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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Lina Maslo

Lina Maslo is an award-winning author/illustrator with a Degree in Art from New College of Florida. Born in Ukraine, she moved to the United States at the age of five and spent most of her childhood in Florida. She lives with her husband and children in South Carolina.

Her debut book, Free As A Bird: The Story Of Malala, is a Library Guild Selection, as well as a 2019 CCBC Choice, and the winner of the Living the Dream Book Award.

Her second book, Through The Wardrobe: How C. S. Lewis Created Narnia, releases on May 19th.

​For more general information and a bit about Free As A Bird, see our earlier interview [here].

Welcome back, Lina.

Did your experience with Through The Wardrobe: How C. S. Lewis Created Narnia, either the writing, research, or publishing differ from Free As A Bird: The Story Of Malala? If so, how?

I think the biggest difference between Free as a Bird and Through the Wardrobe was the research part—I actually traveled to Ireland and England, and visited the Wade Center in Illinois, where the wardrobe and many of C. S. Lewis’s writings are housed. I got to follow in Lewis’s footsteps and have a physical experience of the environment he grew up and lived in.

The writing was also a little different in that the revision process took much longer. C. S. Lewis had many experiences before he wrote the Narnia books in his fifties, so it took a while to figure out what to focus on for a picture book audience.

The toughest part of a picture book biography can be finding the lens through which to view the subject. What was the hardest part of creating Through The Wardrobe?

It took a while, as I just mentioned, to figure out the focus for the book—what to include and what to leave out. I knew that I wanted to end the book with an overview of the Narnia books. The hard part was deciding on what aspects of C. S. Lewis’s life to focus on before he wrote the Chronicles. And doing all that while keeping the word count low enough for a picture book. (I think we ended up at about 1200 words for the main text. And there’s lots of back matter!)

I decided to focus on the things that happened in Lewis’ life that had some influence on the Narnia books, such as his imaginative childhood, his love of reading and writing, boarding school, his mother’s death, the war, the wardrobe, the evacuees…almost everything else had to be cut or relegated to the back matter.

You did a great job of combining many basic biography facts with other interesting facts about Jack in the back matter. How many drafts did it take to get the text right? To get the illustrations right?

I’m not sure I have an exact number of drafts (they are buried in a plastic bin and in my computer), but I can give you a rough time outline. It took about a year to do the research and write a few drafts to the point of showing the manuscript to publishers. After it sold, my editor and I worked on the manuscript for almost another year, going back and forth every month or so. (The release date was pushed forward a few times.) Once the manuscript was close to “perfect”, I worked on the sketches for a few months, and went back and forth with the art director a couple of times with revisions. It took about 3-4 months to do the final art for the book, and then an additional month or so of touch-ups and little tweaks here and there until we felt it was done!

Thank you for sharing your time outline, it'll remind everyone that picture books are not speedy creations, but masterpieces with many moving parts. What was your inspiration for Through The Wardrobe?

When my children got into the Narnia movies, I was reminded of the books (I think I only read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child.), and I binge-read all seven of the Narnia stories. I became curious about the person behind the books, so I read a few biographies about C. S. Lewis. I thought his life was fascinating! And I could see all of these little threads that connected his life to the Narnia books. I wondered if anyone else had written a picture book biography about Lewis, and at that time, no one had, so I decided to give it a try.

Curiosity is a great inspiration! When you learned that Caroline McAlister & Roaring Brook Press were publishing Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother (2019) were either you or your publisher concerned?

It’s nice, of course, to be the first to publish a biography about a specific person. But C. S. Lewis is such a complicated person. There are so many parts of his life that an author can choose to focus on. And so, my publisher and I weren’t too concerned that another book about C. S. Lewis was coming out. In fact, I think the two books can complement each other, as they look at two different aspects of his life.

I totally agree. I've read both books and found them complementary and distinct. Do you have a favorite spread in Through The Wardrobe? Which one?

© Lina Maslo, 2020.

