top of page

The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Hui Skipp, Ben Hoare, and Review of Menus for Meerkats

Born and raised in Taiwan, Hui Skipp graduated with a Sculpture and Fine Art degree. She is an illustrator who loves animals and is particularly fond of drawing them.

Illustrator photo of Hui Skipp.

An avid traveler, Hui once resided in London and Taipei, and more than a year in Paris and Lisbon. The colourful buildings, vintage furniture and blue sky in Lisbon, the city she loves most, has influenced and inspired her colourful style. Hui is passionate about animals, from tiny Termites to a giant Humpback Whales dancing in the Pacific Ocean.

Collage of the covers of 8 of Hui Skipp's most recent books.

Hui is the illustrator of 18 books, including Little Wonders BUGS - Introduction to the World of Bugs Multi-Activity Children's Board Book by Rose Nestling (2023), Maps for Penguins by Tracey Turner (2023), Barefoot Books My Friend Robot! by Sunny Scribens (2022), ¿Dónde estás, koala? by Susaeta Ediciones (2021), ¿Dónde estás, gatito? by Susaeta Ediciones (2021) [+ 2 more in series], I Can Draw! Anything: 50 Simple Step-by-Step Guides by William Potter (2021), A Pandemonium of Parrots and Other Animals by Kate Baker (2018)), and À La Découverte De L'espace French Edition by Jeremy Harwood (2016).


Ben Hoare is an award-winning wildlife journalist and self-confessed nature nerd. He writes inspiring natural-history books for children – the kind of books he loved as a kid. Several have been international bestsellers, no doubt because his two daughters read and test everything first! The Guardian newspaper said: “His writing is funny, informative and zinging with infectious enthusiasm.”

Autor Photo of Ben Hoare

He has written and edited natural-history books and magazines for DK, the BBC, Pan Macmillan, Bonnier, Wide Eyed Editions, London’s Natural History Museum, and many others. He was formerly the Features Editor of BBC Wildlife magazine.

Collage opf 6 pof the book covers of Ben Hoare's books.

Ben's the author of 8 books, including Weird and Wonderful Nature (2023), Nature’s Treasures (2021), The Wonders of Nature (2019), An Anthology of Intriguing Animals (2018), and Endangered Animals (2010). As well as The Secret World of Plants (2022) which was shortlisted in The Week Junior magazine’s Children’s Book of the Year Awards in 2023.


Their newest picture book, Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals, was released on March 1st.


Welcome Hui and Ben, it's so nice to "meet" you both.

 

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


HUI - I typically illustrate in my home studio, and sometimes I like to carry pencils and paper to nearby coffee shops to draw sketches. 


I've been illustrating for a decade now. My favorite type of book is about scientific facts and animals. I'm fortunate to illustrate many books related to animals, allowing me to portray various unique creatures from the animal kingdom. I enjoy illustrating books with fun facts about animals the most. This experience helps me learn knowledge I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.


BEN - I write books about the beauty of the natural world, and for me sharing my wonder in nature is like a form of activism. I hope to inspire young readers to go out and experience some of these things for themselves, even if it is just a bug sitting on a wall in their neighbourhood.

 

Around 15 years ago, my wife and I moved from the centre of London to a small village in south-west England. There’s nature all around us, with owls and foxes in the garden, we have a small wildflower meadow and orchard, and there are bats in the attic. It’s a very peaceful place to be and I take a lot of inspiration from my surroundings. Plus, I can take screen breaks and go for a stroll in the fields or woods just up the lane.

 

Hui, I love researching, so I can imagine how fun it could be as an illustrator learning both facts about animals and the ways to capture their essences. Ben, I definitely think your books inspire curiosity about nature! What is the most fun or unusual fun or unusual places where you’ve written or illustrated a manuscript?

 

HUI - Once, I took a long time for a boat trip, and since there was plenty of time, I began sketching. My friend sitting next to me felt surprised that I was not too dizzy to work on a drifting boat. 


BEN - Normally I write in my office, which is in some converted stables. But since becoming a parent, I’ve learned how valuable time is! So occasionally, I’ve found myself doing research or checking proofs in the car or a noisy cafe, while I’m waiting for my girls to finish whatever activity they’re doing. I’ve even worked on park benches. But my favourite place for writing, other than my own office? That is probably the Anning Rooms in the Natural History Museum in London.

 

Hui, this sounds like a fun time! Ben, the Anning Rooms sound like the perfect place to hide and write. As an illustrator, what appealed to you about the manuscript for Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals?  

Book Cover - four meerkats standing and looking at the title Menus for Meerkats.

I burst into laughter when I read the manuscript for the first time. The meerkats seemed to stand up right at the same time and walked on foot to a restaurant. I could imagine them gathering in front of a big menu and talking about what to eat for dinner like human beings do (please see below).  Meerkats turned into human-like creatures and acted in human-like manners so vividly right away.

Line drawing of an early idea with seven meerkats clustered about a sandwhich board menu, dressed in shirts.

Image © Hui Skipp, 2024.

 

Thank you for sharing that sketch with us! Ben, what was your inspiration or spark of interest for Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals?


BEN - I’m always looking for ways to make my writing accessible and relevant to today’s young readers. We all like food and eating out, and that idea of being in a restaurant and being excited by all of the different choices on offer is partly what is behind this book.


I love taking this idea into the natural world; it really made learning about these animals fun. What was the most challenging aspect of writing or illustrating Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals?

 

HUI - The most challenging aspect for me was the Dung Beetle Menu, which was quite unexpected for me when I read the brief. Since poops and insects are all brown, black, and gray, namely in grayscale, but in fact I love to draw luxurious and vivid colors. In order to conquer this color challenge, I tried a duotone color palette with highly decorative borders to enrich the illustration.


BEN - Well, that’s a good question! One thing I always have in mind is: how easy is this to understand for someone who has no prior knowledge of the subject? So, literally every sentence, I am stopping myself and reading it over and over, honing it, rewording anything that is unclear and making the text as concise as possible. I also write magazine features and writing for grown-ups is a LOT faster!


Hui, I think it worked quite well. And Ben, I totally agree with you on the adult writing! Ben, how many revisions did Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals take from first draft to publication?


BEN - Actually, only a couple, which is pretty good going! But with any highly illustrated book like this, it’s also vital for the writer to help the illustrator by providing references for them to work from. So, it’s not just about producing the text and revising it – you are also working with the illustrator and book designer. It’s always a team effort.


The team did a great job on this book. Hui, is there a spread you were particularly excited about or proud of? Or perhaps one that is your favorite?

Internal spread - on left, a koala in a Eucalyptus tree eating leaves. Or right, koalas eating other leaves and licking bark for water.

Text © Ben Hoare, 2024. Image © Hui Skipp, 2024.


HUI - I am proud of adopting the art nouveau style in this book by weaving various animals and natural elements in the book frames. I was deeply inspired by the decorative art from the art nouveau period. Then, while planning this book illustration, I decided to decorate the book frame with animals and natural elements, for instance, koalas with eucalyptus trees. The effect is so great to depict information about each particular animal on every page.

 

I really enjoyed the various frames you created for each animal! Ben, when you first saw Hui’s illustrations in Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals, did anything surprise, amaze, or delight you? Which is your favorite spread?


BEN - It’s always an exciting moment when you see artwork for the first time. I love seeing how illustrators bring the words and stories to life.

Internal spread - Six Scarlet Macaws eating seeds and berries  and drinking water.

Text © Ben Hoare, 2024. Image © Hui Skipp, 2024.


Probably my favourite spreads in this book are the pair on scarlet macaws, because they are explode with colour and natural patterns. I’m lucky enough to have seen macaws in South American rainforests, so for me Hui’s vibrant illustrations bring back many happy memories of some great adventures in the wild.


That's so cool that you got to see them in person. Hui, many illustrators leave treasures or weave their own story elements throughout their illustrations. Did you do this in Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals? If so, could you share some with us?

 

HUI - No, I have never woven any of my personal stories in the illustrations about scientific facts, including the animals I drew. Since science is about objective facts, I was sure to present as accurately and realistically as possible. However, every picture of the animal shows my love for the natural world.

