Welcome to the Valentine’s Day 2012 edition of the 7-Kicks list.
One of my favorite things in all of PictureBook-dom is when Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon join forces and make books together. Today, both Scott and Kara are visiting to share images and early sketches from the two most recent books on which they collaborated, and they’re also here to say a bit about these books, their work together, and what’s next for each of them.
Their very most recent picture book, Mr. Prickles (pictured here)—what Publishers Weekly called a “tale of misfits” (aw, I have a soft spot for misfits)—was released at the tail end of last year (from Roaring Brook), and it’s the “quill-fated love story” of two porcupines. Porcupines are “very hard to get close to,” so poor Mr. Prickles has a difficult time making friends. He tries, he fails, he gets lonely, and he even gets prickly-angry. (The other woodland creatures are downright mean to him.) That is, till he meets Miss Pointypants. And then (just in time for your Valentine’s-Day read), love is in the air.
As you are wont to get with a LaReau/Magoon collaboration, there’s humor, emotion, and lots of style. It’s also got a pulsing heart at its center without being overly schmaltzy about it.
And, if you missed it last summer, don’t forget to take a look at their other collaboration, Otto: The Boy Who Loved Cars, also released by Roaring Brook (but in June of last year). “Car lovers in particular will enjoy Otto’s tale,” wrote the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, “but any kid who has ever dreamed of being something else will find lots of heart and humor in Otto’s story of new perspective.” A young boy named Otto, as you can guess from this book’s sub-title, loves cars — “above all places and things (and even most people).” One night, somehow, he becomes a car (or so he thinks) and, to his surprise, his family and friends don’t even notice the difference. He powers on with his obsession, annoying everyone in sight, till eventually he breaks down: “You’ve been living and breathing one thing for too long,” his mother tells him.
“LaReau plays the obsessive card closely and well,” writes Kirkus. “Otto is selfish in his obsession, but, on a note of hope, he is capable of change when the time is right. It helps that Magoon’s elastic, cartoony artwork can easily shift from little devil to little boy in a flash.”
Okay, before I run out of room altogether, here are Kara and Scott to share some art and talk a bit about their work, and I thank them for visiting. (Note: The final artwork below does not include the text, but as always, like a ginormous nerd, I include it for you in the captions.)
Kara: This story was inspired by my husband, who is a car fanatic. Unlike Otto, he does have varied interests, but he can get pretty obsessive about all things automotive! I couldn’t help seeing the potential for a story about obsession taken to an extreme. And as I created the story, the car-related puns just kept coming. You might say the book was a gas to write.
so he went to bed very, very, very hungry.”
Scott: My two sons get completely obsessed with their toys—just like their dad when he was a kid. And so when I read Kara’s story about a boy’s sole focus and passion for all things automobile, I knew this story would resonate for many readers. Of course, I loved Kara’s car puns as well; they take the high road.
On Mr. Prickles
Kara: I’m always interested in the idea that things (and people) aren’t always what they seem — “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” as they say. And I knew I wanted to write a book about a porcupine; the name “Mr. Prickles” had already come to me, so that was a done deal. So I thought about how I might create a character who had a great capacity for love and kindness, but whose outward appearance belied those positive traits.
Also, I tapped into my own past prickly social issues — growing up, I was always trying to fit into a certain crowd, even though I never had much in common with those kids. It was only when I started hanging out with people who accepted (and appreciated!) who I really was that I finally found a group of friends that felt right. And we’re still friends to this day. I like to think Mr. Prickles and Miss Pointypants have that kinship.
they regarded each other pointedly.”
Miss Pointypants said. ‘Very nice,’ said Mr. Prickles.”
Scott: As it did for me, Mr. Prickles’ struggle is going to ring familiar with the majority of the story’s readers. Most of us have had a longing to fit in at one point or many points in our lives. I loved how Mr. Prickles finally does meet a good friend and doesn’t have to sacrifice who or what he is to fit in. Also, drawing kooky and small woodland creatures in a moody nocturnal forest environment was great fun.
