Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
I’m ecstatic to have one of my favorite authors back on the blog today, Laura Gehl! Today we’re talking about another absolutely brilliant book of hers, WHO IS A SCIENTIST?
Info about WHO IS A SCIENTIST Scientists work hard in the lab and in the field to make important discoveries. But who are they really? It turns out they are just like us! Scientists can be any race. And any gender. They can wear lab coats, jeans, or fancy dresses. And they are people who love to fly drones, make art, and even eat French fries! Meet fourteen phenomenal scientists who might just change the way you think about who a scientist is. They share their scientific work in fields like entomology, meteorology, paleontology, and engineering as well as other interesting facts about themselves and their hobbies. An “if you like this, you’ll like that” flowchart in the back of the book helps students identify science careers they might be interested in. Scan a QR code at the end of the book for a video of the scientists introducing themselves! “Both selection of information and presentation have been thoughtfully designed to appeal to young readers. Convincing evidence that readers, too, might become scientists.” —Kirkus, starred review
Kaitlyn: Hi, Laura, thank you so much for joining us!
Laura: Thank YOU so much for having me, Kaitlyn! I always love “chatting” with you!
Kaitlyn: It’s the best! To start, can you share what inspired this story and a bit about its journey into the world?
Laura: I’ve seen studies for years about the way kids view scientists. When asked to draw a scientist, kids will typically draw white men in white coats, maybe with some test tubes. In the past few decades, kids’ perceptions of scientists have changed, but not as much as you would hope. I wanted to show kids that scientists don’t look or work any one way...that scientists can wear bright red lipstick or a hijab (or both!), that scientists can have tattoos or crutches (or both!), that scientists can work in a lab or in the desert (or both!). As far as the book’s journey, it started with a proposal. Once I sold the book to Millbrook, I went about recruiting the scientists, and then recruiting the photographers. This was my first book where the majority of the work happened after the sale rather than before.
Kaitlyn: That’s such an amazing story behind the story, and I love that this book will help everyone see scientists for who they are. Can you share why you think stories like these are so important for our little ones to read about?
Laura: I remember one of my teachers telling a story about his son. The son wanted to dress up as a scientist for Halloween but felt like he couldn’t because, “I am Black and scientists are White.” I hope this book helps kids see that scientists don’t come from any one background or fit into any one mold, and that anyone who is curious and wants to learn about a cool topic like bugs or space or dinosaurs can become a scientist.
Kaitlyn: Wow, that was such a hard statement to read, but I’m so glad that hopefully with your book, the next generation won’t feel the same way. One thing that really sets this book apart, and also makes it extra beautiful in my opinion, is that you’re not just focused on what these people do for a living but who they are as people. How did you come up with this concept of showing kids such an important part of people- that they’re more than just their jobs?
Laura: I think being able to imagine yourself having a job starts with knowing people who do have that job, and realizing they are just like you. Because I used to work in a science lab myself, I personally know lots of scientists. I know that they are just regular people who watch Netflix and eat potato chips. They go fishing and play with their cats. I wanted kids to see that side of scientists...that they aren’t sitting around reading giant scientific tomes and spouting equations in their spare time but rather doing the exact same things that kids like to do. It was important to me to show each scientist at work and at play so that kids would see how much they have in common with scientists. I actually did a school visit yesterday where we read this book, and after reading about a scientist who likes eating chocolate, I said, “Raise your hand if you like chocolate too.” And after reading about a scientist who likes playing video games, I said, “Raise your hand if you like playing video games too.” Needless to say, there were lots of hands raised! The more that scientists feel relatable to kids, the more kids can imagine themselves being scientists one day.
Kaitlyn: Yes yes and yes! I felt the same when I was doing my NASA internships. One of the most valuable thing I learned was NASA scientists are just people like you and me, they just happen to have an extra cool job, too. I’d love to know how you and/or your team went about finding these amazing people and getting these wonderful pictures of them as well. Can you share a bit about this process?
Laura: I found the scientists primarily through social media. Once I put out the word about my project and what I was trying to accomplish, some scientists volunteered themselves, and others were suggested by friends. For the photos, I needed to find a photographer in each location where the scientists lived (Seattle, Boston, DC, and a variety of other places). I used one photographer I knew, one referred by a friend, and then a number of photographers I found on the Internet! I definitely didn’t realize how much work it would be to find the photographers and coordinate photo shoots, permissions, payments, etc. And we had some surprises along the way, such as one scientist ending up in the hospital. COVID definitely didn’t help either!
Kaitlyn: WOW! What a mission, but after reading this book, I know it was worth it! Can you share who your editor was for this book, and what you enjoyed about working with this editor?
