Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Butterflies are Pretty Gross!

 by Sue Heavenrich

Tundra Books, April 2021

What with the days getting longer, insects are flitting and buzzing, whining and zipping about the yard. Among them are butterflies, pretty and – according to Rosemary Mosco – pretty gross! They taste with their feet. They lick salt from muddy puddles. Some of them even eat poop! And their kids! Butterfly larvae can be rude, stinky, and sneaky. 

Truth is, butterflies are complicated. And Rosemary and Jacob do a great job getting that information across to readers of all ages. They highlight the science and shenanigans of seven species, including the Monarch who narrates the book. And believe me, he’s none too eager to give up Secrets of The Order (Lepidoptera). Granted, this is a picture book, but it’s got enough humor in it to entice adults to read it again and again. Plus Back Matter!

I “met” Rosemary through her online Bird and Moon cartoons. I met Jacob at our regional SCBWI conference (west-central NY). So I am really happy they are able to join me here on the GROG blog today and share some of their secrets – which are not gross at all! Imagine that we are sitting around a table slurping coffee through our long, tubular butterfly tongues (Rosemary, do butterflies drink coffee?) and chatting about words and art.

Sue: So Rosemary, What made you want to highlight the gritty side of butterfly life?

photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz
Rosemary: I got the idea for this book when I overheard someone say "I like bugs, but not butterflies. They're just boring and girly." Well, I'm a girl (okay, a woman), and I know butterflies to be gross, funny, beautiful, and wonderful - just like us. I wanted to highlight the complexity of these familiar critters. I was hoping to show that everything is much more complicated and interesting if you take a deeper look.

Sue: What sort of research did you do?

Rosemary: I started with a big list of strange butterfly facts. Then I whittled it down to my favorites. I read books and papers, and I also spoke with two experts. I talked to Phil Torres, who is a true renaissance man: he's an adventurer, researcher, TV host, and butterfly expert. He has taken great tropical footage of butterflies eating jaguar poop and drinking turtle tears. Phil read an early draft of the book and provided footage that helped the fabulous artist Jacob Souva nail down the strangest scenes. I also talked to Professor Naomi Pierce of Harvard - she has a wealth of knowledge, and she's particularly interested in butterflies that let ants babysit their caterpillars. The facts about alcon blue butterflies in this book come from her research.

Sue: And you watch butterflies too, right?

Rosemary: Yes, enthusiastically! I even travel to other places to watch them. I've been to the National Butterfly Center in Texas twice for the Texas Butterfly Festival. It's hard to pick a favorite, but I love zebra swallowtails. They're these beautiful black-and-white-striped butterflies that like to drink from puddles in the middle of hiking paths. 

Sue: And Jacob, you did research, too for the illustrations.

Jacob:
This book took a lot more in-depth research than a normal project would. We cover a lot of ground. Tundra’s art director, John Martz, had me walking the fine line between fiction and non-fiction to weave the book into a whole. For example, Monarch Butterflies have small little legs that sit up near their heads. I made a run at it, but couldn’t make it look reassuring enough for young readers! So we compromised and pushed them down a bit to take on a more recognizable form. He also wears sneakers and drinks coffee …. Also, Rosemary pointed out a few inaccuracies here or there after I turned in the finals. There was a “butterfly” on the cover that turned out to be a sneaky moth! I am so grateful for her knowledge and was happy to make changes where needed. This book was a team effort in the truest sense.

Sue: one of my favorite spreads shows the “sneaky caterpillars”. How did you decide to turn this spread into a filmstrip?

Jacob: This book presented some unique storytelling challenges. The narrator (monarch butterfly) speaks directly to the reader and then takes them on a journey into the strange facts. How does that look? How do you weave the strange and gross details into a narrative that makes sense? The thumbnail stage for this book was very important.

I landed on the narrator using a few different devices as a narrative tool to get into a set of images. The first is binoculars, second an old retro film projector, and the third is a top secret room. The “sneaky caterpillar” illustration worked best as a series of images that show how the ants take in and adopt the caterpillar over time. We had some dialogue back and forth about whether a film strip would be clear enough to work. 


Sue: You create your illustrations digitally. Any pros and cons you’d like to share? 

Jacob: There are a lot of benefits to working digitally. I love how easy it can be to change things and tweak color or texture after the fact. It’s a bit like working in oil paint that never “sets.” I really enjoy working with color so Photoshop is a bit like a giant playground. Texture files can be reused! And no mixing paint! It really is great.

On the downside, you can easily overwork an image to get it ‘just right.’ Sometimes this can drain the life from the work and it can become kind of stale. I combat this by not using the undo button too much and living with the imperfect lines and bits of unintentional collage. It’s something I’m very aware of. I also sometimes miss getting my hands dirty or spilling paint water!

Bird & Moon comics

Sue:
Back to bugs. Rosemary, in one of your comics you listed animal body parts you wish you had. Do any butterflies have some superpowers – or body parts – you would like to have?

Rosemary: Butterflies can see ultraviolet, and they have special ultraviolet patterns on their wings that humans can't see. I'd love to be able to see even more butterfly colors. And of course I'd love a pair of big colorful wings. But they'd need to fold up for easy storage. It'd be hard to go through doors!

Sue: Any words of advice to readers?

Rosemary: I'd like to urge anyone reading this to go and explore their local insect populations. You'll be shocked, disgusted, and overjoyed by what you find - and you'll banish boredom forever.

Thanks for joining us today. Folks can find out more about Rosemary Mosco at her website, https://rosemarymosco.com  and Jacob Souva at his website, www.twofishillustration.com/my-work

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

How Social Media Can Benefit Writers

Tina Cho and Leslie Tribble are teaming up on this post to show writers why they should be on social media. 

From Tina:

Social media can benefit writers in wonderful ways if used responsibly! I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Twitter, especially, in its concise tweets has brought me lots of goodies. Here are my reasons why you should be on social media too.


You might find an agent. 

I found my agent through Twitter. I was following another agent from Martin Literary who tweeted about a new agent. Bingo! I submitted to her, and we’ve sold five books since 2016.

Adria Goetz is the best!


You might find story ideas.

Someone tweeted about haenyeo (South Korea’s diving women). I looked them up and knew I must write about them. The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story published in August 2020 from Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random and received 4 stars and lots of other accolades. See my website for details.


You might get an animated special deal (i.e. short movie) for your book.

It all started with a Tweet, dear readers!! Because Twitter friends share book covers and book reviews, someone who works for a media company just happened to see the book cover of The Ocean Calls, told her company about it, who got a hold of my agency, who bought the rights to make it an animated special. So keep sharing those book covers & reviews!



You might find a writing tribe.

Because of my books and presence on social media, especially Twitter, the famous Newbery author, Linda Sue Park EMAILED me to be a part of her #kibooka team of Korean-American & diaspora writers. See https://kibooka.com/ 


You might discover your book being sold at a famous store.

One early morning as I was getting ready for school, Penguin Random House tagged me on Instagram. Pottery Barn Kids is selling my book along with other wonderful picture books on equity and inclusion. I was floored! And last weekend I did a video for them!


You will meet wonderful people.

I have met so many wonderful people on social media--authors, illustrators, editors, agents, parents, teachers, etc… All these connections are integral in helping you become a great writer and person. 


Librarians and book reviewers will want to tag you.

Each week I’m usually tagged by librarians or book reviewers or parents or readers who enjoyed my books. I’m humbled and enjoy meeting people around the globe. 


Your publisher will want to tag you.

If your publisher is marketing your book, they will tag you. 


From Leslie:

My social media platforms are Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is my favorite form of social media, and I’ve been posting my nature photos there since 2013 - that is hard to believe!


For me, social media is a way to connect with other like-minded folks. I follow authors, both adult and kid-lit but I also follow a lot of landscape and wildlife photographers who inspire me with their work. Seeing the beauty of their art makes me work harder at my own photography. I don’t have a huge following, but I’ve really enjoyed the connections I’ve made with some of these virtual friends and have even met a few in real life. 


It was the suggestion of some of my social media followers that prompted me to create a calendar. I have zero photo editing skills and didn’t know how to create a calendar at all, but I buckled down and finally produced something I was very proud of last year. It was a huge learning curve, but gratifying in many ways, and I’m already working on a new calendar for 2022. 



My SM platforms have also been a convenient way to promote my self-published outdoor recreation guide. With one quick picture and a few words, I can tell people about my book and have even have others expand my reach when they repost my photo. Free and instantaneous marketing! In fact, now that spring is slowly making its way to northwest Wyoming, I’ll be posting a photo of my book soon, reaching even more folks than last year.



