Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Today is a triply awesome! We have three (yes THREE!) amazing writers to talk about their STEM picture books, BEFORE WE STOOD TALL, GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!, and PRINCESSES CAN FIX IT! And we’ll also get some great insight on their agent relationship that I think you’ll find super interesting!
Kaitlyn: Hi, Jessica Kulekjian, James McGowan, and Tracy Marchini, thanks for joining us on the Math is Everywhere Blog!
Jessica: Thanks for the invite, Kaitlyn! I’m happy to be here 🙂
James: Hey-o! Thanks for having us all, Kaitlyn.
Tracy: Hello! Excited to be here!
Kaitlyn: I’m so excited to chat with you all! First of all, can you share how you all became a team?
Jessica: Sure! I queried Tracy after she posted on Twitter that she was looking for nonfiction. Shortly after, I ended up with an offer of representation from another agent. That prompted me to send notice to agents who had my work, letting them know an offer has been made. Side note: I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve since learned, in this situation, it’s customary to give agents two weeks to decide whether or not they are interested, once you tell them there’s been an offer of representation. I think I gave Tracy three days. LOL. Thankfully, that faux pas didn’t make her pass. Instead, she asked for more work. An hour or so later, I got an email that said, “We love your voice!” I froze in excitement. Then, she said that she and her colleague, James, would like to set up a call. During our chat they offered to represent me as a team. It really is amazing to partner with both of them!
James: Haha! I don’t even remember the three day thing. Do you, Tracy? Either way — I was just starting out on building my list at that time. Tracy was kind enough to offer to co-agent / mentor me on representing picture books. When Jessica’s offer of rep came through, Tracy dropped me all the manuscripts, asked what I thought, and we both fell in love with the books — namely MIGHTY, IN THE KINGDOM OF TREES (now, BEFORE WE STOOD TALL). Jessica’s writing voice is so engaging and calming. I think that’s what drew me in most.
Tracy: I don’t remember the three days at all! If I’m remembering right, James and I had been looking for maybe a month or two for the right project to co-agent, and when I read Jessica’s work, I just loved the poetic voice, the fascinating structure of BEFORE WE STOOD TALL, and the direction she was going in with her other books. It felt like a perfect fit, and when the three of us got on the call, I was even more excited about the potential partnership!
Kaitlyn: That sounds like the best, and it’s so awesome that time didn’t matter because they wanted you and your work so much, Jessica, and we definitely all make those fun faux pas at the beginning–at least I know did! Now, I just have to know, “What’s it like working with TWO agents, Jessica?”
Jessica: Wonderful! They each bring their own set of skills, enthusiasm, and experience to my projects and career. I am grateful!
Kaitlyn: Aw, I just love that! What’s it like working together for a client, James and Tracy?
James: I really love it. Tracy and I make a great team, and considering she taught me so much about how to BE a picture book agent, we work very similarly. It’s particularly nice to have that confidence boost of someone else agreeing with revisions or strategy.
Tracy: Yes! It’s a lot of fun to have another agent to bounce ideas off of that’s just as invested in the project or author’s career as you are. And working with James has been fantastic – he trusts and appreciates my experience but is also willing to disagree or bring up other viewpoints, which enables a lot of great conversations. It’s a real back-and-forth process, and it’s been fantastic to watch both James’s and Jessica’s picture book careers take off!
Kaitlyn: I just adore all this love and respect, what a wonderful team you all make! Okay now, one of he coolest things, and I bet it’s one-in-a-million odds, all three of you have STEAM-themed picture books coming out this year! Please share a bit about your book.
Jessica: BEFORE WE STOOD TALL: From Small Seed to Mighty Tree (illustrated by Madeline Kloepper) traces a tree’s life cycle by moving backwards in time while exploring the interconnected forest community.
James: GOOD NIGHT, OPPY, illustrated by Graham Carter, is a fictionalized account of the Mars Opportunity Rover’s time on the red planet. It mixes humor with solid space and rover facts to cover her greatest achievements, and full life span.
Tracy: PRINCESSES CAN FIX IT! (illustrated by Julia Christians) is a humorous, STEAM-take on the classic fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, where three princesses use the six simple machines in their secret workshop to solve the King’s alligator problem.
Kaitlyn: Gah! They’re all amazing! Did you set out to tell a STEAM-themed story or was it a happy accident?
Jessica: I suppose it was a happy accident. Before writing the nonfiction version of this story, I was working on a fictional story about trees growing up together. Because I was doing a little bit of research to inform my fiction, a critique partner sent me a TED Talk about how trees communicate and share resources. I couldn’t stop thinking about that. Eventually, this idea wouldn’t let me go. It even showed up in my dreams! So, I put aside the fiction story and wrote what felt exciting to me—which was the backwards life cycle and interconnectivity of the forest community. As a teacher, I knew it would fit in with STEAM lessons but I didn’t set out to do that while drafting.
