I wrote In 1776 in 1992. Here’s how I started: “In seventeen hundred and seventy-five, da da da da da da.” Eventually, I replaced the “da’s” with “A long, long time ago,” which worked perfectly. Fitting words to rhythm and rhyme is fun. I learned through experience not to stretch words and not to jam them in. I like the puzzle. I like getting the right words to fit just right.
To write In 1776 I also read a lot about the United States at that time and eventually boiled it down to what I thought was appropriate for ages 4-8.
I love Steve Björkman’s detailed illustrations. He also illustrated In 1492 about Christopher Columbus.
This book is now available as an ebook: http://store.scholastic.com/Books/eBooks/In-1776-9780545311243
Happy 4th of July!
This was one of my favorite poems that my father said when I was a child. When I was in high school, I painted this for him. I made the letters and flowers look old-fashioned - like they were embroidered on cloth. I have the painting in my office now and still love the poem.
When I wrote I SPY A TO Z, I focused on phonics - the sound of letters. Each page features a riddle that has one special letter printed in red within words. To play the I SPY game, children don’t have to focus on the sound of the red letters, but they can if they want to.
Recently, I discovered another special value of I SPY A TO Z. It is great for teaching young children vocabulary words. My 3 1/2-year-old grandson loves this book because he can use the rebus pictures within the riddles to find hidden objects. As he does, he naturally says their names if he knows them. If he doesn’t know the names, it’s easy for me to say them aloud. Thus, his vocabulary grows easily and naturally while enjoying the game of I SPY A TO Z.
This vocabulary enrichment feature of I SPY A TO Z is perfect for preschools.
When I was young, I loved books that fed my imagination with startling new images. My favorites were The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Dubose Heyward, Many Moons by James Thurber, and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McClosky.
Of these authors, the one who most inspires me in my writing today is Margaret Wise Brown, author of many books, including Good Night Moon. In the 1930s she studied young children in classroom settings under the guidance of Lucy Sprague Mitchell at the early Bank Street School. Her study of children inspired her ideas and her poetry. If you are interested in writing for children and, particularly if you are a teacher interested in writing for children, I strongly recommend Awakened by the Moon by the wonderful children’s book historian Leonard S. Marcus. In this book he tells the story of the brilliant Margaret Wise Brown.
Another great question I am often asked is: “How did your early education lead to your success in life?”
I grew up before TV! We didn’t get TV until I was in 5th grade. So if you were not playing with friends or making something, you read books. We didn’t have a bookstore. We went to the library. I can still picture the big children’s room in our town’s library. We went there every week as a family and got books to bring home. Books were where it was at. No TV, computers, Game Boy, Nintendo, IPads. I don’t tell that to kids anymore when I visit schools because once a boy raised his hand and asked me if we had electricity when I was little. HA!
I am often asked: “Of all the different I SPY books, which is your favorite? Why?”
I have three favorites: the first book I SPY: A Book of Picture Riddles because it was the first one, a miracle. We knew young kids would like it but we didn’t know all ages would like it! My second favorite is I SPY Spooky Night because it was the hardest to make and yet it turned out so well. The third favorite is I SPY School Days because it’s the most intellectual. I love the sorting and classification game. I love Levers, Ramps, and Pulleys, too. Those two pictures make kids think. Just because kids may not yet be able to read doesn’t mean they can’t think. They can.
I am often asked to name my favorite kids’ books.
My favorite books when I was a child were: Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne; Many Moons by James Thurber; The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward; A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Margaret Wise Brown’s Wonderful Story Book, a Big Golden Book. I still have all of these, and I still love to read them.
I wrote this book because Grace Maccarone, my editor and friend at Scholastic, asked me in 1995 to write an easy-to-read science series. “I’m a Seed” was the first title. Grace and I liked to share stories about our children. She told me one day that as she was driving her daughter and her daughter’s friend one day, she was listening to them talk about their respective summer vacations. If one said she had done something wonderful, the other one said she had done something even better. This went on for a while until the kids got bored and moved on to another topic. For some reason, their conversation came up in my mind when I started the book about seeds. I gave them kids’ voices and even had them compete a little. Kids can be different, and seeds can be different, too. As one seed says at the end of the book, “There should be a name for it.” To which the other seed says, “There is. It’s called life.”
Two seeds in the soil are speaking to each other. “I’m a seed!” they both say. One knows it’s a marigold, but the other doesn’t know what it is. Each plant grows leaves, then flowers, and when the mystery seed grows big and round and orange, the riddle is solved. The clever text weaves facts about plants into the story, and the beautiful collages show a host of wildlife for readers to identify. This is a wonderful introduction to a plant’s life cycle.
In April 1995, I was the guest author at a Young Authors Conference presented by Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, Missouri. Dr. Nancy L. Smith, the coordinator, took me to visit the nearby George Washington Carver National Monument and Park. There, we walked through sunny green fields and woods to the small cabin where George Washington Carver lived as a child.
I could imagine him digging up his “floral beauties,” as he called them, and putting them in little gardens he had hidden in the brush.
Dr. Smith told me that she thought George Washington Carver was “as smart as Einstein and as good as Jesus.”
The facts of his life are harsh, she said, but Carver overcame them. Like a plant drawn to the sun, he moved steadfastly toward the light of knowledge and compassion. He wanted to become a scientist, and he became one.
He also wanted to become an educator, and he became one. He loved to paint and sing. Against all odds—the loss of his parents and siblings, sickness, discrimination—George Washington Carver flourished without bitterness. He is one of our great American heroes because, no matter what he was doing, he always tried “to be of the greatest good” to people. Dr. Smith suggested that I write a picture book about him.
And so I did. I worked on it off and on for years. I told the story from the point of view of his favorite tree. After all, he said that he talked to trees and they talked to him. I went back to the Carver National Monument to do research. I thank my editor Grace Maccarone and art director Claire Counihan at Holiday House, as well as Ranger Curtis Gregory at the Carver National Monument, and the fabulous illustrator Ken Wilson-Max. This book for me is a dream come true.
Idea: Arbor Day was April 25. Since then more trees are blossoming and kids like to observe the changes. Ask your children to pretend they are trees nearby. What do the trees see? What stories could they tell?