Social media can be a huge consumer of your valuable time, but it can also bring personal friendship, engagement, creative inspiration, career success and overall enjoyment. It’s a good way to get your name out there in whatever field you’re interested in. 


Let us know what successes have come your way through social media!



Tina Cho is the author of four picture books-- Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans (Little Bee Books 2018), Korean Celebrations (Tuttle 2019), My Breakfast with Jesus: Worshipping God around the World (Harvest House 2020), and The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story (Kokila/Penguin Random House Aug. 2020). Her lyrical middle grade graphic novel, The Other Side of Tomorrow, debuts from Harper Alley in 2023. After living in South Korea for ten years, Tina, her husband, and two teenagers reside in Iowa where Tina also teaches kindergarten. 


website: https://www.tinamcho.com/ 

Twitter: @TinaMCho

Instagram: @Tinamcho

Facebook: TinaWheatcraftCho 






Leslie Colin Tribble is the author of Adventure Guide to Cody, 2019. She's written for Cody and Beyond, Cross Country Skier Magazine, Yellowstone Valley Woman, RootsRated, and Sunlight Sports - East Side Stories. Leslie lives in northwest Wyoming with her adventure dogs, Robbie and Milo.

Instagram: @Sagebrush_Lessons
Facebook: Leslie Colin Tribble


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Books for Earth Day and Poetry Month ~by Christy Mihaly


Today let's explore poems about Earth! Tomorrow (April 22) is Earth Day . . . and of course . . .  

April is National Poetry Month. 

SO: Here's a quick round-up of ten Earth-themed books for kids. Of the many books out there I chose 5 outstanding poetry books and 5 favorite rhyming picture books. Please add your own in the comments! 

Nature-Themed Poetry Books

Poetry is an ideal way to encourage kids to explore nature: reading and writing poems makes us slow down, observe, and ponder the wonder and the connections.

The Wisdom of Trees: How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom
(Roaring Brook, 2021).
This new picture book is written and illustrated by Lita Judge. It illuminates cutting edge science about how trees communicate and collaborate in communities. Judge uses heartfelt, evocative poems to convey the magical-seeming properties of trees. Gorgeous art complements the scientific sidebars and helpful back matter about each spread.

A Place to Start a Family: Poems about Creatures That Build (Charlesbridge, 2019).
David Harrison's dozen poems about animal architects, illustrated by Giles Laroche, provide a fun introduction to structures that animals build, from birds to fish, prairie dogs to king cobras and more. 

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year (Nosy Crow, 2018) is a gorgeous 366-poem anthology edited by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. Though the selected poets tend toward the classical (Emily Bronte, Margaret Wise Brown, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost) with a smattering of traditional verses, it's a nice introduction for kids.

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 poems with photographs that float, zoom, and bloom! (Nat Geo Kids, 2015). Whew, that title just about says it all. This book will engage young readers who love photos. It's filled with stunning Nat Geo images from around the world, paired with poems old and new. The poets here include Nikki Grimes, Langston Hughes, and Naomi Shihab Nye, and are collected by J. Patrick Lewis, a former children's poet laureate. 

Song of the Water Boatman and other Pond Poems
(HMH 2005) offers wonderful kid-friendly poems about the creatures and plants that live in and around a pond. Joyce Sidman starts with my favorites -- spring peepers, those tiny heralds of spring --  and moves through the seasons with poems and informational sidebars. Striking woodcuts by Beckie Prange bring the pond ecosystem to life.

Rhyming Picture Books about Earth

Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle: A Hatchling's Daring Race to the Sea (Page Street Kids, 2021). In rhyming verse, Kelly Jordan captures the drama of a loggerhead turtle's post-hatching sprint across the sand to the safety of the ocean. The lyrical text and Sally Walker's engaging illustrations are sure to delight young readers as they learn about sea turtles and their struggle to survive.

Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea
(Sleeping Bear, 2021). Meeg Pincus's clever rhymes explain plastic pollution in the ocean, using the metaphor of soup -- how we threw all the ingredients in and let it simmer for years -- and includes specific actions kids can take to help. Bright illustrations by Lucy Semple keep the tone upbeat. 
 
Anywhere Farm (Candlewick, 2020) by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Brian Karas, stands out for its inclusivity. It encourages kids by letting them know you can start a garden on a city vacant lot ... or really anywhere: 
"But a pan or a bucket,
a pot or a shoe, 
a bin or a tin 
or a window will do." Empowering and inspiring.

