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An Interview with Wombats are Pretty Weird Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman

 

VICKY FANG INTERVIEWS ABI CUSHMAN

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR OF

WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD

(GREENWILLOW BOOKS; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Wombats are Pretty Weird cover four wombats

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:

Wombats might be pretty weird, but they’re pretty awesome, too! Wombats Are Pretty Weird is funny, kid-friendly, and informative, and features sidebars, comic panels, extensive backmatter, and a map. Acclaimed author-illustrator Abi Cushman’s nonfiction debut contains everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about wombats!

 

INTERVIEW:

Vicky Fang: Abi, WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is such a funny and informative book! I love how you use humorous dialog and illustrations to introduce so much fascinating information about wombats! How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Abi Cushman: Thank you, Vicky! I’ve been obsessed with wombats ever since I studied abroad at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2001. I learned on a guided hike that wombats are the only animals in the world that have cube-shaped poop. This very odd tidbit of information along with the fact that wombats are adorable quickly made them one of my favorite animals. 

But it didn’t occur to me to write about them in a book until 2018 after I’d written several other fiction picture books. I was thinking about the cube poop fact, and I thought it would be funny to make a little comic where a wombat makes a tower out of its cubes of poop (similar to how a kid would make a tower out of blocks) and then is just really proud of how tall it was. I wasn’t sure at that point if there was enough there for a book, so I did more research, gathered more weird facts about wombats, and gained momentum.

 

VF: I love that scene in the book with the cube poop tower! Hilarious. Could you tell us about your process in writing this book?

AC: I started with a lot of research about wombats. I listened to podcasts, watched videos, and read everything I could about them. Then I compiled the weirdest, most interesting facts. The next step was to see if I could make a joke about each fact. I have pages and pages in my sketchbook of facts plus doodles. I tried to come up with as many jokes as possible, and then and then really hone in on the funniest dialogue, facial expressions, and scenes. 

Once I was satisfied with the jokes, I worked on putting them together in a dummy (a rough mockup of the book) in a way that made sense and that would also build to a final scene with all the wombats together. 

 

Wombats are Pretty Weird Dummy Sample
Wombats are Pretty Weird Dummy Sample

 

 

VF: I love the addition of the snake adding color and commentary throughout the book. What made you decide to include the snake in a book about wombats?

AC: Adding the snake was a way for me to put a stand-in for the audience in the book. He could react and make comments that the reader was thinking when learning about these very weird animals. And this animal character had to be something other than a wombat. After all, the wombats wouldn’t consider themselves weird at all. In their world, it’s strange when poop is round. I chose a snake specifically because I wanted an animal that could technically live in the same area as a wombat, but was vastly different from them. 

 

WAPW burrowing marsupial spread
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

VF: Your illustrations do such a wonderful job of balancing humor and information. You’ve written funny books before (SOAKED! and ANIMALS GO VROOM! are so good!), but what was it like writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time?

AC: Writing and illustrating non-fiction for the first time was a wonderful challenge. For this book, which includes factual information but also talking animals and other silly stuff, it was very important to me that kids didn’t think the facts were made up. One of the things I was very careful about was to ensure the narration was factual and accurate, and then have the wombats and snake react to those facts in the illustrations and speech bubbles. That way there was a clear separation.

For research, I consulted science journals and talked to wombat experts to verify and ensure the way I phrased things was correct. It was pretty wild to me that my work entailed being knee-deep in these dense scientific papers, trying to distill the information and make sense of them, and then using that to make the best poop joke I could.

For the illustrations, I wanted them to be very accessible and fun, but I also wanted them to show a decent resemblance to actual wombats and to clearly convey scientific information where appropriate. So I used a lot of references. I looked at photos of wombats’ feet, watched videos of them moving, and really studied the differences between three species. Then I drew them using hair dryers and wearing party hats.

 

VF: Can you talk about how you approach humor? Do you have any tips for writers who want to write funny books?

AC: The books I find funniest always contain a bit of absurdity. So that’s something I like to play with a lot in my books. For this book with weird animal facts, it was a chance to push the absurdity in the actual facts to a higher level. 

For example, one of the facts in the book is that there are three species of wombats: the southern hairy-nosed wombat, the northern hairy-nosed wombat, and the bare-nosed wombat. And I just thought the names were pretty silly. So I wanted to play with that idea of hairy (or unhairy) noses and push it further into absurdity by having two of them talk about nose hair styling to the annoyance of the bare-nosed wombat. 

