GOOD EATING, the Short Life of Krill, & a chat with Matt Lilley!

When I got my first look at Matt Lilley’s DEBUT book, GOOD EATING, the Short Life of Krill, I knew I had to talk about it here. Why? Because it’s beautifully done, for one thing–informative, light, voice-y and engaging, and illustrated to perfection … but also because I’d once had the fleeting thought of writing about krill … but then couldn’t decide how to approach it. So I’m really excited that somebody did. And WAY better than I could have.

GOOD EATING, Tilbury House Publishers

By the way, this cover should sport a sticker designating the book a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection! It’s a superlative STEM title, and teachers, you can find a Reader’s Guide, coloring page, and activity on Matt’s website (below).

Anyway, we all know whales eat krill, right? And, um … what else do you know about these teeny little buggers? Not much, I’m guessing. So you might think Lilley would begin with what we know and expand from there. Nope. Whales don’t come into the picture until late. Instead, he begins by putting us eye to eye (so to speak) with one big orange-y egg–the beginning of one solitary krill. And you’re right there with it as it sinks for days, sinking a mile or more, until it hatches and begins sprouting arms and all the rest. But we readers don’t just stand and watch from the sidelines. Nope, we ARE the egg. That blew my mind … and made me want to paddle-paddle-paddle my little krill feet when I felt that whale’s approach. Yikes. Immersive, that’s what this book is.

Looking more and more krill-y. Art ©Dan Tavis

You know what? Since the book came out in January, there have already been some TERRIFIC reviews on other people’s blogs. Rather than repeat what’s already been said, feel free to go read a couple of those …

Carol Baldwin’s blog

Jilanne Hoffmann’s blog

…then come back and read my chat with Matt.

Jill: First, I have to ask:  Why krill? 

Matt: Because krill are awesome! Actually, it took a lot of writing to get to krill. I love writing about nature, especially birds and cold-weather creatures; things like seals, snow petrels, whales, and, of course, penguins. If you research Antarctic creatures much, you inevitably end up learning about krill, because they are so essential. Once I knew about krill, I knew that they deserved their own book. Then I just had to write it.

Jill: 2nd person POV! After reading about half this book, I couldn’t imagine it written any other way. I mean, talk about getting a reader invested! Tell us about having the idea for this book and getting started. Was its engaging, fun voice there from the outset, or … not?

Matt: It was definitely…not. I wanted the book to be nonfiction, so first person wasn’t an option. The first drafts were all in third person. The story followed the same arc as the book, from the egg to the encounter with a blue whale. Those drafts were OK, but they never felt right. So, I just kept researching and trying to think of how I could improve the story. I have to admit, I got some help for the idea to change it to second person. While researching krill I came across a video that Lisa Roberts made about their lifecycle called “How Do Krill Grow?” In that video, the krill asks how it grows, and an unseen narrator answers the krill’s questions. A few days after watching that video (I can be a little slow), I had the epiphany: “Write it in 2nd person!” And that was it. The next draft was very close to the final version.

Jill: Slow on the uptake is something I definitely understand, Matt. What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

Matt: Realizing I should switch to 2nd person was probably the biggest challenge. The next biggest challenge was the research. When I first wrote it, there were zero non-academic books published about krill. The first was published a few years ago, for grown-ups (Stephen Nicol’s The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World – great book!). Good Eating is the first krill book for kids. To find out about things like the larval stages of development, I had to find the primary-source science papers. For example, I had to track down a used copy of “The Natural History and Geography of the Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba Dana) (Discovery Reports Vol. XXXII)” from 1962. This book is 464 pages and pretty rare. When I finally found a copy of it, a previous owner had written “whale food” on the cover. When I saw that, I thought, “Wow! They summarized my whole book in two words!”

(I just love the contrast between this massive scientific document and the two simple words, scratched at the top, that sum it all up.)

Jill: Haha. Guess those researchers could have saved A LOT of paper! So, Matt, your text is short, yet riveting. Tell us about your day job and how that may have trained you to write “precise and concise.”

Matt: I’m trained as a technical writer. I have an M.S. in Scientific and Technical Communication. Technical writing is all about taking a complex topic and making it easy to understand for a specific audience…sounds a lot like writing for kids, doesn’t it? The fact is, writing for kids is harder, because you have to make it clear and interesting. Writing for kids is also more fun, because I get to learn about all kinds of cool stuff too.

Jill: Yes! Way more fun. We have to talk about Dan Tavis’s illustrations. They’re bright and whimsical, amazingly detailed, and so! much! fun! Yes, these little critters will likely end up on some whale’s menu, but meanwhile they’re relatable, adorable, irresistible. I think it’s those buggy little eyes! How did you feel when you got your first peek?

Just look at these cuties! Art ©Dan Tavis

Matt: I was thrilled to get to see pictures made to go along with my words! That is one of the best parts of writing picture books; when you actually get to see the process. I immediately loved Tavis’s illustrations. We did have to make some adjustments though. Larval krill are pretty strange creatures. Dan worked hard to make them look friendly. I felt like the first images didn’t look enough like the real thing. Dan very graciously re-did them. I think the final versions are still friendly looking, but also look more like real krill.

