Lori Alexander writes children’s books filled with humor and heart. I first interviewed her about her use of mentor texts several years ago on ReFoReMo, here. I’m delighted to interview her for Writers’ Rumpus as her first board book series land on book shelves!
Kirsti Call: What inspired you to write the FUTURE BABY board book series?
Lori Alexander: I was waiting with my son in a space-themed exam room at our pediatrician’s office. This poster was hanging on the wall and it made me wonder about career-related books for the youngest readers. I snapped a picture and made a few notes in my phone. You never know where an idea will strike!
KC: I love that you found your title at the dr.’s office! How much research did you do for each book?
LA: Even though board books are meant for the youngest listeners, I wanted to be sure the skills presented were accurate. The NASA website was helpful for learning exactly what it takes to become an astronaut. Indirect research was key for seeking out comparison titles and helping to shape the rest of the series.
KC: Did you write each book separately, or all at once?
LA: My agent wanted to submit Future Astronaut as part of a series. I suggested a few other book ideas (Future Engineer, Future Scientist, Future Artist) and we pitched it as a STEAM-related series. Editor Celia Lee at Cartwheel Books (an imprint of Scholastic) loved Future Astronaut. My suggestion for Future Engineer was accepted but the second two titles were selected by the team at Cartwheel (Future President and Future Doctor). I had about three months to write the three additional texts. They followed the format used in Future Astronaut so it was fairly easy to dive right in. I did need to do a bit more research on the job skills necessary to become an engineer, a doctor, or even the president!
KC: I love how you compare the adult astronaut or engineer or president’s abilities with babies’ abilities. How did you come up with that approach to the stories?
LA: Thank you! I knew there were already science-themed board books on the market that attempt to distill complex information into something a toddler might understand. I wanted to try something different. Rather than teach difficult concepts, I attempted to show how baby’s current skills match up with the job at hand (in a playful way, of course). Here are a few of my favorite comparisons from Future Astronaut:
KC: What advice would you give to people who want to write board books?
LA: Years ago, when I first began writing for children, board books seemed to be off-limits for authors. They were created in-house by the publisher, reformatted from successful picture books, or they were spin-offs from popular movies or TV shows. If I happened upon an original board book, it typically came from an author/illustrator. Today, this seems to be changing a bit. I love the “Wee Beasties” series from Ame Dyckman, the “When Your…” series from Susanna Leonard Hill, and the “Baby Loves Science” series from Ruth Spiro. If you are considering writing a board book, try putting a fresh spin on a toddler/preschool-friendly topic (colors/numbers, family, animals, transportation, developmental milestones, etc.). Study current comp titles with a keen eye for word choice and word count. And consider whether your story could be part of a series. A board book series may have a better chance of selling than a single, stand-alone title.
KC: Thank you Lori! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
LA: I’d love to give a huge shout-out to Allison Black, the amazing artist who brought this series to life. Her illustrations are beyond adorable and I love the diversity in every spread. This clip from Kirkus says it best: “All of the children and astronauts are diverse: refreshingly neither majority white-presenting nor majority male-presenting. Inclusive characters and appealing illustrations make this a fun and factual trip to space.” Here’s a peek at her work for Future President, due this December.
Thanks for having me on Writers’ Rumpus!
Lori Alexander has written the picture books BACKHOE JOE (Harper, 2014) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling, 2017) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic, 2019). She also writes non-fiction chapter books, such as ALL IN A DROP (2019) and A SPORTING CHANCE (2020), both from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Lori resides in sunny Tucson, Arizona, with her scientist husband and two book loving kids. She runs when it’s cool (rarely) and swims when it’s hot (often). Then she gets back to writing! Visit Lori at www.lorialexanderbooks.com or on Twitter @LoriJAlexander