James: I… did not. We’ve been critique partners for a long time, so you know, Kaitlyn: GNO started out completely as fiction. But I am a space lover, and the more I revised, the more factual it became. My initial glossary became sidebars, became back matter, became little nuggets peppered into the main text. Now, more is factual than it is fictional. Oppy’s story is fascinating and inspiring, and I am really happy to have this added layer of science facts added into the book.
Tracy: I was actually having a conversation about fractured fairy tales and how you can build picture book concepts by taking the familiar and twisting it. I remember saying something akin to, “So like, instead of The Twelve Dancing Princesses it could be The Twelve Building Princesses….. No wait! I want to write that one!” I’ve always liked science though, and love the idea of marrying art and STEM.
Kaitlyn: These are such great inspiring stories of how the stories came about. Take note, readers, your story can come from anywhere. What do you hope kids get from your book?
Jessica: I hope readers feel an appreciation and connection to nature and themselves. In a lot of ways, the tree’s journey of growing mirrors our own.
James: The importance of perseverance. A love for space.
Tracy: That rigid gender roles are limiting to everyone, and they should feel free to pursue the hobbies and interests they love. Also that you can love pink and science at the same time. (This is something that I think I needed to hear at one point!)
Kaitlyn: I definitely think you’ve all hit the mark on these goals, so many kids (and adults) are going to learn and grow and be entertained by these phenomenal books. Can you share a bit about your experience with your editor for this book?
Jessica: Kathleen Keenan at Kids Can Press made my debut editing experience wonderful. Her thoughtful questions and conversations elevated this book into something that is beyond anything I was expecting. Also, I’m happy to say that we have more projects in the works!
James: Jes Negrón bought OPPY when she was with Boyd’s Mills & Kane. She gave me an incredible set of notes that really tipped the book more factual than fictional. Then, she left BMK and I began working with Joy Bean. Joy picked right up where Jes left off and helped me really bring this book to life in an authentic and meaningful way. I’m so grateful for both of them, their belief and vision for this story. Especially to Joy for being so great about picking up where Jes left off.
Tracy: Courtney Burke bought PRINCESSES when she was with Page Street. We had such great conversations on the micro and macro level about the book – things like, “does italicizing this word change the line’s emphasis?” to “Will the pandemic change the reading of the story?” I’m really proud of the final book, and it’s due in great part to Courtney’s work!
Kaitlyn: Another homerun for great team efforts! Besides finding a great team, can you share some advice you like to give to authors?
Jessica: Follow your curiosity. Trust the process.
James: Every book is a new opportunity (ha!) to try something new and grow as a writer. (Now Tracy has to use the word perseverance to drive home the rover puns! Lol)
Tracy: PRINCESSES went through several rounds of revision with critique partners, agents, and then of course my editor. You have to have…. Perseverance! (:Digital group high five:)
James: Curiosity, Opportunity and Perseverance would be proud.
Kaitlyn: Hahahaha! Best earned high-five ever! I’m still laughing (and oh so proud), but can you each share with us what you’re working on or what’s coming up next for you?
Jessica: Currently, I’m having a lot of fun working on promotion efforts for BEFORE WE STOOD TALL along with my pals at Picture Book Playground. I also have two projects in the works that will be released in 2022: FIRST NOTES OF SPRING is written by me and illustrated by Jennifer Bower (Bloomsbury, Spring 2022). This is my debut fiction picture book and I’m giddy about the way it’s turning out! Following that, is HIDERS SEEKERS, FINDERS KEEPERS written by me and illustrated by Salini Perera (Kids Can Press, Fall 2022). I can’t wait to see the art for this cozy story!
James: I’ve got quite a bit in the works, including working to promote Good Night Oppy, with the PB Debut Troupe ‘21, and hope to share some new projects, soon! For the meantime, you can totally support my talented client list!
Tracy: Right now I’m drafting another STEAM story and having a ton of fun with the Picture Book Scribblers and STEAMteambooks. Also, I’m totally going to take a page out of James’s book and share my wonderful client books! (And if you have a two or three year old who loves barnyard books, please check out my picture book debut, Chicken Wants a Nap!)
Kaitlyn: You are all amazing (and so are your client lists–wow wow wow!) Thank you so much for sharing and for joining us today.
Jessica: This was so much fun. Thank you for hosting us!
James: Yes, thanks for having us!
Tracy: Thank you Kaitlyn, this was wonderful!
Kaitlyn: It was my pleasure; you are such a fun group!
Books info and links
Expressive text and art tell the story of the life cycle of trees as it has never been told before– in reverse. A lyrical depiction told one step at a time, based on newly researched information. The steps are described in simple but evocative text, each starting with “Before…” for a rhythmic telling. Particular attention is paid throughout to what’s happening underground and how that links all life in the forest. Beginning with mature giants, “mighty in the kingdom of trees,” and ending with the promise of new life on the branches that are “hoping to be mighty in the kingdom of trees,” it’s a beautiful and loving celebration of the circle of life.
