Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider who Learned to Hunt in Space
If you follow my work, you know that I’ve written two animal biographies. They were written because several years ago, I decided that I needed to be more like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
No, I’ll never have muscles like Arnold! I do lift weights, but his weightlifting isn’t what I’ve admired. Instead, I was fascinated with a career that alternated between such different categories of films. There were the Terminator series of movies that alternated with comedies like Kindergarten Cop.
I was writing middle grade novels and wondered if I could alternate those with some other genre. After looking around and evaluating my interests and strengths, I decided to try science/nature non-fiction titles for kids. My first success was Prairie Storms (Arbordale), followed by Desert Baths (Arbordale), which was named a 2013 National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade Book. I was hooked.
Focusing on Animal Biography
Wisdom, the Midway Albatross is the story of the oldest known wild bird in the world and how she survived the Japanese tsunami. She’s still alive today. In fact, on December 1, 2015, at the tender age of 64, she laid a new egg. Her chick is expected to hatch in early February, 2016. Illustrated by the amazing wildlife artist, Kitty Harvill, the book received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.
We collaborated again with Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, the story of an orphaned puma cub and how he survived. With Kitty and her husband, Christoph Hrdina’s help, it became a Portuguese/Brazilian book, also. One thrill has been to see the book make a real difference in Brazil as the puma scientists work to preserve the species.
All year, I’ve been looking for a new animal biography. But I’ve painted myself into a tight corner. Wisdom and Abayomi are true stories about an individual animal. I’m not writing about the plight of a species, but about one particular animal. Further, the animal must have interacted enough with humans that we KNOW the story. Finally, Wisdom’s and Abayomi’s stories held the nugget of a strong narrative storyline, with specific conflicts and resolutions. They were combinations of good science and good stories.
Finding a story of an individual animal who has faced hardships and overcome them — it’s a tall order. Plus, I can’t fall into the trap of anthropomorphizing the animal. (If you know of a great animal story, please email me! I’ll investigate.)
By chance, I heard Astronaut Suni Williams talking about a spider who joined her on the International Space Station in 2012. Wow! A spidernaut? That would be a bird, a puma and a spider, an interesting mix of animal biographies.
I investigated and found the story even more intriguing than I had hoped for. Even better, I found a source who was willing to share the entire story with me. Stefanie Countryman of the Bioserve Space Technologies, Boulder, CO, was the lead scientist on the project. She agreed to an interview and provided reference photos for the illustrator.
The result will be Nefertiti, the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider Who Learned to Hunt in Space, which is due out Fall, 2016. It’s the incredible story of a Johnson Jumping Spider who spent 100 days in space and circled Earth about 1584 times, traveling about 41,580,000 miles. This will be a debut picture book for Illustrator Valeria Tisnes, who has formal training in technical wildlife illustrations. As you can see from the cover, this is going to be a fun, exciting debut for her.
Look for Preorder Information Soon!