It seems only fitting, on a day that we’re all lolling about, recovering from food overload, to check out a soon-to-be-published book by professional lollers (and callers!) WALRUS SONG, by (coincidentally?) Janet Lawler, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, will splash into the world on December 7th, published by Candlewick Press.
Both Kirkus and Booklist praise Lawler’s lilting verse as well as Timothy Basil Ering’s illustrations. Booklist writes: “Lawler keeps the tone light and fun while imparting a great deal of information about a walrus’s physicality, habitats, and food sources… Ering’s brilliant, luminous, lifelike paintings capture their subject close-up and in great detail, accurately depicting his every movement and mood and perfectly capturing the setting in icy whites and deep-sea blues and greens under a purple-gray sky,” concluding that, “These fascinating creatures will entrance little readers and their grown-ups.”
Janet, it’s clear you’re inspired by nature. Do your ideas come when you’re out in nature or do you spend time digging for ideas when you’re indoors, too?
I dig for ideas everywhere, both indoors and outside, in the world around me and in books and online. I’ve even had story ideas come to me in dreams. In one dream, I had a story idea and an offer on it from a publisher, so I was quite disappointed when I woke up! In a more universal way, nature offers me peace and space that somehow encourage my creative flow. I also use walks and vigorous exercise outdoors to recharge when energy and inspiration lag.
Kids are going to really enjoy all the sounds in this book, not to mention the funny walrus faces illustrator Timothy Basil Ering painted for the spread with all the sounds. I can just see kids not only trying to make the sounds, but make the faces, too. Did you and your editor work together to decide how to show those words phonetically?
Actually, the sounds in the book (2 full spreads of them!) are exactly how they were first submitted in the manuscript. I suspect that is because I went through an elaborate writing and revising process before I finalized that part of the text:
I listened to 10 Hours of Walrus Sounds on YouTube (okay, I confess, I didn’t listen to all 10 hours, but a fair amount!). This was such a hoot (literally)! The first time, my dog started howling from the next room and my husband said, “What are you doing in there?!} (Note, many of these walrus sounds are almost human-like, and many are mating calls).
As I listened, I scribbled notes about what the sounds reminded me of: a strangled pig; snort; bell ringing; huge nose blow with a major cold; party horn; chain smoker yelling La, La, La; deep bleat; roar like a lion; train horn; whistle; sputter.
In an early draft of the manuscript, I developed these sounds using metaphors and similes, such as:
weird, muffled huffing,
like talking through towels.
At some point, I scratched all that text and focused on writing the noises themselves. I was always jealous of Dr. Seuss for putting invented words in his rhyming stories, and now I had my chance! I listened with closed eyes, sounding out each noise phonetically to create a “walrus word.” Then I pushed those mostly-made-up words around to fit into my rhyme scheme, for example:
Timothy Basil Ering created so many delightful and varied close-ups of expressive walrus faces. I suspect that he had as much fun illustrating these words as I had writing them!
This isn’t the only book of yours that features walruses. (Why do I want to call that “walri?!” Ha!) You also have some pop-up books, at least one of which features a walrus. I will never NOT be enchanted by even the simplest of pop-up books. Do you come to a pop-up project differently than a standard picture book?
I love pop-up books, too! How I approach those projects is quite a bit different than my trade picture books. To start, there are fewer spreads, so the text is usually shorter. I have a wonderful, collaborative relationship with a pop-up publisher that started years ago when my submission was the winner of an open-call contest for a Halloween pop-up book text. For some of these projects, I am given art samples tied to a specific holiday, and I develop a story to go along. For others, I’ve created a story based on a general plot suggested by the editor. I also collaborate with the paper engineers, making suggestions for interactive elements to go along with my text. On my first in-person visit to the publisher, a paper engineer apologized for the mess around her desk—literally scraps of paper scattered on the floor from hands-on experiments with different 3-D pop-up elements she was designing! What a fun job, right?
I’m impressed that you have a blog on your website. I am dreadful about blogging, but I can see that it could be a great place to spill ideas, not to mention giving students and teachers a place to learn more about you. How does your blog figure in your marketing and creative endeavors?
Your questions to me make me think you’re a pretty good blogger! And I confess that I don’t post to my blog as often as I intended when I set it up. When I do blog, I like to let readers know a bit more about me and my writing process while also generating interest in my books and the subjects that I care about. In fact, pondering your question has helped me decide on my next blog topic! It will be “I am a Walrus Detective.” I’ll share with folks my recent online training (fun and easy) identifying walrus in satellite images of the Arctic. I am one of many volunteers who screen these images for an ongoing census survey by WWF and The British Antarctic Society to better understand walrus populations and how they are impacted by global warming. Anyone can do this with a little training, and I’m hoping to encourage a few more recruits.
Since you write both fiction and nonfiction, can you tell us about any differences in the way you approach such different books?
The big difference for me, apart from the obvious one that nonfiction requires a LOT of dedicated research, is that I don’t worry about being “right” or “factual” when I write fiction. I have total creative freedom. The writing and revision process is fueled by my imagination, not facts. I can change, at will, my plot, characters, setting, etc. When I write nonfiction, I have a more disciplined routine that starts with gathering facts and really understanding a topic before diving into the writing. While my imagination can help me present the information in an entertaining way, the facts remain as a firm foundation to be honored throughout the writing process. I feel a grave responsibility to be 100% accurate as I share and educate kids about a topic.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Janet!
Thanks, Kim, for hosting me for this interview on Picture Book Builders! By the way, we have a mutual love of dinosaurs! I can’t wait to check out your new book, ONE-OSAURUS, TWO-OSAURUS! Hey—you like to invent words, too!
(Kim again: It’s my favorite thing!) And be sure to comment below for a chance to win a copy of Walrus Song. The winner will be chosen randomly from all those who comment by December 9th. And speaking of winners, congratulations to Lynn Becker, winner of Daniel Miyares’ HOPE AT SEA featured in my last post. Happy lolling day, everybody!
WALRUS SONG. Text copyright © 2021 by Janet Lawler. Illustrations copyright © 2021 by Timothy Basil Ering. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Award-winning author Janet Lawler writes fiction and nonfiction picture books and early readers for children. Her work has been featured in Scholastic Book Clubs and the Children’s Book of the Month Club and has been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Japanese, and Hebrew.
Her more-than-thirty published titles include FRIGHT SCHOOL, WINTER CATS, MIRABEL’S MISSING VALENTINES, IF KISSES WERE COLORS, and KINDERGARTEN HAT.Her nonfiction workincludes WALRUS SONG and National Geographic’s RAIN FOREST COLORS and OCEAN COUNTING. Upcoming titles include OCEANS OF LOVE (Viking), Celebrate! A Happy Book of Firsts (Feiwel & Friends), and THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOPE (Farrar Straus Giroux).
Janet is fascinated by the natural world and enjoys finding humor and hope in everyday life. She loves how words make music, and she marvels at the way illustrators add depth and detail to her stories. Learn more about Janet and her books at JanetLawler.com.