Before We Stood Tall can be purchased at:
Petunia’s Place Children’s Bookstore: For personalized copies, you may order by calling Petunia’s Place 559-438-1561 and let them know who you would like me to sign it to.
Check out the book on Goodreads!
Learn all about the Mars Opportunity Rover (“Oppy”) in this fictionalized account of the space exploration robot’s time on the red planet.
Mixing humor with solid space and rover facts, this picture book gives an inside look into the Opportunity’s time spent on Mars.
An interplanetary detective, Oppy spent 15 years on the red planet taking thousands of pictures and making groundbreaking discoveries that she transmitted to scientists and engineers back on Earth.
From joyriding on Olympus Mons, to racing away from a treacherous dust storm, Oppy’s adventure in space–combined with her grit and perseverance — will inspire and educate young readers of all ages.
Good Night, Oppy on Goodreads
The castle has an alligator problem, and the Princesses have a solution. But will the King see what they’re capable of?
Margaret, Harriet, and Lila want to do more than draw, play music and make jewelry. The King doesn’t think Proper Princesses should build, invent, or experiment. When the Princesses keep falling asleep during the day, the King doesn’t believe the reason why: in a secret workshop, the
Princesses are building a machine that will send the alligators back to the moat!
This updated twist on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” stars three STEM-loving Princesses who don’t just think they can save the castle. They know they can!
Princesses Can Fix It! can be purchased at:
The Silver Unicorn – Pre-order at The Silver Unicorn for an autographed/personalized copy – just add who you’d like me to sign it to in the comments when you check out.
Please also check out the book on Goodreads!
Authors Bio and links
Jessica Kulekjian is children’s author and teacher. She has her MA in Teaching and has been an educator for almost two decades. Her passion for nature, free play, and learning inspires all her writing. She is the debut author of Before We Stood Tall: From Small Seed to Mighty Tree (Kids Can Press 2021) followed by First Notes of Spring (Bloomsbury 2022), and Hiders Seekers, Finders Keepers (KidsCan Press 2022). Jessica lives in Central California with her family. Find her online at jessicakulekjian.com.
BeforeWe Stood Tall is now available for pre-order.
James McGowan is an Associate Agent and Social Media Manager at BookEnds Literary Agency. He has been with BookEnds, in some capacity, since the summer of 2015. He started as an intern, and as the joke goes: they couldn’t get rid of him. James is a Staten Island native, and holds a Master’s Degree in English from the College of Staten Island. He’s been a reader since his first time reading A Series of Unfortunate Events book, and ordered the sequels regularly through Scholastic book orders.
His debut picture book, GOOD NIGHT, OPPY, launches in Fall 2021 from Boyds Mills Kane Press. When James is not reading/working/writing, he might be found watching sitcoms, or Jeopardy!.
Tracy Marchini joined BookEnds in June 2016 as their first picture book and illustration literary agent. Prior to building a list at BookEnds, she had over ten years of experience in children’s literature, either at an agency or as a freelance editor and children’s book reviewer. She is thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning creators of fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.
As a children’s author, her picture book debut Chicken Wants A Nap (Creative Editions) was called “A surprising gem” in a starred Kirkus review and was nominated for the 2019 Bridge to Reading Picture Book Awards. Her sophomore picture book, Princesses Can Fix It! is forthcoming (Page Street Kids, May 2021). She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College and a BA in English, concentration in Rhetoric from Binghamton University, and as an author has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France.
Kaitlyn’s Review of the Books
Before We Stood Tall
This lyrical story is a beautiful way for kids to learn about how trees form while also paralleling their own lives, reminding all readers that we all start from something small, we all have aspirations, and we will all achieve greatness, too!
Good Night, Oppy!
With wonderful text and adorable art, this is such an awesome story to share with all kids, especially those who love space, about determination and connection. This is full of great information about Opportunity’s visit to Mars but also about hard work, fun, and thoughtfulness. I will full-heartedly admit, that I teared up at the end; it’s such a sweet story!
Princesses Can Fix It!
Full of mischievous humor and awesome girl power, this spin on an old tale will delight all readers young and old. I also really adore the fun in the art and that all the characters match spot on with their personalities–one of my favorite depictions is the pink-haired king!
Tracy: I’d be happy to do a query letter critique giveaway!
Jessica: Yes! Count me in! I’m happy to give away a picture book manuscript critique!
James: I’m up for a query letter critique, too!
Three lucky winners will get one of the wonderful prizes listed above! 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 all three books to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you ordered a copy of one of the books
- Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for one of the books at your library
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.
Thank you all for stopping by today. I hope you had as much fun as I did getting to know this wonderful team! We have such an amazing community, and I hope you all find a great team like this soon, if you haven’t already! We’re almost done connecting spring fling kdlit winners with their prize donors, so the anaylsis should be starting soon!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez