HEROES DON’T HAVE TO FLY
ILLUSTRATED BY OLGA DEMIDOVA
(Clever Publishing; $13.99, Ages 3-7)
Scooter the bird has always wanted to fly around and use words to help others just like his favorite author, Wendell. The only problem is that he can’t fly, so he uses a scooter. Bully bird Squawk teases him and the other birds. “Are you even a bird?” Squawk says meanly to Scooter. And Scooter knows how much words can hurt, so he takes some advice from Wendell’s book and decides to stand up to Squawk and help his friends—by using positive words! One day when Scooter finds himself in a dangerous situation, to his surprise it’s Squawk who offers words that help him. Knowing the power of positive words, Scooter makes a friendly offer to Squawk that hopefully will get Squawk to change his bullying ways.
Kelly Rice Schmitt: I love the idea of a bird who cannot fly! What a great main character. And he is so cute! What was your inspiration for Scooter?
Shannon Anderson: When my oldest daughter, Emily, was younger, she created this fuzzy, colorful bird riding a scooter. I fell in love with him and told her he needed to be in a story. I named him Scooter and started brainstorming what this little bird was going to do. I had been wanting to write a story about the power of our words – how they can help or hurt someone. I came up with the premise that it isn’t the size of your wings that matters as much as the size of your heart. From there, the story developed. Scooter admires a hero in a book who champions kindness. When a new bird moves into the area who is not kind at all, Scooter makes it his mission to help the bully be a nicer feathered friend.
KRS: Wow! How cool that your daughter’s creation was able to inspire the illustrator! What was your reaction when you first saw Olga Demidova’s depiction of Scooter?
SA: I feel very blessed that I had the rare opportunity to share my daughter’s drawing with the editor. Olga used Emily’s art to create the character for the book! It makes this project so much more meaningful for our family. I love Olga’s bright use of colors, and her art is just beautiful.
KRS: In addition to the colorful art, HEROES DON’T HAVE TO FLY is also a wonderfully layered text touching on themes of bullying, kindness, and the power of your words, all while featuring characters that beat to their own drum. What was your intent behind the themes of this book?
SA: I started with the power of our words. I was an elementary teacher for 25 years and witnessed the power of our words on a daily basis. (From what I said to the kids to what they said to each other.) We truly can encourage or discourage others based on what we say.
It seemed natural to focus the story on characters being kind or unkind to launch discussions readers can have about the characters and their feelings.
I wanted to present a wide array of characters that kids can possibly identify with. For example, Scooter was born with a physical challenge, Skeeter is going through an awkward growth spurt, and Squeak is shy. I try to find ways that kids can see themselves in books and relate to the characters.
KRS: What a great message— and entry points for kids to relate to this story! Additionally, you are quite the wordsmith! Your text shines with playful language that makes this such a fun read-aloud. Do you have any tips for emerging writers on how you use figurative language and polish your manuscripts to make every word count?
SA: I love playing around with words! I have led a lot of creative writing camps and clubs over the years for kids and adults alike. If we can figure out a unique way to bring words to the page or make our writing lyrical, I think readers enjoy it more. I know I do. It is also way more fun to come up with interesting ways to describe characters, settings, or situations. I make lists of words, phrases, names, idioms, puns, and possible figurative language I want to use for a story. It becomes a challenge to see how many times I can perk up a page with a new way to say something.
KRS: What do you hope young readers will take away from this book?
SA: I hope the characters will be loved and memorable. I hope readers will understand the power our words can have. It would be amazing if they read the story and then they want to make a difference with their own voices in the world too. Kindness projects would be the perfect extension activity for classrooms and families after reading the book.
KRS: So, what next for you? Any forthcoming works or events?
SA: Yes! I have a book through Cardinal Rule Press coming out in 2024: Do it Yourself Dollhouse. Also, in 2024, through Free Spirit Publishing, B is for Belonging will release. In 2025, the sequel to my most successful book, I LOVE Strawberries! will hit shelves. It is through Feeding Minds Press and is titled, I LOVE Blueberries!
Having new books come out is always a thrill, but my favorite part of writing them is going to schools around the country to talk about the stories behind the stories. I love getting kids excited about reading and writing. I recently hit my 300th author visit and am looking forward to many more.
You can check out my books, find out more about my school visits, or contact me on my website: www.shannonisteaching.com.
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Shannon Anderson taught for 25 years, from first grade through college level. A highlight of her career was being named one of the 10 teachers who “awed and inspired” the Today Show in 2019. Shannon is also an award-winning children’s book author of over a dozen traditionally published books and served as the regional advisor for the Indiana Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. You can learn more about her at www.shannonisteaching.com.
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ABOUT INTERVIEWER KELLY RICE SCHMITT:
Kelly Rice Schmitt is a mom in STEAM writing for curious kids of all ages! She loves getting little humans excited about BIG ideas and believes that children are often far more capable than grown-ups assume. A former energy trader, Kelly is an advocate for girls in STEM and business. She writes to spark curiosity, courage, and joy in readers, and hopes to inspire the next generation of leaders and innovators.