February is the month of Valentine's Day. This year, my husband Joe and I will be spending February 14 in India, where I will be doing some research for a future book starring a tiger. I have a sketch of the story, and I will be looking for some folk tales and fables that will support it. It is a story that is deceptively simple. A poor boy (in this case a tiger) makes his living making mud bricks, hard and dirty work. He is always covered with mud and his hands, (in this case paws) are rough from the work. As the tiger becomes more and more successful, he is able to enjoy the finer things in life, and he exchanges his raggedy clothes for fine ones. He just can't part with his slippers that were so dependable during those years of struggle. His wife, children, and his friends scold him for wearing the slippers because they're embarrassed by his humble beginnings. The tiger decides to replace them, and throw them away. But every time he does, disaster. First they are flung out the window and they hit a donkey cart that stampedes and causes havoc. When left in the gutter, the monsoon rains carry them down to the river where they clog the dam which nearly causes a flood and so on. Finally the Tiger build a miniature palace for them in his garden, where they can be seen by the tiger as he walks by in his fine new slippers never forgetting his past and how he became himself.
I recently heard someone described as an "authentic"person, and remembering back to my childhood, I can think of some very curious and unique characters that lived in our town. Often, a person would wear, or have in their home an object of clothing, a piece of jewelry or maybe a painting that would tell a story about that person's life. Besides the mysteries of the past, the other reason I like the story is that all of the pieces that make up our lives aren't always happy ones ? it is best to put them on a shelf so we don't forget them, but where they stay out of the way. My job as an author is to see how this kernel of a story morphs into a children's book.
Besides being the time of year my husband Joe and I often go on a trip, Valentine's Day is time for new beginnings, even more than New Year's for me. My chickens all start laying in response to the longer days, and I group them with champion chickens in mind. In 21 days the baby chicks will appear and the fun of rearing them begins. I keep several kinds of chickens who love to be mothers, they are Silkies, Buff Brahma, and Silky/Buff Brahma, crosses. They sit on the eggs of my white crested Polish bantams, a breed that is very beautiful but rarely will sit on their eggs, except for my one hen Pippi who is an excellent mother.
On our trip to India, I will bring a little blank book that I've sewn together from typing paper and I'll start planning my 2013 book CINDERCHICKEN, a poultry Cinderella. I will leave a lot of details for when we go to St. Petersburg in June. I always start with the manuscript so I will work on that during our trip. I'll also look for some Indian animals to draw and paint so I can add another "How to Draw" video to our website. I'd like the special animal to be a tiger, but I will have to see one first.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a retelling of the tale that I illustrated 20 years ago has been republished. I painted new art for the jacket and worked on the story too. I've always liked the fact that the "borders" are tapestries that show every scene without the enchantment that has made the characters into animals. You can see for example the musicians, which are pictured as dogs, in their real bodies in the tapestry that hangs on the wall behind them. The peacock is actually a fairy that has caused all the confusions, and the Beast is the handsome caring prince that Beauty almost betrays. I've always loved the idea that a simple request for a rose by Beauty could lead to such a rich complicated story, just like in life, a small act can set events in motion that are life-changing.
I have three nieces, Mia, Stella and Ana who all love princesses, and between BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and CINDERCHICKEN, there are a lot of magical palaces and princesses and princes. It is a change of direction for me, because I love hedgehogs and trolls! I guess the key is imagination and I hope you will create other worlds along with me, set in a castle, in outer space, or down a rabbit hole.
Happy writing drawing and exploring nature,