July 16


The Science of a Fiction Picture Book (#STEAM) by Leslie Helakoski

Even a fictional picture book can engage young minds in scientific thought. Comparing and contrasting are great tools for learning and what better way to explore this concept than a fun story?


HOOT & HONK Just Can’t Sleep began as an exploration of a nocturnal owlet, sleeping during the day and active at night, and a diurnal gosling, with the opposite schedule. But as the story developed, the chicks ended up in each other’s nest and I took comparing and contrasting to a new level. Beyond physical characteristics and sleep patterns, the story delves into the two birds’ activities and showcases the side-by-side patterns of the chicks’ days and nights.


This set-up allows for comparing several concepts: sunrise/sunset, nocturnal/diurnal, dark/light, sleep/wake, open/close, up/down, moon/sun and herbivore/carnivore all inside the lyrical story of two displaced chicks finding their way home.


The illustrations make the compare/contrast structure stronger. The reader sees this in the color palette as half the book takes place on golden pages of sun-drenched farms and ponds as opposed to rich moonlit pages of deep blues and purple.


Even the shapes of the two main characters are contrasting; one triangular shape pointing up and the other one pointing down.

The illustrations evolved while experimenting with pastel on sanded paper. Chalk pastels were rubbed across the grainy paper.

Then the surface was sprayed with rubbing alcohol. The pigment underwent a physical change, becoming liquid and was brushed into a smooth wash.

Drawing with more chalk over the wash allowed the contrasting base colors to show through.


There is science all around us even in the writing of a 150-word story with characters, setting, and a problem that comes full circle and allows us to feel a comforting resolution. Sometimes I write and paint without thinking about science at all. But when I look closer, it is everywhere.


Leslie Helakoski grew up in Louisiana. She is the author of Big Chickens and Woolbur as well as Big Chickens Fly the Coop, The Smushy Bus, and Fair Cow. She lives in Michigan with her family. You can find her online at www.helakoskibooks.com.