Bravo for DEAR BEAST
Dear Dreamwalkers. You’re in for a treat! I have such talented friends and colleagues at Erin Murphy Literary Agency. So I was lucky enough to snag both the author and the illustrator of a fabulous new chapter book for a fun interview. Drumroll please! Introducing Dear Beast by Dori Hillestad Butler Illustrated by Kevan Atteberry . This is the best of beast stories. A wonderful romp that will appeal to children and adults who love a good cat/dog quarrel. It didn’t surprise me to learn that Dear Beast is a Junior Library Guild Selection and has earned a School Library Journal starred review.
“This funny and heartwarming collaboration between Geisel Honor and Edgar Award-winning author Dori Hillestad Butler and bestselling illustrator Kevan Atteberry is a tribute to the love of a good pet – and the joy found in new friendship.”
“Simon has taken care of his owner, Andy, for many years. He’s a good cat. Clean, responsible, and loyal. What more could a boy want? Even when Andy’s dad moves out, Simon is certain that Andy doesn’t need another pet. So why would Andy’s dad adopt a DOG?! To make matters worse, the animal is a rude, rowdy troublemaker. Simon’s job is clear: the beast has got to go.”
1) Dori, Simon (the cat) and Baxter (the dog) are such fun opposites. I chuckled at Simon’s firm, disapproving letters urging Baxter to ‘return to the shelter!’ And Baxter’s joyful doggie responses. Tell us how you got the idea for this book.
It all began when my 23-year-old adopted a cat named Simon. Though Andy no longer lived with us, I was pretty sure that our dog, Mouse, knew about Simon right away that first time Andy visited. I imagined what Mouse might say to Simon…and then I realized, hey, that could make a good book for kids. But I decided it would be funnier if the cat was the human character’s original pet rather than the dog. And what if the cat was a letter writer? I’ve always wanted to write an epistolary book. Here was my chance!
2) Kevan, you captured Simon and Baxter’s distinct personalities with sharp contrast and warm wit. What was your process finding and drawing these characters? Early sketches welcome if you wouldn’t mind sharing.
Oh man, this was pretty easy in retrospect. I pulled from the many dogs I’ve known over the years that were incessantly animated, happy and enthusiastic. We’ve ALL known these kinds of dogs, right? Originally, I tried to make Baxter a Boston Terrier. Which I struggled with. It wasn’t till I decided to make him some kind of mixed breed that I finally got there.
Here are some early sketches. They were considerably different than the actual characters ended up looking like.
Janet: So fun to see them. I can see you caught Baxter’s bubbliness in these early sketches.
Kevan: Creating Simon was a little easier. I based him on a combination of a couple of black cats I’ve known. One with attitude in particular. I usually find cats difficult to draw–they start looking like some other kind of animal. But after I created Baxter, creating his counterpart was kind of easy.
3) Dori, as the situation between Andy’s pets becomes more dire, we meet more and more delightful animal characters, from Stinky the skunk to the notorious Edgar Allan Crow to all the animals tame and wild who take sides in the domestic dispute, adding to hilarity and drama. Can you tell us how you created this wonderful cast?
I guess the easy answer is each animal sort of “appeared” when he or she was needed in the story. I created a neighborhood, and every neighborhood includes a wide variety of animals. I had to ask myself at the very beginning which animals should be able communicate with each other. I decided almost right away that if cats and dogs can communicate with each other, they can probably communicate with virtually any other animal as well. Every animal except for humans. So I thought about which other animals might know Andy (ex: Bubbles the beta fish) or might have had run-ins with Simon (ex: Tom, the tom cat; Stinky, the skunk). It amused me to imagine a snail delivering mail and a crow named Edgar Allan Crow. When I can amuse myself, I know I’m on the right track.
Janet: I especially loved those characters, Dori.
4) Kevan, you were masterful with the animal’s expressions, capturing Baxter’s enthusiasm and Simon’s mounting frustration. I particularly liked watching the Snail Mail carrier’s fortitude and exhaustion as he hauled the letters to and fro.
Were any of the characters more challenging than others?
Once I got into the swing of things they all were relatively easy to bring to life. Dori put so much of the personality for both Baxter and Simon in the text, it was easy to map that to the visuals of them. The (nearly) unflappable and upbeat Baxter, and the staid Simon who often (and easily) became annoyed or irritated. The snail mail carrier was a joy to make and work with. I’ve drawn MANY slugs and snails in my career. Not that I am big fans of them—I’m not!—but I find them interesting and one of those animals that are just inherently funny by nature. At least to me. The other characters had precious few appearances, and trying to establish who they were with just one or two or three illustrations was as challenge.
5) Dori, what did you learn from writing this book?
Good question, Janet. I love writing from an animal’s point of view, but when I started this project, I wondered if writing another anthropomorphic animal series was really my best idea. I already had my King & Kayla series. What if Baxter sounded just like King and Simon sounded just like Cat with No Name? But I probably didn’t need to worry about that. Anyone who has ever spent time with more than one dog or cat knows that every animal has his or her own, unique personality. I just needed to find Simon and Baxter’s. And I did! Simon and Baxter are total opposites. They complement one another. I think we could all benefit from having both a Simon and a Baxter in our lives. And maybe a Bubbles, too. 😊
Janet: Yes to that, Dori. And I love their wildly different personalities!
6) Kevan, what did you learn from illustrating this book?
I’ve read early chapter books, but this was the first time I’ve ever illustrated one, and I was surprised with how many illustrations were involved. Some just spot illustrations and others full page. They did not involve elaborate scenes and were really more character focused. Which was nice. Another thing I learned was I like doing early chapter books.
Here are a handful of actual working sketches that were used to create the final art work.
Janet: Ah! And there they are as I came to see them in the book! So fun to see this progression, Kevan.
7) Dori, The School Library Starred review says, “. . . A tale begging for the treat of a sequel.” Are we going to get some more Dear Beast treats? Please say yes!
YES! There will be three more. Dear Beast: Pet Parade comes out in 2021 and it will be followed by two more after that.
Okay, let’s PARTY!
Dreamwalkers you’re invited to the Dear Beast Virtual Book Launch Party hosted by Brick & Mortar.
Tuesday, May 12 (that’s official launch day!) at 6:00pm PDT. Please come! You do need to register. Here’s the link to do that:
After registering, you’ll receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Pre-order your book by emailing [email protected], and Dori & Kevan will personalize and sign them! Local orders or orders of more than one book receive free shipping.
Hope to see you all there!
Posted on 05/10/2020 by Janet Lee Carey
Categories: Children's Authors
Tags: Chapter Books,Children's Authors,Children's book series,Children's Books Illustrators,children's literature,Dori Hillestad Butler,Family,Friendship,Holiday House,Kevan Atteberry,Pets,School Librarians,School Library Journal