Julia Lyon's "A Dinosaur Named Ruth"!
I am thrilled to introduce you to Julia Lyon, my critique partner whose debut picture book, A Dinosaur Named Ruth: How Ruth Mason Discovered Fossils in her own Backyard has just been published. If ever you are looking for a picture book that magically inspires the curiosity of young children, this is it!
A Dinosaur Named Ruth (ages 4-8 years) has been illustrated by Alexandra Bye. It is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster!
Congrats, Julia!, on the publication of A Dinosaur Named Ruth ! Tell us about Ruth and how you found her.
Thanks, Josette! I'm so happy to be on your blog. So, as with many things these days, I first read about Ruth on my computer screen. I wondered why I hadn't seen many kidlit biographies on female paleontologists -- other than Mary Anning. When I went searching online, Ruth showed up on a list of paleontologists, which is pretty hilarious in retrospect.
You obviously read many books and articles about Ruth during your research process, but were there other helpful resources you found as well?
For some nonfiction books, all the people you're writing about are long gone -- and so are the people who knew them. But that wasn't the case for "A Dinosaur Named Ruth." People really helped me fill in the details of the story. Going to visit South Dakota helped me imagine Ruth's life. I was lucky enough to meet Ruth's grandniece and go on a tour of her ranch. It was a quick trip -- I learned just how big and beautiful South Dakota is -- but it was worth it. I highly recommend writers get away from their desks and go experience their subject (or at least the location) in person.
When you think of Ruth, what’s the one word that comes to mind?
Persistent. She refused to be brushed off by the museums and universities who told her the bones were inconsequential.
Do you think there are still any undiscovered dinosaur bones hidden underneath backyards?
That's a big yes! I was just reading an article that referenced the dinosaur bones that could be under the skyscrapers of New York City. There was an exciting fossil find in Utah announced only a few weeks ago. That's what I think is really amazing about dinosaurs. There are new discoveries all the time, many of which change scientists' understanding of the past. It's like the paleontological record is constantly being rewritten.
You’ve written a book that will spark curiosity in its young readers. As a child, what kinds of things encouraged your own curious nature?
I was definitely that kid who read voraciously. Books were a way to travel the world while going forward and backward in time.
It seems funny in retrospect, but I also liked to collect old things -- from hat boxes to family photos. History was something that was always considered important in my family. Living in Washington, D.C., we often visited monuments and museums. I've even seen a few Civil War battle reenactments.
You were a historian and an award-winning journalist before you took up writing for children. What inspired you to pivot your career and what has been your biggest surprise since doing so?
You're right -- I studied history in college and then spent 11 years writing for daily newspapers. I loved being a reporter. You get paid to ask questions! But as the world of newspapers changed, it made sense to try something new. I noticed how much my oldest kid enjoyed nonfiction picture books. During a nonfiction writing seminar with Sharlee Glenn at the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference, I had a lightbulb moment. I could use my reporting skills to research kids' books. After writing thousands of newspaper stories, my biggest surprise has been how hard it is to write a book for kids!
Do you think you’ll ever write a fictional children’s book?
I already have! I've got a few fictional picture books on the back burner that I'd love to revise, and a few middle grade ideas. Those, unsurprisingly, almost all contain an element of history -- or at least modern day characters coming to terms with the past.
I love the page on your website where you introduce young people to your research process. Do you have any suggestions for kids who might want to write a book of their own?
I've always written books with my kids. I think it's a great way to spend time together. If kids want to write a book themselves, they just need to start!
There are endless ideas out there and if you don't write it -- someone else will.
If any young people need a guide, I highly recommend the great Kate Messner picture book, How to Write a Story.
Julia, it's been a pleasure chatting with you! I just loved reading about Ruth and I'm sure many others will as well!
Visit Julia's website at Julia Lyon, Children's Book Author.
To purchase your own copy, click this link: A Dinosaur Named Ruth
Would you like to watch Storytime with Julia, November 17th at 8pm EST? If so click here. If you can’t make the live event, a replay will be available.