Sunday, November 20, 2022

Q&A with Corinne Demas




Corinne Demas is the author of the new children's picture book The Perfect Tree. Her many other books include The Grumpy Pirate, written with her daughter, Artemis Roehrig. Demas is a professor emerita at Mount Holyoke College, and she lives in Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write The Perfect Tree and why did you choose a bunny as your protagonist?


A: I wrote this story as a Christmas present for my granddaughter, Morgan, when she was 2, continuing a tradition I had started when my two children were little. Some of these stories—like The Littlest Matryoshka—eventually became published books. The Perfect Tree took 12 years! 


I’ve always had a soft spot for bunnies. There’s a kind of innocence and a basic sweetness to them. My daughter had a pet bunny when she was young, and although it had an unfortunate habit of gnawing on the spines of books on the lower shelves in the bookcase, it was cuddly and remarkably quiet.  


We acquired a number of stuffed rabbits in my house over the years, thanks to the generosity of the Easter Bunny, so they provided inspiration, too. Though none of them wore a red muffler and mittens, like Bunny in The Perfect Tree.


Q: What do you think Penelope Dullaghan’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Penelope’s illustrations have an enchanting, timeless quality. They seem contemporary, but they also remind me of the kind of illustrations I loved when I was a child. The animals are all charming, and the settings are beautiful. You want to linger over each spread.


The illustrations do a wonderful job of conveying the passage of time in the story—from the brightness of day to the darkness and mystery of the snowy night.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “This sweet, delightful story brims with messages of holiday warmth, cooperation, and friendship.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: I can’t imagine a more perfect review for this book! It really got to the heart of what I was trying to do. The Perfect Tree is a story about the quest for something perfect—in this case, it’s a Christmas tree—and it’s an exploration of how subjective the concept of “perfection” can be.


The story raises the question of whether there really is such a thing as perfect and suggests there are other things to value more. 


I hope kids will see how happiness comes from intangible things—like friendship and love—rather than tangible objects. Christmas is obviously a good time to explore this theme, but this isn’t a story about a particular holiday, it’s a celebration of something broader than that. In the final spread, the lighted tree, surrounded by a circle of friends, is a warm, glowing presence on a winter night.


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: What a great question. Spoiler alert! I knew from the start I didn’t want Bunny to cut the tree down, and I knew I wanted the tree to serve as a gathering place for Bunny and all her friends. It wasn’t until the rewriting process that I discovered how each animal’s view of what made a tree perfect was connected to something particular about them. The “greenest green” had me stumped for a while, until Cardinal provided me with the answer.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve been working on the copyedits for my new adult novel, The Road Towards Home, which is coming out in May.  The manuscript is 364 pages long, so there are a lot of commas to consider! It’s been exciting to weigh in on book cover designs and taglines.


I’m also working on some new picture book ideas with my daughter, Artemis Roehrig, who is the co-author of five of my picture books (most recently, Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts, illustrated by Ellen Shi, and The Grumpy Pirate, illustrated by Ashlyn Anstee.)  


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My new picture book, Once There Was, is also coming out in May. It’s a contemporary fable, based on dreams, with gorgeous illustrations by Gemma Capdevila.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Corinne Demas.

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