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Today I invited author Laurie Wallmark to pontificate on a female computer science pioneer…and to introduce her new picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, illustrated by Katy Wu.

Laurie and I first met ten years ago (!!!) when I joined her critique group. Who could imagine that a decade later, we would be celebrating each other’s books?

Laurie, this is your second PB biography about an important female computer scientist (the first being award-winning ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE). What drew you to your subjects?

People say, “write what you know,” but I disagree. If you’re not familiar with a topic or an idea, you can always research it. I’d rather say, “write what you’re passionate about.” After all, you and your story will be together for a very long time. From your initial idea to that first draft, from innumerable revisions to a published book, you will read your story over and over and over again. If you’re not passionate about the topic, this will turn from a joy to an agony.

I’m passionate about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Two of my four (so far!) careers have been in computer science, one as a programmer and the other as a professor. Therefore, it seemed logical that I write my first two picture book biographies about people who contributed so much to the field.

My other passion is wanting to make sure that all children—regardless of sex, race, religion, physical or mental challenges, etc.—realize that it’s possible for anyone to have a love for, and possibly a career in, STEM. Picture book biographies of strong women STEM show girls that they too can succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field.

What about Grace Hopper’s story inspired you to write it?

It bothered me that someone who was so instrumental in shaping today’s world of computers had been entirely overlooked in the children’s trade-book market. Grace is the person who made it possible for anyone (including kids) to be able to program a computer, not just engineers and mathematicians. By sharing her love and knowledge of computers and programming, she encouraged others to consider a career in software engineering.

Shouldn’t our children know about the accomplishments of someone who was so important to the birth of our modern technological society? Yes, there are a few school/library titles about her, but these are not books a child would pick up and read. They’re dry recitations of the events of Grace’s life. In addition, they contain factual inaccuracies.

Without Grace’s idea to use English words to program computers, probably fewer people would have chosen programming as a career. Without enough programmers, there would be fewer programs and apps written. Without programs and apps, our computers and phones would not be much less powerful.

So that’s why I wrote this book—to introduce children to one of the most important computer scientists who ever lived.

You write both fiction and biographies. Which do you prefer? (Am I pulling a Sophie’s Choice on you?)

I can’t believe you’re asking me to choose between my beloved children. And what about my third child, poetry? Luckily, as a writer, I don’t have to choose. In fact, my master’s thesis combined all three—fiction, biography, and verse. I wrote a novel in verse based on the life of Ada Byron Lovelace.

If I did have to choose, the answer would have to depend on my current project. I’m working on a biography of a woman mathematician right now, so biography is the favored child. Not to worry, fiction and poetry, you’ll soon have the chance to be number one in my heart.

What interesting facts about Grace Hopper did not make it into the book?

Because of the limited word count, one of the many challenges in writing a picture book biography is deciding what to include and what to leave out. For example, my book has a scene of Grace constructing a doll house. What’s not included in the book is she decorated that dollhouse by making her own tiny furniture, curtains, and rugs. She also sewed clothes for her dolls taking up residence.

Another incident, also from childhood, is when Grace’s canoe capsized. After her mother shouted for her to remember her great-grandfather, the admiral, Grace didn’t abandon ship. Instead she kicked her way back to the shore, dragging the canoe behind her.

These stories emphasize Grace’s self reliance and can-do attitude. But so do some of the stories that did make it into the book, so these two weren’t needed. Stories like how Grace convinced the Navy to let her enlist even though she was too old and too skinny. Or how she convinced her colleagues and the world how important it was for computer languages to use words instead of only numbers.

Laurie, thank you for decoding Grace Hopper’s life and presenting the world with another picture book biography about an important female computer scientist. Congratulations on all your work and success!

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 several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography about Grace Hopper.

Sterling Children’s Books is giving away a copy of GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE. Please leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks.

Good luck!

I awoke this morning and thought, “What a fine day for a new blog post.” Of course, I also thought, “What a fine day to go swimming” and “What a fine day to finish reading that book.” Sensing that I have packed today’s schedule, I decided that said blog post would have to be ultra-short. (I would have said “uber” short, but that word has been bogarted by some taxi service.)

So here I have pieced together quick quotes and sage snippets from the SCBWI events I attended in the spring—New England SCBWI and New Jersey SCBWI.

