Shifting points of view and perspective, reviving a latent draft, how the day job informs the author's work and visa versa, plus facts you never knew about mushrooms-- it's all here with debut author and developmental psychologist Laura Zimmermann! Let's begin with a review by former K-12 librarian, now children's literature writer, - me!
What one learns when reading picture books, especially nonfiction! This dig into the world of mushrooms is both fascinating and magical. With the illuminating illustrations of Jamie Green and the lyrical language of author Laura Zimmerman, readers enter a unique world of fungi.
|Such an enticing, active opening!|
It’s a simple fun, er fungi read as well a great way to introduce elementary students to biomes and the interdependence of flora, fauna, and weather. The illustrations draw the reader’s eye to examine and linger on the double-page illustrations with multiple points of view.
Backmatter is inviting and interactive with an invitation to the reader to examine the illustrations in the front matter and go on a mushroom walk themselves. Hands-on art activity will be a boon to educators and parents, too. Writers will learn much from the sparse yet sensory language and the way words and art really do create a special world. (I wish I’d written this!)
P.S. Give this to the skeptic who still believes kids don't like nonfiction. This is a book to pour over whether it's raining mushrooms or not. (Yes, mushroom rain is real! Check the back matter!
Craft Chat with Laura K. Zimmermann
Kathy: I read that you came upon the “spore” for MUSHROOM RAIN from a Storystorm idea one year. You began with research on women scientists, moved on to Beatrix Potter, and discovered the world of mushrooms. How long did that process to find the “right” topic take? How did you discover that mushrooms were “the” topic?
Laura: I spent a couple of years researching, writing, and revising the Beatrix Potter story. Had you asked me before I came across Beatrix’s research if I would ever write a book on mushrooms my answer likely would have been “no.” I just never thought about them that much. What really shifted my views was trying to see them from Beatrix’s perspective. The more I did that, the more I began to see what it was that Beatrix loved and a whole new world opened to me. Beatrix introduced me to some of their different shapes and facts like there are mushrooms that smell “exactly like a dead sheep.” But over time, as many manuscripts without a home do, Tales and Toadstools drifted into my “writing drafts” computer folder and I moved on to other things. Then one day, I stumbled across an article about mushroom spores as cloud seeds. I was back in research mode and discovered even more wonders I hadn’t known about. And from that moment on, mushrooms were “the” topic.
Kathy: Like many authors, you have a day job. How does your job as a college professor at Shenandoah University intersect with your writing? Does one feed off the other? What skill sets transfer to your writing and research?
Laura: They feed off each other. I am a developmental psychologist with a specialty in early childhood. As a researcher I focus on the science side of psychology with a focus on how children perceive and interact with the world. And that focus can be seen in my writing which is based on finding ways to get children as excited as I am about wonders in the natural world. I recently read a review of Mushroom Rain written by Jen Forbus who captured my goal for writing and research perfectly, “Together Zimmermann and Green prove how fascinating--and beautiful--science and nonfiction can be.”
|The dark background highlights these unique mushrooms.|
Writing picture books has also helped me see and chop excess words in my scientific writing. My college students hear “cut the fluff” a lot from me these days as well. Picture books also find their way into many of my classes. There is a picture book for some aspect of nearly everything I teach. Picture books truly do have stories to tell for people of all ages.
Kathy: What drew you to nonfiction writing for children? What do you like most about writing nonfiction?
Laura: As a scientist and professor, I gravitate to nonfiction. I’m always down one research rabbit hole or another. The e-books my university students and I created for children in Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone years ago led me to nonfiction writing for children. What I have discovered along the way is why I am still on this path. The natural world is filled with wonders, sometimes we just forget to look. Writing nonfiction for children reminds me of how much is still out there for me to discover.
Kathy: I love the sparse wording in Mushroom Rain along with its lyricality. Tell us about your drafting process and how you sifted through facts to shape your story? How did it change over time?
|Consonance, assonance, and appeal to the reader's senses.|
Laura: I generally start by listing cool facts I find in my research. In the case of Mushroom Rain, I also had my Beatrix Potter manuscript. I am a big fan of recycling information from stories that never found a home and when I looked back over Tales and Toadstools, some of my favorite parts revolved around the mushroom life cycle. So first, I combined that with the cloud seed information. After that it was a matter of figuring out where to put my other favorite facts about mushrooms. Those facts moved around quite a bit before they found their place so the story flowed. Of course, I had tons of help with this from my amazing critique partners—Mushroom Rain would not be where it is today without them or the incredible editorial skills of my agent, Kaitlyn Sanchez, and my editor at Sleeping Bear, Barb McNally.
Kathy: As a former school librarian, I crave good back matter. Did you envision four pages of back matter or did your editorial team give you the option? The back matter design is quite engaging, too. Did you have any say in that?
Laura: I love back matter too. I think it is the researcher in me. I like the sparse writing style, but by necessity it leaves out cool things I want to share with my readers. The space allotted to back matter was determined based on the book’s layout which was created by the Sleeping Bear team who helped bring it to life. Picture books are all about streamlining, so I did have some cutting to do, but in the end all of the key ideas found a place. All things art and design were created by Jamie Green and the art director. But I love how it turned out. It fits the feel of the book perfectly.
Kathy: Tell us about your next projects and plans. Any school visits or conferences on the horizon?
Laura: I have some wonderful Mushroom Rain related interviews and events on the horizon. But what I am most excited about is Earth Day! Stay tuned to social media for more on my first book events with kids!! I’ll also be posting information about our activities on my website (https://laurakzimmermann.com/mushroom_rain/) so even if you aren’t near Winchester, VA you can still join in on the fun!