Jennifer Thermes is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island. Her other books include Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure. She lives in Connecticut.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on Manhattan in your new book?
A: I was fascinated with how and why this tiny sliver of an island became one of the world’s most important cities today. Who were the people and what were the forces of nature that shaped the land?
Questions led to more questions, and at a certain point I realized that the story of Manhattan was a microcosm of much of American history.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: Research involved reading books and historical accounts about the area, visiting museums, and finding primary source maps. Having grown up in the suburbs outside of Manhattan, I was surprised at how much wasn’t really taught about the area’s history when I was young.
One of the most shocking things to me was how deep the ties New York City businesses had to the slave trade.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: History is made up of true stories that aren’t always told, or have been forgotten over time– and young readers are capable of understanding the good and bad parts of history if it is told in a straightforward, age-appropriate way.
I would love for kids to become curious about those stories! Because space is limited in a picture book, I hope Manhattan is a doorway inviting the reader to learn more.
Q: Did you write the text before you created the illustrations, or vice versa, or did you work on them simultaneously?
A: I tend to work on whatever is moving the story along at the time, so my process involves a lot of back and forth between words, maps, and illustrations, trying to puzzle the pieces of the story together. It is both messy and fun.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m currently working on a book involving horses. (That’s about all I can say right now!)
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Whether fiction or nonfiction, picture books are perfect for ALL ages.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb