Interview: Kevin McCloskey on Making Science Comics for Kids
In the course of researching my article on science comics for SLJ, I interviewed Kevin McCloskey, the author of We Dig Worms!, The Real Poop on Pigeons!, and Something’s Fishy, all published by TOON Books as part of their “Giggle and Learn” series. Here’s the full interview; you can check out previews from each of the books at the links above.
You seem to be tuned in to what kids are interested in—for instance, in the fish book you discuss the fish that appear in the movie Finding Nemo, and you put poop right in the title of your book on pigeons. How do you stay tuned in to what children want to know?
Toon Books sent me to ALA in Orlando last summer. I was researching squirrels, but wandered into the Sea Life Aquarium with my sketchbook. Children clearly loved the place. Toddlers screamed, “Nemo!” the moment they spotted a clown fish. In each room I asked the attendants which fish kids liked best. That’s how I discovered the sea stars that look like chocolate chip cookies.
I do go to animated films and I do lots of school visits. Last week at St. Peter’s in Reading, PA, students were fascinated that Something’s Fishyincluded fish that began with their initial. My wife Patt is a traveling storyteller for our Berks County Libraries. I go with her to story hour sometimes.
While a lot of books about animals are pretty straightforward, yours jump from topic to topic—in Something’s Fishy, for example, you do an ABC of fish, then discuss the characteristics of fish (with an exception for every one) and then there’s a little bit about goldfish and their history. Why do you like this approach?
Honestly, an early version of Something’s Fishy had a more typical character-driven story, but I painted twice as many pages as could fit in one book. In the end, I include the pages that are the most amazing. I am like that kid visiting in the aquarium bouncing from one wonder to the other. I keep just enough story to string the wonders together.
When you start these books, do you have a list of information you want to include? Are they tied in to any particular science curriculum or Common Core, or do you just write about what interests you about the topic?
My mission is to remind children they live in the natural world. That’s why I pick common animals we all know. Pigeons, worms, and goldfish can be just as amazing as elephants and giraffes.
I’ve read the Common Core, but don’t let it direct the narrative. I believe as long the material is true there is a place for it in the classroom. Every Toon Book has online lesson plans aligned to the Common Core. My wife Patt writes the plans for my books, so she finds the connections after the fact.
I’m a grownup, but every one of your books includes something I didn’t know about the topic. Is that a goal of yours—to find surprising facts?
Absolutely! I am grown up, too. As I do my research reading, I sketch the things I expect will wow children.
Your books are now a series, called “Giggle and Learn,” and it seems like there’s as much giggling as learning going on. How do you balance real facts with goofiness and jokes?
It began when my wife asked me for a worm book that was funny and true. There are plenty of fine books of facts. I enjoy seeing the funny side of things. That said, the actual information in my books is not nearly as important as getting children enthused about investigating their world through reading.
About Brigid Alverson
Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.
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