Lori Alexander is the author of All In a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World, a new biography for kids. Her other books include Backhoe Joe and Famously Phoebe. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.
Q: How did you research your new book about scientist Antony van Leeuwenhoek, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?
A: Writing All In a Drop, a chapter-book biography of Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), took a lot more time than my previous fictional picture books. I read everything I could find about Antony before I began my first draft. This included many of his own letters, translated from Dutch.
It took several drafts, both before and after my agent sold the story to Houghton Mifflin, to get the main narrative into top shape. Back matter was requested by the editor, things like a timeline and glossary. I also did the photo research and selection of the microscopic images that appear in the book, alongside Vivien Mildenberger’s beautiful illustrations. As my first work of nonfiction, the entire process was quite a learning experience!
Q: What do you think Vivien Mildenberger's illustrations add to the book?
A: I adore Vivien’s illustrations! They absolutely bring Antony’s story to life. Her accessible and whimsical artwork help young readers connect with a time period and a way of life that they might not know much about yet. Vivien even traveled to Antony’s hometown of Delft, Netherlands, to do some of her own research while working on this project.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from van Leeuwenhoek's story?
A: I love that Antony wasn’t trained to be a scientist or an inventor. But that didn’t stop him from engineering hundreds of microscopes and carefully studying countless samples over time—from bugs, to bread, to blood, to bacteria. At a time when people thought what we see with our eyes is all that exists in the world, he was able to convince well-respected scientists of his discovery of microscopic life.
Today, the fabric shop owner from Delft is remembered as the “Father of Microbiology.” I hope kids learn that curiosity and ingenuity can take them far!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m always tinkering around with a new picture book idea or two. And I’m developing a new “Microbe Madness” school visit program for All In a Drop. If there are any teachers or librarians reading this, you can check out my school visit info here.
Q: Anything else we should know?
My next book, A Sporting Chance: How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games, releases in April 2020. The chapter book biography tells the story of the Jewish doctor who escaped Nazi Germany to continue his work in England, changing the standard of care for people with spinal cord injuries, incorporating sports into their rehabilitation, and establishing the Paralympic Games.
This one will hit shelves just in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics & Paralympics in Tokyo. In addition to the narrative, it’s filled with archival photographs as well as gorgeous illustrations by Allan Drummond. I can’t wait to share this story with young readers!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb