Just in time for Howler-ween (& the beginning of the school year), here’s a delightful book giveaway!
Benson Shum has visited my blog several times before. He has illustrated a number of picture books and is also an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Benson now lives in sunny Southern California. He uses watercolor, ink and digital tools to create his illustrations. You can learn more about him at his website or follow him on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook.
FIRST NIGHT OF HOWLERGARTEN is a brilliant mashup of “the first day of school” (or in this case, the “first night of school”) and baby werewolves! I’m absolutely astonished that no one has ever thought of this before, but then again, no one but Benson could make it this adorable. Here little Sophie is worried she won’t transform during the full moon on the first night of school, like her parents. They reassure her that they will love her no matter what and that she will love school. As any story exploring a first school setting does, there are trials and pitfalls, friends, and lovely heartfelt lessons to be gained. This book will definitely pull at your heartstrings. You won’t want to miss it!
Welcome back Benson.
Me: I love when fantasy is woven into a picture book, but I never would’ve thought of a werewolf’s first night of school! What gave you the idea for this story?
Benson: As you know from my Anzu book series, I love fantasy. And werewolves were a huge part growing up! From movies to tv shows, they were on my mind as a kid. The idea of having another persona or animal was such a fun idea. So I thought, what if there were were-cubs? Most werewolves we see are adults. so I thought it’ll be fun to have a twist on kindergarten but with werewolves!
Q: Yes! I’m always astonished at how easily you find heart in a story (or so it seems). Was this story this sweet from the first draft? Was the ending always the way it is now (I’m not giving any spoilers!)?
Benson: That’s so nice of you to say. The ending was always the same in my head, but how we came to it changed a bit. My first draft or many drafts later, Sophie was actually a were-paca. It was still a school of werewolves, but not all the kids transformed to werewolves. Some were were-cubs, were-cats, were-deer. The sky was the limit! But in the end, we wanted to simplify the story and make it about “What if she stayed human? What happens if you don’t transform?”
Me: A were-paca? I love this idea, but I can see why you simplified it. This is the second book I’ve seen recently with a night setting for nocturnal critters at school. Yet despite that, your book is so full of color and light. What made you decide to take that direction with your color palette for this story?
Benson: It was fun to play with the colors. Because it is set at night, I wanted to add fun colors we see in kindergarten. I brightened up the classrooms and clothing the kids wear, and it contrasts nicely when they go out to play. It shows joy even if the setting is at night.
Me: That is so true. These have got to be the cutest werewolves I’ve ever seen (even the teacher!). Did you struggle at all with the character designs?
Benson: Thank you so much. The fun part was, how can I make them all a little different. So I played with clothing, hairstyles, shapes and sizes.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in creating this story?
Benson: I find keeping a story simple is so hard. I think we as creators have so many ideas we want to incorporate into our story, but trying to hone in one that one idea and really explore and get to know the characters is really tough. Hence for this story, we simplified it to all werewolves instead of other were-animals.
Me: Good point. You have written about kaiju and now werewolves. I love it! If you could write another picture book about any other fantasy critter (no holds barred), what would it be? Why?
Benson: Yes!! haha, I’m developing one right now with another fantasy critter. So I don’t want to say too much. Fingers crossed!
Me: Ohhh! That sounds promising. Any other future projects you can tell us about? What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
Benson: Yes, I have a new book coming out January 2024 with Penguin/Dial Books. It’s called IMAGINE YOU AND ME. A gentle story –with a surprise twist! — about the bond between an imaginative bear and his best friend.
Aww! That sounds wonderful. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Benson.
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to check out this book, well I’ve got a wonderful surprise for you! Benson has agreed to a giveaway of ONE copy of this book. You can enter the Rafflecopter here. Good luck!