Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg on Art, Science, and ASTRONUTS

If you've known us for a while, you probably know that we can't get enough of Jon Scieszka. From The Stinky Cheese Man to the Time Warp Trio to Frank Einstein and beyond, each and every one of his books have made us cackle with laughter and love our jobs. It's no wonder, then, that we're beyond excited for his new series with illustrator Steven Weinberg, AstroNuts. Book one is full of signature Scieszka humor and absorbing illustrations, and it brings science—including climate change—to life in an accessible, entertaining way. It's going to be a hit, friends.

To make things even more exciting, we've partnered with the book's publisher, Chronicle Books, to offer an exclusive perk—pre-order your copy of AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet on our website before the book is released on September 10, and we'll send you a first edition signed by both Jon and Steven. And don't miss Jon and Steven at this year's Tweens Read festival on October 19! Until then, check out our Q&A with the creators below.


Blue Willow Bookshop: Where did the idea for AstroNuts come from?

Jon Scieszka: Five years ago, Steven and I were at a great Virginia book festival showing our just-published individual books to groups of hundreds of kids. We had so much fun presenting together that we decided since Steven is an illustrator, and I am a writer, and we are related (Steven and my daughter Casey are married), we should do a fast-paced, crazy-illustrated book series together. 

We also wanted to figure out a way to address the very serious and depressing issue of climate change … in a funny way that would engage and entertain kids. So of course we thought of a top secret NNASA (NotNASA) program of 4 super-powered astronaut animals searching for the perfect Goldilocks planet for humans… narrated by Earth.

Steven Weinberg: I just looked through my photos and found another crazy-fast-paced illustrated book idea we had on that tour in Virginia. I’m very happy we landed on AstroNuts. For all kinds of reasons.

BWB: The story and the illustrations work together so well. Can you tell us a little bit about your collaboration process?

JS: Illustrated storytelling is a wonderful way to tell a story with both words and images. I love how the action and setting of the story can sometimes be told with no text. And I also love how the text can sometimes tell things the illustrations can’t show.

The challenge of illustrated storytelling is figuring out what to tell in image, what to tell in text, and how to have the words and pictures work together.

So Steven and I, with our editor Taylor, first figure out the basic outline of the story. Then I write up a description and some narration and some dialogue for what we would want to happen in a chapter. And then Steven and I work together—either electronically in a Google Hangout where we can both talk and see what Steven is sketching, or in person in Steven’s studio.
 

The most important part of collaborating is the time and space it gives you to try out ideas—good, bad, crazy. And to goof around and have fun doing it. Which we did every time we got together. Cracking ourselves up.

SW: Exactly. It’s sort of a nonstop collaboration. I think my favorite part is the sketching stage where we’re both trying to find the funniest/smartest/clearest way to convey any given moment of the story. The goal is to hold nothing back. No joke left unturned! The side effect of this is our sketch pages end up looking a little nutty, but I suppose that was the plan all along. 

BWB: Steven, the illustrations are magnificent! How did you create the art for the book?

SW: Thanks, but I cannot take all of the credit! With AstroNuts I had the unique opportunity to collaborate with hundreds of artists from the last 600 years or so. And by this I mean I collaged all of my drawings with the enormous collection of the Royal Dutch Museum, The Rijksmuseum.

The Rijksmuseum did a very cool thing a few years back and decided to put digital versions nearly all of their work (from Rembrandts to Narwhal tusks) into the public domain. That means anyone, an artist like me or a tween in Houston, can go onto their database and search for art and download what they want to use. I ended up collaging and recoloring a lot of old engravings for this book.

So for a character like AlphaWolf, I used this original piece of art:

From there it was a lot of color separation in Photoshop plus artistic liberties on my end like adding funny eyes, wolf paws, and panting dog tongues. 

I break this all down even more clearly on our website and have links to all of the art I sourced from and print outs where anyone can draw and collage their own versions of the AstroNuts! 

 

BWB: Jon, your recent books have incorporated quite a bit of science. Why? And have you always been a science fan?

JS: I have always been a science fan. To me science is that perfect answer to those great questions of the universe—why? And how?

And at this moment in human history, with this real crisis of climate change caused by humans, science is more important than ever. 

And our audience, kids, are the humans who are going to have to know the science of why this is happening… and how to change it.

BWB: Steven and Jon, you know one another pretty well! What are your favorite family read-alouds?

JS: Steven and I share the perfect read-aloud audience in his daughter Amina, who is also my granddaughter Amina, the Amina we both dedicated AstroNuts to, and a real book nut.

 

We have a couple favorites that are the same—P.D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! and Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town. And now recently at our house, Amina is loving Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Triangle, Square, and Circle trilogy (enjoying especially Triangle’s “sneaky tricks”).

SW: All of the above! I’ve also learned to love a good board book with such an excited and physical reader. We love anything by Taro Gomi and pretty much the entire Sandra Boynton catalog.


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