I’m Erin Dealey, and I write books for kids. I’m a teacher, presenter, rhymer, blogger, and proud Drama Mama.

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Publishing #kidlit in a pandemic, part 4 = 6 Qs with author/teacher Ann Marie Stephens

September 29, 2020

This blog post is for my #Teacher pals who tell me,

“Someday I’d like to write a book.”

Many of you have heard my answer already (See below. *), but today I’m chatting with FIRST GRADE TEACHER and CHILDREN’S AUTHOR

Ann Marie Stephens. 


Yes, friends, she writes FUN books,

she’s a FULL TIME time teacher in a Title I school

–pivoting and #distanceteaching in the middle of this pandemic, just like you

–and her newest book,


(Illus. Jia Liu / Boyds Mill Press),

releases next month: Oct. 20th.


Feathery fun for the newly numerate. Take it away, Arithmechicks!


“(B)right, engaging illustrations… (a)n elementary-school teacher, Stephens offers a lively story and a useful appended page with several different strategies for demonstrating subtraction. This cheerful sequel to Arithmechicks Add Up (2019) has its madcap moments, while creating opportunities for kids to use subtraction skills as they enjoy the playful story.” —Booklist

In Arithmechicks Add Up“Ten young chicks make their way to the park for a day of fun, incorporating math into every playground activity… Stephens deftly interprets the usefulness of being able to quickly count and add, and Liu’s texturized digital illustrations convey all the fun of the playground alongside simple mathematical concepts. An enjoyable resource for young ones stepping up their counting game.” — Publishers Weekly

6 Qs with Ann Marie Stephens:

Q 1. What are the challenges of launching ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY during a pandemic, compared to ARITHMECHICKS ADD UP in 2019? 

Ann Marie Stephens: Launching a book in a pandemic means online promotion will be more important than ever. I’m still in the planning phase and I know my launch of ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY will not be anything like the first chick book launch. I was in one of my favorite indie bookstores, Scrawl Books, for that one. The place was packed, there were designer chick cookies, and I had real chickens as my guest stars! I’m not sure what this launch will look like but I’ll try to be creative. I’ve already ordered bookplates to sign and send in the mail, and I have adorable chick swag. Whatever I do, I hope for a lot of participation from family, friends, and book lovers!

ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY, interior art by Jia Liu.

Q 2. How does your teaching job influence or inspire your writing?

Ann Marie Stephens: I haven’t really acquired many ideas while teaching or from my students. What I can say is that teaching first grade grants me the opportunity to read aloud dozens of books each week. I see what makes kids laugh, empathize, and question the world. When a book is too long they will make comments such as, “When is this going to be over?” or “I’m tired!” Then I’m reminded of the importance of pacing and the economy of words when writing my own stories. Lastly, I get to watch kids fall in love with books. That makes me want to write more of them.

Q 3. Is it true that you don’t really like math? (The secret’s out!) Does this mean you’re writing these books to help your younger self navigate the math waters?

Ann Marie Stephens: Yes, it’s true, mostly because I don’t enjoy it as much as other subjects. I was good at math at an early age, but I lost interest when I reached Algebra and Calculus. I couldn’t see their relevance. I know from experience that when you make learning relevant, kids comprehend better. That’s what I’ve tried to do in both Arithmechicks books, and my 2021 book, CATASTROPHE, A STORY OF PATTERNS. This story follows cats on a fishing expedition that ends in disaster. The cats use patterns in their actions, and they even eat a yummy treat to ease the pain of their failed mission. Kids definitely relate to treats!

How do you have TIME????

Q. 3 As a full-time teacher, how on earth do you have time to write books? 

Ann Marie Stephens: I rely on weekends (when I’m not doing school work) and holidays. I also do what I call “stoplight writing”. I print out a copy of my current manuscript and take it with me on my 40-minute commute to school. When I’m sitting at red lights I look at phrases, words, or plot points I need to rework. When the light turns green, I think of solutions in my head while I’m driving to the next red light. Then I jot down my thoughts. I’ve been known to work on stories during boring professional development trainings or staff meetings. I can’t stop my brain from wandering. #writerproblems

Q  5. Any tips for our teacher friends who “want to write a book someday”?  

Ann Marie Stephens: To teachers who are aspiring writers— read as much as you can. Read the kinds of books you want to write because that’s how you learn the craft. Write with your students. Write for your students. Write because your students need to hear your voice and your story. They need to see you inspired by words because it all becomes contagious after that, doesn’t it?

Ann Marie got these masks –with two of her book covers!–from a former student.

What Teachers want parents to know:

“the kids are indeed learning…”

Q 6. CONGRATULATIONS on your 30th year teaching. (THANKS for all you do!) What would you like parents and the community at large to know about Distance Learning/teaching in a pandemic?

Ann Marie Stephens: My students and I began 100% distance learning on August 31. Teaching first graders online feels like being the ringleader of a circus where the Big Top hasn’t been assembled, the performers are stuck in their cages or trailers, and we are expected to work together to put on an elaborate show. Despite this, we are having fun and the kids are indeed learning. Teachers want parents to know that we are trying so hard to be amazing right now. We are sacrificing sleep, weekends, and time with our families to juggle everything being thrown at us. We are also balancing the education of our students while attending to their mental and emotional needs. We love their kids and dream of the day we can be in person with them.

Thank you so much for joining the blog today, and

Happy almost Book Birthday to  ARITHMECHICKS TAKE AWAY. 

To learn more about Ann Marie Stephens and her books, follow her on Twitter @AMStephens_  and Instagram @amstephens_ and check out her blog:  2 Happy Teachers 

Next time we’ll be talking to TWO children’s authors Melissa Berger-Stoller and Julie Abery, and celebrating a few well-deserved (belated) Book Birthdays!

Stay safe, everyone.

*Also–dear teacher friends–about writing that book:

“Someday is NOW.”

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