Monday, May 21, 2012

Process Talk: Divya Srinivasan on Little Owl's Night

I'm so pleased to be talking to author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan about her beautiful, whimsical picture book, Little Owl's Night. which debuted last year to many glowing reviews.

Little Owl wanders around the forest, encountering a variety of animals, seeing the fog roll in, seeing the moths flutter toward the moon. Listen to this line: "Silver dust fell from their wings." So simple, and absolutely the right words. Little Owl's Night captures a young child's whimsy without ever straying into the dreaded terrain of cutesy. And the bats--don't forget to look for those bats! Welcome, Divya.

[Uma] Talk about the reversal of the usual dawn-to-dusk cycle in this book--where did that come from for you?

[Divya] I first thought about the visuals and what setting would be fun for me to draw. A night forest with twinkling stars and a bright full moon seemed beautiful and mysterious. I made the main character a little owl so we could see what all and who all he sees as he flies through a world that is cozy and familiar to him, but one that a child who is asleep at night might be curious about and would like to imagine.

[Uma] And it's a vision driven by that beautiful, wide-eyed rendition of Little Owl. Divya, how much did this change from your early visions of it?

[Divya] My first version of the book was 40 pages. In the middle section, a cat tells Little Owl that yes night is beautiful, but daytime is too. This prompts Little Owl to ask his wise mother about the daytime world unknown to him. She tells him about monkeys and lions and other animals that exist in other places. There was also a friendly witch casually flying into the night. I stuck in a lot of elements I loved and hoped for the best.

[Uma] Hear that, drafters? Raise your hand if you do this too! It's a messy business, bringing a story to the page. And then you sent a fully illustrated version off, yes?

[Divya] I fully illustrated the whole thing and sent it off. Viking Children's Books ended up wanting to publish it, but my editor said it felt like two books in one. She also thought it would be better to keep it to 32 pages. She was right. I removed that middle section, replaced it with a couple of new spreads, and was able to keep much of the rest the same.

[Uma]  There are lovely lyrical elements in the text--the fog rolling in, that silver dust that captivated me. My favorite lines of all are probably these:
"Little Owl sat on his branch.
How he loved the night forest!"
How did you end up balancing poetic language with the young child's sensibility in which this book is so squarely grounded?

[Divya] Thank you! I've mainly been an illustrator and animator, working in visuals, and this was my first attempt at having writing published. I've always kept a journal and, among other things, I write down ideas for scenes and word combinations I like, hoping to use them in a project someday.

My editor really wanted the pictures to stand out without heavy text getting in the way visually. And I loved that. I'm naturally wordy I think, but I also love whittling sentences down to what is essential, finding just the right words that would be fun to hear as well as to read aloud.

[Uma] Want to talk about your next book?

[Divya] I'm working on final illustrations for my next picture book, which is about an octopus. Again, I started thinking about the visuals first, and an underwater setting seemed rich with possibilities for colors, forms, and alien-looking animals. The more I learned about the octopus, I knew that had to be the main character: shy, curious, camouflaging, shape shifting. We're still figuring out the title, but Viking Children's Books is set to release it in Summer 2013.

[Uma] Congratulations, and thanks for stopping by WWBT, Divya! Looking forward to your next. I hope to have you back here when you're closer to publication date.

1 comment:

  1. Yes...Great talk about your process, Divya...again and again, we must learn that art is an act of faith.