Sara Cassidy's many books include the new children's picture books Kunoichi Bunny and Flock and board book I Make Space. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Malahat Review and Geist. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
Q: What inspired you to write Kunoichi Bunny, and why did you choose a(n almost) wordless format for this book?
A: My young daughter once dropped her beloved Wormy on a downtown sidewalk. We were home before we realized. I raced downtown, with zero hope. I mean, who wouldn’t immediately nab multi-talented Wormy – cat rider, hill roller, neck warmer, etc.?
But there Wormy lay, ignored by passing feet, nothing but a clump of stuffed cloth, zero charisma. That was the kernel for Kunoichi Bunny: stuffed animals get much of their power from their keepers.
As for the book being wordless, it may partly be because I am a frustrated visual artist. It’s not a light case. I’ve tried and tried. Wordless books may satisfy that itch a little. When I write a wordless book, I describe every panel for the illustrator.
Writers of picture books learn not to put into words what the illustrator can show. Why write that the hat is blue when the illustrator can show that? Why mention the hat at all, when the illustrator can show it too? In fact, why mention the cold… That was the thinking that had me whittling a few stories down to “nothing” – only the brilliance of a good illustrator.
Wordless books promote children’s independence as readers, and likely plant seeds in them as writers.
I’m honoured that my wordless picture book, Helen’s Birds, brought to life by illustrator Sophie Casson, was chosen for Ibby’s Silent Books collection, a library of wordless books created for young refugees arriving from Africa and the Middle East. The children speak different languages; the library allows them to read as one.
Q: You also have another new book out for young kids, a board book called I Make Space. How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A: I Make Space took shape at the intersection of Covid-19 and #MeToo. It is a book about consent, staying safe, and bodily independence. It is also about the responsibilities that come with that: to look after oneself -- body and mind -- and to help others look after themselves.
Q: A third new book, Flock, features an imaginative child and ever-increasing numbers of birds--what inspired this story?
A: Waiting for a bus at a busy Toronto bus stop was the inspiration. I had time to study the pigeons all around, searching for crumbs and bugs. Each was unique in appearance and behaviour. And because the bus was late, I had time to imagine them becoming quite different birds and what the commuters – especially a young one – would think of that.
Q: What do you think of the contributions by illustrators Brayden Sato, Jimmy Tigani, and Geraldo Valério, respectively?
A: I am grateful. They bring the book to life—they make it exist – in the same way that there is no play without actors.
Brayden Sato’s impeccable, steady work embraces the story perfectly. Jimmy’s art has a fascinating 3D – i.e. spatial – effect that makes perfect sense for I Make Space; readers fall into his art. Geraldo’s exuberant illustrations capture Flock with full humour and wildness – they are larger than the book!
Q: You've written for different age groups--do you have a preference?
A: I don’t have a preference. There are times I feel like exploring something more abstract, which are the works for very young children, and times I have a story I want to tell.
For short works, like a board book, as with a poem, there is a lot of space between the lines – plenty of room for the reader to feel and to create meaning. In the full pages of a middle-grade novel, there is less space between the lines – the writer has more direction, the story is more literal.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a book for 7-10-year-olds about a mayfly. It’s calming to focus on one tiny creature. My research constantly reveals the brilliant complexity of life, which surprisingly energizes me to care even more about the world. I would have thought it would make me more despairing. The book is written in short chapters and is existential.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m thrilled to answer your questions, Deborah. Thank you for doing the work you do!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Sara Cassidy.