The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Abi Cushman & Giveaway
Abi Cushman is a debut author-illustrator. She has also worked as a web designer for over 15 years, creating websites for libraries, towns, and local businesses.
She runs two popular websites of her own: MyHouseRabbit.com, a pet rabbit care resource, and AnimalFactGuide.com, which was named a Great Website for Kids by the American Library Association. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband and two kids.
Abi’s debut picture book, Soaked!, releases tomorrow!
Thank you, Maria, for having me on your blog. I love reading about other authors and illustrators on here, so I’m honored to be featured today.
ME: Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? How did you get started? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
ABI: I started writing and illustrating my own stories in earnest in 2015 after I had my first baby. Being surrounded by picture books reminded me that I loved them as a kid, and I still do. I like to work on my stories at night, after my kids have gone to bed and everything’s quiet. I’ve always been a night owl, so that’s when I feel the most productive and creative. Usually the stories I write are humorous... that just seems to be my natural voice. Even when I set out to write something more serious, the story seems to end up with jokes anyway.
Not a "bad" problem, we can all use more humor in our lives. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
I loved poring over the illustrations in Richard Scarry’s books. I would try to draw all the animals in his style. When I was older, I immersed myself in Roald Dahl’s books. I loved the humor in them.
I'm beginning to see why you have a problem writing serious things. Where did the idea for Soaked! come from?
The idea came from a rain-soaked walk of my own one summer day. I realized when I was drenched that it was actually pretty refreshing, even if I appeared to be a sorry sight. (Some kind ladies had pulled over and offered to give me a lift home. I declined, not wanting to ruin the inside of their car.)
When I got home, I had an idea for a beautiful, wordless picture book. But after sketching and brainstorming for a few months, a sorry-looking drenched bear character emerged, and the true story—one with words and more sarcasm—came out.
© Abi Cushman, 2020.
I love those rough sketches. Thank you so much for sharing them! What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process for Soaked! ?
Probably the most rewarding part of the publishing process was when I completed the final art and could see all the illustrations polished up and in color. When I develop my story ideas, my drawings are MESSY. Things are out of proportion... there are lots of scribbles. And it stays that way for a while. Even when I make a polished dummy, I don’t really put a full background in. So, seeing it come together in color was amazing. There’s a lot of satisfaction in it too for me because it takes me a long time to complete final art. I do a lot of tinkering... and it does tend to get a little tedious working on final art night after night for months. But the end result is worth it for me.
© Abi Cushman, 2020.
What a rare treat to be able to see the dummied & final versions side-by-side. Which is hardest for you - writing or illustrating children’s books? What was the hardest
part of creating Soaked! ?
There are definitely challenges to both aspects. When I’m developing a story, it’s like putting a puzzle together—but out of pieces that I created—and there’s possibly no solution. It can be frustrating, but that’s also sort of the fun of it as well.
Illustration is labor-intensive. Probably the hardest part of creating Soaked! was doing the final art. I definitely freaked out that I was not going to be able to create the art like I envisioned it in my head. There was a lot of learning on the fly. A lot of times, I’d realize after I attempted to draw something that it looked awful. Like puddles and raindrops and splashes. And that was a problem because it rains for 99% of the book. But I eventually figured things out to the point where I was satisfied with the art. It took me 9 months to finish all the art though since I had to keep redoing parts.
Yeah . . . I can see how that problem could be frustrating and infuriating. What's something you want your readers to know about or gain from Soaked! ?
I honestly just want my readers to laugh when they read Soaked!. I’m hoping it’s something that kids and their tired parents can enjoy together after a long day. Or that teachers/librarians can read it aloud for an entertaining story time with their students. Plus, I think everyone can relate to Bear’s grumpiness at the beginning, and being able to laugh about Bear perhaps opens the door to reflecting upon our own negative emotions and then talking about them.
I think you've definitely succeeded on both goals. What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (either as a child or now as a writer.)
I admire so many artists right now, and I love looking at their books for reference as mentor texts or mentor illustrations. But probably the biggest reason I’m able to create picture books is because of the support I get from my husband. I bounce ideas off him and get feedback on early drafts. And while he’ll tell me when my joke isn’t funny and I’ll tell him he’s wrong and then he says "Ok, well why did you ask me if you didn’t want my opinion?," he’s always, on a whole, very encouraging.
That's a special blessing. Treasure it. What is your favorite spread in the book?
© Abi Cushman, 2020.
I like this spread where Bear’s looking for his blue bumblebee umbrella and Badger says she can only find her blue bumblebee umbrella. I think regardless of whether kids think Badger stole Bear’s umbrella or whether they both just happen to have the exact same blue bumblebee umbrella, it’s funny. And we can really see what Bear’s up against here.
Oh, given that guilty look by Badger, I totally believe she took Bear's umbrella. Many illustrators leave treasures or weave a separate story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Soaked! ? Could you share one or more with us?
Yes, I had a lot of fun adding in little treasures to the illustrations. If you look closely, you’ll see that Bunny first puts on Bear’s shrunken cashmere sweater when the four friends are in the cave and Moose is hula-hooping. If you peek under the jacket flaps, you’ll find little surprises on the endpapers, and if you remove the jacket cover completely, you’ll find a whole other secret scene.
[If you're intrigued to see this phenomenal case cover, go to Abi's Instagram account - @abi.cushman - and look for the post titled . . . wait for it . . . , "Swipe left to see the secret case cover."]
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
© Abi Cushman, 2020.
I am currently working on my second book from Viking called Animals Go Vroom!, which comes out next summer. It features die cut windows, and challenges readers to guess what goes roar, hiss, or honk. If you want to get a sneak peek, sign up for my newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/dCUjeH. I’ll be sharing tidbits from the book as I wrap up final art for it.
I love the peeks you've shown so far! What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are currently enamored with. Why?
© Abi Cushman, 2020.
I am currently obsessed with wombats. They are super cute and super weird. I mean CUBE POOPS??? How is that even possible? (The answer is that scientists aren’t entirely sure but it has to do with the uneven elasticity of wombats’ intestinal walls. Obviously.)
Thank you Abi for stopping by to share about yourself and your debut picture book.
To find out more about Abi Cushman, or get in touch with her:
One lucky reader will win a copy of Soaked!
- Simply comment below or on Friday's #PPBF post (or both), to be entered in the random drawing for a copy of Soaked!.
- Be sure to say where you shared the post, so I can add the right number of entries.
- Sorry, US Residents only.