Laurie Wallmark is the author of the new children's picture book biography Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars. Her other books include Numbers in Motion. She lives in New Jersey.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman in your new picture book biography?
A: I keep an ongoing list of possible women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) who might make a good subject for my next picture book biography.
I was drawn to Elizebeth’s story because she didn’t especially like math as a kid. She was more drawn to literature and foreign languages. I thought it would be interesting to show kids that your interests as an adult can change from those you had as a child.
Q: What do you think Brooke Smart's illustrations add to the book?
A: Brooke’s amazing illustrations added immeasurably to the book. In addition to doing the research necessary for portraying an historical figure and her time plus creating the stunning artwork, Brooke had to do even more. She drew ribbons through some of the pages that contain seemingly random letters. They’re not random, though, but rather coded messages I gave to her. She wrote those all in by hand!
Q: How did you research Friedman's life, and did you learn anything particularly surprising?
A: I always start my research with books and articles. That gives me enough information to figure out how I want to approach writing my book. Invariably, though, I either have questions or the sources give inconsistent information. That’s when archives containing your subject’s papers and photos becomes invaluable.
In Elizebeth’s case, the Marshall Foundation holds her collection. I listened to interviews, read her writings, and viewed her personal photographs. And, not surprisingly, the librarian, Melissa Davis, was especially helpful.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?
A: Like all my women in STEM picture book biographies, I want to show all children, both girls and boys, that STEM is for anyone. In addition, for those who kids who might be a little afraid of math, they can see how much fun math can be by making and cracking codes.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: In October, my debut fiction picture book, Dino Pajama Party, is coming out. Then next year, it’s back to women in STEM for a book about Maria Mitchell, the first professional astronomer in the United States.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I post a kidlit link of the day on Facebook and Twitter. These are links to articles I found interesting that are related to not just the craft of writing, but also to the business and marketing.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Laurie Wallmark.