One Earth
(WorthyKids, 2020) is a rhyming counting book that does it all! In addition to teaching the numbers, text by Eileen Spinelli and art by Rogerio Coelho share the wonder of Earth, and may inspire kids to want to take care of it.

Compost Stew: Recipe for the Earth (Dragonfly Books, 2014) puts a different spin on the "ocean soup" concept. It's a zippy rhymer that explains compost to kids. With clever rhyming verse by Mary McKenna Siddals and fun pictures by Ashley Wolff, this book is a great way to get kids excited about composting. 

Bottom line: Nature inspires great writing! This post just scratches the surface -- what other great books do you recommend?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

GETTING "UNSTUCK" - SPARKING CREATIVITY By Eileen Meyer

 

Have you felt your creativity sapped at some point during the past year with the pandemic? What can you do to help ignite a creative spark for writing or illustrating work? How can you think differently when you need to solve a difficult plot problem, address writer's block, or come up with a fresh idea?


Let’s first consider how the brain works. Neurons are the brain’s building blocks—those nerve cells send and receive signals along the brain’s pathways. When you feel stuck in a rut, your brain might actually be stuck on a neural pathway that you keep following over and over again.  What can you do? Create a new neural pathway to make new connections. Harvard Professor of Psychiatry John Ratey notes, “A person who forcibly changes his behavior can break the deadlock by requiring neurons to change connections to enact the new behavior.” (see A User’s Guide to the Brain) Your brain will greatly benefit from experiencing new sounds, sights, smells and even tastes—and as a result, be energized!

 

So how can you boost your creativity? I posed this question to fellow creatives online to discover what they did to help them become “unstuck.” Their responses were wide-ranging and intriguing.

 

GET MOVING!

Patricia Hruby Powell doing "The Charleston"  

Many writers and artists noted that physical activity was key for them. Former professional dancer and author Patricia Hruby Powell finds that any form of dancing (tap, tango, you name it) will help her to break through an impasse. “Nowadays, I do a zoom tap class on a sheet of plywood in a wide spot of my hallway. Tap develops my brain to work in a certain way. To learn steps. . . . I try to get into the body-mind-soul of the people I write about. I can become them by moving like they move, I think. At least I try to.”  

Artist Laurie Barrows shared that when she is out hiking, she always takes a sketchbook with her to jot down notes, draw or play with ideas. Being in different and beautiful surroundings helps spark a new thought process. Many people noted that simply walking outdoors was key for them to let their mind relax and wander, forming new connections to help solve a problem. Others mentioned that cycling, swimming, and working out helped them jump start new ideas. So if you’re stuck—get your body moving!

  

ENGAGE IN OTHER CREATIVE PURSUITS



Nancy Sanders with one of her lovely quilts!

Author Nancy Sanders uses quilting as a way to break through writer’s block. “Before I sit down to sew, I jot down my writing goals for this creative break. For example, if I’m writing a segment of rhyming text and am stuck on a rhyme, my goal is to write the next stanza. Then as I pick up my fabric and get to work on my current quilt project, I allow my brain to relax and play with the problem I was struggling with. Many, many times, within minutes my writing task is accomplished and back I head to my writing desk. Something about the creative process let’s my brain relax, not feel the pressure I was demanding of it a minute ago, and I can break through that dreaded writer’s block.” Here’s Nancy with one of the quilts she loves making.

 

Author Katey Howes also likes working with textiles and finds weaving on a small loom helps spark new ideas. Writer Jaimie Franchi likes planning the creative use of plants. She finds caring for them in her home garden is the perfect answer for her.

 

Jessica Henderson, Maria Marshall and Sherry Roberts all use photography to stimulate their creativity and writing. Middle school teacher and author Sherry said, “Sometimes I just need to think and I find that going on a walk and taking photos helps. This creative outlet has led to a new contract where I am the author / photographer for a non-fiction series!”  Congratulations to Sherry—her solution for getting unstuck actually created a brand-new opportunity!

 

Inspiration photo - Julie Phend 

Author Julie Phend  takes photography one step further as she finds inspiration from nature and then creates her own art in a watercolor journal she started this year. “When I take my daily walks, I snap a photo of something that captures my attention, and I try to recreate it in a painting. I often find myself creating a poem or quoting a

Watercolor Jrnl. Entry - Julie Phend

snippet of poetry inspired by the painting. This opens my mind to new possibilities and inspires me to notice things in a different way.” Fabulous point, we are seeking to stimulate our brain and look at things in new ways!


