An Interview with Andrea Beaty (Ep. 351)

Andrea Beaty—author of Rosie Revere, Engineer, Iggy Peck, Architect, and Aaron Slater, Illustrator—joins Tim on today’s podcast ahead of her appearance as the featured presenter at the NOW Conference. Listen as she talks to Tim about creativity, nurturing talent, the importance of STEAM, and the vital role that art teachers play each and every day.  Full episode transcript below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for our teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

We are recording today in Naperville, Illinois at a wonderful bookshop called Anderson’s Bookshop. I’m going to be talking to author Andrea Beaty. She is best known for books like Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer. My favorite probably of hers is a newer one called Aaron Slater, Illustrator. And Andrea is going to be our keynote presenter at the Now Winter Conference in just a couple of weeks here. And we are thrilled to have her. I know that so many art teachers love using her books in their classrooms for so many reasons. The stories, the lessons that can be learned from those stories, the connections to STEAM, the wonderful illustrations that are in every book, and so much more.

So I want to talk to her about all of that, a little bit about her creative process, her collaborative process with her illustrator on and a few other things. And we’ll just see where this conversation will go. And Andrea’s just about ready here, so we’ll get started in just a second. But a quick note first, like I said, we’re in this awesome store called Anderson’s Bookshop. Generally quiet because it’s a bookstore, but there are quite a few shoppers around. So we’re not exactly sure what you’re going to hear, but there will be some background noise throughout the interview. But with that being said, I think we are now ready to get started.

All right, I am here with Andrea Beaty, who will be our keynote speaker at the NOW Conference. Andrea, how are you?

Andrea: I’m well. I’m pleased to be here talking with you today.

Tim: Thank you. I appreciate that. Like I said, we’re thrilled to be able to chat with you. I guess to begin, can you introduce yourself, talk a little bit about your work for anybody who’s unfamiliar.

Andrea: Sure. I write children’s books. That includes picture books. The most well known are the Questioneer series, which is Iggy Peck, Architect, Ada Twist, Scientist, Rosie Revere, Engineer, Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, and Aaron Slater, Illustrator. I always remember four out of the five. I got them all, yay.

Tim: Good work.

Andrea: And for each of those characters then, we have project books and we have chapter books and also some non-fiction books now, which is the new thing.

Tim: Nice.

Andrea: And some tie-ins. Ada Twist, Scientist is actually a show on Netflix now. So we have some non-fiction books that go with those as well.

Tim: I know, it’s going everywhere.

Andrea: It is.

Tim: That’s good. That’s good. I want to, I guess, start the conversation with what I think is just the coolest thing ever. Two of your books, Rosie Revere and Ada Twist have actually been read on the International Space Station. Can we consider that a career highlight? What’s your reaction when you first found out that, that was happening?

Andrea: It was absolutely insane. The email came to me and said, “We’re thinking, would you mind if we read”-

Tim: Would you mind that?

Andrea: “Would you mind if we read Rosie Revere, Engineer on the International Space Station? Because that would happen first.” And I’m like, “Oh, I think I’m busy that day. When is it? What?” Come on, give me a break. It’s a marvelous program called Story Time From Space, and it’s from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space funds it. And they take picture books up to the Space Station, they read them, astronauts read them, and it blew my mind. It absolutely blew my mind. And then it happened again, and then my mind blown all over again. It’s absurd and wonderful and a very cool program. So they have a lot of books out there now. I encourage people to go and check them out. And you can actually have links from my website, which is, to make it easy. Yeah, I don’t know. Where do you even go from there? It’s like, well, I can tell you where you’re going from there. Then there was a TV show, and then I’m like, “What? There’s a TV show?” And then there was a Macy’s Day Parade balloon.

Tim: Oh, did you go to the Macy’s Day Parade?

Andrea: I did.

Tim: Oh my God.

Andrea: I was there and it was the most surreal and crazy, silly, goofy, marvelous thing to see this character that came out of the ether floating by full of helium, and it’s going, “Ah” down the… It was amazing. I have given up on what is career pinnacles there, because they just keep coming.

Tim: I’m just like, your characters and your stories have just taken on a life of their own at this point.

Andrea: They really have. And I have to say, I think David and I both feel this. David Roberts is the illustrator, he lives in London. I think we both feel shepherds, that we are sort of now just whatever we can do to help these kids and expand their world to tell their stories. But yeah, they’re out of control. No, that’s not the right phrase.

Tim: I love that, though. And I want to talk about David Roberts in just a little bit. Before, though, I know people listen to us love just sort of hearing what it’s like behind the scenes, what your working process is like. So can you talk about maybe how much time you spend writing for each book? How many drafts does a typical book go through? How long does it take to get something published? What’s the process, from beginning to end?

Andrea: The answer there is that horrible, there is no answer, answer.

Tim: Right.

Andrea: Because it’s so different for every book. Once I wrote a book in literally an hour, it was called Dr. Ted. It was done. I think we changed one word in the whole thing.

Tim: Wow.

Andrea: Came out two days. Two years later. Two days later, no, that’s not right. Two years later. So that was really amazingly fast. I’ve had picture books that took me 10 years to get right and then that long to three, four or five years beyond that to get published. Again, take a very, very long time. At this point with the Questioneer series, when I know who the character I want to explore is, and the process is that all the characters have come from David Roberts’ illustrations in Iggy Peck, Architect, and then the subsequent books. And in them, David, when he creates these characters, they are really full form to him. They are real people. So they have personalities and they have things they do and mannerisms and the way they dress and everything about them. There’s never anything random in his art, which is amazing because the art seems very simple, but there’s so much detail just tucked into those illustrations.

So now I look at each of these kids and figure, “Who are you?” I’m always looking, I have my wall in my office, I have pictures. Anytime the kids show up, I have pictures of them slathered all over the wall. And I’m like, okay, what’s your story? What’s your story? You’re doing this thing, you’re looking at that thing. And that’s kind of where they grow from. But I don’t know. It’s wild. So there is no good answer for how long it takes. The last one I did, which I cannot tell you who it is, because it’s the next book.

Tim: It’s a secret.

Andrea: It is a secret. Oh, it’s hard to not tell. But it took me three months to write, I think. The picture books, the chapter books take a minimum of four months to write.

Tim: I can imagine.

Andrea: And then of course, there’s the back and forth. So it’s always fairly long. And Abrams now, the publisher, is so wonderful that they very much streamline the production of it and get them out fast.

Tim: Good, good. So can you talk a little bit about how you first connected with David, for illustration? Is he somebody you knew? Did you just get put together with, how did that relationship first develop?

Andrea: Yeah, I think people are always surprised when they hear about the process of doing picture books. So unless you are a person who illustrates your own books, and I am not that person, thankfully. Because I love art and I like making art, but I do not have the artistic chops to do something like that. Illustration really is its own thing, and David Roberts does have it. But what happens is you write the book as a picture book writer and you send it to your publisher, and then, if they want to publish it, they figure out who they want to have illustrate it. And usually the writer doesn’t have any say in that. At some point, maybe if you’ve been at it a long, long time, they will ask.

So I think back in the day the editor asked, “I’m thinking about David Roberts for this illustration for Iggy Peck, Architect. What do you think?” I had never heard of David, and as a person who was only my second book. I said, “Yes, of course, that sounds perfect.” And it was. It was. But it’s so funny that you write the book, send it away, and then three years later maybe, sketches came back and my first reaction to sketches is always, “Oh, that’s totally wrong. That’s not right.” For about two seconds. And now I don’t even go to that. But it was like, “Ugh.” But then it becomes like, “Oh no, of course this is right. And not only is it right, but it’s perfect.” And it has just been such a journey because the editor picked David, and then David created this classroom of kids, which is this marvelous versed, wonderful classroom, like the kids he would meet in London when he would do school visits.

That has been the fodder for this whole world that expands. That’s unforeseen. So had she picked a different artist or not, it would’ve all been different. So it’s a very slightly random happenstance that has taken us to where it is. And I feel like the whole process has just been like that, like we did this and because that happened, well now we’re going to do that. And just being open to it and following it has been great fun. And I feel like I have the smallest part in the whole production of it, because David really brings everything to this and the editorial people and the art directors. It’s such a team effort. People are surprised at how many people will touch a book from the time I sit down and scribble a few words until it shows up in the store. It’s hundreds of people who do.

Tim: Yeah. So it was just kind of like a serendipitous relationship with you and David, and it’s just exploded-

Andrea: It has. And then over time, he did come to the States right when he was about to do the art for Rosie Revere. And so I got to meet him and hang out with him. And we spent an afternoon, like five hours, at this marvelous art deco bar in New York, eating french fries and drinking beer and just talking. Talking, talking, talking. And since then, we’ve had the chance to do that a number of times and we will do FaceTime and things.

So we talk about a lot of things, but we’re also very cognizant. He says, “I never want to influence what you do. I never want to steer you one way or another. I just want to stand back and you go do your thing.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s exactly how I feel about you.” So it’s like we try very hard to just give each other all the space. But then occasionally it’s like, “Hey David, I think we should do this. Yeah, yeah, we should totally do that.” So both somehow, I don’t know how the editor knew this, but we both have very much the same sense of humor. And it’s sort of like we’re separated at birth except by decade, continent, gender, like everything but pretty much the same person.

Tim: Okay. So just thinking about that idea, you said you’re just one part of this whole process with the books. And as our teachers, we love seeing the art, we love seeing illustrations that are in that book.

Andrea: They’re stunning.

Tim: Can you just give your perspective, I guess, on how important the illustrations are or talk a little bit more about what role they play in the stories or this whole sort of environment that you’ve built with these kids?

Andrea: Yeah. I think the thing is people always say, don’t judge a book by its cover. But everyone judges books.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely they do.

Andrea: You’re sitting here in this glorious bookstore. And if you didn’t judge a book by its cover, you would never get out of here alive. How are you going to pick? You only have so much time. And the thing about David’s art is it really is, it’s elegant, it’s sophisticated, but it’s also really playful. And there are some really funny, really subtle, funny things. And so I think he takes my words and they are, like in Iggy Peck, Architect, the rhyme is fairly sophisticated. It’s fairly complicated. It’s got an internal rhyme within each line. And actually, David says that when he went to illustrate Iggy Peck, he really wanted to reflect that. He wanted to reflect the sophistication of the rhyme by making the Lila Greer very elegant and just the layout and the design of it. So he changed up the way he did things. And I think that’s one of the reasons that the books work so well is that when I write the text, it’s really important to me to just say what needs to be said. And sometimes that’s using really goofy words.

I don’t know, goofy, goofy words or it’s using really sophisticated words. But whatever the word is, it’s going to be the right word that needs to be said. And I don’t worry about, well, kids don’t know what Romanesque is. That’s okay. If they really want to know, they will ask and they’ll find out. And that’s how we learn new words, which is awesome. So I always tell the story I need to tell, put the emotion, just write the thing. And David does the same. And he does this… His art has so many layers and so many things inside each picture that kids really respond to that. So they respond to the rhythm of the language. They respond to hearing these things that maybe don’t make sense to them, but it’s a real act of respect to them that they will get it. That’s fine, don’t worry about it. You’ll hear it on the second, third, fourth, fifth, 10th reading.

And parents tell me this. And that’s one of the greatest things, compliments to me is that they say, “People can bear to read this over and over and over again”

Tim: Right, right.

Andrea: Because as a parent, when I had young kids, there were books that accidentally fell down the crack of the bed in the middle of reading. I’m not proud, I’ll tell you. “Honey, is that a bat at the window?” There goes the Barbie book right behind the bed. So to know that that kids can respond to that, but equally in the art, David has tucked so many things that I still find things. He doesn’t tell me. He sticks so many funny, smart, sly things in there and he doesn’t tell me. And so even now, I found something the other day in Rosie Revere, and I have been reading that for decade and I have read it thousands of times and I will always send him a note, “David, is this a whatever?”He’s so sweet. And he always says, “I hope you don’t mind. Yeah, David, stop making me look good, guy. God, just pace yourself, man, pace yourself.”

Tim: That’s hilarious.

Andrea: But I think that’s the reason that it works as a combination is because both of them have the same attitude towards children of yeah, kids can handle things. Kids are smart, kids are so smart, that they can take the sophisticated package of stuff and process and feel seen by that, feel like, yeah, this is something that someone made, especially for me and I can feel kind of smart seeing that. That’s how I feel.

Tim: Yeah. Okay. So you talked a little bit about how David Robert and his illustrations influence you and inspire you to create more characters, have these characters do more things. But I would also love to know where outside of that, where your inspiration comes from or what in particular influences you. When you’re sitting down to write? Are there certain things or certain authors that you draw inspiration from?

Andrea: Wow. Well, I think for me. So when I write picture books that are prose, that’s like writing poetry. When I write picture books that are in rhyme, that’s like writing a song. So for me, honestly, one of the things, and this is funny because I’ve had this conversation with other authors I know who write rhyming books, is that I’m very familiar with lots of old diddies from the 1960s. So the Oscar Mayer Wiener song is always close to hand, that kind of thing. All old rhyming commercials and everything. And also Dr. Seuss. So How the Grinch Stole Christmas is, for me, really probably the most influential book because it’s the first book that I ever realized is A, in rhyme, and so it’s like a song. It is funny, it’s a lot of funny stuff happens there. And also it has heart, it has an emotional arc. And to be able to put all of those things together it takes some really solid craft, I think. It takes some something there. And I think Dr. Seuss has some something. You guys had a little bit of something. Just a little.

Tim: All right. I hate to make you pick one, but do you have a favorite book that you’ve written? Or more specifically, do you have a particular book that maybe holds a special place, for you for any reason?

Andrea: Oh man, that is really hard because I’m always most in love with the one that I’ve been working on most recently.

Tim: Right, right.

