One of the great challenges for teachers is finding ways to make math fun — and who should know better about that than a teacher who does that for her students? Ann Marie Stephens is an author and elementary school teacher who transformed one of her own math lessons into Arithmechicks Add Up (illustrated by Jia Liu, Boyds Mill Press). Check out her Q and A on THE KIDS ARE ALL WRITE to see how she added her love of math to her love of writing to create a book that your kids will number among their favorites! For a chance to win a copy of Arithmechicks Add Up, tweet or retweet a link to this post and tag Ann Marie @AMStephens_ and me @nchurnin.
What was your inspiration for Arithmechicks Add Up?
Arithmechicks came from a math lesson I created for my students. They made chicks out of construction paper and put math facts on them. We called them the Arithmetic Chicks. I jotted “arithmetic chicks doing math” in my idea journal and years later ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP hatched.
What was your journey with this story from idea to manuscript? Did you come up with the name, Arithmechicks, right away?
The name came pretty quickly though I was bouncing back and forth between Arithmetic Chicks and Arithmechicks. I asked the opinions of my writer friends and it was unanimous decision for Arithmechicks. The idea itself worked in two parts. I needed a strong storyline while also incorporating math. I came up with the story line first, then snuck in the math problems.
I see a theme of unlikely friendships and how to make them in Arithmechicks and your other books, Scuba Dog and Cy Makes a Friend. Is that a coincidence or intentional?
It’s definitely coincidence that the first books I’ve sold have been about friendship, though it is a topic I find important. As a teacher, I see kids struggle with friendships all the time. But because I teach younger kids, I have the benefit of seeing friendships in their innocent and unbiased forms. In other words, the world hasn’t tried to influence their choice of friends. They just like people who like them back. SCUBA DOG proves there are no barriers to making a friend, even if you have to carry heavy scuba equipment! CY MAKES A FRIEND reinforces the bravery it takes to put your true self out there, hoping someone will like you.
Tell us about your love of scuba diving. When and how did that happen? Did your scuba diving inspire Scuba Dog?
I received my scuba certification back in the mid-90s. That previous summer I had been snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. I was having complications, (choking on water due to giggling with my sister), when I looked below me. I saw a group of scuba divers having way more fun than I was. I spit out my snorkel and said to my sister, “That’s what I want to do!” My love for diving absolutely inspired my book, SCUBA DOG. I feel connected to animals in the ocean and oddly enough, they are drawn to me. Animals such as fish, sharks, an eel, and sea turtles have followed me. I like to say I’m friends with them all. I’ve been diving all over the world and I’m not finished yet.
You’ve been an elementary teacher for more than 28 years. Did you always want to write books or did that come later? How has teaching kids helped you with writing for them?
My love for writing really began in 5th grade with Mrs. Ripol. I remember writing about the passing of my dog. She encouraged us to read our stories aloud. I got choked up and Mrs. Ripol did too. I remember feeling the power of words in that moment. She encouraged writing throughout the year, and that’s when I started planning my future as an author.
Teaching kids has helped me because I’m lucky enough to read hundreds of picture books a year. It exposes me to what’s out there, what entertains kids, and what doesn’t! On the flip side, teaching while being an author is pretty difficult. Elementary teaching takes so much time and energy before, during, and after school that it doesn’t allow me much time to write.
I suspect that elementary school teachers are looking for ways to make math fun. How does Arithmechicks Add Up help them with that?
This is very true. We’ve struggled over the years to find picture books at just the right level for our students. Many are too advanced, others are very long, and some are perfect, such as Corey Rosen Schwartz’s TWINDERELLA (illustrated by Deborah Marcero, G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers). Anytime I find a mathy book with a storyline, and a clear mathematical approach, I snatch it up! ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP introduces addition with clear, countable illustrations, as well as eight different approaches to adding. The storyline and the search for Mouse, makes readers want to keep turning the pages.
Please tell us about your upcoming book, Arithmechicks Take Away. Did you sell it at the same time as Arithmechicks Add Up? Will the mouse be back?
I did sell them at the same time. I knew my editor was extremely interested in ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP. She wasn’t necessarily looking for a second book yet. I figured I had nothing to lose by pitching the idea. It paid off because she wanted both! ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY is almost complete. The chicks are subtracting, hiding, and including Mouse in the adventure. He received much love in the first book so there was no way I could leave him out.
Look forward to your comments below! And remember, for a chance to win a copy of Arithmechicks Add Up, tweet or retweet a link to this post and tag Ann Marie @AMStephens_ and me @nchurnin.
Ann Marie Stephens is the author of several picture books including Scuba Dog, Cy Makes a Friend, Arithmechicks Add Up, and the forthcoming, Arithmechicks Take Away. She has been an elementary teacher for over 28 years. She was a contributing writer for Kwame Alexander's The Write Thing, a co-writer for Trait Crate Plus for grades 3 and 5, and has had dozens of original ideas published in Instructor and The Mailbox magazines. Represented by Emily Mitchell at Wernick and Pratt Agency, Ann Marie is a seasoned presenter for both children and adults. When she isn't writing or teaching, she's off scuba diving somewhere tropical.
Visit Ann Marie Stephens:
On Facebook: Ann Marie Stephens
On Twitter: @AMStephens_
On Instagram: @AMStephens_
On the 2 Happy Teachers blog