Sep 7, 2013

How Things Come to Be: The Chicken or the Egg?

Melissa Stewart recently posted some notes about creating her book, No Monkeys No Chocolate, including a wonderful link to an interactive timeline showing how the book itself came to be. Don't miss it!

Last week I was lucky enough to interview the incredibly talented Molly Idle to learn about how she creates her amazing picture books, including Flora and Flamingo  and Tea Rex, among many others. If you missed it, I urge you to take a look.

Since school has resumed, sharing interviews with authors and illustrators is more relevant than ever. All those books stacked on shelves, filling personal reading packets, and shared on carpets come from somewhere, from someone(s) who worked long and hard to put them into our hands, homes, and classrooms. Reflecting on the time, energy, revision, analysis, and collaboration each book represents is challenging to us all, but especially so for young children. Their sense of time, shaped as it is by the short span of their lives, struggles to grasp how endlessly long it seems to Christmas or to their birthdays. It's nearly inconceivable to them that someone could spend several years writing, then additional years illustrating, manufacturing, and releasing a book of only 32 pages, in this case without a single word of text!

And yet dinosaurs intrigue young minds and seem to make perfect sense to them.

Greenwillow Books, 2006
That's why I'm convinced that even the youngest children will embrace and enjoy AN ISLAND GROWS, by Lola M. Schaefer and illustrated by Cathie Felstead. They'll be captivated by the spare but vivid rhyming text and illustrations.

"Deep, deep, beneath the sea,
Magma glows.
Volcano blows.
Lava flows
and flows
and flows."
The island's development proceeds through the forces of nature and society to become a home to plant and animal life, people, economies, and cultures. Meanwhile, "deep, deep beneath the sea..."
other islands are forming. Simple but precise back matter describes the process further and points curious readers to additional sources.

Charlesbridge, 2013
Even closer to home, and not just for kids, but for chocolate-lovers of any age, is NO MONKEYS, NO CHOCOLATE, by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong. It, too, encompasses long spans of time and could easily take place on the island created in the previous  title. From the luscious offerings on a birthday table the reader is led, page by page, to the source of the deliciousness of chocolate. 

From beans to pods to flowers, leaves, ants, and maggots (maggots?! Ant-brain-eating maggots?), through stems, down to the roots, enriched by fungi (fungi, too?), and back to the beginning- the sprouting of a cocoa bean. 
What, no monkeys? What's up with that?
The monkeys finally make an appearance as the heroes who open cocoa pods to suck on the citrus-y pulp surrounding the seeds, traveling through treetops and spitting out seeds to grow in the fertile forest floor to eventually become new cocoa plants, ensuring the circle of life.

A delightful feature, one that will draw even the youngest readers through this labyrinth, is the page-turning presence of a pair of chocolate-munching, commentating bookworms in the lower left corner of each spread. They initiate the page turns (allowing peeks at the coming illustrations) and insert comic remarks. These include puns, word play, and repeated reminders of the notable lack of monkeys.

This collaboration of a highly successful science writer (click the link here to Melissa Stewart's Science Clubhouse) with an expert on chocolate is described in the author's note. She also explains how she came up with the bookworms (inspired by Statler and Waldorf, the old guys in the Muppets balcony). Her note also indicates how many years this book simmered and stewed in her thoughts before it was ready to move on to an editor, illustrator, book designer, and finally into our hands.

I'm filled with an impulse to list another dozen related titles, but I'll resist the urge and encourage you to start with these two. If they lead you to more titles, share them in comments. If you want suggestions of other like this, just ask! 

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