One of the most exciting parts of writing nonfiction is the research. For my forthcoming book (October 11, 2016), NEFERTITI, THE SPIDERNAUT, I actually talked with an astronaut.

Nefertiti, the Spidernaut | MimsHouse.comNefertiti, the Spidernaut: The Jumping Spider Who Learned to Hunt in Space is on the 2016-17 Alabama Camellia Children’s Choice reading list for 4-6th grade nonfiction.

Research: Interviews with Scientists

I first heard Suni Williams on a radio program talking about a spider that went to the international space station. Because I’ve already written two animal biographies, Wisdom, the Midway Albatross and Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma, I was looking for another animal to feature. Spiders on the space stations sounded interesting, so I went looking for more information.

Writing a nonfiction picture book means lots of research. Many times, people are too busy to help, or are just not interested in a book about their topic. What you need is the one person who can connect you with everyone else and who is generous with time and information. I found that person in Stefanie Countryman, who works for Bioserve Space Technologies in Boulder, CO. Stefanie is in charge of all the live animal research projects on the International Space Station. It happened that we were going to visit my daughter in Denver, so we drove up to Boulder for the day to interview Stefanie.

Stefanie Countryman showing author Darcy Pattison the protype habitat for spiders on the International Space Station. |

Stefanie showed me the prototype for the insect habitat, which is only 6″ x 5″ x 3″. Everything on the International Space Station must justify its size and weight. Two habitats are packaged along with a camera in an experiment environment.

Insects on the International Space Station must live in this 5" x 6" x 3" habitat. Everything sent to the ISS must be efficient in the use of space and weight. |
Insects on the International Space Station must live in this 6″ x 5″ x 3″ habitat. Everything sent to the ISS must be efficient in the use of space and weight. |

Stefanie talked me through the intricacies of the habitat, showed me the labs, and provided reference photos of the spider and the project. Without the cooperation of a scientist such as Stefanie, a book like this is impossible.

After the story is written, though, other experts come along side and vet portions of the project. Paula E. Cushing, Ph.D, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, Denver Museum of Nature and Science read through and corrected information about the spider’s anatomy and natural history.

Most thrilling for me, Astronaut Sunita (Suni) Williams, Captain U.S. Navy, took time from a busy schedule to call and chat. After the two week experiment, Suni had a choice of packing Nefertiti back up or keeping her beside her work station. She chose to place Nefertiti where she could watch her often. Suni said that the spider was visually oriented. When she came close, Nefertiti’s eyes followed her around. It’s a small detail, but I added it to the story to lend it more emotion.

Research is the fun part of writing a children’s picture book. While I read everything ever published about a topic, nothing can replace an interview for adding in the right details to make a story come alive.

Read a review by Raif at KidsBookBuzz.
Midwest Book Review

The book includes an approximately full size illustration of the spider's habitat on the International Space Station. Art by Valeria Tisnes. |
Approximately full size illustration of the spider’s habitat on the International Space Station. Art by Valeria Tisnes. |

How to Order

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Nefertiti, the Spidernaut |

Available on October 11, 2016



All formats also available on Follett, Mackin, Permabound, and Ingram.

Reading a digital picture ebook with kids is simple when you follow some basic guidelines. The most important thing to remember is that reading a picture book is an interaction between an adult and child. That interaction, more than the simple story itself, is how and why children learn language. It’s not enough to merely read the story. Instead, you need to interact with the story as a model for children. And when they join in the interaction, you should rejoice.

Encourage interaction. Here are some things you want kids to do when they read a digital picture book.

  • Point to a picture and make a comment or ask a question.
  • Question the story.
  • Ask for an explanation.
  • Make up a slightly different story or ending.
  • Show emotion: laugh, cry, pout, outrage, glee.
  • Give you a hug.

Some great suggestions for reading ebooks with kids: remember the main focus is interaction with kids. |
Choose a simple format. Give yourself and the child room to interact. You don’t need an animated version, or one that you have to hunt for things that move. The story itself is enough. Well, it’s enough if you show up!

Turn off narration. Some parents and adults are uncertain about how they read the text and want a narrator to do it “right.” Wrong. Narration forces you to go one speed, it takes away from the adult-child interaction, and it’s just one person’s interpretation of the story. Read it aloud! It’ll help you interact with the child, as you respond to his/her reactions to the story.

Use manual page turns. Likewise, turn off any automatic page turns. The timing will invariably be off. Read at a speed that makes sense for you and the child.

Don’t fight over who turns the page. There’s something fun about turning pages on an ereader or tablet. Often younger children just want to page through the screens for the sheer joy of watching the images change. Hold the ereader with a thumb on the image to prevent unwanted page turns. Teach the child to wait until you tell them to turn the page.

