I’m excited to share an interview with picture book author Lisa Kahn Schnell, and to announce a great give-away.
Lisa’s debut book, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, is a lyrical look at a fascinating subject not often considered: horseshoe crabs. And she’s giving away a signed copy to a lucky GROG reader—just comment below for your chance to win!
In this nonfiction picture book, Lisa takes a close look at horseshoe crabs and their life cycle. She makes her topic appealing to kids and adults alike, in a beautifully written and beautifully illustrated 40-page book, published this spring by Charlesbridge. Don't just take my word for it: Kirkus and SLJ both gave it starred reviews. After reading this book, you’ll be looking out for horseshoe crabs on your next walk on the beach! (And be sure to check out the illustrations in this post -- you'll love them.)
|Lisa Kahn Schnell|
Lisa and I have known one another “virtually”—as members of an online critique group—for almost two years. That made it especially fun for me to meet lovely Lisa in real life, last fall at Falling Leaves – the fabulous SCBWI master class retreat in upstate New York.
Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions for GROG.
Lisa was kind enough to answer a few questions for GROG.
Q: First, Lisa--CONGRATULATIONS on the publication of High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs. Please tell us about this poetic picture book.
A: Thank you for your kind words!
High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs introduces readers to the amazing horseshoe crab. Each spring, horseshoe crabs spawn up and down the east coast of the United States. They come together in especially large numbers on the beaches of Delaware Bay. During this spawning season, many species of migrating shorebirds—and a myriad of other animals—feed on the crabs’ tiny nutritious eggs. Scientists, volunteers, and other curious people arrive to observe the birds and horseshoe crabs, too.
Horseshoe crabs were on the planet millions of years before the dinosaurs. They’re critical ecologically and for human health, too. I am fascinated by the importance of an animal I’ve taken for granted for most of my life, and I hope my book conveys that enthusiasm, along with lots of information.
|Double-page spread from High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs|
A: I love spending time outside, and I find nature endlessly fascinating and inspiring. I have had some great teachers over the years who have shared knowledge, encouraged my questions, and helped me feel comfortable outdoors.
I love the way certain books can be as inviting as a good teacher. For example, the books in the Scientists in the Field series feel like personal guides to places and subjects I might never get to know about otherwise. I wanted my book to do the same sort of thing, but for younger children--to introduce the child and their adult reader to the subject in a way that makes it feel approachable and welcoming.
Part of what amazed me about horseshoe crabs is that I’d been going to the beach all my life and had never realized this incredible natural phenomenon was happening right there where I was standing. I know not everyone will visit the horseshoe crabs in person, but I will be very happy if my book encourages people to look around—wherever they are—and ask simple questions. “What is happening in the natural world near me?” “What can I observe and learn about directly, right here where I am?” That sort of investigation doesn’t require any special equipment—it can happen in a city schoolyard or while mucking around in a stream.
Q: What made you choose this subject for your first book?
A. A well-timed walk on the beach! I saw a horseshoe crab and wanted to know more about it. When I started looking for information, I couldn’t find much, and was surprised how little was available, especially for young readers. Once I started researching more thoroughly, I found lots of intriguing material. The project developed from there.
Q: I love the way you’ve layered the text. The basic story, from “It’s starting,” to “They’re arriving,” then “They’re laying,” etc., is outlined in big, bold, brief headlines. On each page of text, a fuller explanation follows of what’s happening on the beach and in the crab’s cycle of life. How did you arrive at this approach?
I got to see the crab spawning action first-hand, and that affected me enormously. In the end, I decided that I most wanted to capture the energy and excitement of everything coming together—the horseshoe crabs, of course, but also the arrival of the migrating birds, and the humans, too. I particularly loved the fact that that humans were easy to include in this natural history story. This draft started as just the two-word phrases—the minimum required to capture the major moments. I thought that was a bit too spare, so I added the longer text on each page. The back matter developed during the editing process.
Q: Alan Marks created the gorgeous (and scientifically accurate) illustrations for the book. I particularly love the detailed horseshoe crab diagrams on the ends. How involved were you in the design and illustration?
