Ella Schwartz is the author of the new children's book Can You Crack the Code?: A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography. She also has written Make This!. She works in the cybersecurity field, and she lives on Long Island, New York.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Can You Crack the Code?
A: I’d been writing children’s fiction and nonfiction books for a long time, but my day job for the past 20 years has been working in the cybersecurity industry. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize that I could write about what I do for my job.
When it finally hit me it was like an epiphany. I already knew how to write for children and I considered myself a cybersecurity expert. Duh! I’m just sorry it took me so long to marry my two worlds into this book.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: Even though I considered myself an expert in the field, I was surprised at how much research was needed. Certainly, the subject came a bit easier for me, but it was so exciting hitting on history I never knew anything about.
Probably the most surprising (and fun) research I encountered was about World War II carrier pigeons. It turns out, carrier pigeons were important soldiers. The British army trained 250,000 birds during the war as members of the National Pigeon Service. Yes! This was a real thing!
Once enlisted, and having completed their training, the spy birds would be dropped into enemy territory carrying secret messages. Seriously, why hasn’t Disney made a movie about this yet?
Q: What do you think Lily Williams's illustrations add to the book?
A: Lily is a tremendously talented artist. I loved her illustrations and what they added to the book. They complimented exactly the tone and voice I was shooting for.
And I loved the cover she designed. When I received the cover it was exactly the opposite of what I thought the cover would look like but it was perfect. Somehow Lily knew just what this book needed.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: Staying safe on the Internet is important. The Internet is an incredible tool that provides a treasure trove of information, but everyone needs to be smart when accessing the Internet. There are lots of cybersecurity warriors working hard to make the Internet a safe place, but all of us need to have common sense and be vigilant.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: One of my favorite topics to write about is unknown or forgotten history. I am currently wrapping up a book called Stolen Science, which tells the unknown stories of women and marginalized people who had their scientific discoveries stolen from them because of who they were.
An example is Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA. Her research was stolen by Watson and Crick who went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work. That’s not right. It’s time these brilliant scientists finally get the credit they are due!
I’m also working on a brand-new picture book about an unknown but incredible lady from the Revolutionary War. I can’t wait to share more information about her story.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Not book related, but fun fact….I’m a huge Disney fan. We visit every year and it’s a big thing for our family. We make color coded spreadsheets mapping out our days, rides, and meals. And of course, my family sports matching t-shirts. Most people think we’re crazy, but I think we’re very cool.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb