, I love that! We often think of writers doing research, but you’re right, the illustrators need to do so much research too to understand the times and inspire the art. What are you planning on doing for this book launch? Do you or your publisher have creative advertising ideas to get this awesome book in people’s hands when it comes out in October?
Beth: With the pandemic, some of my early ideas have required rethinking… Books on the Subway, a program that places books in cars on various subway routes (encourages people to enjoy and leave the book there for others…until eventually someone takes it home – hopefully because they have a child who will love it!), will have to wait until subway ridership rebounds.
After working with an historian at the New York Transit Museum when I researched, the education department there expressed interest in adding “Smelly” Kelly to their programming. Now, the family program on the book will move to a virtual format, and I’ll be participating with a couple presentations from home. Though I’ll miss the excitement of being in the room with the kids, the advantage is that people anywhere will be able to participate. The date isn’t set yet, so please check my website in October if you’re interested in attending some of the presentations. Please also share this with teachers who might want to incorporate presentations that go along with their curriculum.
In addition, we’re planning a virtual launch and virtual school visits, and we’re on the lookout for more opportunities to share this fun book with kids. I’m working on ways to bring the surprises I found in the research rabbit holes into my presentations.
Kaitlyn: Wow those all sound wonderful, and I sure hope the subway idea gets to happen; that sounds amazing! You seem to have some great ideas, can you share your favorite piece of advice to give to other authors about writing nonfiction?
Beth: To make a nonfiction story more than a “report,” you need to find what I call the “heart” of the story—Barb Rosenstock’s “so what?”, Candace Fleming’s “vital idea.” Those two amazing authors helped me understand this important concept. It’s not the theme, but more how an author filters a story through their own life experience and digs into their passion to write it to find a unique angle, thread, meaning, or telling that makes a story stand out with a special idea that resonates at the end. That, and really digging into the time and place to get at that character’s interior will help move the reader from “watching” to “experiencing” the story.
Kaitlyn: My mind is blown, such wonderful advice! Finally, if you could spend the day with your favorite author or illustrator, would you sit by the fireside and chat or go out on an adventure and explore together?
Beth: Wow – tough question! I would probably go sit down together with a pile of their books and pick their brain about their process. That way we could cover much more, I could make notes easily, and we wouldn’t fall down a canyon because I’m yammering away with questions.
Kaitlyn: Haha, I’m glad you’d be safe from those treacherous canyons! Thanks so much again for stopping by Beth!
Beth: Thank YOU for all your support!
Beth Anderson, a former English as a Second Language teacher, has always marveled at the power of books. Armed with linguistics and reading degrees, a fascination with language, and penchant for untold tales, she strives for accidental learning in the midst of a great story. Beth lives in Loveland, Colorado where she laughs, wonders, thinks, and questions; and hopes to inspire kids to do the same. Author of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET (S&S 2018), LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT! (Calkins Creek, 2020), and “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES (Calkins Creek, Oct. 2020), Beth has more historical gems on the way.
@BAndersonWriter – Twitter, IG, Pinterest
“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses (illustrated by the amazing Jenn Harney!) is about an everyday hero. A person who does his job above and beyond expectations, often unnoticed, to serve the public good. Born with an extraordinary sense of smell, James Kelly found his calling in the New York City subway. With an ever expanding metropolis, the underground world became laced with tunnels for speeding trains to transport the growing population. Steam lines, water pipes, sewer mains, electrical conduit, and natural gas lines crisscrossed under the streets. Gasoline tanks, oil tanks, and foundations were buried beneath the surface. Seeping water could cause cave ins, and leaks and vapors from gasoline and oil could explode. James Kelly, with a nose for leaks, arrived just in time.
“Smelly Kelly” is such an inspiring, interesting, and entertaining story for all ages. I had no idea this amazing man kept people safe with his amazing sense! The artwork compliments the text with its fun, old-fashioned style; I felt like I was there and had so much fun following the smells in the images while being enthralled by Kelly’s story!
Would you like to enter to win a free copy of the book once released?? If so, you can enter in the follow ways (each earns you another entry into the random drawing)
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you added “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you pre-ordered a copy of “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES
- Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for “SMELLY” KELLY AND HIS SUPER SENSES at your library
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.
Thank you all for reading the blog post and supporting wonderful creators!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez
PS. The Fall Writing Frenzy, a contest for ALL kidlit levels (BB, PB, CB, MG, YA, GN), will go live on October 1st, so make sure to subscribe to my blog and Lydia Lukidis’ blog to stay up-to-date on the details and prize donors for the contest that connects up-and-coming writers with established literary professionals. Feel free to check out the info from last year’s contest, but remember this year it starts on Oct 1st!