As a first grade teacher, I’m very familiar with the phonics young readers need to learn to grasp the various sounds in words. Today I get to share a fun book with you that I think should be in every Kindergarten and First grade classroom to help with that goal.
Stef Wade is the best-selling author of A PLACE FOR PLUTO, illustrated by Melanie Demmer; THE VERY LAST LEAF, illustrated by Jennifer Davison; and Q AND U CALL IT QUITS, illustrated by Jorge Martin. Stef’s next picture book, EVERYDAY’S A HOLIDAY, illustrated by Husna Aghniya, releases from Running Press in summer 2021. A Chicago-girl at heart, she’s bounced all over the Midwest with her college sweetheart husband and her three historically and literary named boys. She currently resides in Brookfield, WI. You can learn more about her at her website.
“Q & U Call it Quits” is a hilarious look at the relationship between two letters that really can’t work without each other. Yes, U can go just about everywhere, but if you’ve ever played scrabble, you know that Q just doesn’t exist in many words in the English language without U. In fact, I know of one Kindergarten teacher out there who had her students dress up formally to attend their “wedding” just to nail that point home! This story explores what happens when a reliable friendship goes on the outs. The phonetic chaos that ensues is quite hilarious and I think should earn its place in any classroom that is teaching young readers.
Me: “Q & U Call it Quits” is a brilliant picture book incorporating phonics! I can absolutely see myself using this in my First Grade classroom. What inspired the idea of Q and U arguing with such funny and disastrous results?
Stef: My son’s pre-school teacher used to refer to Q and U as best friends and something inside my head asked, “what if they weren’t?” So, I began writing with the idea that U would leave Q, the others following suite felt like a natural progression of what can happen. This story displays what can happen with the power of influence. Then my mind went bonkers thinking of the chaos it would cause if other letter blends and digraphs split apart. It’s a nod of appreciation to the complexities of our language.
Me: Ha! Yes! This isn’t exactly an alphabet book (as it’s not an ABC collection), but rather a story that includes some very clever letter pairings. I’m honestly not sure if this is a genre in picture books, but it should be! This has excellent potential in the educational market. Have you seen any other books like this one? Did you have to come up with COMP titles when you were pitching it? How did you market it?
Stef: It seems to be a common occurrence for me to branch off a bit and create my own little niche market. All of my books so far have an educational bent to them, while still being fun, QUirky fiction stories. And this one is no different! I truly love catering to teachers to help fit stories that will supplement curriculum.
My throwback idea came from the Letter People in the days of yore… Mr. S with his super socks! Does anyone remember them?? But I also love Joan Holub and Tom Lichtenheld’s ZERO THE HERO, as well as Z IS FOR MOOSE by Kelly Bingham and LITTLE i by Michael Hall. Anthropomorphism is kind of my jam, so making letter people was very appealing to me!
Me: Those are great books. You had a LOT of fun writing clever word play that focused on the letter pairings. I was reminded (just slightly) of the clever “7 Ate 9: the Untold Story” by Tara Lazar. Was your story hard to write? How many revisions did it take?
Stef: Well, what a lovely comparison! I adore Tara Lazar and her stories, and I believe she loves a good pun just as much as I do.
I wouldn’t call this book hard, so much as fun! Well, the fun came in the challenge. I wanted to make sure the book was written seamlessly so that any Q word didn’t feel forced. Figuring out all the other letter blends and digraphs was a fun challenge as well. I worked to incorporate popular sounds that kids might be working on while reading this book. I revised this book A LOT as I was writing, so by the time it was done, there weren’t a lot of drastic changes – mostly small word changes and phrases here and there. But working with Karen Chaplin at Quill Tree/HarperCollins was such a treat! I’m so happy she had the same vision and joy for this book as I do!
Me: I love that Q and U, the “best friends,” didn’t always want to play together. I see this happen with my first graders all the time and they can be so distraught over it. I love how U wants to play with other friends and that’s okay. Why was this an important message for you to share with young readers?
Stef: I’ve never been a ‘one friend only’ person. Even as a child, I didn’t like the idea that I was tied down to one person. It felt limiting and too exclusive. Kids often feel obligated to stick with one friend or one group of friends, but that puts boundaries on relationships, learning and social/emotional development and it can get a little boring!
I want kids to understand that they can be friends with whoever they want. It’s okay to have a “best friend” and have other friends too! It’s also okay to take a break and be alone every once in a while.
Me: The illustrations by Jorge Martin were the perfect choice for this book (in my opinion). I have to admit I wasn’t expecting to see letters with so many vehicles (from motorcycles and wagons to planes). Were there any illustration surprises for you?
Stef: Jorge Martin is overwhelmingly talented. He brought these characters to life in a way I never could’ve imagined. Every page was a surprise! There were very little art notes given, so Jorge truly let his own imagination run wild in these spreads. The lower-case letters as the kids was definitely a fun surprise as was the first page where all the letters are showcased (see the green picture above). Every time I look at it, I find something new!
Me: What was your favorite illustration in the book?
Stef: Wow, so many favorites! But if I’m picking one, I’ll pick the page in the book where my true QUirkiness is exposed. Jorge did such a hilarious job of bringing it all together. This is the scene where C and H are mad at each other, so there’s too much corn and no more cheese. Living in Wisconsin, I had to give some props to our favorite dairy product!
Me: Do you have a favorite alphabet letter or letter pairing? If yes, which one is it?
Stef: Well, Q & U are pretty special to me, but I might have to go with P & H. They make no sense together, but it still seems to work! I’m always up for those silent letter pairs…which may lead me to another book idea…
LOL! Yes, that is an odd pairing. I found a great song to help my kids learn about ph by Between the Lions. It’s forever stuck in my head about P & H now. Thank you for stopping by my blog Stef.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this book, I cannot recommend it enough (especially if you are a teacher of young readers). It’s a hilarious take on letter pairs gone amuck that you simply have to read to enjoy for yourself.