Thursday, January 12, 2023

Q&A with Susan Stockdale


Susan Stockdale is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Line Up!: Animals in Remarkable Rows. Her many other books include Bird Show. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to create Line Up!?

A: The idea came to me as I watched ants crawl across the ground in a perfectly straight line. I’d seen this phenomenon many times throughout my life but never stopped to think about why ants did this. It made me wonder what other animals queue up and how they benefit from that behavior.


I was especially excited about this theme since kids line up regularly at school. How fun to show them that animals do, too! 

Q: How did you research the book, and how did you find animals that tend to line up in rows? 


A: I pored over library books and online articles and consulted closely with scientists at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). I was intent on finding a variety of animals from around the world – from mammals to birds to crustaceans  – that shared this behavior.

The NMNH scientists helped me fine-tune my research. For example, I learned from a reptile expert that turtles don’t climb atop one another in a row for warmth, as one of my sources claimed. Rather, they climb into a stacked line to gain better exposure to the sun’s rays, which is quite different.


Q: What did you learn about these creatures that especially surprised or intrigued you? 


A: I knew that Hermit crabs use abandoned sea shells as their home, but I wasn’t aware that when an empty shell washes up on shore, the crabs line up according to size and swap shells. The Spiny lobster also surprised me. When shallow water begins to cool in autumn, it migrates in a long, single file of up to 50 (yes, 50!) lobsters - walking day and night - to reach deeper, warmer water.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I hope kids have fun learning that they share the “lining up” characteristic with a wide variety of creatures. I hope they enjoy my rhyming, rhythmic couplets, and perhaps memorize a few of them. And as with all my books, I hope Line Up! encourages them to marvel at the natural world and want to learn more about it.


Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I’m developing a picture book about a mutualistic relationship that exists between certain fishes in coral reefs worldwide. Their behavior is delightfully quirky and doesn’t seem to have been explored in another picture book, which makes the theme especially appealing to me.  


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Nature, the ultimate designer, is always my muse!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Susan Stockdale.

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