On writing Under One Rock: Bugs, Slugs & Other Ughs – by Anthony D. Fredericks
One of the great pleasures of being a children’s author is the opportunity to travel to schools around the country to share the joys of writing. Like many visiting writers, I am well prepared to answer the four most frequently asked questions of children’s authors: 1.) Where do you get your ideas? 2.) How much money do you make? 3.) How old are you? 4.) Is your wife pretty?
But, it is the first question that seems to be on the minds of most youngsters (and many aspiring writers). As a former teacher and reading specialist, I share with kids the fact that the writing steps they use in the classroom are the same stages children’s authors use. Like students, I engage in Pre-writing, Drafting, Revising, Conferencing, Editing, and (hopefully) Publishing. Yet for me, the Pre-Writing stage is the most important. This is the stage where ideas are generated and an audience is selected. It’s also one of the most exhilarating stages for any writer.
The trick is to actively search for ideas and record them immediately. I always keep a small notebook and pen in my pocket, and frequently jot down ideas when I read the newspaper, talk with a colleague, drive down the street (I pull over, of course), or walk in the woods.
The idea for Under One Rock came about quite unexpectedly. One evening while giving a presentation to a local chapter of the Audubon Society, an elderly woman told how her grandson loved to look under rocks in his backyard. I’m not sure if it was the enthusiasm in her voice or the way she told the story, but I immediately wrote “under one rock” in my notebook.
Several weeks later I re-read this idea. Light bulbs flashed in my head as I realized the simplicity of the woman’s comment. Of course, I thought, what better way for children to begin their appreciation of nature than with the nature right in front of them? Many children’s books present the grand sweep of nature – oceans, deserts, wetlands, rainforests – large entities that may not be within the conceptual background of many readers. But, what about a little slice of nature – one that could be found in any child’s backyard or schoolyard?
It wasn’t long before I was walking around my neighborhood upending rocks to see what I could discover (my apologies to all my neighbors for my strange behavior). I would carefully turn over a rock and study the creatures that emerged or disappeared into the soil. I became transfixed by the wonderful array of discoveries that any child could find here.
I took pages of field notes and spent hours in library research. I knew that some of the best children’s books are those that tap into the base knowledge of children. So, I decided to create a story about a boy (perhaps me at a younger age) and his personal discoveries.
The story illustrates the community of critters unearthed beneath a rock: millipedes, ants, beetles, crickets, earthworms and a spider. My primary intent was to draw some parallels between a community of animals and the communities in which youngsters live.
A secondary intent for this book is to help children appreciate the marvels of nature right at their feet. Wrapping those potential discoveries around one boy’s adventures allows me to share the information in a personal way. I chose the cumulative rhyme to help readers enjoy those explorations in a dynamic and enjoyable format.
Under One Rock was also the genesis for a series of children’s books that examines easily-accessible animal habitats. Through this series, I hope young readers will find a world of wonder right out their doors.