TRY A SURPRISING SUGGESTION


A few writers swore by this solution—which totally took me by surprise! What is it? VACUUMING! Elaine Kiely Kearns, Joan Slone, and Tara O’Dowd love to problem-solve while running their vacuum cleaner. This physical, yet rote activity frees up their brains and the noise actually blocks out other distractions. Tara noted, “I’ve had enough epiphanies while vacuuming that expectation may play a role. I also assume I will solve any problems in my life as soon as the vacuum starts.” Bonus for these writers– a clean house PLUS a new idea!

 

So try something different or new to help your brain get unstuck—and have fun doing it! Get out there - dance, quilt, weave, take photos, sketch, try chalk art on your front sidewalk or even run your vacuum cleaner to solve a difficult plot problem, address writer’s block, or come up with a fresh idea.

 

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS . . .

I’ll leave you with one final option.



Author Natalie Rompella finds great insights in an unlikely place—in the shower! So much so that she even has a handy-dandy waterproof notepad her husband found for her. (YES, these do exist and Natalie is a big fan!  Search for “waterproof notepad” to find great options from your favorite online retailer.) Engaging in an activity like taking a shower doesn’t require a lot of effort, so our mind is free to wander. And creativity and relaxation have a strong link, so it’s worth a try. Who knew you could simply lather up and come unstuck! Just be sure to jot down your great idea . . . Happy creating!

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

First Author Visit Jitters? Teach What You Know by Carol Coven Grannick

As a clinical social worker, I've done extensive in-person teaching in workshops and classes. But when it came to planning my first author visit shortly after the debut of REENI'S TURN last September, I had the jitters, particularly about the missing part of my presentation, a fifteen minute writing lesson.

I'd done some writing lessons in the past, working with after school programs and occasional classroom visits, and felt quite comfortable with the idea of talking about why I wrote REENI'S TURN and what the journey had been like, as well as answering any questions students would have.

Still, I felt I lacked the authority I needed to teach a lesson, mostly because the content of that short lesson continued to evade me.  


But I learned something about myself as I problem-solved that may be helpful to you, if you're ever in a similar position. 

DON'T THINK TOO MUCH!

The harder I thought about what to do, the fewer ideas I had and the more nervous I became. 

It was as if I was a kite without the wind to fly. I was so ready to take off, but was missing the one crucial thing that could lift me. 


So I stopped thinking about what to teach.

Instead, I changed direction, and reminisced about the lessons I'd done with after-school writing groups and occasional classroom lessons, always using mentor texts to demonstrate points. 

My mind wandered to a time during the writing journey I would share with the children.

I'd worked hard in early drafts to make sure I was "showing" instead of "telling" Reeni's varying emotional states created by joy, longing, fear, anxiety, self-deprecation, hope, persistence, and more. 


That's when I realized that I could use not only my own journey to teach, but my own work. REENI'S TURN could be a mentor text for the students. First, and then later drafts of the short verses could clearly illustrate "telling" vs. "showing", and how the latter changed the emotional depth of character and story.

I checked in with the teacher of the fifth grade class. I wanted to be sure that it would work for her students. In fact, she replied, they were working with students to find ways to deepen the emotions of their characters, and my plan would be a perfect match!

I relaxed. I knew what I had done in my manuscript, and how I had done it. I could teach what I knew—and that was completely comfortable. 

ONE STEP AT A TIME



I had four steps in the lesson:

1. READ:

I read a poem from REENI'S TURN which shows her extreme performance anxiety when asked to come to the front of her dance class:







FROST

In a minute Ms. Allie's voice peels away my cocoon. 
Reeni, come to the front and do it alone,

and a flicker of something
changes inside

like a tingling frost
on these winter windows

and the noise begins—
Is my turnout good enough?
Are my arms soft or stiff?
How is my arabesque?

I breathe in, blow out to warm the frost
and try to pretend no one's watching

but everyone is
and my noisy brain and mixed up feet

know it.

