Monday, 23 January 2017

Beyond the Doughnuts by Nicholas John Frith (Guest Blogger)

Published in the UK
by Alison Green Books, 2016
Welcome to our guest at the Picture Book Den: author and illustrator Nicholas John Frith. His first book, Hector and the Hummingbird, had us grinning and won the Klaus Flugge Prize for most exciting newcomer to picture book illustration in 2016. Now Nicholas muses (or in his words, ‘brain spews’!) on his second book, Hello Mr Dodo!

I’m not entirely sure where the idea, for my latest picture book, Hello, Mr Dodo!, came from. But it was all in there somewhere, when I was reading a newspaper article about the discovery of a flightless bird, in New Zealand, that had previously been considered ’extinct’; watching 'The Hunter', the Willem Defoe movie, about the rumour of the last Tasmanian Tiger and the planned exploitation of it; growing my interest in birds and the natural world; and reflecting on my own childhood summers.

Hello, Mr Dodo! is pretty new to the shelves, but I am pleased when I hear people are noting the underlying themes of the story, beyond the bright doughnuts and advertised ‘friendship’ tale. Many of those themes were influenced by my thoughts on the material listed above and are what really drove the project forward within me.

“Martha was cuckoo about birds.”

That’s how the story begins. And from the very first draft, that’s how it always began. I love a bit of word play. At one point there were a good handful of bird-related puns in the text. Although they didn’t all make it past my editor (Alison Green), it was a still bit of a lark!

The story didn’t change much during the process of making the book. It always began and ended pretty much the same way as it does. With only the timings of when Martha realises the bird is actually a dodo, and the where-and-when of the secret being let slip, shifting in the narrative.

As I dug deeper into the history of the dodo, I realised just how little was known about them. How much of it was vague, and how almost mythical they were. And therefore, how interesting liberties could be t
aken with the dodo, without stretching the truth too far.

They didn’t have to be living in Mauritius – as they had been put on boats by the Dutch. They could love eating doughnuts – as no one can disprove that they’d love these sweet fried treats! 

One thing about the dodo ‘character’ that was paramount to me though, even within his friendship with Martha, was that ‘Mr Dodo’ remained a bird, an animal. Despite Martha’s engagement.

With the artwork, I wanted to embrace the opportunity to use bright spot (pantone) colours again, as I had with my debut, Hector and Hummingbird. And the summer setting was perfect for this. The dodo was a joy to draw too and I’m particularly pleased with his partially vacant demeanour.

When I start imagining the artwork for a book, I start imagining the entire book. The endpapers, the size, the paper type, the layout, the title page, the typography, and the extras. Extras that add another dimension to the book (and the story), like the KNOW YOUR BIRDS page at the back of Hello, Mr Dodo! or the SPOT THE JUNGLE ANIMALS in Hector and Hummingbird.

And I try to think of the feeling I’d have if I were holding the final book in my hands. 

Endpapers: Hello, Mr Dodo!
I strive to put across this importance, of the book as a whole. About how it makes us feel, as well as the story in the words.

If it were up to me I’d love it if the ‘lead’ edition of my books were always hardbacks.

Talking of hardbacks… Hello, Mr Dodo! will be published (in hardback) in the USA later this month, by Arthur A. Levine Books. Which I’m excited about.


Thanks to Picture Book Den for the opportunity to brain spew (my words, not theirs) on their blog. It’s really just been snippets of reflection on my latest book.

One last thing… A good friend of mine recently mentioned that, since reading Dodo, his young son now starts on, incessantly, about wanting doughnuts each time he sees an image of a dodo! So, I’m sorry, if this happens to you too. But the fact is, dodos love doughnuts! Ask Martha, she’ll tell you the same.


Pippa Goodhart said...

I've been using 'Hummingbird' when teaching adults who want to write picture books. It looks as though the new Dodo book has the same wonderful brevity of text, but alive with characterful dialogue that of course marries perfectly with the pictures. Fun and lovely! Thank you.

Cathy Ballou Mealey said...

Puntastic post! Cannot wait to read about Dodo and his dodo-donuts. ;)

Michelle Robinson said...

I do love dodos, and this dodo looks a doozy. Your illustrations are just gorgeous, Nicholas. Best of luck with the book. Has anyone else read 'Dodo Doo-Doo' by Kaye Umansky and Korky Paul? Great fun.