The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Laura Renauld and Review of Squirrel's Sweater

Prior to becoming a children’s writer, Laura shared her love of books with her third-grade students. After experiencing first-hand the power of story to captivate, amuse, and encourage, Laura knew that she wanted to create books for kids.


When she is not writing picture books about porcupines, pirates, and pickles, Laura can be found on a trail, at the library, or in the kitchen. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and their two sons.


Laura is the author of Bear’s Bicycle (2021), Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life And Legacy Of Mister Rogers (2020), and Porcupine’s Pie (2018).

For additional information, see Laura’s earlier interview (here).


Her newest picture book, Squirrel’s Sweater, releases September 21st.

Welcome back Laura! Thank-you so much for stopping back to talk about your newest picture book.


Thanks for having me, Maria!


Did you always know that this would be a series of books featuring Porcupine, Bear, and now Squirrel?


No! I wrote Porcupine’s Pie as a stand-alone story. It was my debut picture book, after all, so I was just thrilled to have a book coming out. When I started doing school visits, though, I did an activity with kids that brainstormed other alliterative titles for books featuring Bear, Squirrel, and Doe. It turned out that the brainstorming didn’t stop at the students! I couldn’t stop thinking about the stories for the other characters. And since the first book takes place in fall, it made sense to center each of the stories in a specific season.

I bet the kids had loads of fun ideas. What was your inspiration for Squirrel’s Sweater?


After writing Bear’s Bicycle as a summer story, I had to decide which Woodland Friend to write about next: Squirrel or Doe. I also had to pair the character with Winter or Spring. Since Squirrel’s are known for their winter preparations, that felt like a good fit. Next came a great, long list of possible titles that would make sense in winter: Squirrel’s Scarf? Snowman? Sled? Sweater won out, but I didn’t know until I was writing it that the sweater would facilitate a gentle exploration of grief and accepting change.


How fun that you start with a title and then see where the story goes. After writing three fiction picture books and one nonfiction biography, do you find one type easier? Do you prefer fiction?


I enjoy writing both fiction and nonfiction. They balance each other in my creative space. Nonfiction requires a lot of research time on the front end. When I’m ready to start writing, finding the best angle to explore the person or topic feels almost like fitting a puzzle together. Fiction, on the other hand, is much more surprising. I love uncovering the story as I write. The majority of the time spent on fiction stories is on the back end, revising, revising, and revising some more. Since I work on fiction and nonfiction very differently, I am able to have two projects going simultaneously, without fear of getting them tangled.


I imagine it's fun to be able to switch between them as you hit roadblocks. Is there something you want your readers to know about Squirrel’s Sweater?


Squirrel’s Sweater is the third book in the Woodland Friends series, following Porcupine’s Pie and Bear’s Bicycle. It is a winter story where Squirrel discovers that change is a natural part of life and that supportive friends, as well as a new perspective, can make change easier.


Change is SO hard for all of us. I appreciated that Squirrel found a way to accept change, but also keep the item and memories close. How long did it take from first draft to publication? As the third book in this series, was it easier than the others? Or did that make it harder?


It’s only been a year and a half from first draft to publication! Looking back, I’m amazed to discover that it was only two months from brainstorming ideas/titles to acquisition. I guess that means writing the stories about these friends has gotten easier! It helps that I’m not starting from scratch. The stories feature the same four friends, but each one gets their own book in which to shine. Each story is set in a different season. And each story features a journey through the woods to facilitate the interactions the main character has with the other three friends. I wonder if self-imposing a structure on a future story idea that’s not part of the series would act as a guard rail and allow me to develop a new story in a shorter time frame? I’ll have to experiment!


Sounds like an interesting challenge! When you first saw the illustrations by Jennie Poh did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Laura Renauld, 2021. Image ©Jennie Poh, 2021.


I adore Jennie’s art and when I first saw the cover for Squirrel’s Sweater, I laughed out loud! Squirrel’s quizzical expression is just perfect for the circumstances and her character. I feel so fortunate that Jennie has continued to bring these characters to life. I can’t imagine them any other way! Other than the cover, I love the richness of the wordless spread in this book. That is another consistency in all the books and this one is filled with coziness, support, and love.


I can see why you like this one so much! Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I can’t say much, but Doe has a very special story of her own and it takes place in Spring. Can you guess the title?


