Author-Illustrator Spotlight: Chris Haughton with Well Done, Mommy Penguin
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Picture Book Spotlight!
Today's episode: penguins and moms and comedy, oh my!
If you tuned in to my first interview with Chris Haughton you probably know I'm a bit of a fan...
I love his deep, saturation and color palates, the fact that you can flip any page or see the cover and go...oh, that's Chris Haughton. Beyond his artistic skill, he has something unique as a storyteller. Through highly accessible stories, endearing characters up to all kinds of mischief, and timeless themes, his books never fail to deliver. Simply put, there's way more than meets the eye about each of his books. And there's a lot to take away from his style of storytelling so I hope you're eager to listen!
Before we get into the interview, I also wanted to give a shoutout to all the amazing books featured in the ALA Youth Media Awards! Love me some YMA buzz this time of year. Let's be honest...it's our Oscars. Soak it up! And it was fun to see some books appear that you all identified in the 2022 Picture Book Spotlight Awards. If any of these books slipped your radar this past year, go snag them up! Soon they'll all have shiny new stickers!
Finally, as many of you know, I've been secretly offering professional picture book Zoom critiques since December. I wanted to do two months of "figuring it out" to get everything constructed, nail down my process, and see if I could introduce this new venture into my already busy dad and teacher life. Two months in, and I'm really excited about continuing this and opening it to the larger world! As this "soft opening" is nearing a close, I wanted to share the official promo code with you in case you or someone you know is on the hunt for something...a little different to take those picture book manuscripts up a notch. I'd love to be that something a little different.
It's been an absolute blast getting to meet and work with so many different people. I always walk away energized and jazzed to revisit my own manuscripts. Long story short, I'd be thrilled for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with you on your awesome picture book. The 25% off promo code ("opening25off") expires next Monday so lock in your critique ASAP!
Brian's Secret Critique Service
And thus concludes the obligatory introduction and shameless plug...cue the spotlight!
Okay, kidlit fam. Let's think about moms. And penguins. And adorable littles who are worth every bit of danger we have to face to bring home that tasty fish.
I hope you have a blanket because we're going to Antarctica! You ready for that Antarctic chill?! Let's dive in with Chris Haughton!
Hi, Chris! Welcome back to Picture Book Spotlight! It’s so good to have you on again. As a dad who finds himself at the grocery story getting milk several times a week, this was just such a fun book. What were some influences and inspirations for this book? Give us the story behind the story.
I have been working on a different story about a wolf, but then I watched a David Attenborough documentary. There was a scene in it with penguins getting battered about in the waves. They were struggling to get home to feed their chicks. I immediately thought it was a great story. I think it's a story any parents can identify with whether they're penguins or humans or anything else.
When you think of the message or theme of this book, what comes to mind? What’s the emotional thread or enduring theme you’re seeking to weave in this story and why is this a relevant and timeless message?
It's about a child longing for their mom to return, and also the parents trying to do everything they can for the child.
I used an Arabic saying for the quote at the very start of the book ‘Heaven is at the feet of mothers’, it’s a universal emotion.
I noticed this book has a gentle and consistent increase in tension that drives the story and page turns. How do you think the tension increases for this story?
We're waiting for the mum to return and there are many obstacles on her way back that get progressively more and more difficult. The child is getting more and more worried and so are we, so the tension increases!
This book has a subtle humor that is so “on-brand” for you. What do you believe drives the comedy of this particular piece and what was your intention behind the final joke at the end?
Well, I did write it! It's just my sense of humour I guess. I think what drives humour is emotional honesty. We all know what it's like to be put in difficult situations, you just have to laugh at what we go through. If you look at that honestly it's just funny. We are trapped in these impossible double binds and we are just trying to do our best.
Let’s put a spotlight on your words….what’s your favorite line and why?
I suppose it would have to be the last line “Can I have some more?” We have watched Little Penguin longing for Mommy Penguin to return and she has been struggling back for the duration of the entire book and now Little Penguin is asking her to go off again. It's life isn’t it!?
Now, let’s focus on the illustration and design. What’s your favorite artistic element and favorite whole spread and why?
