Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story: Making a Science Topic Accessible for Kids By Jody Jensen Shaffer

Today I welcome author Jody Jensen Shaffer to the Grog Blog. We've been online writing friends for a while, and it's been neat to see Jody's body of published books grow!


I, Tina Cho, recently read her nonfiction picture book, CREEP, LEAP, CRUNCH! A Food Chain Story to my kindergartners, and they loved guessing the next predator in the food chain, the suspense of the story, and the "scary" snake. 

Today, Jody shares her expertise with us in writing nonfiction. 

Thanks for having me on the Grog Blog, Tina! I’m excited to share my experience making a science topic, like the food chain, accessible (read fun and interesting) for kids.

I’ll give you the short version right up front: I think like a kid, so I write to entertain…myself! If I run across cool facts about how things work in nature, strange creatures with little-known talents, fascinating processes within the human body, or amazing ways of sharing that information, I’m hooked.

My job as a writer then is to share my excitement with (chronological) kids. Here’s how I did that for Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story, gorgeously illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal and published by Knopf Books for Young Readers in December 2023. I hope my process will be helpful for your readers!

Choose a Subject You’re Interested in

If you like what you’re writing about and researching, it’ll show in your manuscript. I knew when my journey began in 2013 with Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story that I wanted to write about the food chain. I researched my state’s science curriculum to see what grades studied food chains, and I read current picture books about the food chain to see what was already out there. Then I began researching kinds of food chains—where they take place, what animals live there, what those animals eat and what eats them.


I needed my food chain book to be different than what I saw in the market, so I began brainstorming picture book structures—traditional 3-act, cumulative, concept, mirror, parallel, reversal, list, how to, dialogue-driven, lyrical, variety of viewpoints, day in the life, morning to evening, etc. I wanted my structure to be exciting.

Then suddenly—okay, after lots of staring at my computer—“There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly” popped into my head. (For those unfamiliar, the old woman swallows a fly, then she swallows a spider to catch the fly, then she swallows a bird to catch the spider. You get the idea.)

Hey, wait! I thought. That’s a food chain! A fictional, rather strange food chain, but a food chain nonetheless! And it was told in a cumulative way—new information was introduced with each page turn, while old information was repeated. I thought using a cumulative structure to discuss the food chain would be really fun! What’s more, I knew kids would be familiar with both the “Old Woman” story and cumulative structure. By building on kids’ past knowledge, I could build interest in my subject.


So, I had my food chain facts, and I had my story structure. I knew that for kids to recognize my story’s cumulative structure, I would have to be true to the voice of the “Old Woman.” That is, I would have to mimic the rhyme, meter, and cadence of the words of that story. If those lines rhymed, I needed mine to, too, in the exact way and at the exact time. No slant rhymes. No reversed-sentence rhymes. No fudging. This is trickier than one might think! Especially when you’re writing nonfiction, because it all has to be true with actual words! 😊

So I rhymed where I was supposed to, matched my beats to the “Old Woman’s,” followed a cumulative structure, and got all my facts in there. Oh, and I also decided to make it a morning-to-night story (kids are familiar with those) and to write it using lyrical language. Can you tell this project was like putting a puzzle together? I love puzzles, by the way.

Then I went through my text and concentrated on additional literary devices—alliteration, internal rhyme, simile, metaphor, and a fun narrative voice—until it sang.

And guess what? Kids love rhyme that’s well done. They love alliteration. They love repetition. They love a fun narrative voice. All things that make a science topic accessible.

Give it a twist

So, finally, my cumulative, rhyming, nonfiction food chain book began in the morning with the sun and proceeded through a series of ever-larger animals until it ended, rather predictably, at the apex predator, a black bear.

And it felt…incomplete. Even with all the beautiful language and cool structure. Whoop-de-doo, the big guy wins. So what’s new? Yikes for the mouse, I guess.

But I’m an animal-lover and a cheerleader for the underdog (as are kids), so I worried about the cricket and the red-tailed hawk and the fox (even though I’m big enough to know what happens in the real world), and the story sat on my hard drive for three years, unfulfilled and unfulfilling until…


…when my story twist came to me—“But some days—,” wherein all the critters escape their predators, and the black bear munches flowers and seeds and is perfectly satisfied! Because that happens, too, in the real world! I knew kids (and their adults) would love that alternate ending as much as I did.

From there, it only took me another five years of tinkering—and working on other projects—before I sent it into the world, received two offers, and ultimately accepted Knopf’s.

One more tip: choose a fun, active title. My original, There Was a Blue Sky, was a bit too lyrical.

So, how do you make a science topic accessible for kids? You write it to delight the child inside you.

Thanks for sharing your process, Jody! I, especially, loved how you gave this food chain story a twist! 

 Jody Jensen Shaffer is the author of more than 80 books for children, including Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story (2024 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, Oklahoma's 2025 Donna Norvell masterlist, SLJ starred review), Prudence the Part-Time Cow (Missouri Show Me Award finalist), A Chip Off the Old Block (Iowa Goldfinch Award nominee, Amazon Teachers' Pick), It's Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! (Amazon best seller and Book Box pick), EMERGENCY KITTENS, Sometimes I am Hot Lava, and more! Jody is a frequent school, library, festival, and conference presenter. She lives with her family in Missouri. You can find Jody at and on Twitter at jodywrites4kids.

See all her books at
Twitter @JodyWrites4Kids 


  1. This is a cute book, and I love the twist at the end. I like cumulative books, and "old lady who swallowed a fly" is a great structure. And I liked the book's "undies" - the surprise under the dust jacket. Great interview. Thanks, Jody and Tina!

  2. Congratulations, Jody! Thank you for sharing your journey into writing your story. Lots of food for thought!

  3. This sounds like such a fun book! Great interview!