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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Chad Otis and Review of Neat Nick's Big Mess

First off, Congratulations to the 20 winners of the Flashlight Press Anniversary celebration giveaway of Hammer and Nails:

Announcement of the winners of the 20 book giveaway by Flashlight Press of"Hammer and Nails"

*Please be sure to give me your full name and address, so we can get your book to you!*


Now back to our regularly scheduled programming -


Chad Otis is an author/illustrator who thrives on heartfelt, humorous stories - with unique, vibrant characters at their core.

Author photo of Chad Otis © Cathy Shoaf.

© Cathy Shoaf


Chad has a BFA in design from the University of Washington's School of Art, Art History, and Design. He worked with Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney for over twenty years as an animator, illustrator, and creative director for digital content. He lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains in Idaho.

Collage of the covers of 5 of Chad Otis' books.

Chad is the author and illustrator of The Bright Side  (Rocky Pond Books, 2023), A Little Ferry Tale (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 2022), and Oliver The Curious Owl (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2021. Additionally, he is the illustrator of Cold Turkey by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call  (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2021) and Cuddle Monkey by Blake Liliane Hellman (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 2020).


His newest author/illustrated picture book, Neat Nick’s Big Mess, was released on May 7th.


Welcome Chad! Thank you so much for stopping by to chat about your books and writing.


Hi! Thanks for the visit!

 

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

 

Well, let’s see - I’ve been drawing, illustrating, and working as a designer my whole life, but I didn’t start making picture books until 2018. Like a lot of creative people, early in my career, I got to do hands-on work as most of my job. And a lot of that work was with kid’s content. Then, like a slowly boiling frog, my roles became more about oversight of projects and teams, and the work became mostly about serious, grown up stuff.


Eventually, I didn’t have time to do any hands on work at all. So, I decided to leave the design agency world and dedicate all of my attention to trying to make picture books -Yikes! I’ve been lucky to have so many wonderful, supportive people along the way and I’m very glad I made the change!

 

A "slowly boiling frog" is quite an interesting way to describe it! What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

 

Like Nick, I need my quiet, tidy dojo to feel comfortable and do my best work. But, I do get almost all my ideas out in the world. Seeing an owl during a walk in our local park, riding ferry boats between little islands in Washington’s Salish Sea, or watching our very messy dog roll in the dirt after a splash in the creek - these things all find their way into my stories.

 

You should visit Roche Harbor and see if the "special collection" boat is still in service. Always thought the 'Fecal Freak' needed its own story. 😊 What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Neat Nick’s Big Mess?

Book cover - Very neat and tidy boy stands in front of a drooling, big, meesy dog.

My mom used to call me a neatnik. Being a beatnik was in fashion when she was young, and being a neatnik was the antithesis to that. Beatniks were hip, rebellious Bohemians, but neatniks were square, man! They followed the rules and were clean and tidy. The idea of having a messy dog show up to throw a wrench in Nick’s life came from my own experience of having to relax and accept some of the messiness that has come with the dogs in my life and home. I hate mess, but I love dogs. I learned to compromise.

 

I think having any pet requires some amount of compromise. And usually not by them. Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Book cover - top of a green monster's head peeks over sign with title - Go Away, Big Green Monster.

I was crazy about Ed Emberley’s books because they showed me it was possible for me to draw anything! I still love to use very simple shapes whenever possible - Oliver is an orange circle. I spent hours poring over the details of Richard Scarry’s busy worlds. Then Beverly Cleary’s The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and later The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe hit me right between the ears - I’ve been hooked on books ever since!

 

Those are all great books! As the author/illustrator, which part was the hardest part of creating Neat Nick’s Big Mess, the writing or the illustrating? What was the most fun part?

 

I suppose it makes sense that illustrating the dog proved to be a BIG MESS! I’m sort of a neatnik illustrator, and this massive, drooling cacophony took some years off my life. I lost track of how many brushes, approaches and techniques I tried before landing on the final art. ARGH!

 

Oh no! But I think it turned out wonderfully. How long did it take from the first “seed” of the idea to publication for Neat Nick’s Big Mess?

 

Picture books can take a very long time making their way from ideas to shelves. Neat Nick took about eighteen months, which I think is the average for a picture book. There’s a big chunk of that time when I’m not working on the book, but the publishers are doing important publisher things (that remain a bit of a mystery to me). Then, when I’ve almost forgotten I made a book, I get some copies of it and the world finally gets to see it!

 

I love that description of the process. Great example of why we have to keep creating other projects, once one is "out the door." Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Neat Nick’s Big Mess?

 

What’s special about it to me is that I get to share what can be a very real struggle for hyper-sensitive kids like Nick - in a fun, positive light. I guess that’s a bit of a theme for my books…


I’d like kids to see themselves in the stories, and know they aren’t alone in struggling with some of the tougher things in life - while also helping the people around them be more sensitive to those struggles.

 

I think that is a great goal and one you totally succeed at. Is there a spread that you were especially excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one which is your favorite spread? Which spread are you most proud of?

Internal spread - boy leans backward, startled by a big, messy dog his parents brought home as a surprise.

Text and Image © Chad Otis, 2024.


The spread where Nick meets the dog for the first time gets the biggest reaction from kids (and grownups) when I show it. Getting that BIG reaction makes me happy every time.

