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!
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