Review: Amazing Kitchen Chemistry

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover
Amaz­ing Kitchen Chem­istry Projects You Can Make Yourself
by Cyn­thia Light Brown (Author)
Nomad Press (May 1, 2008)
122 pages
Ages: 9–12
From the pub­lish­er’s web page:

“In Amaz­ing Kitchen Chem­istry Projects You Can Build Your­self, kids ages 9 and up will exper­i­ment with kitchen mate­ri­als to dis­cov­er chem­istry. Read­ers will learn about atoms, mol­e­cules, solids, liq­uids, gas­es, poly­mers, the peri­od­ic table, the impor­tant his­to­ry of sci­ence, and much more. Along the way, they’ll make goop, cause chem­i­cal reac­tions, and cre­ate deli­cious treats, and all of it will illus­trate impor­tant chem­istry con­cepts. Amaz­ing Kitchen Chem­istry Projects is a fun and excit­ing way for young read­ers to learn all about chem­istry and become sci­en­tists right in the kitchen.”

My son has always loved sci­ence, so we’ve gone through many books like this over the years. As a par­ent, I have to say this is my favorite one so far. Why? First, all the sup­plies and ingre­di­ents are already in my house or read­i­ly avail­able. Yay! He can pick a project and we can DO it, rather than make a shop­ping list and get back to it when I’ve col­lect­ed all the hard-to-find neces­si­ties. Sec­ond, the sci­ence con­cepts behind the projects and any spe­cial­ized vocab­u­lary words are explained in a clear, acces­si­ble way. Final­ly, the projects them­selves as well as the lay­out, fun facts, side­bars, and illus­tra­tions, are just plain FUN!
Top­ics include atoms and mol­e­cules, mix­tures, reac­tions, acids and bases, solids, liq­uids, gas­es, state changes, poly­mers, and water. Some of things you can make are a buck­y­ball, a chro­ma-col­or book­mark, an Alka-Seltzer rock­et, invis­i­ble mes­sages, crys­tals, rock can­dy, a wave tank, a Men­tos explo­sion, taffy, ice cream, oobleck, meringue cook­ies, paper, bub­ble solu­tion, and more!
I think this is a book that young sci­en­tists, as well as their par­ents and teach­ers, will appreciate.
In the inter­ests of “keep­ing it real,” though, I have to share my son’s one and only com­plaint: “It’s not even in col­or!” With so much great stuff hap­pen­ing on every page, I hon­est­ly hadn’t even noticed. He’s very visu­al, so it was a big draw­back for him. I don’t know if oth­er kids would be as sen­si­tive, and I’m sure most adults will appre­ci­ate the cost savings.
This book also includes a table of con­tents, an intro­duc­tion, a glos­sary, rec­om­mend­ed resources, and index.
FAVORITE FUN FACT: On page 18, I learned that Alfred Hitch­cock­’s The Birds was based on a real event! In 1961, birds start­ed crash­ing into hous­es in the mid­dle of the night in a coastal Cal­i­for­nia town. Peo­ple went out with flash­lights to inves­ti­gate, and the birds flew toward the lights and pecked at the peo­ple, who ran back inside for cov­er. The next day, they found the streets full of dead and con­fused birds. 26 years lat­er, sci­en­tists final­ly dis­cov­ered it was caused by a neu­ro­tox­in that can build up in sea crea­tures that eat a dan­ger­ous type of phy­to­plank­ton, and the birds–or people–that in turn eat those sea crea­tures! Who knew? 
To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about top­ics in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing, and math­e­mat­ics, head on over to this week’s STEM Fri­day host, Wrapped in Foil!
STEM Friday logo
(Dis­claimer: I received this copy for free direct­ly from the pub­lish­er for review.)

Review: Picture Yourself Writing Poetry

Pic­ture Your­self Writ­ing Poet­ry: Using Pho­tos to Inspire Writing
by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
Cap­stone Press, August 2011
32 pages
Ages: 8 and up
This title is one of the Pic­ture Your­self Writ­ing ____: Using Pho­tos to Inspire Writ­ing series, and it’s quite effective—it inspired me to write! Not only does it demon­strate how one can use images to get ideas for poems, it also con­tains many spe­cif­ic, easy-to-under­stand writ­ing tips. Salas cov­ers such impor­tant top­ics as incor­po­rat­ing sen­so­ry detail, choos­ing con­crete nouns and strong verbs, char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and point of view, and struc­ture, all paired with won­der­ful examples. 
The books opens up with the line, “The best poems are mag­i­cal, minia­ture worlds.” It then shows read­ers how to cre­ate those worlds them­selves while invit­ing them to enter sev­er­al cre­at­ed by Salas.
I think this would be a great book to incor­po­rate into any poet­ry cur­ricu­lum. I would also hearti­ly rec­om­mend it to stu­dents who enjoy writ­ing… as well as to those who tend to strug­gle with it.

(Dis­claimers: I received this copy for review for free from the pub­lish­er as part of the Cybils judg­ing process. This review is my opin­ion only and does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the judg­ing com­mit­tee’s selections.)

Review: Only the Mountains Do Not Move

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover

Only the Mountains Do Not Move cover
Only the Moun­tains Do Not Move: A Maa­sai Sto­ry of Cul­ture and Conservation
by Jan Reynolds
Lee & Low Books, Sep­tem­ber 01, 2011
40 pages
Grades 3–4
I’ve always been fas­ci­nat­ed by the Maa­sai, so I was pleased to see this book about their cul­ture writ­ten for chil­dren, and this book did­n’t dis­ap­point. Straight­for­ward text is com­bined with Maa­sai proverbs and beau­ti­ful pho­tog­ra­phy to give us a detailed glimpse at mod­ern-day Maa­sai life. This is a bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion: Reynolds isn’t afraid to show the less pleas­ant (bit­ing bugs!) or shock­ing (drink­ing cow blood!) aspects of Maa­sai life, but she also reveals the peace and togeth­er­ness it brings. Espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant to her young read­ers is how she focus­es on what the Maa­sai boys and girls do at dif­fer­ent ages.
One pleas­ant sur­prise was how Reynolds shares with read­ers not only the his­tor­i­cal Maa­sai cul­ture, but also how the Maa­sai way of life is chang­ing due to out­side pres­sures and how they are adapt­ing to this new world, giv­ing the sto­ry con­text in the broad­er world.
I’d be remiss, how­ev­er, if I did­n’t men­tion that there were a few minor draw­backs for me. First, it both­ered me not to have pro­nun­ci­a­tion guides for the Maa words embed­ded in the text (but there is one at the end). Sec­ond, although the Maa­sai proverbs were love­ly, I want­ed more of them and to have them appear more reg­u­lar­ly through­out the text. As it is, with 10–14 pages between proverbs, they sort of sur­prised me each time and felt more like inter­rup­tions than the embell­ish­ments they should have been. Final­ly, I would have liked to get a lit­tle clos­er to the main fam­i­ly through­out the whole book. Some­times the text seems to move way out to the Maa­sai in gen­er­al for a long time, then it zooms in briefly to the main char­ac­ters, then goes right back out again. I would’ve liked more con­nec­tions to have been made between the gen­er­al way of life and the spe­cif­ic family.
On the plus side, the back mat­ter includes an author’s note, a glos­sary and pro­nun­ci­a­tion guide, a web site for more infor­ma­tion, and source notes and acknowl­edge­ments. There’s also a very inter­est­ing inter­view and book talk with the author avail­able here, which should make it ever more appeal­ing for teach­ers hop­ing to use it in the classroom.
This is a won­der­ful book for intro­duc­ing a unique and fas­ci­nat­ing African cul­ture to upper ele­men­tary students.