Jill: They DO look friendly, and that helps pull in readers. Sure worked for me! According to your bio, you work on your own projects at night. Tell us how you manage your time when you must have dozens of ideas in your back pocket.

Matt: I wish I could say I do a better job getting it all done. It is always a struggle to make time to write on top of everything else. I do have lots of ideas that I try to get to. I try to focus on the ideas that seem the most fun and interesting to me. Having a project that sparks my own imagination is a pretty good motivator. 

Jill: I’m going to close with a shot of the endpapers. Just taken w/my phone, but too cute not to share.


I know I’m not the only one looking forward to more titles from Matt! Readers, please check out these websites and, if you don’t see GOOD EATING at your library, ASK FOR IT!

Matt’s website

Dan Tavis website

Meanwhile, how about a GIVEAWAY! If you’d like a copy of GOOD EATING to share with your little fishies, simply comment below, and we’ll put you into the drawing. Readers will be contacted August 5th. Thanks!

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of more than 50 children's books. Recent picture books include JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection), HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She is also the author of a graphic early reader series, Thunder & Cluck (another Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). In addition, she has authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including several titles in the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF–– series. Next year brings her first humorous informational fiction pb, STINKBIRD HAS A SUPERPOWER. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at www.jillesbaum.com

33 Comments:

  1. Danielle Hammelef

    I love the approach to this informative book. Readers get to be the krill and experience life in the ocean is amazing. Thank you for the interview and post today to get to know the author and his work.

  2. Congrats, Matt! Can’t wait to learn more about krill!

  3. I love writing and reading accessible nonfiction. Thanks for highlighting the process behind GOOD EATING. I’m excited to check the book out!

  4. Those are the most expressive krill ever! Can’t wait to dive into this book!

  5. What a fantastic blend of story, art, and story telling! Love love love the 2nd person POV!

  6. This sounds awesome! Thanks for the great interview.

  7. Jill, I consider anyone who gets a mention on PictureBookBuilders to have “made it!” So I’m delighted for my friend, Matt, to get a shout out from you. We saw this book bloom from an inception Matt shared with our critique group to a beautiful manuscript! We’re proud of you Matt and Dan!

  8. Sharalyn+Edgeberg

    Thank you Jill for this awesome interview. I appreciate the interesting questions and Matt’s answers with information I didn’t know like “whale food” on the cover from the 425 page book. I’m also in Matt’s critique group and I’m so thrilled for his great success. Congratulations to Matt and Dan for his colorful illustrations.

  9. Kim Pfennigwerth

    What a book journey! I’ll be looking this book up for my grandson! Thanks for the fun interview and Congratulations!

  10. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    This looks fantastic. Can’t wait to read it!

  11. So fun…thanks for sharing!

  12. While reading this post I discovered krill are amazing. I learned many interesting facts about krill during this interview. I look forward to reading GOOD EATING: THE SHORT LIFE OF KRILL created by Matt Lilley and Dan Travis.

  13. Great interview! It’s fascinating to see how this book came to be and always interesting to see how others explore to find just the right way to tell a story.

  14. Thank you for all the kind comments! I wanted to also mention that the first ever World Krill Day is coming up on August 11. Myself and some other krill enthusiasts (including actual scientists and conservation organizations) are planning some events to celebrate krill. As the time gets closer, I’ll be tweeting about them on my twitter (@mlilleywriter).

  15. Sandie Vaisnoras

    I love the story of how this book came to be. And going with 2nd person. Can’t wait Sri share with my niece.

  16. Jilanne F Hoffmann

    I love that the illustrator worked so hard to make krill look friendly! I have a friend who’s an illustrator who’s studied “charisma” in animals, and how readers gravitate more toward animals that are charismatic. I think your friendly krill qualify!

    Thanks for the shout out for my blog, Jill! I enjoy PBB’s posts!

  17. This looks like a total delight! Can’t wait to read it!

  18. Janet+Frenck+Sheets

    I’ve read this book and it’s terrific!

  19. Meredith+Fraser

    Love the second person POV allowing the reader to get totally immersed.
    Congratulations and can’t wait to read!

  20. This looks so good! Congrats on your debut picture book, Matt!!

  21. Jennifer Merrifield

    I read the book aloud to my husband while we were traveling in the car. We both enjoyed it tremendously. I plan to use it as a mentor text for my point of view study. So well done! Having it be a nonfiction text is a bonus.

  22. This would be a great addition to our Library shelves!

  23. Love the interview and would love to win a copy to read with 2nd graders.

  24. Great interview, Jill. GOOD EATING looks so interesting! I love that Matt chose to write it in 2nd POV. Dan’s illustrations are fun and engaging as well. I can’t wait to read it!

  25. What a beautiful book! I love an enjoyable, informative book.

  26. My students always love any book about animals! This looks like a fantastic nonfiction book.

  27. This looks fantastic! Thanks for the great interview and congrats on the book!

  28. The illustrations look great for this one. Can’t wait to read it!

  29. This looks like an interesting and engaging read. I know a second grader at my school who’d grab it right off the shelf!

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