In this episode Annette Whipple, author of Whooo Knew! The Truth About Owls and other great non-fiction books, shares with us.
Our Guest: Annette Whipple
Children’s author Annette Whipple writes informational books to inspire curiosity and wonder in children. She’s the author of ten published books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press), Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls (Reycraft Books), and The Story of the Wright Brothers (Rockridge Press). She’s also written articles and activities for several magazines including Highlights for Children.
After graduating from Kutztown University with a BS in elementary education, Annette went on to teach elementary and middle school students as an environmental educator and classroom teacher. She learned to love science and history while teaching. After she left the classroom, she improved her writing through classes and workshops. Her first book was published in 2016.
Today Annette provides interactive programs and workshops to engage participants in topics like writing, science, and history. She also mentors writers and provides professional development workshops to educators focusing on writing. When she’s not writing or teaching children, educators, and writers, you might find Annette snacking on warm chocolate chip cookies. Annette lives in Oxford, Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. Learn more about Annette’s books and presentations at www.AnnetteWhipple.com.
If You Want to Know More…
I grew up in rural northeastern Pennsylvania. I have fond memories of playing in the creek (though we called it a “crick”) and working on the farm. My own teachers inspired me to become a teacher. I earned my B.S. in elementary education from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.
Following college, I taught middle school students in a camp environment in New England. There, we focused on hands-on math and science activities. It was a great experience and stayed with me during my traditional classroom years.
A lot of people have asked how I became a writer. You may have heard how many authors always knew they would write books one day. That was not me. As a child, I never wrote stories for fun. However, I did spend a good amount of time writing notes to my friends and letters to pen pals.
In 2009, I began blogging. After a while I took a few writing classes and then attended my first writing conference in 2015. I’m a lifelong learner, so I won’t stop taking classes even though I teach. I love to teach writers through writing conferences, webinars, and on-demand writing videos.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Terrie: Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. We are doing a series of back to school episodes. Two weeks ago, we had an episode on some wonderful picture books and resources that help us to emphasize and teach math to our kids, to supplement what they’re getting in school, or to be part of our homeschool material. Last week, we talked about science. So today we’re going to take a short break to introduce you to a wonderful writer who writes non-fiction books that are based on science for the most part. And she also has a wonderful book about Little House on the Prairie that I have talked about before, but I am very excited to introduce you to Annette Whipple. Annette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder in young readers while exciting them about science and history. She’s the author of eight children’s informational books. Annette is a fact-loving, cookie-baking, stationary-collecting children’s nonfiction author living in Pennsylvania. And you can learn more about Annette at annettewhipple.com. So we’re very glad to have her as our guest today on the podcast as we talk about science and history. Next week we will continue with our back-to-school series and discussing several more picture books and resources for history. Annette, thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today.
Annette: Oh, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you.
Terrie: Well, I’m very excited to talk with you. I love your books. I’m a little concerned about the one coming out about spiders. Would you like to start by telling us about that book?
Annette: Scurry! The Truth about Spiders is the third book in the Truth About series from Reycraft Books, and this book, like the others, kind of showcases the animals that are so amazing. But my goal is also to dispel some myths, and with Scurry, I think the cover is quite inviting. Instead of instilling fear in children, it might make them curious. And quite honestly, one of my big concerns is that parents who often control the books that their children read might say, “No, don’t get that,” whether it’s from the library or the bookstore because there is a spider on the cover, but it’s only the face of the spider. And I just, I think it’s a beautifully designed book. The publisher did an incredible job making the images more inviting instead of scary. And then, of course, my words are to inform and engage with the reader as well.
Terrie: I noticed that on the cover because it isn’t scary. It is intriguing. You’re like, “What is that?” at first. And when you figure out what it is, so it causes curiosity. And that’s a good thing. And I love your owl book in that series.
Annette: That was the first in the series.
Terrie: It’s such a great book. And I said, in my podcast, you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly about owls because you also see what they eat and all kinds of interesting things about them. But I love that about these books because they’re so informative and tell so many facts. And like you said, dispel, the myths many of us have; so that’s good. And then the second one is Woof; is that correct?
Annette: That’s right. Woof! The Truth about Dogs.
Terrie: Well, tell us a little bit about those other two volumes.
