When I write the I SPY riddles, I look for interesting words and phrases to rhyme. I put them together to fit the rhythmic pattern of I SPY. If the words fit, I can sing my riddles to the old-fashioned song "Sweet Betsy from Pike." Never heard it? Ask your music teacher. Once you learn the tune, you can sing your way through the I Spy books.
Another way I test my I SPY riddles is to rap them! Kids taught me that. I like the rhythm of rap. It has four beats to a line, and so does I SPY. If you don't believe me, go to
The I SPY books are fun to write because Walter Wick's photos are brilliant, clear, and original. They pull you in and hold you in a visual spell until you have found everything. The I SPY books also make you think, and they can help you learn to read. As both an author and an educator, I'm very proud of these qualities.
I SPY is so much fun that children, parents, teachers and librarians often miss the underlying educational benefits of the books. The I SPY books developed this way: for 20 years I was editor of Let's Find Out, Scholastic's kindergarten magazine. I worked with Carol Devine Carson, a well-known art director. One day we received in the mail a promotional photograph from an artist we didn't know: Walter Wick. The card showed a clear, fascinating photo of hardware store objects. We called up Walter Wick and asked him to make a poster for us of objects that were both familiar to children and that would fit in a category called "Fasteners." Walter made a fabulous picture, and teachers loved it. We hired him again and again, and then Bernette Ford and Grace Maccarone of the book division asked us to do a children's book.
Walter and I discussed the I SPY pictures as he made them. I always wanted to make sure that they were appropriate for young children and that they offered rich language opportunities. It took me a while to figure out the rhythm and rhyme pattern for the I SPY riddles. In the end, a four beat pattern worked best. Technically, it's dactylic tetrameter. I had fun with adjectives. They could be creative as long as they were understandable; for example, a "zebra Z." All ages love the ingenuity and challenge of I SPY. That's why grownups genuinely love to play it with children.
In recent years my sons Dan and Dave have helped me write new I SPY books, and I am grateful to them. I think they know where every single object is in every single I SPY books. They're very good at calling for objects creatively with the I SPY pattern of rhythm and rhyme.
I didn't know that I would become an author when I was young, but I loved to read and play office. In a way, I still play office. In my studio today I have a computer, a desk, a table, my grandmother's chairs, many file cabinets, lots of books, big windows that look out on trees, and a copying machine.
Where do I get my ideas? The same places you do: from real life and from the wonderful world of imagination. When I get a good idea, I write it down and save it. That's why I need file cabinets. I have files bursting with ideas waiting to blossom into books.
I love to make things. When I was a child, I loved to make dolls clothes. In 2000 I started painting, and now I love to illustrate my ideas. I've written and illustrated ten children's books, such as Ten Little Christmas Presents. I'm happiest at work when I'm writing and painting books, songs, and games for children to enjoy either on paper or online at jeanmarzollo.com.
I grew up in Manchester, Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut and Harvard Graduate School of Education. I live in the Hudson River Valley with my husband.
Happy Reading, Writing, and Creating!
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