Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning

Fractured Fairy Tales, Cicada Symphonies, Leprechaun Traps, and Kid Scientists -- Adventures with Picture Book Author Sue Fliess

May 31, 2023 Dr Diane Jackson Schnoor Season 2 Episode 22
Dr. Diane's Adventures in Learning
Fractured Fairy Tales, Cicada Symphonies, Leprechaun Traps, and Kid Scientists -- Adventures with Picture Book Author Sue Fliess
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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Adventures in Learning, where curiosity and connection lead to exciting discoveries. In this episode, we delve into the world of STEM picture books with the acclaimed author Sue Fliess.

With a passion for combining science, technology, engineering, and math with captivating storytelling, Sue has captured the hearts of young readers and educators alike. Sue is the author of more than 50 picture books, including Goldilocks and the Three Engineers, Little Red Rhyming Hood, Mary Had a Little LabBeatrice Bly's Rules for Spies series, Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket, the Kid Scientist series, and the recently published Cicada Symphony to name just a few.

Join me as Sue and I discuss her journey as an author, her inspiration for STEM-themed fractured fairy tales, as well as her natural curiosity and wonder that is leading her into more science and nature-based books. What follows are excerpts from our conversation. For the show notes, pictures, and links to Sue's books and activities, visit the Adventures in Learning blog.  You can find all of the books discussed in the podcast on my bookshop.org shop.

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[00:01] Dr Diane: Wonder, curiosity, connection. Where will your adventures take you? I'm Dr. Diane, and thank you for joining me on today's episode of Adventures in Learning.

[00:20] Dr Diane: So welcome to the Adventures in Learning podcast.

I'm your host, Dr. Diane, and you are in for a treat today. We're talking to author Sue Fliess. She is the author of, I think, more than 50 picture books. At this point, I fell in love with her because I stumbled across her work when I was doing STEM/STEAM Learning for Teachers. So I found Goldilocks and the Three Engineers and Little Red Rhyming Hood, Mary Had a Little Lab, but she has written so many other books. You may know her for Beatrice Bly's Rules for Spies series. Or Sadie Sprocket Builds a Rocket. She's got this really cool Kid Scientist series we're going to talk about and the recently published Cicada Symphony. So, Sue, welcome to the show. I'm so excited to get to know you today.

[01:01] Sue: Thank you so much for having me. I was so excited when you reached out and I read all about what you do and how you connect books with STEM or STEM with your audience and with teachers. And I am all about that community and helping teachers basically with getting STEM into their classroom, but in a fun and easy way. That is not, of course, my original goal of writing these STEM books is to have fun and use science, but the fact that it's being used in other ways is such a treat. And I always love hearing about how teachers are using my books in the classroom. So thank you for helping with that.

[01:40] Dr Diane: You're welcome.

[01:41] Dr Diane: So we're going to talk more deeply about that in a few minutes, but before we do, I'm going to ask you the question I like to ask everybody, which is describe your adventures in learning. You haven't always been a picture book writer. How did you get to where you are right now?

[01:55] Sue: Oh, gosh. So I've always loved writing. As a kid, I used to write poems for my family and friends and about my dog and things like that, but it was always just a hobby. I kept a journal in high school, angsty teen stuff and things like that. I used to write poems when I got older, and then when I started to really feel more serious about writing, I was writing poems. And I was working at Putnam Berkeley, which is, of course, now Penguin Random House. I worked in the Berkeley paperback division. That was my very first job as an assistant to the publicist. I eventually became a publicist, but I was sort of surrounded by books. And I met an author who, her mom had a writing group in New York City. So I was bringing these poems as I like to say, I was bringing these dreadful poems because they were not very good to this writing group on a weekly basis. And I was telling the stories about being in publishing, and they finally had the courage to tell me, those are the kind of stories you should be writing. You should be writing novels and lose your poetry. So I kind of got out of poetry and started writing some novel that I never finished, but it kind of sparked the love of writing. But it was not until, gosh, many years later, I was 31. I had had my first son. I was reading him tons and tons of picture books. And a couple of years into his toddlerhood, I started to think maybe I used to love writing rhyming poetry, and that never really translated for me to write for adults. People don't necessarily want to read rhyming poetry as adults, if you get my gist. And so I thought maybe this is something that I could explore. And I took a class on. It was called, like, writing children's book 101 at the local college. And it was this eight hour all day class, and I kind of left there with a fire in my belly to at least try it formed a writing group, started going to conferences, started learning everything I could about the industry, but so it was really my son and reading to my son, which sort of brought to life that love of writing, this rhyming poetry that came back. So a lot of my books are in rhyme now. A lot of them aren't now because I have branched out. But that's sort of how it all started. And then I, of course, have to give credit to the librarian, children's librarian at my local public library who lived across the street from me at the time. And I went to her and I said, how do I do this? How do I get into this? And she said, it's very competitive. I remember that being her very first comment. And I said, well, that's okay. And so she kind of told me about organizations and things I should join and websites I could go to. And I just kind of launched into this, I guess, second career because I was doing copywriting for corporations. We were out in Silicon Valley. I was doing a lot of marketing and a little bit of event planning and PR and mark/com and kind of doing this on the fly.

[05:04] Dr Diane: That's exciting. And so you have so many books that are out these days. What was the very first book you published?

[05:14] Sue: Oh, my goodness, I should have brought it over here. It's called Shoes for Me. And it's about a hippo whose feet have grown, and her mom says basically you can pick out your very first pair of real shoes. So they go to a shoe store, and it's kind of like a list book. So it's shoes that button, shoes that snap, shoes for ballet, shoes for tap. I think I've read it so many times, I probably have it memorized. But what was great about that book is I pictured it in my head as a little human girl going to the store with her mom. And then when the editor said, I want to make this a book, she said, I think it would be really fun to do with animals. And I thought, great, this is my first book. It doesn't matter to me. Do whatever you want with it. And then when they gave it to the illustrator, he really wanted to do hippos. And I thought how funny that a book about shoes is going to be with hippos that have the biggest feet possible in the animal kingdom. But that was sort of a great way to realize that I have control over part of the process, but that it then takes on a life of its own, which always ends up making the book better.

[06:21] Dr Diane: And I was reading that you talk to people about leaving room for the illustrator. What exactly does that mean in your work, and how do you go about doing that?

[06:32] Sue: Yeah, so it's sort of like when I'm writing, I can picture a movie of the book, but it's very limited. And so what I try to do when I'm writing is every now and then, sort of a gut check. Like, do I need all this detail? The first draft, of course, just write down, get it all out. Then as I'm going through, I think, is this something the illustrator can show that I don't need to put all these extra words in here? So my whole thing and of course, with picture books across the board, is less is more. You want to let the illustrator take it to another level. I mean, especially with the fractured fairy tale series you were mentioning, Mary Had a Little Lab. There's all these other stories sort of going on in the illustrations that I didn't write those notes. I mean, sometimes I do use illustrator notes if it's vague, if what I'm trying to get across is very just, well, it's in my head, but it's not on the page. But for the most part, the illustrators take it to a whole other level. So if you're dictating everything that has to be illustrated, you're just not going to get that level of creativity that they bring to it.

[07:43] Dr Diane: That makes a lot of sense. So let's talk about the STEAM/STEM books for a moment.

[07:48] Sue: Okay.

[07:49] Dr Diane: I discovered, like I said, Goldilocks and the Three Engineers. I love the take on your fractured fairy tales because you take those stories and you sort of raise them to another level. You reinvent the stories. What was your inspiration for going in that direction?

