Jonathan Roth has met four astronauts, but he’s spent even more time with an alien named Beep and a space-school slacker named Bob. Those are the main characters in his comical sci-fi chapter book series that debuted in 2018. Kids can learn all about Beep and Bob when Roth visits Severna Park Library on June 25 at 2:00pm. In advance of his visit, Roth told the Voice how he came up with the concept for his series and he teased what’s coming next.
Q: You credit your love of art and books to your mother, a painter, and your father, an English teacher. What spurred your interest in space?
A: I was a toddler as humans first stepped on the moon and one of my earlier memories is watching a lunar broadcast on my grandparent’s grainy black-and-white TV in their flower shop in downtown Detroit. Then, soon, I was blown away by “Close Encounters,” “Star Wars,” “ET” and other science fiction of the time. But much of my interest also developed from simply gazing at the moon, planets and stars from the ground and cultivating my own sense of wonder at the beauty and mystery of it all.
Q: What inspired the “Beep and Bob” chapter book series?
A: I was working on a middle-grade novel a few years ago, but it wasn’t going great. I then caught a talk by the ever-awesome author/illustrator Dav Pilkey, and afterward, I realized I wanted to do something more in the fun and silly vein of his work. I went home and began writing about a boy in a school orbiting Saturn who was terrified of everything about space. I gave him a little alien friend and wrote fun adventures, which were initially just for my own amusement. To my surprise, it became my first book series published for kids.
Q: Why did you choose 6- to 9-year-olds as the target audience?
A: By day, I teach elementary art to 5- to 11-year-olds, and that’s the audience I know best. I love their imaginations and creativity, and I’m sure it helps fuel my own work. It also helps that I’m not shy about revealing my goofier side, in life or in fiction.
Q: In the four books, Beep and Bob have been to Saturn and Neptune. They have saved Halloween and made clones. What’s next? Do you think you will continue this series or start a new project?
A: I’m currently developing a new series that also has a space theme and is aimed at elementary kids. They’re graphic novels and not chapter books, though, so somewhat different as well. I’m also open to giving Beep and Bob new adventures, especially if enough kids cry out for more (hint, hint)!
Q: How did you meet four astronauts who have gone to the moon?
A: The Air and Space Museum in D.C. is a great place to catch lectures and signings by astronauts, even those who go back to the Apollo era. My favorite moon walker is Alan Bean, who commanded Apollo 12 (the second mission to land there) and later expressed his experience through a prolific series of amazing paintings of the lunar landings. If only I’d known you can be both an artist and an astronaut, I may have given it a shot (except for the fact that, like Bob, I’d be absolutely terrified about blasting to space).
Before they catch Roth at the Severna Park Library on June 25, children and their families can meet him at the Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival in Easton on Saturday, June 8, between 10:00am and 3:00pm.