Humor in nonfiction books for kids

Some peo­ple think non­fic­tion is dry and bor­ing. How can facts be fun, right? WRONG! Humor in non­fic­tion not only gets and keeps read­ers engaged, it can also help them retain the infor­ma­tion longer. My fel­low writ­ers of non­fic­tion for kids (on the NFforKids Yahoo group and on Twit­ter) and I have put togeth­er a list of our favorite FUNNY non­fic­tion titles for kids. Here’s what we came up with, in no par­tic­u­lar order:

This is just a sam­pling of our favorites. Do you have any to add? Please let us know in the comments!
I found it inter­est­ing that often the humor is pri­mar­i­ly in the illus­tra­tions, with the text play­ing it fair­ly straight. In fact, in many cas­es it’s only the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two that tick­les your fun­ny bone. In oth­ers, the humor is mild (a smile rather than a bel­ly laugh) or is just hint­ed at rather than being an explic­it joke. Some­times, the top­ic itself is pret­ty fun­ny, but the text is fair­ly seri­ous. Giv­en how much kids love to read humor, I won­der if that’s all just coin­ci­dence, or if humor just isn’t as tol­er­at­ed in non­fic­tion texts, or maybe non­fic­tion writ­ers just don’t have a sense of humor (I’m sure not buy­ing that last one!). Thoughts? 

STEM Friday Book Review: The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs

The Case of the Van­ish­ing Gold­en Frogs: A Sci­en­tif­ic Mystery
(Excep­tion­al Sci­ence Titles for Inter­me­di­ate Grades series)
by San­dra Markle (Author)
Mill­book Press (Lern­er), Octo­ber 2011
48 pages
Ages: 9–12
From the pub­lish­er’s web page:

Pana­man­ian gold­en frogs aren’t just cute, lit­tle, and yel­low. They’re also the nation­al sym­bol of Pana­ma. But they start­ed to dis­ap­pear about fif­teen years ago. What’s killing them? Could it be a change in their habi­tat? What about pol­lu­tion? Might it be a result of cli­mate change? Fol­low a team of sci­en­tists work­ing to save these frogs and pro­tect frog pop­u­la­tions world­wide in this real-life sci­ence mystery.

San­dra Markle is one of my favorite authors, and frogs are high on my list of favorite ani­mals, so I was thrilled to have a chance to pre­view this title. And I was­n’t dis­ap­point­ed. The text is infor­ma­tive and easy to under­stand, but also tells a fas­ci­nat­ing and com­pelling story.
Markle does a great job of cap­tur­ing both the impor­tance and the fun of sci­ence. First, she explains why the dis­ap­pear­ance of these tiny crea­tures mat­ters. Then, she lays out how the mys­tery unfold­ed: what ques­tions dif­fer­ent sci­en­tists asked, and how the answers led to the next piece of the puzzle–and more ques­tions, for oth­er sci­en­tists, etc.
In fact, that’s one of the things I appre­ci­at­ed most about this book: it does­n’t fol­low just one sci­en­tist and his or her unique work. It demon­strates how one per­son­’s find­ings sparked oth­ers to advance the sci­ence, and how each used his or her own exper­tise and knowl­edge to con­tribute the next vital step in the ongo­ing process. To me, that makes sci­ence feel more acces­si­ble to kids by show­ing that suc­cess­ful sci­en­tists don’t need to solve a whole big prob­lem, they just need to learn some­thing new and tell others.
Aside from the mas­ter­ful text, the stun­ning lay­out and design and big, bold pho­tographs on every page make the book visu­al­ly engag­ing through­out and are more than enough to keep young read­ers turn­ing the pages to see what’s next.
In the author’s note, Markle adds this:

No tale of find­ing a ser­i­al killer could be more excit­ing than this true sto­ry.… But the sto­ry isn’t over yet. The amphib­ian killer is still at large. Per­haps, one day, one of you will become the sci­ence detec­tive who final­ly stops this killer.

The book also includes a table of con­tents, “how to help” sec­tion,  glos­sary, age-appro­pri­ate rec­om­mend­ed resources, index, and pho­to credits.

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about top­ics in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing, and math­e­mat­ics, head on over to this week’s STEM Fri­day host, Ras­co From RIF!

Review: Start It Up teen nonfiction

START IT UP by Ken­rya Rankin is a must-have resource for teen (and even mid­dle-grade) read­ers who wish to start any kind of busi­ness, whether it be for prof­it, non­prof­it, or mixed.
The book is clear­ly writ­ten and easy to under­stand, yet includes a wealth of infor­ma­tion for young entre­pre­neurs. The design is clean and func­tion­al, with pull­outs for quick tips, anec­dotes, quotes, and rec­om­mend­ed resources. There are also fun quizzes and help­ful work­sheets. All of this com­bines to turn what could be a dull, dry top­ic into a fun, encour­ag­ing yet real­is­tic resource.
I’d bet there’s enough sub­stance there’s enough sub­stance in this lit­tle gem that even the most sea­soned entre­pre­neurs (adults includ­ed!) will find some­thing of use here. And it’s pre­sent­ed in such a way that even the least busi­ness-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als (again, adults includ­ed!) will be inspired and able to get start­ed in no time.
For chang­ing a life, or chang­ing the world, this book is a win­ner! For more great non­fic­tion books, check out the rest of the cat­a­log at Zest Books–Teen Reads With a Twist. (And no, I haven’t been com­pen­sat­ed in any way for this post. I received a free gal­ley from Net­Gal­ley for review pur­pos­es only.)
This post is part of the Facts First! Non­fic­tion Mon­day roundup. Non­fic­tion Mon­day takes place every Mon­day at var­i­ous blogs through­out the kidl­i­tos­phere, who write about non­fic­tion books for kids and col­lect all the reviews in one place. This week, the Non­fic­tion Mon­day roundup is being host­ed by Jean Lit­tle Library. To see the entire sched­ule, please vis­it the Non­fic­tion Mon­day blog.

Review: I Am Tama, Lucky Cat

You’ve prob­a­bly seen the smil­ing cat fig­urine with the wav­ing right front paw, but have you ever won­dered why it’s there? Told from the cat’s point of view, this charm­ing 32-page pic­ture book tells chil­dren one of the pos­si­ble sto­ries behind it with straight­for­ward prose and stun­ning art­work. It can be enjoyed both for the sto­ry itself and as an intro­duc­tion to or study of Japan­ese cul­ture. Back­mat­ter includes an author’s note and acknowl­edge­ments. High­ly recommended.
Book information:

  • Title: I Am Tama, Lucky Cat: A Japan­ese Legend
  • Author: Wendy Henrichs
  • Illus­tra­tor: Yoshiko Jaeggi
  • Pub­lish­er: Peachtree Publishers
  • Pub­li­ca­tion date: August 1, 2011

See oth­er posts from this week’s Non­fic­tion Mon­day at Telling Kids the Truth: Writ­ing Non­fic­tion for Children.

Note: I viewed this dig­i­tal ARC via Net­Gal­ley and do not receive any com­pen­sa­tion for this review.

Nonfiction Monday book review: Spiky, Slimy, Smooth

I must admit, when my own daugh­ter entered kinder­garten and start­ed the unit on tex­ture, I was sur­prised. Yes, tex­tures are all around us, but what’s to study? These kids are already experts. After all, they’ve been feel­ing tex­tures since before they were born (often with their mouths)!
I soon real­ized that’s exact­ly the point, though. They are all around us, but do we have the words to describe them? Have we real­ly ever thought about how things feel, or why? This isn’t impor­tant only for its sci­en­tif­ic impli­ca­tions, it’s also crit­i­cal for good writ­ing! I enjoyed see­ing my chil­dren go through this top­ic and gain a new appre­ci­a­tion for the things around them. And I espe­cial­ly loved try­ing to help them come up with exact­ly the right words to describe a com­mon, or not so com­mon, texture.

In SPIKY, SLIMY, SMOOTH (Lerner/April 1, 2011/32 pages/ages 4–8), Jane Brock­et com­bines beau­ti­ful, bold pho­tos of every­day objects with deli­cious­ly descrip­tive language.
While the read­ing lev­el seems a bit too advanced for most kids who will like­ly be study­ing tex­tures as part of their sci­ence cur­ricu­lum, it will make a great read-aloud for their teach­ers look­ing for an engag­ing way to present the top­ic. Brock­et’s text includes many inter­ac­tive ele­ments, and her kid-friend­ly pho­tos will have young learn­ers wig­gling their toes, delv­ing into their mem­o­ry banks, and stretch­ing their imag­i­na­tions to expe­ri­ence the tex­tures themselves.
Hap­py Non­fic­tion Mon­day! You can see the rest of the roundup over at Ras­co from RIF here.

Review: Tom Thumb


I just fin­ished an advance read­ing copy of TOM THUMB: THE REMARKABLE TRUE STORY OF A MAN IN MINIATURE by George Sul­li­van (Clar­i­on; Feb­ru­ary, 2011; 208 pages; grades 5–9).

Writ­ing non-fic­tion is like putting togeth­er the pieces of a puz­zle, says author George Sul­li­van… “I like non­fic­tion because I’m a very curi­ous per­son, and the research that I do I find intro­duces me to new worlds,” he said. “I’m always inter­est­ed in find­ing out what peo­ple were real­ly like—how they live, what the fam­i­ly life was like, what moti­vat­ed them.” (full arti­cle here)

I think he suc­ceeds in con­vey­ing that sense of curios­i­ty and won­der to his read­ers, and TOM THUMB should be of great inter­est to mid­dle-graders for both plea­sure read­ing and research­ing reports.
In TOM THUMB, Sul­li­van pieces togeth­er the puz­zle behind the real-life sto­ry of Charles Sher­wood Strat­ton (a dwarf who would lat­er become famous­ly known as Tom Thumb), as well as those of P.T. Bar­num and Tom Thumb’s wife, Lavinia.
Writ­ten as a nar­ra­tive, the text chrono­log­i­cal­ly fol­lows Tom Thumb’s life and beyond, weav­ing an inter­est­ing biog­ra­phy and tale of his­to­ry and show­man­ship. Sul­li­van treats his sub­ject with care­ful dig­ni­ty and respect.
In addi­tion to the sto­ry itself, librar­i­ans, teach­ers, and researchers will appre­ci­ate the atten­tion to back­mat­ter, includ­ing acknowl­edge­ments, about the sources, end notes, bib­li­og­ra­phy, books and arti­cles list, and an index.
In my mind, the book also rais­es some inter­est­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for dis­cus­sions in class­rooms and chil­dren’s book clubs:

  1. The book makes it clear that Tom Thumb appar­ent­ly enjoyed play­ing his roles and liv­ing life as a per­former in the pub­lic eye, but oth­ers, most notably Bar­num and Tom Thumb’s own par­ents, also prof­it­ed from his on-stage antics. At what point does it con­sti­tute exploita­tion to treat peo­ple this way? What fac­tors might have made it accept­able his­tor­i­cal­ly? How is it dif­fer­ent today? What types of exploita­tion, if any, still exist today? Should they be banned?
  2. The book reveals Barnum’s skills in self-pro­mo­tion, mar­ket­ing, and know­ing what audi­ences want­ed and were will­ing to pay for. It also reveals sev­er­al knows cas­es of “hum­bug­gery,” or instances where he know­ing­ly deceived audi­ences to draw big­ger crowds and more prof­it. Is this behav­ior accept­able for a “show­man?” What might “hum­bug­gery” look like today, and how do we try to pro­tect con­sumers from it? Are we suc­cess­ful? How can we be on the look­out for “hum­bug­gery” in today’s media?

Sul­li­van has writ­ten more than 100 books for chil­dren, and he’s still writ­ing in his 80s. He shared some of his tips here, includ­ing:

“I write very ear­ly in the morn­ing, when my mind is fresh and when I know I’m not going to be inter­rupt­ed by the tele­phone or vis­i­tors or what­ev­er might occur dur­ing the day,” he said. “I do a great deal of work in the ear­ly morn­ing hours.”


