Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Classroom Connections with Susannah Buhrman-Deever


Predator and Prey: 
A Conversation in Verse

Susannah Buhrman-Deever, Author
Bert Kitchen, Illustrator

Candlewick Studio (April 9, 2019)
ISBN: 978-0763695330

For ages 7-10 (grades 2-5)

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The battle for survival between predator and prey is sometimes a fight, sometimes a dance, and sometimes involves spying, lying, or even telling the truth to get ahead. Biologist and debut author Susannah Buhrman-Deever explores these clashes in poems and prose explanations that offer both sides of the story. With beautiful, realistic illustrations that are charged with drama, Bert Kitchen captures the breathtaking moments when predator meets prey.


Click on image to enlarge.

PREDATOR AND PREY: A CONVERSATION IN VERSE. Text copyright © 2019 by Susannah Buhrman-Deever.
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Bert Kitchen. Reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.


Susannah Buhrman-Deever is the author of Predator and Prey: A Conversation in Verse (Candlewick Studio). She is a former field biologist with a PhD in animal behavior, which means she has spent a lot of time thinking about why animals do what they do. Now she shares her love of nature with young and curious readers. She lives with her husband and sons near Rochester, NY.


Why is bringing poetry into the classroom important?

Poetry has been a part of my life since my childhood (Shel Silverstein’s books were some of my first loves), but my answer to this question also comes from my background as a biologist. I believe writing poetry is a practice that develops skills essential not just to the language arts, but science as well. 

Observation is key to both. All scientific inquiry begins with examining the world around us. We can’t know what questions to ask without first looking closely. Close observation is also critical for writing poetry. To really capture a subject, a poet has to use all of his/her senses to go deeper than a surface description.

Both also involve critical thinking and revision. When we design scientific research, we ask ourselves: What is most important to answering my question? Am I approaching my question in the right way? What else may I have missed? When we write and revise poems, we ask similar questions: What is most important for me to capture my subject? Does this line/word work? For both scientific work and poetry writing, we need to go back, ask questions, and try, try again.

But perhaps most of all, I think reading and writing poetry in the classroom gives students breathing space. Space to practice slowing down, really look at the world around them, and think deeply.

How might your book be incorporated into an educational curriculum?

This book came about from my interest in writing about the sometimes surprising interactions between predators and prey in nature, especially how animals can use a variety of tactics (including eavesdropping, lying, and even honesty) in their fight for survival.

The interactions highlighted in the book can be used as a springboard to investigations about relationships between animals in nature, and how they have different adaptations or behaviors that help them survive.

Can you suggest a specific classroom exercise related to your book?

Investigating Relationships in Nature Through Conversation Poems

The poems in this book examine encounters between predators and prey. After reading and discussing the book, ask your students to investigate further about relationships between different living things in the environment.

Have each student choose two living things that interact with each another. They could be predator and prey (like in this book), or have a partnership (like a plant-pollinator relationship).

Then ask students to use library books and/or websites to research their subjects, especially noting what each looks like, and what each does, and why. After they’ve completed their research, they can write either a poem for two voices or a pair of poems (one for each “voice”) using the information they’ve learned, and share their poems with the class. 

For extra credit: Students can create their own “nonfiction note” to complement their poem(s), further explaining the relationship between their subjects.

What is a simple, practical tip for teachers when it comes to incorporating poetry in the classroom?

Share a poem every day! It's a great way to initially engage students before they start science investigations.

I’ve been thrilled to see so many science- and nature-based poetry collections come out in recent years, which can be used to kick off any science lesson. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong) is a great place to start.

Can you recount a specific instance of when poetry impacted a student or group of students in a positive way?

A number of years ago, I was going to speak to a sixth grade class about animal behavior. The students had just come back from lunch, and had a substitute teacher that day to boot. Needless to say, they were not initially very focused on why I was there or what I had to say.

I asked the students for volunteers, and together we read an early draft of “Spies”, a poem for two voices that’s included in Predator and Prey. The whole class perked up, and were engaged for the rest of my presentation.

That experience really taught me how sharing poetry, and the sheer delight students can have in language and rhythm, can bring a class together and engage them in lessons. It’s so much easier to instruct if you are also entertaining.


Website: buhrmandeever.com

Look for If You Take Away the Otter (Candlewick), a nonfiction picture book about sea otters and kelp forests, illustrated by Matthew Trueman, in 2020.

Many thanks to Susannah for participating in our Classroom Connections series for National Poetry Month, and for offering a copy of Predator and Prey: A Conversation in Verse to one randomly selected TLD reader!

To enter, leave a comment below or send an email with the subject "Predator and Prey Giveaway" to TodaysLittleDitty (at) gmail (dot) com by Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Winners will be announced on Thursday, May 2nd, so be sure to check back to see if you've won!

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Check out the other Classroom Connections posts and giveaways on offer this month by clicking the names below!

Digital art © 2018 by Miranda Barnes,
based on a line from "Ghazal" by Tracy K. Smith.


The best way to keep up with the Classroom Connections series is by subscribing to Today's Little Ditty via email, which you can do in the sidebar. I will also be announcing the posts on social media. Like me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter (also in the sidebar) to stay informed that way. Catch up with Classroom Connections posts you may have missed by clicking on the "It's time to INSPIRE" icon in the sidebar, or by visiting my "Poetry in the Classroom" board on Pinterest.


  1. Good Morning Michelle and Susannah, Thank you for this great post. I especially love how you connect writing poetry to the scientific method. I love sharing poems with science teachers. This book is perfect for 6th grade in my school.

  2. Fascinating topic for a book -- inherently interesting due to its natural drama! I watched an episode of "Blue Planet" recently where groupers swim right at their predators (sharks) while the groupers are breeding. It's a crazy-dangerous thing to do (and a bunch of them get eaten). There's no shortage of stories! Telling them in two voices is a great idea.

  3. I love the theme of the book, will be a wonderful one to share with students when studying different themes in nature. Thanks, Michelle and Susannah!

  4. This looks like a book that's right up my alley--will check it out!

  5. My students love writing mask poems in the voice of an animal. Combining science learning with writing poetry is right up my alley. I will use this activity with my kids.

  6. Predator and prey! What a great way to entice kids into the study of animal relationships! Love the looks of this book!

  7. What a wonderful looking book. I will be reading it soon! I think the classroom exercise would be really fun. It makes me wish I were still in the classroom! Thanks for the post.

  8. What a perfect theme for a dialogue book--or a perfect form for a book about predator and prey.

  9. Love this idea for a collection! And with my favorite kinds of poems too. :)

  10. Love this pairing of poetry and nonfiction--yay! Thanks, Susannah!