[08:05] Sue: So the first one, I have to admit Mary Had a Little Lab kind of came to me in a dream. And I talk at school visits. I say how there's no such thing as an idea fairy that comes and sprinkles ideas while you're sleeping. But in that one instance, I feel like I got that idea from a dream. But I have two Labrador retrievers at home, and we just say we have two labs. And when I was dreaming, somebody asked me in my dream, what are you working on? And I said, oh, I'm working on a book called Mary Had a Little Lab. And I woke up and I thought, oh, well, no one wants to hear about a girl and her Labrador retriever. That seems kind of boring. But I said, what if Lab was short for Laboratory? And suddenly the book just came to me as, okay, she's a scientist. She's in a lab. What is she going to make in her lab? And of course, the tie in to the original nursery rhyme is lamb. So I chose sheep, and I thought, of course she's going to make a sheep in her lab. So that kind of set the stage for that book. And then my publisher loved it so much, Albert Whitman and Company, that they said, we want more of these. We love the girl STEM science. And so that set me on the path of looking at and there's not that many, believe it or not. There's a lot of looking at fairy tales that had a female lead so that I could change it so she was a strong female lead. Yes. So that's kind of how the trajectory went with those books. I wasn't even sure that they wanted anymore. And then my publisher approached me, and she's [suggesting] the Three Little Pigs. And I thought, well, but then I pitched them, what about Beauty and the Beaker? So that's actually coming out next year.

[09:54] Dr Diane: That sounds really exciting. I love the cleverness of that. And with these books, I've noticed there are activities now on your web page that go with them. How did that come about?

[10:05] Sue: So that is technically the publisher that is creating some of those. I always do a book trailer, which is more just promotional. But, yeah, my publisher is really taken to creating activities for the books, especially when there's science involved. But, yeah, the more you can say, we need more of that, that helps me because then it's another thing for me to share with schools when I go, there's an activity kit. Even if you haven't bought the book, the kids can do the activities in the book. I have some activities that I had a consultant make for my books in sort of the early years to help have extra material on the website. But, yeah, my publisher usually creates those for me, which I'm very grateful.

[10:53] Dr Diane: And you talk about STEM when you go to school visits. I saw that was one of the workshops you do. What would be included in a workshop like that when you're working with schools and libraries?

[11:03] Sue: Well, when I do the Fractured Fairy Tales I have them create their own fractured fairy tales and I talk about mine and how I work science into it. But the STEM workshop is really talking about the writing, the research and what kinds of things I researched and did in order to put that into my stories. And I'll show them examples of fiction and nonfiction that I've done the research for. So an example from The Princess and the Petri Dish. There's very little snippets of the science in there, but I tell them how I watched tons of videos and took out books on how to grow a pea from cocoa beans and what's involved and splicing. And so I learn all the science involved. Even if only a small portion of that gets put into the book. I stress that I still want it to be accurate even though it's fictional. Obviously those vines growing like crazy and no one would really fall asleep for a week. So those kinds of things are fantastical. But the actual science of it and she puts the seed on a petri dish that's lined with wet paper towel, all of that is real science. So I talk to them about how important it is to do your research whether you're writing for fiction or nonfiction. But then I use all of my STEM books as examples. And I often get asked, especially with my Kid Scientist books, I often get asked if I have a science background and I say no. But I have this real love of science and how things work. And I sometimes joke that maybe if I wasn't doing this I would have pursued a career in science. I don't know.

[12:46] Dr Diane: Well, let's talk about the kids science books for a minute. I know that Volcano Experts on the Edge is the latest one and that takes place in Iceland and it's coming out in June. And I'm excited about that because I'm heading to Iceland next month.

[12:59] Sue: I'm so excited for you. And I wish I could say that I've been there to do all my research, but I have not.

[13:04] Dr Diane: How did you decide on the Kid Scientists series? Tell us a little bit about it and sort of the topics you're exploring through it.

