I have been reading a lot of fiction picture books in the past few weeks since I’m looking for the final title for which I’ll write lessons for in Craft Moves. I have this bizarre, self-imposed criteria not to write craft lessons for books where animals talk. It’s not because I don’t like those books, but I want to make sure teachers across K-5 grade levels will be able to use my lessons in their classes. I read very few talking animal books to my fourth and fifth graders so I hesitate to include them in Craft Moves. BUT, that doesn’t mean I can’t feature books with talking animals here, does it?
Paulette Bogan’s wonderful Virgil & Owen landed on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago. I instantly fell in love with this story about a penguin and a polar bear who have a rough start at becoming friends mostly due to Virgil’s poor attitude about making friends. As the mom of a preschooler, I could relate to the way the characters acted and how the story unfolded. So I did what any reasonable mom/literacy specialist/blogger does after reading a new picture book. I contacted the publisher and requested to interview the author/illustrator.
Paulette answered my questions and shared photos of her studio with me. I hope you’ll enjoy the peek into her process and her studio that’s filled with art supplies lots of penguins.
SAS: Do you think in words or pictures?
PG: I talk to myself all the time – in words. But in my mind I see pictures.
If I have an idea about a character’s personality, or the problem they need to solve but no clear picture in my head, then I do a million sketches till I come up with a character that fits. If I clearly “see” a character then I spend a lot of time walking around talking to myself working out who this character will be.
PG: My stories will often start in a sketchbook, on a scrap of paper, or on my favorite – post-its! I love post-its.
Then I usually sit in my mother’s old rocking chair and write the story on a legal yellow pad. After many drafts, I will type it up on the computer, which always results in many more edits. As I’m writing, I automatically think in terms of 32 pages for a picture book.
Then I do thumbnail sketches on tracing paper with pencil, enlarge them and do full size sketches, also on tracing paper. Next they are scanned in and a dummy is formed on the computer. (I made them by hand in the old days…)
For the final art I use Winsor & Newton watercolors and Micron pens on Arches 140 LB. cold press watercolor paper.
If you visited my studio you would see a mess, lots of books, penguins everywhere, Patrick from Sponge Bob, Gumby, Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, coffee cups filled with colored pencils, paintbrushes, and glue sticks, pigs, and two dogs, Spikey and Mufasa, sleeping on the floor.
SAS: Who or what inspired Virgil & Owen?
PG: I was drawing penguins, polar bears, squirrels and hedgehogs, and fell in love with these two! I had no story, but definitely knew their personalities. Owen the polar bear is named after my nephew, and the name Virgil was chosen by my oldest daughter, Sophia. After many versions I settled on how they became friends. Two very different characters. Owen is quiet, and steady, and sweet. He likes to think things through, and take his time. Virgil can’t do things quickly enough, has a very hard time sitting still, and is NOT a ‘look before you leap’ kind of guy.
SAS: Why a penguin and a polar bear instead of kids?
PG: I do love drawing animals! But the truth is I never know what the character will be till it pops in my head or comes out in a sketch.
SAS: My daughter noticed Owen floating away from what looked like his family in the beginning of the book. What happened there? Will he ever be reunited with them?
PG: I like to think Owen just took a trip. Although he is a quiet kind of guy he has an independent streak in him. Who knows, maybe Virgil and Owen will take a trip up north one day?
SAS: What do you want children to take away from this story?
PG: Making friends and sharing them is really hard! Not everyone handles things the same way. We are all different and that’s okay. (Hmmm, sounds a little preachy… but I mean it!)
SAS: What was the hardest part of this book to get across to young readers? (That is, how did you manage to teach a lesson without sounding didactic.)
PG: I think that’s one of the hardest things about writing for children.
I talk out loud to myself and try to think about what a child would say instead of an adult. I think about my childhood and often draw from my own childrens’ experiences. Although my girls are all teenagers and older, they are very quick to point out when I’m being too preachy in my stories (AND in real life!)
SAS: What are you working on next?
PG: I just finished a new book called Bossy Flossy, for Henry Holt, coming out Spring 2016. Flossy is the bossiest kid around and doesn’t understand why no one will listen to her. Then she meets Edward, who may be just as bossy as her!
I am almost done with a new Virgil & Owen adventure for Bloomsbury Children’s Books, coming out Winter 2016. This time Virgil and Owen go to school. Owen likes to do things his way and of course Virgil doesn’t agree. They both learn how to be patient and compromise, two very hard things to do.
This giveaway is for a copy of Virgil & Owen. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of Virgil & Owen, please leave a comment about this post by Sunday, March 22nd at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Tuesday, March 24th. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Bloomsbury will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of RAISING A LITERATE HUMAN – Virgil & Owen. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed (3/24). Congratulations to Terrie whose commenter number was selected. She’ll receive a copy of Virgil & Owen.