A triple Book Birthday for Mixed Up Files Author Michelle Houts

It’s always a treat to feature the book birthdays of Mixed Up Files members and especially today when we are celebrating a new series from our long time contributor Michelle Houts, the author of the novels The Beef Princess of Practical County, Practical County Drama Queen, and Winterfrost; the biography Kammie on First; and the picture book When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike. Michelle has headed off into new territory again with a young middle grade series for 1-3rd grade readers. It’s called Lucy’s Lab and here are her first three covers. Nuts About Science and Solids, Liquids, Guess Who’s Got Gas, came out last fall and the newest title is The Colossal Fossil Fiasco. 

1) Were you a science loving kid? What inspired you to make science the focus of your series?

 

 

 

 

I wanted very much to be a science-minded girl in the 70s. In fact, I begged for a Chemistry Kit, and got one the likes of which would never be legally sold these days! It had all kinds of chemicals and glass beakers and tubes in it! The sad part is that I don’t remember doing a lot with it. It wasn’t that I lack interest. I lacked confidence. In recent years, I have seen how important it is to build girls’ confidence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. So, initially, as a writer of middle-grade novels, I set out to write a middle-grade science girls series. I thought of it as: The Babysitter’s Club meets Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Okay, interrupting this interview to say–how is that not a thing? Please write this series! I know, you’re busy. I’ll write it with you! Or ask our fellow science writer extraordinaire Jennifer Swanson. We could do this!

Michelle here, jumping back in to say, NO WORRIES! My hope is that Lucy will grow into that series for which she was originally intended. I mean, she can’t stay in second grade forever, right? So, ideally, someday that amazing middle-grade series will exist – with Lucy at the center! Back to you, Rosanne!

And also I can’t resist sharing a picture of my science girls and their project on on fermentation that involved home-brewed rootbeer using champagne yeast.
And now back to our scheduled interview.

2) You’ve written stand alone titles before and for older readers. What prompted you to switch to series writing for a younger audience?

My idea for that middle-grade series was quickly derailed by my other job. In my non-writing life, I was a Speech-Language Pathologist.  As a school-based SLP, I worked with second graders. I heard their stories, listened to their interests, and quickly realized that girls identify as science-minded (or not!) long before the middle grades. By seven years old, many girls I met had already decided that math and science were “hard” or “for boys” or “gross.” I knew then that my science series needed to target grades 1 – 3. 

 (Did I mention that the art for this series is done by the truly fabulous Elizabeth Zetchel!)
3) Do you have a favorite research story?
So far, my favorite topic in the series to research has been fossils. Lucy’s Lab Book #1 is about Habitats and Book #2 is about States of Matter, both of which I felt I had a decent knowledge of.  But Book #3 is about Fossils, and I found myself fascinated by all the research, digging deeper (no pun intended!) than I needed to simply because it was so interesting. When I discovered that one of the most famous nearly-intact fossils every found was named “Lucy,” I couldn’t believe the coincidence! 
You know I had wondered when I first saw the series if she would be a paleontologist because of the Lucy fossil. I’ve also heard that a surprising number of great fossils finds have been made by children.
4) Do you have a fact checker at your publishing house?
There isn’t anyone whose sole job it is to check facts, but my amazing editor, Alison Weiss, is a master at asking questions and she’ll look up anything that seems not quite right. I feel a lot of responsibility to make sure I have my facts straight before I turn in a manuscript. 
Shout out to the wonderful Sky Pony Press who publishes your books, and from this bookseller’s perspective, is doing a great job of promoting it to indie bookstores.
5)How far ahead do you plan the series and do you have science topics picked out for future books? Do you have a larger character arc for Lucy across several books or do you take them one book at a time?
As of this moment, there are three books in the Lucy’s Lab series, but more are proposed, and, yes, each has a science topic I’ve hand-picked for the first – third grade reader.  I do have thoughts about how Lucy, her sidekick and cousin Cora, and her classmates grow over the course an entire series.  Stay tuned for more news on this subject! 🙂
The cousin relationship was the other thing I loved about this book. Most kids have cousins they love and very few books have a cousin relationship.
Congratulations on your beautiful series from all of us at The Mixed Up Files. I hope we see lots more of Lucy and her lab in the future.
Rosanne Parry
Rosanne Parry is the author of a 4 MG novels and the forthcoming A WOLF CALLED WANDER and LAST OF THE NAME. She is a bookseller at Annie Blooms and teaches in the Masters in Book Publishing program at Portland State. She writes in a treehouse in her back yard.