PECULIAR PRIMATES – Interview with Debra Kempf Shumaker (+Giveaway)

All primates climb

and breathe in air.

They have big brains

and hands and hair…

But not all primates are alike. From funny faces and colored butts, to flossing teeth and thumping chests, discover the peculiar ways primates look and act in this delightful non-fiction follow up to Freaky, Funky Fish.

From the flap copy for PECULIAR PRIMATES

I’m so excited to share this book with everyone, because I have a soft spot for primates (and not just the human variety). I’m also thrilled that I got a chance to interview the wonderful author, Debra Kempf Shumaker. Keep reading and don’t forget to leave a comment to enter the giveaway!

Andrea: Welcome to Picture Book Builders, Debra! I adore this book. What inspired you to write about primates that are peculiar in some way?

Debra: First, thank you so much fun for having me. I discovered this blog years ago when I started writing picture books and it’s become a dear companion on my writing journey every week. I am honored to be here as a published author!

To answer your question, my publisher, Running Press Kids, inspired me. When I signed the contract with them for FREAKY, FUNKY FISH, the contract included an option clause. It seemed natural to write another book about strange and fun animal adaptations, so I wrote BIZARRE BIRDS. While my editor enjoyed it, the team passed—they felt that there were lots of picture books about birds. But. . . they told my agent if I was interested in writing one about bears or primates, they’d love to take a look. I knew I’d have a lot of fun with primates so I dove right in. Thankfully, the team loved the manuscript and Claire agreed to illustrate this one, too!

Andrea: PECULIAR PRIMATES is easily the funniest NF PB I’ve ever read. And it’s in rhyme! Can you share about your research and writing process? Which came first — the fun facts or the rhymes? I imagine it must’ve been challenging to find a peculiar trait that also fit with your rhyme scheme!

Debra: My first step in writing these books is to google strange things about the animal group and write a huge list of facts with plenty of white space around each. I also read books from the library to add more facts to my list. Then I jot down associated words and possible rhymes around each fact/trait. Next, I write the worst rough draft ever, ignoring meter to just focus on rhyme pairs. My rhyming dictionary and thesaurus get quite the work out in this stage of drafting. 

Once I have enough rhymes that work, I go back and focus on meter. Unfortunately, I eliminate some adaptations because I can’t get the meter to work. So it’s back to my list and Google. . . and repeat. 

Once the rhyme and meter are solid, I verify the text by using science-based websites, books, journal articles, and emails to experts. I’ve sacrificed some fun adaptations when an Internet post claimed something that I couldn’t verify with actual science from at least two sources.

I’d love to do a shout-out to Debra Curtain and The New England Primate Conservancy. The Conservancy was one of my resources while I was researching and Debra, the founder, was happy to answer my questions and verify my text. I am deeply grateful for her help in ensuring the science behind the fun facts and for the work the Conservancy does.

Andrea: Was there a peculiar primate that you had to leave out of the book? Or a peculiar trait that ended up on the cutting/editing room floor?

Debra: I sacrificed quite a few traits and/or primates because of difficulty in rhyme or meter; others because I felt I wasn’t representing the entire primate family fairly. For example, I initially had a stanza that read:

One stands up tall

and thumps his chest.     <illo: gorilla>

Another sits

to pick out pests.         <illo: chimpanzees>

One issue was that most monkeys and apes groom each other, not just chimpanzees, so it didn’t feel unique enough. Second, I had lots of monkeys and apes represented, but not too many from the other branches of the primate family. When I stumbled on the fact that slow lorises have a poisonous bite I knew THAT was unusual and fun—and it was a lesser-known primate. I looked for words to rhyme with bite and reworked the gorilla stanza to this: 

Some thump their chests

to show their might.

Another has

a toxic bite.

Andrea: Revision is so hard but so worth it, right? I love the expressions on both the gorilla and the slow loris’ faces. Claire Powell’s illustrations are incredible and capture the essence of each primate so well. Do you know if she also did a lot of research?

Debra: I knew that Claire did her own research because on my first look at the art for the gorilla, I was surprised to see it beating its chest with cupped hands. I had assumed I would see fists—after all, that’s what we see in movies. But sure enough, when I looked it up, gorillas DO beat their chests with cupped hands, not fists. 

Andrea: That’s such a cool fact! I have had my share of interesting encounters with howler monkeys in Costa Rica (who woke us up and then threw things at me and my college classmates) and the thieving long-tailed macaques in Bali (who stole the eyeglasses off the person next to me). Have you had any fun/scary/interesting personal experiences with primates?

Debra: I’m jealous! While I have had plenty of interesting encounters with human primates, LOL, I have not had the fortune of traveling much outside of the United States so I don’t have any personal experiences with non-human primates. But my husband and I will be empty nesters in two years and world travel is on our list!

Andrea: I hope you get to see lots of peculiar primates on your travels! What’s next for you, bookwise?

Debra: I’m thrilled that I have two more picture books under contract: WIND IS. . . is a lyrical ode to wind that uses metaphors to describe different types of wind we feel. It will include sidebars and back matter and comes out in Fall 2024 with Kids Can Press. Josée Bisaillon will illustrate. The other is a picture book about dealing with a tough emotion. I can’t wait to share more when I can!

Andrea: They both sound amazing and I can’t wait to read them! Thank you so much for swinging by Picture Book Builders and sharing about your process. Where can readers find you on the web and social media? 

Debra: Website: www.debrashumaker.com; Twitter: @ShumakerDebra; Instagram: @debrakshumaker

Debra Kempf Shumaker loves weird and fascinating facts. When she isn’t reading or writing, Debra enjoys watching Jeopardy or hanging outside with her favorite primates — her husband and three sons. She writes from her home in northern Virginia. Visit Debra online at www.debrashumaker.com.

Debra is generously offering a giveaway of a signed copy of PECULIAR PRIMATES! Please comment below by October 18th to enter. Domestic U.S. addresses only, please.

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is an acclaimed author of children’s books. Her book Watercress was awarded the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. Her other books, The Many Meanings of Meilan, Magic Ramen, and The Nian Monster, have also received awards and starred reviews. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and pandemic pup, Tupelo.

60 Comments:

  1. How fun! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oooh, Debra. I can’t wait to read your newest book. It sounds like so much fun. Congrats.

  3. Deb, it is SO exciting to see your book featured here. I love this blog! You have great taste, Andrea!😊

  4. So exciting! This looks wonderful! Congratulations!

  5. Looks like a fun and interesting book! I liked hearing about your research and how you wrote the story. Congratulations!

  6. Huge congrats on your launch! Thanks so much for sharing a peeking into your process! So excited for you! 🎉

  7. Danielle Hammelef

    I enjoyed learning about your researching and drafting process. This sounds like a way I’m going to approach my topic. Thank you for the insights and chance to win a copy of your fun book.

  8. This book looks like fabulous fun that kids will love! I can’t wait to read it.

  9. Deb, how fun to see you here on PBB and with Peculiar Primates!!! What a fun romp! And you make it sound so easy. NOT.
    I love monkeys and always wished to have one as a pet. I get my fix at the zoo–got to pet its paws and they are sooooo soft. Congratulations on FFF and PP and the new books soon to be out in the wild.

    • Debra Kempf Shumaker

      Thanks Vijaya! I agree, it always seemed like monkeys and chimps would make great pets. I loved the show with a trucker who had a chimp named Bear when I was a kid, LOL.

  10. Launching time….congratulations! Andrea, thanks for showcasing Peculiar Primates. I look forward to reading it!

  11. Ooh, I already know this will be a BIG hit with my grandkiddos! Congrats, Debra!!!

  12. After those fish, I can’t wait to see this book!! Loved the interview!

  13. This book looks super fun, love the cute illustrations!

  14. I really enjoyed reading about your process. Also, the book about wind sounds amazing.

  15. Congratulations, Debra! I can’t wait to read your book. It sounds wonderful!

  16. I can’t wait to share this book with the students at our school.

  17. So impressive that it teaches facts AND rhymes! Can’t wait to read it.

  18. Gabriella Aldeman

    I loved reading about your process—thanks for sharing!

  19. This looks like such a fun book. I love the rhyming and the cute illustrations. Congratulations, Debra! I can’t wait to share your book with children.

  20. Jilanne F Hoffmann

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this one! It looks fantastic!

  21. This looks so fun! Can’t wait to check it out for our classroom.

  22. Jennifer Merrifield

    I have been looking forward to reading and sharing this book with my readers for some time. Can’t wait!

  23. Congrats on another fun book full of rollicking rhyme, Deb–love it! And Claire’s art is so perfect for it!

    Great interview too, Andrea!

    • Debra Kempf Shumaker

      Thanks Maria! Claire’s art is amazing. I am so fortunate to have her as my partner on this book!

  24. Congratulations on this new book! It looks like one children will love!

  25. I am going “APE” over this new book! Congratulations

  26. What a beautiful book 😍 the illustrations 🥰😍

  27. Freaky, Funky Fish has been a big hit in my school’s library. Can’t wait to read this one, too!

    • Debra Kempf Shumaker

      Lori, you’ve just made my day. I’m so glad the students love Freaky, Funky Fish and hope they love Peculiar Primates, too!

  28. What an impressive book! Writing a fun book in rhyme had to be difficult to do.

  29. Love the personality in the illustrations!

  30. This book looks like a lot of fun!

  31. Your books are so fun, Debra! Congratulations on your latest! (And great interview, Andrea! 🙂

  32. Can’t wait to read this one, Debra! I love Freaky, Funky Fish. And I’m impressed with your rhymes! I’m kind of hoping your publisher changes their mind about the Bizarre Birds book though. That sounds really fun too.

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