[13:12] Sue: Yeah, so I'm super excited about it as well. There's a 6th book coming out next year about wolf biologists who track a pack of wolves in Yellowstone, which is really fun. But I actually was working with my publisher on all the fractured fairy tales that are STEM-based and an editor approached me and said, well, we're thinking about do we want to do some kind of a scientist series? We don't know what to call it yet, but we think you would be the perfect one to write it. And I said, I write fictional science books. I don't know. But I didn't really say that to them, of course. I said, yeah, that sounds amazing. I would love to do that. And then I had a brief moment of panic. What did I just sign up for? And from that point on, then it was more of the sciences that I was most interested in. So the first one, I said, I love the ocean and humpback whales, dolphins and things like that. I said, I would love to do marine biology. So each one, we kind of discussed the science, and then I came back with what the kids would do and then if they thought, well, an example of the volcano experts on the edge. I thought, oh, Iceland has all these great volcanoes, but the volcano in Tonka had recently erupted, and of course, there was devastation and death. And so my publisher came back and said, I'm picturing a book about going into fiery volcanoes and these kids are going to be on the edge of this molten lava. In reality, they said, well, that seems really dangerous, and because the chance of an eruption could really cause harm, why don't we focus on underground? I thought, oh, volcanoes under the ice. But I said, that's not going to be a very interesting illustration, going to be a lot of kids walking across snow and ice. And so I said, what if we find, like, a dormant volcano? And then the other challenge is Icelandic is very impossible to pronounce the different names of the volcanoes. So I needed to find a volcano that was dormant, that kind of had a fun nickname. So I just want to make sure I get it right. But I believe it's called Queen of the Mountains, and it's called like, hairdo breath is sort of how you would pronounce it in English. It has all these interesting characters. Yes. It's called Queen of Icelandic Mountains. So now they just refer to it as the Queen throughout the book, so you don't have to keep seeing that word. And it's very complicated. And then I had to come up with a hypothesis. So the hypothesis is they believe it's dormant, but they have to prove that it's dormant by doing all the science involved with that. Ground sensors and aerial drone images and things like that.

[16:13] Dr Diane: Oh, very cool.

[16:14] Sue: That was a really long answer to that question. I'm sorry.

[16:16] Dr Diane: No, that was a great answer. And I'm excited because we're actually walking in a volcano while we're there. So it's going to be just an amazing experience.

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[17:17] Dr Diane: I've noticed you've had a little bit of a shift in your writing recently to what I would call more environmental or Earth based books. I see behind you, you've got The Earth Gives More. I have that one over here too. Rumble and Roar sort of had that feel to me. I felt the Cicada book, which is beautiful. Cicada Symphony sort of had that same approach. Am I reading you right in that you've sort of made a shift into more environmental books as well?

[17:47] Sue: Yeah, I mean, you are right, and I'm not sure it was a conscious shift. I mean, I am very worried about our planet, and I think that probably is just coming through in any way I can help to shed light on how important it is to take care of the planet and respect the creatures of the planet. 

And it's funny. Not funny, but when these cicadas were right before they sort of this brood emerged, I was, where are they going to come up? Because we were not in this neighborhood before. We were living in California, and then we moved to Virginia. So I had not really seen cicadas until we moved here. But I remember talking to a neighbor who said I was talking to him about the cicadas are coming. And he said, oh, we were just planting in our front yard and digging up all these old bushes, and I was wondering what these like, he was saying they almost looked like grubs. I guess he was calling them grubs. I'm like, I don't think those are grubs. And what happened was he had dug up a bunch of cicada nymphs. So later on, when I was doing all this research for the book, I was kind of like, we really need to be careful about where we're digging for any reason, but you don't realize what's under the surface. Sometimes. I guess I'm just very into nature, and I go on walks all the time. We go on hikes. My dad and I used to sit and watch nature shows when I was younger. So, I mean, I had a little magnifying. It was called a bug eye, where you can collect the bugs and watch them. And maybe I was a little bit strange that way, but I absolutely love nature and everything that has to do with nature. So I do think that that is coming through a lot more in my writing. I guess there's more of an urgency about it now.

