Interview with Toni Buzzeo on her personal mission, how research drives her writing process, and what’s essential for her creative life.

Review Copy Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers

Where to Find When Sue Found Sue

[Affiliate Link] Amazon 
[Local Bookstore] Indiebound
[Library] Worldcat

Toni Buzzeo author of many, many excellent picture books was kind enough to talk to me about her new book When Sue Found Sue and a bit about writing in general. I’m thrilled and so grateful she was able to take some time and answer my questions. I hope you enjoy!

When Sue Found Sue is excellent in every way! I have two boys and they were enthralled from start to finish. You’ve got them digging for dinosaur bones in our backyard these days and I couldn’t be happier about it. How did you hear about Sue and what was it about this story that made you want to make it into a picture book? 

Thanks for the great compliments, especially those boys digging for dinosaur bones in your backyard. A book that moves kids to action and imagination is a successful book!

I actually got the idea to write about Sue Hendrickson from a group of fellow school librarians. Having completed my first picture book biography, A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss, I was in search of another woman scientist to write about. I have as a personal mission right now to inspire kids, both boys and girls, to see that science is an EVERYONE field. One of my librarian colleagues on LM_NET suggested Sue as a great model of a successful woman in the sciences, and I jumped on it. A woman who digs for dinosaurs? You bet!

From When Sue Found Sue – Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo and Illustrated by Diana Sudyka. Image courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

What made her even more appealing was that Sue—a brave woman, a smart woman, a self-made woman—had discovered the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. What’s more, you’ll learn in the book, she did it because she listened to her heart.

During the last weeks
of her fourth summer of digging for duckbills in the blistering heat,
Sue Hendrickson felt pulled
to a sandstone cliff
far off in the distance.
She couldn’t say why then—
and she can’t say why even now—
but she was called to that cliff.
And on August 12, 1990,
when her team headed into town
to fix a flat tire,
Sue finally followed her curiosity.

From When Sue Found Sue – Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo and Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

You are such a prolific writer and all of your books are so high quality – I’m so curious as to what your process is like? (You get your idea and then you… and after you’ve done that you… and after you’ve done that you…) What have you found works for you to be able to create such high-quality content? Do you have a method at all or does it change with each book? (Whatever it is, your end results are so impressive.)

So often when asked a similar question—what is your writing practice like?—I have to disappoint the questioner by saying that I do not work on a regular schedule, I do not end a workday mid-paragraph in order to invite myself into the text the next day, I do not sharpen a dozen #2 pencils like John Steinbeck. But yes, I do have a writing process. Most of my ideas require research, whether the idea is a fiction picture book about a boy who steals a penguin from the aquarium, a true story about a woman scientist, or a board book about boats, research is often the first step for me. I suspect that is, in part, because I am a degreed librarian, and research is in my blood. However, it’s also because I am curious and long to be completely accurate, or as accurate as a fiction story will allow me to be.

From When Sue Found Sue – Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo and Illustrated by Diana Sudyka. Image courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

After I feel well-grounded in the research, it’s time to plan. That’s when I formulate characters (fiction), setting and plot (fiction), and organizational structure (fiction and nonfiction). Once I feel that I have a good handle on all of that, I begin to draft the book. And then I do another draft. And another. And another.  When it feels as though everything is working just right (or sometimes when it doesn’t feel that way at all, but I can’t get any further on my own), I send it off to my critique group and get their feedback. Once I have incorporated all of their suggestions, off it goes to my agent! Whew! Time to look for another idea.

I love how poetic When Sue Found Sue is. The way the lines are written and the images you create with words have an elegant balance to them – and this is especially impressive because you’re dealing with a non-fiction book – was the poetic sense and feel to it intentional? Or did that just evolve over the course of writing this book? 

The poetic sense was very intentional right from the outset. I started my writing life as a poet in junior high school, maybe at the age of twelve. Through college and graduate school, I continued to write poems and that attachment to spare lyrical language has never left me. I see the picture book text I write on the page in broken lines—as poetry—right from the beginning.

From When Sue Found Sue – Sue Hendrickson Discovers Her T. Rex by Toni Buzzeo and Illustrated by Diana Sudyka. Image courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

I’m blown away with how you’re able to take non-fiction and turn it into such a creative endeavor. What do you do to nourish your creativity? Do you have any advice for others who are looking to, “fill their creative well,” so to speak? 

I’d say the two things that I do to nurture my creativity are first, to work in another medium (for me that is fabric and fiber) and second, to take time away as often as possible to go on writing retreats where I focus just on my writing, especially with other writer friends. We walk on beaches, we cook together, we read each other’s work. Most of all, we talk about the writing and creative life, how it feels to us, how it frustrates us (sometimes), how it nurtures us. To be in community with other creatives is an essential part of the creative life for me and most other writers I know.

And lastly, as a mom, who is in the process of trying to raise my sons to grow up to be good men – I just wanted to say thank you for introducing me and all my guys to Sue Hendrickson. I love filling them up with stories about real women who have done remarkable things. Your picture book had them hooked from beginning to end. 

Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions and thank you so much for creating and sharing such wonderful stories. 

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

FTC Disclosures:  Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit.  It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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