I don’t often leave the Sunny South, as I’m rather fond of staying warm. But a couple years ago, I ventured Way Up North, to attend the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop, and gosh, I’m glad I did!
I’m also glad I had my boots and sweaters. But that’s another story…
The gist of this story is that I met lots of talented writers, lovely people excited about their stories and dedicated to improving their craft. Writers like Laurie Wallmark, whose picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, will be releasing on October 13! And oh, I just love this story! I mean, the title alone had me clamoring to read more. So Laurie very graciously sent me her book and agreed to answer a couple questions. (And you’ll want to read to the very end for what else Laurie’s promised!)
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is the story of a girl’s passion about numbers and all things mechanical and mathematical. Is this the same manuscript you worked on at the Whole Novel Workshop? No, during our workshop I worked on a middle-grade novel. Ada’s story has always been a picture book. Much of her story, though, is inappropriate for younger children, so I’m now working on a young adult narrative in verse about Ada’s life.
That sounds very interesting! And yes, there are so many complex concepts in this story, and yet it’s so accessible! Why did you decide to present Ada’s story as a children’s picture book? Children internalize at an early age the idea that girls should not be interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) or, even worse, that they are bad at these subjects. I made Ada a picture book because I think it’s important to show young children this idea is not the case.
So true, Laurie! How difficult was it to make her story readable for this age group? Funny you should ask this. It wasn’t easy including the necessary technical details while still making the manuscript accessible to young readers. I tried many craft techniques before figuring out the ones that would work for Ada. I’m presently enrolled in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, so I was able to include some of what I discovered in my studies. In my third semester I did my critical thesis on “How to Explain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in Picture Books.” My writer’s toolbox is now filled with metaphorical gadgets and gizmos to bring STEM to life in picture books.
I loved reading all the research for this non-fiction book, and your love of the subject matter certainly comes through on every page! And I know you’ve been published in several children’s magazines, too. Are those stories non-fiction as well? Is non-fiction your niche now? Most of my magazine work is nonfiction, but I’ve had two short stories published. Amusingly enough, they have similar names—“Dreams of Freedom” and “The Sound of Freedom.” Although I love nonfiction, I also love fiction and poetry. I’d hate to have to confine myself to one genre.
So tell us a little about this story’s journey from idea to publication at Creston Books. How did Ada’s story end up with this unique publisher? Ada’s story has been a long time incubating. In 2010, it was a runner-up for the SCBWI Nonfiction Work-in-Progress Award. At that time, the book was called Not a Proper Lady: Ada Byron Lovelace. I continued to work on it, including at a different Highlights workshop (biography with Carolyn Yoder). In June 2014, I had a critique at the NJ SCBWI conference with literary agent Ginger Harris of the Liza Royce Agency. She and her partner, Liza Fleissig, thought Ada would be a good match for Creston Books. (Marissa Moss, the publisher and editor at Creston, has written several picture book biographies about women with nontraditional accomplishments.) After one revision for Liza and Ginger, and four more for Marissa, Creston made me an offer. Ten or so additional revisions later, Ada was ready to go.
All the work worth it, though, as this is such a wonderful book! So what’s next for author Laurie Wallmark? Can you tell us about any new ideas? My next picture book biography is about Grace Hopper. She was the first person to use words in her computer programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s.
Thank goodness, someone’s finally going to explain that in terms I can understand! And now, please share with us your favorite writing advice so we’ll be as brilliant as you (and Ada Byron Lovelace). I teach adult education courses on writing for children. On the first day of class, I tell my students you need three things to be a successful writer.
- A little bit of writing talent.
- The willingness to learn and improve your craft.
- Persistence (as evidenced by my journey to Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine)
The best piece of advice I can give, though, it to read, read, read children’s books and write, write, write your own stories. Good luck.
ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, October 2015) is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. This book, by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu, tells the story of a remarkable woman and her work. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “splendidly inspiring introduction to an unjustly overlooked woman.” [starred review]
Join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. All stops are listed at here.
Thanks, Laurie, and though now we have to say goodbye, one lucky reader will win his or her own copy of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine which Laurie’s promised to send! Just leave a comment to be included in the drawing, and if you link to this post on Twitter or Facebook, I’ll give you an extra entry. Just let me know in your comment as I’m trusting that way. But comment quickly! I’ll be drawing that name same time next week, here at the blog. (P.S. I’m not a math whiz like Ada Byron Lovelace but I do know that the more entries you have, the greater your chance of winning. Good luck!)