Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - June is for animal books, post 4 - 6.24.2020

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

It's the last Wednesday in June and I'm excited to end my animal month with Melissa Stewart's newest book - Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses.  And as a special treat, Melissa has agreed to stop by and answer some delightfully disgusting questions!

First of all, don't read this book while eating!  One thing has to go, either the book or the food because I can't tell you how many times you're going to say "ewwwwwww"!  Of course, if you're reading with someone you want to torment, wait until they are eating and tell them some of the interesting facts!  I may or may not have done this to my 14yo daughter :)  It went over like you would expect it to, lol!
Second of all, get multiple copies of this book because all it's going to take is one reader to start sharing facts and everyone is going to want to get their hands on this book!  Just take a look at this spread!

The book is organized into three main parts - dinners, dwellings, and defenses.  Each section brings about its own level of grossness.  The dinners section really made my stomach turn.  I'll be honest.  I'm not going to look at pandas the same anymore... and you thought they just ate bamboo.....  The dwellings section make me really appreciate my home.  And the fact that I don't use any body by-products to line the walls!!!  And who knew poop and pee were such a strong line of defense?

Read the main section on each layout or just read the captions.  Read it from cover to cover, one section at a time, or just the animals you're interested in finding out more.  This expository nonfiction book will be read in multiple ways, multiple time, and by multiple readers.  It's a fascinating read that will leave you knowing the grossest of gross information you didn't even know you wanted to know!

Now I'm going to turn it over to Melissa Stewart.  Thank you for stopping by and answering some questions, Melissa!

How does a book like Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses come together? You've got the main text, the photographs, the captions—how do you organize everything?

Creating a browsable book like this one is all about teamwork and trust. It’s a much more complex and collaborative process than creating a novel or even a picture book because there are so many parts and so many people who help to put them all together.

When I submitted the manuscript, I provided notes (in blue type) describing my vision for the design and the text hierarchy. The main text is in larger type. On the top of the right-hand page, you can see a section called “Critter Challenge.” This was a math problem that originally appeared on each spread, but we eventually decided to cut them all.

Because there are so many text features, I was initially concerned that some kids might feel visually overwhelmed. But the uber-talented designers at National Geographic came up with a format that guides readers in navigating across the pages, from the headline in the upper left to the stunning central photo to the main text in the lower left to the captions and secondary text features on the right. I’m also a big fan of the bright, bold colors. The book is so kid friendly!

I also owe a huge debt to National Geographic’s super-dedicated photo-acquisition team. Of course, NatGeo has one of the richest photo archives in the world, but even when the NG photo team had to go to other sources, they worked tirelessly to track down just the right images through their network of contacts. A good example is the photos on the bone-eating snot flower worm spread. They came from researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California.

And of course, the book couldn’t exist without the contributions of my editor, Shelby Lees. She guided me through the editorial process AND coordinated the production process, pulling me into conversations as needed. She made sure that everyone involved had a voice, and that we all coordinated our efforts. Thank you, Shelby!

You've been working on this project for more than two decades. How have things changed since you started researching? Did any information change over time? 

I began collecting information for the book while on safari in Kenya and Tanzania in 1996, and my research file slowly grew over time. Scientists have known about some of the animal behaviors I describe for 100 years or more, but others of are more recently discovered. For example, researchers didn’t even know bone-eating snot flower worms exist until 2002. I was lucky enough to interview one of the scientists who has helped us understand these amazing deep-sea denizens.

How about technology—did you change how you wrote, researched, and collected new information?

I hear wonderful things about programs like Scrivener, and perhaps I should give them a try, but I still collect and organize information in the same way I have through most of my career, and it rarely fails me.

In my office, I have a large, three-drawer vertical file cabinet full of folders with information on all kinds of topics I think are interesting. Every time I read an article or hear an idea that fits one of my categories, I add it to the designated folder. Over time, the information adds up, and eventually, I may have enough information for a book.

For Ick!, I combined information from several files, including:
—animals that regurgitate,
—unusual animal homes,
—animals that use pee and poop in surprising ways,
—animals that spit
—cannibal animals

I’d used some of the information in these files in other ways in the past—an article about bird nests, a book all about honeybees, a book about how animals survive in hot, dry environments. For Ick!, I hunted through the files for examples related to my core concept—animals that depend on behaviors most people would consider disgusting to survive in the world.

As I gathered these materials, I added notes in a Word file that grew and grew and grew. Then as I was writing, I used Word’s search option to find the exact information I wanted at any time. Like I said, there may be better or more efficient systems, but this one works for me.

Researching this book had to be equal parts amusing, fascinating, and disgusting! What is a fact you were really excited to find?

Oh my goodness, there were so many! One of my favorite research sources was this
amazing video of a Japanese common toad vomiting an African bombardier beetle drenched with gooey mucus. For 88 minutes, the tenacious insect fought for its life by blasting the toad’s insides with nasty, sizzling-hot spray. Finally, the toad couldn’t take it anymore and spewed its supper. After a brief rest, the slime-covered beetle slowly crawled away. Of course, that HAD to go in the book!

 What do you want to tell educators/librarians about this book?

This is the kind of book that won’t win awards, and it won’t get starred reviews. Nevertheless, it should be in every classroom and library collection in America because, for some students, it can serve as THE gateway to literacy.

Fueled by natural curiosity, info-loving kids will toil away at the text until they conquer it. By encouraging struggling students to stretch and develop new skills, high-interest expository nonfiction books like Ick! can fill kids pride and allow them to see themselves as a reader for the very first time.

What do you want to tell young readers about this book?

Ick! is bursting with fascinating facts you won’t want to miss. Go ahead, give it a try.

Author bio:  Melissa Stewart has written more than 180 science books for children, including the ALA Notable Feathers: Not Just for Flying, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen; the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor title Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis; and Can an Aardvark Bark?, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Steve Jenkins. Her most recent title is Ick! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Science and serves on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators board of advisors. Her highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources. 

Thank you so much to Melissa Stewart for answering my questions and sharing parts of Ick!  
Now you know what you must do - go find many copies of this as you can for your readers!

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