For October I have a great picture book, Wanda’s Wart, to share in my Magic Library. It is even more special that it was written by illustrator Robin Robinson, who has illustrated most of the stories at my YouTube Channel. The story is very timely for October as it can enjoyed as a Halloween tale, since the star of the story is a witch, but more importantly it is a story that deals with important topic of bullying, and October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
Wanda's Wart is an all-ages indie picture book about the importance of friendship, honesty—and not being afraid to stand out for what makes you an individual. This story may be a tool for dealing with certain kinds of bullying, and for kids who run the risk of suppressing their interests and talents just to fit in. We may not all be the best witch in our class, but we could all be a little more fearless about being ourselves, warts and all.
Enjoy my interview with Robin:
What inspired you to write Wanda? I was bullied mercilessly as a kid, and I heard a lot of mixed messages. Was I asking for it? Was it my fault somehow for being different? What did I expect if I stood out? These were more important questions to me than why they bullied—I understood how hard the lives of most of my tormenters were, but that didn't help me! This isn't a story about bullies learning not to bully or getting their comeuppance, because that isn't something I have much to say about. This is a story about dealing with it. The things people teased me for ended up being some of the most important aspects of my personality and my life. If I had succumbed to the hegemonic effects of the bullying, I would have lost who I was—and am. I still have friends to this day I met when I was a bullied elementary school student, and they are very precious to me.
What message do you hope children will take away from the story? I'm not sure that I can hope my message will become a part of folk culture, but I'd like to give kids nuanced stories about the things they face now, without telling them they have to be magically virtuous to deserve a happy ending. Wanda has a lot more to face, many more childhood problems that aren't easy to navigate, and which magic will complicate rather than solve!
You have illustrated so many of Mrs. P stories, have there been some favorites? Tell me about them: I have so many favorites! The Be a Famous Writer competition is a blast for me, getting to read stories written by kids always brings me back to my elementary school days and it is great to be in that mindset while illustrating. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Hotdog felt so real, and The Magic Piano also hit home for me—I'm a bit introverted myself.
Do you have a favorite children's story? Kid lit is my life, and I have too many favorite stories to list, but I've always gone back to Alice in Wonderland and Tove Jansson's Moomintroll books as my essential reads. Alice is so exactly what dreams feel like, and so full of both the frustration and wonder of being young and nothing making sense. The Moomintroll books have the sweetness and charm of Pooh, but sharper wit and more Bohemian ethics which really speak to me, plus her artwork is so simple, funny, and haunting at the same time that I'm always in awe of it.
What about an illustrator that inspired you with a children's book? Just like I have so many favorite stories, I have so many favorite authors and illustrators who inspire me! I've already swooned over Tove Jansson, but I was very impressed with Maurice Sendak when I was young and have carried an affinity for his work ever since. They were both daring and haunting and very very full of humanity.
Do you have any other books you are working on currently? I'm working on a VERY funny and VERY gross picture book with Portland-based comic book writer Neal Bailey which we will be kickstarting last this year, and I'm also working hard on about 3 different dummies which may eventually see the light of day! I like getting to switch between gross-out humor and cute animals and lonely ghosts, rather than working on just one flavor of project all the time.
Where can people see your work? My portfolio is www.robinillustration.com, and I also keep two tumblrs which update frequently-- thegorgonist.tumblr.com is my art blog and tuesdayzoo.tumblr.com is a weekly challenge where myself and another wonderful illustrator, Nicole Allin, both draw a strange animal in our very different styles. I have a shop at www.thegorgonist.etsy.com that is full of my illustrated jewelry, prints, and books, and I even have a webcomic, which is not kid friendly, at www.ushalacomic.com I'm all over the place!
Do you have any advice for young artists in elementary school that you would like to share? To any young artist, know that all you have to do to be an artist is make art. Just draw, paint, mold, strum, dance—whatever!--every day, and make sure to look at and experience lots of different kinds of art, too. Read books, look at famous paintings, follow illustration blogs, try out for school plays—write your own plays and songs! No one can stop you.
Robin Robinson is a young illustrator with one foot in classic lit and another in pop culture. Her illustrations have appeared in web magazines, on indie book covers, and in many of the bedtime stories read aloud in Mrs P's Magic Library. In 2013, she had her first book published with Penguin, a young reader's edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Her previous self-published offerings for children are the colorful romp, Meet the Bad Day Monsters and The Last Keyhole, a ghost story. She hopes to make many more books about Wanda, Jinx, and the other little witches!