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