Monday, May 2, 2016

Ann McCallum Wants Kids to Eat Their Homework!

We have all heard the excuse “the dog ate my homework” when a child forgets to bring in an assignment to school.  But, what if you told a student to “eat their homework?” You would definitely get their attention, and they just might learn math, science and history facts without even realizing it.

Author Ann McCallum has a unique approach to writing books that engage and entertain students while learning important content. I recently spoke to Ann about these books came to be.

1. Tell us a little about your background, and what inspired you to write books for children?

I’m a mom and a teacher. Now I teach high school students from other countries how to communicate in English. I’ve also taught in a one-room schoolhouse (A remote community in Northern Canada during my first year out of college), in two elementary schools, and at the college level at a university in the United Arab Emirates. Writing children’s books is what I love best. I have inspiration all around: the antics of my own kids growing up, my various students, and my subtle observation of the children in my neighborhood. Plus, I’ve always loved reading children’s books. Even now, I’ll read 10 children’s books for every one adult book.

2. The "Eat Your Homework" series of books is such a unique take on teaching math, history, and science. How did you come up with the idea to combine cooking and teaching these subjects?
I first thought about writing a book and in particular the “Eat Your Homework” children’s books when I was teaching math in elementary school several years ago. One day before Winter Break I had my students make mathematical gingerbread houses—they had to show examples of math in their finished products. The kids were ecstatic and their math connections were amazing. My idea to teach math through food took root, though funny enough, “Eat Your Math Homework” was the fourth book I had published. Cooking and math fits so nicely together not only for the obvious tie-ins like temperature and measuring, but because cooking is a motivating and kid-friendly activity that can serve as a springboard to learning. Take Fibonacci Snack sticks which focus on patterns. Making kebobs with fruit is healthy and fun. Add patterning, and there you have an easy math activity. Depending on the age of the child, you can get into the Fibonacci sequence which is a little more complex, or you can create a more simple pattern with fruit. The food and math connection involves looking at the world in a new—and delicious—way. Similarly, the relationship between science or history and food is just as tasty!

3. There must have been a lot of experimenting happening in your kitchen! How did you choose the recipes that would match the facts you were highlighting in your books?
Oh yes! All that time in the kitchen was really fun. I came up with the concepts I wanted to cover first and then the recipes. Next, I headed to the kitchen to create the original recipes. I had to build every recipe multiple times, measuring ingredients carefully and taking notes on things like pan size and oven temperature. One of my favorite experiments was when I worked to develop Invisible Ink Snack Pockets for the “Eat Your Science” book. I wanted to re-create a situation like painting lemon juice on paper and having the juice become visible when you put the paper near a heat source. My recipe takes this idea, but the invisible, edible “ink” is painted on a pizza dough pocket with a clean paintbrush or cotton swab. When heated in the oven—voila—the printing becomes visible!

4. What kind of reactions have you gotten from your young readers?
I have received fantastic enthusiasm whenever I’ve taken my books and ideas in front of young people. Kids are naturally curious. Even reluctant math or science kids have told me how much they now love the subjects. With the history book, young people have also told me how much they love connecting food to the topics in the book. George Washington and homemade ice-cream? Yum! One of my favorite questions of all time came from a young child during one of my Skype author visits. He asked me, “How much ink does it take to make a book?” I admit I was stumped with that one. However, I went to my publisher and found out that each “Eat Your Homework” book takes about 3 ounces of ink to produce. Amazing.

5. Are there any more "Eat Your Homework" books in the works and what are you working on next?
You know—I’m not sure. I keep thinking that we now need an “Eat Your Language Arts Homework” book, but I’m not sure how to write it. . . yet. I’ll keep thinking! In the meantime, I have a couple of picture books in the works as well as a middle grade novel. I plan to spend some wonderful, long summer days writing these and more books. Thank you for asking!

Thanks, Ann for stopping by!

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