Maddie Frost is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Capybara Is Friends with Everyone. Her other books include the forthcoming picture book Iguana Be a Dragon. She lives in Massachusetts.
Q: What inspired you to create Capybara Is Friends with Everyone, and why did you choose a capybara as your main character?
A: Capybara Is Friends with Everyone was not my idea. The title was gifted to me by my editor at HarperCollins, Tamar Mays (thanks, Tamar!). I had a capybara in a different manuscript that Tamar passed on BUT she remembered there was a capybara in it.
Some time went by and she reached out to me (because of the capybara) and asked if I had a story to fit the title, Capybara Is Friends with Everyone. I didn’t, but I knew I could come up with something. Well...I hoped.
If you’ve ever seen a capybara in the wild, or on TV, or in a gif, they really do get along well with all animals. Birds are like their BFF hanging out on top of them all day.
To find my angle I thought about how I would be as a capybara. Probably not as chill as real ones because I'm full of anxiety, and worry, and doubt. So naturally I knew that would be Capybara’s personality, and the story evolved from there.
I, like Capybara want everyone to like me and will go above and beyond to make them like me. I’ve been this way my entire life. With family, teachers, friends, relationships. It’s exhausting. I thought if someone didn’t show excitement to be my friend that there was something wrong with me. “Are my webbed feet too webby?!”
I also definitely channeled some Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec for Capybara’s personality.
Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both at the same time? And how did you create your artistic style?
A: The text always comes first for me. I write the story in a word document with page numbers so I can figure out the pacing. Then once I start sketching, things always change a little from the original text. When I can visually see the characters in action, I might tweak parts of the dialogue.
I work in Photoshop with digital brushes. The types of brushes I gravitate towards constantly change. Mostly because I get bored easily and it’s a way for me to stay fresh and slightly uncomfortable.
Q: What do you think the book says about friendship?
A: It says you don’t need to exhaust yourself to make new friends or go above and beyond for your current friends all the time. If your friends are REALLY your friends, they don’t need amazing gifts or huge gestures. They just need you!...Also self-care!!
I’m noticing more and more that so many of my books have a gentle theme of mental health. Must be all that anxiety, worry, and doubt. Write what you know, right? Haha.
Q: You also have a new book coming out this summer, Iguana Be a Dragon. How did you come up with the idea for this story?
A: Iguana Be a Dragon came from some random art I made a long time ago and posted on Twitter. It was of an iguana attached to three balloons. It sort of stuck with me and I wondered why he was tied to balloons. He wanted something. He wanted to fly. To be something more amazing. To be a dragon. LIGHTBULB!
Iguana doesn’t feel amazing enough to attend a pool party because there could be way more amazing animals there. So he disguises himself as a dragon (which is super amazing) and gets himself in a fireball of trouble.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a lot of very different things and for different age groups. Some projects I can’t really mention just yet (so cliché, right?).
I’m currently writing the next book in my debut graphic novel series called Wombats! The first book comes out in April 2023 called Wombats! Go Camping. Available for pre-order this July.
I’m working on art for a book I wrote called Little Boo. About a ghost who has an annoying little sibling and decides to trade with a werewolf’s sibling. Publishing in 2024.
And I’m attempting a middle-grade novel but it’s more something that’s just for me right now. I always feel it’s important to have side, zero-pressure projects, for YEO. Your eyes only.
I used to make art and stories for fun all the time when I was younger and once I became published I stopped. I thought everything I made had to be something that had publishing potential. It zapped the joy out of the spontaneous aspect of creating. So when I have time, I make sure to write and draw for myself.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Just to keep a lookout on my social media for Iguana visits/giveaways this summer and all other book news!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb