Happy Monday and welcome to Glitter Reviews!
Today on Author Spotlight, we are glad to have Carolyn Bennett Fraiser. She is a children’s author and creative writing instructor who I met through Michele Ziemke’s Mighty KidLit. Reycraft Books published her informational picture book Moon Tree: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree on September 1st, 2022.
After a little girl finds a sycamore tree named a “moon tree,” she is determined to find out why. She even involves her third-grade class in finding the answer. Their research leads them to NASA, an extraordinary boy who dreamt of becoming an astronaut, and a fascinating story lost to time.
What struck me the most about Moon Tree was its historical, scientific, and educational layers. It’s no wonder it is Junior Library Guild Gold Selection. So let’s blast off right away!
Moon Tree is a picture book about a story lost in time. What inspired you to write it?
I first got the idea when I stumbled across a moon tree at a national forest near me. I say “stumbled” because I definitely didn’t expect to get an idea for a book there. I had gone to research a topic for a magazine article. When I passed the tree, I caught the sign out of the corner of my eye and literally walked backwards to read it. The story of the moon trees fascinated me and just wouldn’t let me go. So I committed to researching it.
Please tell us about your research to write a story with historical and scientific elements.
I literally went down every rabbit hole I could find. I researched the history of the trees, NASA, and the Apollo program looking for the right angle to tell this story. I watched documentaries, read Stuart Roosa’s biography, and studied Apollo 14’s flight journal. A couple of months into the process, I came across the story about the 3rd grade girl and Joan Goble’s class in a newspaper article. I knew right then that had to be in the story. I made contact with Dave Williams, an Apollo historian at NASA and during the interview, he offered to get me in touch with Joan. Of course, I immediately said yes! She gave me valuable information about that side of the story, and I was able to find other documents about their project. Dave and Joan were both instrumental in filling in the gaps along my journey. This book wouldn’t have been possible without them in so many ways.
How long did it take you to write Moon Tree?
I spent about 6 months just researching. I created multiple timelines of facts I collected along the way to organize my thoughts. Then I sat down and wrote the initial draft in just 2 days after a friend lent me her cabin for the weekend. But that draft was nothing like the final. It was very long and had sidebars on every page. I re-drafted the project several times over the next 6 months before I landed on the version that was eventually published. I had to try various angles before I found the right one that not only worked with the story, but also made it universal and applicable to children today.
Can you tell us about your writing process?
I tend to write in spurts. I often let a project simmer in the back of mind for days, weeks, or even months before I feel like I have something that is ready to write down. This is why I work on multiple projects at the same time. Every story takes a different process. For Moon Tree, I had submitted a previous version out to quite a few editors and agents. I received a response from one agent who suggested I used a lyrical voice. Most of my projects were lyrical, but for some reason, I had not tried that approach with this project yet. I let her advice sit for months before the idea for the structure of Moon Tree surfaced. But as soon as I wrote it down, I knew I was on the right track. That version led to my mentorship with Vivian Kirkfield through #PBChat, a contract, and then getting my agent.
Simona Mulazzani’s illustrations are realistic with whimsical hints. What is your favorite spread?
Oh my. There are SO many wonderful spreads in Moon Tree. But if I had to choose, there are 2 similar ones that I am most partial to. In the beginning, there’s a spread with young 10-year-old Stuart standing in front of his home in Oklahoma, watching the war planes return from WWII. The second would be towards the end is the spread of the 3rd grade girl at Camp Koch Girl Scout camp in Cannelton, Indiana, staring at a tree “named after the moon.” In both of these spreads, Simona brilliantly captured the wonder and awe of a child—even though they were decades apart. I just love that!
What do you hope kids will take away from Moon Tree?
Moon Tree is not just a story about a group of seeds that flew to the moon. It’s about childhood dreams and curiosity. And it’s about how each individual in the story—no matter how small they were—made an impact and became a part of history. My hope is that children will take that to heart and find ways that they can impact their world and make a lasting difference.
What is next for you?
Well, my second picture book, M Is For Mason Jar, is scheduled for release in Fall 2024 through Familius Publishing. It’s a book for younger readers about all the different ways children can get involved in a modern-day homestead. I’m excited to be about to share more about that next year!
If you had the opportunity to go to space, would you go?
Figuratively, yes! I’ve always wanted to study the rings of Saturn and after learning about all the different moons for an educational book I wrote last year, I am particularly interested in learning more about Saturn’s moon, Enceladus! But literally, I don’t think I would have the stamina to go through everything the astronauts need to endure in order to fly into space. After reading extensively about the physical activities they go through, I think I would be ruled out pretty quickly!
You have made contact with an intelligent creature from another planet. What would be the first thing you say? (besides hello)
Hmmm. I might introduce to them to one of our moon trees and ask if they would like to take some seeds with them to plant “earth trees” on their planet.
Do you prefer winter or summer?
Both. I usually tend to take time off between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I’m usually pretty tired and just need a break but by January, I’m ready to jump back into writing again. During the summer months, I like to get away and that’s when my mind calms down enough to be able to focus on writing.
What would you do if you were invisible for one day?
Oh, this is a good one. I spent the good part of my growing-up years either feeling invisible or wishing I were invisible, but even though it sounds strange, I’ve always wanted it as my superpower. As a writer, I love to people-watch, and being invisible would allow me to listen in on conversations as well. I’ve never been a social butterfly so hearing how people begin and engage in those conversations have always fascinated me.
Where would you like to time travel: the past or the future?
Definitely the past. There’s so much in history that fascinates me. I guess that’s why I write about it. I love digging through old documents and discovering what secrets may lie hidden among them. But I often wonder how many stories were never written down that we will never know about. I’d love to visit a former time period just to talk to people and listen to their stories.
About Carolyn Bennett Fraiser:
Carolyn Bennett Fraiser is a children’s book author and creative writing teacher who lives with her husband and pets in North Carolina. Her published books are Moon Tree: The Story of one Extraordinary Tree and Our Solar System: Moons. Her second picture book, M is for Mason Jar: an ABC book for Young Homesteaders comes out during the fall of 2024.
You can find Carolyn at:
Goodreads: Carolyn Fraiser
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