Doe's Dance? Doe's Dive? I can't wait to see what it will be. During these crazy times, how are you staying creative? What things are you doing to “prime” the well?


The pandemic definitely put a damper on my creativity. My attention span shrank and I was highly distractable for about a year. I went on lots of walks, focused more on reading, and found that I was more productive when I was writing with a friend, even if we were sitting in our separate cars in the library parking lot! To support my creative self, I use time management tools, like Pomofocus, and scheduled co-writing time to build the structure and accountability that I need for a successful writing life.


THAT is the best Covid writing group meeting I've heard of! If you could meet anyone (real or literary), who would that be?


Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables popped into my head after reading this question! I would love to experience her creativity, loyalty, and exuberant imagination first hand!


Wouldn't that be fun! Thank you, Laura for stopping by and sharing with us. It was truly wonderful to chat with you again.

To find out more about Laura Renaud, or get in touch with her:

Website: https://laurarenauld.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kidlitlaura/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/laura_renauld



Review of Squirrel's Sweater


If you enjoyed Laura Renauld's Porcupine's Pie and Bear's Bicycle - or you are new to these books - you are going to adore this precious squirrel who desperately tries everything to make Granny Gray's special sweater fit again. This is such a tender story of change and friendship.

Squirrel's Sweater


Author: Laura Renauld


Illustrator: Jennie Poh


Publisher: Beaming Books (2021)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Dealing with change, grief, animals, memories, and friendship.


Synopsis:

As Winter Warmup approaches, all but one of the woodland friends are bundled up for the snowy season ahead.

Bear, Porcupine, and Doe are all ready to hunker down for winter, but not Squirrel. When she discovers that the sweater her grandma knit for her has shrunk, she doesn't know what to do! No amount of stretching or sewing or help from her friends seems to fix her favorite sweater. But perhaps it doesn't need to stay a sweater to remind her of her grandma and her friends?

The colorful gang of woodland friends from Porcupine's Pie and Bear's Bicycle return to help Squirrel as she learns to navigate and accept change. A final spread features an activity that teaches young readers how to transform their own piece of clothing into something new.


Opening Lines:

Squirrel's tail twitched as she searched

her nest. She was ready for winter . . .

except for one thing.


"I have to find my sweater for Winter Warmup . . .

There it is!"


What I LIKED about this book:

At a time when so many kids and adults around the world have experienced so many changes, this book offers a way to deal with the grief that often comes with these changes.


As the last step on her list to prepare for winter, Squirrel searches everywhere for her special sweater. A sweater knit for her by Granny Gray when Squirrel was a kit. But when she tries it on...

Text © Laura Renauld, 2021. Image ©Jennie Poh, 2021.


it has shrunk (or she's grown). Desperate to wear her special sweater for Winter Warmup, she asks her friends for help. Doe suggests using ribbon to help weave pine branches into the bottom - but they all fell out.

Text © Laura Renauld, 2021. Image ©Jennie Poh, 2021.


Bear stitches stuffing to the sweater - but it's too tickly. Porcupine suggests stretching it "and . . . R-I-I-I-I-P." Squirrel's response "I thought it would always fit," tugs at the reader's heart. Jennie Poh perfectly captures the seesaw of emotions from elation, when Squirrel thinks the sweater can be saved, to agony, when once again she has to face that she can't wear it anymore. With Porcupine's help, Squirrel finds a wonderful way to remember Granny Gray's love, process her grief, and accept the change.


The colorful, soft illustrations are packed with treats. I especially love the hedgehog pin cushion and the crystalline butterfly that accompanies Squirrel through most of the book. Just like the ladybug in Porcupine's Pie and the blue and orange butterfly flittering throughout Bear's Bicycle. The observant reader will find that the ladybug also makes a couple of cameo appearances in this book.


This is a great book about friendship, finding ways to process grief, and keeping loved ones close. One that might help many kids and adults get through this crazy time. It's also a wonderful celebration of problem-solving and ingenuity.


Resources:

- make your own no-sew memory pillow from the instructions in the book. Or make a memory quilt (sewn) or (no-sew).

- decorate any box with a lid and create a special place for memories (memory box).

- what do you think will be Doe's Summertime adventure? Draw a picture or write your idea for Doe's story.

Decorative scroll design
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Decorative scroll design

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