The Backstory: PANDO: A LIVING WONDER OF TREES
I am thrilled to have Kate Allen Fox join us today with her lyrical nonfiction picture book, PANDO: A LIVING WONDER OF TREES (Capstone, 2021) with illustrations by Turine Tran. Keep reading to learn all about how PANDO came to be and for your chance to win a manuscript critique from Kate.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind PANDO: A LIVING WONDER OF TREES.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your book.
Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees (illustrated by Turine Tran) is a lyrical nonfiction picture book about a Utah grove of quaking Aspen trees connected by their roots to form one of the world's oldest and largest living things. It was published by Capstone in August.
Kate, PANDO is so beautifully written. I love your lyrical style and the images you paint which pair in the most gorgeous way by Turine Tran's illustrations.
And I have to let you know, my fourth grader came home from school in September brimming with excitement, needing to tell me all about these trees that are connected by their roots. When I inquired a bit more he revealed his teacher had shared your book with the class. He was absolutely captivated and inspired to learn more, thanks to you and PANDO.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
I was driving home after a hike when I remembered something I had read or heard about trees connected by their roots. When I got home, I Googled it and became absolutely fascinated. Walks in nature often allow my brain to find creativity (as does driving). Both activities are supposed to activate the “default network” of your brain, allowing you to work out problems.
I love that moment when you feel a spark of an idea ignite and take over. And I couldn't agree more with you about the subconscious problem solving that takes place when we give ourselves room to breath from our work. It is amazing how many plot points or revisions have been worked out by simply stepping away from the page for a little.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now PANDO: A LIVING WONDER OF TREES? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
For nonfiction, I usually research immediately and deeply and then let the information sit in my head for a while (day or weeks) before I start trying to pull out the narrative arc from the facts.
When I wrote Pando, I was finding my lyrical nonfiction voice, which has since become my main style. Because I was finding that voice, I had to iterate a lot to get to the right draft (after trying and failing to write an informational fiction version of the story). In fact, I often go through 2-3 new drafts (from a blank page) before finding the right format for the story. Then, I went through many drafts fine-tuning the story arc and language. Then, expert consultation and review led to even more changes. Picture books are short to read, but not to write.
It is always fascinating hearing this side of the book writing process, because so often it goes unnoticed by the reader. The amount of time, dedication, and hardwork you put into this book is amazing.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
While hiking, at National Parks, talking to critique partners, reading the news. I think our brains are full of wonderful story ideas, and they come out when we let our brains wander. My brain wanders best when I’m moving (walking, weeding the garden, exercising, driving).
Letting our brains wander is the perfect way of putting it. I think the self-imposed pressure to write everyday or have the next best idea can be conterproductive and it is in those leisurely, nonwriting moments that the best ideas can strike.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes. I remember reading that in a bookstore and just sitting down dumbfounded. It opened my eyes to what a picture book could be. I’m also hugely inspired by Candace Fleming’s work, especially Giant Squid and Honeybee.
Such wonderful books to be inspired by! Candace Fleming's books were my introduction to lyrical nonfiction and now I can't get enough.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
Pen and notebook for scribbling ideas and first drafts on the go. In my workspace, reference books from the library on whatever topic I’m working on and my laptop (obviously). Most of my other tools are digital--thesaurus, a digital dummy to map out my manuscript, etc.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
Keep experimenting until you find your voice. Don’t stay stuck on editing and querying your first few manuscripts. Keep iterating and creating better and better work until you find your unique magic.
I love this advice about finding your voice. Especially when just starting out, it may take a few manuscripts and lots of attempts before discovering that authentic voice.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I was thrilled that Pando: A Living Wonder of Trees received a starred review in School Library Journal. I also have a very exciting project under contract, which I hope will be announced soon.
Huge congratulations on this and I have to mention that since we did this interview PANDO has been named one of the best books of 2021 by School Library Journal. What an accomplishment!
Where can people connect more with you?
I’m on Twitter and Facebook @kateallenfox. You can learn more about me at katefoxwrites.com.
Readers be sure to connect with Kate. She is a wealth of information in the kidlit world. And if you're interested, check out her website for information on her critique services and school visits.
Kate thank you so much for chatting with us today. I loved learning the history behind PANDO and how this book came to be. I wish you continued success and I can't wait to see what is next from you.
Kate is generously offering a picture book manuscript critique to one lucky winner.
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT KATE ALLEN FOX
Kate Allen Fox is a children’s author from Southern California. After a career as a public health professional, she combined her passions for research and writing and began writing picture books about science and nature. Her debut picture book, Pando, A Living Wonder of Trees, was published by Capstone in 2021. Her writing has appeared in several publications, including The New York Times.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Page Turner Literary.