I have a few favorites! It’s so hard to choose…maybe I’ll list two? I love the spread of the boys in the attic. Jack (C. S. Lewis) is on the floor, imagining and drawing a mouse, and Warnie is telling a story. I love all of the details I was able to include in here—actual drawings from Jack and Warnie’s sketchbooks, Jack’s favorite childhood magazines and books, political illustrations from that time period, and the view of Belfast from the window. I also really like the following spread—the boys riding their bicycles through the green hills of Ireland. It reminds me of the trip I took to Ireland to do the research for this book and is based on my photographs. And I love all of the animals hiding in the grass!

I love learning that the pictures on the walls are their own drawings. What's something you want your readers to know about Through The Wardrobe?

I want the readers to realize that it was because Jack went through all the struggles and difficulties in his life that he was able to write the Chronicles of Narnia. I want them to come away with the feeling that they can use their own life experiences to create unique stories. I hope that’s the main takeaway from Through the Wardrobe.

Great takeaway. Did you leave treasures tucked throughout the illustrations? Could you share one or more with us? [I did like learning about the toy garden from the opening spread in the interesting facts. Thank you.]

Yes, I’ve included all kinds of hidden treasures in the illustrations! The more you learn about Jack, the more you realize what some of them are. As I mentioned, Jack's own drawings are included in the attic scene. And there are hints of Narnia everywhere—a red scarf and umbrella hanging next to a wardrobe, Narnian patterns on a rug, a lamp post… The toy garden is something I wanted to talk about in the main text, but we had no room. So, I included it in the illustration and in the back matter, where you can find out all sorts of other interesting things, too!

I love how your images abound with hints of Narnia. Whose idea were the letters on the end pages? Are they real? If so, where did you find them?

It was my idea to include Jack’s letters to children on the end papers, and it was my editor’s idea to have letters from the children to Jack. The letters written by C. S. Lewis are real. You can find them at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois. They are also compiled in a book called C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children by Marjorie Lamp Mead and Lyle W. Dorsett. The letters from the children to Jack had to be imagined, as Jack sadly destroyed all of his correspondence. But they were based on his replies to the children. It’s one of my favorite parts of the book!

The end pages were so fascinating and I am glad to learn that his letters are real. What was your favorite imaginary activity as a child? What about now as an author?

Probably hiding somewhere with a book and imagining myself as the main character…the adventures were unlimited! Nowadays, not much has changed, though I probably read less fiction as an adult. In some ways, though, it’s even more interesting to read about a real person or time or place and imagine yourself in that situation. It can even be life changing.

I love that books continue to fuel your imagination and your view of the world. With a book launch and a number of school visits under your belt, do you have any advice for upcoming/new authors regarding either? [Besides, be prepared for anything to happen these days.]

Things have been very different with the interruption of the coronavirus. I haven’t been able to book any school visits this year or even have a book launch, which is sad. But I’m sure things will get back to normal, soon.

For my last book, we had a book launch party at a local independent bookstore. I would recommend that if you can do it! We did a reading, had cupcakes, signed books…it was great! School visits are a little more difficult to figure out. I’ve done a few, but I’m still working on a program and trying to tell more schools that I’m out there! So, I’m not quite ready to give advice on those.

It seems we are always learning & adjusting. I hope you get to do school video visits, at least. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

I’m working on another biography, but I’m going to keep it under wraps for now! I’ll just say…it’s about an artist and the creative process. And I currently have a book under submission—it’s a bit of fiction and a bit of family history, so it feels very personal to me. We’ll see where it goes!!

Best of Luck with them both! Thank you, Lina for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you, again.

Be sure to come back on Friday for the Perfect Picture Book #PPBF 'sneak peek' post on Through the Wardrobe: How C. S. Lewis created Narnia.

To find out more about Lina Maslo, or get in touch with her:

As an added bonus to to anyone who read all the way through, here is the plaque in the Eagle & Child Pub (which I visited in 2019) and the corresponding note about "The Inklings" in the back matter of Through the Wardrobe.

© Maria Marshall, 2019 © Lina Maslo, 2020.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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