New Release: Seven and a Half Tons of Steel – Author Interview

Yesterday (August 1) an inspiring picture book released into the world — SEVEN AND A HALF TONS OF STEEL (published by Peachtree Publishers.) This gorgeous book shares the true story of a powerful event in recent history that is filled with hope.  To celebrate this release author, Janet Nolan, kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her new book.


Janet, so thrilled you could join us at Picture Book Builders! Your new title, SEVEN AND A HALF TONS OF STEEL, shares an incredible story. Can you tell us what the story is about and how you originally got the idea for this book?

I was driving my car, listening to the radio, when I first heard a beam from the World Trade Towers had been used in the bow of a navy ship. What struck me then, and has stayed with me ever since, was the feeling that something powerful had emerged from a tragic event. The book begins:

“There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. It is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something different, something special about the USS New York.”

I believe the USS New York is special – not only because of the seven and a half tons of steel in its bow – but because of the men and women who built and serve on it. The ship’s motto is “Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget.” I believe the USS New York is more than a navy ship. It is a testament to hope, rebuilding, and redemption.


Can you share a bit about your research for this nonfiction picture book?

I knew almost nothing about forging steel or shipbuilding when I began researching this book. I conducted phone interviews, read every news article I could get my hands on. I watched countless news clips and videos, and was a frequent visitor to the ship’s website. I have to say I was touched by the generosity of the many librarians and retired military who were willing to guide me in the right direction and answer my many questions, big and small.

Did you know right away how you wanted to tell this remarkable story, or did you write up several different versions before you found the way you wanted to share it?

I think I always knew the core of the story was the seven and a half tons of steel. The book begins with the events of September 11th and the outpouring of emotion at ground zero, but when the beam leaves New York the story follows. I didn’t want to write a book about the tragedy of September 11th. I wanted to write a book that told a different story, one of hope and rebuilding.

I also had to be sensitive to the passage of time. For my readers, this is a history book. September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina, which is also mentioned in the book, are historical events that occurred long before my readers were born. Thomas Gonzalez created such wonderful, realistic illustrations for this book.


The illustrations are gorgeous. Can you share a few thoughts on those?

Thomas Gonzalez is amazing. The first time I held the book in my hands I cried. The illustrations exceeded my imagination. They’re captivating, emotional, and honest. Every aspect of the book, from the cover to the end pages, is beautiful. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a talented and compassionate artist illustrate the book.

Thanks so much for the interview, Janet.

I love your new book, and it seems reviewers do too!

“This beautiful, sober, and hopeful recounting of a difficult chapter in American history is a stellar addition to history collections.” —School Library Journal
“Gonzalez’s breathtaking spreads dazzle… The emphasis is not on damage and destruction, but on America’s power to recover. Teachers and parents looking for picture books that celebrate the nation and its military will welcome Nolan and Gonzalez’s work.” —Publishers Weekly

“A deeply felt but not overwrought telling of a story that will be new to most young readers.” —Kirkus Reviews

Suzanne Slade

Suzanne Slade is the author of more than 100 books. A mechanical engineer by degree, she enjoys writing about science topics and fascinating historical figures. Recent books include: SWISH! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon, The Daring Dozen, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, Astronaut Annie, Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story, Dangerous Jane, The Music in George's Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue, The Inventor’s Secret, and Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Coming soon -- MARS IS, JUNE ALMEIDA VIRUS DETECTIVE! THE WOMAN WHO DISCOVERED THE FIRST HUMAN CORONAVIRUS, THE UNIVERSE AND YOU, and TBA titles from Calkins Creek, Peachtree, and Random House. Learn more about Suzanne and her books at:


  1. I can’t wait to read this book. Thanks for putting it in the PBB spotlight!

  2. Not only is it great that Ms. Nolan created a non-fiction picture book with her information, but it’s great that she created one “of hope and rebuilding.” : )

  3. Yes, it’s so inspiring how she highlighted the redemption in this tragic event. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. What an inspiring book. I can’t wait to read it. I can only imagine how much research went into it and how she focused the story is beautiful. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  5. I am excited about this book and what it will mean to young readers as well as older readers like me. Focusing on hope and rebuilding is a very good thing and I will be inspired as I read this book to my grandchildren.

  6. Thanks for sharing the back story on this amazing book. I’m so glad that Janet wrote it!

  7. This looks like a beautiful book with an inspiring story to tell. Can’t wait to see it.

  8. Sounds like an amazing book! Can’t wait to read it!

  9. “Never Forget.” Every teacher needs to get this book.

  10. I’m looking forward to reading this book. Books about hope feel particularly relevant today. Thank you for sharing this story.

  11. Excellent interview, Suzanne and Janet! Can’t wait to read this book!

  12. What a powerful story and gorgeous book! Thanks, Suzanne and Janet, for a peek behind the scenes.

  13. Oh, Janet, so proud of this book! It’s an important and powerful story, thoughtfully brought to young readers. Thanks for sharing this with us, Suzanne.

  14. I look forward to reading the story! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  15. Thank you for your inspiring book, Janet, and for sharing the story behind the story. The world needs this book right now. More than ever.

  16. Wonderful creativity in the portrayal of true history. A story that has become a work of art transforming the reader to hope for more. Greatness… Thanks for the good read!!

  17. Thanks, Suzanne, for your interview. I learned a lot that I didn’t know from it. I look forward to reading the whole book. You’re right the illustrations are beautiful. I’m glad that you were able to focus on the positive.

  18. Thank you for sharing this, Suzanne! I love hearing where an author’s idea comes from and where it takes them on their journey to build a book!

  19. I missed this earlier, Suzanne, but wanted to thank you for sharing about this book! The art seems so incredibly perfect for the story — I’d love to find out sometime how the art director/editor came to pair this artist and writer together.

  20. So inspiring. As a former New Yorker who lived in NY at the time of 9/11, I got chills. Thanks for sharing!

  21. This looks great. Thanks for doing the research. I didn’t know about them taking parts of the World Trade Center and using it to make the ship. I agree about most of your readers being born post events of the bombing and Hurricane Katrina. It’s weird to experience the history then realize that others don’t know about it unless we tell or teach them.

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