Abigail’s Q&A with Children’s Picture-Book Creator Artie Knapp

Abigail speaks with children’s book author Artie Knapp about his latest book featuring a reluctant baby river otter.

Children’s picture-book author Artie Knapp has a knack for writing charming children’s books, and with the publication of  The Wasp and the Canary in 2006, Knapp found his life’s calling and now claims five children’s books and over forty published stories to his credit.
Last month, Ohio University Press published the Green Earth Book Award shortlist finalist’s latest book, Little Otter Learns to Swim ($15.95, 32 pages)a tale that follows a baby river otter as she learns how to navigate her environment. Unlike a baby otter at the Columbus Zoo where a baby otter was plunged into the water by its mother–sink or swim, as the saying goes–Knapp’s creature is guided by a far more understanding mama. Accompanied by sweet and charismatic illustrations by wildlife artist Guy Hobbs, the rhyming picture book is a lovely introduction to water habitats, conservation, and the importance of trying new things.
Abigail spoke recently with Knapp about Little Otter Learns to Swim and asked about his writing process, his favorite books, and how he overcomes the dreaded writer’s block.
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1. What inspired you to write this book? While watching my daughter learn to swim one afternoon, I wondered what animals have to be taught as well. So when we arrived back home, I began doing some research. I would have guessed that river otters know how to swim the moment they’re born, like some other animals do. But I was surprised to learn that river otters are taught to swim by their mothers when they’re one to three months old. That intrigued me and got me started with writing my story.

 
2. Do you always write about nature? I don’t always write about nature specifically, but nature is something that I am passionate about. I did write the picture book Living Green: A Turtle’s Quest for a Cleaner Planet. Animals are usually the main characters in my stories. I care about the well-being of animals, so I suppose that’s why I use them in my writing so frequently.

3. Are all of your books written in rhyme? Little Otter Learns to Swim is my first book written in rhyme. I have however had children’s poems published in publications such as Humpy Dumpty’s Magazine, and in Oxford University Press course-books.

 
4. Do you always work with the same illustrator? If not, do you have a choice in who illustrates your book? I don’t always work with the same illustrator, and it’s ultimately the publisher who decides who will illustrate the book. I have been very fortunate with the illustrators who have illustrated my stories.

 

5. Is your favorite animal an otter? If not, what is? I like river otters a lot, but if I had to pick a favorite animal, it would be my cat, Bella. Her nickname is Bell-Girl. She is often sitting on my desk as I write my stories.

 
6. How do you know when the story is just right? Do you read it out loud? I do read my stories aloud. As I have progressed in my career, I’ve learned to set my work aside when I think it’s done. Then after a couple of weeks, I’ll reread my story to see if I still like it. A fresh set of eyes after some time has passed has helped to make my work better. If it still reads the same to me after coming back to it, then I usually feel that the story is right. Other times I’ll come back to a story after a break and make changes. Then I’ll set it aside again and come back to it until I feel that it’s where I want it to be.

 
7. Do you visit schools or libraries? I have visited both schools and libraries, but mostly schools. It’s a lot of fun doing author visits. I enjoy speaking with students, and they inspire me to keep writing.  

8. When did you know you wanted to be a children’s book author?  I originally started out writing science-fiction stories. Randomly, I wrote a children’s story titled The Wasp and the Canary. That story along with another one I wrote titled The Hummingbird Who Chewed Bubblegum were published simultaneously on a popular site called Candlelightstories.com. Getting published is a great feeling for an author. Those two stories getting published encouraged me to write another children’s story. After writing my third children’s story Sprinting Spencer Still Wants to Run, I felt that I was onto something. From there, I began to write children’s stories frequently and now cannot imagine not writing stories for kids.

9. What kind of books did you read growing up? I didn’t read as much as I should have growing up. I was always outside playing and watched a lot of T.V. I did enjoy comic books and read a lot of classic picture books stories. The Hardy Boys series are the first books that I remember finding hard to put down.

 
10. What are your favorite children’s books? I enjoy stories that don’t necessarily have a defined ending, but make you the reader left to ponder what happened. My favorite picture book creators are Peter Brown, Don Freeman, Kevin Henkes, Robert McCloskey, Chris Van Allsburg, and Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are by the late Maurice Sendak is my all-time favorite picture book.
 
11. What do you do when you’re having a hard time writing or coming up with an idea? I like to take walks. I enjoy the exercise and the fresh air helps too. I also enjoy listening to music. Music often helps me to get back into the zone of being creative. 

