Synopsis: Little Pax the Perch wants to play at the waterfall, but he’s embarrassed to swim in front of his older friends. Everyone has an opinion. When Pax decides his opinion is the one that counts, he makes it to the waterfall for a celebration. Written by Lenora Riegel, co-illustrated by Leda Chung.
GMS: How did you get the idea for AWW, FISHSTICKS?
LR: I’ve loved art and story since I could pick up a pencil. I’ve taken art and writing classes throughout the years, but I chose to become an agricultural engineer. I have always believed that engineering is a combination of art, math, and perseverance. My engineering career has been quite successful in regards to design and personal and customer satisfaction, but the tickle in the back of my head to write children’s books has always remained. I have so many piles of drawings and tales. So why wait until middle age? Well, I have been afraid of criticism, I guess. I’ve joined critique groups, but that was easy because it was a work in process. Art is so deeply personal and a need that has to be fulfilled. So the idea for AWW, FISHSTICKS came as a result of me not listening to anything but my desire to turn my struggle into a picture book.
GMS: What is your process like when working on a book, from start to finish?
LR: Revision. So much revision. I start with a character…currently the character talking to me is Slipperima, a water dragon who lives in Seneca Lake. That becomes a character study in pencil and lots of erasing. The character has a story already within the design. I outline the story with a hook, rising action, conflict, climax, and conclusion. I’m a planner. The outline becomes a thumbnail storyboard before the actual drawings are made. For AWW, FISHSTICKS, I did the drawings in pastels and had a terrific digital artist, Leda Chung, convert them to digital. Along the way, Lizzy Jane edited the text. And then my art director, Katie Honas, hand-lettered the title, put the words on the digital files, and formatted the files for the printer. I waited for the Kickstarter campaign to conclude before sending the book to the printer. I am now working without pastels and going straight to digital…less dust on my hands.
GMS: What made you want to be a children’s book writer/illustrator?
LR: It’s a compulsion. I have to draw and write and meet these characters so I can have them tell me their story. I decided to refuse to look back on my life and say I wish I’d tried. Failing is not trying.
GMS: What do you like best about your work?
LR: Interaction. I’ve read to classes of students and I’ve shared my story about “finding my bravery” like Pax the Perch with so many students. We discuss how everyone has fears and they break into groups to come up with ideas on how they can face a small fear by naming the fear and taking a step to be courageous. We talk about following through on dreams. Kids are so intelligent. I also tied my story into a non-fiction page. There’s a “seek and find” throughout the pages, and the reader can see photographs at the end of the animals they found. So I turn the discussion into nature and book structure into engineering.
GMS: Do you have any favourite childhood memories about reading or books?
LR: I spent many hours with my nose in a book. As a child, I spent weekends with my family on Owasco Lake at my grandparents’ cottage. That’s actually going to be the setting for all my stories, the Finger Lakes in the center of New York State. My stories will have universal themes but all set where my dreams began. AWW, FISHSTICKS is set on Seneca Lake. We had many Little Golden Books when I was a kid and I loved them. My dad and his parents made lots of 5:00 a.m. fishing trips. I preferred to read. Many perch were caught on bamboo rods off the end of a whitewashed slat dock; perhaps one was Pax the Perch.
GMS: If you could tell your young readers just one thing, what would it be?
LR: Read. Become a lifelong learner. Have fun using your imagination. Dance, sing, play ball, be kind to others. Read stories about all these fun things. Read.
GMS: If you could tell parents reading your books to their children just one thing, what would it be?
LR: Read to your kids aloud. Let them read to you. Have them read to a beloved family member, pet, or toy. Use funny voices, add buzzing and ribbeting. Have them read using their own story based on the pictures. As they get a little older, discuss parts of books, illustrations, setting, end sheets, tone, and character arc. Make reading AWW, FISHSTICKS an experience. Ask them how they can be brave about a small fear. Read at a park overlooking a lake or pond. Story and experience stay with us for life.