Simply 7 with Debra Kempf Shumaker: PECULIAR PRIMATES

I love a fun nonfiction picture book with a clever spin.  Today’s book is a follow up to one of my favorites.

DebraShumaker5157_YankaPhotogrpahyDebra Kempf Shumaker has visited my blog before.  You may remember her previous book FREAKY, FUNKY FISH. She loves weird and fascinating facts. When Debra isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys watching Jeopardy or hanging outside with her favorite primates—her husband and three sons. She writes from her home in northern Virginia. You can learn more about her at her website.

COVERPECULIAR PRIMATES is a perfect sequel to FREAKY, FUNKY FISH.  It covers a wide range of primates with fascinating facts (some favorites and some new-to-me).  Also once again the illustrations by Claire Powell add a rating scale, fun visual sidebars, and fantastic end papers.  This is another creative nonfiction picture book that I guarantee you won’t want to miss.

Welcome back Debra!

Me: Your first book FREAKY, FUNKY FISH was funny and full of info.  PECULIAR PRIMATES is just as wonderful and full of even more awesome facts.  What gave you the idea?  Why did you write this particular picture book?

Debra: My publisher, Running Press Kids, actually gave me the idea for this book. When I signed the contract for FREAKY, FUNKY FISH, it included an option clause so it seemed natural for me to write another book about odd animal adaptations. Since I love birds, I wrote BIZARRE BIRDS. While my editor enjoyed it, the Running Press Kids team felt there were plenty of kids’ books about birds, so they passed. But. . . they’d love to see one for bears or primates. After some initial research, it became clear that primates would be such a fun follow-up, so I jumped right in. I had a blast writing it. Thankfully, Running Press Kids loved it and Claire signed up to illustrate this one, too!


Me: I love how you were able to condense so much information into such tiny bits of rhyming text.  As this was the second book in the series, did you feel like you already had a framework to write with?  Were there a lot of revisions?

Debra: Since I wanted the books to feel like they belonged together, I knew I wanted to use the same framework—common adaptations that all primates share before showing how they are different, the same meter and rhyme scheme, and back matter that expands on the facts in the simple text.

Because finding traits and adaptations that both rhymed and worked in the meter was challenging, I had about 12 or 13 revisions on the story before I sent it to my agent. But once my editor acquired it, I didn’t have any revisions in the text and just some minor clarifications in the back matter. Having that framework certainly helped.

Me:  Wow! That’s incredible.  Knowing that the first book was already out in the world, what is one thing that still managed to surprise you in writing this story?

2Debra: While having the framework helped in one way, I was a bit surprised that it also hindered my process. Since Freaky, Funky Fish had an alliterative title, I felt this one needed one, too. But there were very few “p” adjectives that made sense. While I felt “peculiar” worked for the title, fitting a 3 syllable word in my conclusion was a struggle. Plus, “primates” is two syllables, while “fish” is only one. In my first book, I used “fish” as part of my text frequently because it was easy for my meter. With “primates” being two syllables, it was much more challenging using the word stressed correctly in my short, metered text! I also tried not to use the same rhyme pairs I used in my first book. So lots to balance! 🙂

Me: Oof! That is quite a balancing act.  Perhaps because of that, this is a brilliant nonfiction series.  Please say we can expect many more to come!  Are there other books planned in this series?  

Debra: Thank you for the compliment. I would love to have more books in this series! But as we all know, publishing is a business, and sales numbers are important. At the moment, there aren’t plans for another one. If the sales of both FREAKY, FUNKY FISH and PECULIAR PRIMATES are really good, hopefully that means we’ll see at least one more. In addition to the birds one, I have written one about reptiles. Crossing my fingers that someday one of those becomes a book! 🙂

Me:  I’m crossing my fingers too!  The illustrations in this book are amazing.  Claire Powell once again hit the ball out of the park.  I love those end papers and I wondered how she would handle the odd monkey butts (she handled it SO well).  Were there any illustration surprises for you?

3Debra: I am beyond grateful Claire agreed to illustrate this one, too. After opening the email with her first sketches, I could not stop smiling. I was really curious how she would illustrate the lemurs using the same latrine. Since “latrine” isn’t a common word for kids, I knew she’d have to do something to indicate what it is. I love that page and think kids will definitely giggle. And I completely agree with you on the endpapers. Adorable.

Me: I have to ask: what was your favorite primate fact that you learned in researching this book?  Your favorite primate?

Debra: Once I read about the slow loris’ poisonous bite, I knew I needed to include it in the book. So few mammals are venomous! I searched high and low for a potential trait I could make rhyme. I ended up reworking a stanza I originally had about the gorilla thumping his chest to get “might/bite” to rhyme.

It’s hard to name a favorite primate! But I’ve always loved orangutans with their shaggy red hair, long arms, and expressive eyes. They seem so “human” to me and I always get an “old soul” vibe from them. Orangutans are one of the more solitary primates and since I’m an introvert at heart, I’ve sort of felt a bond with them. 🙂

Me: Do you have any other fabulous nonfiction books we can look forward to in the future that aren’t part of this series? 

Debra: Yes, I do have another nonfiction book in the works! It’s a lyrical story titled WIND IS. . . that uses metaphors to describe many different kinds of wind we feel. It will be filled with sidebars and backmatter and comes out with Kids Can Press in Fall 2024. Josée Bisaillon is illustrating it and her art is absolutely gorgeous. I cannot wait to see what she will do with this story! WIND IS. . . doesn’t rhyme and is a completely different style than my “Odd Animals” books. In fact, I wrote it several years before I wrote FREAKY, FUNKY FISH. It just took a lot longer to find a home. 🙂

I also have another book under contract that’s a social-emotional learning book dealing with a tough emotion. It’s another picture book I wrote well before FREAKY, FUNKY FISH. I can’t wait till I can share more about it.

Those sound amazing Debra.  I can’t wait to read them.  Thank you for stopping by my blog again today.

Dear readers, PECULIAR PRIMATES is released today into the world.  Make sure you track down a copy and give it a read.  You won’t regret it!

7 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Debra Kempf Shumaker: PECULIAR PRIMATES

  1. Looking forward to reading this! I’m sure lots of young primates will love all of this great factual information. Impressed with your rhyming!

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