“You take the project and you break it into pieces,” he said. “You have an out­line that breaks it down into dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. Then you research each of these pieces, instead of try­ing to do every­thing all at once.”

Good advice. And Sul­li­van has cer­tain­ly built a book, and a career, worth emulating.

Review: The Many Faces of George Washington

I recent­ly signed up for, which lets pub­lish­ers con­nect their upcom­ing books with review­ers, media, librar­i­ans, book­sellers, blog­gers, and edu­ca­tors. It’s easy to use, helps me keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in the mar­ket, and—lucky for you!—it allows me to share these new works I love with my blog readers!

The first book I down­loaded was one I’d heard about the NFforKids Yahoo group for non­fic­tion children’s book writ­ers. THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: REMAKING A PRESIDENTIAL ICON, a mid­dle-grade avail­able on 4/1/2011 from Car­ol­rho­da Books, was writ­ten by friend and for­mer SCBWI region­al advi­sor Car­la Kil­lough McClaf­fer­ty. I found the unique con­cept to be extreme­ly intrigu­ing. The fol­low­ing is excerpt­ed from the front flap copy:

“George Washington’s face has been paint­ed, print­ed, and engraved more than a bil­lion times since his birth in 1732. And yet even in his life­time, no pic­ture seemed to cap­ture the like­ness of the man who is now the most icon­ic of all our pres­i­dents… In 2005 a team of his­to­ri­ans, sci­en­tists, and arti­sans at Mount Ver­non… tapped into skills as diverse as eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry leather­work­ing and cut­ting-edge com­put­er pro­gram­ming to assem­ble truer likenesses.”

I was not to be dis­ap­point­ed, and gob­bled this 120-page book up in a sin­gle after­noon. Equal parts his­to­ry and tech­no­log­i­cal thriller, THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON bril­liant­ly alter­nates between the his­tor­i­cal con­text of the man and the mod­ern-day tech­niques used to redis­cov­er his real appear­ance. Below, Car­la gra­cious­ly shares some insights and behind-the-scenes infor­ma­tion on how this amaz­ing book came to be.

