New Jersey children’s STEM author Laurie Wallmark was the Keynote Speaker at the 2019 NJSCBWI June Conference. Recently, we took a break with Laurie to catch up on all her latest happenings in the kidlit world…
Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and many national awards including Outstanding Science Trade Book and Cook Prize Honor Book. Her picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star, is a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner, and is on several public libraries’ “best of” lists, including New York. Both of these books were Junior Library Guild selections. Her recently released book is HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019). Laurie presents at national conferences such as TLA (Texas Library Association, NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and NSTA (National Science Teachers Association). She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA.
NJSCBWI: Congratulations on your latest book release of Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor. How did this one come about?
LW: There are so many women whose lives and accomplishments are unsung and need to be shared. I maintain a list of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) who might make good subjects for my next picture book biography. I was drawn to Hedy’s story because it shows children you don’t have to choose a single path in your life and career. You can be: an actor and an inventor, like Hedy; a computer scientist and an artist; a doctor and a runner; or any combinations that your interests lead you to.
NJSCBWI: This is your third STEM-related book about women in science. Tell us a little bit about your first two books. Do you have any more in the queue?
LW: My debut picture book biography was Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. Ada was the world’s first computer programmer (and she was born in 1815!). Next came Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code. Grace was the first person to use words like MULTIPLY and DIVIDE in computer programs instead of only “1”s and “0”s. Because of Grace, anyone can learn to code.
I have two more women in STEM books coming out. Next year’s biography is Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Mathematician, from Creston Books. Sophie was the first to mathematically describe the motion of rotating solid bodies like planets and footballs. I have another book coming out in 2021, but for now, I can’t share any information about it.
NJSCBWI: What inspires you and your ideas for the books you write?
LW: For my women in STEM books, I’m inspired by two of my own passions. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved science and math. I’m also passionate about showing children that STEM is open to everyone, regardless of sex, race, religion, etc. For my fiction—anything goes.
NJSCBWI: What was the biggest challenge writing Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life and how did you overcome it?
LW: When you write a picture book biography, you tell a person’s story using a very limited number of words. This means you have to decide which aspects of that person’s life to include and which to leave out. In Hedy, we ended up dropping one of my favorite scenes. In the end, it didn’t add anything to the through-line of Hedy’s story.
NJSCBWI: What top pieces of advice would you give to other members based on your personal experiences?
LW: This one’s easy. Keep on, keeping on. Publishing is a tough business, but you need to constantly work on improving your craft and pushing through the inevitable rejections.
Thanks, Laurie! To learn more about Laurie’s books, conference appearances, school visits etc, visit her at her website, www.lauriewallmark.com and on @lauriewallmark.
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