 

I can see why! 😊 Poor Nick! Many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story (or elements) throughout the illustrations. Did you do this in Neat Nick’s Big Mess? If so, could you share one or more with us?


In a way, the whole story is a little slice of me (write what you know!). But, very observant readers will notice a small, but important change to the dog’s tag on the last spread. In fact, no-one has even mentioned it yet! Can you find it?


Ingenious! I'll let the readers find it themselves. But it IS a very important, subtle part of the story! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

I just finished the art for my latest book! It’s about a very clever, but opinionated girl who’s pretty sure she’s got everything all figured out (hint - she doesn’t). She learns, while observing dogs during a walk, that first impressions aren’t the full story on personality. I can’t share the title yet, but I can tell you there are laughs, tantrums, tears…and lots and lots of dogs! Rocky Pond Books, 2025

 

Sounds like a great book. We'll have to keep an eye out for it. Last question, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of Camel's Back Park & Trail, Boise, Idaho.

My wife and I did a fun National Park road trip on the 100th Anniversary of US National Parks in 2016. We visited Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, and Canyonlands - phew! They were all great for their own special reasons, but our favorite might be just be our local Camel’s Back park in Boise, Idaho - where we see great horned owls, hawks, foxes, lizards, and lots and lots of happy dogs.

 

Thank you, Chad, for coming back to talk with me about your newest book. 


Thank YOU! I love talking about (my) books :)

 

For more information about Chad Otis, or to contact him:

 

 Review of Neat Nick's Big Mess


This is a humorous book about discovering a special friendship and learning to relax a little.

Book cover - Very neat and tidy boy stands in front of a drooling, big, meesy dog.

Neat Nick's Big Mess

Author/Illustrator: Chad Otis

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Ages: 4-8

Fiction


Themes:

Neatness, dogs, messiness, introvert, compromise, and friendship.


Synopsis:

A rambunctious pet dog helps an introverted, anxious boy leave his comfort zone in this endearing and very funny picture book.


Nick has always been neat. That’s what makes him comfortable. Any kind of mess or noise or other havoc makes him anxious, and often that means he chooses to be alone in his own carefully controlled bedroom. But suddenly a big, drooly, energetic dog has joined the family, and as much as he tries there’s nothing Nick can do to control the doggy mess. And so, he decides he would rather avoid the pup altogether. Or would he?


This story of coping with anxiety and learning how to compromise is as big-hearted and laugh-filled as it is delightfully messy.


Opening Lines:

Nick is neat.

Very, VERY neat.

In fact, he might just be the neatest kid ever.


What I LOVED about this book: This is an amazing opening - both in terms of the wonderful voice and the illustration of the tidiest child's room I've ever seen . . .

Internal spread- a boy with a feather duster in his back pocket, is vacuming and spraying a cleaner in a spotless room.

Text and Image © Chad Otis, 2024.


And the next spreads are hilarious. With Nick, in his bowtie and suspender shorts, raking a Zen garden in the school's sand area and then reacting to other kid's crooked clothing, smells, sneezes, and "noisy, all-at-once talking, and out-of-nowhere SUPER LOUD LAUGHTER!" For Nick, school can be tough, filled with a bunch of messy things (and people) he can't fix. Causing Nick to retreat to his neatly organized and quiet room, at least until he needs a little company. And this expected routine works for him.


However, just as Nick was recovering from school one day, his parents brought him a . . .

Internal spread - boy leans backward, startled by a big, messy dog his parentsInternal spread - boy leans backward, startled by a big, messy dog his parents brought home as a surprise. brought home as a surprise.

Text and Image © Chad Otis, 2024.


What a perfect capture of the biggest, slobberiest, messiest dog ever. Poor Nick. The dog, whose tag says "Rescue" is obviously smitten with Nick. I love Nick's response - "This surprise isn’t scheduled." And his frantic, almost manic, reaction to "fix it" by cleaning and trimming the dog. Chad Otis' addition of a bowtie collar to the sparkling clean dog is a fun touch. But things get messy again the next morning when the drooling, licking dog curls above Nick's head on the bed. Trying to stay on schedule, Nick takes the dog to the park, where everything quickly becomes "wet and crowded, loud and muddy, SCREECHY and BARKING MESSY!"


Nick returns home, after his own rescue from a tree and the dog's treeing of a squirrel, and gives the dog back to his parents.

Internal spread - on the left Mom and a very messy, leaf strewn dog. On the right, the disheveled boy is handing Mom back the dog's leash.

Text and Image © Chad Otis, 2024.

I love the boldly colored and wonderfully textured mixed-media illustrations, perfectly juxtaposing neat, crisp scenes with ones full of swirling, jumbled messes. Nick returns himself and his room to a perfectly manicured, tidy , and sorted state he enjoys. And discovers . . . a couple more surprises. This is a very honest, sweet story about the power of love and friendship.

Resources:

Photo collage of three dogs crafts - collagel, paper, or and toilet paper roll.
  • make your own BIG MESS of a dog. Start by creating a collage, paper, or toilet paper roll dog. Then add real or paper leaves, twigs, paper scraps, or anything you like to make your own beloved mess.

  • if you could choose anything, what would be your perfect pet? Why? What makes it the perfect pet for you? Write a short story, or draw a picture, of you meeting your perfect pet.


  • look at the beginning images of Nick and the dog. What changes do you see in both of them at the end?

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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