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Six Questions with Sue Fliess

Sue Fliess is the best-selling author of more than 50 children's books including Cicada SymphonyOctopus AcrobaticsBeauty and the BeakerSadie Sprocket Builds a RocketFlash and Gleam Light in Our World, the Kid Scientist series, Beatrice Bly's Rules for Spies series, Magical Creatures and Crafts series, many Little Golden Books, and more. 

Her picture books have been named to many prestigious lists including ALA Notable, Texas 2x2, Bank Street College Best Books, Delaware Diamonds, Oklahoma Redbud Read-Alouds, CCBC Choices, Capitol Choices, MPIBA Reading the West, A Mighty Girl, and Imagination Soup. They’ve earned starred reviews, selected to the Junior Library Guild, included in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and appeared on Jill’s Steals and Deals (The Today Show), Reading Rainbow Live, mentioned in The New York Times, and even read by celebrities!  

Sue and her family live in northern Virginia, with an English Labrador named Truman and way too many mosquitoes.

Sue's website: www.suefliess.com

On social media: X (Twitter) // Instagram // Facebook

 

1. Where did you get the idea for Kid Scientist: Zoologists on The Trail? What was your inspiration?

I was fortunate enough that my publisher wanted me to write a 6th book in the Kid Scientist series. We usually bring a few ideas to the table. They had suggested something with bears, which of course I was open to. But the next part is tricky because in each book, the kid scientists usually do hands-on research. So when I was researching bear habitats, I came across Yellowstone and a video showing how the reintroduction of wolves has transformed the national park. I found it fascinating. So I came back and asked if I could focus on wolves and they agreed. And the science they use in the book, bioacoustics, is a new method of tracking wolves, first tested by college students, using call and response to the wolves. And that paved the way for the story. 


2. How was the editorial process? Did you do any revisions? 

The editorial and revision process with all of the Kid Scientist books is much more involved than most of my other books. There is a lot of science in these books and we have to get it right. In addition, some of the scientific terms and equipment can be challenging for a picture book reader. So my job is to relay these concepts in simpler terms, which can be tough, as I’m not a scientist by profession! I often try to describe equipment rather than name it, because some of the technical names would be overwhelming for readers. 

 

3.  Was Beauty and the Beaker always the title for this project? If not, what other titles did you consider and how did you land on this one? 

My publisher wanted me to do another fractured fairy tale, and suggested I do something with the Three Little Pigs. I brainstormed it, but wasn't feeling it. But then I thought about Beauty and the Beast. My first inclination was to change Beast to Beach. And I thought maybe Beauty could be an ocean conservationist. And then I was given a wonderful gift. An author colleague of mine, Julie Hedlund, emailed me and literally gave me the title Beauty and the Beaker. She said, “if anyone can write that story, it’s you.” So I had this great title, but then had to figure out what Beauty was going to collect in her beaker. I consulted with some scientist friends and my husband, and we came up with algae–and the fact that real scientists have algae farms in order to make biofuel was a great hook. And that drove the story. 


4. If you could tell readers one secret about your new book Octopus Acrobatics, what would it be? 

I have a secret wish to befriend an octopus. Since that is unlikely, I would be just as happy to have an interaction with an octopus. I did so much research and thought so much about octopuses while writing this book that I was having dreams I was hanging out in the ocean with them. They are truly amazing. 

 

5. What was the most challenging thing you faced while writing/researching Octopus Acrobatics

For one, octopuses are elusive, so there is not a ton of information and documentation on them being observed in the wild. They’ve been studied in captivity, but of course, one wonders how that differs from being in their natural habitat. And new information is being discovered all the time, so just when I thought I’d scraped every last bit of information up about them, I’d learn something new. And then trying to figure out what to include in the book and what to leave out, is always a challenge. 

 

6. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with? 

That all creatures deserve our respect and that we should show kindness to creatures big or small. In the case of the octopus, long ago, when fishermen and sailors were not familiar with them, they saw them as alien and scary. Some octopuses were enormous, so they were feared and therefore hurt. So I hope that if something seems unusual or different, instead of immediately being frightened, we take the time to  learn about it. Most often, we find that creature is actually just misunderstood. This is a lesson that goes beyond animals. If we can learn to be kind and respectful to animals, we can better treat one another as humans. 

 

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