With Iggy Peck, Rosie Revere, and Ada Twist among its members, Ms. Greer’s second-grade class has no shortage of enterprising students, and fans of these clever kids are soon to meet another in Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. Aptly due on Election Day, November 5, the latest volume in Andrea Beaty and David Roberts’s Questioneers series will spotlight a plucky Mexican-American girl whose idea of turning the treacherous town landfill into a park is quashed—only to kindle her resolve to make a difference in her world. Abrams has a 500,000-copy first printing on order for the picture book, joining the ranks of Iggy Peck, Architect, Rosie Revere, Engineer, and Ada Twist, Scientist, which have a combined 2.5 million copies in print worldwide.
The character of Sofia Valdez sprang from Roberts’s illustrations in earlier Questioneers titles—and it’s not the first time his images have jumpstarted Beaty’s stories. “Ada Twist came to me when I looked back over David’s pictures of the classmates,” she recalled. “In one illustration, while Iggy constructs a bridge, a girl looks on, tapping on her chin, and I thought, ‘That girl is curious and full of questions—she is definitely a scientist!’ ” This time around, Beaty pored over Roberts’s illustrations “for months and months” before approaching the artist about the next Questioneer.
“With every book, David provides a new wealth of inspiration,” said Beaty. “We have worked together for more than a decade, and it’s almost as though we are co-parents. When I was thinking about a new protagonist, I asked him, ‘I don’t want to step on your toes, but do you know anything about these other classmates that you want to share?’ And he said, ‘I never want to get in your way, but since you asked….’ And he shared some nuggets about a girl in a blue dress, whose family was originally from Mexico, who is seen in Ada Twist hugging a jar tightly, and I began to wonder if she has a dream or a wish in it—something that is very precious to her.”
A Girl with a Mission
That student became Sofia, whose backstory and personality were also inspired by our current times, Beaty explained. While Iggy’s dominant characteristic is his passion for creating things, Rosie’s is perseverance, and Ada’s is curiosity, Sofia is distinguished by her courage, caring, and desire to help others. “We are going through a rough patch in our country, and kids, especially those from immigrant families, are having all sorts of nonsense tossed at them and are feeling a great deal of anxiety,” the author said. “I began thinking about a story that would show children that they have some power, and that they can find the strength to focus on one thing they can do to make a change. To me, Sofia Valdez is a story about bravery and community, emphasizing that everybody has a role to play.”
That emphasis exemplifies how Sofia Valdez for Prez broadens the scope of the series, added Abrams editor Erica Finkel, who assumed the editorial helm of the Questioneers in September (after working on some prior titles under original editor Susan Van Metre). While the series has been widely praised by teachers and librarians for fueling students’ interest in STEM subjects, Sofia Valdez “opens up the series to social studies in addition to science,” Finkel observed. “The story explores what it means to be a citizen and encourages kids to stand up for what is important to them, no matter what profession they are interested in pursuing. Like the earlier books in the series, this story introduces kids to a fun and empowering way to problem solve and take the initiative to figure out the world on their own.”
Beaty and Roberts further expanded the Questioneers’ universe and audience in 2018 with The Questioneers: Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters, first in a chapter book series that continues in April with Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants. The author remarked that the longer chapter books involve “a different writing process, since they are more plot- and pace-driven, and let me explore the kids’ town and flesh out the community with some world building. And David gets to build on what he has done earlier—I love throwing in new things and seeing what he does with them!”
Are there more Questioneers picture and chapter books on the horizon? “I hope so,” Beaty responded, noting that her office is “plastered” with Roberts’s illustrations of Ms. Greer’s second graders. “There are a couple of kids there I have my eye on and want to get to know better,” she said. “The beauty of David’s art is that it seems so simple, but there is so much going on. I’ve read Iggy Peck hundreds of times, and I still see things in the illustrations that I haven’t seen before. I think there are many more secrets to be revealed, which is a lovely thing. I hope someday I’ll know everyone in the class—well.”
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, illus. by David Roberts. Abrams, $18.99 Nov. ISBN 978-1-4197-3704-6