Monday, December 2, 2013

An Interview with an Editor!

'Tis the season! The holidays are upon us, which means it's time to start thinking of great books to give to those bookworms you know. We'd like to highlight a 2012 favorite, A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole. This book is an ideal holiday gift for any astronomy lover--young or old! Children and adults alike will learn a ton of spacey facts in this far-out book that’s sure to excite even the youngest of astrophiles. 

To learn more about the book, we thought we'd share an interview with Charlesbridge editor Alyssa Mito Pusey about what it was like to work on the book with author Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano. Carolyn's friend and business partner Deb Dempsey--a former fifth-grade teacher--conducted the interview. Enjoy!

Alyssa, one thing I’m wondering about is why you chose this book, this story, to publish. What was it about A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole that made you want to work on it? 

There are rare and wonderful moments when, as an editor, you hear about a book and think, This is IT. I have to work on this story. You get goose bumps—thrills and chills—and are filled with a deep-down certainty that’s at once exhilarating and a little terrifying. You hold your breath. Can the book possibly be as good as it sounds?

It was sort of like that for A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole. Carolyn and I were chatting about misconceptions one day, when she said, “You know, Alyssa, so many kids think a black hole is a hole.” My head reeled. My understanding of the universe shifted. I got those goose bumps. “It’s not?!” I yelped. I had never thought much about black holes, but suddenly I had to know more. I had to read that book. And luckily, Carolyn was the perfect person to write it. Yes, the book could be as good as it sounded. 

As the book evolved, what specifics did you see in the book that you believed would pull in kids? 

What I love—and I think kids love—about Carolyn’s writing is her conversational voice. She writes like she talks and talks like she writes. She is there on the page, inviting you to explore this marvelous, incredible science with her. But she’s not just a fellow explorer; she’s also an expert guide. She points out amazing sights and leads you to new heights of understanding—without leaving anyone behind. As a science educator, she knows exactly what support kids might need. She provides that scaffolding through some of the clearest, most engaging science writing I’ve ever read.

Can you talk a bit about your vision for how readers will encounter Black Hole? I’m wondering how you envision children at home reading this book . . . and how the book might be used in schools. 

I imagine that kids who are already interested in astronomy will snap Black Hole up. Our expert reviewer, a professor of astronomy, says that she would have loved this book as a child. I’m hoping that those kids who aren’t necessarily interested in science will see the cover—with its cool topic, gorgeous image, intriguing title, and sassy speech bubble—and be intrigued enough to open the book. Once hooked, they’ll learn not just about black holes, but also about gravity, atoms, and the way light moves. The book is about cutting-edge science, certainly, but it’s also about fundamental principles of physics. 

And that’s what makes Black Hole so useful in the classroom. The Common Core calls for nonfiction reading across the curriculum. I envision science teachers turning to Black Hole for its top-notch content as well as its exemplary science writing. I see language arts teachers using it as a model for expository writing, as well as a treasure trove for teaching about metaphor, voice, structure, and the author’s purpose and perspective. Black Hole is exactly the kind of rich, complex informational text that teachers are looking for as they strive to meet the Common Core.

As you know, I’ve worked with Carolyn for years now – just about the time when she started writing books, actually. I know her work as an educator, but I’m curious: What do you think is unique about Carolyn’s writing?
Well, I’ve mentioned Carolyn’s inimitable voice. That’s certainly unique; there’s no one else in the world who could have written this particular book. But Carolyn also has the gift of being able to explain big, complicated, abstract ideas in clear, concrete, kid-friendly ways. She can take something like nuclear fusion within the heart of a star and make it understandable. And interesting! She is both scientist and storyteller and that, in my opinion, is the secret to her unique power as a writer. 

I know that Carolyn feels she learned a lot about writing, publishing, and science while writing this book. What have you learned as an editor while editing this book? 

Everything I know about black holes I learned from A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole. Okay, that’s not strictly true, but it’s close to the truth. Thanks to this book, I can now explain black holes to my five-year-old son! I’ll always be grateful to Carolyn for that—as well as for her gracious, enthusiastic, tireless collaboration. As an editor, I have learned so much from working on this book: 

  • How to deal with change, accepting and embracing the natural evolution of a project (Black Hole started off as a 32-page picture book!)
  • How to write about abstract concepts for kids (I recently ran a writers’ workshop on this topic, almost entirely based on what I learned from Carolyn. 
  • How to help prune, cut, and shape while respecting both the science (Don’t dumb it down!) and the author (It’s her book!)
  • How to keep it fun (In our hundreds of emails, we never got tired of making jokes—good ones and lots and lots of bad ones.)
  • How to work on a book for 8+ years without giving up or losing hope, knowing all along that it will be an amazing resource for kids everywhere. 

Thanks, Deb and Alyssa! To read another interview with Carolyn in Kirkus Reviews, click here.

Click here to learn more about A Black Hole Is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, illustrated by Michael Carroll.