One of the best laughs in kidlit belongs to the effusive, kind and creative Natasha Wing. All I have to do is think of her and I begin to smile! Natasha and I met eons ago through our mutual friend, Mary Nethery because they were in the same critique group when they were both living in Eureka, Californina. I have always admired Natasha’s energy and the way her writer’s antenna works — she once got a book idea by eating a bagel! (Jalapeno Bagels, Atheneum Books for Young Readers). She brings that wonderful energy to her clever, popular and long-lived Night Before series; today, she tells us about the latest edition to the series, The Night Before Ground Hog’s Day, illustrated by Amy Wummer (Grosset and Dunlap).
The Night Before series has been a blessing. With 33 books, gift sets, and now activity books, it has kept me in business as an author. Plus I’ve got a great family of fans, some whom have suggested ideas for new Night Before books that eventually became new stories in the series. Some fans have been valuable sources of information, especially teachers who have given their input on the school-themed books.
The idea for The Night Before Groundhog Day (Grosset & Dunlap) came from teachers when I was doing a local school visit. They asked me if I ever considered Groundhog Day. “What do you do to celebrate?” I asked. “We study the weather and the seasons. And we make predictions.” My mind started churning. I could see Groundhog Day as being a great segue to some scientific learning experiences. And living in Colorado, boy, do I know what long winters are all about, and have more than once prayed that Punxsutawney Phil would predict an early spring! I also am involved with saving prairie dogs, so here was a fellow burrowing ground squirrel that I could envision as an adorable character.
When I did research for the book, I found out that there are 20 groundhogs that predict weather. There’s Buckeye Chuck from Ohio, Dunkirk Dave in New York, and General Beauregard Lee from Georgia to name a few. But the most popular one is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania. A groundhog from Punxsutawney (great spelling bee word) has been predicting the weather since 1866! He even has a Groundhog Club named after him. But Punxsutawney is a hard word to rhyme so I didn’t name the groundhog in the book to keep him universal.
The other thing I researched was crafts to make so I could have the kids in the story create groundhog goodies at school, and then the reader follows a girl home where she makes cupcakes. What’s a holiday without cupcakes?
I remember as a child, I’d always get confused about what seeing the groundhog’s shadow meant. Sun casts shadows so if there’s sun, my logical kid brain thought it must mean spring, right? Nope! According to folklore, a sunny day that allows the groundhog to see his shadow will send him scurrying back into his burrow, a sign of six more weeks of winter. A cloudy, and shadowless day, is a sign of spring encouraging the groundhog to stay above ground.
Artist Amy Wummer, who has worked on about a dozen of the Night Before books, had fun with the illustrations. The groundhog is squeezably adorable. The teacher looks like a cool lady. And I love that Amy pictured an ethnic family. I’m thrilled that she included a brother who is differently abled. Over the years as this series grew, we’ve made conscious efforts to show diversity in color, and now in physical abilities.
So happy Groundhog Day! I hope that whichever groundhog you rely on for your weather forecast will predict what you are wishing for.
Natasha Wing has been publishing for 28 years. In her home office in Colorado, she writes mostly family-friendly fiction with a sweet and humorous slant. Her new joke book is called Saltwater Sillies: 300+ Jokes for Buoys & Gulls. The next Night Before is The Night Before Election Day (June 9, 2020, Grosset & Dunlap). Natasha saves prairie dogs and her birthday is five days after Groundhog Day.