[19:43] Dr Diane: That makes a lot of sense. And as you were talking, I'm thinking about I do the nature walks, and I've been so interested in animals for a long time, but it's been a more recent thing in terms of that urgency. I traveled to Antarctica in December with my father and am going to Iceland and building this into the kind of teaching I'm doing with kids. But I think we've got to raise the alarm, and we've got to make changes in what we're doing in order to be able to save the planet for our own children and generations to come. So I appreciate what you're doing.

[20:19] Sue: Yeah, I mean, the more that we can get kids to be aware of their surroundings, the more they're going to want to protect it when they're in a position of power or a position to actually do something about it.

[20:34] Dr Diane: Talk about Cicada Symphony, because that's an interesting book.

[20:37] Sue: I'm going to pull it out here too, because it's so funny, because during the pandemic, I think I wrote three or four stories. I thought maybe these all have a good chance of becoming a book. And one of them was Cicada Symphony, and I thought it had maybe the least chance of becoming an actual book, because I just thought they're kind of weird creatures. It's so specific. Normally, it's sort of like you said, Rumble and Roar. It's like four different environments, and there's a rainforest and a regular forest, and it just seems more of a broad stroke. And so for me to just choose this one insect and I just sort of became obsessed with Cicadas. When the brood emerged and we were hearing it, we were recording it, my husband had a little decibel reader. He's like, oh, my gosh, listen to how loud it is. And we could see them flying. And I just started to really look at them, and I'm like, oh, maybe I could do something with this. And he was the one that suggested you should write a book. And I thought, I don't know, it seems so specific and they're kind of weird and felt very localized. I know that they are in a big part of the US, but it still felt very local to me. Then I just couldn't help myself. I started to hear lines in the book. I'm like, well, maybe I'll just write it down and see what happens. And then the more I researched, the more I heard other scientists talk about them and how they described them was like this love letter to them. So I thought, Well, I'll just write something and we'll see what happens. And so, yeah, that first line. So let me just read the first line, if you don't mind.

[22:19] Dr Diane: Not at all.

[22:21] Sue: Here's the nymphs under the dirt. There’s a secret you should know: bugs are lurking down below. In the Earth, nymphs lay in wait for their turn to…activate! So it was just trying to capture that feeling of, like, we're walking above them and we don't even know it, and then they're about to come up and it's sort of a little bit creepy feeling about that. So I tried to capture that. And then once I wrote that stanza, I was kind of like, oh, man. I'll just try to write a little bit about the life cycle of it and see where it goes. And then the other three stories that I had written did not sell. And this one, within 24 hours, my editor said, I have to have that book. So it just goes to show the unpredictability of publishing and write what you feel passionate about.

[23:08] Dr Diane: Well, and you hit, I think, a really good formula with that, too. I love the rhyme as you take us through the life cycle of the Cicada. And then I love the fact that you had the factual bits sort of in there as well, so that if a parent or a teacher is doing it as a read aloud, they've got the information that they can either read directly as you wrote it or paraphrase it to answer kids’ questions.

[23:30] Sue: Yes, and that's actually I've only read it a few times because it just came out. And I've had my copies, my early copies for a little while. So I shared it at a few school visits. But, yeah, I would read the main text and then I don't want to bog them down, but I'll kind of say, you know, they molt four times, so, yeah, they're in small enough snippets that it's easy to paraphrase. And then if the kids are really, really interested, they can just sort of read all of it and take their time on each page.

[24:03] Dr Diane: Yeah, we were obsessed with the Cicadas as well, living here in Winchester, and they really were just the most amazing symphony in terms of the noise and watching them go. My husband was one of those people who actually did eat them. I'm a vegetarian, and I stood by that during this whole phase. But he experimented and he actually grilled several meals and invited friends over. And I was like, you enjoy your cicadas.

