So, funny story. I have read a couple of books by Canadian author/illustrator Nicholas Oldland featuring Bear, Moose and Beaver. Each time I read them, I would think to myself the illustrations looked like they belonged on Hatley clothing.
Turns out they do.
Q. So a bit of a confession. Each time I read one of your books, I think to myself, those illustrations look a lot like Hatley clothing. And then I read your bio and in fact the reason why they look like Hatley clothing is because you are the owner/creative director of Hatley and Little Blue House! Did Beaver, Bear and Moose appear first in clothing or in book?
A. The illustrations started as clothing prints. I never thought I’d write and illustrate a book. My original plan was to create elaborate hang tags for my Hatley pyjama line. These hang tags would be little picture books that hung from each set of PJs. This idea quickly evaporated as soon as I started writing my first “hang tag book” and realized it was way too much work. I had sketched out a few story lines around some of my illustrations and one day the story for Big Bear Hug came to me and I knew it would make a great book. I quickly wrote and illustrated it and sent it off to Kids Can Press and the rest is history.
Q. What made you then decide to put them in clothing? Why these three characters?
A. The characters started as illustrations that I would regularly feature on our clothing. We have a line of gift apparel that we sell into Canadian wilderness resorts like Banff and Whistler. The Bear, Moose and Beaver characters were developed over many years and are perennial favourites with our customers. Once I started writing books I knew I had to bring them to life.
Q. What was the response to these characters on clothing? In a book form? Did people make the connection waaaay before I did?
A. Yes, I’m afraid you are a little late to the game. People who regularly buy Hatley know they started as images found on clothing and they love the fact they can now read a book featuring characters from their favourite pair of Bear and Moose boxer shorts and pyjamas.
Q. According to your bio on the Kids Can Press website, you always knew you wanted to write a book that people could take to bed with a pair of Hatley pyjamas, but found book writing was harder than expected. The bio goes on to say you started sketching what became Big Bear Hug. Is this your usual pattern for creating a book? How do you go from illustrations to a written story?
A. Originally I was trying to write stories for hang tags that would make Hatley pyjamas a little more interesting. To this day I still mine ideas and images that I had originally created for a pair of pyjamas, boxer shorts or even an apron. I’m always amazed how much credit I get for writing books – no one cares about the sweat and tears that go into a creating a pyjama print!
Q. Can you please tell me more about your writing/illustrating/editing process? How many illustrations would you do per book? How many would actually make it in the book? How many would be cut?
A. I usually send a grain of an idea to my editor, Yvonne Ghione at Kids Can Press. More often than not she politely tells me they are not very good, but every once and a while she says yes. Once I get the green light, I write the story along with simple black and white sketches. There’s a lot of back and forth at this stage, but as soon as the story is approved I delve into the illustrations, which is by far the hardest and most time-consuming part.
Most of the illustrations make it into the book because it is a gradual and collaborative process. I try not to put too much work into an illustration if the original sketch does not get my editor’s blessing.
Q. Hockey in the Wild (funny as usual) is the seventh book in this series. How do you decide what adventures the trio should go on?
A. I try to build and create an adventure around an illustration that was usually created in the past that most likely appeared on a Hatley garment. It seems like every year or two I bombard Yvette with story ideas and adventures based on illustrations I’ve created. We then settle on one or two that make sense. I don’t spend a lot of time on this part of the process, just quick fun ideas that I think might work. The cliche of 10 per cent inspiration, 90 per cent perspiration is very true. When Yvette likes one of these ideas, that’s when the work starts.
Q. What do you love most about writing about Beaver, Moose and Bear?
A. I love bringing them to life, building their characters, personalities, flaws and qualities. I lived with these characters for so long it is so satisfying seeing them grow and develop personalities.
Q. This time, the friends are waiting for the pond to freeze so they can play hockey on it rather than in it. Why was the time right to create a book about hockey?
A. Like many Canadians I love hockey, and of course I had a great hockey pyjama print I just finished working on. All I had to do was say Hockey, Bear, Moose and Beaver and both Yvette and Kids Can Press told me to hurry up and write it.
Q. Will there be more adventures of Bear, Moose and Beaver in book form? Any other form?
A. I’m sure there’s another book in me, but I have nothing planned at the moment. I wrote two books back to back, I need some recovery time. As for PJ prints, that never stops. I have no choice, if I stop I starve.
Q. You write as well as do the illustrations. Do you find one form of storytelling (writing or drawing) easier than the other?
A. That’s very flattering because I don’t think of myself as a writer. I think of writers as people who can spell, punctuate properly and understand grammar. That’s not me. When I write a book, I try to tell a story with as few words as possible and I never think of the writing as being difficult.
I’ve always thought as myself as an artist and illustrator and this is by far the hardest part of the process. It’s very time consuming and when its comes to picture books, this is where the real story telling happens.
Q. You have also writing and illustrated a board book titled Dinosaur Countdown. How different was the writing/drawing process for that? What other projects do you have on the go?
A. All my other projects are attempts to to illustrate something other than Bear, Moose and Beaver to prove to myself I have more than one skill.
To be honest, they are never as successful and not as much fun to create. I don’t know why I bother. I promise to never create another book that doesn’t feature my favourite three animals .
Q. Do you see yourself writing other children’s book? Books for any other age?
A. I would like to create a graphic novel and I have a couple of good ideas, but way too much illustration involved. I can’t bear the thought of it.
Q. What do you like about writing for kids?
A. I have four kids and come bedtime, reading a story was a must. There were always the books I liked reading and the ones my children liked, (and) they were not often the same. The books we both liked were gems and ones I’ll never forget.
As much as I like writing for kids, I am also writing for the parent reading it to his or her child. That’s what I like most, writing to both audiences.
One one cold day, beaver decides to take a dip in the lake, but it’s frozen. He calls his friends to play hockey on the ice, but discover it’s not quite thick enough, as noted by the fact you could only see hockey sticks and a bird peering down in the whole created by one of the friends. The friends wait out Mother Nature until, finally, it’s time to play hockey (after they test the thickness of the ice by throwing giant boulders, measuring and sending moose to test it). Hockey in the Wild, much like Oldland’s other books featuring these characters, makes me laugh. I love the antics these friends get up to. And you can’t get wrong with hockey-playing moose, bear and beaver.
A copy of Hockey in the Wild retails for $17.99. It was provided by Kids Can Press for an honest review. The opinions are my own.