Yet another student goes to the head of the class in Ada Twist, Scientist, the most recent picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, whose earlier collaborations include Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer. Starring Iggy and Rosie’s classmate, Ada, an African-American character inspired by such real-life luminaries as mathematician Ada Lovelace and physicist and chemist Marie Curie, Ada Twist, Scientist introduces a curious girl determined to use science to understand her world. Abrams Books for Young Readers will publish Ada Twist, Scientist on September 6 with a 250,000-copy first printing.
Released in 2007, the series’ debut book was inspired by Beaty’s own son, who at a young age displayed a dogged interest in building – wherever he was. “When he was three or four, he was always building structures with Legos,” said Beaty. “If a restaurant had jelly packs on the table, he’d build these wonderful towers with them, which I thought was fantastic. The waitresses? Not so much!” Beaty explained that since all of her stories “begin with a ‘what if?’ ” she started thinking about a fictional kid who, like her son, “really loves building things – anything – with anything.” And so Iggy was born.
When Abrams editor-in-chief Susan Van Metre suggested that David Roberts illustrate Iggy Peck, the author agreed, not realizing what a propitious decision it was. “I had seen a few of his illustrations, but I was not prepared for what I saw when the art arrived,” Beaty recalled. “It was like receiving the best birthday present ever! The pictures of all the kids in Iggy’s class were delightful, and I realized how perfect Susan’s vision of David as the book’s illustrator was. That is certainly the gift of a great editor.”
That gift has kept on giving. Though Beaty said she had “no idea there’d be another book” in the same vein as Iggy Peck, Roberts’s pictures of Iggy’s second-grade classmates inspired Beaty to mine their potential. “When Susan brought up the possibility of doing another book abut Iggy, I tried for a couple of years to figure out what that story might be,” said the author. “And when she and I simultaneously came to the idea of exploring other kids in Iggy’s class, I began studying David’s illustrations, trying to glean from his visual details what their personalities might be. I was drawn to one girl, and realized that David never showed both of her eyes at once. I started imagining she was the smartest kid in the class, but she was introverted and tried to remain invisible. I wanted to know what her story was – and then realized I wanted to make her an engineer.”
That girl became the star of Rosie Revere: Engineer, a personality who, like Iggy, is rooted in Beaty’s own family. One day she was talking to her then–90-year-old aunt, who during World War II worked in a factory as a “Rosie the Riveter,” making bullets for Chinese soldiers to use to battle Japanese troops. “I had always admired her hardcore work ethic, and realized that she was among those amazing women to whom – like our soldiers – we owe a great, unpayable, debt. I’d been working for months to find that shy girl’s story, and once I realized my aunt would be my inspiration, I finished the book in days.”
Next up was Ada Twist, a character who also sprang from one of Roberts’s illustrations. “This time, I went through the pictures in both Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere,” Beaty recalled. “I was struck by one scene, in which Iggy is putting together a bridge, and a girl is standing on the outside edge of the scene, tapping her chin. I said to myself, ‘That kid’s a thinker who wants to figure out the bigger picture’ – and I knew then that she should be a scientist.”
Keeping It Personal
Though Beaty’s series spotlights the value of the STEM curricula (focusing on science, math, engineering, and mathematics), the author underscores the key role that story and character play. “I didn’t want to write a book about architecture, engineering, or science,” she said. “I wanted to know about each kid’s story. It was more about Iggy’s passion, Rosie’s perseverance, and Ada’s curiosity. When you attach a narrative, with characters readers care about, they are much more receptive to learning about the nonfiction subject you’re covering.”
The author praised Roberts’s “amazing ability to say so much with the details he puts into his pictures. To this day, I still find things in his illustrations I haven’t noticed before. We’re very much on the same page, and respect each other’s viewpoints and ideas. And Abrams’s creative director, Chad Beckerman, is an important part of the process. As is Susan, who is the one who always finds the heart in these books.”
Van Metre noted that the “combination of sophistication and silliness” in Roberts’s mixed-media art is perfectly suited to Beaty’s stories, which in turn are deftly geared to our current culture. “We feel so observed and evaluated, whether through social media or school testing, and that has created in us a fear of failure and disapproval, or maybe even a dependence on success and approval,” she observed. “So seeing kids like Iggy, Rosie, and Ada follow their passions and persevere in their pursuits, despite failures and disapproval, is so heartening. Plus, they are creating tangible things – towers and helicopters and geysers – which satisfies a longing many of us have to get ourselves and our kids off computers!”
The success of the three books, which have a combined North American in-print tally of one million copies, has been fueled by what Van Metre calls “a grassroots enthusiasm that has grown very gradually and ultimately very spectacularly over time. The popularity of the series grew by word of mouth as independent booksellers, parents, children, and educators discovered the books and became evangelists. I think a lot of individual passion came together to become a groundswell.” To promote Ada Twist, Beaty will visit bookstores, schools, libraries, and book festivals throughout the fall. Abrams is also supporting the book with digital advertising, social media promotion, and a retail floor display.
And will Beaty and Roberts give yet another bright student a chance to shine? “Well, I do have another idea tootling around in my brain,” Beaty disclosed. “But it’s too early to say what it is, for fear of making it not happen. It’s sort of like making a soufflé. You don’t want to tread too heavily, or walk too near the oven, while it’s baking. I’d say I’m totally at that stage!”
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, illus. by David Roberts. Abrams, $17.95 Sept. ISBN 978-1-4197-2137-3