The Backstory: CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR!
S.K. Wenger joins us today to share the inspiration behind CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! set to release on October 1, 2021, from Albert Whitman. Read on to learn how S.K. took this seed of an idea and grew it into the humourous, barnyard tale of evolution it is today.
Welcome to The Backstory and thank you for joining us and sharing the inspiration behind CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR!
Thank you so much for having me, Andrew! I always enjoy learning about the books you feature and the authors who created them.
First off, please tell us a little bit about your story.
Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! is about a chicken who wants to convince his barnyard friends that he really is a dinosaur. But no one believes him. When DNA results lead Chicken Frank to have a reunion with alligators, his friends fear he may become a tasty chicken nugget. However, Frank’s quest for relatives doesn’t end there. His enthusiasm over his family tree inspires him to reach out to others who are equally fearsome. Showing friendship and family can be found in unexpected places, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! offers a humorous introduction to evolution.
Your book is a great entry point for teachers and families who want to introduce children to the concept of evolution. The playful banter between the barnyard animals will have students laughing and on the edge of their seats for the next page turn.
What’s the story behind the story? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea come from?
It started with a funny image from Jack Horner’s Ted Talk video about the connection between birds and dinosaurs. As a biology class, my students were exploring genetics, dormant genes, and the possibility of retro-engineering ancient traits. This led to a discussion of whether birds should be called modern dinosaurs based on the perspective of looking at where they evolved FROM. Other students felt birds should simply be called birds, based on what they had evolved INTO. These different perspectives form part of the debate between the farm animals in Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!
I love the way the playful dialogue takes this upper-level topic and makes it accessible for younger students. I can just imagine the students in my classroom who would be inspired to learn more about birds, dinosaurs, and evolution after reading your story.
How did you approach going from this seed of an idea to what is now CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! 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?
I knew I wanted to write the story, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it--what Chicken Frank was like, what he wanted, what other characters thought of him. I also researched chicken behavior, since I don’t have any of my own. What would make a chicken believe he was a dinosaur? I was surprised to learn they flap in the dust for “baths.”
Part of my prep time also involved finding the courage to write the story in the first place. I had taken a few years off from writing to become a teacher, and I felt rusty. Chicken Frank was the second or third story I wrote when I returned to the craft of writing.
How lucky for us that you found that courage to return to writing and get this story down for all of us to enjoy. Returning to something after time away, similarly to trying something new, can be a nerve-wracking endeavor.
Where do you tend to find your inspiration or your sparks for ideas?
I often start with a mental image or emotion. Once I have an idea, I decide on setting and the type of feeling it evokes. Then I focus on character and the obstacles that stand in their way. Lastly, free-writing allows voice to emerge. After I have the initial scenes down, I let the story sit for a while before coming back to finish it. Feedback from critique partners over a several month period refines the story even more until I feel it’s ready to submit.
Wow, you seem to know your process well! What a great roadmap you have provided for aspiring authors to try out if they are looking for ways to approach drafting a story.
What books have been the most inspirational/impactful on your writing?
This is a tough question, because many books become my “new favorite” in the moment. I also write in different styles, so it’s hard to point to one type of writing that I’m drawn to. But over the years there have been books that have made me think, Wow. I wish I could write a story like this. Those books are:
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Dandy by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Charles Santoso
Giant Squid by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann
The Day that Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach and David Small
Those are all wonderful choices! And I agree with you on the cycle of "new favorites." I am so impressed by the quality and creativity of new books coming out that I also find it hard to choose.
What are the must haves for your workspace? Tools? Inspiration? Reference materials?
A mason jar full of ice water (which usually reaches room temperature) and a cup of coffee (which also reaches room temperature, i.e., cold). As I look around at my workspace, I have surrounded myself with art. Pottery from my mother, beautiful photographs from a friend, drawings from different artists, paintings from my children, hand-painted rocks from neighborhood kids, a batik tapestry made for me as a wedding gift long ago. These unique creations inspire me with their individuality and thoughtfulness. There is beauty everywhere! And it seems to begin in nature, right outside my window.
Your beautiful workspace filled with inspirational, personal touches seems like a perfect space to create.
Any inspirational words of advice for aspiring authors?
You can’t control whether or not you get published, but you can control what you create. Work to create a publishable manuscript and enjoy what you learn and what you gain while doing so.
Love this advice! There is so much you could worry about in the publishing industry. What a better use of energy to put it toward the one thing we can control, the quality of our work.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news you would like to share with us?
I’m always working on new projects and revising old ones. A new young middle grade in progress has grabbed my attention at the moment
Best of luck with your future stories and of course with your current WIP! I hope to see more books from you soon.
Where can people connect more with you?
I am on Twitter @SKWenger and on Facebook @SKWengerChildrensAuthor
My website is at www.skwenger.com
If you want to stay connected with S.K. make sure to follow her on social media. And if you know a teacher, send them right to S.K.'s website where they will find an amazing teacher's guide for CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! This guide is packed with 14 pages of background information and activities just ready for use in their classroom.
Readers also be sure to mark your calendars for the release of CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! (Albert Whitman) on October 1. You don't want to miss this witty, barnyard introduction to evolution.
S.K., thank you so much for joining us and giving us this sneak peek into the making of CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! I loved getting to know more about your process and value the thoughtful advice you were able to provide aspiring authors.
Thank you so much for having me, Andrew!
S.K. is generously offering a copy of CHICKEN FRANK, DINOSAUR! to one lucky winner along with a set of matching stickers. (US only)
Ways to enter:
1. Retweet my tweet about this blog post. Additional entry for tagging friends!
2. Leave a comment on this post.
3. Like our FB page and comment on this week's post.
4. Post about this interview on FB/Instagram and tell me in the comments that you did.
Each method earns an extra entry!
ABOUT S.K. WENGER
Shaunda Wenger, writing as S.K. Wenger, grew up among the mountains and lakes of New Hampshire and then found another beautiful backdrop in Utah to raise three children with her husband. Holding a master’s degree in science and numerous adventures in the outdoors, Shaunda loves weaving STEM and humor into her stories. She strives to create stories that leave readers wanting to step out into the world knowing who they are and what they like, with a renewed interest in going where their curiosities lead them. She is the winner of the 2020 Fellowship Grant from the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference for a middle grade manuscript, A SONG BY ANY MEASURE, and is excited for the publication of her debut children’s picture book, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! (Albert Whitman) which is illustrated by Jojo Ensslin. This children’s book hits the shelves on Oct 1, 2021.
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 Page Turner Literary.