Katherine Roy Takes a Novel Approach to Scientific Subjects | SLJ 2023 Stars

Roy’s unique take on nonfiction is evident in The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, about astrophysicist Cecilia Payne, and Making More: How Life Begins, about reproduction.

The Fire of Stars


Katherine Roy has degrees in illustration and cartooning, but her work experience and passion have made the most impact on her books.

After college, Roy was a tour guide on Boston’s Freedom Trail. “It taught me how to scale information up and down for different audiences,” she says. That comes in handy on school visits. Then there was the job as an educator aboard a 138-foot schooner teaching environmental science to children. “I love talking about biology, ecosystems, and conservation with kids,” she says.


Photo by Tim Stout

So far in 2023, SLJ starred two of Roy’s titles: The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of (Chronicle), with Kirsten W. Larson, about astrophysicist Cecilia Payne, and Making More: How Life Begins (Norton), a scientific approach to the topic of reproduction.


The Fire of Stars

“It was really hard,” Roy admits about illustrating The Fire of Stars. “There are probably three or four times where I said, ‘I’m going to quit. I can’t do this.’”

Roy and Melissa Manlove, the book’s editor, originally had the idea for the book to have a vertical split screen, with the star story on top, featuring dynamic images of the galaxy, and Payne’s illustrated story below. But “it just felt boring, like it just felt flat,” Roy says.

Then Manlove sent her some new sketches, and a lightbulb went on. If she created a horizonal split design, “I could have the star story start on the left and Cecilia’s story on the right, and then when she becomes a scientist, flip them and have them come together.”

“It just kind of clicked,” says Roy, who finds it “exciting and gratifying” that the design is a key element people like.


Making More: How Life Begins

Roy is fascinated by adult science books about evolutionary biology, ecology, and adaptation. She knew she wanted to create a children’s book on the topic, but “it was just too much information.”

Making More

Around 2018–19, a few things happened that helped Roy envision Making More. First, her son started asking how babies got out of their mommies. Second, at school visits for her book How to Be an Elephant (Roarding Brook/David Macaulay, 2017), kids asked questions like, “How does the baby elephant get into its mom?”

“I needed to scale way down and talk about basic stuff: genes, traveling cells, courtship, fertilization, growth, birth, and hatching,” she says.

“If you approach [questions about reproduction] from a science point of view, you’re setting this foundation for your kid coming to you and asking you questions later. That’s an opportunity.”

Florence Simmons is an associate reviews editor at SLJ .

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