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Life on the Deckle Edge

Just One Bite with Lola M. Schaefer

My office kitty, May, with a spread from Lola M. Schaefer's JUST ONE BITE
Today I'm thrilled to feature award-winning author Lola M. Schaefer and her hot-off-the-press new picture book from Chronicle, JUST ONE BITE. Exactly how much food can a rabbit eat in just one bite? How about a Komodo dragon? An elephant? Would you believe this volume offers life-size illustrations (you read that right) for bitefuls of food for eleven different animals, from a worm to a sperm whale?

This oversized wonder of a book has some innovative paper fold-outs and is illustrated by Geoff Waring. Currently art director for Good Housekeeping UK, Waring enjoys painting and science and brings both passions to these playful illustrations.

Welcome, Lola. How did the idea come about for JUST ONE BITE?

It probably bubbled up as a result of a lifetime fascination with animals. But the actual kernel for this book popped into my head on a car trip with my husband to visit one of our sons. I was thinking about a large animal and how much it would eat in just one bite. After that I thought it would be fun to start small and proceed to huge to show the different animal mouths and amounts of food that they eat.

This book must have been fun to create. Did you come across any surprises in your research?

Almost every animal in this book brought a surprise of one kind or another. Probably one of the most interesting facts I learned is that sperm whale hunting habits are still a bit of a mystery. No one has witnessed them eating, so they have to study the contents of their stomachs to guestimate what exactly happens. And even though sperm whales have large teeth - and plenty of them, it appears that they use a process similar to the suction of a vacuum cleaner to eat the giant squid.

Did you collaborate at all with the illustrator, or was he on his own to interpret your text?

Chronicle Books, the publisher of JUST ONE BITE, asked me to compile a list of facts, sizes and pertinent details on each featured animal, as well as their food. They also asked that I select the species of each animal to be used. They then sent that gathered material to Geoff Waring and he used that as his prliminary guide. From there he also did his own research. By the way, Geoff's art is exceptional. His style and choice of color make the images pop on the page. I'm thrilled.

Kids will definitely LOVE this art. Many of your books present a scientific concept in a lively, accessible way for very young readers. How challengeing is this type of writing?

All writing is challenging, of course, but for me, writing narrative nonfiction is great fun. The difficulty arises in deciding on a focus that is original and interesting to your audience. It needs to be new, engaging, and important. By "important" I mean that the topic needs to grab the reader, excite him and leave him with some new knowedge and a hunger for more. The research is time-consuming, but that's also the big pay-off for me. I like learning all of these little-known facts.

You spend a lot of time in schools. How do these experiences inform your writing?

Kids are honest. By listening to their conversations and watching what they're reading, a writer can learn a lot about what they enjoy. My job as a writing consultant affords me opportunities to share a wide range of books with the students. I see their reactions to textbook-like treatments of nonfiction. I also see their energy and enthusiasm for all of the strong narrative nonfiction that is being published today. It seems to me that all ages want to know more about and understand the world in which they live.

And - you are one busy lady. JUST ONE BITE joins two other books just out now for fall! Can you tell us a little bit about FRANKIE STEIN STARTS SCHOOL (Marshall Cavendish, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry)?

This is the second "Frankie Stein" book. The first debuted two years ago and thankfully won the hearts of many children. [RHB interruption - it also won the Children's Choice award, K-2!] Frankie attends monster school for the first time. As usual, his good looks and polite manners create some problems. But Frankie's resourcefulness and hard work help him make new friends in a fun way.

And about HAPPY HALLOWEEN, MITTENS (HarperCollins, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung,"My First I Can Read" series)?

It's so much fun to see MITTENS the kitten return in his fourth book. He, like most children ages 3-5, tries to be helpful. Unfortunately many of his efforts are just the opposite. But in the end, Mittens helps make spooky fun for Halloween.

Thank you, Lola!
To learn more about how Lola researches her books - and for great ideas teachers and parents can mine - paste this link into your browser (and then enjoy the rest of Lola's website, too!)

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