Saturday, January 7, 2023

Q&A with Chad Otis




Chad Otis is the author of the new children's picture book A Little Ferry Tale. His other books include the picture book Oliver the Curious Owl. He lives in Idaho.


Q: What inspired you to create A Little Ferry Tale, and how did you come up with the idea for your main character, the little ferry?


A: Like so many of my ideas, this one started with word play. I play word games every day (Wordle, Octordle, Ruzzle) and I habitually toy with words in my head like the wonderful, little puzzle pieces they are. 


And, like most of my ideas, this one "dawned on" me at...dawn. With freshly-scrubbed synapses, my mind makes a bunch of quick connections on its own - connections I wouldn't be able to make if I were trying.


When this story dawned on me I had been living and working in Seattle for 35 years, where ferries are very much a part of life.


On this particular morning, I was thinking about how many picture books are retellings of classic fairy tales when, Ahoy there!, my mind connected the dots for me - Fairy Tale, Ferry Tale.  


From there, it was a matter of deciding on the story I wanted to tell. 


I thought about how ferry passengers are usually excited about everything around them. They marvel at everything except the ferry. 


Our Little Ferry felt like a good opportunity for letting kids know they shouldn't compete with the prettiest, fastest, and loudest among us. Because, like ferry boats - the patient, reliable, quiet kids are fantastic just as they are.


Q: Your publisher describes the book as "in the spirit of The Little Engine That Could"--what do you think of that comparison, and what do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: The spirit of The Little Engine That Could is one of kindness, helpfulness, and determination. I think A Little Ferry Tale is a message more tailored for our times. 


It's not about doing something seemingly beyond our capabilities, like Little Engine  ("I think I can!"). Instead, it's about recognizing what our true capabilities are and embracing those ("I was made for this!").


In this time of social media, when so many are clamoring for the spotlight by being the loudest, prettiest, or sportiest - A Little Ferry Tale is meant as a reminder that qualities like being quiet, helpful, and reliable are just as valuable (more, really), and that they should be celebrated!


Q: You've also created the picture book Oliver the Curious Owl--what inspired that book and how would you describe the dynamic between Oliver and his friend Bug?


A: That was another one that "dawned" on me. All owls say "Who?" but what if there was a very curious owl who asked all the other questions too? Who, What, When, Where and Why? 


For me, the story is about how curiosity can overcome fear and get us out of our comfort zones - where we can explore, learn and live fuller lives. Once we face our fears, we realize the world isn't quite as scary as expected. It becomes a bigger, more colorful, wonderful world.


Bug is a like-minded friend for Oliver. They share a dream of discovering what is beyond their home in the big tree. Together they overcome their fears and venture into the unknown where they explore, investigate, and then return with new-found bravery and even more excitement and curiosity. 


Q: Do you usually start with the text or the art--or do you work on both simultaneously?


A: I start with an idea. Which, for me, is a combination of words and images right from the start. But, all of it stays in my head for days and weeks as I sort out whether or not it works as a story worth telling. 


Is it original, interesting, engaging and relatable? When I think I've got something I like - I pitch it to people with just a title and a quick summary - and see how they respond. 


Do they "get it?" Do they like it?" Do they laugh, or say "Awww" at the right times? If I just get blank stares, it's back to the bed to see if anything new dawns on me.


Once I start committing things to paper, I write a draft of the story and rework it until it feels like all the big parts are in place. Then I make a thumbnail storyboard with all 32 pages on letter-sized paper.


From there, I go back-and-forth about a million times until the images work with the words. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a book about a boy named Nick, who "might be the neatest kid ever."


In fact, "...some people think he's too neat, but he can't help it. If something is messy, he has to fix it and make it neat. But that's okay because Nick is just fine on his own."


Then Nick's parents bring home a surprise, and things get very, very messy! 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You should know that my next book, The Bright Side, will be released Feb. 21, 2023, and is available for pre-order now!


Described as " endearing picture book about making the most of any situation" and a "heartfelt and meaningful portrait of houselessness that’s just right for young children."


The story is based on my own childhood. My family and I lived on an old school bus for about four years, and I didn't go to a traditional school with other kids until the third grade. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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