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.
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|
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: 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!