I hope you enjoy while I do the backstroke with a soggy book.

tuesday

“A picture book is an amazing thing, a world unto itself. You can do anything in those 32 pages and that is the thing I love about it.” ~David Wiesner

“As I create, I am continually asking myself ‘why is this happening?’ You know you are desperate when you go to the ‘magic button’ solution.” ~David Wiesner

lunchlady

“Be nice. Be resilient. Set goals. Adapt & learn. Your biggest achievement is just around the corner.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

“Don’t do a $50 job like a $50 job, you’ll get $50 jobs your whole life. Do it like a $500 job and you’ll start getting those.” ~Jarrett J. Krosoczka

mango

“It’s not necessarily ‘write what you know.’ Write what you want to know ABOUT. The passion for that subject will come through.” ~Wendy Mass

adabyronlovelace

“When it comes to the nitty gritty marketing of your book, always remember, something is better than nothing.” ~Laurie Wallmark

ellrayjakes

“A postcard is the best way to get our attention. I get 60 emails a day…it’s too much. I like the tactile nature of a postcard. I love feeling them and looking at them…if they hit anything in me, I keep them.” ~Laurie Brennan, Associate Art Director, Viking

hogprince

“Characters who make interesting mistakes are inherently interesting. The kind of mistakes your character makes defines her. How a character acts in the wake of a mistake should be unique and personal to her. Failure is fertilizer: a world of things can grow from the mistakes your character makes. Someone who is always right is BORING.” ~Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

theBFFsisters

“I wanted to write a book where my daughter could see herself—that’s me!” ~Suzy Ismail

“Writing from a multicultural perspective is no different than writing. All writing is about crossing boundaries.” ~Suzy Ismail quotes Debby Dahl Edwardson

donalynmiller

And, finally, my favorite quote…which is still making me think long and hard:

“How are you creating a literary world besides being a literary creator?” ~Donalyn Miller

 

by Laurie Wallmark

When I teach classes on writing for children, I tell my students there are only three necessary traits for being a writer. They raise their pens, ready to record the insider tricks I’m about to share that will pave their road to publication. Unfortunately, there are no magic incantations or secret handshakes to initiate you into the world of writers. All you need are three things:

  • a modicum of talent;
  • a willingness to learn and improve your craft;
  • and perseverance.

When I say “modicum of talent,” I mean exactly that. You don’t need to be the next Maya Angelou or Ernest Hemingway. You do, though, need a little something. As a child, were you the one who enthralled your classmates on the playground with your stories? Did you write love poems or protest songs? Do you make up fairy tales for your children every night? Are you a journal writer or blogger? Do people turn to you when they need someone to write up an account about an event? Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? Excellent. You obviously have a “modicum of talent.” You’re a writer.

But that’s only the first step. You need to be willing to learn and improve your craft. I’ve met too many people who, once they’ve gotten an agent or that first book contract, feel that they are now a “Writer,” with a capital W. They think that now they’ve made it up the first rung of success, there’s nothing else for them to learn about writing. They couldn’t be more wrong. No, you don’t need to go out and earn an MFA in Writing for Children or a PhD in Children’s Literature (not that those are bad things), but you can always learn more about writing. Attend conferences and take workshops. Read craft books and blog posts. Have your manuscripts critiqued and return the favor for other writers. But the most important way to improve your craft is to read mindfully in your genre. Read. Read. Read. Analyze the books you read. What works and what doesn’t work? Learn new techniques from the positive and learn what to avoid from the negative. Read!

The last, and most important writerly trait, is perseverance. Becoming a professional writer is not the easiest of career goals. It takes a long time to hone your craft to the needed level. Along the way, you’ll encounter many barriers. I knew most of my published writer friends long before they had their first book contract. They kept writing in spite of the many rejections they received along the way. To state the obvious, if you stop writing, you’ll never be published.

When I was in high school we had to choose a class motto. (Stay with me. This is related.) The administration thought our choice wasn’t appropriate and cleaned it up to “Always Persevere,” translated into Latin as “Semper Perservere.” I prefer our motto in its original form, though. Here it is as my final piece of advice:

Keep on Truckin’!

keepontruckin


Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can’t imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and to students in prison. The picture book biography, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, October 2015), is Laurie’s first book.

PrizeDetails (2)

Laurie is giving away a copy of her debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE.

Leave a comment below to enter for your chance to win.

Ada cover 72dpi

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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Summer/Fall 2018

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