Although, as you may have noticed, I set a lot of books in space, I have absolutely no desire to travel beyond Earth’s thin, life sustaining atmosphere. No Mr. Right Stuff here (until maybe they invent transporters, c’mon Scotty). That said, I do love to learn about the brave souls who do make such journeys, who get to see our beautiful planet as, well…a planet. I find the details fascinating. So when I learned that author Helen Taylor had a debut picture book coming out called HOW TO EAT IN SPACE (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2023), I knew I had to learn more.
Me: Congratulations on your awesome picture book debut! HOW TO EAT IN SPACE is a fun way to look at the challenges of living in an environment such as the International Space Station. What inspired you to write this book?
Helen: Thank you so much, Jonathan! This book was so fun to research. I had never thought much about astronaut food until I came across an article about some plant-growing experiments happening on the International Space Station. NASA astronauts were growing lettuce in a chamber appropriately named “Veggie” and the details were fascinating! I started outlining a picture book about that, but quickly came to realize just how many other interesting aspects there are to astronaut nutrition. So the scope of the book expanded from how to grow salad in space to how to eat in space.
Me: What’s your background? Did you always want to write for children?
Helen: you had asked me ten years ago, I couldn’t have told you that I was heading toward kidlit, and yet I feel like I’ve landed in the right spot. As a kid, I loved to read and write stories, and in high school I developed an interest in science and math. After grad school, I ended up doing communications for a science museum, which was awesome! I got to write about exhibits, events, and all sorts of cool stuff happening behind the scenes. It was only after becoming a parent that I decided to try writing about science specifically for kids.
Me: If offered a chance, would you go to space? What would you include in your ‘bonus box’?
Helen: I think it would be amazing to orbit Earth a few times! But as far as an extended trip to space, I’m not sure I have “the right stuff.” What I do have is enormous respect for all that astronauts sacrifice and endure for their work! If I were to have a bonus box of my own, my top five requests would be sundried tomatoes, crunchy mochi bites, Snickers bars, good balsamic vinegar, and hot sauce.
Me: What vibrant illustrations! What, if any, was your involvement with your illustrator? And what was it like seeing the illustrations come to light?
Helen: Seeing Stevie Lewis’ illustrations come together was amazing—she is incredibly talented! She created a fabulous cast of characters to guide readers through the tips on each spread. (There was really no character-specific material in the manuscript at all, just a few lines of unattributed dialogue.) I also love how she captured the essence of the space station in a way that is both authentic and inviting, no small feat for such an industrial environment. Stevie and I weren’t in direct contact while she was working on the illustrations, but I did send along some reference material I had gathered while doing my own research. We also communicated through our editor at several points as part of the fact-checking process.
Me: Can you share what you’re working on now?
Helen: Sure! I have a photo-illustrated book coming out in 2024 with Tilbury House called Chasing Guano: The Discovery of a Penguin Supercolony. I’m working on revisions for that book right now. Meanwhile, there’s a science-meets-history story in my head that I want to get down on paper, so I’m hoping to find time for that soon!
Me: Thank you, Helen, for chatting. Wishing your book much success!
To learn more, please visit HELEN TAYLOR – Helen Taylor – Home (helenstaylor.com)