Created September 26, 2023 by Laurent Sewell
Our Member Interview Series welcomes Alisha Gabriel, co-author of FUNKY FUNGI: 30 ACTIVITIES FOR EXPLORING MOLDS, MUSHROOMS, LICHENS, AND MORE (Chicago Review Press, 2022). Alisha is also author of picture books ELLIOT MACK, QUARTERBACK (Treasure Chest Books, 2019) and THE LINE RHYME (Rourke Educational Media, 2019), plus middle grade nonfiction: ESCAPING AN ANIMAL ATTACK, THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FIRE TRIGGERS REFORM, and SILENTÓ: BREAKOUT RAPPER (Momento Publishing). Alisha is in her twenty-sixth year teaching elementary music and is an adjunct professor at Southwestern University.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
My dad was in the military, so we lived all over the United States. A few years ago, I stumbled across some of my childhood stories and they were about my dog, my family, and moving to a new place. That’s the epitome of write what you know!
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
My family jokes around that when I was young, I wanted to be Cinderella, but it never crossed my mind that I’d be an author. I was at least ten years into my teaching career before the writing bug bit me.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
A very grumpy elementary music teacher rolling out of bed at 5:15 a.m.! Don’t worry, it only takes a few minutes to shake off my grumbles. I teach about 150 students per day and an evening class at Southwestern University. On an ideal day, I squeeze in some reading or manuscript revision, too.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
Although teaching can be exhausting, it also keeps me in contact with K-5 students. I often glimpse the titles they’re clutching as they exit the school library, or talk to them about what they’re reading in the car-rider line at the end of the day. And in class, it’s easy to see what matters to them. Big emotions can erupt from someone cutting the line or not following directions, for example.
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
I’m proud that the book I co-authored with Sue Heavenrich, FUNKY FUNGI: 30 ACTIVITIES FOR EXPLORING MOLDS, MUSHROOMS, LICHENS, AND MORE won the 2023 AAAS/Subaru Book Prize for Excellence in Science Books. But I’m also proud to have persevered in the writing life long enough to receive a “yes” to this project. There are so many amazing books that don’t win awards, and talented, deserving writers that haven’t received a “yes” to their manuscripts yet. (Don’t give up!)
What surprises you about the creative life?
One thing that I love about the creative life is the way authors and illustrators are supportive of one another and willing to help others grow. Most authors I know realize that our projects and voices are so different that we shouldn’t feel that we’re in competition with one another. We’re all on a journey of self-discovery while we create our art.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope when readers pick up my work, they discover a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more!
As a researcher, what “rabbit holes” have you been exploring lately?
I seem to be finding a lot of interesting biography subjects that I’d like to write about that tie into different aspects of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programs. That said, several nature topics are tugging at my mind, begging to be written.
Any clever comments or quirky quotes from your students about any of your books?
Not exactly. Sometimes they ask me how long it took to write FUNKY FUNGI and get it published. Their eyes bug out when I tell them it took about two years from the contract to the published book, but I came up with the title and topic about ten years ago. Originally, I thought I’d write a PB about fungi, but it ended up growing into MG.
Any caveats of wisdom to share with SCBWI members who teach kids?
Notice what matters to kids. Ask them what they’re reading. Check out a ton of books and read, read, read. Peruse the library shelves to see what’s there. Regarding nonfiction, also take note of what’s missing. Has a book on a topic been checked out, or has no one written about it? Or, is there an older book on a topic that could use a fresh take?
Would you rather sing or listen to music?
That’s a tough question, because I teach music at an elementary school and at Southwestern University. However, I often enjoy listening to music when I’m cleaning and cooking, and it’s nearly impossible not to sing along!