©Carol Coven Grannick 2021

2. FEEDBACK

I asked the children what feeling or feelings the verse showed about Reeni, then used their responses ("fear" and "anxiety") to demonstrate an early draft "verse", including an earlier title, that simply named those feelings:

AFRAID

In a minute Ms. Allie's voice scared me
when it said, "Reeni, come to the front and do it alone."

I was afraid and anxious.
My brain was full of noise.
I couldn't catch my breath.

I wish they'd all stop looking at me.
I'm so nervous I don't know what my feet are doing.

* * *
The children spoke perceptively about the difference between the two works, including the emotions shown in the first, and felt by the listeners. 

3. CHOOSE AN EMOTION YOU KNOW AND TELL IT:

I showed the children a list of strong emotions, and asked them to choose one that they could remember feeling. Then I asked them to write a simple sentence with themselves, or a fictional character, as the person experiencing the emotion, using the name of the emotion ("I felt scared," "I was happy", etc.).

4. SHOW IT:

Next, I asked the children to find a different way to describe the emotion without saying what it was, and write a new sentence or two.

READ IT AND GUESS!




After the class had finished writing, one student after the other read sentences out loud, and listeners guessed (always correctly!) at the character's emotion. Hearing the comparison a dozen or more times really "proved" the difference between telling and showing—and gave the students the ability to replicate the technique in their classroom writing.

Teachers present during the visit told me that students who rarely speak up were among the many who chose to share their work and have listeners guess what emotion they had "shown".

We had so much fun, and it was rewarding to hear the students' differentiation between telling about and showing emotional depth.

Since that first visit, I've used this lesson comfortably in multiple virtual classrooms. It has always worked well to optimize my four goals for my author visits: 
  1. Engaging interest
  2. Encouraging experimentation 
  3. Inviting participation
  4. Using memory to create character/story depth without self-disclosing

What I re-discovered so happily in this experience was that I have always been most comfortable teaching others when I deeply understand and have integrated what I am going to be sharing with students, whether adults or children—when notes are no longer really necessary.

Apparently, in my new role as "author", I had temporarily forgotten that. 

Once I realized I could be myself, the content of my brief writing lesson became clear, and the jitters went away. I could relax and have fun as I re-focused on what I know instead of what I do not know. 

And that's when a warm breeze lifted me.



Carol Coven Grannick is the author of REENI'S TURN, a middle grade novel in verse (Fitzroy Books, 2020) that tells the story of a shy and introverted girl searching for courage, body acceptance, and her own strong voice. (Curriculum Guide available for download here.) Carol's children's poetry and short fiction has appeared and is forthcoming in Cricket, Ladybug, Babybug, Highlights, and Hello. Her poetry for adults appears in numerous print and online literary magazines, and her upcoming chapbook, CALL ME BOB, will be published by Oprelle Publications, LLC in 2022. In addition to being a GROG member, she is a regular columnist for the SCBWI-IL Prairie Wind and Cynthia Leitich Smith's award-winning blog, Cynsations.












Wednesday, March 31, 2021

We Love Bugs! a nonfiction author round-table

 My fellow GROGGER, Chris Mihaly and I both had recent bug-related releases. She has two poems in the anthology, The Bee is not Afraid of Me which buzzed off the press earlier this month, and my picture book, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly  buzzed out last month. Turns out that a few of our nonfiction writing friends also have buggy books hitting the shelves this year. 

So we invited them over for the First Ever GROG Roundtable on Arthropods. Imagine the five of us sitting around a table, our hands around mugs of hot beverages. Going around the table we have: Leslie Bulion, whose book Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs came out at the beginning of this month; Roberta Gibson, whose picture book  How To Build An Insect comes out next week; and Annette Whipple whose book  Scurry, The Truth About Spiders will hit the shelves in a few months.

While Roberta and I have studied entomology (she at Cornell, me at U of Colorado, Boulder) - all you need to write about arthropods is a passion for things with six or more legs. Chris, a former environmental lawyer, has written more than 25 books for kids on a range of topics, including entomophagy (eating insects). Fortunately, her love for insects extends beyond roasted crickets. 

Chris and her little "bug"
Chris
: I was wonderstruck one night when a Luna moth landed outside my window. It was stunning: large and luminous, so otherworldly looking. Even though  there are no Luna moths in the UK, I went ahead and submitted my poem “Luna Moth” to Emma Press. When the editors called for more poems about beetles, I thought about beetle soup –  which I’d learned about from the research we did, Sue, for our book, Diet for a Changing Climate. Next to my soup poem, the editor added a note that more information about eating insects was available at The Bug Farm (in the UK). I also included a “poet’s note” with each poem, adding the factual background for kids. Did you know the adult Luna moth has no mouth?

