Author Interview: Gidget Roceles-Jimenez

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Gidget Roceles-Jimenez is the author of the excellent Can We? science book series from Adarna House. The series includes Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space, which won a Philippine National Children's Book Award this year. Can We Live on Mars? makes astronomy interesting, accessible, and relevant to Filipino children. Today, I have the great pleasure of sharing an interview with the book's author!

Gidget, welcome to Asia in the Heart, World on the Mind!

Why do you write nonfiction for young readers? What is it about nonfiction that you find so appealing?

In the 10 years I have been writing, I have been fortunate to have been given the opportunity to write poetry, creative non-fiction and non-fiction for young readers. I started off writing poetry because I used to love reading funny poems to my children at night. Our favorite poet was Shel Silverstein. Other times my kids would prefer we make up stories instead of read them. Since my husband loved adopting all sorts of animals in our house, many of our stories ended up being about them. In time, I ended up writing some of these stories as poems and having them published as the I Like Myself picture book series under Tahanan Books. This is actually how I serendipitously ended up writing children’s books.

My educational background involved a lot of research. I got both my undergraduate and masters degree in business economics. As I got more comfortable writing for children, writing both creative non-fiction and non-fiction children’s books seemed like a perfect use of both my skills and my new found passion.

{Below are pictures of Gidget with her beautiful family and some of their pets! (Tortoises photo credit: Kathy Chua)}

What are the specific challenges and rewards of writing nonfiction for young Filipino readers?

I learned a lot from writing the Adarna House Can We? nonfiction series. We had to test some of the basic scientific concepts on some primary schools. The results helped all of us working on the series refine the way we presented the concepts. Getting feedback from the kids about what appealed to them and what they didn’t understand helped us make the books more interesting for them to read. I appreciated Adarna’s meticulous efforts to ensure that the books were really able to relate to their target audience.

It is nice to hear feedback from parents and teachers that their kids actually learn a lot from the books. They even try to do the experiments that we put in the books and actually enjoy them. One of the nicest rewards of doing this series was seeing a whole room filled with an exhibit of the Can We Plug into Lightning? experiments done by some kids in a public school in Tagaytay. It gave me the assurance that the kids really understood what we were trying to present to them in the book.

Can you please guide us through the research and writing process you used for Can We Live on Mars?: A Book about Space?

The book Can We Live on Mars? was the third and last installment to the Can We? science series of Adarna House. Writing this book proved to be the most challenging of the three books in the series. After publishing Can We Drink the Ocean? and Can We Plug into Lightning? Adarna wanted a third book to complete the series. I was quite surprised that they wanted it to be about space. They said it was a favorite science topic among many of the schools we used to test the first two books in the series. I was a little hesitant at first, as I knew the Philippines didn’t really have an active space program. I knew this would require a much more creative approach to presenting it within a Philippine context.

However as I did my research it became clear that the Philippine “space” program really evolved out of the need to find a scientific approach to preventing national disasters such as typhoons. Through Adarna’s contacts, I got a lot of information from technical experts affiliated with the Manila Observatory at Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines NISMED Observatory. They were particularly excited as the book was scheduled to come out on the 400th year anniversary of the first time Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei used a telescope to see the moon, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter.

With more digging, I found out that although we didn’t really have an active space program, we did have some local astronomers that have made significant contributions to recent important discoveries such as the existence of Jupiter’s third spot.

And despite our limited involvement in the world’s “Race for Space” programs, it was most important to show Filipino kids the way our notable astronomers have tailored our studies of the skies to help us in the Philippine context especially during our unpredictable typhoon seasons.

{Click on the image below to check out a spread from the book! (Image courtesy of Adarna House. All rights reserved.)}

{Here is Gidget with Bru, the illustrator of Can We Live on Mars?.}

Gidget, who are your favorite authors of nonfiction children's books? What are your favorite nonfiction children's books? Why are they your favorites? How have they influenced your own work?

I like non-fiction books like the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary and Martin Brown and the Horrible Geography series by Anita Ganeri and Mike Philips. They are able to present boring historical facts in such a creative and interesting manner that allows you to both enjoy and understand them. Although I have yet to write something about history or geography, they have just made me more aware of how we can make reading and learning more fun for kids.

What are you working on now?

I am collaborating on a non-fiction book for kids on organic gardening and another one that can probably be categorized as creative non-fiction. The final draft has not yet been approved on this one so I am not at liberty to say too much about it yet. I don’t know when they will come out yet. Hopefully soon!

Thank you so much, Gidget! I can't wait to read your new books!