Ann Marie Stephens is the author of the new children's picture book Arithmechicks Take a Calculation Vacation. Her other books include Arithmechicks Add Up. An elementary school teacher, she lives in Virginia.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new Arithmechicks book?
A: The idea for Arithmechicks Take a Calculation Vacation came from the natural progression of math. We learn addition then subtraction. Next, we discover how the two come together to make fact families, which can be a challenging concept.
One of the best ways to explain something difficult to kids is to make it relevant or concrete. I thought a trip to the beach could be relatable. Even kids who haven’t been to the beach yet have probably seen one on TV, or online, or have had a beach day at school.
Who doesn’t like a vacation?
Q: What do you think Jia Liu's illustrations add to this story?
A: Jia is the perfect illustrator for our chick series. She creates facial expressions to mimic faces of real kids, and she knows how to capture the mishaps without making them look dangerous. Her color choices pop off the page, which is always valuable when your readers have short attention spans!
Q: What impact has your background in teaching had on your writing?
A: My teaching background has made it easy to access a test audience. I don’t read them my own work (pre-published), but I do read them other authors’ books. I see and hear my students’ reactions and that’s invaluable feedback. Obviously, I’ve also used my experience to write some books about math.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from this new book?
A: I’d love for them to have fun at the beach with the chicks and Mouse, and maybe feel inspired to make math problems in their own surroundings. After reading, I hope they can better understand fact families. Jia has shown each equation so clearly through character action. She also hid the number sentences in the illustrations for readers to find. I never underestimate the power of visuals since that’s how I learn best.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on several projects. I’ve been drafting books already contracted in the CATastrophe! series illustrated by Jenn Harney. I’m brainstorming for another series (not math related) that I’d like to start this summer, and I’m revisiting a character I plan to bring to life in a picture book.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m retiring from teaching this year. For 31 years I’ve loved being an educator. Now I’ll be able to really focus on writing and get to participate in school visits, workshops, and other author activities. I’m going to miss having my own classroom of first graders, but I know much excitement lies ahead. After all, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and I’m ready.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ann Marie Stephens.