Stripes of All Types
Written & illustrated by Susan Stockdale
32 pages, ages 2 – 6
How can you pass up a book with a cover this bold? Or one that begins: “Stripes found in water/ sliding through weeds/ Drinking from rivers/ and darting through reeds”?
Like Susan Stockdale’s other books, Stripes of All Types has bouncy, alliterative rhyme that is great fun to read aloud. The illustrations are sharp, bright, and authentic. And, like her earlier books, this one embraces environmental themes – in particular: patterns in nature; animal diversity; beauty. It’s got to have beauty, she says.
Fortunately, I was able to talk to Susan a couple weeks ago and asked her three questions which she so graciously answered.
Sally’s Bookshelf: Talk about how you use art to encourage children’s connections to their environment.
Susan: I got inspired to write the book while visiting an exhibit of colorful frogs at the American Museum of Natural History. There were so many striped frogs that I thought it would be neat to do a whole book about stripes. Once I started looking at pictures of striped animals, I realized there are many that children might see in a park, zoo, or even their back yard.
Though my books are about animals, I intentionally include children interacting with them on the last page. For example, in Fabulous Fishes, I show a girl snorkeling among tropical fish. In Bring On the Birds, I feature a boy and girl gazing at a robin’s nest. And in Stripes of All Types, I end the book with children cuddling striped cats. This is one way I try to connect children to nature.
SB: Your text is so lively, with natural rhyme and flow. It’s clear you love to play with words. How do you know when you have an idea that will fly?
Susan: Usually a line or two will jump out, and I’ll play around with them. They may not end up in the book, but they help me get going. Then I start playing around with ideas. With Stripes I tried three approaches: looking at stripes as animal parts (like stripes on a tail); looking at stripes through how animals move (leaping stripes, creeping stripes); and looking at stripes on animals in different habitats. I settled on the habitats because it gave me a chance to highlight where animals live, plus a chance to use cool verbs. (Animals sprint and scale and drink and crawl….)
The text is spare- it takes kids on a word ride. At the back I include descriptions of the animals – that’s where I work with scientists to make sure that the information is accurate.
SB: Your illustrations add information to the story. I’m thinking of the ring-tailed lemur drinking from a river; you have a baby on her back. What sort of research do you do for illustrations?
Susan: Lots! (she laughs) I start by collecting images of as many striped animals as I can – from photos, books, magazines… A photo of a zebra swallowtail butterfly makes me wonder: what other striped insects (or spiders) could be on a leaf? I try to come up with many candidates for each habitat, and think about what I can say about them, and how I can show their beauty.
Then, as I work on the illustrations, I get feedback from scientists. My original jellyfish sketch had stripes too close together. I even ask botanists about the plant life in the animal’s habitat – for every picture I paint, I make sure it would occur in nature. I paint with acrylics because I love the sharp colors and lines I can get – and because I can paint over mistakes, which you can’t do with watercolors. And I make plenty of mistakes…
Beyond the Book: Susan mentioned that she focused on verbs in this book. If you’re looking for a way to explore language, act out the movements in the book.
Explore science by going on a “Stripe Hike”. You might find garter snakes, woodpeckers, turkeys or monarch caterpillars in your neighborhood. Or visit a zoo or aviary and look for stripes.
Explore art by painting pictures of animals with stripes, or taking photos of striped critters in your neighborhood.
Play a game: Susan pointed out that stripes can camouflage animals or make them easier to see. Look at the environment outside. Then paint some 4-inch paper plates with stripe patterns and colors that might camouflage them or advertise them in that “habitat”. Head outside and put the plates around the habitat and then challenge your friends to find them.
You can check in on the rest of the blog tour at the Peachtree blog. In addition to the blog tour, this post is part of STEM Friday round-up. It's also part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by publisher.