Exploring the Amazing Natural World with Susan Stockdale

The 10th Gaithersburg Book Festival is right around the corner, and I am excited to share the second in my series of interviews with GBF children’s authors! Susan Stockdale is a local author / illustrator and a true gem – her books are fantastic, fabulous, and just plain awesome.  

Susan will be leading a children’s workshop entitled Let’s Create Fabulous Fishes!  (10:15 – 11:00 am in the Children’s Workshop Tent).  She will read her picture book, Fabulous Fishes, then guide children in exploring different fish shapes, colors and patterns to create their own fish using oil pastels on black paper. Then the young artists will complete their art piece by adding a title to their artwork.

I caught up with Susan in April and want to share our conversation about her research and artistic process.

Your picture books – especially Fantastic Flowers and Fabulous Fishes – have a definite joyful feeling to them – what inspires you to create your books? 

I want to excite young children about our amazing natural world, which is always my muse. As a former textile designer, I delight in finding patterns in everything I paint, and nature presents a treasure trove of them.

Can you tell me about your art?  Your books indicate that the art medium is acrylic on paper.  What is your creative process?  How large are your paintings for your picture books? Do you create art using other mediums?

I gather reference photos of my subjects, create many pencil drawings of them and select those I like best for my final illustrations. I submit my drawings to scientists for their feedback to ensure they are factually accurate and revise as necessary. I then trace each drawing onto Bristol paper. For each color, I apply many layers of acrylic paint to give the image a flat, crisp appearance. I work solely in acrylic, my favorite medium, and my paintings are the same size featured in my books.

As a school library media specialist, I teach my students the importance of using multiple reliable sources for research, and citing sources.  I love that each of your books include a thanks to specific experts that helped with your research, a visual glossary, and a bibliography at the end.  Some include an interactive activity.  Can you tell me about your research process?

I research my subjects in magazines, books and reputable online resources; consult closely with scientists; visit natural history museums, zoos and other venues; and, when possible, view my subjects in their natural habitats. My most exotic research trips have been to Africa and the Galapagos Islands. Once I’ve gathered sufficient information on my subjects, I begin writing my manuscript. The poem always comes first, followed by the addendum.

Some of my research resources for Stripes of All Types: (l-r) books; websites; a trip to Costa Rica; visits to museum exhibitions; consultant Dr. Kris Helgen, former head of the Mammal Division at the National Museum of Natural History


Your picture books are wonderful examples of nonfiction genre of animals, and of poetry.  Why did you decide to write your books in a lyrical, rhythmic, and rhyming form?

I didn’t make a conscious decision to write in rhyme when I began creating children’s books. This form just came naturally to me. I’m sure it’s because my mother, a published poet, rhymed words together all the time when I was little. This had a wonderful influence on me. I love how rhythmic rhyme engages children in a fun and musical way. Children learn to anticipate the rhyming word and make predictions, so rhymes help them learn to read.  

What message do you have to students about the importance of research?

Research is essential to conveying accurate facts. I particularly enjoy the surprising information I uncover while researching, such as how Red-billed Oxpeckers “hiss when started, alerting their hosts to possible danger.” I included that fact in my Bring On the Birds addendum.

What is a message from you that I can share with my educator colleagues

Encourage students to read more nonfiction. It sparks their curiosity and opens their minds to the world. It helps them develop background knowledge they need to be academically successful. Also, studies show that reading more nonfiction early on helps children reach the appropriate reading levels in later grades.

What is a message from you that I can share with my students?

When I present at schools, children often tell me that “when I grow up, I want to write and illustrate books.” My response? You don’t have to grow up to do this! You can create your own books now. All you need is a few pieces of paper folded in half, a pencil, and an idea. Have fun!

To learn more about Susan and her books, please visit her website here.

Let’s Create Fabulous Fishes!

TIME: 10:15 am – 11:00 am

LOCATION: Children’s Workshops Tent

AUDIENCE: Elementary School students

Gaithersburg Book Festival will be held on May 18, 2019, 10 am – 6 pm on the grounds of Gaithersburg City Hall.  Visit the website here!

Susan’s books will be available for sale at the Politics and Prose Book Store tent.

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