I absolutely adore a good funny book. Today’s picture book is both funny AND nonfiction by a funny author-illustrator. I can’t wait to share it with you.
Abi Cushman has visited my blog a few times already. She is studied art and art history at Tufts University, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the University of Melbourne in Australia. In her spare time, Abi enjoys running, playing tennis, and eating nachos. (Yes, at the same time.) She lives on the coast of Connecticut with her husband and two children. You can learn more about her at her website.
WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD is Abi’s third funny picture book, but each one she’s published has been completely different from the last. The first was simply a funny picture book. The second was a funny concept board book. This one? Is a funny nonfiction book. Here the wombat is telling facts about itself that are, in fact, weird, but in a self-mocking way. There is a snake character who is learning these facts as the book goes along that increases the laughter potential. I both laughed AND learned new things. I love this! Trust me when I say that this is a book you won’t want to miss.
Welcome back Abi!
Me: I remember seeing the wombat poop fact on your website many years ago. I was delighted when I heard it was becoming a book, but I have to ask: what made you wake up one day and decide to turn this information into a picture book?
Abi: The cube poop fact is definitely the most attention-grabbing, weird thing about wombats. But the more I studied them, the more I realized there were LOTS of weird things about wombats. And that made me love them even more. I felt like kids would be equally enamored with wombats if they knew about them.
But I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to make a picture book or if I was going to make a website about wombats. I’d been a web designer for 20 years, so making my own websites was something I was comfortable with.
I decided to try it as a picture book because at the time, I had just started writing fiction picture books, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to try writing and illustrating a nonfiction topic as well. So I did a lot of doodling in my sketchbook for a while, and then tried to put the doodles and facts together into a book dummy. Once I did that, I felt confident it could work as a picture book.
My first book dummy for Wombats Are Pretty Weird. It involved lots of cut out pieces of paper and tape.
Me: This is your foray into nonfiction. I know you struggled with genre initially (picture book vs. graphic novel, etc.) but did you receive any push back about this book being “nonfiction” while still including your sense of humor?
Abi: I think, in general, there is some pushback on informational books that add in humor through anthropomorphic animals or objects. There are some people who like to be black and white about categorizing things. They think that if any element is made up, then kids can’t tell what is true and what is not. But to me, there are lots of ways to make informational texts really engaging, including lyrical writing, interactivity, strong storytelling, and yes, humor. Humor is a great way to help people retain information.
I’m lucky that my editor at Greenwillow was supportive of this humorous approach to nonfiction. And I’m certain that after reading WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD, kids will not think that wombats actually talk about how best to style their nose hair, but they WILL remember that some wombats have hairy noses and some do not.
Me: Yes! I agree with your philosophy! Once again I love how your sense of humor shines through. The wombats joking about their weird anatomy is one thing, but the addition of the snake is perfect (and allows for so many different hilarious moments). What gave you the idea to include the snake? Was he always a snake?
Abi: It’s funny because two of my books (and another one upcoming) feature snakes, and it looks like I’m just obsessed with snakes. But the truth is, I wanted a character that could be a stand-in for the audience, and a snake just fit. It was an animal that could potentially live among wombats in Australia, but it was also so vastly different from them. The fact that wombats have cartilage butts is weird. But to a snake it’s even weirder because snakes don’t even have butts.
Me: LOL! That is true. You studied abroad in Australia in 2001 where you learned about wombat poop. Then 17 years later you created your wombat graphic for social media in 2018. That’s a long time for something to percolate into a book. During that time, did you learn more about wombats? Or did you have to do a lot of research when you started writing the book?
Abi: During that time, I did learn more about wombats because I wrote an article about them on one of my websites, AnimalFactGuide.com. So I had a pretty decent understanding about wombats before deciding to write a book. When I started writing the book, I dove deeper into research really trying to hone in on the weirdest facts about wombats. I wanted to fully understand how cube poop was made, what their backward pouches looked like, and how they dug their burrows.
Me: You have a love of animals and even developed a couple of websites dedicated to animal facts. As such, are there other animals you’re equally obsessed with (like wombats)? Could there be another funny informational book like this wombat book in the works? Dare we hope for a series of them?
Abi: I’ve always loved rabbits. Both my husband and I had pet rabbits growing up, and then we had a pair of house rabbits for about 12 years. That’s what led to the creation of one of my sites, MyHouseRabbit.com. We wanted to share tips on keeping pet bunnies inside the home. Rabbits are fun because they are full of personality and can be litter-trained like cats. But similar to wombats, they have nonstop teeth, which means they like to chew absolutely everything. So you have to be meticulous in bunny-proofing your belongings.
In terms of other funny informational books, I’m happy to report that right now, I am working on the second book in the “[Not So] Serious Guide” series. The next one is about an animal you are probably very familiar with but most likely don’t know how weird and tough they are: the flamingo! Flamingos are so much more than just their pretty pink feathers. They have many unique features like specialized filter feeding beaks, scaly legs for walking in toxic water, and more. Plus, Joey the snake will be there to learn all about them with us. FLAMINGOS ARE PRETTY FREAKY is scheduled to release in Summer 2024.
Me: WHOO HOO!! I’m delighted to hear this and can’t wait to see the next book. What is one thing that surprised you in writing and/or illustrating this story?
Abi: One challenge in writing this book was finding that balance between being funny but also being accurate. The narrator text is pretty straightforward and short, but I did triple fact check every part of it making sure the phrasing was correct and not misleading.
In the illustrations, I wanted a fun, comic kind of feel, but I also wanted a decent resemblance to wombats and a clear conveyance of scientific information when appropriate. So I looked at a ton of reference photos of wombats, wombat burrows, and Australian flora and fauna. I also asked a wombat scientist to review my text and diagrams about cube poop.
Me: You have now published three different books (a picture book, a novelty board book, and a nonfiction picture book). What is one thing that you’ve learned during this process that you wish you could go back and tell yourself before you got published?
Abi: Something I’ve learned is there will always be tough moments in the journey. Times when I feel anxious because I’m not sure how to tackle revisions. Times when I don’t like the illustrations I’ve done. But every time, I’ve figured it out. I think that’s just part of my process. So when I experience that pang of anxiety, I’m comforted knowing that I’ve been there before and I’ve gotten through it by just pushing forward. New ideas on how to approach a revision will come. Small tweaks to the illustrations will make them better. And the important thing to realize is that feeling uncomfortable in the process just means you’re challenging yourself, and that’s a good thing.
I love that. Great advice for everyone actually. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Abi.
This is a really fun read that was jut released into the world on Tuesday. I highly recommend tracking down a copy to read. But wait, dear readers! There’s more! Abi has agree to giveaway one copy of WOMBATS ARE PRETTY WEIRD to one lucky winner. You can enter the rafflecopter here!
Side note: this giveaway will be open a bit longer than usual. I will be taking a long trip and away from the internet, so the giveaway will actually be open until June 20th.