Deep, Deep Down Book Review
Lydia Lukidis has created a mesmerizing nonfiction picture book that is also poetry– a hard feat for a writer to execute. The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench is so lyrical, I felt the dance of the underwater creatures on a journey to the ocean depths. Repetition, onomatopoeia, and diction that directs the movements of the submersible gives a realistic experience of the trench that is still being explored by scientists today.
Realistic and atmospheric illustrations by Juan Calle, a former biologist now science illustrator, draws readers into a dark but illuminating space as these creatures are introduced in all their amazing quirkiness. Back matter includes a glossary, thoughts on why studying this mysterious world is important, and interesting facts. Curious kids, teachers and librarians will enjoy a deep dive into this fascinating wonder hidden at the bottom of the Western Pacific Ocean.
Kathy: Deep, Deep Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench is written as poetry and nonfiction. Yet, since it’s an imagined voyage that “debunks scary myths,” according to the CIP in the introduction and it’s cataloged as nonfiction in the Dewey Decimal system as 577.7. Was any version straight nonfiction? (So many writers are concerned about how their books will be categorized.)
Lydia: Great question! This is always a concern, specifically with nonfiction. I assumed DEEP, DEEP DOWN would be placed in the nonfiction section of stores and libraries since it’s based on facts and doesn’t insert an invented character as informational fiction does. I think it falls in the expository nonfiction category as its purpose is to explain, describe, or inform readers on a certain concept or idea. Debunking incorrect myths while shining a light on the truth seems to connect to this category. But it’s also true the book asks readers to imagine themselves inside the submersible, journeying to the depths of the Mariana Trench. That angle wasn’t in the initial drafts, but as edits progressed, we thought it would be fun to speak to the reader directly, although I never actually use the pronoun “you,” which was deliberate.
|The reader is invited to imagine going on this voyage, too.|
Kathy: The creatures of the Mariana Trench are so unusual! What is your favorite creature? Why?
Lydia: I fell in love with all of them! And I confess I had never heard of amphipods before. While all the creatures are fascinating in their own right, I fell madly in love with sea cucumbers and learned so much more about them. I literally spent hours watching real footage of them drifting and floating through the deep sea like underwater ballet and was instantly mesmerized. Their graceful and rhythmic movements made them appear poetic to me and that’s when I understood that the trench itself is a poem.
Kathy: As a nonfiction writer myself, I’m interested in the sidebars for each spread. Why two sidebars? Were they always in the text proper or in the back matter at some point? When you queried this book, how did you distinguish the sidebar sections? (This again can stymie writers.)
Lydia: I’m going to be honest: I spent SO MUCH time obsessing over sidebars!! In my initial drafts, I included some as they contained useful and interesting information. At that point, I had written dozens of nonfiction books for the educational market but had yet to make the leap to trade nonfiction. In an attempt to make this book less “educational” and more “commercial,” I decided to remove all sidebars and place the information in the backmatter (though I kept the depth indications on each page as I felt they were important).
I was resolute about this decision but my editor saw it differently. Capstone publishes so much trade nonfiction that appeals to the library and school market, so sidebars are a norm for them. Every author needs to make certain concessions and I ultimately agreed to keep the sidebars. What I learned is that trade nonfiction CAN feature sidebars, but the structure, language, and voice are what make it more commercial.
|Language and voice capture the reader at the beginning.|
Kathy: I noticed in your acknowledgements that you thanked six experts. At what point in the writing and research of Deep, Deep Down did you consult experts? How did you find them? What process do you suggest for writer new to contacting experts?
Lydia: This book could not have been written without all six experts. Each one brought their expertise to the table, although Dr. Gerringer was the main consultant. She’s a truly remarkable scientist and person!
Part of the issue was that a lot of the information on the internet was false and even the scientifically accurate details from reliable sources were always changing since our understanding of the trench itself is evolving. I wrote ten versions of the manuscript when I finally got in touch with experts who study and have visited the trench, and then realized most of my facts were wrong. It was a wakeup call for me. I had to completely rewrite the manuscript and edited it over fifty-five times but it was worth it.
I reached out to Schmidt Ocean Institute in 2019 (they study the deep sea, including ocean trenches) and it snowballed from there. I highly encourage all nonfiction writers to seek out experts as they write their books. It could be as easy as doing an internet search and finding scientists or professors in the field as well as those who wrote articles on topics you’re researching. These experts are usually more than willing to share their knowledge, and to date, each one I reached out to agreed to help.
Kathy: What draws you to writing nonfiction? What writing techniques do you use to engage readers in nonfiction?
Lydia: I’m eternally curious about our world and equally mesmerized by it. I find every fact interesting (like, I’m obsessed with tardigrades, still trying to fit them into a book!) I also love reading nonfiction, so it naturally follows that I write it as well.
Writing engaging expository literature is tricky, at least for me. Narrative nonfiction tells a story and it’s easier to infuse the text with conflict, tension, and emotion. But expository literature is based on facts and concepts, and it’s harder to infuse the text with emotion. For me, the key is to connect to my own passion and excitement, and let that shape my words and tone.
Kathy:What are you working on now?
Lydia: I just announced my second nonfiction STEM trade book, DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights, illustrated by Sawyer Cloud and published by Albert Whitman. I’m excited!
And right now, I’m working on something totally different and unexpected. It’s a fictional graphic novel based on my life and it’s forcing me to dig internally at some difficult periods in my teen years. It’s been challenging and who knows if it will ever get published. But as we all know, writers write because we feel compelled to, not because we have any guarantee the manuscript will ever be published. We move forward out of love for our craft!
Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children, as well as 31 e-Books. Her titles include DEEP, DEEP, DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023) and THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award. A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books.
Lydia is an active member of SCBWI, CANSCAIP, 12 x 12, and The Authors Guild. She's very involved in the kidlit community and also volunteers as a judge on Rate your Story. Another passion of hers is fostering love for children’s literacy through the writing workshops she regularly offers in elementary schools. Lydia is represented by literary agent Miranda Paul from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
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