Tuesday, February 28, 2012
McKinney sisters continue to create award-winning children’s books
Susan Stevens Crummel and Janet Stevens have won awards in Texas, California, and from Time magazine.
There is more to a story than words and pictures, particularly in Susan Stevens Crummel's case.
Her tale began with fractions and angles. It picked up with awards, travels, and an artistic sister.
Math made way for imagination, and it's made all the difference.
"It was the Bluebonnet award that launched me into being a visiting author," said Crummel, who told her story Friday at Glen Oaks Elementary School in McKinney. "I would have just kept teaching math and writing on the weekends. I had to make a decision to stay or go."
Kids all around the world are glad she chose to "go." Since she and her sister, Janet Stevens, combined prose and pictures in 1997, they've cemented their voice in the competitive realm of children's books.
With Crummel as the author and Stevens as illustrator, the duo has created 15 such books. Their launch point, Cook-a-Doodle-Do!, earned a 2001 Texas Bluebonnet Award, the ultimate recognition for the state's premier children's books.
Their book, And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon, won the 2004 California Young Reader Medal, and Time Magazine named Help Me, Mr. Mutt! to its list of Top 10 Children's Books of 2008.
Published stardom came late in their story, though. Crummel attended Texas Christian University (TCU) with writing aspirations, and came out a math teacher.
"I love to write, and I went to be an English teacher," she said. "But they didn't need English teachers in the 1970s; they needed math and science."
She taught math for 31 years at Fort Worth public schools. Stevens, whom Crummel said was always drawing as a kid, chose dreams over security, and employed her art in school books.
Two different roads, two talents -- one goal.
"We always talked about working together," Crummel told Glen Oaks students. "We were always going to do it tomorrow, then tomorrow turned into 10 years, 20 years, 25 years."
They finally merged by emergency. Crummel helped complete in a few nights a school book that Stevens had put off for several months. Though it wasn't like their ensuing children's books, the editor loved it.
And a dream team was formed. With ideas from Stevens' family, animals and favorite nursery rhymes, they went to work 15 years ago and haven't looked back.
Last year, Crummel spent 139 days reading her books at schools -- puppets, jokes, and all. She read at American schools in Shanghai and Dubai. Two of the sisters' books are published in Korean.
Their book, And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon -- an extension of the famous nursery rhyme, "Hey Diddle Diddle" -- was read on Good Morning America soon after its release.
"It's really got a lot of adult humor in it," Crummel said. "It's like watching Shrek, when little kids are laughing at one thing while adults are laughing even harder at something else."
Friday at Glen Oaks was no different. Students cackled and cheered as Crummel brought to life their favorite stories with puppets and role playing. Teachers, charged with keeping the kids in line, couldn't help but join them in laughter.
Crummel explained how the idea for The Little Red Pen formed while she and Stevens created an earlier book, Jackalope. Even after 60 drafts, their editor had returned the Jackalope script decked in red pen and sticky notes, so Stevens envisioned her as a "little red pen," etching a matching sketch for the title.
Years later, that pen became the central character in another book. Animals, school supplies and Fork in the Road -- Crummel's favorite character -- are personified in the books, to kids' and adults' delight.
"We try to challenge the kids with humor by being clever in the way we write it so that kids will pick up the double meanings," Crummel said. "My sister has a wonderful way of making it all come to life with pictures."
For her illustrations in Tops and Bottoms, Stevens was a 1996 honoree for the Caldecott medal, awarded annually to the artist for the most distinguished American picture book for children.
More than 4,000 children's books are published every year, Crummel said, so sticking out in editors' and children's minds is no easy task.
It nearly wasn't a task at all for Crummel. Fortunately for children, her story took a turn.
"I stayed up that night to write one little story for a first-grade reader," she said. "That broke the ice, and we've just kept going."
Pegasus News Content partner - Star Local News
- Coffee Squared in McKinney adds sweetener with new bakery counter
- Graffiti shut down McKinney's new skate park
- McKinney's new skate park wins over residents in first week open
- Photos: McKinney residents put new skate park to good use at grand opening
- McKinney Skate Park celebrates grand opening April 20