Saturday, April 29, 2023

Q&A with Donna B. McKinney



Donna B. McKinney is the author of the new children's picture book Lights On!: Glow-in-the-Dark Deep Ocean Creatures. Her many other books include Engines!. She lives in North Carolina.


Q: What inspired you to write Lights On! and how did you choose the creatures to include in the book?


A: For many years I was a science writer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. While working there, I have  clear memory of talking with a Navy scientist who described to me these deep-sea creatures that glow in the dark – the scientific name for this glow is bioluminescence. I remember being fascinated by that conversation and the scientist’s description of these creatures.


I retired from working for the Navy in 2015 and decided to try and write a children’s picture book. Writing children’s books is very different from writing about science for adults. So I spent a lot of time initially reading lots of picture books and learning about the craft of picture book writing. The first book I wrote has not sold yet. But for a second book, I reached back to that conversation about the glowing sea creatures and decided that was a book I wanted to write.


There are many, many deep sea creatures that glow in the dark. But generally, scientists believe that the creatures use their light to either attract prey (their dinner!), evade predators, or for mating. So I included creatures covering those three broad categories.


Q: What do you think Daniella Ferretti's illustrations add to the book?


A: I absolutely love Daniella’s illustrations. I am a word person, and when I submitted the book, I truly had no vision for how the book might be illustrated, apart from the fact that the creatures themselves are visually interesting. What Daniella did to bring such a dark world to life is amazing. From the time I first began to see her rough sketch ideas – I loved them!


Q: How did you research Lights On!, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I used the internet to track down papers and articles written about these fascinating creatures. Government agencies like NOAA, research groups like the Smithsonian Institution or Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and academic research papers were all great resources.


I was surprised how many creatures in the deep ocean glow in the dark. Scientists estimate that about 80 percent of deep sea creatures are bioluminescent!


Q: How did you first get interested in writing for kids?


A: I wrote for adults for many years. It’s only been since about 2015 that I turned my attention to writing for kids. I have four grandchildren and spend lots of time reading with them. That really opened my eyes to the gorgeous picture books that are available for young readers today.


I began by writing for the educational market – publishers that market their books directly to schools and libraries. These are books where the publisher assigns the writer a topic for the book.


I’ve written about 20 books on topics mainly in the science, sports, history, and current events subject areas. Writing these nonfiction books for the educational market helped me learn how to write for children and to work with an editor in the publishing process.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have two more picture books in the works. One is about the tiny Arctic tern and its amazing migration from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, every single year. The other is about whale songs. The magnificent whales are musical creatures.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can find more about my books on my website:

And I’m on Twitter and Instagram: @donnabmckinney


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

No comments:

Post a Comment