A Peek at Beaks: An Interview with Author Sara Levine and Illustrator Kate Slater

Have you ever seen a bird with a beak like a straw? How about a bird with a beak that looks like a pair of tweezers? Get ready to see these birds and many more in A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use by Sara Levine and illustrated by Kate Slater. Structured as a guessing game, this playful picture book introduces young readers to the science and anatomy of different bird species. Discover how birds’ beaks resemble—and can be used like—tools!

Today author Sara Levine and illustrator Kate Slater join us to share their most surprising moments while creating the book, their hopes for young readers, and much more.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing/illustrating the book?

SL: I knew that many birds had beaks that were adapted for many purposes—ones that work like a straw or a knife or a jackhammer. What surprised me was to find one that works like an air conditioner! Who knew?! Want to know which bird has a beak like that? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

KS: I loved learning more about the different birds Sara writes about. I had no idea that sandpipers have a special sensory organ on their beak to help them find food in the sand! I really enjoyed developing my collage style to create this as well, using mixed media to add more details while keeping the guessing pages a bit more graphic.

What do you hope readers will learn or discover from reading your book?

SL: I’m hoping that readers will come away from the book with a more in-depth understanding of how form fits function in animals’ body shape. That, of course, is part of understanding natural selection and evolution—a topic I think needs to be taught more actively to young people. And I’m also hoping that readers will just find pleasure in the book—in the guessing and in Kate Slater’s gorgeous illustrations.

KS: I hope they love learning about the different birds as much as I did and I hope I’ve managed to capture some of the beautiful species from around the world.

Spread from A Peek at Beaks in which a hummingbird is revealed.

How did you do your research for this project?

SL: One of my former students, Hilary Johansen Silve invited me to observe a class she taught Boston Nature Center in which she did a lesson on how birds’ beaks compared to different household tools.  I thought it was a great idea, and she said there was a need for a book on this topic, so I wrote it. My research was focused on learning more about birds used in some existing lesson plans, and finding other interesting and whimsical examples to include.

How do you create your illustrations?

KS: I use lots of different papers to collage with; some that I paint myself but also paper from magazines, old envelopes – anything I can get my hands on! I sometimes draw extra details on top of the collage with paint and pencil, or I scan the collage in a work into it digitally.

Where do you like to work?

SL: I used to bike to a café in Arlington, MA each morning and reward myself with a coffee and chocolate croissant while I wrote. This is where this book was mostly written. Since it has become less safe to work in a café I do most of my writing in my dining room, at a small messy, book-covered table that serves as my desk.

KS: I work from home in my studio in Staffordshire. It’s a lovely, sunny studio but is often quite chaotic – especially when I’m in the middle of working on a book. My desk is usually covered in the different pieces of paper I’m using to make my collages. I do have a bit of a colour-coded storage system, but it soon goes awry!

I live in the countryside and love being able to go take my labrador Gladys for long walks when I need a break from work.

What’s your favorite subject to write/illustrate?

SL: That’s a hard one to answer. Plants and animals? Or maybe comparative anatomy? I’m particularly interested in thinking about how humans are alike and different from other animals. I like to write about biology topics that fascinate me in a way that may spark the same reaction in others.

KS: I love anything with animals in! Birds feature in my work a lot. I’ve always loved drawing them and the feathers make them particularly beautiful to collage! I also really enjoy the challenge of creating something that’s quite accurate and lifelike but at the same time giving each bird loads of character.

Spread from A Peek at Beaks which reveals a pelican.

Praise for A Peek at Beaks

★”[A]n entertaining and informative introduction to the world of birds and how they survive and thrive.”—starred, School Library Journal

“[A] guessing game that will engage young readers. . .A useful addition to the nature shelf.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Levine’s descriptions, roughly a paragraph per bird, are filled with delightful facts and enough details so that an elementary child can understand the explanation behind biodiversity within the bird world. . .a fun introduction to elementary school biology.” — Butler’s Pantry

“This is a fun book which will encourage children to become more aware of their natural environment by identifying birds and learning something about their adaptations.” — The Pirate Tree

Connect with Sara





Connect with Kate

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One thought on “A Peek at Beaks: An Interview with Author Sara Levine and Illustrator Kate Slater

  1. Sue Higgs

    Really interesting and beautifully illustrated .
    Can’t wait to get this book for my Grandson this Christmas

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