Ssssssssssssssssnakes and finding your way past fear by Kathryn Dennis
When I was in 7th grade, my junior high science class raised money to purchase a baby boa constrictor. Richter The Boa Constrictor named after the instructor, Mr. Richter. It was allowed to wiggle free in the classroom, so I had to perform active surveillance before selecting a desk each day. These were desks with an enclosed space for books where Richter loved to curl up for naps. Consequently I spent most of my time focused on where the snake was rather than on science, which may explain why I am not a scientist and how I developed my fear of snakes.
So it may make you wonder why I’ve decided to write a picture book starring these creepy, slimy reptiles…
While spending my day with toddlers as both a part-time bookseller and the Wednesday afternoon story time lady, I found my inspiration for the beginnings of Snakes on a Train. It began with a hinged wooden snake in a bookstore toy basket that made a clacking noise when you picked it up. For many years (and before it completely fell apart one day) it was one of the most popular toys among both boys and girls. I hated having to corral it at the end of the day.
The idea continued to develop based on Mem Fox’s, Where is the Green Sheep? – a book that never grows old for little ones. Repetitively simple in rhythm and rhyme, Where is the Green Sheep? keeps them on their toes looking for that pesky sheep.
And yes, I also spoofed a horror movie where they terrorized a plane for the title.
There are dinosaurs, monsters and all sorts of circus animals spending their day riding on trains, why not snakes? Sure they are scaly and not furry, but most of them are more afraid of us than we are of them and, much to my surprise, kids seem to love them.
So I buckled down and faced my fears. As I began researching snakes I learned that they come in all sorts of colors from pink, orange, blue, green and yellow. If you add a pair of googly eyes they become downright cute if not quite snuggly. And did you know they stick their tongues out so they can smell? I know a couple of toddlers that would be happy to give that a try.
Who knew creating a book based on a reptile that I am still a little afraid of could have resulted in my most rewarding creative year! These colorful snakes are ones even I would be happy to spend time with, and I look forward to sharing them at story time. While trying something new, whether it is learning how to make a story flow and rhyme or learning the quirks of an unfamiliar illustration program, can be scary those little snakes have inspired me to work outside my comfort zone. Now my only fear is running out of ideas for more snake books!
Now, I ask you: What’s your greatest fear? You may have a new story time hit on your hands…
Kathryn Dennis began her art career drawing on walls and sidewalks and painting anything that did not move. In fourth grade, she published her first project―a comic strip about a platypus, which she sold for a nickel. Snakes on a Train is her (official) picture book debut. She also works at Magnolia’s Bookstore in Seattle, Washington, where she lives.