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WAPW hairy and bare noses
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

 

I think with humor, you have to let yourself be pretty vulnerable. I put everything I think is funny into a story and then show it to people with the full knowledge that a lot of the jokes will absolutely not land. But I have NO IDEA which ones those are. The trick is to put the weirdest, totally out-there jokes into your story and then see how many you can get away with.

 

VF: That’s such great advice, and it has clearly paid off for you. What do you hope young readers take away from this book?

AC: I hope this book will get kids excited about wombats and animals in general. There is so much in the natural world that is bizarre and captivating. Kids have a natural curiosity so I think it’s our job as authors to foster and encourage it. I also hope kids come away with the idea that being weird is a good thing. It’s what makes all of us special and unique. And finally, I just hope kids laugh and find this enjoyable to read. 

 

WAPW multiple joeys
Interior spread from Wombats are Pretty Weird written and illustrated by Abi Cushman, Greenwillow Books ©2023.

 

VF: I love that. I feel like you’ve definitely accomplished those goals with this book and kids are going to love it. So what’s next for you?

AC: I am currently polishing up the next book in the “[Not So] Serious Guide” series. This follow-up to WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is all about the very strange, very tough FLAMINGO! And I’m happy to report that Joey the snake is back to experience it all with the reader. This book is scheduled to release in the summer of 2024.

I also recently finished illustrating a wonderfully clever book written by Charlotte Offsay called THE QUIET FOREST. This book will be released in March 2024 from Paula Wiseman Books. It’s about a very mischievous mouse who starts a chain of chaos in a formerly quiet forest, and it involves a lot of very disgruntled forest animals. It’s a ton of fun, and I’m really excited about it. This was the first time I illustrated a book I didn’t write, and it was fun to see how Charlotte’s words and my pictures came together.

 

VF: Those both sound fantastic! I look forward to seeing them next year. Thank you so much for sharing your journey for WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD with us. I’ve learned so much from chatting with you and from getting a peek at this hilarious book!

AC: Thanks so much for the interview, Vicky! This was fun. And I’m looking forward to chatting with you again later this summer about your upcoming book, THE BOO CREW NEEDS YOU!

VF: Looking forward to it too! Thank you again for sharing your insights with us today, Abi!

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Click below for a local indie to purchase signed copies (type in the comments how you’d like the book inscribed): https://www.banksquarebooks.com/book/9780063234437

Publisher’s Page: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/wombats-are-pretty-weird-abi-cushman

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AbiCushman

IG: https://www.instagram.com/abi.cushman/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AbiCushmanArt

Author/Illustrator Website: https://abicushman.com

 

Author-Illustrator Abi Cushman Photo credit: P.A. Smith

AUTHOR-ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Abi Cushman is the author-illustrator of SOAKED! (Viking, 2020), ANIMALS GO VROOM! (Viking, 2021) and WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD (Greenwillow, 2023).

She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years. She runs two popular websites of her own: My House Rabbit, a pet rabbit care site, and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a “Great Website for Kids” by the American Library Association. Did you know that wombat poop is cube-shaped? You do now! (And no, you’ll never un-know that.)

Abi lives in a small Connecticut beach town with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.)

She is represented by BookStop Literary Agency and is a proud member of the Soaring 20s, a group of picture book authors and illustrators who debuted in 2020/21.

 

INTERVIEW BIO:

Vicky Fang is a product designer who spent 5 years designing kids’ technology experiences for both Google and Intel, often to inspire and empower kids in coding and technology. She started writing to support the growing need for early coding education, particularly for girls and kids of color. She is the author, and sometimes illustrator, of nineteen new and upcoming books for kids, including the Layla and the Bots series, Invent-a-Pet, I Can Code board books, Friendbots series, and the forthcoming Ava Lin series, Best Buddies series, AlphaBot, and The Boo Crew Needs You!. You can visit Vicky at vickyfang.com.