Kara: Otto and Mr. Prickles are the third and fourth books Scott and I have worked on together. We’ve always had a certain simpatico (not unlike a certain pair of porcupines), and it’s only deepened with each book. Now I can write a text with Scott in mind, and I think things like “Oh, Magoon is going to have a field day illustrating THIS,” or “I think Scott’s going to have a good laugh here.” I just knew he’d shift into high gear for Otto, and he did. You can see all the little details he added to that world — Mrs. Dodge’s ram-shaped hairdo, the car-shaped bed in Otto’s room (which my husband covets), the punny books (like “Karfka”) on Otto’s shelf.
As for Mr. Prickles, I think Scott brought so much to the book, things I didn’t even fully realize when I wrote it. When I saw the art, I was struck by how romantic and cinematic it was; perhaps it’s the combination of the nocturnal setting and the dramatic angles Scott chose. I think Scott tapped into the emotional core of the story — the loneliness and isolation at first, and then the friendship and love and belonging — and brought it to life. And he gave the character of Skunk a necklace made out of a car air-freshener. If that isn’t stinkin’ genius, I don’t know what is!
Scott: Kara and I used to collaborate as editor and designer at Candlewick Press years before we began working on our own books as author and illustrator. As I had with Kara herself in those days, I have found a personal connection with each of the protagonists (and some antagonists!) in Kara’s stories. As an artist, that connection keeps me personally engaged and emotionally involved with the drawings I create for these books. Because often I think I know how they feel, I strive to capture that for the book. If you’ve ever read one of Kara’s books you’ve likely found a great deal of heart in her stories — she and I want the reader to connect with that immediately because it will keep them coming back to read the book.
From there, I add nutty little details like the ones Kara just mentioned. The skunk had to have an air freshener, because who would want to hang out with a skunk over a porcupine unless the skunk smelled better?!
I remember reading the Otto and Prickles manuscripts for the first time and thinking, “man, these are GOOD.” For me, that has to happen on the first reading of the text if I’m going to illustrate it.
We don’t set out to do offbeat stories for their own sake. At their core they are substantial and meaningful parables, but Kara angles them to unfold unexpectedly — very unexpectedly in a couple of cases, as with Ugly Fish and Rabbit & Squirrel, for instance.
On Future Projects…
Kara: I just finished the text for a picture book for Disney, called Mind Your Manners. It will be illustrated by an incredible artist named Lorelay Bove, and it should be coming out in 2013. I’m also about to send out several picture book texts on submission, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a middle-grade novel, which I hope to send out this spring. I’ve retired from editing and am writing full-time now, so the creative floodgates are open!
Scott: Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is just now out in stores. It’s a follow up to Spoon, also by Amy. I’ve got a book with Michelle Knudsen, called Big Mean Mike, due out later this year from my friends at Candlewick Press. In 2013, I’ve my own book, called The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot, coming from the wonderful folks at Paula Wiseman books at Simon & Schuster. I’m also trying my hand at writing more this year; so there may be still more puns ahead…
OTTO. Copyright © 2011 by Kara LaReau. Illustrations © 2011 by Scott Magoon. Published by Roaring Brook Press (a Neal Porter Book), an imprint of Macmillan, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Scott Magoon.
MR. PRICKLES: A QUILL-FATED LOVE STORY. Copyright © 2012 by Kara LaReau. Illustrations © 2012 by Scott Magoon. Published by Roaring Brook Press (a Neal Porter Book), an imprint of Macmillan, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Scott Magoon.
Illustration from Ugly Fish reprinted from this 2008 interview with Scott Magoon.
Illustration from Rabbit & Squirrel reprinted from this 2008 7-Imp post.
Alfred (below) is © 2009 by Matt Phelan.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.
Er, hi. Alfred here. Jules is traveling right now and is actually not even online today, though she did manage to compose the top part of this post before she left. She felt strongly about having me share this post with you today, since there is no way, she said, that she’d ditch her “dear kickers” on any Sunday ever. I swear. Always trompin’ around here in her PJs and with her COFFEE and talking about KICKERS. Honestly. But she does make good, strong coffee. And she laughs at my wicked knock-knock jokes. So there you go.
She won’t be around for a couple more days to respond, but she hopes you leave your kicks.
Or…you can leave wicked knock-knock jokes, if you’re so inclined, but they can’t possibly be better than mine. Ahem.