Monday, September 12, 2022

Q&A with Emma Bland Smith




Emma Bland Smith is the author of the new children's picture book How Science Saved the Eiffel Tower. Her other books include The Gardener of Alcatraz. Also a librarian, she lives in San Francisco.


Q: What inspired you to write How Science Saved the Eiffel Tower, and how did you research the book?


A: It's always fun when the inspiration for a book comes on location and in person, and that was the case here. I was floating down the Seine in Paris, with my family. As we passed the Eiffel Tower, the tour guide mentioned two things: That in the beginning the artistic community of Paris hated it, and that it was almost torn down. I immediately knew I had to research this more and see if it could be a book.


As with many of my books, I started with online research to get a big picture, then pivoted to academic books and articles written about the tower. If you're interested in an adult book that's very engaging, check out Eiffel's Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris's Beloved Monument and the Extraordinary World's Fair That Introduced It, by Jill Jonnes.


Q: What do you think Lia Visirin's illustrations add to the book? Oh gosh--they're everything!


A: Her illustrations are so inviting, they make you want to dive into the story--and then go to Paris and eat croissants! I love love love the slightly steampunk look of the cover. And here's something fun: In many of the illustrations, Lia included a black cat hidden somewhere, as an Easter egg. 


Q: In the book, you describe how controversial the tower was at first--how did it become such an icon?


A: It was extremely controversial at first. A group of over 100 artists and writers published a letter expressing their outrage that this tower was going to be built. They called it ugly, hideous, monstrous, and compared it to a "gigantic black factory chimney."


For them it was too modern and did not embody classic French style. Funnily, they claimed that even the "commercial Americans" would never build something so vulgar and offensive! One author, Guy de Maupassant, hated it so much that he is said to have lunched in its restaurant every day because it was the only place from which he couldn't see it!


Most of the others, though, changed their minds when the tower was completed. Everyone was won over by its elegance and height. Today we are used to overhead views, but this was before airplanes. To be able to see the world from that high was astounding.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story? 


A: Perseverance! I recently realized that this is a theme in many of my books. Most things of lasting beauty and significance were the result of trying and failing and trying again. And having the courage to believe in yourself and keep going even when others might not understand.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: In April, my book The Gardener of Alcatraz came out with Charlesbridge, and Mr. McCloskey's Marvelous Mallards: The Making of Make Way for Ducklings comes out in November with Calkins Creek. So I'm trying to do a little bit of promotion, school visits, book fairs, and things like that. It's fun!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have a biography of Fannie Farmer, the famous cookbook teacher and writer, coming out in 2024, also with Calkins Creek. The text is done (for now; there are always tweaks that come later), and the illustrations are next. (The wonderful Susan Reagan is illustrating.)


The title is The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America's Cook. We are even including two recipes, which I got to test in my own kitchen! It was a dream come true.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment