Patrick O'Donnell and Erik Mehlen are the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Do Penguins Have Pediatricians?. Their previous book is Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists?. O'Donnell lives in Boyertown, Pennsylvania, and Mehlen lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Do Penguins Have Pediatricians?
PATRICK: After Erik and I finished Did Dinosaurs Have Dentists? our publisher asked if we had any sequels in the works. We like the idea of helping kids think about and work through their fears, and I’d just had an experience in which one of my sons was worried about getting a flu shot. It seemed like “pediatricians” was a logical next step.
Q: How did you pick the animals to include in the book, and what kind of research did you do on them?
PATRICK: My oldest son, who was in third grade at the time, came up with the title — I told him I needed something alliterative to go with “pediatricians” (he’d been working on alliteration in class). He thought up “Do Penguins Have Paramedics?” during recess.
He really pushed for “paramedics” at first, but came around once I explained the idea to him (phew!). I love arctic and Antarctic animals, and my kids do, too, so from there, it was easy to pick which animals would be in the book — we just went some of our favorites.
To do the initial research, my kids and I watched nature shows almost every weekend morning (David Attenborough is the best!). We also took trips to museums and zoos, and of course I read up on the animals.
Q: Of the various animals in the book, do you have a particular favorite?
PATRICK: I love them all, but probably the narwhal – I mean, they’re basically underwater unicorns, and they use echolocation! How cool is that?
ERIK: Well my girlfriend’s been very vocal about the moose being her favorite, based on my depiction of it in the book. But I’d have to say sea otters are my favorite. I mean, have you ever seen one! They’re just too cute! Though it’s hard to choose because as Patrick said, I love them all!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
PATRICK: I hope that they come away thinking that going to the doctor isn’t something to be afraid of. I also hope they learn a little something about the incredible animals that live in some of the coldest regions on earth.
And I hope it shows them that asking questions — even if they seem silly — is OK. It’s how we learn.
ERIK: I hope that kids and parents can share a moment of bonding, as I experienced when my mom sat and read to me my favorite children’s books at bedtime.
I hope that readers can connect and be amused by the book’s narrative, told from the perspective of an inquisitive child asking their parent silly questions; at the same time I hope kids can add to their vocabulary and learn a little something new about the different types of animals presented in the book’s glossary.
Q: What are you working on now?
PATRICK: I’m working on multiple projects — two nonfiction books for clients, and two of my own: The first is a picture book that explores difficult feelings and talking to a therapist. It will be a more serious; a departure from the rhyming and silliness of Dinosaurs and Penguins. The second is a middle-grade novel that revolves around the adventures of a young girl who rescues wildlife.
ERIK: I’m working on gallery art at the moment for some upcoming shows with fellow artists at our HijoleSA studio, along with some various commission work. I hope to also be working with Patrick on some new children’s books soon.
Q: Anything else we should know?
PATRICK: We frequently update our social media pages with news and events, and sometimes even post special offers — please follow us on Instagram and Facebook: @Patrickfodonnellauthor and @erikmehlen.
ERIK: Many animals presented in the book are endangered and/or treated cruelly: polar bears displaced by climate change, harp seals brutally killed for their pelts. I firmly believe that as humans we have a great responsibility to care for all of Earth’s creatures, and protect not only all life but also the environment in which we all live.
There are many different organizations out there for you to support; World Wildlife Fund is one that leads in wildlife conservation and endangered species and your donations are tax deductible! Also, support the arts! Creativity and art is so important to a child’s development and mental health. We artists and authors want to contribute to that!
So don’t forget to support us by picking up our book and if you like it, leave us a review online and follow us on social media! Thanks to all our readers and a big thanks to Deborah Kalb! Happy reading everyone!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Patrick O'Donnell and Erik Mehlen.