LT: How did you find out about this fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry of recre­at­ing George Washington’s like­ness, and what made you decide to pur­sue it as a mid­dle-grade non­fic­tion book?
CKM: I love to watch The His­to­ry Channel—which comes as no sur­prise since I write non­fic­tion books about his­tor­i­cal top­ics. One day in 2007, I watched a doc­u­men­tary titled The Search for George Wash­ing­ton. It showed how Mount Ver­non brought togeth­er a team of experts from the fields of sci­ence, his­to­ry, and art in order to find out what George Wash­ing­ton real­ly looked like. Their work result­ed in three life-sized rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Wash­ing­ton at the ages of 19, 45, and 57, which are exhib­it­ed at Mount Ver­non. I was fas­ci­nat­ed by the project. The 3D scan­ner images of the Houdon bust made me sit up and take notice—probably because my first career is as a radi­o­log­ic tech­nol­o­gist. The idea for THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: REMAKING A PRESIDENTIAL ICON was born as I watched that doc­u­men­tary. I rec­og­nized imme­di­ate­ly that this new infor­ma­tion dis­cov­ered by the Mount Ver­non team would pro­vide a fresh look at George Wash­ing­ton that would per­fect for a book. I love to write for a mid­dle-grade audi­ence because they already have a gen­er­al knowl­edge of many things, but they are will­ing to add deep­er lay­ers to their understanding.
LT: What kind of read­er do you think this book will appeal to?
CKM: I work hard to make sure my books can be read, under­stood and (hope­ful­ly) enjoyed by read­ers from ten years old through adult­hood. I write sim­ply and explain everything—but I write about com­plex top­ics. What I hope is that a ten year old read­er under­stands the text with­out a struggle—and an adult read­er does not feel they are read­ing a kid’s book. Regard­less of the age of my read­ers, my goal is to inter­est them in a top­ic they didn’t know they would be fas­ci­nat­ed by, and write it in such a way that the infor­ma­tion will stay with them.
LT: I think you’ve def­i­nite­ly achieved that here, through both the way the book is writ­ten and the wide vari­ety of sub­ject areas it cov­ers: art, his­to­ry, sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy. What was your favorite part to research and write? What was the hard­est part for you? How did you deal with that?
CKM: Every part of this book was enjoy­able for me. But if I had to say, it would be that I loved get­ting to know George Wash­ing­ton as I researched his life. I began this project with very lit­tle knowl­edge of Wash­ing­ton or the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. As I stud­ied, I began to under­stand how amaz­ing this man was, and how aston­ish­ing it is that Amer­i­ca won inde­pen­dence. I’ve even come to think that with­out George Washington—the war might have NOT have been won.
CKM: My favorite part relat­ing to the cre­ation of the Wash­ing­ton fig­ures was get­ting to know many incred­i­ble peo­ple involved in the project. I absolute­ly love the folks at Mount Ver­non. Diana Cor­dray, the edu­ca­tion cen­ter manager/special projects coor­di­na­tor, has helped me in a thou­sand ways. It was also a treat to get to know the artists Steven Horak, Sue Day and Stu­art Williamson and watch them work. I now count these amaz­ing peo­ple among my friends.
CKM: The hard­est part was locat­ing many of the peo­ple who con­tributed to the project in var­i­ous ways in order to inter­view them. I kept ask­ing ques­tions and search­ing around until I found them.
LT: Dur­ing your research, what sur­prised you the most?
CKM: The most sur­pris­ing thing was the man, George Wash­ing­ton. He was hand­some, dash­ing, and brave. He was the best horse­man AND the best dancer in Vir­ginia. Today we would say he was a “man’s man”. And the ladies liked him too.
LT: How much time did you spend research­ing over­all, and how long did it take to write the book? How much time did you spend research­ing “on location?”
CKM: This book has tak­en three years from the time I real­ly deter­mined this is the book I just HAD to write until it was released. I’ve spent three weeks in Vir­ginia, at Mount Ver­non, York­town, and Colo­nial Williams­burg. I also spent a week in New York City doing research.
LT: How do you man­age all of the research for a book like this? What’s your orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem? Does it evolve over the course of a project?
CKM: My orga­ni­za­tion­al sys­tem is con­stant­ly chang­ing, and I’m always look­ing for bet­ter ways to work. For this book I read more than fifty books about George Wash­ing­ton. I bought most of them off of Ebay and Ama­zon so I could mark them up and make notes in the mar­gins. In this way, I didn’t have to write mas­sive notes; I could just refer back to the books them­selves. Plus I have three huge Rub­ber­maid con­tain­ers where I file notes and research from places oth­er than books.
LT: Did you do all the pho­to research for the book too? Can you tell us about that process?