[24:33] Sue: I love it. I know kids have asked me, I said, well, my dogs ate them. One dog ate them and one dog ignored them. But, yeah, apparently when they become like, when they molt for that last time, they come out of their exoskeleton and they're kind of white and weird looking, but apparently that's when they taste like shrimp. And I think that's when my dogs were most interested or my one dog was most interested in gobbling them up. But, yeah, they provide a beast for the forest animals and people alike, I guess. So did he like them?

[25:10] Dr Diane: He said they were pretty good, kind of that taste like shrimp, tastes like chicken. And if you spice anything, I think it's edible.

[25:18] Sue: Yeah, I know my husband recently said he was in Mexico City for work and he had some kind of guacamole that had cricket dust on it or something. He said it wasn't that, too, but, yeah, ground cricket. And I said, well, yeah, that seems like just a crunchy topping. But, yeah, I don't know. I don't know if I could ever bring myself to do it.

[25:41] Dr Diane: I'm fascinated.

[25:46] Sue: You don't need to consume.

[25:48] Dr Diane: Exactly. So what books are coming out now? You said you've got the Iceland Volcano book, but what else is coming out in the near future?

[25:57] Sue: Yeah. So in August, I have a How To… You and I had been talking about that a little bit, about my How To series, so my Magical Creatures and Craft series, I have a Halloween one coming out, How to Spook a Ghost. And the four kids are getting ready for Halloween and they hear a noise in the house, and they're like, are we going to be brave and investigate this noise? So they go upstairs and they see that it is a ghost, but of course, and then they realize the ghost is a friendly ghost and just wants to go trick or treating with them. So they invite the ghost to go trick or treating. And there's a craft on how to make a ghost costume and also a little ghost puppet. And then that comes out in August for Halloween. And then next year I have Beauty and the Beaker coming out that I mentioned. And the beast is the storm, in case you're wondering. And then also with Albert Whitman, in line with the Cicada Symphony is Octopus Acrobatics. And it's the same format, but just all about the life of an octopus. And octopuses are so amazing. And I didn't even want that research to end. And I've just watched countless videos. I'm sure you've seen My Octopus Teacher on Netflix, but I highly recommend that. And that comes out also next year. And then the next Kid Scientist, I think it's called biology. I have to look it up. But they're on the trail, biologists on the trail, and it's Zoologists on the Trail because there's wolf biologists that's which they really kind of are wolf biologists, but we just call zoologists on a trail and they're doing their own acoustics to call to the wolves. So that's kind of cool. I think I have a Tooth Fairy book that I'm working on for the How To series that might come out maybe next summer. I actually don't know. They're just now thinking about the date of that. And then I have a follow on to Sadie Sprocket that doesn't come out until 2025, but that's Greta Green Builds a Submarine. Yeah, I have a lot of stuff that I'm sort of like in different stages working on. But I'm actually going on a writing retreat next week with three other writers, and I have not been on a writing retreat in so long that I'm looking forward to sort of catching up on all the ideas that I want to write that I don't have a deadline for taking that time for myself to really focus on what it is that I want to write.

[28:45] Dr Diane: That sounds wonderful. And if folks don't know the holiday series or the crafty series, I highly recommend them. I was telling you earlier, I do work with Steve Spangler and Chris Kesler, and they do these PDS (professional development workshops) for teachers across the country. And they were talking about the holidays because Steve does this whole amazing holiday science video, where he connects it to Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and April Fools because those are his three favorite holidays. And so he presents these experiences, and they're just amazing. They get the kids engaged with STEM and STEAM, and teachers can take these ideas and run with them. And so I was able to share book connections with these teachers, and I highlighted both your How to Trap a Leprechaun and How to Help a Cupid within that, because they were both such great platforms for leaping off into STEM and STEAM and thinking about ways to build a connection. And I love the diverse nature of the illustrations as well, because it allows all kids to see themselves within these holidays, and I just thought they were really cool books.

[29:51] Sue: Thank you so much. And thank you for highlighting those. You just gave me an idea, though. I might pitch an April Fool's book to them. Don't really think about it because I feel like I've done every holiday, but that might be a really fun one.