I enjoy doing the water and the splashes. I especially like visualising the scenes that are half underwater and a half above water. The Antarctica landscapes are so beautiful, I hope I captured something of those.
What is something that surprised you or that you discovered in the making of this book?
In the last two of my books there have been a kind of villain. There were hungry tigers in the last book and in this one there are seals that block Mommy Penguin’s path. I've come to discover that a lot of humour comes from these villain characters and I should do more of those. I had always avoided that in the past but there is a lot of humour in it.
I like this blog to have practical information that picture book creators can take with them on their artistic journeys. As a highly seasoned author-illustrator, what is something authors of picture books can do to think like an illustrator or make their stories inherently more visually accessible?
I don't know, that's a difficult one. I recently broke my left arm and am right now unable to draw. It's been eye-opening to me because not only can I not draw but I can't write either! My writing process involves drawing so much that I think it's impossible to do one without the other. When I come up with a funny line I want to see what the scene looks like. I can only know if it'll work if I can draw it. A friend of mine, Grant, is the creator of kids TV show called Hey Duggee. He often says you can't get regular script writers to write for a cartoon series. All the scriptwriters they use are animators. You need to have some sort of visual ability and experience in animation to know how the craft of animation works and so be able to write for it.
Thanks so much for stopping by to share with us and celebrate Penguin, Chris!
Post-Interview Reflection: Some key takeaways that stood out to me are that comedic opportunities live in emotional honesty. What season does life have you in and what are the emotional truths you've been confronted with lately? What potential comedy may be lurking in that truth of life? Villians, antagonists, and external conflicts can increase tension, raise the stakes, and also make for really fun or hilarious plot complications. What "villains" can you toss in the paths of your characters? Obviously wolves. Finally, think visually. Think like an artist. If you're like me and can't muster more than a halfway decent stick figure, that may take more effort than others. I might not be able to execute like an artist, but I can think like one. I have an imagination. I can think like a cinematographer and imagine the scenes I'm setting up. What scenes are you setting up? What might your language suggest and how can you clarify your vision with art notes that move the story forward in a compelling way that helps agents or editors see what you see?
If you haven't familiarized yourself with some of Chris Haughton's other books, please remedy this immediately. Every time I read one of his books to my boys I always walk away with ideas for books of my own. Want to go deeper into his book, Maybe...check out our first interview together!
Thank you so much for reading, kidlit fam. If you happen to be getting fish for little people this week, I sincerely hope there are no slippery slopes or dangerous seals...good luck! As a way to thank you for your readership and sharing of this post, Candlewick Press is doing a really cool giveaway! They have offered a generous giveaway of a copy of Well Done, Mommy Penguin as well as two other books written and illustrated by Chris Haughton! So, what we have here is a multiple-winner situation! See details below on how to toss your name in the digital raffle hat.
There are some new RULES to enter the giveaway so check out the requirements!
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✅ Subscribe to Picture Book Spotlight
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***The deadline for this contest is Tuesday, February 7th at 9AM CST
Winner(s) will be contacted on Tuesday, February 7th & announced on Brian's social media channels***
About Chris Haughton
Hello! I'm a designer and children's book author. I have been a freelance illustrator for 18 years. My interest in fair trade drew me into working with a number of non-profit projects and in 2007 I was listed in Time Magazine's DESIGN 100 for the design work I've been doing for People Tree. Since then I have also begun writing children's books, my first book A BIT LOST has been translated into 35 languages and has won awards in 12 countries including the Dutch Picture Book of the Year. OH NO GEORGE! came out in 2012 SHH! We have a plan in 2014, Goodnight Everyone (2016), Don't Worry, Little Crab (2019), Maybe (2021) and Well Done, Mummy Penguin (2022)
My first app, HAT MONKEY was released in September 2014. My VR experience LITTLE EARTH was released in 2017. While living in Nepal in 2010/2011 I co-founded Pecha Kucha Kathmandu with Sujan Chitrakar. I co-founded NODE a fair trade social business based in Nepal with Akshay Sthapit in 2012. We had an exhibition and collection for the DESIGN MUSEUM in London in 2012, selling 18 limited edition rugs through the Design Museum Shop.
I am represented by Debbie Bibo literary agency. For information on my book work please contact her here
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