Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Revealing ReFoRemo with Author Anna Forrester

I love reading children’s books. And in a way, just reading is a form of research. But what I love about the ReFoReMo Challenge is how it makes me sit down, take notes, and be much more rigorous in my selections and my thinking.  And it cultivates habits that extend well beyond the month of the challenge!

I mostly write fiction, but lately I’ve been trying to come to terms with my inner science geek. And so I’ve been reading and researching new science-themed picture books.

It seems that the days of dry, informational science books have passed, and in their wake are books using character-driven plots, strong narrative arcs, quirky voice, and various twists to turn children onto their subjects. Many of these newer science books walk the line between fiction and non-fiction (go here for more on this): each tells its story using more than just facts, and each also tells us something about nature and science as a whole.

GIANT SQUID, Candace Fleming, ill. Eric Rohmann (Roaring Brook Press, 2016)

With lyrical, question-filled text and dark, cropped illustrations, this book sucks us in to the mystery that is the giant squid. Mystery and questions have surrounded this creature throughout history. Each page shows just a fragment of the creature, with the only full view coming from a pair of fold-out pages that reveal a whole animal hiding in a cloud ink. The book’s abrupt ending feels perfectly matched to the elusive squid’s habit of squirt-and-escape.

Nature = mystery & questions.

THE BLOBFISH BOOK, Jessica Olein (Balzer + Bray, 2016)
A traditional, non-fiction photo book about deep sea creatures gets hi-jacked by a spirited blobfish who wants to make sure he gets his due. The informational text and photos are forced to compete with the cartooned-in blobfish’s interjections and dramatic narrative arc, and character wins out over information.

Nature has a mind of it’s own.

PINK IS FOR BLOBFISH, Jess Keating, ill David Degrand (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016)
In contrast to THE BLOBFISH BOOK, Keating offers lays out more traditional facts and information about an array of pink animals. But her authorial voice is sharp and witty (hear it live at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC31PBmBfs_2ndHPLd9fkjZw); and by linking the book’s animals through their shared color, she reclaims PINK from the soft, frilly and stereotypically “feminine”. 

Nature is everything.

WATER IS WATER, Miranda Paul, ill. Jason Chin (Roaring Brook Press, 2015)
Miranda Paul takes that abstract diagram of the water cycle that we all learned and makes it warm, human and relatable. With evocative language, rhyme, and page-turning ellipsis, she links the water cycle to the seasons, anchoring it in the many ways, scales and forms of water with which children interact.  

Nature is cyclical. 

I USED TO BE A FISH, Tom Sullivan (Balzer + Bray, 2016)
Sullivan develops that famously riffed-on sequential “evolution” cartoon into an entire book, following a character who becomes one creature after another with each page turn. While hardly factual (until the endpapers), the book offers a light, fun introduction to evolution in a play-acting way that young kids can definitely relate to.

We are nature.

BIRTH OF AN ISLAND,Millicent Selsam. ill. Winifred Lubell (Scholastic, 1975)
This is an old one, but Millicent Selsam’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millicent_Selsam) beautiful story of a volcanic island and its evolving inhabitation makes me want to move there. Selsam wrote narrative science books for decades and many of her books, like this one, serve as great reminders that what is new was once old, AND that at the end of the day we want from nature books what we want from all books: good story.

Nature is home.

Anna Forrester loves books and loves exploring – in Philadelphia where she lives, in rural Pennsylvania, and everywhere else her adventures take her.  Anna Forrester’s debut picture book, Bat Count , will be released you can preorder it here! It is a ‘ficinformational’ story of bats, citizen science and hope. Visit Anna at her website, check out her blog, Hmmmmm or follow her on Twitter.


  1. Great post, Anna. I applaud your ability to sum up the central science message in each example book so succinctly! Looking forward to Bat Count.

    1. Thanks Carrie -- trying to summarize was a good mental exercise!

  2. Great post, Anna! I love how science book are evolving to up the interest level & really help kids connect! Looking forward to Bat Count!!

  3. Yes, love this. Nonfiction books now are much more than a roundup of facts. Hopefully they illuminate something bigger, too!

  4. As a science, especially a natural science geek, I especially enjoyed your post & the titles you've selected. Will have to check out that classic one.

    I've read & enjoyed all of them, but haven't been able to get my hands on the fist book yet. Next in line! Thanks!!

    1. It really is fun to see all the ways that writers are re-shaping 'factual' info in these new science PBs...

  5. I LOVE Giant Squid. Candace is brilliant! And I love Miranda's Water is Water, too. The illustrations in both are perfectly suited to text and subject matter. The blobfish books are doing well in our school library. The kids love them. And it's lovely to see an older title in a favorites list! Let's hear it for staying power! Congrats for your debut! Will have to take a look....

    1. It really is an incredible book...Elizabeth Bird did a great interview about it with Eric Rohman -- check it out if you can find it!

  6. Thank you for a great post, Anna! I love the books you recommend! I can't wait to read your debut.

    1. Thanks Kristi -- I love them too!! Thanks so much for letting me kvell about them here!

  7. Agree Anna, ReFoReMo surely helps me focus and dig deeper into books to find out how and why they work. Can't wait to read your debut book. Thanks for the link about informational fiction. :)