A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

Book Birthday Interview: Stella and Steve Travel Through Space! by James Duffett-Smith and Bethany Straker

Bethany Straker: Today I’m talking space travel and home comforts with the author of the educational and exciting ‘Stella and Steve Travel Through Space!’, which I very much enjoyed illustrating. Here’s a little about the book:


Did you know that Jupiter is eleven times the size of Earth? The solar system is an incredible place that is full of planets and moons that we have barely explored. So, when Stella and her family move to a new town–where Stella has no friends except for her dog Steve–she goes exploring. In this educational book, travel across the solar system with Stella and Steve as Stella looks for a new home on another planet and imagines what life would be like on another world, from Mercury to Pluto. But along the way Stella learns that Venus has acid rain and Neptune is made entirely of gas, and she begins to wonder whether Earth might actually be the perfect home for her after all. Featuring a fun and informational story from author James Duffett-Smith, and bold, comic book-style illustrations by Bethany Straker, Stella and Steve Travel through Space shows just how great the Earth is (while providing young children with an early science lesson) in a twist on “there’s no place like home.”

After working together on ‘A Curious Robot on Mars’, a fictional children’s book that brought a little magic to space research, we both started working on something factual that children could both enjoy and use to learn from. Where did the idea for Stella and Steve come from, James?
James Duffett-Smith: I’ve always loved space and the solar system, and spent a lot of time reading about it as a kid. Last year on a trip to the Planetarium in New York, I stopped by the bookshop and was struck by how lacklustre the kids books on space really were. There was none of the wonder and magic that had sucked me in, and instead the marvels of the universe were reduced a set of dry facts. Something needed to be done.


BS: You included a lot of emotion throughout the book, using Stella and Steve’s friendship and togetherness in moving to a new town as a starting point for their journey. What did you want to convey here and how did it tie up with the moral of the story?
JDS: The solar system is an amazing place, but it’s a very hostile one for human life. We really wouldn’t stand much of a chance living anywhere else other than earth for a long period of time – at least, with today’s technology. I wanted make the point that as incredible as the solar system is, we need to value the planet we live on, because moving to another one is not an option any time soon.

BS: What started your own interest in space?
JDS: Good question! I grew up watching Star Wars and Dr Who, and I always loved sci-fi. My father was an astrophysicist as well so that probably had an influence on me.

BS: Stella is often seen struggling with the atmosphere and elements of the various planets, whereas Steve is able to avoid any injury in a relaxed manner. I love this comedic twist in the otherwise factual story. Who do you think the reader will warm to most?
JDS: I hope people enjoy both Stella and Steve. Though we had to take some creative licence with Steve—dogs would find the other planets just as hostile as humans.


BS: What do you think the story teaches us about our own planet?
JDS: We should appreciate just how unique and special it is, and not take it for granted. If it becomes uninhabitable because we’ve polluted it, we are in big trouble.

BS: Which is your favourite planet and why?
JDS: Hmm, that depends on what mood I’m in. Right now, I have to say the mystery of Europa and Enceladus intrigues me – the prospect of finding something living beneath the ice on those moons is bewitching.

BS: Thanks James! Here’s to a successful release and maybe a sequel… 🙂
JDS: Sounds good to me, Beth…

  • 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,


This entry was posted on August 5, 2014 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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