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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Chantal Bourgonje and Review of Searching For Home

Chantal Bourgonje is a Dutch illustrator and writer of picture books. She grew up in National Park "De Hoge Veluwe" in Holland but now lives in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside in the UK with her husband and two whippets. Her books have received a Kirkus Review star for books of remarkable merit and her work has been highly commended in the Macmillan Prize and AOI Awards.

Photo of author/illustrator Chantal Bourgonje drawing in her studio.

When she's not writing and drawing, Chantal loves to play with her two whippets and walk them in the beautiful countryside in which she lives, at the same time giving her plenty of inspiration!

In her stories and illustrations, she likes to focus on empathy, compassion, and kindness, although she can do a mean monster too! Next to writing and drawing, Chantal has a lifetime passion for animals, the natural world, history, and language.

Collage of the covers of 6 of Chantal's books.

Chantal’s the author/illustrator of Fierce Grey Mouse (2019). Together with her scriptwriter husband, David Hoskins, Chantal created the Horace & Nim series (2018 – 2021). She is also the illustrator of over 40 books, including Worzel says Hello (2017) & Worzel Goes for a Walk (2018) by Catherine Pickles.

 

Her newest author/illustrated picture book, Searching For Home, was released on January 30th.

 

Welcome Chantal, it’s nice to meet you!

 

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


I’ve loved books and drawing since I was a little girl. If you didn’t find me with my nose in a book, I’d be drawing away in one of the big jotter-pads my mother used to get us.

 

It seemed only natural that I’d follow an education in art and I studied fashion illustration in Holland. But was then led astray by the need to make a living and spent a long time in large, global organisations, zooming around the world with a briefcase. Eventually, I escaped to do a degree in illustration and narrative in the UK and that was when I got into illustration in a big way and started to develop my own style.


My favourite books to write and illustrate are children’s picture books and am currently exploring young graphic novels too as an artform.

 

I am so glad you escaped the briefcase! Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book as a child?

Book cover - on left, a messy girl, dog, and empty paint cans. On the right same girl and dog, but with paint cans full of brushes. Both have ladders behind them.

Floddertje (Scrumple) 1 - Opgesloten,

Annie M.G. Schmidt & Fiep Westendorp,

Nutricia, 1968

Growing up in Holland, the author and illustrator team I read the most was Annie M.G. Schmidt and Fiep Westendorp. I loved all their books but especially the Floddertje series, or the more easily pronounceable Scrumple and Splodge in the English translation: hilarious stories about a messy little girl and her even messier little dog, getting into all sorts of messy trouble. To say I saw a bit of myself and my little poodle in the stories is a bit of an understatement. I devoured Annie’s and Fiep’s books and got my way through their books from our local library in no time. And then reread them many times, I still have the battered, cello-taped old copies here with me in my studio! [The cup I’m holding has an illustration on it by my favourite illustrator (Fiep Westendorp) of my favourite character by her (Floddertje / Scrumple and Splodge)]

  

They sound like amazing books. What was your inspiration or spark of interest for Searching For Home? Which came first, the text or the illustrations?

Book Cover - house-sprite trudging up a snowy hill against the wind.

A friend of ours was the caretaker of a crumbling old 16th century stately home. It was a maze of over one hundred rooms, corridors, and hallways with a huge great cantilevered staircase. You could easily get lost in the place - as I did once or twice. You’d find old paintings of lords and ladies, tattered drapes and fraying curtains, ancient books, and many other old things. 

 

In winter, it was icy cold and lonely. Grey, damp walls and no heating. But in summer, the sun would shine through the windows, friends would visit, and there’d be parties in the old orangery. The cold house transformed into a home. Sitting there amongst friends, it struck me that I wanted to write a story about what makes a house a home.

 

For Searching for Home, as with most of my stories, I start with sketches, and doodles - scribblings that gradually turn into characters. Then I develop the characters, their likes, their fears, their problems and so on. The more I learn about them, the more their story comes through.

 

Next, I work on the text. I write everything down, including things that can be replaced by illustrations. Then I see where the page-turns might fall. Although I’m thinking of pictures as I’m working on the text, I only start sketching when I have a good idea of the structure, roughing out a storyboard as I go. As the story develops, things can change: chunks of text can be cut, new images appear. I draw and paint the pages using watercolours and pencil and pen and ink, which I then scan and combine with the text using Photoshop and InDesign.


Sounds like an amazing transformation to witness. How long did it take from the first draft to publication for Searching For Home? How does this compare to your other picture books?


This particular story lay semi-dormant for years while I worked on other projects, so it took a bit longer than usual. I knew there was something there and I’d regularly come back to it to see how the characters and stories might progress. There were a few dead ends along the way but finally Noa and his new friends emerged and found a home.

  

I'm glad you stuck with it. I love Noa and his friends! They've got such great personalities. As the author/illustrator, what was the toughest aspect of writing or illustrating Searching For Home? And what was the most fun part of creating this book?


The toughest aspect was negotiating the false starts and dead ends. It can be difficult to put stuff you’ve worked on for quite a while to one side.  But of course, those wrong turnings are often part of the journey you have to make.

 

The most fun in writing the book was discovering the characters Noa met along the way. And experimenting to get a good snow effect for the illustrations was joyful. I was splashing different kinds of white paint around (watercolour, gouache, white ink, acrylic, wall paint) and scribbling on top of my watercolour illustrations with chalk, pastels, crayons, pencils and even a sharpie. 

 

Thank you for sharing that. I wondered how you got the fun snowy effects. Which is the spread you are most proud of?

Internal spread - on left vignettes of sprite looking out a high window, under bed, and behind pictures. On right sprite leaving house and running through the snow after his hat.

Text & Image © Chantal Bourgonje, 2024.


Difficult question. It’s probably the one where Noa first leaves his house and runs after his hat in the beginning of the story. I’m also really pleased with the beach scene later in the book.


It is a tough question. I'd have to choose the opening and the night scenes. What is one of the most fun or unusual places where you’ve written and/or illustrated a manuscript?


One year, to celebrate a big birthday of my Husband's, we rented a houseboat on a tidal creak on the Island of Andros. In the evenings watching the sun go down we’d see flocks of ibis returning to the mangroves for the night. We noticed that one ibis was always late and flew by on his own. We called him Julian, after a dear friend who was always late - even for his own birthday! I sketched the ibis every evening and turned him into a character during the day. Who knows, Julian may just feature in a picture book of his own one day.

  

That sounds like such a great place to sketch and write. Is there anything special you want your readers to know about Searching For Home?


When I was growing up as a little girl, we moved house quite a few times over the years and it always felt odd - and maybe even a little scary - going into a new, empty house for the first time. But once we’d sit together as a family around the kitchen table, it all felt safe and exciting too. Therefore, it felt only right to dedicate this book to my parents, who made every house a home. 

 

Many illustrators leave treasures or special elements in their illustrations. Did you do this in Searching For Home? If so, could you share a few with us?


There are a lot of little personal references inside the room in Noa’s house. Next to giving him plenty of books and drawing materials, there is the bowling pin, a wink to me once having been Lady’s First in a bowling competition, the only sport I have ever been first in. Noa’s drawing of a grey dog on his wall is one of my whippets. The teddy on the floor is a homage to the first teddy I had as a little girl, called Poezebeer. 


Check out the opening spread below in the review below to find the items Chantal mentions. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


Right now, I’m working on the sketches for a new picture book dummy and at the same time am getting to know a new little character that appeared in my sketchbook the other day. I just found out what he’s worried about. We’ll have to see how he gets to solve his problems.

 

Good luck with all your projects. Look forward to seeing what comes next. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park (anywhere in the world)? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Photo of gnarled tree in Savernake Forest © Andrew Hayward-Wills

© Andrew Hayward-Wills


My favourite forest (next to the Hoge Veluwe, where I grew up) is Savernake Forest, one of Britain’s ancient forests with many old, gnarled oak trees. I lived near it for many years and a lot of my illustrations are inspired by walking my dogs in Savernake.

 

I’ve visited the Grand Canyon, which filled me with awe and would love to see again. One day I would also love to visit Yosemite and Yellowstone. The pictures I have seen of both National Parks are amazing, and you never know, I might just bump into Yogi Bear!

 

Looking at the images of various trees in Savernake Forest was a fun rabbit hole to explore. Thanks! I hope you get to explore Yellowstone and Yosemite.