 

That definitely comes through loud and clear in your illustrations. Great job, Hui! What do you want readers to know about Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals?

 

HUI - This is a very enjoyable book. Readers could learn a lot of animal facts in a humorous manner through animal characters.


BEN - This is a book that celebrates how resourceful and adaptable animals are. It also shows how every species has its place in the world, and all of nature is connected. Dung beetles, for instance, are essential to the health of the planet’s grasslands. Without their hard work and their liking for munching other animals’ dung, the world would be drowning in dung.

 

That is the greatest thing about newer nonfiction books; making facts fun to read about and learn. Is there something you wish you had known before starting the publication journey with Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals?

 

HUI - After finishing the illustrations, I traveled to Australia and noticed various eucalyptus trees everywhere. I found the eucalyptus trees have more details than the reference images had shown. If I had seen those trees before illustrating, perhaps I could have added more details into the artwork.


BEN – Well, in almost any book you write, you come across some information that’s new to you. One of the most amazing facts in Menus for Meerkats, which surprised me at first, is that koalas often actually end up smelling of the leaves they eat! It’s also pretty mind-blowing that blue whales are continually opening their giant mouths to feed during their dives, yet never drink the water – you will have to read the book to find out why!

 

Ben, you discovered such fascinating facts for the book. And Hui, too bad about the timing. But how cool to travel to Australia! Are there any new projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

 

HUI - I'm currently working on a book with special die-cut styles. I enjoy experimenting with this kind of hands-on book, which involves both brainstorming and crafting.

Book cover - eight animal driven inventive trucks, like a milk carton dairy truck and an owl driven log truck.

*Hui also has a new picture book releasing on June 11, 2024 - Trucky Roads by Lulu Mille.


BEN - I’m writing a book about bees. I have a thing about bees – I just love them!

Book cover -birds and feathers forma circle around the book title.

*Ben also has a new book releasing on September 17, 2024 - An Anthology of Exquisite Birds.

 

We'll have to keep our eyes open for these books. Lastly, what is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park, or the one you're longing to visit? Why? 

Photo of Torres del Paine in Argentina, © 2019-2024 Global Alliance of National Parks

© 2019-2024 Global Alliance of National Parks


HUI - My favorite national park is the Torres del Paine in Argentina, which is one of the few national parks with glaciers.

 

Mostly, when we visit a national park, we enjoy mountain trekking and the woodland scenery. However, in the Torres del Paine, there were rich spectrums of the blue on the layers of the ice far beyond my imagination. Also, I was lucky to see the glacier breaking in front of my eyes because every glacier took at least thousands of years to form. That was a breathtaking experience that impressed me a lot and enriched my soul.


I long to visit the national parks in Sri Lanka and wish to see the leopards in person. The leopard is one of the most mysterious animals on earth.

Ningaloo Marine Park Reef © Latitude Geography.

© Latitude Geography


BEN - Oh my. The Ningaloo Marine Park on the coast of Western Australia made a huge impression on me as it was the first time I had snorkeled over a coral reef of that size, and which was so pristine. I saw so many incredible things and spent hours in the water. I even got to swim with a whale shark and manta rays. My visit was back in 2000 and I reckon I still think about Ningaloo every week! Closer to home, I love the Avalon Marshes landscape in Somerset, south-west England, which is full of life.


Those both sound like amazing trips. Thank you, Hui and Ben, for sharing a bit about yourselves and your new picture book.


To find out more about Hui Skipp, or to contact her:


To find out more about Ben Hoare, or to contact him:


Review of Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals


The bold, interesting illustrations make this a fun and novel book which will appeal to the younger readers, while the nonfiction text is wonderful for middle grade (and perhaps older) readers. I discovered facts I didn't know about some of the animals. An ingenious way to present some of the quirks and appetite preferences of ten animals eating around the world.

Book Cover - four meerkats standing and looking at the title Menus for Meerkats.

Menus for Meerkats and Other Hungry Animals

Author: Ben Hoare

Illustrator: Hui Skipp

Publisher: Kane/Miller Book Publishers (2024)

Ages: 6- 18

Nonfiction


Themes:

Animals' diets, habitats, humor, and STEM.