Laura: I worked with two editors on this book, Carol Hinz and Jordyn Taylor. From the beginning, the editorial team at Millbrook shared my enthusiasm for this project, and they helped come up with all kinds of amazing back matter for the book (there’s a flow chart, a pronunciation guide for each scientist’s name, and a QR code that links to a video where kids can see and hear the scientists talk about their work).
Kaitlyn: Carol is so amazing and it sounds like Jordyn is too; I’m so happy you had such an amazing team for this book! For those who don’t know who your agent is, can you share who your agent is and also how your agent went about finding the best publisher for this wonderful book?
Laura: My agent is Erzsi Deàk. Many of my author friends think their agent is the best (I know your clients do, Kaitlyn!!!), but I honestly can’t imagine doing my job without Erzsi. She is a friend/cheerleader/editor/advocate/sounding board all rolled into one. In this case, I think we both knew Millbrook was the right home for this book. They do such a great job with photo-illustrated nonfiction. So thank goodness Millbrook felt the same way!
Kaitlyn: Aww, that’s the best (and you’re too kind!). I love that you knew it’d be the right home and congrats on the Millbrook loving it too. I agree; they make absolutely stunning photo-illustrated books like this one! Can you share some advice you like to give to aspiring authors?
Laura: Sure! In no particular order...Find a critique group. Write A LOT. Read A LOT. Don’t be afraid to completely start over. Pick one thing about your story that you wouldn’t change (the message, the main character, the setting, etc.) and be willing to change everything else as needed. Support other kidlit authors by interacting with them on social media, reading their books, reviewing their books, and requesting their books from your library. Try writing different types of picture books (nonfiction, lyrical, STEM, biography) or different genres (board books, chapter books, MG). DON’T GIVE UP!
Kaitlyn: Yes to ALL of these things, and please remember to read and review Laura’s books, too! Can you please share with us what’s next for you or what you’re working on now?
Laura: Oh, I have so many books coming up that I am excited to tell you about! In the spring, Apple & Magnolia, illustrated by Patrice Metola, comes out from Walker Books UK and Flyaway Books US. It is the story of a little girl who is positive that the two trees in her yard are best friends. When one tree gets sick, she knows the other tree will help. This was inspired by an area of science that didn’t even exist when I was a kid, which is how trees actually communicate with and help one another. Patrice’s illustrations of the trees are gorgeous. Then Andrea Zuill and I also have Donut coming out from Schwartz and Wade, about a unicorn who wants to fly. Andrea is one of the funniest illustrators out there, so I am thrilled that we got to create a book together. And I have The Hiking Viking, illustrated by Timothy Banks, coming out from Capstone. That book was inspired by my own love of hiking. It features a little viking, Leif, who would rather spend time by himself at the top of the fjord than battle and brawl like his friends. It is a bit like a modern The Story of Ferdinand, which was a favorite of mine growing up.
Kaitlyn: Wow, those all sound amazing! I can’t wait to read those, too! Finally, if you could meet your favorite author, illustrator, scientist, or mathematician would you chat by a fireside or go on an adventure?
Laura: Adventure for sure! Maybe I could meet a scientist who studies penguins in Antarctica and they would invite me down to help out with their research? I would even be willing to collect and measure penguin poop! Although now that I think about it, after visiting Antarctica, I would probably be ready for a nice fireside chat. Can I have both? Please????
Kaitlyn: Always! You can always have both; as long as I get to come too! Haha. Thank you so much for sharing and for joining us today, Laura!
Laura: Thank you, Kaitlyn! It was a complete joy for me to answer your questions and talk about this special book!
Kaitlyn: I’m so glad you had as much fun as I did; it’s always such a pleasure to chat with you, and I’m halfway through the Nevermoor series on your recommendation; I’m obsessed! Thanks so much again for chatting; now back singing for Wunder.
Author Bio and links
Dr. Laura Gehl holds a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Georgetown. She has nearly twenty years of experience teaching and writing about science for preschool, elementary, middle, and high school students. Many of Laura’s two dozen books for young readers have scientific themes, including Always Looking Up: Nancy Grace Roman, Astronomer; the Baby Scientist series; Odd Beasts; and I Got A Chicken For My Birthday, which features a brilliant engineering chicken. Laura is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and community centers, bringing elements of math, science, and engineering into her interactive presentations. Visit her online at www.lauragehl.com and follow her @AuthorLauraGehl on twitter and Instagram.
Kaitlyn’s Review of WHO IS A SCIENTIST?
This book is absolutely brilliant! Showing children that scientists are just like us is exactly what this generation needs. As a teacher, mom, and former NASA intern, I recommend this book to every kid in your life! Plus, the pictures are stunning!
Giveaway of a copy of WHO IS A SCIENTIST?
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Thank you all once again for supporting such amazing creators, and I hope you’re enjoying this fall weather like I am!
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez