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About the Author

About Susan Stockdale

susan-stockdale-young-1My Background

I'm so honored to be this year's Pennsylvania One Book, Every Young Child ambassador to promote reading to preschoolers across the state. I'm excited to be taking my picture book, Stripes of All Types, into libraries, schools and other venues to celebrate the wonder of books and our natural world with young readers and listeners.


My childhood paved the way for my career as a children's book author and illustrator. I grew up in Coral Gables, Florida, the youngest of five children. I developed a love of words from my mother, a published poet. When I was little, she frequently strung rhyming words together throughout the day in a playful way. This taught me that words could be fun, and even musical. My mother's influence on me is reflected in the way that I write my picture books today, entirely in rhyme.

Equally influential were the surroundings of my early life. Whenever I wasn't in school I was playing outside, surrounded by the lush vegetation, brilliant flowers and skittering lizards of Florida. There was a beautiful golf course across the street from my house where I spent lots of time with the kids on my block. We climbed trees there and played games like freeze tag and red rover. We rode our bikes and skateboarded everywhere.

This was a happy, carefree time when I developed a deep appreciation for being outside and a love of nature. A favorite outing was going to an attraction called the Parrot Jungle, where I was enchanted by the birds' bright, bold colors and feathered patterns. I also spent a few childhood years in Ireland, where my father worked as a diplomat. The Irish landscape was a patchwork of sparkly greens, filled with cows, horses and other animals I'd never seen in tropical Miami. When I create picture book illustrations today, I still draw on these vivid childhood memories for inspiration.

I created lots of imaginary animals in colored pencil and crayon when I was young. I enjoyed book report assignments in elementary school, because I got to write about and illustrate a scene from a story! In college, I majored in art and created artwork filled with intricate, colorful patterns. Later, this passion for pattern led me to freelance as a textile designer for the apparel industry, designing fabric for clothing.

After marrying and having a family, I took my two young children (now very grown up) to the library all the time to check out picture books. We would return home and spend hours reading them, one by one. This was our favorite time, cuddled close together while exploring the world through books.

I fell in love with the picture book format during these reading sessions with my children, and became interested in writing and illustrating books of my own. Of course with my love of nature, that had to be my theme. But I needed an idea.

Then, while once visiting the zoo, my children were amazed to see a flamingo standing on one leg -- sound asleep. This was just the idea I was looking for and inspired my first book, Some Sleep Standing Up. Since then I've written and illustrated a number of other books about animals including the 2014 PA One Book, Every Young Child selection, Stripes of All Types. It is a joy for me to celebrate the splendor of nature through my picture books!

The Story Behind Stripes of All Types

SusanStockdale-2012

I was inspired to create Stripes of All Types while visiting a museum exhibition of poison dart frogs, whose colorful stripes warn predators that they are toxic and to stay away. While gazing at the frogs, I began thinking about other animals that have stripes and why they have them - and the idea for Stripes of All Types was born.

To write the book, I decided to compose rhyming verses for the animals' habitats and to show each striped animal in action in its particular home: "Propped on a log,/ poised on a leaf./ Scaling a ridge,/ and scouting a reef." This approach allowed me to use some great verbs that might be new to children and to expose them to interesting and diverse environments.

I had many choices regarding which animal to illustrate for each line of text. For example, for my line "poised on a leaf," I considered a Colorado potato beetle, a leafhopper, a red shield bug, a bumblebee, and a caterpillar. I chose the zebra swallowtail butterfly because I considered it the most visually appealing of all my candidates and knew it would be beautiful to paint.

I researched my text and illustrations by gathering information on and photos of striped animals from books, magazines and the Web. Then as I developed my manuscript and sketches, I submitted them to scientists to make sure they were accurate – a critical step since everything a child reads and sees in a nonfiction picture book must be factually correct. I enjoy this research process tremendously.

I wrote a picture glossary for the book to identify each species and to provide information about the significance of its stripes, which are used for camouflage, communication, to warn off predators, or to attract mates. I included an interactive game to challenge my young readers to match close-ups of the various patterns with their animal owners. I'm excited about this activity, which encourages children to look more closely at the illustrations and to make comparisons between the animals' striking patterns.

I painted with acrylics because I love the sharp colors and crisp lines they provide, and because I can paint over mistakes, of which I make many! As I tell children, mistakes are a natural and essential part of creating anything.

Though all my books are about animals, I always include children interacting with them on the last page. In my book, Fabulous Fishes, I show a girl snorkeling among tropical fish. In Bring On the Birds, I feature a boy and girl gazing at a robin's nest. And in Stripes of All Types, I end the book with children holding striped cats. In doing so, I am able to connect children to nature.

Over the years my books have received awards from the American Library Association, the National Science Teachers Association, and Parents' Choice. But ultimately, the best reward for me is the thought that my books are being enjoyed by young readers.

 

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