Synopsis:

Meerkats don't really need menus, but you can use the ones in this book to discover what ten different kinds of animals in various habitats all over the world like to eat. From blue whales to cobras and from koalas to dung beetles, these dietary habits will amaze you!


Opening Lines:

EVERY ANIMAL HAS TO EAT. FOOD IS A SOURCE OF ENERGY, WHICH ALL

CREATURES NEED TO KEEP THEIR BODIES WORKING AND DO LOTS OF OTHER

ESSENTIAL THINGS. WITHOUT FOOD, THEY CAN'T MOVE, GROW, OR STAY

FIT AND HEALTHY. FOOD ALSO GIVES ANIMALS THE STRENGTH

TO BREED, GIVE BIRTH, AND LOOK AFTER THEIR YOUNG.


But what is food, exactly?


Food can be just about anything! Animals called herbivores have a

vegetarian menu, including grass, leaves, fruits, seeds, flower nectar,

and bark. Then there are carnivores, which have other animals on

their menu. Animals known as omnivores have a menu that

features both plants and meat.


Some animals are VERY fussy and will only eat one thing—for example,

koalas eat almost nothing except the leaves of their favorite tree.

Other animals like food that you or I might find disgusting—there are

even animals that have soil or poop for dinner. Mmmm.


In this book, you will discover hungry creatures from all over the world

with very different diets. There are mighty blue whales that gulp colossal

mouthfuls of sea creatures, clever meerkats that munch scorpions

without getting stung, and many more. They are all wonders of nature.


Come on, let’s see what’s on the menu … it’s dinnertime!


What I LOVED about this book:

This fun, boldly colored, opening spread is in introduction which interestingly hints at some of the animals which will be featured in the following pages.

Internal spread - meadow scene with a bear family, on a bluff above an ocean with a blue whale and great white shark, and a dung beetle pushing a poop ball in the foreground.

Text © Ben Hoare, 2024. Image © Hui Skipp, 2024.


For each of the 10 animals, Ben Hoare and Hui Skipp ingeniously and colorfully create a wonderful set of two full spreads which set out in a fun graphic style a "Menu" including the "main course, sides, and drinks," As well as a global map of the animal's range and their physical statistics. Then, as they explore dinner with each animal species, they provide a number of truly fascinating facts. In addition to making the various animals engaging, Hui Skipp has captured the essence of each animal's habitat. It seemed fitting to use the two spreads for the meerkats as the example, after all they are titular animal. I didn't realize an adult meerkat is resistant to a scorpion's venom that would endanger a human and they don't have drinks "on the menu."

Internal spreads - on left, four meerkats eating bugs and grubs on the "menu" and three standing and one reclining. On the right,  a meerkat digging for food, peeking out of burrow, and two standing watch.

Text © Ben Hoare, 2024. Image © Hui Skipp, 2024.

Spanning the globe, the book explores meerkats, scarlet macaws, grizzly bears, great white sharks, koalas, dung beetles, orangutans, Indian cobras, blue whales, and lions. The book explores a wide range of appetites, including herbivores, omnivores, carnivores, and even introducing flexitarians.


Each surrounding border is intriguing and pulls from the animal's food or environment. As she mentioned in the interview above, Hui Skipp even made the Dung Beetle spreads, if not inviting, definitely interesting.

Internal spread - many different species of dung beetles pushing poo or their larva hatching in piles of poo.

Text © Ben Hoare, 2024. Image © Hui Skipp, 2024.


The book will appeal to readers fond of the DK-style bite size facts set out in spreads that allow for both grazing and full-page devouring of facts. A glossary and word-index offer explanations and quick navigation options. This is a great jumping off point for further research projects or a wonderful overview of the individual preferences and needs of some interesting animals around the world. An engaging nonfiction illustrated book for anyone who loves animals and facts.


Resources:


  • think of an animal not included in the book, write or draw menu for that animal. What extra facts would you include about that animal?


  • make a menu spread for yourself and your family. What favorite foods would you list for your main course, sides, emergency snacks, and drinks?

Comentários


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Follow Me

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Instagram Social Icon
  • 1473394675_goodreads
  • Pinterest

Archive

Categories

bottom of page