Kids Books Quick Picks

Fall always heralds the arrival of great children’s books, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint. Behold a few of our favorites of the season:

Fall always heralds the arrival of great children’s books, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint. Behold a few of our favorites of the season:

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Stanley’s School, by William Bee, (Peachtree; $14.95, 32 pages, ages 2-5) is the latest in a series starring a charming hamster. As the title suggests, Stanley is running things at school and leads his furry charges through a typical day: from arrival to read-aloud, lunch, and dismissal, these pint-size creatures demonstrate the inner workings of pre-k and elementary school. Bee’s large, cheerful illustrations invite young readers to revel in heading to class. The padded covers invite little hands to fully explore while also signaling the transition from board books to picture books.

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In another rodent-driven narrative, Martin Jenkins’s The Squirrels’ Busy Year (illustrated by Richard Jones, Candlewick; $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6), introduces changing seasons and weather patterns by following a year in the lives of two inquisitive squirrels. Foraging for acorns and dodging owls are a few of the daily adventures these busy critters face, depending on the season. Straightforward and uncomplicated prose is accompanied by front matter offering specifics in case adults get peppered with a few “why” questions after a read-through. An index with follow-up questions meand to encourage further inquiry roud out this smart volume, while Richard Jones’s mixed-media renderings of the natural world are textured and comforting.

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National Book Award Finalist Sy Montgomery’s How to Be A Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals (illustrated by Rebecca Green, HMH; $20.00, 208 pages, ages 7-up), examines a life spent in the company of animals and how those relationships taught her compassion, love, and forgiveness. From a family pig named Christopher Hogwood to a giant Pacific octopus named Octavia, each vignette imparts life lessons that only a non-human can provide. “Other species, when we are allowed to know and care about them, give us a chance expand our moral universe,” says the author. “We learn to embrace the Other. We have a lot in common with our fellow animals–we share about 90% of our DNA with fellow mammals, and animals from clams to elephants share our same neurotransmitters, responsible for perceptions and emotions.” Montgomery’s poetic text proves her ability to write for readers of all ages. Accompanied by author photos and Rebecca Green’s whimsical, folk-art inspired sketches, How to Be a Good Creature affirms what many of us already know: that human-animal bonds are not just real, they are powerful agents of change, acceptance, renewal. Consider reading this in tandem with your child–there’s plenty here to encourage a robust dialogue on many of life’s big questions.

Cover image: “Compulsory Education,” by Charles Burton Barber. 1890. Public Domain.

Abby and Jack Review Two New Children’s Books

Abigail is back, this time with her friend Jack to review two new children’s picture books. Jack tackles Zachariah Ohora’s latest fuzzy caper involving a pair of apartment-dwelling felines, while Abby looks at a canine compare-and-contrast board book by French illustrator Élo. Both are great choices for early readers to enjoy during the dog (and cat) days of summer.

Niblet & Ralph, by Zachariah Ohora, Dial Books for Young Readers; $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-6. 

Niblet and Ralph is about two cats and their kid owners. The four of them live in the same building, but only two of them know it. A tragic mystery happens that brings the humans together–be sure to read the book to find out! The cover shows a cat wearing headphones–how adorable!

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Images reproduced with permission from Dial Books.

Contrary Dogs, by Élo, Candlewick Studio; $12.00, 20 pages, ages 0-6. 

Contrary Dogs is a funny book about all different types of dogs–opposites, really. For example, one has spots, another doesn’t. Plus, it’s a book where you can lift the tabs–who doesn’t like those? Your child will love exploring the tabs and reading all about these amazing dogs!

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CONTRARY DOGS. Copyright © 2016 by Éditions Sarbacane. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

Quick Picks, Nor’Easter Edition

You can be excused for feeling a little apocalyptic if you happen to live on the East Coast, but once you’ve got the lights and heat back on, consider picking up one of the following books for you or the kids–they are all a welcome salve for these windswept times and reminders that love and compassion come in all shapes and sizes.

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First up is National Book Critics Circle Award winner Louise Erdrich’s latest offering, Future Home of the Living God (Harper, $28.99), where evolution seems to be coming to a standstill: animals stop reproducing while others revert back to prehistoric proportions and children are born with disturbing abnormalities, leading to an increasingly fascist government regime where pregnant women are incarcerated. This is bad news for four-months-pregnant Cedar, the adopted daughter of loving parents and the protagonist of this cautionary tale. Cedar decides its time to meet her Ojibwe birth parents in Northern Minnesota, where she reconnects with her spiritual side. Told in diary form by Cedar, Future Home of the Living God touches on prescient, lightening-rod themes of reproductive rights, faith, and environmental disorder with equal parts verve and candor. Newbies to sci-fi would do well to start here.

