Jessie Oliveros, author of THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, interviewed Kate Narita, author of 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK about the inspiration for her book.
Question: How did you get the inspiration for 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK?
I’m a fourth grade teacher, and one of the writing mini-lessons I taught this week was that writers get their ideas from a real life moment and then turn the idea into fiction. That’s exactly what happened to me with 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK. I was at school, talking with another teacher, Teresa Zuckerman, and she told me that in order for kids to be successful in math they need to understand the combinations of ten. I had an “Aha” moment. I thought, I don’t think there’s a picture book about the combinations of ten. That’s how the idea started!
Q: That explains some of the math in the book, but it doesn’t explain the bugs! Where did they come from?
That’s a great question, and it has a two-part answer. Dragonflies have always been close to my heart. I grew up in a south suburb of Chicago, Homewood, and I lived four blocks away from my middle school. Next to the middle school were softball fields and the public pool. During the summer, I would ride my bike to the public pool and to softball practice. Large dragonflies zoomed about the field and they filled me with happiness.
Now, I live in central Massachusetts on the side of a small mountain. During the summer, dragonflies dart about my yard. There are two weeks in August when there are literally 100 common darners zooming about. Anytime I see a dragonfly, I feel as though the world is a magical place.
Anyway, the same day my teacher friend told me about the combinations of ten, I had my writing group. When I was driving home from my writing group, the text came to me, “Dragonflies, dragonflies, darting all about.” At first, instead of having ten different bugs, I switched back and forth from various types of dragonflies and damselflies. When I took the manuscript to my writing group, they told me to use different bugs. So, then I added butterflies, bumblebees, ladybugs, and lightning bugs. After I submitted the manuscript, the editor told me she wanted ten different bugs including walkingsticks. That’s when the leafhoppers, katydids, spittlebugs and walkingsticks crawled into the story.
Q: What about the flowers? Are you some kind of master gardener?
Definitely not! I’m embarrassed to say I neglect my yard. But, my parents work really hard to grow gorgeous plants. So, anytime I go to their house, I flip through their gardening magazines. As a result, I know a lot of flower names. Flower names began to flood my mind, and I paired those flower names with objects that would be in the yard of someone who lived on a farm: rose and hose, weather vane and bugbane, horse feed and sneezeweed and so on.
Q: Some of the facts in the scientific back matter are pretty cool. Did the inspiration for those facts come from your parents’ gardening magazines as well?
No. The scientific back matter came about because of my grit and the generosity of friends. When the editor called me to tell me they wanted to take the manuscript to acquisitions, she said that she knew I worked a full-time job and had a family, but that she wanted scientific back matter on the ten plants and the ten insects within a month. I knew I would get it done, but I also knew I would need help from my friends. First I spoke with April Jones Prince, her book which is also an FSG book, GOLDENLOCKS AND THE THREE PIRATES, comes out in November www.apriljonesprince.com/. She reassured me, and told me just to be sure to find a different interesting fact for each insect and plant. So, she meant don’t talk about the size or the color of each item, mix it up. So, I did.
Then, I had to ensure the information I was presenting was accurate. In addition to researching online and in libraries, two family friends helped me out. Paul Williams, professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the inventor of Fast Plants helped me understand the coral bell’s reproduction processfastplants.org/resources/digital_library/. Denise Martin, who retired from teaching biology at St. Michael’s College, worked with me to make sure that the ten plants in the book could be found blooming at the same time in the same place.
But another challenge was in addition to teaching and parenting, I was also planning and traveling to my grandmother’s one hundredth birthday party in Chicago. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted. When I took the back matter to my writing group, Melissa Stewart, who is an amazing non-fiction author who has published over one hundred books including CAN AN AARDVARK BARK?, gave me an extraordinary gift www.melissa-stewart.com/. She told me to send her the draft of my back matter and that she would edit it for me and format the information so that everything was presented in a uniform way.
Q: Wow! It sounds like the inspiration for this book came from family and friends!
It did, and what’s even more amazing is that the inspirational process continued when working with the extraordinary editor of the book, Janine O’Malley, and the incredible illustrator, Suzanne Kaufman. This book is truly a gift from family and friends, and I hope that others will find it’s a gift they can share with their families and friends as well.
