I’m the award-winning author and illustrator of How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild and Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands. I am also the illustrator for Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere, by Barb Rosenstock, the Expeditioners series by S. S. Taylor, and of Buried Beneath Us by Anthony Aveni. Forthcoming books include Red Rover by author Richard Ho, a nonfiction book about bears, and a nonfiction book about reproductive biology in the natural world.
I love science, history, and big adventures, and am endlessly fascinated by the way things live, so my books often focus on informational storytelling and science education. An idea for a new book begins with weeks (or months) of reading and sketching, followed by a research trip to meet experts in the field, where I study my subject in the wild and ask lots and lots of questions. Back in my studio, writing starts with drawing, but it takes countless dead ends and several terrible drafts to arrive at a story that works. A book doesn’t come into being by magic—it’s a thing that is built in layers by someone who refuses to give up—so my job is to find a way to turn information into words and pictures, as beautifully and accurately as possible.
The first book that I wrote and illustrated, Neighborhood Sharks, was named a Robert F. Sibert Award Honor Book, a John Burroughs Association Riverby Award, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, an Orbis Pictus Recommended Title, a Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. It also received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Horn Book.
The second book that I wrote and illustrated, How to Be an Elephant, has been named a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year, a 2017 Booklist Editor’s Choice title, a Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2017, and was included in The San Francisco Chronicle’s 2017 Gift Guide. It also received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Horn Book.
Otis and Will Discover the Deep, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by me, was named a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a Junior Library Guild Selection, a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Recommended Book, a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Best STEM Book, a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Children’s Book Council (CBC) Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12, a CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2019, a New York Public Library (NYPL) Best Book for Kids, a 2018 BCCB Bulletin Blue Ribbon Title, a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Non-Fiction for Younger Readers Golden Kite Award, and has received starred reviews from The Horn Book, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, and School Library Connection.
If you’d like to learn more about my books and my process, I’ve been a guest on the following podcasts:
- #AmWriting Episode 73: #OpenYourMouth with co-hosts Jess Lahey and KJ Dell-Antonia, in which we discuss pitching illustrated books and the power of talking about your project
- Picturebooking Episode 90: How to Be an Elephant, or an Artist, or a Parent with host Nick Patton, in which we discuss African elephants and how to find the balance between work and family life.
- All the Wonders Episode 411: How to Be an Elephant with host Matthew Winner, in which we discuss learning by copying, finding the balance and letting the watercolor do the talking.
- Picturebooking Episode 19: The Process of Making a Picture Book with host Nick Patton, in which we discuss what goes into making a non-fiction picture book, how to start researching, and how to balance story, design and information.