Leslie: I’ve been an avid naturalist since I could peer under a rock, and fell in love with poetry in 4th grade. I studied oceanography, then social work, then inspired by a summer “bugs” course (and already writing for young readers), I combined my passions for poetry and science. Spi-Ku is my 7th science poetry collection. My research always includes “boots-on” exploration, and arachnologist Dr. Linda Rayor invited me to visit her lab at Cornell.  There I met critters I’d never even heard of (amblypygids…what?!?) and social spiders. I was hooked!

Roberta, by Cindy
Roberta:
 After getting my master’s degree in entomology, I worked as a research specialist at the University of Arizona. Nowadays, I’m either writing or gazing at an insect through the macro lens of my camera. With my passion for books and bugs, writing about insects seemed inevitable. To study insects, first a person needs to recognize what an insect is and how to identify the different kinds. The foundation of identification is an understanding of anatomy, so it seemed like the right place to start.

Annette: I love facts and enjoy learning about the people, places, and things in our world and celebrating my curiosity with young readers. My first “truth about” book was Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls. When Reycraft Books chose to turn it into a series, I knew I wanted to include spiders because they are so often misunderstood. And they’re fascinating creatures. 

Sue: I am an accidental entomologist, though I will admit to a master’s degree on cockroach behavior. I’ve followed bumble bees, watched ants, tagged Monarchs. One summer day I was at an event and noticed people were avoiding the folding chairs. Small flower flies with iridescent wings perched on the warm metal, and people thought they were bees. That’s when I knew I wanted to write something about flies.
Sue ready to net more book ideas

I’ll kick off the last go-round with thoughts about writing. I have always been a list-keeper. When I was a kid I’d write down all the kinds of squirrels, lizards, trees … license plates, whatever. Now I count pollinators for the Great Sunflower Project. That makes me look closer: bee or fly? It also reminds me to be patient. Just as it takes many observations to learn to identify pollinators in my garden, it takes many drafts to understand the book I’m writing.

Chris: I particularly enjoy how poetry forces me to focus on word choice. And rhythm and rhyme! And I like how poems can engage young readers with playful language and bouncing beats. One of the best things a writer can do to improve their craft is to practice observing. Look closely, and then describe what you see. And insects are fun to watch!

Annette with Edna (exoskeleton)

Annette: Scurry, The Truth about Spiders is part of a series, so I knew it'd be in question-and-answer format like the other books. Even so, it took more than 20 drafts for me to find the right structure for Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls! (check out her writing process here).  As for writing… we can certainly learn from the various ways spiders hunt. Some spiders build webs to catch prey. As writers, we need to trap any ideas we have by writing them down before they get away from us. Other spiders, such as jumping spiders hunt down their prey. We need to actively chase after our stories and pursue them until finished if we're going to be published. The trap-door spider creates a hole in the ground and disguises it with a trap door. It sits and waits patiently for its next meal. As writers, we must be patient with ourselves, the writing process, and certainly the publishing process. 

Roberta: Different writing ideas come to me in different formats.  How to Build an Insect arrived with an informal, conversational tone that I use during hands-on workshops for kids. (One idea for a book arrived as a graphic novel. That was scary!) I also love learning new things. With insects, so many aspects are unknown that I can discover something every single day. Writing is how I process that knowledge and find deeper understanding.
Leslie, looking for the next spider

Leslie: My books combine science poetry with short informational notes and extensive back matter. A poem can distill information into an elegant and memorable story. I organize each collection to inform at the “big idea,” topic level and explore on a more specific, “cool science story,” level. My spider observations are like patient contemplations of contextual clues. I paint a bigger picture, and also zoom in for tiny details – that may not help name the spider, but it helps me understand even more about spiders in general. 

We could talk bugs all day long… but I’m out of coffee. Check out our author websites, drop by our blogs, and remember to head outside and watch some bugs!

Find out more about Chris Mihaly at www.christymihaly.com
Check out Leslie Bulion at www.lesliebulion.com
Roberta Gibson's website is over at robertagibsonwrites.com
You can find Annette Whipple at www.annettewhipple.com
Sue Heavenrich hangs her bug net at www.sueheavenrich.com