Thanks so much for reading and listening!
100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK by Kate Narita Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Available for preorder from your favorite bookstore
For the month of October, the blog post prompt is “Where did you get your inspiration for your first picture book?” My answer to that, in short, would be: Overcoming challenges! This was my first experience not only illustrating a full picture book, but also working on a subject matter that was a bit out of my personal experience, to say the least. So it was certainly a challenge, but I found it to be a fulfilling one.
Being the illustrator of a Non Fiction book, my inspiration had to reflect on the subject matter, and therefore came from China’s History, its art, and the flora and fauna that dwelled there in the time period where this story takes place. More importantly, I wanted this book to reflect the love I have for the Chinese culture, as it is the culture, and the generations before, that made my beloved Chinese husband who he is. The Chinese culture has shaped our mixed family, and I want to keep that very culture alive for our children.
I first began brainstorming with the biggest challenge at hand: the story is told by the adult main character, who is reflecting on what happened in his past as a child. I would have to illustrate a Past and Present main character. There would have to be a clear visual definition between what was happening in the past versus what is happening now. My solution came to me in the form of a memory book, or a scrap book. The entire story is told as the main character gathers his photographs, field notes, and water color paintings and puts them together into a memory book!
Now that the format had been decided, I next had to figure out my color palette. I wanted my art to reflect many aspects of the art I had seen during my visit to China, years ago. China has such a rich history of art, from watercolors, to silk paintings, to paintings on scrolls. So when it came to inking my line work, I found that none of my many stock colors were good enough for the job. I had to mix up a large batch of the perfect blue-green-grey shade of ink that I had seen in so many famous Chinese ink paintings. That ink color led me to my full color palette, through trial and error.
The next challenge was to figure out a way to make the memory book pages stand against the “real life” art, so the reader would instantly know the difference of time and place. So I decided on two completely different styles of line, texture, and paper. For the spreads that depicted the adult main character in the present, I used a thin pen nib for line work, smooth hot press paper, and I superimposed various textures on certain objects to give them a more lifelike feeling. For the spreads that depicted the main character’s memory book, I painted my line work with a thin brush versus a nib, rough cold press paper, and I also added small colorful accents with water soluble crayons.
My original bit of inspiration for the illustrations in this story came from an old bed that once belonged to my late mother in law. I was in awe at the intricate carvings that decorated the entire frame of the bed. I had wanted to use this as a framework for my spreads, much like the way Jan Brett frames out the art in her spreads, but it just wasn’t working the way I had planned. The traditional cherry wood color was far too heavy and did not go well with the palette I was trying to work with. But I really wanted to include the intricate patterns in some way. My book’s author, Sigrid Schmalzer, had the ingenious idea of using the traditional Chinese folk art of paper cutting in lieu of the heavy wood frame work. Something during her travels in China had triggered the idea, and it worked out perfectly!
And so the rest is history! You can see how I used the paper cutting idea to frame out the art on the cover of the book. Or... is that actually the cover of the main character’s memory book? You’ll have to read MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN: REMEMBERING CHINESE SCIENTIST PU ZHELONG
to find out! Thanks for taking the time to read about what inspired me the most on this project!
Melanie Linden Chan
MOTH AND WASP, SOIL AND OCEAN: REMEMBERING CHINESE SCIENTIST PU ZHELONG
by Sigrid Schmalzer illustrated by Melanie Linden Chan
Tilbury House Publishers, February 6, 2018
Available for pre-order now, at your favorite book store!
Welcome to the Epic 18 Reads Blog! This month authors and illustrators will reveal their story seed for their epic eighteen launch. Be sure to check back later this month for posts from:
Melanie Linden Chan http://melanielindenchan.com/
Kate Narita http://www.katenarita.com/
Jeanette Bradley http://www.jeanettebradley.com/
Tara Leubbe http://beckytarabooks.com/
Viviane Elbee http://vivianeelbee.com/index.html
Traci Sorell http://wernickpratt.com/client/traci-sorell/
Margaret Greenias http://margaretgreanias.com/