Keep interaction your main focus. As other minor issues come up, remember that the goal is for you and the child to interact. All decisions about reading the ebook together must pass this criterion. Will it foster the interaction or not?

Digital picture books are so easy! Go and read a book with a kid!

Suggested Picture Books

Read more about these picture books.

Those crazy ALIENS are back

The Aliens, Inc. Box Set by Darcy Pattison | MimsHouse.comThe Aliens, Inc. series is a 3-book set of easy chapter books. Third grade, science fiction fun, humorous aliens, and a great BFF – what more could you want in a book that helps kids transform into great readers.

Book 1, Kell, the Alien introduces the crazy aliens from the planet Bix. Dad’s kovitch (a kind of space coffee) spilled on their spaceship’s control panel, they shipwrecked on Earth. How can Kell survive third grade? Only with the help of his BFF, Bree. How can the Smiths make a living? By starting Aliens, Inc., a party planning service. And how can they avoid the principal, Mrs. Lynx, and the Alien Chaser’s society? It’s a fun start to the series.

Book 2, Kell and the Horse Apple Parade. Aliens, Inc. is asked to coordinate the Friends of Police Parade. but it’s Kell’s first parade ever. How can they fill in the slots, plan the route, and keep everyone happy? Oh, and by the way, Mrs. Lynx has an Alien Chaser’s app for her smart phone.

Book 3, Kell and the Giants finds Kell and Bree planning a party for the tallest boy in town. Son of a pro basketball player, he wants giants at his party: BigFoot, Cyclops, and Paul Bunyan. It’s all complicated when Mom finds out she’s allergic to bee stings and by Mrs. Lynx’s bloodhound, who is trained to sniff out aliens.

If you can’t see this video, click here.

Now available in an easy 3-Book Box Set:
Over 90 b/w whimsical drawings in each book.

“The Aliens, Inc. Box Set” by Darcy Pattison on Ganxy

From the fascinating world of tall ships comes this unlikely tale of humble pigs who follow their dreams. Come and join the Talberts on their journey.

Free on Kindle – Friday through Sunday, September 9-11

When Santiago is thrust into the farm’s pigsty, Penelope is captivated by Santiago Talbert’s boast, “I plan to sail the Seven Seas.” Together, these extraordinary pigs escape the farm and cross into the land of Liberty, a parallel world where an intelligent human or animal can get ahead. They follow their dream to Boston Harbor, where they try to convince sea captains that pigs can sail. First, though, Santiago learns mapmaking, while Penelope works on the docks loading ships. Eventually Penelope signs onto the Ice King’s crew as he cuts and packs ice to ship to the far-flung corners of the world.

When the fleet of ice ships sails, Penelope and Santiago join the crew of the flagship, captained by Captain Kingsley, the Ice King himself. A massive polar bear, he harbors dark secrets, and the pigs face the shocking truth: they alone can save the friendly sea serpents from the Ice King’s clutches.

From the fascinating world of tall ships comes this unlikely tale of humble pigs who follow their dream. Come and join the Talberts on their journey.

Full price returns on Sunday. Take advantage of this opportunity to read this uplifting book. READ MORE ON THE KINDLE STORE.

With Patriot’s Day coming next week, 15 Septembers later, here’s a story that will touch your heart. I live near the Little Rock Air Force Base. For years, I’ve watched the heartache of telling a loved one good-bye as they go overseas on assignment. Military deployment is just one of the many sacrifices that families make to protect our nation. But how do the children handle the separation from their parent for months at a time? Read how one girl copes with humor!

Wow, this is a poignant military family story. Perfect for Patriot's Day, Veteran's Day and other patriotic holidays. |

11 WAYS TO RUIN A PHOTOGRAPH: A Military Family Story

When her father goes soldiering for a year, a girl decides that without Dad at home, it’s not a family photo album. Though her beloved Nanny is in charge of the album that year, the girl makes sure that photographs of her never turn out well. Photos are blurred, wind blows hair in her face. April rains bring umbrellas to hide behind. Halloween means a mask. This poignant, yet funny family story, expresses a child’s anger and grief for a Dad whose work takes him away for long periods of time. It’s a tribute to the sacrifices made by military families and to those who care for children when a family needs support.

Read with your classroom for military and patriotic holidays

  • Veteran’s Day
  • Armed Forced Day
  • Patriot’s Day
  • 4th of July

Understand Military Families Who Serve the United States

  • Gratitude for their sacrifices
  • Understand the family challenges
  • Support for deployment

10% Discount When you Purchase on the Mims House site

Online Children’s Books

All formats are also available on Mackin, Follett, Permabound, Overdrive, and Ingram.