This picture book is about a girl and her imagination. She’s a reader, of course. But a maker, too. She’s a child being a child, during those magical times in a secure childhood when there is little expected of you but to use your imagination.
It’s wondrous in story and concept and artwork. I already know it will be one of my favorites from 2015 and a book to cherish always.
I was lucky enough to ask Sara O’Leary, one of my favorite authors and people, questions about writing the book. And she answered them!
(You know I’m a fan because I posted about When I Was Small my very first month of this blog!)
(click image(s) to enlarge)
See those first lines? Those are some of my favorite first lines of a picture book EVER.
This Picture Book Life: Can you tell me about those first lines? Was that the original start of the book?
Sara O’Leary: I wasn’t really conscious of this until you asked this question, but no, those first lines weren’t in the opening of the first draft. And as I go through line-by-line I see that nothing of that first draft survived verbatim into the words now on the page!
When I started working with Tara on revising the manuscript she got me to go through and make myself a dummy copy with illustrations. And to be honest, I’d never done this before even though it was something I’d counselled students to do. And when I went through that process it helped me to start thinking of the story visually and I arrived at the idea that I wanted the story to open out from Sadie rather than opening with her. And then I thought of the way kids play with boxes. My own son when he was small would play Jack-in-the-Box for what seemed like hours at a stretch.
And so that’s how we got to the box on the first page. But once we agreed on that idea of Sadie being concealed to begin with, it ended up influencing the choices we made when it came to the cover. And that’s how Sadie ended up wearing her little fox mask–which I now love.
Notice that fox stuffed animal? He pops up again and again. I really like that fox.
TPBL: Was the fox your idea or did Julie Morstad add in the fox on her own?
Sara O’Leary: There was a fox in the first draft of the story–a line about how when she grew up Sadie might get married and how she might marry a fox or a tin soldier but that she was in no hurry. And then the idea of her little fox family came in later. And then once Julie had added that into Sadie’s imaginative world I found that we didn’t need the line of text anymore. That happened a few times.
My favourite joke in the whole book is when the text says that Sadie is quiet in the mornings because old people need a lot of sleep and then we see Sadie merrily hammering away. My second favourite is when she “tidies her room” and we see everything madly stuffed underneath her bed. That sort of friction between the text and image pleases me inordinately.
It’s very strange because this is my fourth book with the fabulous Julie Morstad but it’s the first that really and truly feels like a collaboration rather than a co-creation. It’s partly a product of working with Tara Walker who is an absolute genius of a picture book editor–an Ursula Nordstrom for our times. It’s also partly a product of knowing Julie and her work so well that I was kind of writing the book for her this time and imagining it as a way of showcasing just what she can do.
“For me it started with the idea of her as a small girl
with a big imagination.”
A shout out to Julie Morstad here. This illustration stops me in my tracks. Luminous.
TPBL: What elements did Julie include that delighted or surprised you? What is your favorite illustration?
Sara O’Leary: There’s not a single illustration in this book I don’t love. My very favourites though are the picture book spreads–the entry of this new character into narratives that were part of my own childhood. It’s almost like stepping through the looking glass yourself. And for sheer beauty I love the fairy tale spread more than any other spread not just in this book but maybe in any book in existence. I love how brave and fierce and yet serene Sadie looks. When I was a kid my favourite poem was Isabel, Isabel by Ogden Nash and I see that in this image too. That little girl who bravely ate the bear up.
TPBL: Tell us a little bit about you as a child.
Sara O’Leary: I was very spoiled as a child in the sense that for my first five years I was an only child and my mother always had paints and clay and books and blocks and things for me to busy myself with–so that being a child who likes to “make and do and be” is very familiar to me. I was also, judging by the snapshots, a boy for about fifty per cent of my existence and so I like to think that like Sadie I could as easily imagine myself into being Mowgli as the Little Mermaid. And I kind of think it must be the same for Julie. The Alice in Wonderland spread came back to me and I was both pleased and amazed to realise that rather than placing Sadie in the role of Alice she had chosen to portray her as the Mad Hatter. It’s perfect!
Sadie is such a composite at this point that I find it hard to claim that she is really like me. She is but she is also like my kids, and like Julie and her kids, and also, I think, like our editor (and third collaborator) Tara Walker. I hope that she’s very easy to project yourself into–a bit like Sendak’s Max. A friend read the book and said: “Oh, you wrote this book just for me!” and really that’s about the best compliment you could hope for. Sadie’s pretty much childhood and imagination embodied for me.
Thanks to Sara for being so generous and talking with me about this magical book!
And to the wonderful people at Tundra Books for images!
This is Sadie‘s own activity kit includes a printable fox mask like the one Sadie wears on the cover!
Check out this super sweet paper plate fox mask too from mom.me.
You can go a step further with this felt DIY version from Fercute.
And I adore this paper maché mask from Ambeau!
Here’s another printable from Little Gatherer with a unique design.
Finally, this one’s for sale at KissMeGo.
With Sara O’Leary’s generosity, I’m giving away two This Is Sadie book jacket/posters over on twitter! (It features Sara (and my!) favorite spread from the book.) Come find me there and enter to win one!