Jennifer Berne is an acclaimed children’s author whose books include On a Beam of Light, Manfish, On Wings of Words (all Chronicle), and Look Up with Me (Katherine Tegen Books). She has been fascinated by the ocean since her childhood, and this book is based on her countless hours of research about evolution and the undersea world. Jennifer lives in the hills of Columbia County, New York, and spends her summers sailing along the coast of Maine.
What made you decide to become an author?
Ever since I was a little girl, I wrote. At age 5, I would compose poems and dictate them to my mother who would write them down. In grade school I was interested in writing, science, math and art. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I announced that it had to be “something that was different every day.” Writing fits that well.
After college I became an advertising copywriter, creating print campaigns and TV commercials. That was fun, but I never had a choice of what to write about. When I left advertising, I had honed my writing skills, knew how to combine text with visuals, and was ready to turn my attention to picture books—one of the most beautiful and creative genres there is. Finally, I could focus my writing on the subjects that interested me most—our amazing universe and the people who discover its secrets. And I could write for the most curious, enthusiastic, receptive audience—children.
As an author, what are you most passionate about?
I love conceptualizing, researching, and writing. And there’s nothing more deeply satisfying than the act of creation. But what I’m most passionate about as an author is watching the books I create go out into the world and get discovered by the wonderful curious readers I write for. If I can inspire a child, stimulate their imagination, or introduce them to aspects of the world and universe they never knew about before, that is my greatest reward. It is the reason I am an author.
What’s a typical workday like?
For me, there is no typical. Some days I lose myself in books and research, gathering information and inspiration for my current and future books. Some days are writing days and rewriting days. Lots and lots of rewriting and editing, to get everything just the way I want it. And even on days I’m not working on a manuscript, I always have paper and pen in my pocket, to jot down ideas that come to me as I’m doing other things. I even wake up during the night to jot down ideas, phrases, and notes. I never really stop thinking about book ideas and writing.
How much research do you do before you begin a book?
Huge amounts. Extensive and ongoing. Once I lock onto a subject, I just keep delving deeper and deeper. Almost like an obsession. Even after my books are published, I keep wanting to learn more and discover more about their subjects. Often, they are subjects that fascinated me from long before I even began the books.
Where do you find your inspiration for new stories and characters?
Everything in our world, our universe, is a source of inspiration for me. From the workings of nature to the mysteries of the cosmos, to the animals and people who inhabit our world. All the whys and hows of it.
And characters? Every curious, creative, and talented person who explores our universe has a fascinating story just waiting to be told. Every creature that inhabits that universe has a story waiting to be written.
In How the Sea Came to Be, I think of planet Earth and the sea as characters. And of course, all the astounding life-forms throughout the story. Everything and every person I write about is a character in the tales I tell.
What inspired you to create How the Sea Came to Be?
Since I was a small child, I’ve been fascinated by our mysterious ocean and its amazing creatures. And later in life, I became engrossed in the workings of evolution. It was all like a big puzzle, with each piece leading to and explaining the next. Nature’s magnificent system. So, putting my interests together—the sea and evolution—seemed like the perfect blend of subjects for me to write a book about. And then, to do it in rhyming verse, was a fun challenge and tremendously rewarding.
What do you hope young readers will take away from How the Sea Came to Be?
As with all my books, I hope the readers are captivated and intrigued by the subject and inspired to know more. I think the best thing a nonfiction book can do is ignite a spark within its readers and begin a journey, so that they keep going where the book ended. If a book is just the beginning, then it’s worked its magic.
Do you have a favorite spread?
With a super-talented illustrator like Amanda Hall, there is always a wealth of magnificent illustrations. It would be impossible for me to pick just one favorite spread. But I can tell you a few that I’m especially fond of.
The exciting, dynamic spread picturing the early fiery Earth, with its volcanoes and its surface sizzling and simmering, is a powerful and beautiful spread. The vertical spread illustrating the weird and astonishing creatures from the deep midnight zone and twilight zone is a gorgeous riveting spread. And the endpapers, with all their layers and diversity of undersea life, are beautiful and mesmerizing. Of course, I could go on and on because I love Amanda’s illustrations so much!
Is there anything else you feel we should know about How the Sea Came to Be or yourself?
Well, if you’re curious about what I’m writing next, I have several books in the works. One about the dramatic end of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals, leading to us. Another is a biography of the Moon. And two in a new series, tours of the Human Body and Outer Space, using their most amazing numbers to reveal their most fascinating facts.
The other thing to know is that I love hearing from my readers. So, whatever you want to ask me or tell me or show me, feel free to send it to me. You’re the reason I write, so no one is more important to me than you!