Jump into Line with Susan Stockdale

Susan Stockdale is one of the kindest, joyful, and encouraging people I have met in children’s literature. I discovered her books several years ago, and in 2019, invited her to lead a workshop at the 10th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival. Her workshop, “Let’s Create Fabulous Fishes!”, based on her nonfiction picture book Fabulous Fishes, was a popular one, and the young participants left as happy as their bright and beautiful fishes. I had also featured her on my blog and asked her to discuss her research and creative process – Exploring the Amazing Natural World with Susan Stockdale.

At the 14th Annual Gaithersburg Book Festival, Susan will be presenting her most recent title, Line Up! Animals in Remarkable Rows along with Jennifer O’Connell (Elephants Remember) at 10:15 am in the Jim Henson Pavilion.  She will also lead a children’s workshop, Let’s Create Animals at 12:25 pm in the Graphic Novels and Workshops Pavilion.

I hope you enjoy my interview with the talented author-illustrator Susan Stockdale!

Who encouraged or inspired you to become an author/illustrator?

My mother, a published poet and master of rhyme, inspired my love of language. Her profound influence is reflected in how I write my picture books: entirely in rhyme!  My mom also encouraged my interest in drawing pictures.

What is your writing space like?

I both write and paint in my home studio. It’s a cozy, cheerful space that’s flooded with natural light.

What do you love most about the cover art and illustrations in your current book?  I’m happy with the quirky hermit crabs on the cover, which support the book’s theme in a fun and surprising way. It was a joy to express my passion for color, pattern and design in depicting the book’s different animals and habitats.

Describe your art style and your art process.

I consider myself a stylized realist. Using photos as visual references for my subjects, I create many sketches for each image and select the one I like best. I revise that sketch into a detailed drawing and transfer it onto paper. Then I apply three or more layers of acrylic paint to create my final illustration.

What information surprised you most during your research?

I knew that hermit crabs use abandoned sea shells as their home, but I wasn’t aware that when an empty shell washes up on shore, some crabs line up according to size and swap shells. This is the kind of unusual behavior I was excited to share with kids.

How (or in what ways) do you hope librarians will promote your book?  

I’d be thrilled to learn that librarians share Line Up! with children interested in learning about animals and nature. Teacher’s Guides are available on my website (www.susanstockdale.com) for all my books. The guides suggest dynamic activities that incorporate language arts, visual art, science, movement and more.

What do you hope your readers will learn from reading your book?

I hope the various line formations I depict in Line Up! spark children’s interest in animal behavior and science – and that my bold and graphic images fill them with a sense of wonder about our natural world.

Who is the reader you are writing for?  Please describe them. 

Because animals are so different from people, children are naturally curious about them and benefit from developing an understanding of them. I create my books to open their eyes to the marvels of nature.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

 I spend a lot of time consulting with scientists to make sure I convey factually accurate information in my books. I make many mistakes in both my writing and illustrations before they correct my work. I’d like kids to know that creating anything worthwhile in life takes diligence, humility, and patience.

Which book review or award has been most meaningful to you?

Though not a review or award, a mother wrote to me that her nine-year-old autistic daughter was so inspired by my picture book, Bird Show, that she created a fully illustrated, 32-page “humanized version” of it. She sent a copy of her daughter’s beautiful book to me. It was the most compelling affirmation of the positive influence of my picture books that I’ve ever received.

What are you most looking forward to at our book festival?

I’m very excited to attend other authors’ talks and run into author friends I haven’t seen in a long time.

What message do you have for your readers?

Play outdoors. Enjoy nature. Read a book and create one of your own! Kids often tell me that they want to become an author and illustrator when they grow up. I tell them they can be one now!

Additional resources:

Susan Stockdale’s Teacher Guides

TeachingBooks: Susan Stockdale


Bird Show: An Extended Metaphor for Integrated Science and Literacy Learning


Teaching Patterns to Infants and Toddlers

Understanding Difference

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.