Saturday, June 22, 2024

Q&A with Jennifer Berne




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


Q: What inspired you to write A Tour of the Human Body?


A: Well, in this case it was the first in a series of picture book tours of interesting nonfiction subjects — ones in which numbers would reveal and enhance the facts and curiosities of each subject.


And what subject is more interesting than our own bodies! Our bodies are built of so many intriguing systems, and yet most of us know so little about how it all works. So to launch the series, the human body— the body of the reader —  seemed like the perfect place to start.


Q: How did you research the book, and what are some of the facts you found especially fascinating?


A: This was a HUGE research project. I had towering piles of research books in my office, each one with scores of post-its sticking out of their pages. And of course there are excellent anatomy and physiology internet sites I continually used. 


Our bodies are a constant source of wonder to me. A couple of the most fascinating facts I discovered were these:

— Your  body renews its cells so fast that 15 million cells were replaced by new ones in the time it took you to read this sentence.

— Your tongue can only taste five flavors. All the rest of your flavor identification is done by your nose, which can detect over 1 trillion odors.

— In your lifetime you’ll eat approximately 55 tons of food. That’s equivalent to eating nine tyrannosaur rexes.

— If all your blood vessels were laid out end to end, they would measure more than 60,000 miles. That’s enough to circle the world, more than twice!


Q: What do you think Dawn DeVries Sokol’s illustrations add to the book?


A: I think Dawn was the perfect illustrator to be a partner on this book. Her background in journaling, collage, and in book design were all called into play here.


Because the subject was so multifaceted and had so many different elements on each spread, Dawn’s sense of design and composition were just what we needed. And then, her sense of playfulness and creativity perfectly matched the kind of playfully geeky voice I used in the text.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Before finishing off with additional, less number-centric facts about body parts and showing readers how to take personal measurements, Berne brings her selective tour of body systems to a close with a final, entirely comprehensible number: ‘We are 1 people, 1 species, 1 family’ living on ‘1 home.’” What do you think of that description?


A: I like that they focused on that closing sentence. It’s an important one for me. Because, in addition to describing the many wonders of our bodies, I wanted to reach for a higher truth. And that is the truth residing within our bodies, within our physiology —  that we are all one, one species on a shared planet, united in our humanity.


I think in today’s world that's an important thing to be reminded of.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A couple of projects. First, the next book for Kane Press in the Number Tours for Curious Kids series...A Tour of Outer Space. It’s all written and fact-checked, and Dawn is now creating some absolutely wonderful cosmic illustrations for it.


Another project I’m excited about is titled Dinosaur Doomsday: One World Ends. Another Begins. It’s about the dramatic extinction of the giant dinosaurs and how that opened the world up for the little prehistoric mammals who evolved to become us. That’s for Chronicle Books and it’s being illustrated by the super-talented Caldecott-winning Brian Floca.


Other projects are in the works, but it’s too soon to talk about them. Stay tuned!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: One thing I could mention is that I love to hear from my readers. Once a book goes out into the world it has its own life and its own relationships that the book creators know nothing about. So it’s great when kids or teachers or families reach out to me and let me know how my books have impacted their lives. So if anyone feels like writing to me, I would welcome it!


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

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