 

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Five Board Books With a Jungle Theme – A Roundup

LET’S VISIT THE JUNGLE

-A BOARD BOOKS ROUNDUP-

Safari Jungle Clip Art

 

 

BB Pop-Up Jungle CoverPOP-UP JUNGLE
Written and illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius
(Candlewick Studio; $12.00, Ages 0-3)

Ingela P. Arrhenius’s 30 page Pop-Up Jungle board book will grab your attention with the adorable wide-eyed bush baby on the cover. This sturdy palm-sized (4.5 x 5 inches) book includes fifteen pop-up images with eleven animals: bush baby, butterfly, crocodile, tree frog, elephant, gorilla, leopard, monkeys, parrot, snake, and toucan. Between these colorful creatures you’ll find a riverboat, flower, jungle lodge, and waterfall. The overall effect feels like a friendly jungle expedition.

I like the variety of animals, especially the bush baby since it’s a bit different from the usual books in this category—plus this animal is adorable! By opening with the riverboat, the reader is invited to set out on an adventure. The minimal text leaves room for creative storytelling that can be changed up each time through. Similarly, the cute, stylized animals have simple backgrounds, bringing the animals to life.

Hello Elephant coverHELLO, ELEPHANT!
Written and illustrated by Sam Boughton

(Templar Books; $12.99, Ages 2-5)

Hello, Elephant, the lift-the-flap board book by Sam Boughton, is fun for so many reasons. Boughton’s whimsical art will make you smile. The eight animals featured are rhinos, zebras, lions, hippos, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, and (surprisingly) vultures. Each two-page spread in this 16-page board book lists animal facts geared toward young minds that are far from boring. Did you know that underneath their striped coats zebras have black skin?! I appreciate how the information is conveyed so kids will easily understand it. For example, “a giraffe can grow as tall as three adult humans.” The concluding four-page spread brings all the animals together so kids can see how they would interact in the wild.

This gorgeous book won’t disappoint kids or their adults. Its durable pages can be read time and again. Find your favorite animals and learn a few new things. Mine? The lioness getting a loving rub from her cub. It doesn’t get any cuter than this.

PEEK-A-WHO TOO?
Written and illustrated by Elsa Mroziewicz

(Minedition; $11.99, Ages 3-5)

Peek-a-Who Too? delightfully follows the success of Elsa Mroziewicz’s previous board book, Peek-a-Who? These lift-the-flap books raise the bar by folding out in creative direction. The small (6 x 6 x 6 inch) 22-page triangular book opens into a diamond shape. After asking about an animal sound (such as, “Who truuumpets?”), both pages unfold to double the book’s size and show a picture of the animal. The eleven animals included are elephant, tiger, monkey, owl, parrot, lion, frog, bee, mosquito, crocodile, and bear. The colorful frog was my favorite with its cute legs springing to life when the pages are folded down (some pages unfold upward). The cozy, sleepy bear in the final image perfectly wraps up the book.

While these animals may not live together in the wild, the sound theme works overall. Older kids will delight in whoop-whooping along with you. Ask which animal makes that sound, then peek under the flaps to discover the answer. Gorgeous art, engaging interaction, and durable pages will make this book a household and classroom favorite.

BB Jungle coverJUNGLE
Illustrated by Jane Ormes
(Nosy Crow; $9.99, Ages 0-3)

Nosy Crow’s fun lift-the-flap Animal Families board book series includes Farm, Forest, Safari, and Jungle. Animal Families: Jungle is my favorite with its neon orange accents throughout. You’ll discover the names of the male and female, then, beneath the flap, what the young are called. While this seems simple enough, you’ll likely find yourself learning along with your child. For example, only the male is called the peacock. Females are peahens and the babies are peachicks—how cute is that?! The other animals featured are tigers, elephants, and pandas. The last spread unfolds into four pages for a finale revealing the animal family names, such as an embarrassment of pandas.

Jane Ormes’s 14 pages of bold art are a lovely accompaniment to the spare, repetitive text. Muted tones make the bright ones pop. The tigress is especially cute with her inquisitive intelligence. Kids won’t even realize they’re learning while viewing this lively book about animal families.

Baby Sloth Finger Puppet coverBABY SLOTH:
Finger Puppet Book

Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
(Chronicle Books; $7.99, Ages 0-2)

Chronicle Book’s little (4 x 4 x 4 inch) board book packs a big punch in its 12 pages. Part of a 59-book series, Baby Sloth: Finger Puppet Book is pure enjoyment. Who doesn’t like sticking their finger in the back of a book and waggling it around to entertain young readers?! The story captures Baby Sloth from when he begins his day until bedtime. Readers will learn little sloths aren’t all that different from little humans—eating, napping, and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s amazing that Baby Sloth ends his day sleeping on top of Mama Sloth.

