Thursday, April 27, 2023

Q&A with Jennifer Berne




Jennifer Berne is the author of the new children's picture book How the Sea Came to Be. Her other books include Manfish.


Q: What inspired you to write How the Sea Came to Be?


A: Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the sea and its wonderful, strange, and amazing creatures. When I started writing children’s books, my first book was Manfish (Chronicle) about Jacques Cousteau. And now, 15 years later, I’ve come back to writing about the beautiful, intriguing, and mysterious ocean that I love so much.


My other inspiring passion is evolution. To me, there is nothing more fascinating than the workings and creativity of the evolutionary process. It's nature’s superpower. 


Q: What do you think Amanda Hall's illustrations add to the book?


A: I am beyond thrilled with how Amanda brought my words and this story to life! Her illustrations are magnificent. They are like museum dioramas that you can almost enter. They feel like time-travel into the history of our planet and into the mesmerizing depths of the sea with all its extraordinary creatures.


Kirkus Reviews described Amanda’s illustrations as “riveting…glorious…luminous… capricious as fantasy, but true to nature’s incredible reality."


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: There was a lot of research to do for this book — considering that it covers 4.5 billion years of geology, oceanography, marine biology, and evolution!


In a way, I’ve been researching this book for most of my life. I loved my childhood trips to the shore, walking on the beach collecting specimens to take home. As a young girl, I became mesmerized watching Cousteau's documentaries. I was thrilled by my many visits to the American Museum of Natural History.


From then on I read, researched and collected books about my passions for the sea, the formation of our planet, and the evolution of the incredible lifeforms that emerged within Earth’s waters. The internet is also rich with information about these subjects, including wonderful film footage of amazing sea creatures and recent marine discoveries. 


As for what surprises me, I can never get over nature’s creativity in creating new and different species. The scope, diversity and artistic innovative designs for lifeforms that evolved in the sea just blows my mind!


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book also says, “An ode to undersea life with visuals that beg to be animated, just as the text begs to be sung.” What do you think of that description?


A: The first part, “visuals that beg to be animated,” is a lovely thought and I get what the reviewer is saying — but in a way Amanda’s illustrations already feel animated to me. Of course they don’t move, but there is so much action and activity drawn into her beautiful artwork, when I look at it I already have a strong sense of fluidity and motion.


Now, the part about my writing, “text that begs to be sung” — I am very flattered by that. I think the reviewer is saying that my rhyming verse is lyrical and musical, which of course is a great compliment!


And the funny thing is that much of my verse-writing technique and poetic ability comes from listening to and studying the songs written by my favorite lyricists and composers (like the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Sondheim, Leonard Cohen, and Oscar Brown Jr., to name a few). So perhaps I did absorb something from that musical path of study.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a few projects in the works. One is Dinosaur Doomsday: One World Ends, Another Begins. It’s the story of the dramatic extinction of the giant dinosaurs and how that opened the world up to the little mammals, creatures who grew and evolved and eventually became us. It’s being illustrated by the talented Caldecott-winner Brian Floca and published by Chronicle.


Another project is a series called Number Tours for Curious Kids, with Kane Press/Astra Publishing. It’s a nonfiction book series for kids who love amazing numbers and fantastic facts. Each book takes the reader on a playfully geeky guided tour of its subject — ranging from the Human Body to Outer Space — using its surprising hidden numbers to explore and explain its most fascinating facts. Lots of research and lots of fun.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Well, I’d like to add this. I think we’re living in a time when children’s nonfiction books are the best they’ve ever been. They are more fascinating, more beautifully illustrated and full of more enlightening and inspiring information than ever before. And the best part is that children love it. Kids have always wanted to know the whys and hows of our amazing universe, and we children’s book creators are lucky enough to be part of those amazing journeys in knowledge and discovery.


I’m proud to know that what we create today will ripple out into the future to help create tomorrow’s world.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jennifer Berne.

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