The Backstory: 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK
I am thrilled to introduce our guest for this week, Kate Narita! I am so fortunate to have met Kate many, many years ago as her children's second grade teacher. Then two summers ago, I had the pleasure of stumbling upon one of Kate's author events where I learned of her publishing success. Fast forward to starting this series and there was no doubt Kate had to be a part of it.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Sure! I’d love to. 100 Bugs! A Counting Book is a 2019 Mathical Honor Book. It integrates science and math throughout its narrative arc. From dawn till dusk on a late summer day, a young brother and sister count bugs, which are grouped in all the possible combinations of the number ten, until night falls and they find ten fireflies and reach their goal of locating one hundred bugs.
The backmatter features the ten different insects and the ten different flowers that the brother and sister find while they’re exploring their yard. It’s full of fun facts. For example, ladybugs have traveled to space and Julia Childs chose a rose to be named after her because its color reminded her of butter and she liked its licorice scent.
Here I am with Suzanne Kaufman, the illustrator of 100 Bugs!
She’s holding the sketchbook she used to draft the art for our book.
As a nature lover and teacher, I love how you combined this important elementary math concept with the insect and flower pairings. The backmatter is a perfect extension for kids (and adults!) whose curiosity has been piqued by your word choice and Suzanne's delightful illustrations.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
Funny that you should ask me this question, Andy. In a way, this story wouldn’t exist without you. When you were my oldest son’s second grade teacher, I volunteered in your classroom during your writing block. Your inspirational teaching spurred me to return to the classroom the following year.
A few years later I started teaching fourth grade at The Center School in Stow, Massachusetts which is also where I work now. My principal at the time asked me to sit in on an interview for the school’s new math specialist. One of the candidates, Teresa Zuckerman, who is also my friend, interviewed for the position. During the interview she said that kids needed to understand the combinations of ten in order to be successful in math.
This is a photo of the fourth grade team at my school. Teresa is the leftmost person and I am sitting next to her. Teresa said the comment about the combinations of ten which led to 100 Bugs!
A spark ignited in my mind. I’d been writing for twelve years, raised two sons, earned my MFA in writing for children at Simmons University and studied a ton of picture books. I couldn’t think of any that contained the combinations of ten. By the end of the day, I knew I wanted to write that story.
Later on that night at my critique group, a fellow writer, Susan Richmond shared her counting manuscript. A battle ensued inside myself. Do I share my idea or keep it to myself? Well, I went against my intuition and shared the idea. Luckily, Susan didn’t go against her intuition. She said, “I don’t want to write that book. Why don’t you write that book?” It was a great that she stuck to her intuition because Susan’s book The Bird Count is phenomenal.
Kate, that is amazing to hear all of the steps along your journey that led to your book. And I am flattered to be considered even a tiny bit of that journey. It always amazes me how all of our little(and big) choices along the way can be the stepping stones that lead us to success.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now 100 BUGS! A COUNTING STORY? Was it something undeniable you had to write immediately or did you need to sit with this idea and let it grow for a while before it found its way to the page?
So, the story seed for 100 Bugs! sprouted that night on the way home from my writing group. It’s a forty-minute drive home to my house and the manuscript literally came to me word-for-word as I drove home. It was magic just like Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in her book Big Magic. As soon as I got home, I opened my computer and typed the whole thing out. I’ve never had something quite like that happen to me before or since. I spend a ton of time driving. So, I often get story ideas or a good line or figure out how to solve a problem in my manuscript. But the whole manuscript word-for-word?! That’s a miracle!
It is incredible when that happens! It almost feels like magic.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
There isn’t one place that I get inspiration or sparks for ideas. I find inspiration everywhere. I’ve already mentioned the car, the shower, listening to people’s conversations. Sometimes when I’m hiking in the woods or running an idea will come, too. I find that the most important tip I can share with your readers is to always be open to inspiration and to pay attention at all times. You never know when an idea will come knocking.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
That is a great question. I’ll say that anytime I read a book, I’m looking at it from an author’s perspective. I’m noting what I like and what I don’t like.
Then, there are some books that I study and pick apart. One book that I studied for years and marked up with hundreds of sticky notes was Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King. I attended Vermont College’s Novel Retreat so I could meet her and have her sign my copy of her book. When she saw my book she laughed and said, “Guess you didn’t like the book that much?” I wish I would have taken a picture of me with her holding that book!
But more than any one book, I would say I’m most influenced by the writing of the amazing writers in my critique groups, particularly Melissa Stewart and April Jones Prince. I’ve been fortunate enough to read countless manuscripts of theirs over the past seventeen years, and it’s by studying their work that I’ve become the writer that I am today.
Wow, Kate! So many great resources. I couldn't agree with you more about critique partners. There is so much to learn from seeing others develop and refine an idea from a seed to a fully polished manuscript. Not to mention the marvelous insight they can provide about your own work.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
My only must have is that the seat where I work and the space where I put my computer is clear! Usually, my dining room table looks like there’s a paper explosion. It’s only clear in this photo because I had to clear it off for our holiday celebrations. I know it’s boring that I don’t have any special pens or hats or anything like that. I will say that I have to water my plants before I write. Otherwise I feel guilty.
I also have a dining room hutch that’s next to the table. It’s full of books and folders and binders of research papers that I grab whenever I need to. But I don’t need those things nearby to write. In the winter, sometimes I have to leave my dining room because it’s too cold and I write in front of our pellet stove. But, my dining room is where I feel most connected to my thoughts.
