Matt Phelan on Turtle Walk

h1 October 20th, 2020 by jules


Author-illustrator Matt Phelan visits today to talk a bit about his playful new picture book for very young readers, Turtle Walk (Greenwillow, October 2020). Librarians and educators, take note: This is your next best pick for storytime for your youngest patrons and students.

Matt, as he notes below, likes the “challenge of making something that is clear and simple, yet can be read again and again.” This particular story—one in which small turtles, much like small children, amble through a year, taking in everything around them (and in a palette of vivid, rich colors)—was inspired by his daughter. He visits today to talk about that and share some images from the creation of the book. As always, a few final illustrations are included here as well.

Thanks to Matt for visiting!

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Matt: The idea for Turtle Walk really originated years ago when my daughter was around age two. We would go for walks around our block in South Philadelphia, and it would take about an hour. She noticed every bug and every rock, said hello to everyone, pet every dog, sat on most of the stoops. It was great. It made me slow down and notice too.

Like in my previous picture books, Druthers and Pignic, I was most interested in simplicity and creating a book for the very youngest children. I love the challenge of making something that is clear and simple, yet can be read again and again.


(Click cover to enlarge)


Summer nights mean fireflies (or lightning bugs, as they’re called in these parts):


(Click illustration, which is sans text, to enlarge)


Distilling each of the seasons into a few images was one of the challenges of this book. But I can paint autumn forever, because it is clearly the best of all seasons.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


The slightly jarring idea of turtles in winter was a driving force for the story. It becomes clear that the walk was not aimless. There was a destination and goal all along. It just takes them awhile to get there. Because, you know, turtles.


“Turtle walk.”
(Click illustration, which is sans text, to enlarge)


An early sketch of the hill spread
(Click to enlarge)


I always love the thumbnail stage in creating a book. So much is decided in such a humble way. I filled many sketchbooks with turtles. Quite happily. I’ll add.


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


(Click to enlarge)


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TURTLE WALK. Copyright © 2020 by Matt Phelan. Published by Greenwillow Books, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Matt Phelan.

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