Monday, July 10, 2023

Q&A with Becky Scharnhorst




Becky Scharnhorst is the author of the new children's picture book How to Get Your Octopus to School. Her other books include My School Stinks!. She lives in Wisconsin.


Q: What inspired you to write How to Get Your Octopus to School?


A: When my son was in 2nd grade, he had to do a report on octopuses. While doing research, he stumbled across a video that showed an octopus blending in with a plant, then suddenly turning white after it was startled by a marine biologist.


I was shocked and fascinated by how quickly it changed both the color and texture of its skin. I also remember thinking how difficult it would be to play a game of hide and seek with an octopus.


That thought reminded me of another story I had written about a young girl who was so worried about her first day of school, she sprouted tentacles that allowed her to carry all her family members (and her goldfish Floyd) to school with her.


Shortly after that, I decided to rewrite the entire story with an octopus as the main character which allowed me to highlight some of the cool things an octopus can do while also addressing first day of school jitters. 


Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I checked out numerous books from my library and read tons of articles online about octopuses while writing the book. I also reached out to Jennifer Mather who is an octopus expert to ask some follow up questions and have her fact check the book before it went to print.


One of the most surprising things I discovered was that octopuses have been observed playing, which is a sign of intelligence.

Q: What do you think Jaclyn Sinquett’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Jaclyn’s illustrations add so much humor and warmth! She is a master at conveying emotion through her characters’ expressions.


In one illustration, the young girl who is trying to get her octopus to school is getting slightly frustrated. Her facial expression makes me laugh every time I see it. Another illustration perfectly captures the octopus’s nervous feelings right before he inks.


Jaclyn also did an outstanding job of coming up with unique hiding places for the octopus. The book is almost like a seek-and-find game for the reader. There are so many fun details in the illustrations! Readers are sure to discover something new with each reading.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “The matter-of-fact text will easily pull anyone into this alternate version of the world, where octopuses play with stuffed toys, draw at easels, and hug their humans goodbye.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love that description from Kirkus because my goal as a writer is to pull readers into this new universe I’ve created, no matter how wild or farfetched it might be. So, to me, that’s the ultimate compliment because it means the reader is connecting with your world and the characters in it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on a couple new picture book manuscripts that I’m hoping to have ready for submission by fall. I almost always write humorous manuscripts, but one is quieter and more lyrical. It’s about a cottage I visited almost every summer of my childhood. It’s been fun to write something outside my wheelhouse, but I’m also excited to get back to writing funny manuscripts.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There are several free resources on my website for parents and teachers, including a fun octopus coloring page Jaclyn designed. There is also a printable Field Guide and a My School journal that go along with my first two books. You can find the links to those resources by clicking on the book covers.


I will be adding an Educator’s Guide for How to Get Your Octopus to School sometime in the next month so it will be ready for back-to-school time.


Thanks so much for having me visit your blog, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Becky Scharnhorst.

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