In today’s guest blog, Mary Auld the author of new information picture book series about life cycles Start Small, Think Big published by Mama Makes Books, has written about the inspiration for writing information books and the Arctic Tern which is the star of the first title in the series, Small, Speckled Egg.
Ever since I first started working in children’s non-fiction, I have been aware of how important it is to start with something instantly recognisable to a child and then to work out from there towards bigger concepts and ideas. It not only makes logical sense, but it also feels an exciting and creative way of starting to think and learn. This is something that books mirror – when you start any book (fiction or fact), you are setting out on a journey of discovery.
This is precisely what I hope children reading Start Small, Think Big: Small, Speckled Egg feel they are doing. Here, by using the first-person voice, they are travelling quite literally with the narrator – in this case, an Arctic tern, from her beginning as a small, speckled egg (instantly recognisable to child, even if in chocolate form!) to a fully grown adult and mother in her own right. The life cycle of any bird is a fascinating journey, but in the case of the Arctic tern it gets a lot bigger than that – a lifetime of flights across the world’s great oceans that will amount to travelling to the moon and back over three times (over 2.4 million km).
It would be easy to say that this extraordinary distance is the ‘think big’ of Small, Speckled Egg. It is indeed amazing that the Arctic tern can fly over 70,900 km a year between the Arctic and Antarctic during its seasonal migration, the longest of any animal. But, in writing this book, I found so many other exciting reasons to think big in relation to this small bird: that it sees more daylight than any other bird as it lives in perpetual summer; that it can sleep on the wing and stay out at sea for days at time; that it navigates both by coastlines and Earth’s magnetic field, returning to the same northern colony site every summer to breed.
I was also excited by the watery world which it inhabits and the animals it shares this world with: from the polar bear, that great Arctic predator, to the penguins that fly underwater in the icy seas of the Antarctic. I wondered about the great whales a tern sees amongst the waves as it flies over the oceans. It was exciting to see these animals that live and survive by the sea so beautifully realised by Anna Terreros-Martin’s illustrations. Her images help bring through another very important ‘think big’ of this book: how we need to value and conserve our oceans and the life within them.
And perhaps Anna’s interpretation of my words brings me to the greatest ‘think big’ that I hope our book will inspire in a child: to use their imagination and fly alongside an Arctic tern from one end of the Earth to the other. To think what it must be like to glide over the oceans both by day and by night, with no land in sight – just the wind and the waves. To feel the silence that falls over an Arctic tern colony before it begins its annual migration and to wonder why it is called ‘a dread’?
I have been very lucky to have a career in children’s information books. As an author, you take on the role of guide which, is a huge responsibility but also a great privilege. You are going on the journey too.
Mary Auld is the author of more than 20 children’s information books. She also works as an editor under her own name, Rachel Cooke.
Start Small, Think Big: Small, Speckled Egg written by Mary Auld and illustrated by Anna Terreros-Martin is published by Mama Makes Books and includes a giant fold-out map. For FREE resources please visit: www.mamamakesbooks.com
Many thanks to Mary (Rachel) and the team at Mama Makes Books for taking part in NNFN2023.