Annette: Okay. Whooo Knew! The Truth about Owls was kind of inspired. My history with owls is a long one because my grandmother collected owl figurines and just loved owls. They were just always a mystery to me. They were distant; they were mysterious. And I didn’t quite understand them until I was teaching about owls and owl pellets. And then I couldn’t get enough information. And this was about 20 years ago, and I just loved having all this information about owls. And I realized that some of the things that I thought as a child and that I believe I had either read about or was taught was actually not so true. I should say, not accurate. It might be close to the truth, but not quite. And so that kind of brought about Whooo Knew! The Truth about Owls. It’s a question and answer book. This whole series are question and answer books. So every page spread has lots of photographs and each page spread has a question. And then I go into a rather detailed, but child-appropriate answer. And yet adults are learning a lot too. So, you know, Whooo Knew! The Truth about Owls was the first in the series, and the publisher loved it so much that they said, “Let’s turn this into a series.” And so then it was, “Oh, what other animals can I write about that might have some misunderstandings behind them or just something that kids would be very curious about?” But the thing about choosing the animals, I had to choose animals that were highly visual with lots of different species. So an elephant or a giraffe would not work, despite their beauty, because there aren’t enough species. Because the publisher really uses many, many images in every book. I don’t, I haven’t counted, but I’m guessing if there are 32 pages in the book, there are many, many more photographs than that.
Annette: And there’s artwork in each book as well, but we needed them to be highly visual and captivating to the reader because it’s a picture book. So yes, the words are important, but so are the visuals. And just this summer in June Woof! The Truth about Dogs came out. And so this book explores our furry companions. With this book, you know, we already know dogs or we think we do, but I wanted to know more of the science behind them. How do they really communicate? And, you know, it’s not just the barks and the different kinds of sounds they make, but their body language says so much as well. And why do dogs sniff everything and why do dogs sniff butts? I mean, I put that question in there because it’s one that is, I think we all wonder that. And so, you know, they go around sniffing everything. But that one question, it was an important one to address separately for me as well. All of these books are also big on science. I wanted to understand just why, you know, what makes the animals tick and then why do they do what they do? So they were all a lot of fun to research and write.
Terrie: Will you have more in this series, in the future?
Annette: Yes. So Whooo Knew came out last year, and then Woof and Scurry for 2021. And in 2022, we’ll have Ribbet! The Truth about Frogs and Meow! The Truth about Cats. I should say that those are both tentative titles as well.
Terrie: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Annette: The covers themselves are really captivating and it just makes you want to take a peek inside. And so, you know, that’s half the battle, I think.
Terrie: The photographs are phenomenal, and they are just so interesting. I love it. I love the books as much as my kids. I mean, they’re just that interesting.
Annette: I love that.
Terrie: So what drew you to write more non-fiction than fiction children’s books or picture books.
Annette: I have always been curious and once upon a time I was a teacher, and I think that curiosity that I have in wanting to share with others what I learn makes it so that I do write informational books mostly. And, you know, even the articles I write are informational, whether that be for adults or for children, but the books that I’ve written have all been fact-filled. And though The Truth About series does have each page spread does have an illustrated animal talking, usually, you know, sharing more facts, that does give each of those books fictionalized elements. So I would call them officially informational fiction if we want it to be official, but they are going to be shelved with other nonfiction books. They are fact-filled. And I just, I think this world is incredible, and I want to celebrate it and encourage others to learn more about it. And so that’s why I write fact-filled books, especially for children.
Terrie: That’s great. And I also love your handbook for The Little House series. That’s just wonderful, especially for homeschoolers. Can you share a little bit about that book?