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Meanwhile, offer the kids have something far less dystopian in nature, like Paul Griffin’s Saving Marty (Dial Books, $16.99). Here, lonely Lorenzo is looking for a friend, and finds one in Marty, a pig that thinks it’s a dog. Instant friendship ensues, and when Marty grows into a robust 350-pound porker, Lorenzo is ready and willing to do anything to save his best friend from being shipped away. Middle-grade fans of Griffin’s When Friendship Followed Me Home will find similar themes of compassion and friendship in Saving Marty.

Another book of porcine proportions is The True Adventures of Esther the Wonder Pig by Steve Jenkins, Derek Walter, and Caprice Cane (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $17.99), which shares the real-life story of Esther and her owners. In 2012, Steve and Derek adopted Esther and welcomed her to their animal sanctuary. Much like Marty in the previous book, Esther was destined for corpulent greatness–eventually tipping the scales at over 600 pounds. But Esther’s size was no match for Steve and Derek’s love and patience–rather than give Esther away, they moved to a country farm in 2014, founding the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary where they continue to care for all sorts of creatures. Young readers will snort with joy watching Esther grow from a tiny piglet into a massive pink hog. Corri Doerrfield’s lively illustrations are sweet and perfectly in tune with the text.

New Picture Book Biography of Jane Austen Glitters

Jane Austen’s novels criticizing sentimentalism, the British landed gentry, and women’s dependence on marriage have remained in print continuously since 1832, when the publisher Richard Bentley purchased the copyrights of all six of Austen’s works. For the past 186 years those stories have thrilled readers around the globe. Now comes a picture-book biography for children attempting to piece together Austen’s rise to fame.

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Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel (Holt, $17.99, 48 pages) explores Austen’s modest upbringing and how she quietly forged a career as an author at a time when most women aspired to fortuitous marriages to secure their economic status.

Though little is actually known about Austen’s childhood since she kept no journal or diary, author Lisa Plisco admirably examines just how Austen developed her plucky wit and delightfully biting sense of irony. (Spoiler: Austen read a lot of books.) Illustrator Jen Corace’s vibrant mixed-media illustrations show a rosy-cheeked Austen, likely an homage to the portrait of Austen completed in 1810 by her sister, Cassandra.

Have a future wordsmith on your hands? Give her this beguiling introduction to a great woman of letters.

                                                                                                                                                                                           Image courtesy of Holt Books for Young Readers

This review first ran on the Fine Books & Collections Blog on February 23, 2018.

Interview with Abigail, Episode One: Tracey Baptiste

Last week, children’s book author Tracey Baptiste visited The Voracious Reader bookstore in Larchmont, New York, to talk about her latest book Rise of the Jumbies (Algonquin 2017). Afterwards, Abbie had a chance to sit down with the award-winning author and ask Baptiste a few questions about characters and craft.

First, a little background: Raised in Trinidad on a steady diet of rich fairy tales filled with mythical beasts and monsters, Baptiste eventually decided that the world beyond her island ought to learn about these tales, too. Rise of the Jumbies is the second in the Jumbies series for middle-grade readers. Jumbies are creatures that roam the Carribbean at night, with the sole purpose to devour wayward children. Their queen is Mama Dl’eau, a merciless sea creature who turns people into stone.

In book one, Baptiste’s main character, Corrine, must stop a jumbie from taking over the island. Corrine returns in book two, which gets even darker with an exploration of the slave trade–important, Baptiste says, for all children to learn about, even when it’s difficult to fully comprehend. Rise of the Jumbies illustrates that though there’s much pain associated with Caribbean history, beauty can rise from it as well.

Listen to Abbie’s interview here.

 

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(Yes, that’s a press badge–never leave home without it!)

Photo credit: Barbara Basbanes Richter

Author Tracey Baptiste Talks Jumbies, Folklore, and Titles at Indie Bookstore

Earlier tonight children’s book author Tracey Baptiste visited the Voracious Reader bookstore in Larchmont, New York, to talk about her latest book Rise of the Jumbies (Algonquin 2017). After the presentation, Abbie had a chance to sit down and ask Baptiste a couple questions about characters and craft. Be on the lookout for her profile later this month! 

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Earlier tonight, children’s book author Tracey Baptiste visited The Voracious Reader bookstore in Larchmont, New York, to talk about her latest book Rise of the Jumbies (Algonquin 2017). Afterwards, Abbie had a chance to sit down and ask Baptiste a few questions about characters and craft. Be on the lookout for Abbie’s profile later this month! (Yes, that’s a press badge–never leave home without it!)