Simply 7 with Mirka Hokkanen & Giveaway: KITTY & CAT

It’s time for another picture book giveaway!

Mirka squareMirka Hokkanen has visited my blog before.  She is a good friend of mine, as well as the author-illustrator of today’s book and the illustrator of several books for children.  KITTY AND CAT: OPPOSITES ATTRACT is extremely exciting as it’s her debut as both the author and illustrator. Yay!  You can learn more about her at her website or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

KITTYCAT_jacket_WEBKITTY AND CAT: OPPOSITES ATTRACT is a very fun author-illustrator debut.  It has memorable characters (a grumpy older cat and a young exuberant kitten), a deceptively simple approach to appeal to the youngest of readers, and a funny plot.  It’s a tale we all know so well: a new cat comes into the home and the old cat isn’t happy about it.  Here it’s done with the concept of comparing opposites and Mirka’s wonderful sense of humor shines through.  This book is hilarious, and there are many layers to it.  Yet, amazingly, the text is incredibly sparse.  This is one you won’t want to miss!

Welcome back Mirka!

Me: You have a variety of published books from picture books, early reader and graphic novels to non-fiction books coming out in a short time span.  How did you balance working on such different types of books at the same time? 

Mirka: My agent sold these three series of books very close together, and I have been working on all of them for the last 2 years. The different types of books offered different challenges at different stages. I think as a creator it made it more interesting and motivating, because each book had different problems to solve at different stages; the books have differing visual styles, I had to learn a new drawing program, how to write differently, research facts, take editor feedback, roll with moving deadlines and keep track of projects in varying stages.  In some ways it was exhausting, and frustrating, but at the same time it was exciting and no two weeks were ever the same.  I block out time, usually a week or two at a time, to work on one aspect of one project, and once it is done and submitted to the editor, I switch to a different project.   

Energetic exhausted_MirkaHokkanen

Me:  Wow!  That’s incredible.  Can you talk about how you got into the picture book market?  Was this a story you pitched yourself or were you asked to create it?

Mirka: I’ve worked on many picture book ideas for the last seven years. Kitty and Cat was the first story that I created that caught the serious attention of editors and agents. I came up with the idea on my own, and one concept book turned into a series of four, which I then started pitching to agents. I was in the middle of querying agents, when I posted one of the books for a Twitter pitch event, where it got a like from an editor. I ended up getting an offer from the editor, which then sped up agent responses, and I signed with my current agent Laurel Symonds. We passed on that first offer and polished the books a bit more before going out on submission again. The book caught the eye of an editor at Candlewick and we signed a deal with them soon after. And now the books are finally coming out two years later!

Original Idea for bookMe: I love this book!  I love the way you include a plot arc and character development in the illustrations (right up until that very last scene).  Where did the idea of kitty and cat combined with opposites come from?  

Mirka: The story of Kitty and Cat evolved from a silly-cat-antics idea to cat-antics-using-opposite-word-pairs to an opposite-word-pairs-friendship story. In the image you can see the scribbles I made in the middle of the night on a piece of paper, when the idea first struck me. The idea of the opposite word pairs and humorous cat antics came first, but I felt the story needed more structure and a stronger hook, so I decided to add the extra layer of the friendship story told only through the illustrations.  

Me: Can you talk a little bit about your creation process for this book?  Where did you start with this one?  Illustration or writing?  How did it evolve all the way to this finished product?

Mirka: I first thought up funny scenes and what the opposite word pairs for those scenes could be. So the book evolved and changed with the parameters of opposite words pairs that could come from visual setups. Once I started working with Kaylan and Lauren my editor and art director at Candlewick, we edited and moved scenes around a lot to create a better emotional story arc for the cats. Some scenes were left out, and new ones invented. At the end we probably spent the most time going back and forth and polishing illustrations and making sure that each illustration moved the story, and each composition, interaction and tilt of the head squeezed out the maximum emotion for that page.   

Untitled_Artwork 1 (3)

Me: I love the art style you chose for this story.  Can you talk about that?  Why did you use so much white space, instead of full color spreads?

Mirka: I love Eric Hill’s Spot books, not only because of the flaps, but because the illustrations are simple and easily readable for the youngest of readers. I see lots of books for young kids being produced where the illustrations are very busy and saturated, and they are hard for kids to (visually) decipher. My mission was to produce a book that had a classical feel, and staying power, like Eric Hill’s books, but update it with humor and a modern twist.  

big little

Me: What a wonderful way to approach this project.  While this is an early picture book, it’s not as simple as it seems and I love that!  I could spend forever reading it and pouring over the images.  Do you have any future plans to do more like this?  Can we expect a book series??

Mirka: Yes! I had originally written a series of four, and so far we have two made and coming out this year. Kitty and Cat: Bent Out of Shape comes out in the fall. If the books do well, I have hopes that we’d get to continue the series. I have ideas for holiday and themed books as well. I’ve fallen in love with my characters and have so much fun illustrating them!

up down

Me: LOL!  I can tell.  What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?

Mirka: I think one thing that always gets me is how so little can do a lot. Kitty and Cat have very expressive faces, and there would be scenes, where I would draw Cat’s eyebrows and eyes thirty times tweaking it just a miniscule bit, to get it just right. We are so tuned to reading expressions, and the tiniest movement can have big changes on how we read the emotion of the character and the situation when it’s an interaction.   

And I love that we can see those changes of expression in the process video you shared with us.  Thank you so much for stopping by my blog Mirka.

But wait, dear readers!  There’s more!  Mirka is also giving away one copy of the book to one lucky reader (US participants only).  You can enter the rafflecopter here.  Good luck!

11 thoughts on “Simply 7 with Mirka Hokkanen & Giveaway: KITTY & CAT

  1. This idea for a picture book is so fun and so imaginative. The illustrations are adorable and hilarious. I can’t wait to read this book!

  2. Tweaking a cat’s eyebrows 30 times sounds a lot like trying to find the perfect word for a sentence. Thanks for a fun interview!

Leave a Reply