Monday, April 22, 2024

Q&A with Jeanne Walker Harvey




Jeanne Walker Harvey is the author of the new children's picture book biography Else B. in the Sea: The Woman Who Painted the Wonders of the Deep. It focuses on the life of artist Else Bostelmann. Harvey's other books include Ablaze with Color. She lives in Sonoma, California.


Q: What inspired you to write a children’s picture book biography of artist Else Bostelmann (1882-1961)?


A: I’m always looking for inspiring, interesting creative people to be the focus for my picture book biographies.


When I came across an article in Oceanography by the amazing scientist and oceanographer Dr. Edith Widder about the artist Else Bostelmann and her contribution to the 1930s deep sea expeditions by William Beebe in a bathysphere off the coast of Bermuda, I knew I wanted to write about her.


I love sharing stories about people that we may not know about, but who have contributed to major discoveries.


Else’s beautiful detailed paintings of previously unknown deep-sea bioluminescent creatures published in National Geographic allowed people in the Great Depression to experience a whole new and exciting world.


No one knew then what living creatures might exist in the deep sea, much like how we’ve looked up to space and wondered what might exist up there.


Her story is such a great example of art and science working together to enrich our understanding of the world – a STEAM story!


Q: How did you research her life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: When I write pictures of biographies, I always like to find primary sources. With the help of the research librarians at the Library of Congress, I was able to read articles written by Else Bostelmann describing her Bermuda adventures.


Also, The Drawing Center in New York published a detailed book accompanying an exhibit of drawings (including Else Bostelmann’s painting) from the Department of Tropical Research which sponsored the Bermuda expedition.

It was incredible to read about Else donning a heavy copper helmet with just a tube connected to a boat above her to provide air so that she could descend for her first time into the ocean.


Her bravery surprised me -- not only because scuba diving hadn’t been invented yet, but also because she was almost 50 years old when she undertook this adventure. And once she had descended into the ocean, which she described as a fairy land, she chose to paint what she saw.


This first-hand experience helped her understand the color spectrum and how certain colors, such as red, fade away and turn to grey in the deeper depths.


Q: What do you think Melodie Stacey’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Oh my! I can’t tell you how absolutely thrilled I am by Melodie’s incredible illustrations. She truly has captured the sense not only of Else’s experience of entering an underwater fairy land, but also of the otherworldliness of the deep dark sea and its eerie fantastical creatures seen from the window of the bathysphere.


Like Else Bostelmann, Melodie is a fine artist and created the illustrations with gouache, watercolor, pastels, and colored pencils. I just love studying each spread and relishing the details she’s included which add to the historical accuracy of the book.


Q: What do you see as Else Bostelmann’s legacy today, and what do you hope kids take away from the book? 


A: Else’s incredible paintings allowed millions of people who read National Geographic Magazine in the 1930s to experience a new world, the deep sea, and appreciate the possibilities of discoveries.


Else’s experiences show how one person can make a difference, and every person’s contribution is important behind a major discovery.


I hope Else B. in the Sea inspires children to want to learn more about our marvelous oceans and creatures, so much of which is still unknown, and then seek to care for and protect the oceans.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m excited to share that I’ve been working on final edits of another picture book biography about a creative and inspiring person titled The Glass Pyramid: A Story of the Louvre Museum and the Architect I. M. Pei. 


The Glass Pyramid will be published in the Summer of 2025 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon and Schuster and illustrated by the incredibly talented Khoa Le.


Q: Anything else we should know?  


A: When one of my sons was young, he had a favorite book describing everything about strange sea creatures. He asked me to read it so many times at bedtime that it started falling apart.


Of course, it was such fun to share with him, many years later, the page in Else B. in the Sea that Melodie Stacey illustrated with all the eerie bioluminescent strange sea creatures and their whimsical names – – still right up his alley!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jeanne Walker Harvey. This post was created in partnership with Jeanne Walker Harvey. Enter this giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Else B. in the Sea: The Woman Who Painted the Wonders of the Deep. Prizes include a class set of 30 books, a Bostelmann painting on a notebook and bookbag, stickers, and signed/customized bookplates.

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