These origami boxes play a role in the middle grade novel I’m writing.
The plants I have to water!
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
I have a lot to say about this. I’ve started a podcast called Chalk + Ink: The podcast for Teachers Who Write and Writers Who Teach. I ask this same question. So, I’m going to answer this question with some of my own advice and some of other people’s advice.
Ernesto Cisneros’ episode will be live on January 22nd. He tells listeners to, “Dream big.” He’s totally right. Set your goals and do whatever it takes to achieve them.
I would tell people to be flexible and kind to yourself. When I started teaching fourth grade, I actually thought about quitting writing because I could no longer write every day. All-or-nothing thinking has no place in writing and it no longer has a place in my life.
Finally, I will tell aspiring writers what my mentor and friend, April Jones Prince told me, “Whatever you do, don’t quit.”
April Jones Prince and I at an event at Shrewsbury Public Library.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I have no news to share… boo-hoo! But I have been really enjoying working on two different projects this year.
One is a middle-grade, long-form nonfiction piece about plastic. It was inspired by an incident at my school. During the 2019-2020 school year, we had PFAS in our water. So, the school brought in large water jugs for staff and students. There were unlimited plastic cups next to the jugs. One of the jugs was right outside our classroom, which also happens to be next to the bathroom. Anyway, students would ask to go to the bathroom and get distracted by the cups. They would pile them up super high and then they would crash down outside our door.
One day one of my student’s looked at me and said, “We have to do something about this.” So we did. First, we asked the school secretary to tell us how many cups the school had used in one month and how much we spent on the cups. In the first month of school, we had spent $940 on 24,400 plastic cups.
We came up with a plan. Instead of stacking the cups outside in the hallway, we had the fourth and fifth grade teachers keep the cups in their classroom. Students had to ask the teachers for a cup.
As a result of our efforts, Three months later, our class checked in with the school secretary to get the new data. On average, the school spent $262 and used 4,333 cups per month. That means in three months we stopped 60,000 plastic cups from getting tossed. We also saved the school $2,034.
The other project is the fifth draft of a middle grade novel that I have been working on for years. When I was working on earlier drafts, I studied Me and Marvin Gardens which is A.S. King’s book that I mentioned earlier. For this draft I studied Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin and The Science of Unbreakable Things By Tae Keller
Where can people connect more with you?
My website is www.katenarita.com
If you want to find out more about how 100 Bugs! transformed from a manuscript to a book click here.
Listen to my podcast, Chalk + Ink, and read the show notes.
Thanks so much for having me, Andy. This was so much fun!
It was my pleasure, Kate! I loved catching up and hearing all about how and where you find inspiration.
Readers be sure to check out Kate's podcast and her book 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman. And teachers, please take Kate up on her offer of free virtual class visits. What an opportunity!
GIVE AWAY TIME!
Kate is generously offering TWO giveaways!
First, Kate will be giving away a copy of 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK to one lucky winner.
Second, Kate has offered to give away a manuscript critique (rhyming or non rhyming, <500 words) to another lucky winner.
1. Leave a comment below.
2. Retweet my tweet about this post. For an additional entry, tag some friends!
ABOUT KATE NARITA
Kate Palaces Narita is the author of 100 Bugs! A Counting Book (FSG spring 2018). When she's not out and about driving, teaching or cheering on her two teenage sons, Kate lives, writes, and hikes on a small mountain in central Massachusetts. There's a magical part of Mt. Wachusett in every one of her stories. Be it small wonders like darting dragonflies and gorgeous garden phlox, or large wonders like munching moose and beautiful balsam firs, she celebrates nature's bounty each and every day.
Kate has an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons University, a MS in Education, a BS in Spanish and a B.S. in Sociology from University of Wisconsin-Madison. While she has lived in Illinois, Wisconsin, Chile, and Japan, she calls Princeton, Massachusetts home.
ABOUT SUZANNE KAUFMAN
Suzanne Kaufman is the New York Times bestselling illustrator of All Are Welcome. She is the recipient of The Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Fellowship, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Mentorship and Portfolio Honors.
Her books have been awarded Bank Street College Education Best Children’s Books of the Year Honors, Notable Books for a Global Society, Washington State Best Picture Book Award, Mathical Honor Award, and Amazon Best Children Book of the Year. Her books include her own book Confiscated and illustrated work: Take Your Pets to School Day, 100 Bugs, Naughty Claudine Christmas, and Samanthasaurus Rex. She has presented at Tucson Book Festival, Los Angeles Festival of Books and Penguin Random House Book Festival.
Over the years, she’s done everything from animating special effects for Universal and Discovery, to be an animation lead on games that were awarded the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences “Innovation in Art Direction”, “Innovation in Animation” and “Children’s Title of the Year”. She has lectured about illustration and animation around the US, England, Japan and Peru.
When not tramping through the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her family, you will find her teaching illustration or working in her studio. You can follow Suzanne on Twitter @skaufmanart and Instagram @suzannekaufman.
ABOUT ANDREW HACKET
Andrew’s background of being surrounded by children, both at work and at home, has been a treasure trove of inspiration.
A nature lover, Andrew can be found exploring the woods of Massachusetts with his wife and three kids.
While often witty and imaginative, Andrew’s stories can also delve into the more serious and emotional topics that children can experience.
Andrew is represented by Dan Cramer of Flannery Literary.