Every parent has a bedtime routine for their little ones. But what about their animal friends? What is bedtime like for them?
It's a question Maria Birmingham answers in her charming and funny Snooze-O-Rama: The Strange Ways That Animals Sleep (Owlkids Books, illlustrated by Kyle Reed).
Packed with facts that kids will love, Snooze-O-Rama details the ways that animals get ready to sleep, from coating themselves in slime (parrotfish) to using neck fat as a comfy pillow (walruses). A perfect introduction to nonfiction for young readers, the book will make kids laugh as they learn about animal habits, biology, and habitats. If you're aiming to encourage a love of STEM, this playful entry to scientific knowledge is a great step for your young readers.
We're happy to welcome Maria here today as part of our Kids Club interview series. She tells us about one strange bird habit that inspired this project, clears up a common misconception about writing for young people, and shares her favourite part of the writing process.
Tell us about your new book and how it came to be.
Snooze-O-Rama takes a look at the unusual ways that animals sleep. It’s wonderfully illustrated by Kyle Reed. The book compares animal sleeping habits to our own. For instance, we sleep under a blanket while an otter wraps itself in seaweed. The book came about after I read an article about a type of bird that sleeps through the night underneath a giraffe. That fact stopped me in my tracks because it seemed so unlikely. Once I did some research and realized it was true, it planted the seed for the book.
What do you need in order to write – in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?
I need a quiet space. No playlists or coffee shops for me! Music or a busy atmosphere distract me from my writing. I sit at the same chair in my dining room and work away. A few years back, I did buy a desk and put it in a corner of a bedroom to create a small, makeshift office. But I found I couldn’t focus in a new spot, so back to the dining room I went! I keep a notepad beside my laptop to jot down ideas as I write. And I usually create a handwritten book map before I start writing. It helps me visualize what I hope to achieve on each spread. Of course, by the time I’m done a draft, the book map is covered in crossed-out ideas, notes, arrows, and doodles that were made during those moments when the words just wouldn’t come!
Do you feel like there are any misconceptions about writing for young people? What do you wish people knew about what you do?
When it comes to writing nonfiction for kids, I think some people believe that it’s pretty simple. You scour books, articles, and the internet for a bunch of facts and slap them down on the page. Done. But today’s nonfiction is so much more than a compilation of facts. You need to find an intriguing angle or ‘hook.’ I pull together carefully researched information in a way that I hope is engaging and informative, with a touch of quirkiness. My goal is to make readers see their world and themselves differently and maybe give them a laugh. A brilliant editor once asked me: Why should this book exist? And I think about that now whenever I begin working on a book. I consider how and if my approach will appeal to a reader.
What defines a great book for young readers, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great kids books, whether you read them as a child or an adult.
I think a great book makes young readers think about something in a new way. Two recent books that caught my attention are: Trending: How and Why Stuff Gets Popular by Kira Vermond and Clayton Hanmer, as well as Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom by Heather Tekavec and Susan Batori. Both have a wonderful sense of fun. And when I finished reading each one, I thought: I wish I’d written that. They’re exactly the kind of books I would have enjoyed as a young reader.
What's your favourite part of the life cycle of a book? The inspiration, writing the first draft, revision, the editorial relationship, promotion and discussing the book, or something else altogether? What's the toughest part?
I really enjoy the research stage of a book, especially when I find those perfect facts—like a bird that sleeps under a giraffe. I know it’s going to add to the book and a kid is going to get a kick out of reading it. And, of course, finally holding your book in your hands after more than a year of working on it is always exciting. As for the toughest part, I’d say for me it’s probably the promotion side of things. I’m an introvert, so putting myself out there to plug my book can be a bit challenging.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the process of revising a middle-grade non-fiction book that’s set to be published next year. It combines history, sociology, and pop culture. I’m hoping it’ll be a lot of fun for young readers. I also have another book coming next year about Canadian animals. Plus, I was lucky enough to receive a writing grant for a new non-fiction book, so I’m getting started on the research for it. Every once in a while, I wonder if my book ideas will dry up. Then I’ll see or read something that catches my attention and, sure enough, my wheels start turning and I’m excited for the possibilities.
Maria Birmingham is a longstanding contributor to OWL and Chickadee magazines, and the award-winning author of several books for young people, including Acting Wild, Biometrics, and A Beginner's Guide to Immortality: From Alchemy to Avatars. Maria lives in Brampton, Ontario.