Hi Math is Everywhere Readers,
Today we have a funky interview. No, not because Debra Shumaker can rock a 70s dance, though, Debra, if you can, please show us! This is going to be funky because Debra’s debut picture book, illustrated by Claire Powell, is Freaky Funky Fish!
Book description: Fish have fins and gills and tails. All fish swim and most have scales. But. . . not all fish are alike. From zapping, stinging, even singing, to playing dead and a see-through head, discover the funky and freaky ways fish look and act to survive in the waters they live in.
Kaitlyn: Hi Debra, thanks so much for being here today to talk about this absolutely gorgeous book!
Debra: Thank you SO much for having me. I really enjoy your Math is Everywhere blog and am honored and excited to be here! And me rocking a 70s dance is something you probably don’t want to see—though spreading laughter is a good thing, so I’ll think about it. :-).
Kaitlyn: Hahahaha, I will definitely get my funky dance on with you to celebrate these funky fish! Now, to start off, can you share what inspired this fun book?
Debra: The inspiration is actually a combination of many writing challenges. Back in November 2012, I was doing Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge (now known as Storystorm). During that challenge, my family took a trip to Disney and we were in the aquarium. Walking around reading the information signs, I was surprised to see how many fish were named after animals. I wrote down “fish in a zoo” as my idea for that day. A few months later, for Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 challenge, I wrote a fiction PB about a goldfish who imagines becoming other animals to deter a hungry cat, and I included some fun back matter. That book, NOT A GOLDFISH, never sold. Fast forward to spring 2018— I had been focusing on writing PB bios for a few years but decided I wanted to try writing a different kind of nonfiction book. After reading fun, rhyming nature PBs about bugs, squirrels, water, leaves, etc, I decided to try a science based rhyming book. As I was searching for a topic to start with, I remembered the huge variety of fish I found when writing NOT A GOLDFISH. Wa la! Idea born. After some research, I wrote the first draft of FREAKY, FUNKY FISH during Paula Yoo’s National Picture Book Writing Week (NaPiBoWriWee) in early May. Exactly three years later it will be a real book! (Only two fish made it in both books—the porcupinefish and the catfish. They even made the same page near the end!)
Kaitlyn: Wow! That’s an amazing journey. You really took all the opportunities out there for picture book writers and made the most of them, and now look where you are! Now that we know where the book came from, can you share a bit more about the book? For instance, the most remarkable thing about this book, beyond the amazing facts we learn about aquatic animals, is the fact that this is written in rhyme (and done so well!). Did you intend for it to be in rhyme? Can you also share why rhyme works so well for a story like this?
Debra: Thanks for the compliment! I had written other stories in rhyme when I first started writing and I knew I could do it. I think rhyme works well for expository nonfiction stories like this because the rhyme gives it structure—just listing strange facts about fish could be a bit boring. Rhyme is fun, especially for young readers. I want kids to know that science can be fun! There are so many more incredibly cool fish all over the world that I couldn’t fit in the book because I couldn’t find a rhyme or the meter didn’t work. I hope this book inspires kids to look at nature more closely and appreciate how wild and wonderful it is.
Kaitlyn: Such a great point; those added layers are what makes books great, and rhyme is an awesome layer! Can you share who your editor is and what you enjoyed about working with this editor?
Debra: Allison Cohen is my editor and she is incredible to work with. She said that FREAKY, FUNKY FISH fit the vibe of Running Press Kids perfectly. We shared the same vision—this book was meant to be fun. Since it was my debut, the whole process of working with an editor and publishing a book was new to me, and she was very patient with my questions. Fortunately the text didn’t need revisions, but she did ask for some clarifications on the back matter, which led me to dig deeper to really understand the fish adaptations. I’m grateful to Dr. Adela Roa-Varón at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum for reviewing the facts and illustrations for accuracy.
Kaitlyn: That’s so awesome. So all of you readers, when you do get a book deal, please remember what Debra said, editors are totally supportive and willing to answer your questions. And I’m so glad, Debra, that you found such a wonderful expert to help with this book! Can you share who is illustrating your book and why you enjoy working with this illustrator?
Debra: Claire Powell created the art for this book and I am so thrilled with her illustrations! When I saw the colored sketches for the first time, I couldn’t stop smiling. Each fish and each spread has personality, I couldn’t be happier. They were so much fun! The Freaky and Funky ratings on the pages were her idea and they make me giggle every time I open the book.
Kaitlyn: Haha, those ratings are so fun, and I bet kids will love them as much as Claire’s wonderful illustrations and your great rhymes! Can you share some advice for up-and-coming writers?
Debra: Don’t pin all your hopes and dreams on one story, especially if you’re a picture book writer. It was my 11th queried story that caught my then-agent’s eye, but that book never sold. Nor did the next three stories we went out on sub with. FREAKY FUNKY FISH was the fifth book we subbed together and it sold a year and a half after I signed with that agent. Patience, revising, and trying new things are essential to finding success in this business. And critique groups are very important—I would not be a published author without them!
Kaitlyn: Yes, yes, yes, to all of this! Can you each share a bit about your next book(s) and/or projects you’re working on now?
Debra: TELL SOMEONE, illustrated by Tristan Yuvienco, comes out on October 1st with Albert Whitman. It’s a completely different type of book than FREAKY, FUNKY FISH, and I enjoyed the challenge of writing something in another style. TELL SOMEONE encourages kids to talk about things—both the easy stuff and the hard stuff. Tristan’s illustrations are incredible.
I’m also thrilled to say that PECULIAR PRIMATES, a companion to FREAKY, FUNKY FISH, is coming out in Fall 2022 with Running Press Kids. Thankfully, Claire Powell signed on to illustrate. I just saw her sketch for the cover—it will be another super fun book.
Kaitlyn: Oh my goodness, I can’t wait for these! Thanks so much again for joining us and sharing such wonderful insights today!
Debra: Thanks again for having me!
Links to buy FREAKY, FUNKY FISH:
Preorder campaign for a signed copy: https://www.scrawlbooks.com/search/site/freaky%20funky%20fish
Debra Kempf Shumaker loves weird and fascinating facts. When she isn’t reading or writing, Debra enjoys cooking, gardening, and watching Jeopardy. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, three sons, and two cats—who miss the days the youngest son had an aquarium full of fish.
Kaitlyn’s review of the book
Freaky, Funky Fish is such a delightful book! Kids will learn a ton about how cool fish are while also having fun, and guessing the next word with the awesome rhyme!
Would you like to receive a picture book critique from Debra?
Here are all the ways to get into the giveaway (each one is an extra entry):
- Comment on this post
- Share in the comments below that you added Freaky, Funky Fish to your Goodreads “Want to Read” list and/or your Amazon Wishlist
- Share in the comments that you ordered a copy of Freaky, Funky Fish
- Share in the comments that you did a purchase request for Freaky, Funky Fish at your library
- If you’ve read the book, share that you’ve left a critique on Amazon or Goodreads.
- Quote retweet my tweet about this blog post on Twitter and tag three friends.
Thank you all for supporting Debra and this wonderful book! And we’re getting super close on narrowing down the Spring Fling Kidlit contest winners! Make sure to support all the prize donors by following our #Springflingkidlit #donor appreciation tweets.
Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez