BOBCAT PROWLING: Interview with Maria Gianferrari (+ giveaway!)

I’m so excited to welcome Maria Gianferrari back to the blog! I’ve been friends with Maria for over a decade and critique partners with her for almost as long. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of her work and I’m thrilled that she’s joined me today to celebrate the birthday of her twelfth book, BOBCAT PROWLING!

Beyond your house,

behind tall pines,

under paling stars

Yearling wanders,

searching for a home.

He is hungry and tired, but he must be quick, determined, and fierce as he encounters other animals.

He spots another bobcat claiming this territory as his own.

He crouches and creeps…

and…

LEAP!

Who will win?

Follow a yearling bobcat as he searches for a territory in a suburban neighborhood in this gorgeous story from the creators of Coyote Moon.

From the flap copy for Bobcat Prowling.

Happy book birthday, Maria! You have had twelve books published in seven years, which is incredible. I was looking at your website and noticed that most of your books could be considered narrative nonfiction. Which brings me to my first question:

Andrea: What elements do you consider necessary for building a strong narrative nonfiction picture book?

Maria: The building blocks for a compelling narrative nonfiction picture book are the same as that for fiction picture books: a main character whom the reader can identify and empathize with, a clear narrative arc with obstacles, rising tension and a satisfying resolution, figurative and sensory language that makes the story as immediate as possible, a vivid setting and a theme that ties all of these elements together. That’s what I’m aiming for in the nonfiction books that I write, and those are the elements that I look for when I’m reading nonfiction picture books too.

First pages of Bobcat Prowling, showing mother and yearling bobcats waking up and peeking out of their den in the woods. Below them, there is a house with a child waiting in the yard for a school bus which is shown in the distance. Snow covers the landscape.

Andrea: So many of those elements are already evident on the first spread of the book. Although the yearling bobcat is the main character, your use of the second person in the text and Bagram’s depiction of a child in the illustration give readers a way to identify with the bobcat. Plus, their lives parallel each other in this moment — they are both waking up and soon will be leaving their homes. Your use of lyrical language also engages the senses and evokes the setting so beautifully. I especially love the line, “under paling stars” — I can almost feel how early and cold it is! How do you decide whether to write in prose or poetry for your nonfiction projects?

Maria: I think the subject matter, structure and angle I want to take dictates it a bit. When I’m writing narrative nonfiction picture books, what I hear in my head is more of a poetic voice—one that’s immersed in the drama that’s unfolding in whatever scene is playing out, and those projects tend to have some kind of time-based or circular structure. Coyote Moon, for example, is a night-time story, and spans from dusk to dawn; Hawk Rising, a day-time story, moves from dawn to dusk. Bobcat Prowling takes on a longer, seasonal structure from winter to spring as the yearling bobcat searches for a home territory of its own. 

A spread showing the mother bobcat driving away the yearling. Her ears are flattened and she is hissing, while the yearling’s head is down as he walks away. Lots of drama here!

I would say my voice has a poetic sensibility for narrative nonfiction in general, and the voice of Bobcat Prowling is kind of like free-verse poetry, or maybe even poetic prose. When I’m writing more expository and concept-oriented texts, like my books Play Like an Animal and Terrific Tongues, then the voice that comes is more lively, humorous and prose-like, but with some poetic elements. That said, Be a Tree! is more expository in nature, and it has a poetic voice—so does my upcoming book, Fungi Grow (coming in 2023, with illustrations by the fabulous, Diana Sudyka). Perhaps the difference there is that the concepts are more organic, flow-y ones, if that makes sense.

More lyrical language and evocative art on this spread, which shows the now-grown bobcat sleeping on a tree branch. The sun is setting and the stars are appearing in the sky above.

Andrea: Oh, I love Diana Sudyka’s work! Her illustrations for Hayley Barrett’s nonfiction PB bio, What Miss Mitchell Saw, were just stunning. Bagram Ibatoulline, the illustrator of both Coyote Moon and Bobcat Prowling, has a completely different but equally amazing style. What was it like working with Bagram again? Did you supply him with any of your research?

Maria: I was so delighted to be collaborating with Bagram again! I am always in complete awe of the magic he brings to his art—the intricate and photo-realistic details are just mind-boggling! Even his so-called “sketches” are museum-worthy. He infuses everything with so much light and shade—the bobcat on its journey, the danger and excitement, and its yearning too. 

I love winter, so my favorite scenes in the book are the ones with snow. I’m amazed how he’s able to evoke the blue-colored shadows, and the way snow clumps on the trees so well. He depicts the bobcat, as well as the various foes and obstacles it encounters throughout the story, from all different perspectives and angles, and that also helps to further engage readers in its journey to find a home.

I didn’t share any of my research with him, but he has observed bobcats in his neighborhood, and really enjoyed painting them from what I heard.

This spread shows the yearling bobcat setting out on his journey through a bitter, winter landscape. There are snow-covered evergreen trees and, in the background, tall mountains shrouded with mist.

Andrea: How did I not know until now that you love winter?! I bet that living in New England has given you a lot of time to study snow and the way it looks in different habitats. 😀 I agree with you — Bagram’s illustrations are magical and add so much depth to the book. Congratulations on having another gorgeous — and informative! — book out in the world! Thank you for being on PBB again!

Maria: Thanks for celebrating Bobcat Prowling’s book birthday here on one of my favorite blogs, and with your readers, Andrea!

Maria is generously giving away one copy of Bobcat Prowling! Please leave a comment by Tuesday, April 5th, to enter. Domestic U.S. addresses only, please.

Congratulations to Lynn Becker, winner of a copy of Watercress from my February post!

Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria’s fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side. Find out more about Maria on her website.

Andrea Wang

Andrea Wang is an acclaimed author of children’s books. Her book Watercress was awarded the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor. Her other books, The Many Meanings of Meilan, Magic Ramen, and The Nian Monster, have also received awards and starred reviews. Her work explores culture, creative thinking, and identity. Andrea holds an M.S. in Environmental Science and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Young People. She lives in Colorado with her family and pandemic pup, Tupelo.

85 Comments:

  1. Wonderful interview and post! The book looks lovely!

  2. Love this interview! Happy Book Birthday, Maria! I can’t wait to add Bobcat Prowling to my collection!

  3. Charlotte Offsay

    This looks beautiful! I would love to win this one!

  4. COYOTE MOON is one of my top favorite non-fiction PBs! I return to it again and again, for story, for structure, and for the art. I am so excited to see BOBCAT PROWLING and to add it to my Maria Gianferrari collection!

  5. Danielle Hammelef

    Maria’s writing is beautiful and so are these illustrations! I would love to win a copy of this to read and study as mentor text. Thank you for the interview.

  6. What a beautiful interview and book! Congratulations Maria! As a fan of your lyrical style and to seeing the cover, I was sold! Bagram’s illustrations (one of my favorites) and all that white reminds me of Christina Rosetti’s “snow on snow” In the Deep Midwinter. When I lived bordering the woods in WA state, we had a bobcat that I’d see sometimes right out my kitchen window. I love all felines and would love to win a copy.

  7. Another beautiful story, Maria! I spend a lot of time in the woods and caught a glimpse of a bobcat just once -I imagine they’ve watched me dozens of times. It’s great to see how you and Bagram have captured them.

  8. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    I’m such a fan of Maria and her work, and yes, of Bagram’s as well. This looks so gorgeous and I cannot wait to get a copy of this book. Congrats Maria and Bagram!

  9. Maria, the way you describe your lyrical voice and how it changes depending on your story’s subject matter and angle. Looking forward to seeing this new book!

  10. Those spreads are gorgeous , and the tale fascinating. Can’t wait to read this.

  11. Michael Henriksen

    Wonderful insights into the creation of this striking book! Thank you for sharing!

  12. Susan Lee Roberts

    Can’t wait to read the entire book. My daughter-in-law loves mountain cats and she will want this for her future child.

  13. WOW! Great interview. the illustrations are beyond wonderful and the text read tight but flows. it is agile as a Bobcat. Thank you so much can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

  14. I can’t wait to get my paws on this book! I can see using it for a figurative language unit in the classroom.

  15. Sharalyn Edgeberg

    What a beautiful book in the lyrical language and stunning illustrations. Thank you for the great interview Andrea and Maria.

  16. Thank you for this lovely book birthday post, Andrea!! So happy to have Bobcat Prowling featured here on Picture Book Builders, one of my all-time favorite blogs, by you, a beloved friend and amazing author!

  17. Maria, lovely illustrations accompany your lovely text!

  18. These illustrations are stunning. What a perfect addition to a winter bookshelf!

    • They are indeed, Stephanie! The winter illustrations were so beautiful that the publisher chose a winter scene for the cover. Apparently that’s quite unusual, but it’s pawfect for this book!

  19. Thank you for this informative interview. Maria, your description of how you structure a book and the excerpts from Bobcat Prowling make this interview priceless for me, a fledgling children’s book writer. Very excited to read the book and enjoy more of those visually stunning illustrations.

  20. I adore Coyote Moon, and am so glad to hear about Bobcat Prowling, now, too! 🙂 Thank you for this look at this gorgeous look at your new wildlife story.

  21. So glad to hear that you’re a fan of Coyote Moon–thank you! It is near & dear to my heart. It was wonderful to work with Bagram again :).

  22. I love your books, Maria, and appreciate learning about your process. Congrats on BOBCAT PROWLING. I requested it from my library! I’m looking forward to reading FUNGI GROW when that comes out!

    • Thank you for the very kind words, Robin! I hope you’ll enjoy Bobcat Prowling :). I’m so excited to be partnering with Diana for the Fungi book. Her sketches are AMAZING!!

  23. Maria, The text I can read here of your lovely book is spare, unexpected, informative, and oh, so lyrical. The illustrations complement it beautifully. The cadence of the story and the winter setting somehow remind me of Jane Yolen’s gorgeous Owl Moon (although that was fiction rather than narrative nonfiction). May Bobcat Prowling be as enduring and successful. Congratulations!

  24. This looks like an absolutely lovely book. Congratulations.

  25. Great review, looks like a marvelous book.

  26. The art and words are lovely! Congrats!

  27. This sounds like a gorgeous picture book. Congratulations, Maria!

  28. I’m such a fan of your books, Maria! Love this interview and can’t wait to get my hands on BOBCAT PROWLING.

  29. I can’t wait to read the entire book! This would be perfect for our school’s library!

  30. Congrats, Maria! I’m a big fan of your work, so I look forward to reading this and I’d love to win a copy.

  31. This is beautiful…thanks for sharing!

  32. Beautiful! Congratulations! I frequently see bobcats in my yard. Most recently a mother and two cubs. Have added this book to my must-have list!

  33. Congratulations Maria! So glad to see this wonderful book series growing!

  34. Congratulations, Maria! This book looks stunning!! And I appreciated your thoughts about how your voice and treatments shift depending upon the type of text you are creating.

  35. What a wonderful look inside this story and your process. The word choices are gorgeous.

  36. Kind of you to say, Lauri–many thanks!

  37. I loved hearing about your approach to narrative non-fiction with a poetic style. So impressive!

  38. Nancy Furstinger

    I’m a huge fan of Coyote Moon and Hawk Rising; can’t wait to add Bobcat Prowling to my expanding collection! We have all three creatures here in the Catskills so this trio ob titles is especially intriguing!

  39. This book concept is absolutely fabulous, especially as bobcat encounters seem to be more and more common (in Colorado) and we have very few books about them.

  40. They are prowling around everywhere, and their numbers seem to be growing, David, though they are still quite elusive. We caught one on our nature cam when we lived in VA, and I’ve seen them in our new neighborhood in MA too! Very exciting. And there is definitely a dearth of new bobcat books for kids out there so I’m happy that our book is filling that gap :).

  41. What a beautiful picture book! The lyrical language and illustrations are lovely. Thank you so much for giving us a peek. Congratulations, Maria! I can’t wait to read Bobcat Prowling!

  42. Thank you both for such a lovely interview!

  43. “The building blocks for a compelling narrative nonfiction picture book are the same as that for fiction picture books”: Yes!

  44. Hooray for NF! Thanks, Annette!

  45. I’m late to the party but just signed up to join this blog. As a lover of all creatures feline, and having heard wonderous praise about Gianferrari’s lyrical language in a recent seminar(thank you, Jill Esbaum), I was immediately drawn to this interview. It’s fascinating to “eavesdrop” on creative thinking and processes. I can’t wait to read the actual book, but what I learned from the interview, as well as from the comments, is how subtle AND dramatic the illustrations are; and they fit the lyrical words like a soft, kid leather glove. A very seductive pairing, indeed!
    Congratulations all the way around!

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