Putting the Big Bang In Its Place: Guest Post by Marissa Moss
The other day publisher and author Marissa Moss of Creston Books sent me an interesting query. We all know that the bar has risen for nonfiction authors and even, to a certain extent, illustrators of children’s books. But what is the role of the publisher in all this? Particularly when we’re talking about a small independent publisher and not one of the big guys? That was the subject of the story Marissa told me and I was just so darned interested in what she had to say that I asked her write a guest post for my blog. It’s a different perspective on the role of accuracy and how the author and editor come into it all.
As nonfiction picture books are used more and more by teachers and librarians instead of or alongside of textbooks, writers – and publishers – need to follow a high bar for accuracy. No more invented dialog, no more conjecture. Instead picture book authors are careful to use actual quotes (cited and sourced in the backmatter).
In my own non-fiction writing, I’m careful to keep track of sources so that I can quickly refer to them later. I keep a running list of quotes that might work, again all scrupulously referenced. I bring the same rigor to books I edit for Creston Books. When manuscripts are submitted, I’ll do some initial fact-checking to make sure the writer has done their homework, then look for an expert to vet a particular subject.
That’s what happened when Carly Allen-Fletcher sent me her latest story. Carly has done two non-fiction picture books with us, both with science as a subject. The first, Animal Antipodes, presents the idea of places that lie opposite each other on the globe (antipodes) and the animals that live there. That meant checking that Carly got the places right, as well as accurate descriptions of the creatures living there. For her second book, Beastly Biomes, we made sure that her definitions of biomes and the wide range of life each supports were all scientifically true. In both books there were minor corrections, but the basic manuscripts were sound.
When Carly sent me her third manuscript about the Big Bang and the beginnings of life on earth, it raised some worries for me, so I passed the text on to a young astrophysicist I know to vet it for factual problems. Asa Stahl, the astrophysicist, wrote back a page of detailed comments, some problems big, others small. Clearly the story needed major rethinking. Asa started by saying, “It commits all the most common errors of popular science writing,” then went on to detail where the science was off.
Carly, to her credit, realized she was in over her head. She responded by asking if Asa would write the story himself and she could illustrate it. Asa at first objected, saying he didn’t know anything about writing a picture book, he wasn’t sure where to even begin. I told him he was the perfect person to write the book. After all, his mother was a children’s book author and illustrator and he’d grown up editing and critiquing her work and that of her writer friends. In fact, as an undergrad, he’d been torn between going into editing professionally or plunging deeper into the world of physics. In the end, science won out.
Asa thought about it and agreed, drawing on his deep familiarity with the picture book format. The Big Bang Book is the result. The book opens, “This is the story of the universe. And it begins: Once upon a time, we don’t know.”
The story works beautifully for the younger reader, with poetic imagery and encouragement for kids to ask the big questions (Why is the sky blue? Why are we here?). Kids, after all, are natural scientists, always wondering how things work, why things are the way they are.
I’m very proud of the book, both as an editor and as a mother. Asa, the young astrophysicist is my son. He’s been a brilliant editor for my own writing for many years. It’s wonderful to be able to be his editor and see the merging of his love for science and story.
Many thanks to Marissa for sharing her experience. The Big Bang Book by Asa Stahl and Carly Allen-Fletcher is on shelves April 7, 2020 from Creston Books.
Filed under: Guest Posts
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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