The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/Cary Allen Fletcher & Gordon McMillian and Book Review

If you haven't guessed by now, I love picture books that feature nature, especially one about interactions between little known plants and animals. Gordon McMillian and Carly Allen-Fletcher have created a beautiful book about a little bat - only discovered in 2005 - who is the sole pollinator of a flower growing in the cloud forests of Ecuador.

Gordon McMillan has a bachelor's degree in illustration from the School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis. He also has a master’s degree in predictive analytics from Austin Peay State University but continues to illustrate in his free time. Gordon now lives in Smyrna, Tennessee.


He’s the author/illustrator of Scout (2012).

Carly Allen-Fletcher is a freelance illustrator and author. She creates picture books, board books, book covers, and more!


She’s the illustrator of The Big Bang Book by Asa Stahl (2020) and the author/illustrator of Goodnight Forest (2020), Beastly Biomes (2019), Animal Antipodes (2018), and Goodnight Seahorse (2018).

Their picture book collaboration, Bat’s Moonlight Feast, releases November 1st.


Welcome Gordon & Carly,


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write/illustrate? How long have you been writing/illustrating? What is your favorite type of book to write or illustrate?)


Gordon: I don’t usually have a set writing schedule, but I do try to write every day. I will miss a day or two occasionally. When I do write, I either create part of a loose draft or make notes in the margins of a piece of paper that I go back to later. Most of my refined writing takes place after I have the ideas written down in some form. I also don’t have a dedicated writing space. If I read or watch something that inspires me, I try to take notes before I forget it. This can happen if I’m reading a book on the couch or listening to music in the background as I’m doing chores. However, when I am at a point to clean up my text, I do usually go to my office so I can think clearly, but I also get up and walk around the house periodically so I don’t develop any tunnel vision in my writing.


I guess you can say I’ve been writing professionally since 2009, when I made the draft of my first book, Scout. I had written Scout to give myself something to illustrate as that was my major in undergrad. I was fortunate to have found Anna Olswanger to help me refine both the pictures and text so that it was eventually published in 2012. It would be several years after that before my second book, Bat’s Moonlight Feast, was picked up. However, I think that time has given me a better idea of how to approach both writing and visual art. Over the last two to three years, my favorite type of book to write has been those focused on exploring animals’ interactions with nature or lesser-known animals that have piqued my interest.


Carly: I’m an illustrator from the Midlands in the UK, and I’ve been working as an illustrator for a fair few years now! I work on picture books but also book covers, posters and editorial projects. My favourite topics to illustrate are science, nature, myth and magic.


What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


Gordon: I would say my recent interest in applied science and robotics. I have only built a robotic car from a kit and a coil launcher from a disposable camera along with other spare parts. Although I had to look up instructions online in order to design the coil launcher, the project has encouraged me to build up my knowledge in science, particularly on the fundamentals of physics and chemistry. With a better foundation, I am hoping to work on more impressive projects in the future.


Carly: I can play the drums (badly!).


Both sound like fun pursuits; especially when your writing and/or illustrating hits the proverbial speed bump. Gordon, what was the inspiration or backstory for Bat’s Moonlight Feast?


Gordon: Originally, I was writing a board book that focused on general bat facts and came across the tube-lipped nectar bat during research on the diets of different types of bats. While eating nectar is not unique to the tube-lipped nectar bat, its long tongue did make it stand out. I also found it interesting that this same long tongue made the tube-lipped nectar bat the sole animal capable of reaching the nectar held within the bell-shaped blossoms of the Centropogon nigricans which, in turn, is pollinated only by the tube-lipped nectar bat. So, when the scope of the book began to narrow and require more of a narrative, I was determined to focus on this particular species of bat and its interaction with the Centropogon nigricans.


Interesting how they sometimes to seem to have a mind of their own. Carly, what about the Bat’s Moonlight Feast manuscript snagged your attention or captured your imagination? Who or what was the inspiration for your illustrations?


Carly: I liked the idea of a story that takes place through the night, in the beautiful setting of those cloud forests. I was inspired by the soft colours of the setting, and by the cute bats!


Which you captured beautifully! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?


Gordon: My favorite author as a child would be Anne McCaffrey. I was really into dragons when I was younger (I still am today but not to the same extent), so I was very captivated by the world of Pern and its dragonriders.


My favorite illustrator would be Yoshitaka Amano. His dreamlike designs drew me in instantly. I could look at his work for hours on end even if I had seen it several times before.


My favorite book would be the Count of Monte Cristo. While it has been a while since I read it, I do remember having difficulty putting down such an adventurous tale.

Carly: Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar was my favourite, I think his influence on my work even now, is easy to see!


I've been waiting for someone to mention Anne McCaffrey! Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Bat’s Moonlight Feast?


Gordon: I would like my readers to know that the story of Bat’s Moonlight Feast is more than how a little bat is getting a meal at night but also how different parts of nature interact with one another to sustain beauty and wonder. Without the tube-lipped nectar bat, the Centropogon nigricans would not be able to reproduce. In turn, the Centropogon nigricans provides a convenient source of food for the tube-lipped nectar bat. Neither only takes from the other. Instead, they both benefit from a relationship that allows them to perpetuate their existence in a very specific part of the world.

Carly: I hope readers will enjoy discovering this special creature and place, and how amazing nature is.


You both definitely succeed in showing us the uniqueness and special character of the bats and flowers. Gordon, when you first saw Carly’s illustrations, did anything surprise or amaze you? What is your favorite Spread?

Text © Gordon McMillan, 2021. Image © Carly Allen-Fletcher, 2021.


Gordon: I would say I was pleasantly surprised at how magical all of the spreads looked. The flow of the line work and the contrast of bright colors against dark, lush backgrounds brought a sense of whimsy to the story I had not originally considered when writing it. On that note, I would say my favorite spread is the one where it says, “The flower’s scent is tempting.” The illustration looks as if the fragrance of the flower is energy from a spell being cast over the bat. Instead of letting the text convey the idea of scent by itself, I think Carly created this great visualization for something that is not sensed by our eyes and that really helped elevate the scene.


I really like your analysis, Gordon. Carly, many illustrators weave (or hide) treasures in their illustrations. If you did this, can you share one or more with us? What is your favorite spread?

Text © Gordon McMillan, 2021. Image © Carly Allen-Fletcher, 2021.


Carly: My favourite spreads are the two where we see the bat’s special tongue, it was a lot of fun to think of an interesting way to reveal that, and I really like the little bat’s pleased face! I don’t know if it counts as a secret, but a lot of the art is made with pastels. I wanted to use something that gave a glowing, powdery look, in the same way that I’d imagined the pollen of the flower; so there is a lot of pastel artwork mixed with digital here.


Interesting, thanks for sharing that. What was the hardest part of Bat’s Moonlight Feast to write or illustrate? Why?


Gordon: I would say that the hardest part of writing Bat’s Moonlight Feast was not getting too carried away and cramming in everything I had found out about the tube-lipped nectar bat. I can sometimes get so excited about something I have researched that I want to share every little tidbit there is. However, this would have dragged the story on with a loss of focus and information overload. So, I really had to rein in my writing to make sure it only focused on the essentials.


Carly: The hardest part for me was balancing the colours. I wanted to give an impression of night but still have very colourful, glowing artwork, and it took some time to find a balance to achieve that.


If you could meet anyone, real or imaginary, who would that be and why?


Gordon: I would say South Korean film director and screenwriter Kim Jee-woon. He is the writer and director of my favorite movie, A Tale of Two Sisters. While that is a horror movie, he has also written and directed very entertaining movies in various other genres such as dark comedies and Westerns. I would like to know how he is able to adapt his creative process to meet the storytelling needs for these different types of films.


Carly: Merlin, the wizard from The Sword in the Stone by TH White. He would be fascinating to listen to.


I love the interesting and varied responses I get to this question. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


Gordon: I have written a book about an alligator in the Everglades which Carly has created another great set of illustrations for. We are still looking for a publisher for that book but I can tell you the theme is on how alligators are ecosystems engineers that help maintain the Everglades from year to year.


Other than that, I’ve written a story about the hooded nudibranch which is a sea slug named for its hood-like mouth and exposed lungs on its back. The text is pretty much complete but we are waiting to see where the alligator book goes before pursuing anything in terms of visuals. I also have a very rough draft of a story involving a Philippine pangolin with an emphasis on how the female pangolins will adopt pups that have lost their mothers. However, that story is far from finished.


Carly: I’m currently working on some fun picture books about nature, but although they’ve been announced; I can’t reveal any artwork yet, sorry! (Kingdoms of Life and Something Spectacular both scheduled for 6/2022)


Totally understand Carly, I wish you both luck with your projects. How have you been staying creative these days? What are you doing to “prime the well?”


Gordon: Whether it is delving into science like I mentioned before or learning to play the piano, I have found that taking the time to try new experiences or even learn just for the sake of learning is rewarding on multiple levels. It has broadened my knowledge on different subject matter while also teaching me how to view situations from a greater variety of angles. This larger knowledge base has encouraged me to pursue new art and writing projects I may not have considered before.


