One of the most exciting parts of writing nonfiction is the research. For my forthcoming book (October 11, 2016), NEFERTITI, THE SPIDERNAUT, I actually talked with an astronaut.
Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider Who Learned to Hunt in Space is on the 2016-17 Alabama Camellia Children’s Choice reading list for 4-6th grade nonfiction.
Research: Interviews with Scientists
I first heard Suni Williams on a radio program talking about a spider that went to the international space station. Because I’ve already written two animal biographies, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross and Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, I was looking for another animal to feature. Spiders on the space stations sounded interesting, so I went looking for more information.
Writing a nonfiction picture book means lots of research. Many times, people are too busy to help, or are just not interested in a book about their topic. What you need is the one person who can connect you with everyone else and who is generous with time and information. I found that person in Stefanie Countryman, who works for Bioserve Space Technologies in Boulder, CO. Stefanie is in charge of all the live animal research projects on the International Space Station. It happened that we were going to visit my daughter in Denver, so we drove up to Boulder for the day to interview Stefanie.
Stefanie showed me the prototype for the insect habitat, which is only 6″ x 5″ x 3″. Everything on the International Space Station must justify its size and weight. Two habitats are packaged along with a camera in an experiment environment.
Stefanie talked me through the intricacies of the habitat, showed me the labs, and provided reference photos of the spider and the project. Without the cooperation of a scientist such as Stefanie, a book like this is impossible.
After the story is written, though, other experts come along side and vet portions of the project. Paula E. Cushing, Ph.D, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, Denver Museum of Nature and Science read through and corrected information about the spider’s anatomy and natural history.
Most thrilling for me, Astronaut Sunita (Suni) Williams, Captain U.S. Navy, took time from a busy schedule to call and chat. After the two week experiment, Suni had a choice of packing Nefertiti back up or keeping her beside her work station. She chose to place Nefertiti where she could watch her often. Suni said that the spider was visually oriented. When she came close, Nefertiti’s eyes followed her around. It’s a small detail, but I added it to the story to lend it more emotion.
Research is the fun part of writing a children’s picture book. While I read everything ever published about a topic, nothing can replace an interview for adding in the right details to make a story come alive.
How to Order
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Available on October 11, 2016
|All formats also available on Follett, Mackin, Permabound, and Ingram.|