Thank you, Chantal for sharing about yourself and your new picture book with us.


For more information about Chantal Bourgonje, or to contact her:


Review of Searching For Home


How often have we gone looking for something we thought we needed only to find we already had it, or it was right near us the whole time? This picture book is a little like this. Begging the question of what makes a house a home - friends? And positing that you can't find friends staying locked in your home. It is a gorgeous and humorously touching picture book of a house-sprite who discovers how to find a friend and what makes a home.

Book Cover - house-sprite trudging up a snowy hill against the wind.

Searching For Home

Author & Illustrator: Chantal Bourgonje

Publisher: Beaming Books 2024

Ages: 4-8

Fiction


Themes:

Friendship, home, and SEL.


Synopsis:

Noa is an excellent finder. But he can't seem to find any friends.


Noa the house-sprite likes his home . . . but it doesn't have any friends in it. Determined to change that, Noa sets out on an adventure to find a home with friends. Along the way, he meets Bear, Ferret, and Wolf. Together they face daunting dangers and witness breathtaking beauty, all in search of a new home . . . until they come to realize that maybe the real home is the friendships they made along the way.


The timeless message and whimsical art of Searching for Home make this the perfect gift book for folktale enthusiasts and fairy tale lovers. Young readers will resonate with Noa's hunt for true friendship, and might just be inspired to go on an adventure or two of their own. Oftentimes, rich friendships are waiting just around the corner.


Opening Lines:

On top of a mountain lived a house-sprite called Noa.

Noa was really good at finding things.


One day he even found himself!


But there was one thing Noa couldn't

find. One thing he wanted more

than anything in the world . . .


What I LOVED about this book:

This is such a great opening! How can you not fall in love with this personable, inquisitive little sprite? I love him finding himself in the mirror! 😊 And it was fun going back to find all the things Chantal referenced in her interview above.

Internal spread - on left, sprite finding a T-rex bone, finding music playing on found empty bottles. On right, sprite playing with reflection in mirror and looking about a room full of treasures.

Text & Image © Chantal Bourgonje, 2024.


After searching his entire house, Noa heads outside to find a new home. "One where he could find friends." I love his simplistic logic - everything else he's ever found had been in his home. So, he just needed to find a different home in order to find a friend. Unfortunately, the wind immediately steals his hat and leads him on a chase. When his hat stops, Noa finds, and rescues, a bear. Who agrees to help look for a new home, as long it's warm and has berries.

Internal Spread - on left, bear stuck, headfirst, upside-down in a hollow trunk. On the right three panels of the sprite trying to pull the bear free.

Text & Image © Chantal Bourgonje, 2024.


Weaving in a dash of whimsical humor (both in the illustrations and the text), Noa and Bear head off searching for a new home. Along the way, they find a ferret allergic to hay and a wolf scared to be alone. The four adorable characters trekked over snowy hills, "saw amazing things . . . and faced grave danger."

Internal spread - on left bear, wolf, ferret, and sprite slidding on ice. On the right, all four marvelling at the night sky.

Text & Image © Chantal Bourgonje, 2024.


I love this and the next two nearly wordless spreads! Chantal gorgeously captures their personalities, the fun (and risks) of the adventure, and their developing close friendship. I also enjoyed her loose, soft, watercolor and ink images and the variety of landscapes they travelled through. By varying the illustrations between full-bleed pages and series of panels, Chantal masterfully takes us on a fun adventure. When the foursome finally discovers. . . oh, just wait until you see the glorious, satisfying ending. The book is also full of subtle nuances - choosing between you need or what is expected, a wariness of 'others,' definitions of home, and the differences of individual perceptions. Lending itself to a number of opportunities for social and emotional discussions. This is a wonderful picture book on being open to finding friends in unexpected places and how friends can make a house a home.


Resources:

  • when did Noa discover that Bear, Ferret, and Wolf might be friends?

  • if you were Noa, what three animal friends would you have wanted to find? Describe, or draw, what your home with them looks like? What kind of adventure would you have to go on to find this home?

  • how do you define 'home'? What do you need for someplace to feel like home?

  • check out the color page from Beaming Books.

Comments


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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