Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Behind the Book...with Jennifer Thermes! (Plus, Giveaway Winners!)

Today in the Cottage, we're thrilled to welcome author/illustratorJennifer Thermes. Her latest book is Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure, a gorgeous picture book biography about Darwin's voyage on the Beagle.

Hello, Jennifer! Tell us a little bit about your own voyage in creating Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure!

The idea to write about Charles Darwin’s five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle came to me a few years ago while on vacation at the shore. I was supposed to be relaxing, but like most of the writers and illustrators I know, it’s nearly impossible to stop thinking about art, and words, and stories!

I was between projects at the time, and looking for something new and challenging to take on. Picture book biographies piqued my interest. I’d also been a map illustrator for many years, and was searching for a way to incorporate the maps into a story. Maybe it had something to do with sitting on beach and watching the water, but I thought– how about Charles Darwin’s trip around the world on the Beagle?

Other than time he spent in the Gal├ípagos Islands and his theory of evolution, I really didn’t know much about the voyage, or Darwin, himself. Wasn’t he that gruff and grizzly-looking old man in all those black and white photos? But then I began my research, and read The Voyage of the Beagle, written in Darwin’s own words about his experiences. The Charles Darwin I thought I knew turned out to be a vibrant, curious, and very likeable young person. Also, as a map illustrator, I couldn’t help but picture details about the places he had been on an imaginary globe in my head. So, there was my goal: tell the story of where he traveled, what he saw, and how what he learned led to his ideas about evolution later in life.

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes

One of the first challenges of this book was a design problem. We read picture books from left to right, so in general, the illustrations should lead your eye in the direction of the page turn. But Darwin sailed from east to west– the opposite direction. I spent a lot of time in the thumbnail stage trying to figure out how to make the illustrations move forward through the book, even though in many scenes the ship is pointing westward.

Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes

Also, as with any picture book, another challenge was figuring out which part of the story to tell through words and which through pictures. The maps were an added puzzle piece– how to incorporate them without interrupting the flow of the story. And even though it was non-fiction, the story needed an arc to keep it interesting, while sticking to the facts.  Darwin is such a rich subject, and there was so much information in the original dummy, but some of the spreads were quite cluttered. I remember my editor saying something to the effect of– it was like being in a candy store– all good stuff, but maybe TOO much good!
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes
So, with the suggestions of my amazing editor and art director at Abrams, who both understood the complexities of the book right from the start, we simplified many of the scenes to be more kid-friendly. (Making a book is completely a team project, by the way!) The funny thing is, all along I worried more about what information was being left out than what was included, but most of the original content is still there, it’s just better organized. I find it helpful to think about all the different elements of a picture book as a giant design puzzle. It’s overwhelming in the beginning, but you just need to keep playing with all the pieces until they fit together as best they can.
Copyright 2016 Jennifer Thermes
So, after three-plus years of thinking about him almost every day, Charles and I are now on a first name basis. One tip for anyone writing non-fiction (or any book, really): fall in love with your subject, because you’re going to be living with him (or her, or it) for a long, long time. Find something about it that you admire and connect to on a personal level. For me, it was Charles Darwin’s endless curiosity, kind nature, and passion for his work. (We should all be like Charles!)

Thanks so much for taking us Behind the Book, Jennifer!

About the Book

by Jennifer Thermes
Abrams (October 2016)
ISBN 978-1419721205

In 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his first voyage. Though he was a scientist by profession, he was an explorer at heart. While journeying around South America for the first time aboard a ninety-foot-long ship named the Beagle, Charles collected insets, dug up bones, galloped with gauchos, encountered volcanoes and earthquakes, and even ate armadillo for breakfast! The discoveries he made during this adventure would later inspire ideas that changed how we see the world.
Complete with mesmerizing map work that charts Darwin's thrilling five-year voyage, as well as "Fun Facts" and more, Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure captures the beauty and mystery of nature with wide-eyed wonder.

About the Author

Jennifer Thermes is a children’s book author/illustrator and map illustrator. When not making art, she loves to read and work in her garden. She lives with her family, two cats, one dog, and an assortment of uninvited mice in an 18th-century farmhouse in Connecticut. Learn more about her work at

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The winner of a SIGNED LUCY'S LOVEY is…. 

Congrats, Katie! 

The winner of Henry Herz's LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH is… 

Congrats, Bernadette!

And there'ss  till time to enter our WE ALL SAW A CAT giveaway!
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1 comment:

  1. I'm a science nerd and I've dreamed of visiting the Galapagos some day myself!! I love Jennifer's art, and am so looking forward to reading this book.

    Thanks, Cottagers!! :)