Tinkering with Words
A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover A Mighty Girl blog had listed one of my early readers, Robot, Go Bot!, among its 25 Books Starring Science-Loving Mighty Girls. I love that readers are finding this book an inspiration to curious, science-minded girls. But it’s funny, too, because Robot, Go Bot! was not conceived as a science book.
My ideas for early readers come from all sorts of places. Flip Flop was a mashup of summer footwear and my own indecisiveness. Corn Aplenty was inspired by a commute through farmland in a neighboring town. Robot, Go Bot! began on a school bus in 2008. I was chaperoning my son’s field trip, sitting in a seat by myself near the front of the bus, watching rain trailing down the window. It was a perfect time to let my mind go exploring. An editor had asked me to propose some ideas for a five-book fiction early-reader series, and I was trying to think up a unifying theme. Story is important in early reader books, but equally important are the sounds, rhythm, and decipherability of the words. So I got thinking about vowels. Perhaps I could come up with books that each focused on a vowel. Since there are five, it seemed like the perfect idea.
In my head, I brainstormed “o” words, and “robot” made my mental list because of its unique quality of containing both the long and short “o” sounds. A rhythm started thrumming through my mind, too, perhaps due to the rumble of the bus or the rain pelting the window. A story started to form.
I scrounged in my bag and found a scrap of paper to write on. But I had nothing to write with! I didn’t want to lose my ideas in the busyness of the day. So I peaked over the back of my seat. Two girls were conspiring together, eating candy, listening to music, and enjoying the freedom of the field trip.
“Do you have a pencil I could borrow?” I asked.
One of them did! A little unsharpened nub. But it was enough. I scrawled down my rough ideas.
Back at home the next day, I fine tuned the story. When it was ready, I sent it to my editor. The vowel series never worked out. But the story was strong enough to stand on its own and made its way to publication.
The initial spark for Robot, Go Bot! was rooted in language, not in science. But lovers of language and lovers of science have a lot in common. We’re both tinkerers. We’re curious. We use our imaginations. Both writers and scientists experiment, discover, and enjoy the process!
[For school visits, I made a robot of my own—from cardboard boxes, holiday lights, old CDs, juice caps, pencil sharpeners, plastic jars, and a TV antenna. Tinker with stuff you find and make a robot, too!]