Andrea: I have to pick two because I’m going to be that person. I’m going to say one, sure, I’ll take two. It’s like cupcakes. So for me, Rosie Revere. And that’s because in Rosie Revere, as I was writing the book and I knew I made Rosie an engineer because I wanted to see what David Roberts would do with the illustrations. So I knew she would have to make something, but I didn’t know what. And really got stuck in that book. And I got unstuck when I went to visit my aunt, who was a Rosie the Riveter. When she was a young woman, she worked making munitions in a plant in Alton, Illinois. And I was visiting Aunt Emmaline and I thought, I want to say thank you to the people of that generation and particularly the riveters who did so much. They saved the world, basically.

And when I decided, okay, I’m going to put a Rosie the Riveter in as sort of a tip of the hat to my aunt and all of those other amazing women, that book really came together. So it has this really special personal connection, I think, to my family. And when I saw the art that David came back with, that the picture of Great Aunt Rose as a young woman on the big B-27, B-29, I think she’s working on, I just bawled. I look at that and it just was so much, so amazing and important. The other one though, book that I love the best I’m going to say is probably Aaron Slater, Illustrator. The illustrations in that are so remarkable and so beautiful. And it’s just, I don’t know, Aaron has this heart. This kid, he’s just got the heart of an artist and he’s beautiful and smart and full of wonder. I don’t know, I just love them. I do love them all. Don’t tell the others.

Tim: Aaron Slater definitely connected with me. As an artist, I love seeing, like you said, all of those illustrations, just the story of what it means to be an artist or become an artist, I think really resonates with a lot of art teachers who are going to be listening to this. So I think that’s a good selection.

Andrea: And it’s just really beautiful, I mean, just physically. Every book is just physically beautiful that David does. But that one is just so much going on. And just those dragons. There’s dragons, got to love a dragon.

Tim: And then last question for you. Do you have anything you can share with us about what may be coming in the future, like things that you’re working on, places that you may want to go with any of these characters or any of these stories?

Andrea: Yeah. That’s always amazing. I can tell you there is another book coming down the pike. I cannot tell you who it is. That’s a secret. I think that reveal will happen in somewhere late winter maybe, that we’ll get to talk about it. It’s always really hard right now.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrea: Because I know, and I’m like so excited. Tim, I can’t say who it is. But also more chapter books are coming down the road. And lots of books, there’s The Why Files, which are non-fiction books and there for really emerging readers. So it’s a younger reading level than the chapter books. So that’s fun. It’s a nice thing, actually. And it just kind of worked out this way that we have books really at lots of different reading levels. And so there’s something there for kids to find, no matter where they are on that reading journey. And what else? More chapter books. And I don’t even know. So many things and I can’t say what they are, but I am turning the brain towards even different things, which is fun.

Tim: Good to hear. We will look forward to it.

Andrea: Well, thank you. Appreciate it.

Tim: All right. Well, Andrea, thank you so much. It’s been great talking to you. We appreciate the conversation and we’ll look forward to seeing you at the Now Conference at the end of January.

Andrea: Well, thank you and thank you to our teachers everywhere. I tell you, you make a difference in people’s lives. You make a difference to kids. And I say this, I know lots and lots of artists who are illustrators for kids books and things. And if you ask them, they all have an art teacher somewhere there in their in their backstory, who encouraged them when they needed it and made a difference in their world. And then those marvelous artists go out and are making such a difference in so many other kids’ work. So yay, keep up the good work art teachers.

Tim: We will do that. All right, thank you.

Andrea: Thank you.

Tim: All right. Thank you so much to Andrea for that incredible message for our teachers and just taking the time to chat with us for this podcast. I can’t wait for everyone to be able to hear from her at the Now Conference at the end of January.

Hey, as you can tell, she has some great stories to share, some wonderful ideas on creativity. And I feel like she really just gets us, as art teachers. You can especially tell with the last part of that interview there. She has an appreciation for everything that we do. And I think she’s going to do a great job speaking specifically to us as art teachers during her featured presentation. But until that day, go read Rosie Revere or Iggy Peck or Aaron Slater or whatever else she’s written. Enjoy it and get ready for Andrea Beaty at the Now Conference in just a couple of weeks.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. If you are not signed up for the NOW Conference yet, if you’re not signed up to see Andrea Beaty, you can still register. And as I said, we’re just a couple weeks away. The kickoff, the NOW Conference kickoff is Friday, January 27th. The main event is Saturday the 28th and the last day, the asynchronous day of learning, is Sunday the 29th. And of course, you can continue that asynchronous learning throughout the next year with access to the entire conference. So you can find all the info you need, you can register. Everything you need to know is that the AOEU website. And I hope that we will see you at the conference.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.