Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Q&A with Cori Doerrfeld

Cori Doerrfeld is the author and illustrator of the new picture book The Rabbit Listened. Her other books include Matilda in the Middle and Little Bunny Foo-Foo. She lives in Minneapolis.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Rabbit Listened?

A:The idea for The Rabbit Listened sprung from my own feelings of helplessness after two of my friends went through the heartbreaking experience of losing a child. My friends both expressed how frustrating it was that while many of the people in their lives wanted to help, nobody really knew what to say or do.

It reminded me of a letter I got back in high school from my boyfriend at the time. He too, had experienced losing a loved one. When he was only eight years old, his older brother was killed in a car accident. The letter talked about how difficult it was for him afterwards.

More than any of the people in his life, it was his pet rabbits who truly helped him through the grieving process. With their warm, calm presence, his rabbits offered him the quiet space he needed to hurt, think, and move through his pain. The rabbits simply listened.

The more I thought about these rabbits, the more I realized the perfect wisdom in how they were there for that little boy. That, combined with the desire to do something helpful for my friends, the idea for The Rabbit Listened was born.

Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first (or both simultaneously)?

A: Typically my books start with a rough idea or an image that I can’t stop thinking about. How I start working on an idea varies. Sometimes I write out a quick draft, or notes first. Other times I sketch characters first. My house is often covered in random scraps of paper or post it notes that I have either written a phrase or sketched a quick doodle on.

Most of the time when I actually sit down to work on a new book idea, it is a simultaneous process where I switch between writing and sketching. I find that even if I am able to write an entire rough draft of text, it is so hard to tell if it has the right pacing or flow until I draw rough sketches for the art.

All of my books start out as a very rough combination of possible text and quick thumbnail sketches.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: I feel like we are just waking up to the idea that children need more than an education in numbers and letters. I know far too many adults who have no clue what to do with difficult emotions or how to express empathy.

I hope this book helps kids learn what they can do when life doesn’t go as expected, or they see someone who is hurting. I
would love for them to feel confident that even if they weren’t sure what to say or do to help someone, they always have the power to listen.

I hope it starts conversations in houses, schools, and libraries about emotions in general and how you can’t “fix” someone in pain, but you can be there for them. Even the youngest child can take away the concept to “be like the rabbit.”

In turn, I also hope kids recognize that when they themselves feel alone or sad they can tell the people in their lives what they need.

Q: Who are some of your favorite children's picture book authors?

A: Authors I still love from childhood are William Steig, Maurice Sendak, and Leo Lionni. Today I am always adding to my list of favorites. I love Yasmeen Ismail, Ame Dyckman, Lauren Castillo, Elise Parsley, Matthew Cordell and Peter Brown…but could list forever!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just finished up a picture book that pays tribute to the wild ways of my daughter. When she was a toddler, I had to constantly chase her through countless environments, avoiding many near catastrophes, and receiving many disapproving looks from other parents.

My book recreates this experience with a mother and baby orangutan. The book ultimately celebrates the love and beauty chaos can lead to. It is called Wild Baby and is set to release in Spring 2019.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I just want to say that The Rabbit Listened has such a special place in my heart. I have been so humbled and honored to have its message read and shared by others.

Because of this book, I have even learned of a local group in Minnesota where I live called STEM Bunnies. It was started by a young boy and not only does the group protect and care for hundreds of misplaced rabbits, but they have therapy bunnies. These bunnies offer quiet, calm support to those in pain just like the pet rabbits from my letter.

STEM Bunnies and I are already discussing ways to work together to spread the message far and wide that help is out there, you are not alone, and someone will be there to listen.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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