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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

3 Question Interview - ANN MARIE STEPHENS

I'm so happy to feature my #SeenIn19 writing pal, Ann Marie Stephens, on the blog today. Her new picture book, ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP: A MATH STORY (illustrated by Jia Liu, Boyds Mills Press) is absolutely adorable. And I can't wait for her next picture book, ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY (such clever titles!). Here are Ann Marie's thoughts about stories . . . creativity . . . and connection.

STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.

My inspiration comes from all over the place. Like an elementary kid, my brain functions off many tangents. This makes my job as a first grade teacher pretty perfect for me. I don’t really have time or the headspace at school to brainstorm. I do most of it when I’m dreaming, waking up in the morning, or commuting to work. I’ve been known to write in airports and on airplanes as well.

My book, SCUBA DOG, came from my passion for scuba diving and the fact that I’m always trying to make friends with the underwater creatures. Fish, sharks, dolphins, an eel, and sea turtles have followed me. See, I’m not the only one who thinks friendship has no barriers!

When I first wrote CY MAKES A FRIEND, it was a very different story. Many revisions later, I finally found the story that needed to be told. I wanted this Cyclops, a feared and unaccepted monster, to be endearing and loveable. I wanted him to take the reader on his journey to learning how to make friends.

My latest book, ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP, was inspired by a math activity I made up for my students. Shh! Here’s a secret: I don’t really like math that much which makes it kind of funny that I wrote a book about math. I even have another math book, ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY, coming out in 2020. I think maybe subconsciously I was trying to find a way to make math more enjoyable for kids and myself.

CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?

I’m definitely a right brainer. That means I would not be able to tackle anything without infusing creativity. As a picture book writer, no idea is too unique or quirky. The trick is to make each idea work in a story that is universal, relatable, entertaining, or memorable.

I also make an effort to incorporate imagination into my classroom. I get bored if activities aren’t inspiring and constantly transforming. If I keep things lively, then my students won’t get bored either. They are exposed to hundreds of amazing books each year.

I’m a blogger for educators and parents too. My co-blogger and I post teaching ideas, author interviews, and inspiring kid lit. Blogging gives me a forum to share the ideas floating around in my head and contribute to a larger community of sharing.

CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?

Connections with kids are natural for me. Not only am I with them all day, I really relate to their world. I communicate in hyperboles, I read tons of kid lit, I love cartoons, and I’m totally obsessed with my mission to convince any kid that they can be a writer. We do a lot of publishing in the classroom.

I am a contributing writer for Kwame Alexander’s THE WRITE THING, which allows me to travel around with him and without him, to teach kids how to write poetry. This fall, I will also be participating in the #kidsneedmentors program, co-founded by Jarrett Lerner, an author/illustrator and friend of mine. I’ll be teamed up with an elementary classroom to talk about writing and books, and I’ll get to spoil them with book swag! I stay in touch with the world of kid lit people through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Best of all, are the SCBWI conferences. I try to attend a couple each year. They are priceless.


Ann Marie Stephens is the author of several picture books including Scuba Dog, Cy Makes a Friend, Arithmechicks Add Up, and the forthcoming title, Arithmechicks Take Away. She has been an elementary teacher for over 28 years. She was a contributing writer for Kwame Alexander’s The Write Thing, a co-writer for Trait Crate Plus for grades 3 and 5, and has had dozens of original ideas published in Instructor and The Mailbox magazines. Represented by Emily Mitchell at Wernick and Pratt Agency, Ann Marie is a seasoned presenter for both children and adults. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s off scuba diving somewhere tropical.



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