Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Happy Book Birthday, FUNKY FUNGI! An Interview with Grogger Sue Heavenrich by Tina Cho

We have a special treat today. I interviewed one of our own Groggers, author Sue Heavenrich! Congratulations to her and co-author Alisha Gabriel on their new book FUNKY FUNGI: 30 ACTIVITIES FOR EXPLORING MOLDS, MUSHROOMS, LICHENS, AND MORE, published by Chicago Review Press. Read our interview about co-writing a nonfiction book for kids!

Tina: How did you come up with the idea for a book about fungus?

Sue: About ten years ago I drove off to a Highlights Foundation workshop with a composition book and a handful of pencils. The workshop focused on writing nonfiction for kids, and I’m sure I’ve got all the notes somewhere. One thing I remember, though, was heading down a trail with Alisha (my co-author) and stopping to take photos of some mushrooms. As we walked and talked, we realized we both had ideas for books about fungi. I invited Alisha to join my critique group and then, during the pandemic lockdown of 2020, she emailed me. Remember that cool mushroom from Highlights? she asked. Let's work on a fungus book together.

Tina: How long did it take to research and write?

Sue: At the beginning of June we pitched our book idea to the editor at Chicago Review Press, and asked if he’d like to see a proposal for the book. He replied ‘yes’ very quickly, so we set to work writing a proposal. A month later (July 2020) we submitted a proposal containing a query, a synopsis, a detailed outline of the chapters, a list of hands-on activities, as well as a completed introduction and first chapter. He took a few weeks to read it, but we dove into doing preliminary research. Our book, Funky Fungi comes out on June 21, about two years after we reached out to the editor.

Tina: You co-wrote this. How did that work? Did you assign chapters or sections?

Sue: We each took primary responsibility for specific chapters, or sections within a chapter – topics we were particularly interested in. For example, I love the idea of fungi turning insects into zombies, so I dove into bug-related things. Agriculture, too. Alisha was intrigued by forensic mycology and how mycelium is used to make textiles and building materials.

We shared sources, sent periodic updates, and shared drafts of each chapter as we went. When she sent me a chapter, I’d read through it, add comments or questions, make revision suggestions, and send it back. Revisions were a back-and-forth thing – and I feel like things went a bit easier with two sets of eyes (and two writer-brains) focused on the manuscript.

After a few back-and-forths, we’d connect by phone to read through the whole chapter. One person would type out the line edits as we talked, and then read them back. Our goal was to keep the author voice consistent throughout the manuscript.

Alisha Gabriel finding fungi

Tina: How did you come up with your activities?

Sue: Most of the activities grew out of our experiences at summer camps, teaching science (me), exploring mushrooms in our backyards, or questions we had. Like: is it possible to make compost in an old soda bottle? Turns out it is. Alisha wanted to make a microscope; I wanted to dye a T-shirt with mushrooms. As we brainstormed a list of potential activities, we also knew that we wanted to include art and writing along with science. And we wanted the activities to be affordable and something anyone could do.

Tina: How did you find a mycologist to interview?

Sue: As a freelance journalist, I wrote for a county paper. I was always on the lookout for local science news, and met Dr. Kathie Hodge while working on an article about insect-invading fungi. So when we started thinking about the book, I reached out to Kathie for an interview. She is so fun to talk with, and I have gained a better appreciation for fungi from that connection.

Tina: What is your favorite fungus & why?

Sue: Oh, man! That’s like asking what’s my favorite kind of chocolate! I have a lot of favorites: bristly lichens that grow on tree branches; tiny mushrooms with thread-like stalks that grow in my lawn; the squid-like staghorn fungus that grew beneath a tomato plant in my garden; coral fungi – oh, and the mushrooms in my yard last summer that folded up like tacos.

Tina: What is your favorite mushroom dish?

Sue: Prior to working on this book I would not eat mushrooms. It was a texture thing. I’d pick them off my pizza and out of my stir-fry and give them to my husband. But as Alisha and I worked on our book, my hubby said, “how can you write a book about fungi and refuse to eat them?” So he fried up some baby bellas in olive oil and I tossed them with some stir-fried veggies and …. M-m-m! Changed my mind.

Tina: Did you have to obtain the photos for this book?

Sue: Yes, we were responsible for finding photos. In addition to the usual places to find photos, I reached out to naturalist friends whose fungus photos I’d seen on Facebook. I am so grateful for their generosity in sharing the cool mushrooms they found on their walks. Alisha and I scoured our photo collections, too.

Tina: I like the term “citizen scientist.” Did you coin that term? Or Where did you find it? Can you tell our readers what a citizen scientist is?

Sue: “Citizen science,” now called “community science” is used to describe projects that involve the public in collecting data for research projects. The idea is that a scientist working alone can only collect a certain amount of data, but if families and classrooms got involved then more information could be collected. Noticing which birds come to your feeder in the winter is one thing, but if hundreds of people keep track of birds that visit their feeder you have a bigger data set. I’ve collected data for Project Feeder Watch, and Monarch watch, where we tagged monarch butterflies and reported where we found them. For the past decade I’ve been collecting data for the Great Sunflower Project (pollinators), and last summer I participated in a BioBlitz, posting photos to iNaturalist. Data collected for Project Bud Burst has contributed to scientists’ understanding of the impacts of climate change. There are lots of projects waiting for people to get involved. Here are two places to find projects:

Tina: What’s next for you?

Sue: I’m excited to have another picture book coming out in the fall of 2023 with Sleeping Bear Press,  The Pie that Molly Grew, illustrated by Chamisa Kellogg. I have some ideas for new book projects, so I’ll be doing some research and taking photos. Of course, I’ll be in the garden. I’ve never planted kohlrabi before, and I’m interested in seeing how it grows here in upstate NY. It looks like something one might find in the Herbology class at Hogwarts!

Sue Heavenrich a biologist and former high school science teacher. She shares hands-on science activities and reviews STEM books on her blog, Archimedes Notebook, and for more than 20 years wrote the science column for Ithaca Child. Her books include 13 Ways to Eat a Fly, illustrated by David Clark, and Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought, with co-author Christy Mihaly.

Sue Heavenrich is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency


blog: Archimedes Notebook (


Sue’s co-author, Alisha Gabriel is an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor at Southwestern University. Not only has she used her writing skills to win four grants to benefit her students, but she’s played flute and piccolo for  video games – and even a TV commercial! Her books include Good Sports: Elliot Mack, Quarterback, and Silento: Breakout Rapper

Alisha Gabriel is represented by Heather Cashman at Storm Literary Agency






  1. Love how this project evolved naturally from a Highlights retreat, Sue and Alisha. I just learned recently that fashion designers are using mushrooms to grow fake esthetic. Happy Book Birthday!

  2. I remember when you first told me about this book, Sue. It looks amazing. I'm excited to finally read it!

  3. Oooh, this sounds like a terrific MG STEM book! I'm a fan of fungus, too, and was just admiring the recent PB, Mushroom Rain. Your book now provides more extensive info for older readers. Yay! I was wondering how you smoothed out the difference between your two authorial voices, and you answered that question toward the end. Thanks! And congrats!

  4. Congrats Sue and Alisha! Fungus is always around and I've taken my share of pics over the years. I love gardening and all things outside. I look forward to reading your book!

  5. I love the books put out by Chicago Review Press, They are always rich and beautiful. I can't wait to read this book. It looks like a great one. Thanks for such in interesting interview. It's fun to read how this book came into being. It sounds like Sue and Alisha found ways to work efficiently and comfortably together. Thanks for the post.