The Children’s Book Review | July 4, 2017
Here’s a lovely chance to listen in on author Kallie George and illustrator Stephanie Graegin as they discuss their individual inspirations, processes, and favorite characters from the delightful series Heartwood Hotel.
Kallie George Interviews Stephanie Graegin
Kallie George: I felt so lucky when I found out you were going to be the illustrator on this series. I saw your work before and I just knew it was perfect, mainly because you draw the cutest animals ever. Have you always loved drawing animals?
Stephanie Graegin: I’ve always loved drawing animals, ever since I could hold a crayon I’ve been drawing them. Growing up we always had pets: cats, parakeets, gerbils, hamsters and fish to name a few (now I just have one orange cat). Another inspiration for drawing animals was Richard Scarry. My favorite books as a young kid were his Busytown books—I would pour over their details for hours. When I was a kid I would make my own little, handmade books, and they always had animal characters. There’s something about anthropomorphic animals that is very appealing. Maybe it’s that the characters aren’t restrained by human conventions. To this day, they’re my favorite thing to draw.
I know you work on picture books and chapter books. Unlike the picture books, where every page is illustrated, only some are illustrated in Heartwood Hotel. How did/do you decide which parts of the chapters to illustrate?
I had a little help choosing from our fantastic editor, Rotem Moscovich. I think Rotem helped me focus, because there was so much that seemed perfect to draw! Generally, I want to draw scenes that establish a sense of place, or ones that have a strong sense of emotion.
How did you go about designing Mona the mouse, the main character? Did you try out different mice versions? Did she come to you relatively easily?
Mona actually came to me relatively quickly, I could see her in my head as soon as a read the manuscript! I sketched lots of slightly different mice until she felt right.
Here are some studies of Mona:
What was your favorite character to draw? Did you find any of the characters harder or easier to draw?
I was smitten with the June bug reporter, Ms. J. She’s so over the top adorable with her giant glasses and luggage. Gilles was hardest for me, because I haven’t drawn a lot of lizards. Honestly though, all the characters were in their own way fun to draw. I loved Mr. Heartwood with his rotund shape and friendly disposition. Hedgehogs and porcupines have always been a favorite of mine, so any scene with Mr. and Mrs. Higgins or Ms. Prickles I was excited to dive into. Because the story rotates around Mona, I feel I got to know her the best. She’s really the most dear to me.
Stephanie Graegin Interviews Kallie George
Stephanie Graegin: Knowing your work, I was immediately excited to illustrate this series. You somehow create these scenes that I love to draw and that bind so well with my drawings. Heartwood is the sort of book I would have devoured as a kid. There is something special about anthropomorphized animal characters. What draws you to writing animal characters? Do you prefer them over human ones?
Kallie George: A lot of my books do feature animals, sometimes anthropomorphized as in Heartwood, and sometimes like pets, as in my series the Magical Animal Adoption Agency! I really love animals, even though I don’t have any pets, because I’m allergic to dogs and cats and I live in an apartment (too small for a horse), but writing about animals allows me to be with them all day long. Also, I am really connected to the woods and the forest, having grown up on the Sunshine Coast, on the West Coast of BC. Once I woke up and a blue jay was resting on the foot of my bed because it had flown in through my window! Sighting bears and deer there is a common occurrence, too. I think that’s why I set so many of my stories in the woods, and why so many animal characters appear. I don’t know, though, if I actually prefer animal characters to human characters, just what fits the story better, I guess!
Did anything in particular inspire the idea of the Heartwood Hotel series?
Indeed! I go on lots of epic hikes with my husband, and we were on a hike in the Garibaldi region, when we saw this massive tree that looked like it was home to many animals. I think it was my husband who said it looked like it could be a hotel for animals. Right away, I loved the idea, and wanted to write a story about it.
Heartwood is a supremely rich story that at times seems cinematic. Did you have a general idea of the entire plot from the very beginning, or are you working from a series of themes that are tied together?
I did plot each book, as I love being organized and having plans. That said, as I am writing, my plots usually change a lot. Have a plan, but be flexible and free enough to abandon the plan, I say! For Heartwood Hotel, I always wanted it to be four books, one book for each season at the hotel. I also knew that the books were about Mona’s search for a home and a family. So, while I wasn’t as sure about the themes for books 2 and 3 until I wrote them (other than I wanted Mona to grow as a character and in her relationships), I did strongly know that the first book was about home and the last book would be about family, and that each book should capture the season it occurs in. I also love books where there are many little stories woven together (like the old Oz books), and since so many stories are always going on in a hotel, I wanted, right from the start, there to be lots of small stories within each book. I hope they capture the feel of a hustling, bustling hotel.
Most of my ideas for drawings extend from my sketchbook, at times it seems like organized chance. Do you keep a journal or something analogous to a sketchbook for writing?
I most certainly do. I write all my books in longhand first, and then type up the chapters. For Heartwood I have four notebooks filled with the stories, plus some brainstorming at the beginning of each. Embarrassingly, I am the world’s messiest writer. I always start out neat, and then as I get writing, I get messier and messier as I become more and more excited about the story. Here are some examples from Heartwood, A True Home:
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Publisher’s Synopsis: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffl and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.
This delightfully enticing start of a new chapter book series tells a tale of friendship, courage, and community, with exquisite black-and-white illustrations throughout.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Disney-Hyperion | July 3, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1484746387
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
Publisher’s Synopsis: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places.
The second book in the enchanting Heartwood Hotel series, The Greatest Gift will warm your heart with its endearing characters and exquisite illustrations.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Disney-Hyperion | July 3, 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1484746394
About Kallie George
KALLIE GEORGE is the author of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. She works as an author and speaker in Vancouver, Canada, and has a master’s in children’s literature from the University of British Columbia. She also leads workshops for aspiring writers. Kallie happened across the Heartwood Hotel on a hike with her husband. Visit her online at kalliegeorge.com.
About Stephanie Graegin
STEPHANIE GRAEGIN received her BFA in Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She later attended Pratt Institute, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking. Stephanie now lives in Brooklyn. Visit her online at graegin.com or on Twitter @Steph_Graegin.
This interview—Kallie George and Stephanie Graegin Discuss Heartwood Hotel—was conducted by Kallie George and Stephanie Graegin. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Brendan Kearney, Food, Humorous Books, Josh Funk, Picture Books, and Rhyming Text.