[30:04] Dr Diane: Well, I would highly recommend that, because when I was looking for April Fools books, those were the ones I got stuck on there's. Susannah Leonard Hill has April Fool, Phyllis, but there's not a whole lot out there for April Fools itself. And so, yes, please give me something for that.

[30:22] Sue: Got me thinking.

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[31:38] Dr Diane: What books, when you were a child sort of inspired you and got you going?

[31:44] Sue: Yeah, I mean, we went to the library every week, I think. My mom took us, my sister and me, to the library every week. We would check out a bunch of books, and then we would get home, and my dad would find a little selection and he would read them to us. So I was very lucky in that respect. I don't think I owned a ton of books because my mom was very practical and thought, you have enough books, we go to the library. So I'm a huge fan of the public library. I know one that really stuck with me was William Stein’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. I don’t know that I knew that I was feeling empathy, but he accidentally turns himself into a rock in order to avoid danger, and then he's stuck, and he's really helpless. And this feeling of helplessness I just somehow really connected to. Not that I was feeling helpless, but I just felt so bad for this character. And so sometimes I think about that book and think, how can I invoke a feeling like that book did for me? I'm trying to think of, I mean, some middle grade, some Judy, always Judy Blume. And I just saw the movie (Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?), and.

[32:53] Dr Diane: It was really oh, it was wonderful.

[32:55] Sue: Yeah. But all of Judy Blume’s stuff. Also Ferdinand the Bull, that was a favorite. And I think I'm sure we read all the Dr. Seuss books, and it's enmeshed in my brain. But, like, the books that I read to my kids, I'm like, were those my favorites, or are they my new favorites? Because I read them with my kids, so it kind of gets a little blurry. But we all love the Sandra Boynton books. But yeah, now, today I love Library Lion is one of my favorites by Michelle Knudsen. But, yeah, there's so many. But, yeah, we just checked out a lot of books at the library and read a lot of different types of books together, and my sister would sometimes read them to me, too, when she could read.

[33:56] Dr Diane: And are there current authors that you read for inspiration?

[34:00] Sue: Oh, yeah. Ame Dyckman, Josh Funk, Tammy Sauer. I read a lot of middle grade and YA and I'm trying desperately to finish a middle grade book. My son, who is 20 years old now, I just picked him up from college yesterday, and he said, how are your books going? How's everything going? And I told him, and I said, I'm doing a writing retreat next week. I'm really excited. He goes, oh, are you going to work on the novel? I started this middle grade novel, chapter book, I don't know what it is yet, when he was ten. That gives you an idea. He's still trying to keep me honest about it, which is good. If you're writing something, tell people you're writing it because they'll keep you honest. So, yes, I am hoping to get back to that. But, yeah, there's so many authors right now, Andrea Wang, that I admire that I'll just go to the library and be like, how did they do that? How did they do that? I want to write something like that, and then sometimes I'll get it right, and then sometimes I don't.

[35:06] Dr Diane: But that's part of learning, right?

[35:08] Sue: Oh, yeah. At school visits, I always tell kids, they'll say, how many books have you written? I said, well, how many stories have I written is very different than how many books I've written. I said, I've probably written more than twice what I've gotten published because not everything gets picked up. But no writing is wasted. It's all practice. Sometimes it stings more than other times when it doesn't get picked up, but that's how you just keep motivated to keep writing.

[35:36] Dr Diane: And so what brings you joy these days?

[35:40] Sue: What brings me joy? Well, I've always loved to travel, so once sort of the pandemic was over, we couldn't wait to travel again. And now I feel like we're so booked with the stuff to do, all the planning. Travel makes me excited. We went to Portugal twice last year. We're probably going to go again. We've fallen in love with Portugal, and we're going to Canada with our family over the summer. We're going to go to Banff and Canmore and Lake Louise, and we're meeting up.

[36:14] Dr Diane: Beautiful area.

