The perfect treat for the gift-giving season: THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT + a chat with author Maribeth Boelts

When a book makes me laugh out loud a time or two, that’s a book I’m going to love. When I can’t stop giggling/smiling through an entire book that also emits massive doses of that elusive element we call HEART, that’s a keeper—a book I’m adding to my permanent collection. Such is the case with the newest from author Maribeth Boelts, THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT (Candlewick).

I promise, you will know people like Beetle and Stickbug. Beetle finds a birthday gift for his friend Stickbug that’s the coolest thing imaginable — a purple puffy coat. He’s so excited about it, in fact, that he insists Stickbug open the gift early. This spread below (a master class in dialogue) will tell you everything you need to know about Beetle’s unbridled enthusiasm and Stickbug’s reluctance to burst his friend’s bubble. SO FUN to read aloud, what with Beetle’s gushing and Stickbug’s understatements. (Enlarge to read, if you’re able.)

THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT. Text copyright © 2020 by Maribeth Boelts. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Daniel Duncan. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Poor Stickbug is then paraded around the neighborhood so everybody can see his wonderful new coat. He’s embarrassed and uncomfortable, but he can’t bear to hurt Beetle’s feelings by saying so. Oh, he hides behind a tree, in a pile of leaves, and under a bench. But Beetle is too busy telling everybody about the coat to notice.

THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT. Text copyright © 2020 by Maribeth Boelts. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Daniel Duncan. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Something I loved about this book, well, ONE of the things that struck me, was that despite his discomfort about wearing a coat he clearly despises, Stickbug NEVER admits that to his best friend. Instead, Beetle figures it out for himself, not by anything Stickbug does, but when Beetle decides to paint a picture of Stickbug and can’t get his smile right, he realizes he hasn’t seen it for awhile. That’s when he thinks about who Stickbug is…and is not. Then the friends find a beautiful and unique path to compromise that leaves them both satisfied. As I read, I was continually surprised, because I could never predict which way the story was going. Yet each direction it took felt exactly right. Don’t you love it when that happens?

Illustrator Daniel Duncan took Maribeth’s droll dialogue and gave us two characters who are so appealing that there is already another installment in the works. Luckily for us, Maribeth consented to chat with me about this lovely book.

JE: Do you recall what sparked this story, Maribeth? Did it come to you quickly, or did it take awhile to get it into shape? Did anything give you trouble?

MB: This story idea came from an event that happened when my youngest son Will was in second grade.  Will was a quiet kid who did not like to draw attention to himself.  To the chagrin of my children, I’d always had a habit of buying them clothes that were too big so they’d “grow into them”.  And true to form, when Will needed a new winter coat, I found a good deal on a too-big, too-overly-puffy, too-bright blue coat.  (Note:  I liked it!) Will was stoic and grim as he wore the coat for a few days, but then dissolved,  finally spilling the beans about how much he hated it.  Realizing that it wasn’t just about his preference but more about his hard-wiring, the coat went to Goodwill, and Will’s happy nature returned.  

So in exploring this idea, I wrote it first as an early reader, using an owl and an ape as the main characters.  Ape gives Owl a puffy coat, but Owl doesn’t know how to tell Ape that he doesn’t like it.  I sent a set of three early reader chapter stories about these characters, similar in format and intended audience of the “Frog and Toad” series, which I have studied as mentor texts throughout my career.  My editor at Candlewick Press, Sarah Ketchersid, liked the puffy coat chapter best, and thought it could be developed as a stand-alone picture book.  She wasn’t keen however on my choice of animal characters and wanted me to think about changing them.

Enter my little grandson, Leo.  Driving him home from preschool right around this time, Leo quipped, “Grandma, you should write a story about a beetle and a stickbug.”  Thank you, Leo, I think I will!

A beetle, with its iridescent flashiness, and a stickbug, with its monochromatic camouflage seemed like they could work well for a picture book about a gift gone awry between two friends with two very different personalities.  With these two fun characters in hand and a bug-world setting evolving in my imagination, I was ready to rewrite this early reader as a picture book.  

JE: Wow. So this awesomeness was actually a long time in the making. Some stories happen that way, don’t they? The end result is certainly amazing. Beetle and Stick Bug feel so real they practically leap off the page. I think we all know adults or kids with their qualities.

MB: I’m so happy to hear they feel real!  A big part of that is due to Daniel Duncan’s amazing illustration.  But also, the dynamic at play between Stickbug and Beetle is very familiar to me, as Stickbug’s personality is so similar to my late husband’s personality, and Beetle’s is a lot like mine.  I think one of the things that helps develop characters that feel real  is a writer’s empathy and affection for them.  I pay keen attention to this, as it’s a good gauge for how a story is or is not working.   I had such empathy for Stickbug’s attempt to be gracious as Beetle parades him about town in his coat– and such affection for him when he stands in the light of his truth…that Beetle’s gift to him was wrong in every way. 

I also had empathy for Beetle’s exuberance, and how his own enchantment with the purple coat made him assume that Stickbug would feel the same way.  And I had affection for him when he came up with a clever way to give his best friend what he would really want–the escape from ever having to wear the purple coat again.  Empathy has a way of evolving as you understand your characters, and affection develops as you see them at work in the storylines and tensions you create for them. 

JE: That is so true. Your stories always pack a deep emotional punch, Maribeth, so I wasn’t surprised that this one did, too. (I choked up reading BEFORE YOU WERE MINE). But this is the first time I found myself giggling all the way through one of your books. I feel like we’re seeing a whole new side of you! Did you set out to write a funny story?

MB: Aw, I like that!  I knew I needed to have some fun with my writing, and how could I not have fun writing about a beetle, a stickbug, and an outrageously loud coat?  Again, I think it goes back to “Frog and Toad”…Lobel created these really funny, warm, character-driven stories for his young readers, and somehow adults liked them too.  I am ever-intrigued by Lobel’s deft hand–working the “dough” of the story just enough, keeping things light with touches of humor, but somehow teaching bigger lessons about friendship, being yourself, being brave, etc.  He made his characters so very real– with preferences and picadillos, strengths and weaknesses.  Frog and Toad were equals, not leader and sidekick, and that was particularly interesting to me too.

JE: Lobel was definitely a master we can all learn from. I studied Frog & Toad books before working on a recent project of my own. What kind of projects do you have in the pipeline?

MB: I have a picture book about adoption being circulated by my agent Scott Treimel, and another Beetle and Stickbug story that I’m currently revising for Sarah Ketchersid.  I am also revising a soft non-fiction manuscript about painted turtles.  After a very serious season of loss and grieving in my life, I find myself craving the creation of funny stories for kids, and am tuning my heart that direction.  Stickbug and Beetle, I’m finding, are wonderful guides.  

JE: Thank you so much for spending time with us today, Maribeth. THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT is going to be a favorite with lots and lots of kiddos — and adults, too!


If you’d like a copy of THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT for your very own, leave a comment below, and voila! You’re entered! Winner will be selected and notified on Monday, Dec. 28th. Good luck! (Open to U.S. residents only, please.)

For more about Maribeth, visit her website.

To see more of Daniel Duncan’s work, visit his page at the Bright Agency.

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum is the author of nearly 50 children's books. Recent picture books include HOW TO GROW A DINOSAUR, WHERE'D MY JO GO?, FROG BOOTS, and WE LOVE BABIES! She has also authored two dozen nonfiction series books for Nat Geo Kids, including the immensely popular LITTLE KIDS BIG BOOK OF HOW and GO WILD: Sea Turtles. New in 2021 is a full-color graphic early reader series starring two goofy dino pals, THUNDER & CLUCK (Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection). Next up (March 2022) is JACK KNIGHT'S BRAVE FLIGHT, a historical nonfiction picture book set in 1921, featuring a gutsy bi-plane pilot whose bumpy flight through a raging blizzard saved the U.S. Air Mail Service. Lots more books are on the way! For more information about Jill and her books, visit her website at www.jillesbaum.com

102 Comments:

  1. Can’t wait to read this one, Maribeth! Congratulations!

  2. This brought back memories of my own version of the purple puffy coat. P.S. I lived with mine for two years. Can’t wait to read this book. It sounds like one of those idea I wish I’d thought of myself!

