Three Quick Questions: Susan Stephenson (#4)

All through October, Alphabet Soup is celebrating turning three. We have heaps of writers and illustrators stopping by to answer THREE QUICK QUESTIONS and today’s visitor is Susan Stephenson, also known as The Book Chook, and author of Monster Maddie.

"Monster Maddie cover"

1. Where do you like to write?

We have a tree in our garden called the Thinking Tree. There’s a seat at its base where I love to sit, because it’s so peaceful there. I scribble and think, think and scribble, and listen to what my characters have to say.

2. Can you name a book you’d recommend to our readers?

One of my favourite books is Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way by Land Sea and Air. It was written by Stewart Ross, illustrated by Stephen Biesty, and published by Walker Books. I loved its stories about real-life explorers, and also all the maps and foldouts and the fantastic detailed drawings. Find out more about it in my review at The Book Chook. 

Into the Unknown (cover)

3. Can you offer a word or phrase that kids could use for inspiration if they have writer’s block?

I think the very best phrase to use when stuck is “what if … ?” What if my hero falls flat on his face in front of the dragon? What if a raven swallowed the ring? What if the bully has a phobia about grasshoppers? That question has taken my stories in many surprising directions!

Susan Stephenson is a writer who lives about as far east as you can go on Australia without falling off. She loves reading, writing and pretending to be a chicken. Susan writes a blog about children’s literature, learning and literacy at The Book Chook.

© October 2011 “Three Quick Questions with Susan Stephenson” by Rebecca Newman (Alphabet Soup magazine)

(Psst … check back tomorrow, when illustrator James Foley answers our Three Quick Questions.)

authors, teachers' resources

Susan Stephenson, bullying and MONSTER MADDIE

18 March is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. Today we are talking to author, Susan Stephenson (aka The Book Chook), about her picture book, Monster Maddie."Monster Maddie cover"

A bit about the book:

On Maddie’s first day at a new school, nobody notices her, even though she hangs around the edges of the other kids’ games and hopes to join in. On the second day, she becomes Monster Maddie, with ‘fangs and claws and wild, wild hair … “I’ll show them!” she said’. Of course her mean and hurtful behaviour doesn’t win her any friends and she realises nobody is going to invite her to play. She stomps away in tears—then, with the help of a curious kitten,she  finally comes up with a better way to join in on the playground.

What sparked the idea for you to write Monster Maddie?

As a school teacher, I saw lots of kids like Maddie. They didn’t understand how to make friends, and acted out. They did mean hurtful things in a desperate effort to be noticed and they certainly didn’t realise their behaviour was driving other kids further away. Sometimes those kids grow up to be bullies; sometimes they’re lucky—they realise what’s happening, and make an effort to be friendly. I wanted to write a book for those kids.

When I was at University, studying German, we read a book called Metamorphosis by a writer called Kafka. In the beginning of that story, the main character wakes up as a giant bug. I guess the idea of Maddie actually looking monsterish came from the profound effect that book had on me. I’ve also written a short story where a guy wakes up as a rooster. So far, I have only woken up as a human, but that doesn’t stop me checking the mirror each morning!

Did you ever feel like Maddie when you were growing up?

I certainly felt awkward in new situations, but I don’t remember putting ooze in people’s shoes and dirt in their shirts! I was lucky in that when I switched schools I had lots of my friends with me. Being a new kid is difficult. Often it seems that people are ignoring you, when they just need you to find a way to include them in a game.

How long did it take to write Monster Maddie?

Months and months. The hardest part for me is always the rewriting of a book. I get feedback on it from my writing friends, think about it, put it away for a while and make changes to it when I can see it with fresh eyes.

You say you have to rewrite after you write the story down. Is Monster Maddie very different from the first version you wrote?

It was always a story about a little girl who got mad when the kids at her new school wouldn’t notice her, and turned into a monster.  I think what changed was that it got fine-tuned. I deleted unnecessary words, made the structure of the story stronger, and worked hard to make sure the story sounded good to read aloud.

Have you met Monster Maddie‘s illustrator?

No, K.C.Snider lives in the USA and I live in Australia. But I talked to her via email.

Are you working on a new project at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on two novels and a picture book. The picture book is about some sheep who want very much to go to the farmer’s wedding, only they aren’t invited. They try hard to get in, and end up succeeding in a most surprising way.

Monster Maddie includes 7 pages of activities, including a script for Monster Maddie to be performed. Do you think picture books make good theatre?

I think picture books are wonderful! They are perfect for kids to use to create their own reader’s theatre around, or just to act out the story for family and friends. I have a  series of four articles at The Book Chook blog where I talk you through the process of using Reader’s Theatre.

You can find out more about Susan Stephenson and her books on her website. The Book Chook has writing tips for kids in every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine. You can find more about literacy for parents and teachers on The Book Chook’s blog).

Book reviews by Rebecca, teachers' resources

Book review: Monster Maddie

Monster Maddie, by Susan Stephenson. Illustrated by KC Snider. (Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc.)

"Monster Maddie cover"

This picture book’s main character—Maddie—hates feeling invisible and ignored on her first day of school. After that terrible first day she decides she’ll make the other kids notice her. And she becomes MONSTER MADDIE, with ‘fangs and claws and wild, wild hair.’ Her mean tricks and bullying behaviour don’t win her any new friends, of course. Even she knows she’s become a monster and she doesn’t like it.

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to make new friends (especially if you’re a bit shy). Monster Maddie shows the approach that some kids might take when they feel lonely and frustrated about joining in.  And Maddie is mean. ‘She put ants in their pants, dirt in their shirts, and ooze in their shoes.

When you’re reading the book, you can tell that she’s not going be asked to join in when she’s so mean. I’ve seen kids behaving like Maddie on the playground—back when I was growing up, but also when I’ve been around playgrounds as an adult. Luckily, by the end of the book Maddie comes up with a way to approach the other kids and join in with them. But it’s not much fun for the other kids OR for Maddie until she does!

This picture book includes 7 pages of activities, including a script of Monster Maddie as a play. This is a great idea for a book about bullying—sometimes acting out a story can help you to see things from a character’s point of view. The activities also include ideas for writing, thinking and creating. There are also some questions to get you thinking about bullying behaviour and what you might do if you feel like Maddie (or if you are one of the other kids in the story).

Susan Stephenson writes The Book Chook’s column (with writing tips for kids) in every issue of Alphabet Soup magazine.

Reviewed by Rebecca Newman