Hi, welcome to the readilearn blog and the first in our Author Spotlight series.
Spring is here and summer is on its way in Australia. The excitement of new life is everywhere as flowers bloom, birds sing, and insects abound. The excitement flows into the classroom as children observe and record the life stages of the amazing minibeasts that inhabit our world.
There is no better time than spring to introduce you to Brisbane author Rebecca Johnson and her Insect Series which was awarded the 2014 Whitley Certificate of Commendation for Best Educational Series.
Rebecca’s Insect Series of ten books focuses on metamorphosis, survival, adaptations, properties of natural materials and the usefulness of insects through fiction stories. The stories are accompanied by stunning close-up photos of insects of all kinds.
The books, which won the 2014 Whitley Award for Best Educational Series, have strong listed links to the Australian Curriculum for many year levels. They are a great resource for teaching and learning about insects. The fiction stories that accompany the facts make the learning even more fun. Two free blackline masters support the use of each book. The blackline masters can be accessed on the Blake Education Website.
While the books feature Australian insects and have links to the Australian curriculum, they are loved by children all over the world. I am happy to introduce you to Rebecca and her lovely series of books.
Welcome to readilearn, Rebecca. We are looking forward to getting to know you a little better.
Thanks for inviting me!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was reading a lot of picture books to my very young children and could see how much they loved them.
Where do you write? Do you like to be by yourself in the quiet, or do you like to write in a noisy space?
I do most of my ‘writing’ in my head. I think about my stories for ages and pitch them verbally to victims until I am sure I have it all sorted in my head, then I sit to write in my lovely, quiet study overlooking my garden. I encourage children to tell their stories out loud before they write too, because, in my opinion, it is almost impossible to write a good story if you can’t tell one.
What do you use to write – pencil and paper or computer?
Head first. VERY few drafts, then I type it into the computer. I can type a 7000 word novel in a week that is publisher-ready, but I have thought about it and pitched it and sounded it out in my head for weeks beforehand. I hate sitting down all day, and I hate re-doing things over and over even more, so I do heaps of my drafting mentally whilst I do other (fun) stuff like gardening, then by the time I sit down to write, it’s like typing out a movie I know really well. People give you more honest feedback too, when you tell them a story. They feel less nervous about letting you know how they really feel about it. Try it some time.
When is the best time for you to write?
I do my best work from 5am when the house is really quiet. I’m always too tired at night (I still teach three days a week) for anything too creative.
When and where do you get your ideas?
From my life’s experiences as a mother, teacher, child and my own children. I think you have to write about what you know and love.
What gave you the idea for this series about insects?
I am a science teacher and I love insects, and I just couldn’t find the books I needed to succinctly and factually tell kids about the life-cycles and characteristics of insects in a fun way, so I wrote some.
What do you like best about the series?
Kids love them because they are funny and a bit silly, but they are still full of facts and information. I think they remember things better if it is presented in more appealing and humorous way.
What can you tell us about the photographs that illustrate the books?
My sister (Narinda Sandry) took most of them and it was hilarious. We didn’t want to harm any of the insects, so we had to put some, like the mealworms, in the fridge for a while to slow them down to get the shots. I will always smile as I recall the day we sat around a cow pat in a paddock trying to photograph dung beetles before they re-dug themselves in! The old farmer that had let us into the paddock stood to the side scratching his head in disbelief.
How did your feel when you wrote these stories?
I was really pleased when they came out because the photos are just gorgeous, and they were very well received by schools and parents. Winning the Whitley awards was really lovely recognition too.
How do you hope readers will feel?
Hopefully empowered with more information and knowledge, and perhaps inspired to look more closely at the wonderful world of insects and an appreciation of the benefits they bring.
How would you like teachers to present your books to children?
I’d love them to make them part of their science lesson, and even team them with some real insects (like mealworms) to make it all so much more engaging. There are two free blackline masters for each one too, that are designed to be able to be used independently by children in reading groups etc. There are heaps of facts inside the covers, and a glossary of terms, so plenty to learn in each one.
Are there any messages you would like them to discuss?
The main thing is that insects are so important and not just a good excuse to whack something!
Do you have any advice for teachers in their role as writing guides?
As I said earlier….talk before writing as much as you can. It is amazing how hard kids find it to describe something verbally and yet we ask them to do it in the written form all the time with disappointing results.
Do you have any advice for children as writers?
Tell, tell, tell, and don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a long time to get it right. It took me five years to get my first book published.
What is your favourite picture book? What do you like about it?
I have so many favourites, but Bob Graham’s Greetings from Sandy Beach always makes me laugh out loud, and humour is really important to me in a book.
Who is your favourite children’s author? What do you like about his or her work?
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis). He made me see a movie in my head. I could picture every scene, decades before there was a movie. I remember thinking that one day, I wanted to make a reader feel like that.
Thank you Rebecca Johnson for sharing these insights about your Insect Series and your writing process. We wish you success.
Thank you, and thanks for having me!
This interview and information about Rebecca is available as a printable resource in a new subcategory in readilearn literacy resources: Author Spotlight. The information may be displayed in your classroom or included in a class book about authors and illustrators.
Thank you for reading.
Happy teaching and learning.
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