Paul and Petunia Prior to Breakfast
(Not to Mention a Sendak Sighting)

h1 February 8th, 2011 by jules

“‘But, but, but . . . ,’ begin her parents. But Petunia isn’t listening.
‘I’ll feed my skunk every day. I promise! Really!’ says Petunia.”

Meet Petunia. That’s her toy skunk, but as you can see, she’s pleading with her parents—whom, incidentally, you never see in her story, à la the Charlie Brown gang’s parental units—to get her a real pet skunk. Petunia is on a mission, y’all, and as you’ll see if you pick up this title, she’s one determined child. (Publishers Weekly wrote that she “lives a life filled with exclamation points,” as, indeed, most children do.)

Last February here at 7-Imp, I featured the debut illustrated title from Paul Schmid, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s The Wonder Book. It was in that post that he mentioned the title from which he’s sharing some art today, the first title he’s both written and illustrated himself, A Pet for Petunia (HarperCollins, February 2011). So, sure, I’ve already featured the irrepressible Petunia here at the blog, but I still wanted to invite Paul back to tell us a bit more about her and what’s next for him — not to mention I was eager to ask him about his Sendak Fellowship. See Paul and the Great One pictured left? Yup, Paul got to study with Maurice Sendak for a month, and he tells us all a bit more about that below.

The word seen and heard repeatedly by those describing/reviewing A Pet for Petunia thus far is “simple”: “Schmid’s…line drawings are simple, fluid, and convey lots of valuable information,” wrote Publishers Weekly. “Schmid’s illustration style is pure charm,” wrote David Elzey in his excelsior file review, “simple conte crayon and spot watercolor in two colors, mostly purple with dabs of yellow. The simplicity suits the story, and Petunia’s expressions are easily read.” Sendak himself has called it a “simple, beguiling story.” That’s because Paul renders the story with an economy of expression, line, and palette that is lovely to see, given the very busy picture books out there today. David said it well when he wrote:

What makes this work is the comfort that is found in the universal themes. There are no conceptual twist[s] to wrestle with at every turn, just a simple narrative that allows the reader to place themselves easily in the mindset of Petunia. Done right, there’s nothing wrong with simplicity.


And, as Paul mentioned during his visit last February, “I think kids love to linger over book art, and that doesn’t always mean more detail.”

There’s certainly a place for busier illustration work—depends on the story, depends on its tone, depends on a lot of things—but it’s refreshing to see work like Paul’s on the picture-book landscape. Without further ado, here’s Paul to tell us a bit more about what he’s been up to…

* * * * * * *

On Petunia

Petunia’s story was inspired by the campaigns waged by my daughter for various eccentric pets. She worked us over through the years for a pet Tasmanian Devil (“They’re soooo cute!”), a velociraptor (“If I found a velociraptor egg, could I hatch it and keep it?”), bats, dragons, turtles, snakes, rats, etc. She wanted nothing to do with dogs. (One plucked a sandwich out of her inattentive hands when she was a toddler. She never forgave that work of villainy and promptly wished the world were flat so all dogs would fall off.)

In the book, Petunia pleads with her parents to let her have a pet skunk, but Petunia’s real story for me is the unbounded optimism and enthusiasm with which she makes her case. Kids are so fresh into the world, and their emotions are as yet untempered (a skill one learns as an adult, which allows life to be bearable but also a little dull). I really enjoy watching kids throw themselves into their passions and desires with everything they’ve got. Isn’t that what made life as a kid so much fun?

At the same time, children, I’ve noticed, are also wonderfully resilient. Give them a disappointment and they’re generally on their feet and dashing off to the next thing in a blink. Life is a banquet. A personal example of that happened when my daughter was about 7 years old: I broke her arm. We were horsing around and I fell on her. A late night emergency room visit, X-rays, the cast. Yet within days she was running pell-mell through the house in her stockinged feet so to slide on the hard wood floors and crash into walls (cast and all), while I was still curled up on the couch writhing in guilt and horror at what had happened.

So, when eventually Petunia discovers in a very personal way that a skunk, alas, would NOT make a perfect pet, she not only finds another wonder to desire, but also does not lose her admiration for skunks, revealing herself to be both resilient and open-minded. I like that in Petunia.

On What’s Next…

My next book, Hugs From Pearl, due out this fall, is a story of a young porcupine who just loves to hug. Inspired by a school friend of my daughter, Pearl has a sweet, giving nature, and although her friends try to be supportive, she “didn’t want anyone to say ‘Ouch! Thanks, Pearl. Ouch!’ when they got hugs.”

Pearl is determined not to let her quills get between her and her affectionate soul, and begins a search which eventually, of course, leads to a happy solution for all.

I think all of us has had to overcome some obstacles that hinder the full expression of our true selves. Pearl, while discouraged at times, does not give up. I like her, too.

On the Sendak Fellowship…

Last spring, out of the blue, I received an email informing me I was invited to spend a month with Maurice Sendak as part of the inaugural year of a thing called the Sendak Fellowship.

My first response was disbelief, and then to wonder who might be playing a joke on me, but early that September I sure enough found myself in Connecticut, sitting next to Maurice Sendak, talking about books.

(From the initial endpages of A Pet for Petunia)

The fellowship was one of those experiences that start out being so astounding one can hardly believe it, and end as something warm and personal and wonderful. Maurice is a funny, generous, brilliant man, who lives deeply. I’m convinced that is the reason his books are so substantial and enduring.

What did we do at the fellowship? We mostly worked. I drew, took long walks in the Connecticut woods, drew, wrote, talked to the Fellows, and drew and wrote some more. Kind of what I imagine paradise to be, except it wasn’t in Hawaii.

“Petunia wants, wants, wants! a REAL pet skunk.”

It was particularly wonderful to watch the other artists, Antoinette Portis, Aaron Renier, and Robert Weinstock work. We all had different styles, hours, and approaches, so it was enlightening to observe the many ways those incredibly talented artists come at their work.

My time with Maurice will remain the highlight of the experience, though. Thoughtful, passionate, idealistic, he has lived a life of emotional and intellectual honesty and courage.

“It is a while before Petunia can speak…”

On the Notion That Some Folks Expect All Children’s Literature to Be Rather Light and Fluffy, Which I Should Point Out Paul and I Had Been Discussing Around the Time He Sent Me the Art and Text for This Post. Whew.

It does puzzle me to see those children’s books that portray only the fluffy-bunny side to kids, when children themselves are so eager to explore the wholeness of life, including play-acting death and savagery. I and my friends played cowboys or war games constantly as a kid, and my daughter was frequently some sort of predator creature dining off one of her stuffed animals. From Where The Wild Things Are to Outside Over There, Maurice’s work has never shied from reflecting the fullness of children’s emotions.

In fact, my next Petunia book, Petunia Goes Wild {sneak-peek pictured below}, being published next year, concerns the wild, untamed aspect of ourselves that kids so need to express.

* * * * * * *

Thanks again to Paul for visiting. For another image from Petunia, as well as more of Paul’s art, visit this post from last February at 7-Imp.

* * * * * * *

A PET FOR PETUNIA. Copyright 2011 by Paul Schmid. Published by HarperCollins, New York, NY. All illustrations used with permission of illustrator.

14 comments to “Paul and Petunia Prior to Breakfast
(Not to Mention a Sendak Sighting)”

  1. *swoooooon*

    I am crazy about this book!

  2. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Paul and Petunia Prior to Breakfast(Not … – view page – cached “‘But, but, but . . . ,’ begin her parents. But Petunia isn’t listening. ‘I’ll feed my skunk every day. I promise! Really!’ says Petunia.” […]

  3. Jules,

    I love Paul’s spare illustrations of Petunia–and the porcupine. They are great examples of how “less can be more.”

  4. LOVE Petunia! I discovered her in the book store over the weekend, and she cracked me up. Charming, appealing drawings…bravo Paul Schmid!

  5. Love this post. Yes, simple is good. Anxious to see Petunia soon ♥!

  6. Paul,
    Petunia is wonderful!

  7. The dog in that photograph looks like he’s contemplating writing a book himself….

  8. I came across Petunia in a bookstore, too, and found myself grinning like an idiot as I read it. I love her voice, as well as the drawings.

  9. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Paul and Petunia Prior to Breakfast(Not to Mention a Sendak Sighting) […]

  10. Great to read and see this work, so beautiful and a good comparison to the “busier” illustrations found many other books. He has captured so much in two colours and simple lines! Lovely.

  11. i love simple and beautiful book art. great job paul.

  12. […] about books. Author/illustrator Paul Schmid discussed his experience as a Sendak Fellow here at this fairly recent post, if anyone would like to read more about the […]

  13. […] and Stephen Michael King’s wonderful Prudence Wants a Pet“?; I immediately thought of this and thought, why, yes, I have seen that; weeks later, I had an epiphany and realized it was another […]

  14. […] A Pet for Petunia […]

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