From PhD to Picture Book


Welcome to The Academic Life! In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • Dr. Julie Dillemuth’s path through higher ed
  • What led her to try to write for a popular audience, and what helped her learn how to do it
  • Why she writes for children about spatial cognition skills
  • How receiving 82 rejection letters didn’t stop her path to publication
  • A discussion of the books Lucy in the City, and Camilla and the Big Change

Today’s books are: Lucy in the City, a picture book about a young raccoon who gets separated from her family one night and has to find her way home. Faced with the challenge of being on her own, Lucy tunes in to her surroundings for the first time and discovers that she can re-trace her steps using smells, sights, and sounds. At its heart, the story focuses on developing spatial thinking, understanding the world around us, and using concepts of space for problem-solving. Our other book today is Camilla and the Big Change, a picture book about the wild boar Camilla and her loyal sidekick Parsley enjoying Spring in the forest. When beavers move in, trees come down as they start building a dam. The path of the river will be forever altered and Camilla does NOT want a pond in the middle of her forest! It's too much change. But when her map-making skills are needed for the pond construction, Camilla comes to understand that change can be good as she works with the entire forest community to draw new maps and look at her home in a whole new way. Both books include a Note to Parents & Caregivers in the backmatter with information about map-making and spatial thinking, and also about adapting to new environments and building community.

Our guest is: Dr. Julie Dillemuth, who earned her undergraduate degree at Yale, and went on to earn a PhD in Geography with an Emphasis in Cognitive Science from UC Santa Barbara, where her dissertation focused on how people use maps on small screens (like cell phones) to make navigation decisions, follow routes, and acquire spatial knowledge about their environment. She is the author numerous picture books for children, including Lucy in the City, and Camilla and the Big Change.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, the co-creator of the Academic Life. She and Julie met when they joined the same critique group. They have been friends for nearly a decade.

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You are smart and capable, but you aren’t an island and neither are we. We reach across our mentor network to bring you experts about everything from how to finish that project, to how to take care of your beautiful mind. Here on the Academic Life channel, we embrace a broad definition of what it means to be an academic and to lead an academic life. We view education as a transformative human endeavor and are inspired by today’s knowledge-producers working inside and outside the academy. Wish we’d bring on an expert about something? DMs us on Twitter: @AcademicLifeNBN.

Your Host

Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
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