CKM: From the very begin­ning of my research on a book, I’m look­ing for the right images. It all hap­pens at the same time, yet I under­stand that in the end some images must be delet­ed for space con­sid­er­a­tions in the end. I’m thrilled with the way the book looks. The design team at Car­ol­rho­da did an amaz­ing job.
LT: I agree. The end result is gor­geous! Anoth­er thing I love is the way the book is struc­tured, with the buildup of the prob­lem and their approach to solv­ing it, fol­lowed by alter­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal chap­ters and mod­ern-day re-cre­ation chap­ters. I think this approach real­ly serves to engage both types of read­ers, those more inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry as well as those more inter­est­ed in tech­nol­o­gy, to keep read­ing and learn new things in both areas. Rather than stick to chrono­log­i­cal order or present both sto­ries sep­a­rate­ly, how did you arrive at this par­tic­u­lar structure?
CKM: How to struc­ture the book was one of the most dif­fi­cult issues of this project because the sci­en­tif­ic inves­ti­ga­tion went back­wards in time, from old­er Wash­ing­ton to younger Wash­ing­ton. I con­sid­ered doing it count­less ways, but each way pre­sent­ed chal­lenges and prob­lems. In the end, Andrew Karre, my won­der­ful edi­tor at Car­ol­rho­da, felt it would be best to go back and forth between the fig­ures and the bio­graph­ic mate­r­i­al. From there, I had to fig­ure out how to make it work. It was a chal­lenge because I had to fig­ure out how to deal with the reverse order of the de-aging process, start the bio sec­tion with young George Wash­ing­ton, and not back­track to the science.
LT: What did you learn from this book, as a writer, that you’ll be able to apply on future projects?
CKM: For my last book, In Defi­ance of Hitler: The Secret Mis­sion of Var­i­an Fry, I researched and wrote at the same time—and I fin­ished that book faster than any of my oth­er books. With this George Wash­ing­ton book, I spent months read­ing book after book with­out writ­ing any text. In the end, this gave me a good foun­da­tion about Wash­ing­ton and the Rev­o­lu­tion, but it slowed down the whole process. I won’t make that mis­take again. In the future, I’ll research and work on the text at the same time.
LT: What was your revi­sion process like, includ­ing how many times you revised and at what stage(s) of the process?
CKM: When I get a good rough draft and I go through the entire thing again and again and again until I think it is right. I revise it keep­ing the entire book in mind since what I write on one page influ­ences what comes lat­er and before. I don’t keep track of how many times I revise the entire man­u­script before send­ing it out—I just keep work­ing until it is done.
LT: Tell us about the pitch and sales process you went through with this book. How much did you have researched and writ­ten when you pitched your agent (Susan Cohen at Writer’s House)? And when she then pitched it to editors?
CKM: I talked to my agent Susan Cohen about it and she sug­gest­ed I write a pro­pos­al. She read the pro­pos­al and sug­gest­ed some changes. I did a lot of research before I was able to write the pro­pos­al in a way that would reflect what I want­ed to do in the book. My pre­vi­ous books were with FSG, but my edi­tor was no longer with FSG, so Susan began send­ing the pro­pos­al out about end of 2008 to oth­er houses.
LT: You men­tioned Andrew Karre at Car­ol­rho­da was very sup­port­ive of the book’s con­cept and also had some input into the struc­ture of the infor­ma­tion. Can you tell us what it was like work­ing with Car­ol­rho­da, and how it might have dif­fered from oth­er pub­lish­ers for your pre­vi­ous books?
CKM: Andrew Karre is an excel­lent edi­tor and has been won­der­ful and. From the first day, he was enthu­si­as­tic about the book and saw the project the way I did. Dur­ing revi­sions, he had sug­ges­tions on adding or omit­ting mate­r­i­al. I con­sid­ered his edits care­ful­ly, but in the end he would give me the final say on what to do with it. He trust­ed me as the author, and I trust­ed him as the edi­tor. It must work both ways.
CKM: My oth­er books have been with FSG. I worked with two dif­fer­ent edi­tors there through the years, Rob­bie Mayes and Bev­er­ly Rein­gold. Both of them were excel­lent edi­tors. I’d say the biggest dif­fer­ence between work­ing with FSG and with Car­ol­rho­da is that at FSG we worked on a phys­i­cal hard copy of a man­u­script and with Car­ol­rho­da, Andrew and I worked on an elec­tron­ic manuscript.
LT: What are you work­ing on next?
I’ve always had to fin­ish one project com­plete­ly before I move on to the next one. Now that The Many Faces of George Wash­ing­ton: Remak­ing a Pres­i­den­tial Icon is out, I need to decide. But it seems I’m not quite ready to let go of George Washington—maybe there is anoth­er book there somewhere.
LT: Car­la, thanks so much for shar­ing such detailed and hon­est answers with us!
CKM: Thank you! It is always so much fun to talk about my books when they final­ly come out.
I encour­age you to find out more about Car­la and The Many Faces of George Wash­ing­ton here!