Annette: Sure. So The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter by Chapter Guide came out last year in 2020. I was inspired to write it. It was the first book on my heart, and I was inspired to write it when I was reading The Little House books with my own children. There were so many things that we needed to talk about that, you know, my children wanted to know more about this, more about that. And there were other things that we needed to talk about that were just hard and complicated issues from the past. When I was reading another book; I was reading The Chronicles of Narnia with my kids as well. And we had a companion guide to go with it. And that companion guide, you know, helped us to dive deep into Narnia, and my kids loved it, and I loved it. And I thought, “Oh, I could write a book like this.” I knew exactly what series I wanted to write about it. And it was The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I dove into the history and even things like the everyday tasks and far more work and pioneer living because that’s so foreign to most children today in the United States. So I dove into the history, into the everyday living, but The Little House books are a fictionalized telling of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood. And so I also included lots of fact or fiction sidebars to say, “Oh, was this real? This seems exaggerated.” Like the long winter, is that really what it was like? Or was Mother Wilder’s dress really so wide that it couldn’t fit through the door? So I explored things like that as well as some of the characters. You know, was Nellie Olsen a real person. So I researched all of those things to learn more for myself and then shared much of what I learned with readers. And I also included 75 activities in the book because I think one of the joys of The Little House books is wanting to live like Laura. And so I included 75 activities. Some were crafts, some were hands-on activities, others were recipes, but things that boys and girls could do some by themselves, some with adult supervision. You know, you don’t want to make donuts all by yourself if you’re 10 years old. That oil gets pretty hot, pretty fast. But there are other things like making a grass whistle that you could certainly do and so much more. That was the first book idea I had. And from there, I’d already written some articles for magazines, but that was the first book idea I had. And so it took a lot more learning about how to write for children, because it is different than writing for adults, as well as how this publishing world works, because it’s pretty complicated. I’m learning that.
Terrie: So when you’re doing your research, this is something I’m curious about, especially as a writer, but as a parent, who’s homeschooling my children and helping them learn to do research: How do you find good sources for your books? And where do you meet people who are experts who can help you with some of your research?
Annette: I’ll answer the expert question first, because I don’t want to forget about it. I do. I consult with experts on the books that I write because I think I’m not an expert, even though I was studying Laura Ingalls Wilder and her real life long before I had the idea for the book. And even though I was in the world of Little House and Laura Ingalls Wilder for years while I was researching, I still am not the kind of expert who has studied her life for the past 20 years. So for a book like that, talking to people at the museums, talking to people who have written many books about Laura Ingalls Wilder, such as William Anderson, was really helpful. Now for some other books, such as my animal books, university professors are a great resource for me. When I was researching my frog book, I actually contacted a local university, found the correct department, and sent an email saying, “Would you have a staff member who would be willing to talk to me, an expert,” and I explained who I was, that sort of thing. And basically I was told–it was an interesting email because the person I had emailed knew who I was because his daughter had slept with my owl book the night before. That amazed me. And he took a photograph to show me too. So it was really sweet. So he actually was a little bit familiar with me before I contacted him. This was with the University of Delaware. When they teach certain courses on herpetology, they would invite a local expert in to teach the courses. So they didn’t have somebody on staff but they would every couple of years, they would invite someone in. And he told me his name and you can probably contact him through this, but if not, let me know, and I’ll hook you up with somebody else or find a way to contact him. So local universities are a great way for me to meet with people, especially about science topics. Now, history topics, I tend to use more specific museums and authors and other experts who have written about them, or spoken about them at length, that sort of thing, because there’s just so much out there. So when I met with my owl expert, I got to hold a huge Eurasian Eagle Owl. And that photograph made it actually onto the author page in the book. I’m not sure if you can actually see the glove that goes up past my elbow or not, but it was really cool. It was this huge owl, larger than a great horned owl. So, you know, just really big. And I got to hold one, and that was all part of my research. And I got to, you know, by meeting X experts, holding artifacts, or touching artifacts, or holding an animal, I even held a spider–doing all of that helps me to ask more questions that I wouldn’t understand just by watching videos or reading a book or article. So it’s very valuable to meet with those experts. And sometimes it’s more of a conversation through email or over the phone, but when I can get hands on, I do. Research is so important–using the right resources. I often begin with a general online research and that can, when I’m not writing down notes, but just kind of gathering information or questions I want to look into more, I might use Wikipedia for that, but I never take notes from Wikipedia, but often if you scroll all the way down on a Wikipedia article, there are sources. So you might find a book or an article, which might be a good resource to use. Actually at my site, AnnetteWhipple.com, I have a way for whether it’s a student writer or a professional writer, I have a resource there to help writers evaluate a resource. And I call it “The Stinky CARP– C A R P — Test.” So I was introduced to this with, it wasn’t carp as an acronym. It was, the letters were switched around and I’m like, nah, I don’t think I liked that so much when I’m talking to students, especially. So I call it “The Stinky CARP Test.” If you’re looking at a resource, whether it’s a book, a video, an article, an online website, is that C for current, is it current or maybe a current article doesn’t matter. It kind of depends on the source, but you would have to think about the topic and decide if it’s current. A is for authority. Is the person an authority. If it’s a blog post, do they cite resources? You know, their sources, or are they an expert in their field? R, is for something, oh, what would it be? I’m not sure, but you can go to annettewhipple.com To find out.
Terrie: Yes, that’ll be our mystery.
Annette: So, it’s basically this acronym to really kind of evaluate what is the purpose of this book? This article, is it to convince you to do something? Is it just to inform you? And one thing that I think children and adults have a hard time seeing is that angle that a writer is writing with. Because even for me, I might try to write neutral, but I always am sharing a bit of my own world perspective. And I’m going to be putting in my own opinion, even if it’s not stated as an opinion, it might come across. Like in my spider book, I did not want them to be scary. And so the words that I chose showed that. Yes, I talk about them being hunters and things like that, but I didn’t want it to be frightening. I wanted my book Scurry! The Truth about Spiders to help readers better understand spiders so that if they were not big fans, they might come away with a little bit more respect and maybe not be a spider squasher anymore.
Terrie: Yes. Also, I want to encourage any listeners who want to be writers: on your website you have classes you offer and so much information. It’s just a great place to go as a resource. If you are interested in becoming a writer or researching information about becoming a non-fiction writer, and it has some great resources available on her website.
Annette: I like to help others and teach others, even if it’s through blog posts. So I do include a lot of information, tips, resources, and such for writers, as well as readers, both professional writers, as well as student writers or teachers or homeschoolers, as well. Like a lot of things can be kind of applied to young writers as well as adult writers. But there’s always so much to learn. I’m still learning too. I love to teach, but I’m still learning because there’s always something that I can do new or differently, or just a different skill to pick up. I love that.
Terrie: That’s true. I always ask my guests: “Can you share a children’s book that has meant a lot to you or a lot to your children? And do you have any books for parents that you would like to recommend?”
Annette: The Elephant and Piggie books, by Mo Willems really helped my kids to become readers and especially to be enthusiastic readers. And I say that meaning there’s so much expression that can be used for those books. And I think those books really did help. All three of my children become readers. And along with that, I will say, I write informational books for kids, but those kinds of books are kind of the underdog that adults often overlook. And so I would say just kind of really be open to finding out what kinds of books your young children like whether they are 14 or four, they’re going to be drawn to certain books. And so that is a great resource. And you said a resource for parents too. “The Read-Aloud Revival” is a great resource, a great podcast and blog.
Terrie: Yes. How can we support you in the work that you’re doing?
Annette: That’s a great question. Thank you. The obvious answer might be, “Oh, buy my books,” but not everybody is going to be able to do that. So I would say, the first thing that you can do is learn about my books. And if one interests you, ask your library to get it on their shelves and then make sure you borrow it, of course. So that’s one way, but you can also tell others about the books or about me. I offer school visits and I love to teach children and students of all ages, and I offer virtual and in-person visits, at least for now. So that’s one way, but take a look at my blog. Is there something there that interests you? Would you be interested in signing up for blog updates? You could do that. You could sign up for my newsletter. You could follow me on Instagram at AnnetteWhippleBooks or Facebook at AnnetteWhippleBooks. I’m on Twitter too. On Twitter it’s just AnnetteWhipple, but just by recommending, it doesn’t even have to be me. It can be any author. Recommending a book that you like to a friend, whether it’s in person or on social media. Oh, that is so helpful. And something that we as authors would love more of is book reviews. You know, if somebody has 5,000 book reviews, they might not notice another one. But if a book only has 20 book reviews or 50 book reviews, the author would really appreciate more reviews so that the right readers can find their book or maybe even so that readers know that the book is not for them because not every book is for everyone. And book reviews are really kind of the lifeline of a book so that readers can find those books. Those are some big ways to help out. Oh, I thought of one other thing. If you are buying books, if you can buy through your local bookstore, not only does it help the bookstore; it actually helps authors like me. I love to connect with readers. So, you know, feel free to connect with me annettewhipple.com or on social media and keep reading. And if my book’s don’t interest you, that’s okay. Find another book that might, and audio books can be our friends too, even for nonfiction books. So, you know, there’s always something out there. Let’s keep reading, and for the writers out there, let’s keep writing too. And readers make the best writers.
Terrie: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. And I really enjoyed talking with you.
Annette: Thanks so much, Terrie.
Terrie: Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to learn more about Annette, you can go to her website, annettewhipple.com. You can also find links to where you can purchase her wonderful books there. And if you would like to join my mailing list, you can find me at TerrieHellardBrown.com.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.