  3. I love this idea! It reminds me of the oversize cowl neck sweater my mother bought for me. No how would I wear that outside the house! Thanks for telling this adorable tale.

  4. This sounds really cute! I think so many people (myself included) can relate to giving or receiving a heart-felt gift that the recipient doesn’t like but doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of the giver. I’m looking forward to reading how Stickbug & Beetle resolve their problem!

  5. Thank you for sharing this book’s journey. So cute that your grandson prompted the characters! Congratulations, Maribeth!!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this with us! My favorite books are always the ones that make me laugh, and this one already has. Can’t wait to read the rest of it!

  7. Ah memories! I once asked Santa for a purple one-piece snowsuit. I loved playing in the snow but wanted to be warm from head to toe. Of course Santa delivered the PERFECT thing – even had a fake fur trimmed hood. I’ll have to ask my Mom for a photo!

    This book sounds delightful – on my TBR!

  8. I was just discussing this idea with a friend. My mom would seize on something I liked and every gift would be themed. The year of fish-themed everything was … not great. Congratulations Maribeth! Your book looks so fun. Thanks Jill for a great interview.

  9. I cannot explain how much I love this book. Such natural, relatable humor. It’s absolutely hysterical, but we’ve all somehow been there!

  10. I think everyone has one of these moments in their life. I know I did. Kids will really relate to this story. Can’t wait to read it and find out how it ends!

  11. Beetle and Stick Bug are such adorable characters!

    Thank you for sharing the inspiration for this story idea, Maribeth. I love reading about Will’s grace followed by the courage to speak up about his too-big-bright-blue coat that you loved. The suggestion for two characters from your grandson Leo was a grand idea.

    Thank you, Jill, for featuring THE PURPLE PUFFY COAT.

  12. This book looks wonderful! Having grown up in a military family, I always seemed to get too big – VERY bright winter coats! 😂 So sorry you had to go through such a grieving time and hope your heart is healing a little. 💜 Thank you for the chance to win this adorable book!

  13. This sounds so lovely, Maribeth. Congratulations!

  14. Thank you, Lindsay! I hope your own writing is going very well!!

  15. Congratulations Maribeth! I love how you came up with the character ideas. Being a good listener is a great skill for a writer.

  16. You had me at the title. I can’t stop saying purple puffy coat!

  17. This cover put a huge smile on my face. Can’t wait to slip into this story! Congrats, Maribeth.

  18. I’m going to bug myself until I read this one — it looks so fun! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Congratulations, Maribeth! I love that you found a humorous way to deal with unattractive apparel drama. I can’t wait to read this story and giggle!

    • I love the descriptor “unattractive apparel drama”! I’d be happy with a smile, but would be thrilled by a giggle! Thanks, Judy!

  20. Simply wonderful expression of different personalities. (I admit it took me a long time to realize my daughter did not like perky print clothes.)

  21. I love how the idea came for this book. Purple is my favorite color! I used to do the same thing for my kids when buying clothes and eventually had to let them start picking out their own as my tastes were definitely not the same as theirs (I too ended up donating too many unwanted items to Goodwill). I can’t wait to read your book–humorous stories are my favorite.

  22. Maribeth, oh how I loved reading about the genesis and evolution of this book. It reminded me of my own puffy bear coat when I was a child in the US and I had to give it up because we were returning to India. My older sister would parade me around but I was oblivious to anything but reveling in being a bear.

    One thing that really stood out is your immense love for the characters. And their love for each other. Friendship stories like these are timeless. I can’t wait to read this and more of your stories. Congratulations!!!

    • Oh Vijaya, I think YOU need to write about your puffy bear coat, and your belief that you actually were a little bear. That is the most adorable thing! And then what happens when the “little bear” returns to India without her coat?

      I do love these characters because I know them so well– particularly my beloved Stickbug. I’m so glad that came through.

      • Maribeth, I loved that coat. And of course, in my stories, I get to have the ending that I really want, just like I did with my Little Thief! Thank you for the encouragement.

  23. This talented cousin of mine never fails to amuse and amaze me with her books.
    Her characters are based on a lot of personal experiences which I love. Maribeth is the best of the best.

