Six Questions with Emeline Lee
Updated: Jan 23
Emeline Lee is an author of children's literature. Her debut picture book, Bonnie's Rocket (Lee & Low, 2022) is illustrated by Alina Chau. The book is a STEM-friendly story set during Apollo 11. Emeline studied English literature and environmental sustainability at Columbia University and now works in the renewable energy sector in New York City. Visit Emeline's website to learn more about her (you'll also find a teachers guide and rocket-building instructions!) You can follow her on social media at @EmelineLeeBooks.
1. When did you first realize you wanted to write for young readers?
Even as an adult, many of my all-time favorite books fall under the category of children's literature. As a child, I sometimes reread books until their covers fell off. The books we read during those formative years have the power to nurture the imagination, teach empathy, and provide a place of refuge. Many of those stories stay with us for our entire lives, and I always wanted to be part of that magic. My debut book is a picture book. and I hope to continue writing for young people!
2. When you begin writing a book, do you always know where the story is going?
I begin with a general direction in mind when I start a project, but I leave room for the story to grow and change. I used to find myself getting lost in the planning process — doing endless research and prefecting detailed outlines — so I've learned that sometimes it's best to jump into the first draft, even if I don't have all the answers yet. It's important to remember that the first draft is never the final, and most of the story comes together in the revisions. Keep in mind that everyone's creative process is different, so it's good to try different methods and find out what works best for you.
3. What are some of the key ingredients that make a great book for kids?
My basic recipe for a great book for kids: a scoop of curiosity, a dash of conflict, and a pinch of playfulness — all stirred together with a strong voice.
Curiosity is a powerful motivator, and kids are always wondering, "Why?" Conflict keeps readers turning the pages and propels the story forward toward a resolution. Playfulness is another important part of storytelling for children. Even serious stories need a bit of levity to balance out the heaviness. And a strong voice weaves the whole story together. Whether it's humorous, informative, lyrical, or earnest, knowing what tone fits the story and matching it with a distinctive voice is essential.
4. Where did you get the idea for Bonnie's Rocket? What was your inspiration?
The inspiration behind Bonnie's Rocket was my grandfather, who was an engineer for NASA's Apollo missions in the 1960s. I grew up hearing his stories about building the first spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon, and I wanted to write this book to honor his contributions, while also encouraging girls to pursue their dreams in STEM fields.
5. What was the timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
One thing to note about publishing is that it usually isn't a quick process! I started writing the manuscript in the fall of 2017, and the book was not released until the fall of 2022. There were understandable delays because of the pandemic, but the writing, editing, illustrating, and book production processes all are important stages that take time. Publishing is all about patience and persistence.
6. What's a particularly striking or memorable reaction someone has had to this book?
One of my favorite responses was a video that a colleague sent me of her nephew's spontaneous book report presentation after reading Bonnie's Rocket. The book had been out for only a couple of days, and he had already memorized most of the text. In the video, once he finishes his presentation, he asks his mom: "Can we build a rocket? Please? There are even instructions in the book!" His excitement as contagious and I'll never forget it!