Today brings another author-illustrator’s fabulous picture book with wombats! But this one is a fun fictional take with those lovable furballs.
Ashley Belote has visited my blog once before and I’ve since had the delight of meeting her in person. She has illustrated or been the author-illustrator of several books now. She lives in the Carolinas and you can learn more about her at her website.
WITCH AND WOMBAT is a delightful story of a young witch named Wilma who is excited to get her very first cat. Instead, she ends up bringing home a wombat! And try as she might, she cannot get that wombat to act like a cat. It’s funny and heart-wrenching at the same time as she learns to accept instead of try to change her new furry friend. These are such fun characters!
Welcome back Ashley!
Me: I love both of your main characters, Wilma and Wombat. What gave you the idea for their story?
Ashley: Thank you! The idea originated about 10 years ago. I was studying children’s literature and illustration with Megan Dowd Lambert at the Eric Carle Museum of picture book art. I rented a small attic apartment in a house in Amherst, MA while I was studying there, and one evening I was sitting at my desk and the alliteration, witch and wombat, popped into my mind. The story has taken many twists and turns since that day, but it wasn’t meant to be a book until now. Timing is everything!
Me: I love that. Out of all the animals in the world, you have chosen some interesting ones for this book: wombats and piranhas. Why did you pick those specific animals for this story?
Ashley: I chose a wombat because that was part of my original concept. I think choosing unique characters is fun because they come with a challenge! I’m always trying to branch out and I haven’t seen a lot of wombats (or piranhas) in children’s books. I also tried to think of typical pets you see at the pet store. I always see fish and thought, well, if this is a unique world, then the pets at the store should reflect that. Therefore, piranhas would be the norm instead of goldfish!
Me: You have several picture books out now. Can you tell us a little bit about your creation process? What comes first for you? The writing or the illustrating?
Ashley: I love both writing and illustrating, and these creative processes happen simultaneously for me. I’m a visual person, so I’m most inspired by visuals, including pictures. I’ll typically have an idea for a character and create a sketch, then I’ll do some writing about them and craft a narrative. I’ll switch back and forth from writing to illustrating throughout the process of creating a book dummy. I find that to be helpful because if I get stuck on one, I can switch to the other for a while.
Me: Wilma could have just been a child who gets the wrong pet, instead of a witch. BUT having her be a witch looking for a cat like every-other-witch, creates more tension and increases the urgency of the problem. That’s brilliant! Was the story always that way? If not, how many revisions did it take to get to such a great plot arc?
Ashley: Thank you so much! As I mentioned, this story has taken many twists and turns on the way to the final version. In 2013, the story began as an adult witch who was in search of a cat. Over time, she changed from an adult witch to a kid witch, and various struggles morphed into the situations currently present in the story. I would say this book evolved over a 10 year period, which includes three full versions of the book dummy and 20 plus manuscript drafts. Now, this is certainly not always the case for every book I work on. Sometimes stories take more revisions than others. This one took a lot, but that is honestly because I was growing as a picture book maker along with this story. It has been a pleasure to come into my own alongside this special narrative.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in the writing or illustrating of this book?
Ashley: One thing that surprised me was how much I enjoyed the research aspect of this book! I wanted to be sure to incorporate facts about wombats throughout the narrative. I think they are fascinating (and adorable) critters, so learning about them became a fun perk of working on this project.
Me: I love how Wombat doesn’t speak and yet has so much to say as a character. And at the heart of the story, Wilma learns to accept Wombat as he is, instead of trying to change him into something she wants. That’s such an incredibly heartfelt message delivered in a non-preachy (and very funny) way! Why is this an important message you want to share with young readers?
Ashley: I think picture books are magical in that they can teach while being entertaining. If a child is going to spend some time enjoying one of my picture books, I think they should come away with some entertainment and a valuable lesson learned. I’ve always felt like an oddball myself, so creating a book about an odd friendship seemed appropriate. Learning to look past the obvious and get to know others is an essential lesson that kids need to learn at an early age. If we judge others by their appearance or a brief first interaction, we could be missing out on wonderful friendships. Showing all that wombat can bring to the table (even though its different from what a cat can do), was a fun way to present this concept throughout the book.
Me: You’ve had some unusual pets over the years (a beaver, a catfish, and a snapping turtle!). If you were a witch and you could have any animal as a pet, what would you choose?
Ashley: I love this question! Yes, the character of Wilma is loosely based on myself. I spent my childhood asking for a cat but couldn’t have one because my mom was allergic. I grew up surrounded by wonderful outdoor spaces to explore, so I did indeed have a few strange pets. I will say, these were all outside pets, haha. If I were a witch, I would probably choose a wombat, simply because Wilma seems to really enjoy her new friend.
Ha! That’s wonderful. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Ashley.
Dear readers, WITCH AND WOMBAT was just released into the world this week. It’s a super fun concept with amazing characters that will pull at your heartstrings (and make you laugh out loud). You won’t want to miss it!