[36:16] Sue: Yeah, I can't wait. We've been to Canada, but not that area. And we're going with another family that we were supposed to do that trip in 2020. So we're finally getting around to recreating that. But they’re good friends that live in Seattle that we haven't seen in probably six years, so we're very excited to see them and to have this week together. And I guess it's a little bit of a weird feeling, but I'm going to be an empty nester, my husband and I are going to be empty nesters in August, so of course we're going to be visiting our kids at school and parents weekend and things like that. But it's a little bit of fear and excitement to be like, okay, what are we going to do now that we're just us and the dogs? We joke that like, oh, we could do anything we want if we didn't have the dogs we love so dearly. Writing and reading and all of that always brings me joy. But mostly I'm looking forward to just really amping up the travel and seeing new places.

[37:27] Dr Diane: That sounds exciting. So the last question for today, what brings you hope?

[37:33] Sue: What brings me hope, honestly, and it's going to sound so cliche, but the kids, I go to these school visits and they are really deeply thinking about things. I just hope that all grown ups adults give credit where credit is due. These kids are really thinking about their worlds and maybe on a level that we never did because we didn't have to. But I see every time I go visit a school and I see a kid who is really trying to do something or wants to be something, and that just gives me so much hope for our future. And we need to help them get there. We can't just be like, okay, now it's your turn. We need to help lift them up and lift their ideas up.

[38:23] Dr Diane: I agree 100%. I was at a Rally for Reading yesterday that Shenandoah University hosted and 604th graders in a theater, my watch kept going off saying it was at rock concert levels. Like, they were screaming and shouting for books in a way that was inspirational. Mr. Shu of Mr. Shu Reads was there. He was the MC, and Katherine Applegate was their speaker.

[38:50] Sue: And they're both amazing.

[38:52] Dr Diane: These kids were so excited and amped about reading, about building connections, and at the end, Shenandoah University was able to give them copies of the books through a grant. And there was a little girl in front of me who's clutching her books to her, and she had tears rolling down her cheeks. And I said, Are you okay? And she goes, These are tears of joy. And I thought, okay, this next generation gets it.

[39:16] Sue: Like the Beatles, right?

[39:17] Dr Diane: Exactly. But I thought that's what we need to be supporting is that passion for reading, for being who you want to be, for making a difference in the world.

[39:28] Sue: And any kind of reading is good reading.

[39:30] Dr Diane: Yes.

[39:33] Sue: I won't go into it because we're at the end, but this book banning thing, we have got to fix that because it's ridiculous. And these kids need to be exposed to all kinds of books, and they'll choose the books that they want to read, and they'll be excited about the books they want to be excited about. And all it can do is help open our eyes and their eyes to other ways and other cultures and other types of things that they might not experience in their own lives. That makes me so happy. And I believe it all that they were like Mr. Shu and Katherine were like rock stars, and they really were.

[40:13] Dr Diane: And you're 100% right about the books, too, that we need to be putting these books in the hands of kids and teachers. And not every book is the right book for every child, but we need to let them have the opportunity to find that book friend that they can connect with and to have the opportunity to see possibilities and see other ways of thinking as well.

[40:34] Sue: Yeah, exactly.

[40:36] Dr Diane: Well, thank you for doing your part in making that happen. And thank you for being on the show. It has been such a pleasure to have you today. And I will put all of your contact information in the show notes so that people can reach out to Sue Fliess, bring her to your school. You want her to come do workshops and definitely check out her books because they're amazing.

[40:56] Sue: Well, thank you, Diane. I'm so happy that you invited me, and I love the purpose of your whole website, blog, podcast, 100% supportive of making the connections with the kids and books and I really appreciate you having me on today.

[41:19] Dr Diane: You've been listening to the Adventures in Learning podcast with your host, Dr. Diane. If you like what you're hearing, please subscribe, download and let us know what you think. And please tell a friend. If you want the full show notes and the pictures, please go to Dr. Dianeadventures.com. We look forward to you joining us on our next adventure.