A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Bethany Straker: Today I am interviewing my friend and collaborator, James Duffett-Smith, on his new and wonderful children’s book, “A CURIOUS ROBOT ON MARS!” which I have been lucky enough to illustrate.
Far off into space 186 million miles to be precise a fearless robot rover travels all by his lonesome. He is on a crucial mission from Earth, eagerly seeking to answer the much-anticipated question: Does life exist on Mars? But there is nothing to be seen on this planet except miles of rocks. He loses support from mission control and finds himself alone and cut off from civilization. But the curious little robot is resilient! After noticing a flash of light shining brilliantly through the crack of a rock, he instantly realizes his mission is far from over. He slowly inches towards the edge, but then suddenly falls perilously into the darkness! What will he discover?Bethany Straker’s vibrant illustrations accompany James Duffett-Smith’s suspenseful tale of discovery and hope. A Curious Robot on Mars! will motivate any and all readers to strive for one’s ambitions and most importantly, to always be curious!
Hi James! Thanks for being here. Are you excited about the release of your first children’s book?
I am! It’s a great feeling to see our first collaboration out in print.
What was it about NASA’s Curiosity Rover that made you want to base a children’s fiction book around it?
Mars is such a fascinating place. It’s our closest planetary neighbour, is very similar to Earth in many ways but appears to be completely lifeless. That said, if there is any evidence of life on Mars, it could completely change our view of ourselves. I’d like to inspire children to think about space and the planets, and given that the Curiosity rover is topical I thought it would be a good way to talk a bit about space.
Can you explain a little about the robot’s adventures in the book?
Of course. The robot rover is on a mission to Mars to find life, but gets abandoned by mission control when they think his mission is complete. As far as he’s concerned though it’s not, so he sets out see what he can find on his own.
Have you always been interested in science and space?
I have. Space puts everything in perspective. It’s vast, mysterious and we really have so little idea about what is really out there. That’s truly exciting. At the same time, we know that we couldn’t survive anywhere out there that we know about without bringing so much from Earth, so it makes me appreciate how precious what we have here is.
The central character in ‘A CURIOUS ROBOT ON MARS’ is very loveable. What do you think he teaches children throughout the book?
I think that his lesson is that you shouldn’t give up on your dream, whatever it may be, and even if you are all alone.
I really enjoyed working with you on this. How did you find the creative process once the text was written?
Thanks! Me too. It was great seeing the sparse text visualised into images, and I loved seeing the rover come to life. I think you’ve captured a very human quality in a mechanical form!
Your next book, ‘Stella and Steve Travel Through Space’ is another one we worked together on, and is more of an educational book. How would you compare the two?
Curious Robot on Mars! is definitely fictional, even if it’s based very loosely on the Curiosity mission. Stella and Steve, on the other hand, is intended to be more educational, and perhaps for a slightly older reader. I want to try and inspire young kids to learn more about space – maybe one day a future astronaut will say that one of our books sparked an interest.
Do you have any favourite books or films based in space?
Oh yes. On the film side, I love the original Alien film. I thought that Sunshine was pretty good as well. As for fiction, the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy still makes me laugh, though for something a bit more serious (and beautiful), Solaris by Stanisław Lem is pretty amazing. I liked the film of that as well, though it received mixed reviews.
Thanks very much James. Here’s to a successful new release!
– JAMES DUFFETT-SMITH lives in New York City and when he’s not writing, playing music, or wandering the streets of Manhattan he works as a digital music lawyer. ‘Curious Robot on Mars’ is his first book.
– BETHANY STRAKER is an illustrator and designer working in Kent and London. She is currently working on 6 picture books for Skyhorse publishing and currently has a book out written by Isabel Atherton, called ‘Zombie Cat: The Tale of a Decomposing Kitty’. Her new books include a book she wrote called ‘The Funny Bunny Fly’, ‘A Curious Robot on Mars!’ written by James Duffett-Smith and ‘Smelly Ghost’ by Isabel Atherton. Previously, Bethany has illustrated for magazines for Disney, CMP Information, Bliss magazine, the National Magazine Company and GoGo’s Crazy Bones. You can see some examples of her work on her website, www.bethanystraker.com