Carly: Lots of reading, and walking through the forests and fields near my home.


Okay, last question. What is your favorite animal? Or one that you are enamored with at the moment? Why?


Gordon: At the moment, I would say spiders, which is interesting because I used to have a mild case of arachnophobia. However, when I think about how they use and interact with their webs, I can’t help but be amazed. They show a sense of adaptation by making webs wherever they need them. They make the most of their senses by feeling for the vibrations caused by prey that have become ensnared in their webs. I also figure a great deal of dexterity is needed to traverse those webs. What I see in them now is a combination of physical, mental, and artistic sensibility that I had not considered before because I had made neither the time nor effort to fully understand and appreciate them.


Carly: Penguins! I like their shapes and the way they waddle about. Cassowaries are also very interesting, a dangerous and beautiful creature.


Thank you, Gordon and Carly for stopping by and sharing your cover reveal and a snippet about Bat’s Moonlight Feast with us. It was wonderful to chat with you both.

To find out more about Gordon McMillan and Carly Allen-Fletcher, or get in touch with them:


Gordon McMillan

Website: http://www.wanderingghost.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cinnamoncyborg


Carly Allen-Fletcher

Website: https://carlydraws.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carlydraws

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carlydraws.illustration/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/carlydraws/_created/



Review of Bat's Moonlight Feast


I'd like to introduce you all to a sweet, yet educational, picture book about the coevolution and special relationship between a unique bat and one unusually shaped flower.

Bat's Moonlight Feast


Author: Gordon McMillan


Illustrator: Carly Allen-Fletcher


Publisher: Muddy Boots


Ages: 4-9


Informational Fiction


Themes:

Bats, nature, pollination, and coevolution.


Synopsis:

The tube-lipped nectar bat is the pollinator of a pale, bell-shaped flower found in the Ecuadorian cloud forests. First discovered in 2005, the bat is the only known pollinator of a pale, bell shaped flower called Centropogon nigricans. Due to the length of the bloom, no other animal can reach the nectar which rests at the flower’s base. This is the story of one such bat and her nocturnal search for this rare flower whose nectar sustains her.


Opening Lines:

A little bat weaves

through moonlight mist.


She spies the twinkle

of a long, pale flower.


What I LIKED about this book:

As a concise look at a little known bat, only discovered in 2005, living in the cloud forests of Ecuador, this book does a great job of showing the mutual relationship between this unique bat and an unusual flower. Because the flower is structured as a deep, bell-shaped vase (with all the nectar at the bottom), the Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat which has developed a super long tongue, with "prickly hairs on the tip," is the only animal able to reach this nectar.

Text © Gordon McMillan, 2021. Image © Carly Allen-Fletcher, 2021.


Interestingly told from the bat's point of view, the text creates a bit of intimacy and wonder as the reader joins the little bat in dipping into the top of a sweetly tempting flower for a treat and covers its head with pollen in the process. Although the bat flies back to its cave, as dawn approaches, the back matter discusses the bat's assistance as a pollinator, where it stores its long tongue, and shows the tiny area in South America where this bat and flower exist.


The illustrations, though set at night (it's about a bat, after all), abound with color and texture. From the ethereal fog the bats fly through,

Text © Gordon McMillan, 2021. Image © Carly Allen-Fletcher, 2021.


to the almost mystical glowing flowers with a "tempting" scent and their luminescent pollen.

Text © Gordon McMillan, 2021. Image © Carly Allen-Fletcher, 2021.


They are a wonderful combination of pastels and digital art.


This is a succinctly worded, gorgeously illustrated, picture book for young kids just learning about pollinators or as a starting point to encourage curiosity and investigation into the interconnected relationship of numerous animals and insects and the plants they pollinate. A wonderful, if brief, glimpse into a very special bat and its role in growing flowers in Ecuador.


Resources:

- make an origami bat (https://make-origami.com/origami-bat/), attach a string or pipe cleaner for the Tube-Lipped Nectar Bat's long tongue.

- create a list, or draw a picture, of other animals and insects who help pollinate flowers.

- to see other plant's relationships with their pollinators, read Bea's Bees by Katherine Pryor, illustrated by Ellie Peterson; No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart an Allen Young, illustrated by Nicole Wong; Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate by Sara C. Levine, illustrated by Masha D’yans; and Flowers Are Calling by Rita Gray, illustrated by Kenard Pak.

Decorative scroll design
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Decorative scroll design

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