  24. Oh, Maribeth, there is so much HEART in this story and I’ve only read what is on this blogpost! Reminds me of a winter coat my mother made for me that I hated.
    I agree with Jill: This is a must-have book!

    • Hugs, Mary! I’ve been listening to a lot of Dolly Parton (soothing during Covid!) lately and your comment reminded me of her “Coat of Many Colors” song. Dolly loved her coat her mama made her– it sounds like a different kind of story for you. 🙂

  25. This book sounds great, think my twins will love it! We all love Frog and Toad too!

  26. I haven’t read the story, but I love it already. How could I not with Stick Bug as a character? Looking forward to this one.

  27. Congratulations, Maribeth! I love the storyline. My mother always bought my clothes too big, to grow into also. I never did grow into the last pair of shoes, Lol! I can’t wait to read your book. Sounds wonderful!

  28. I can absolutely relate to The Purple Puffy Coat both as a child and as the mother! I know kids will love this!

  29. Can’t wait to see how this timely topic plays out. Thanks for sharing.

  30. Thank you for your comment, Susan!

  31. This looks like it will offer all the feels! Your books are great compassion creators, and this looks like another. I can’t wait to read it and would love to win it!

  32. Looks adorable and I love the story of how it came to be!

  33. This book sounds delightful. I loved to hear the origin story, too. What fun characters to choose.

    • I can’t tell you how appreciative I was for Jill’s interview invitation. I learn so much when I hear how other people’s stories come to be, and it was a blast to talk about this one. Thank you, Sarah!

  34. My son is a total stickbug! I love this story, especially the unusual sentence “We must strut about!”

  35. This book sounds wonderful! I can’t wait to read it.

  36. I absolutely adore this idea! I was (and still am) a Stickbug with a Beetle mom. I just emailed our library to order a copy!

  37. Oh my, this is hysterical! Such heartfelt characters and I truly appreciate you taking the time to explain how the story came to be. You shared a lot of good insight into developing ‘real’ feeling characters. Stickbug will stay with me for a while!

  38. Thank you for sharing the story behind this story.

  39. What a story-teller! I must have one of those books or maybe two!

  40. I love it! I have to read it now to see what happens next. Great characters!

  41. I simply can’t wait to share this book with my second graders! Maribeth is one of their favorite mentors (HAPPY LIKE SOCCER, THOSE SHOES and A BIKE LIKE SERGIO’S all beloved in our classroom). I find the backstory so fascinating and know Beetle and Stinkbug will have many fans. Maribeth, you are the master at opening doors for conversations about empathy. Thanks for all your treasures, we need them now more than ever!

  42. A very relatable story no matter the age. Haven’t we all tried to pretend we like something so the giver isn’t hurt?

  43. I loved reading about all the humans who inspired Stinkbug and Beetle–the story sounds charming.

  44. What a fun, serious book. Thanks for writing it.

  45. Maribeth, this sounds like a wonderful book! I also bought a navy blue puffy coat for my daughter when she was young. I now wonder what her inner feeling were! You always have a beautiful way of expressing life in words! It is going to be a best seller!

  46. Hi Bev!! Good to hear from you! Thank you for your kind support over the years…I’m glad this rang true for your own experience too with a blue, puffy coat! Merry Christmas to you and Pat!

  47. Maribeth, I love this interview. The way you got the idea for the characters is priceless. Your book sounds like a winner with both children and adults. It reveals an important lesson in such a humorous way. Congratulations!

  48. Thank you for reading the interview, Pam, and for your sweet comment. This whole experience has been so good, and I’m grateful to have met this beautiful community of picture book builders!

  49. This is wonderful…thank you for sharing!

  50. Janet Frenck Sheets

    I had a furry purple coat as a child, a gift from my grandmother. I loved it. I’m not sure my parents did. Thank you for bringing back a fun memory.

  51. Sounds like a delightful book! Even just the pages pictured here made me laugh out loud – the text sounds like a real life believable conversation and the illustration of stick bug in his coat are just hilarious. And Maribeth, your answers to questions are so insightful and thoughtful.

  52. Great interview. Can’t wait to read the whole book.

  53. Love how events in our lives turn into great stories!

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