The art by Yu-Hsuan Huang cleverly transports Baby Sloth through his trek showing us colorful jungle images. Though he probably doesn’t go far, the different backgrounds keep us engaged. Mama Sloth has loads of personality, looking very proud of her son and clearly totally in love with him. Give this sweet book a place with your bedtime favorites. There are many others in this series for finger puppet fun, even dinosaur and unicorn.

•Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Read another board book review here.

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Kids Book Reviews – Five Holiday Picture Books 2019

 

WINTER HOLIDAY PICTURE BOOKS 2019

∼A ROUNDUP∼

happy holidays clip art

 

vegetables in holiday underwear coverVEGETABLES IN HOLIDAY UNDERWEAR
Written and illustrated by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, ages 3-7)

Vegetables in Holiday Underwear is a laugh-out-of-your-undies classroom (or anywhere) read-aloud! Our little narrator Pea explains to a skeptical Broccoli in pants that there’s all kinds of underwear, and underwear is for everyone. I was thrilled when my students wanted to dissect each page, ever eager to discuss each type of veggie sporting colorful, fancy, and silly underpants. This story also manages to invoke the holiday spirit about giving to others. Even baby vegetables can have underwear as gifts, although they may not quite be ready to wear them yet. The details in Chapman’s vibrant artwork and the expressions on each lovingly crafted vegetable are a delight for all.

 

one wild christmas book coverONE WILD CHRISTMAS (Life in the Wild series)
Written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland
(Kids Can Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

Bear, Moose and Beaver love nothing more than Christmas, and their favorite part about it is decorating of course. The cartoon-like style of the illustrations adds to the fun and excitement with every page turn. Filled with festive ideas, Bear, Moose and Beaver busily prepare their home with lights, stockings, presents and more. In all of the hullabaloo, the three friends realize they don’t have a Christmas tree! In One Wild Christmas, Beaver and Moose dash out into the night with Bear close behind. When they all agree on just the right tree, things take an unexpected turn, and it’s up to Bear to save the day. Don’t miss this beautiful twist on trimming a Christmas tree.

 

peanut butter and santa claus coverPEANUT BUTTER & SANTA CLAUS:
A ZOMBIE CULINARY TALE

Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Charles Santoso
(Abrams BYR; $16.99, ages 3-7)

What do peanut butter and Santa Claus have in common? That was my first thought too, and after reading this story I now find that they pair up perfectly. In Peanut Butter & Santa Claus, this jam-packed, exploding with pictures book, we follow Abigail Zink (a human), Reginald (her zombie friend) and and her pal Zarfon, a peanut butter loving space alien. The style of illustrations and words conjured up “Calvin and Hobbes” comics from my youth, while we journey along with the story’s heroes, Abigail, Reginald and Zarfon. They set out to discover why their town mayor has declared, “Christmas is canceled!” The three clever friends discover that Santa is, quite literally, stuck at the North Pole and it will take some brains, ingenuity and gooey luck to save Christmas!

snow globe wishes book coverSNOW GLOBE WISHES
Written by Erin Dealey
Illustrated by Claire Shorrock
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, ages 4-8)

There is a reason snow globes are a cherished gift around the world. Lift a snow globe up, give a little shake, watch the snow fall and all of a sudden you are momentarily transported from our fast paced, action packed world. In that brief respite an opportunity exists to slow our breathing and our busy minds. Snow Globe Wishes reminded me to take a pause during this season, and focus on the true gifts of my loved ones right in front of me. In this upbeat rhyming read-aloud that’s beautifully illustrated, a heavy snowstorm causes a power outage in the community. Families huddle together to make the most of a dark and quiet holiday. Forts are built, candles lit, and families snuggle together for the night. In the light of day all the neighbors come out to play in the brilliance of freshly fallen snow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take advantage of unexpected time like this with our own neighbors and communities? A I hope to make an extra effort to do just that this yearwith or without a power outage.

the teddy bears christmas surprise cvrTHE TEDDY BEARS’ CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
Written by Bruno Hächler
Illustrated by Anastasia Arkhipova
(Mineedition; $17.99, ages 5-6)

I was intrigued by the front and back cover flaps for The Teddy Bears’ Christmas Surprise. Several plush bears carry toys out into the night, and on the back flap it reads, “Christmas is about knowing the right kind of gift to give.” Don’t we all wonder and worry about what the ‘right’ kind of gift to give is for the holidays?

Following the teddy bears through the rich illustrations, I was captivated by the idea that the reader was being led on a serious mission. Bears from all corners of the town come together for a secret meeting. Just as quickly as they meet, one bear gives a nod, and they all depart again. The bears succeed in their crafty plan to replace all the gifts under Christmas trees with handwritten notes. When the townspeople find notes instead of sparkly packages they are distraught to say the least. As they calm down to read what the notes say they are moved in unexpected ways to connect with loved ones. Will the beloved or long forgotten teddy bears with such big hearts return the original gifts under the trees? You’ll have to pick up the book yourself to find out.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

 

Read about last year’s picks here.

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Boo! New Halloween Books for Kids 2019 – A Roundup

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS FOR KIDS

∼ A Roundup ∼

Part 1

 

Free Halloween clip art Pumpkin

 

 

Halloween Kitty Book CoverHALLOWEEN KITTY (A Wag My Tail Book)
Written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 3 and up)

Award-winning creator Salina Yoon captures your little one’s attention with this adorable children’s board book, Halloween Kitty (A Wag My Tail Book). The orange and white tabby has a sturdy orange felt tail that little hands can easily move by pulling a tab or touching the tail itself. The cute kitty wants to find a friend but the animals she encounters are all too busy. Luckily, her persistence pays off. This 12-page book is suitable for preschoolers on up. Even adults will feel drawn to zen-like pleasure of wagging the tail. Makes a great party gift!

 

Give Me Back My Bones coverGIVE ME BACK MY BONES!
Written by Kim Norman
Illustrated by Bob Kolar
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Give Me Back My Bones! reminds me of a modern version of the “Dem Bones” song—you know, “the toe bone’s connected to the heel bone.” However, Kim Norman’s picture book changes the story from a spiritual to a fun romp at the ocean bottom where a stormy night has scattered a skeleton’s bones. Her smart rhyme summons the reader to “Help me find my head bone, / my pillowed-on-the-bed bone, / the pirate’s flag-of-dread bone— / I’m scouting for my skull.”

Kids will unwittingly learn a bone’s name and function as they seek the bones—some are being absconded by various creatures. The lively beat of the lines is fun to read aloud as the skeleton is pieced back together until, once again, ready to set sail.

Bob Kolar’s art expands the playfulness of the book; bones seem to glow against a muted backdrop of ocean water. Sea critters lend a friendly fin, tail, or tentacle. I like how the skeleton, true to pirate fashion, has a peg leg in place of one of its tibia bones.

Don’t forget to peek under the jacket for a full-length “bone-rattling” poster. This extra detail elevates the book from a great read to one you’ll want to buy.

 

Bunnicula 40th Anniversary Edition coverBUNNICULA: 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Written by Deborah Howe and James Howe

Illustrated by Alan Daniel
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $10.99, Ages 8-12)

As much as I love Halloween, the classic story of Bunnicula had somehow eluded me. But, a pet rabbit who may be a vampire sounded irresistible and I was not disappointed. The book pulls you right in from the Editor’s Note (explaining how the manuscript was delivered to her door by a “sad-eyed, droopy-eared dog”) to first-person narration by Harold, the Monroe’s family dog. We soon discover that the problem is a new edition to the family: a black and white bunny found in the movie theater showing a Dracula movie.

Harold already shares the household with Chester the cat. Adding another animal takes some adjusting but weird things start happening to vegetables. For example, a tomato turns white and seemingly has teeth marks! As Harold and Chester try to solve this mystery, we discover the true charm of this book is crafty elusion. Is Bunnicula a vampire rabbit? What do you think?

This 40th anniversary pocket-sized edition has a plush red velvet cover and an Introduction by James Howe about the story’s origins and various renditions over the past four decades. Throughout, Alan Daniels’s art enlivens the story with humor and detail. At the end, best-selling authors Max Brallier, Holly Black, and Dav Pilkey share their personal experiences about this book. Bunnicula has six popular sequels and a spin-off series Tales from the House of Bunnicula and Bunnicula and Friends.

Click here for a link to last year’s Halloween Books Roundup.

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