Nora Surojegin is the author of the children's picture book Olwen Finds Her Wings, which is illustrated by her mother, Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin. Their other books include Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas. Nora Surojegin is also an illustrator and graphic designer, and she is based in Finland.
Q: How did you and your mother come up with the idea for
Olwen Finds Her Wings, and how did you collaborate on the project?
A: We had wanted to do something together for a long time, but hadn’t gotten around to doing it. Mind you, this was over 10 years ago. I had just graduated as a graphic designer.
A Japanese publisher (Fukuinkan Shoten Publishers) expressed their interest in my mom’s work, but she didn’t have any texts she wanted to illustrate. I thought I’d give it a go and offered my story about the owl to the publisher, and they liked it!
Our collaboration was fairly easy (with my mom); our views are very similar and both trusted each other's work. We’d go on walks together and talk about the work, as we did with our second book, Otto and the Secret Light of Christmas. And, in my opinion, Olwen Finds Her Wings has my mother’s best work ever.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “The art continues to
perfectly complement the text as it spins a sweet, well-paced tale that will
resonate with young readers. Not only can they appreciate Olwen’s feelings,
they will enjoy predicting what will happen when Olwen tries to perform
un-owllike feats.” What do you think of that description?
A: I love this. I know the pictures are perfect, but I’m always happy to hear the little story resonates with people too. That’s exactly what I want (what any writer wants, I guess), to transfer the feeling from my writing, through the pictures, to the reader.
I like layered stories, I like subtle humour and always hope
to create something that’ll enchant people, even for a tiny moment.
Q: How did you get interested in creating children's picture books?
A: I have no idea. I think the universe tricked me somehow! With a mom who is an illustrator, I fought against this for so long...but couldn’t!
I eventually just realised it is what I need to do, and it was definitely the right thing to do. I’ve always written stories, I’ve always held a pen in my hand. I love creating worlds and creatures, so I guess it was inevitable.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I hope Olwen helps them to think that they all matter and are perfectly fine, just the way they truly are. It might take a while to see who you are, but it’ll always be worth it.
It’s a simple message, but I still think it's an important
one. And I can honestly say it’s very autobiography-material here.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Currently I’m mainly illustrating but I have a dozen stories on my desktop that wait for my attention. One I’ve been working on for years; it has weird creatures, adventuring and tons of feelings, sentiments, and humor. Yeah, I’m not a minimalist.
I have a huge illustration project ongoing (that I can’t talk about), and I’m illustrating some amazing middle grade books, picture books, story massage books, and even made the illustrations for a mobile library bus for the city of Tampere, that I’m really proud of!
But there are more of my own stories coming up – I promise wholesome worlds, adventures, and quirky creatures.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I just want to say thank you so much for giving our Olwen and all my work this attention and support. It is all appreciated very much. I hope the stories bring joy to your kids and you.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb