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

Book Birthday Alert! Elli Woollard interviews Isabel Thomas about Self-Destructing Science: Space


Self-Destructing Science: Space by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Nikalas Catlow (Bloomsbury) publishes on 19 May!

Elli: Self-destructing? Noooooooo! Heeeeeeelp!

Isabel: Oh no Elli! Breathe, relax, think cute guinea pigs! The only danger in this book is being dazzled by the neon ink.

Actually, now I’ve calmed down a little, I have to admit that I love a nice bit of destruction. So explain to me please, how does this book work?

Well, it’s not one of those Zzzzzzz activity books that’s all about sitting quietly and doodling. This book goes off with a BANG!

It’s packed with activities that use every page in a different way. Get ready to tear, fold, cut, construct and experiment … but be warned: THIS BOOK WILL SELF DESTRUCT!

Hang on a minute, you’re telling me that readers are instructed to destroy your book? You’re actually inviting them to rip your book to shreds? As an author, how does that make you feel? (If anyone tried to rip my books, I would probably set my super-vicious dog onto them. If I had a dog. I could set my fluffy guinea pig onto them instead though. That would work.)

Oh no, I should never have mentioned guinea pigs!

Science is all about being creative, thinking about things in a new way, and generally making a mess*! Self-Destructing Science gets children to linger on each page as they carry out experiments, build models, play games or record observations. With 60 NEON pages, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and I’ll be delighted if I spot children ripping it apart!

The book is also packed with information about space, so pages in danger of total self-destruction carry a handy warning to read both sides first!

*Not strictly part of the scientific method

I imagine this book involved a lot of collaboration between you and the illustrator. Did you sit down and talk about it together (over a cup or two of exploding tea), or did you work separately? Did you provide rough sketches of what you wanted it to look like?

I was thrilled when Bloomsbury chose Nikalas Catlow to illustrate, as his style is perfect for the book. Along with my manuscript I send mocked up models, diagrams for the paper engineering, and photographs of the step by steps. I also write  art ideas to accompany the jokes in the manuscript. After layouts have been mocked up, Nikalas works his magic, creating cartoon versions of the diagrams and all the fantastic characters. The designer then brings everything together on the page to make it look awesome.

As someone who only writes fiction (my brain is far too porous to retain facts), I’m really interested in how the non-fiction process works. Was this book commissioned, or did you come up with the idea?

I pitched it in the traditional way, just like fiction but without needing to write the whole book first – that’s the key difference! Once commissioned, non-fiction is always an amazing team effort. The book was commissioned and developed by Saskia Gwinn and edited by Hannah Rolls and Emily Lunn. Team Self-Destruct also includes Caroline Hawkins, Cathy Tincknell, Claire Jones and Anna de Lacey.

Are there more self-destructing books planned, or would you self-destruct if you revealed the answer?

I’m pleased to say there will, the next one will be Animals and Other Wild Things, which will roar on to bookshelves in February 2017!


About Isabel Thomas

Isabel Thomas studied Human Sciences at Oxford University before becoming a writer. Her books for young people include HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (OUP), shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People's Book Prize 2016, and SELF-DESTRUCTING SCIENCE: SPACE (Bloomsbury). Isabel lives in Cambridge, where she is zookeeper to three young sons. Website: Twitter: @raisingchimps


This entry was posted on May 18, 2016 by and tagged , .

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