A: I was quite involved with the illustration process, and I feel very lucky that I had that opportunity. It was fun for me to learn how the illustration process works—how images develop and change, and the extent to which they are fact checked…and checked again. And again! (Especially those endpapers. Oh my!) It was also fascinating to me to see how a professional illustrator works. Alan was so FAST! And he responded to suggestions and necessary changes graciously.
Because my book is nonfiction, I had quite a bit of input. Also, my editor at Charlesbridge was wonderful about including me in the process and allowing my input right from the start. I really appreciated that!
Q: I understand you have recently taken art classes and are honing your artistic talents – painting and drawing. How has that affected your writing?
A: I earned a Fine Arts minor in college, but I never thought I could draw. A few years ago, at a time when I was down and needed to do something just for me, I decided to take art classes again. I’m learning to draw, paint, and make art with all sorts of media, and I love it!
|Lisa Kahn Schnell, acrylic|
|Lisa Kahn Schnell, Ink|
|Lisa Kahn Schnell, Pencil|
Before my horseshoe crab manuscript was accepted, I used it as the basis for my first attempt at illustration. I worked with a friend who is an illustration professor at the local university. The results were not publishable—I didn’t even send them to the publisher for consideration. However, I had fun and learned a lot by trying! And even though I couldn’t execute the art to my liking, I passed some of the ideas on to my editor, who shared them with the illustrator. He did a great job with them, and I was happy to have had some small part in the illustration process.
Q: As a dancer as well as a painter, you’re pretty busy . . . . How do these other activities interact with your writing?
A: Dancing and visual arts are more immediately tactile and sensual than writing usually is for me (though I’ve been known to cut a manuscript into bits to play with different configurations!), so with those activities, it’s easier for me to escape my noisy brain and reset. Art and dancing keep me sane—and dancing keeps me in reasonably good physical shape—which is a good thing for my writing, and everything else, too!
|Lisa Kahn Schnell, water color|
Q: What’s your writing process? Do you outline?
A: I’m still figuring out my writing process. So far, it seems to be managed chaos, just like the rest of my life. I do not outline, though I wouldn’t rule anything out. For me the most difficult part of writing is finding a structure for the mess of information and ideas I’ve collected on a given topic. That part of the process always feels sooo slow.
A: I definitely gravitate toward nonfiction, though I have a couple of fiction pieces that I’m working on, too. I’m not willing to limit myself at this point—I’m still figuring out what I like and am able to do.
Part of what I like about writing nonfiction is that it gives me the excuse to get out in the field and learn from scientists who are passionate about whatever it is they study.
So far I have selected topics (in the broader sense) that appeal to me in some way I can’t always define—a gut reaction to something, a subject that I keep hearing about for some reason, simple curiosity. I have a Master’s degree in botany (plant ecology, really). I am especially interested in topics that let me learn more about biology of any sort, since that often means I get to go outside to do some of the research!
Q: Books and curiosity seem to go together . . . Do you have thoughts about how can we encourage kids to range freely through the library, and the world, with books?
A: I wish children could spend less time doing things like standardized testing, and more time following their own curiosity and asking questions—in the library, outside, wherever they are. One big thing I learned when I was studying for my Master’s degree is that there are still so many questions that haven’t been answered. Part of what I love is learning how much we don't know, and the creative ways people are trying to answer basic questions. I hope that by helping children see science as something alive—not just lists of facts—they’ll understand that there is a place for them to actively participate in the process.
Q: For readers inspired to pick up a copy of High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs, where is it available?
A: Wherever books are sold! I always encourage people to shop at their local indie bookstore though, if they’re lucky enough to have one.
Lisa, thanks so much for these thoughtful answers . . . and for offering a signed copy of your book to a lucky GROG reader.
|Cheddar awaits your comments!|
Readers: Please leave a comment below. If you’d like to be included in the drawing for a signed copy of Lisa’s book, mention that in your comment.
You have until June 26 to enter. My mascot, Cheddar, will assist in selecting the random winning entry. We’ll contact the lucky winner on July 1.