Saturday, May 13, 2023

Q&A with Anya Glazer



Anya Glazer is the author and illustrator of the children's picture book Otters vs Badgers. Her other books include Thesaurus Has a Secret. She is based in London.


Q: What inspired you to write Otters vs Badgers, and how did you come up with the idea for your character Francie?


A: The origins of Otters vs Badgers came from a few different places, one of which was trying to tackle the question “Why can’t people get along?” It’s a big and complicated question without easy answers, which can touch on all kinds of historical and political contexts and complex power dynamics that can’t be condensed into a 32-page picture book.


At the same time, on a basic person-to-person level, it felt like quite a fundamental conversation that kids might want to have – and something that also applies to, say, a playground dispute. I wanted to explore the idea that despite our differences there can be many ways to find common ground. (And I wanted to do this in a light-hearted and hopefully non-didactic way!)


It was important that in this story what ultimately breaks the otter-badger stalemate is something neutral. For me it was natural this should be food-related. Cooking, and baking, has always been a big part of my life and a wonderful thing to share with others.


Food can function as a universal language (it could also have been music, or dance), something that has the potential to transcend boundaries and bring people together. This led to the creation of a main character who’s a baker – enter Francie and her cookies!


Francie is an otter, but she’s too busy thinking about cake to get caught up in the wider feud. She’s so single-minded she doesn’t realise she’s been picking her ingredients in badger territories, which is what brings things to a head.


The otters and the badgers don’t see eye to eye on anything, but neither can deny that Francie’s cookies are delicious. That doesn’t suddenly resolve everything, but it’s an opening for dialogue rather than conflict.


I think there’s also a bit of myself in Francie, in that I spend an above-average amount of time thinking about cookies and other baked goods – although she’s a much better baker than I am!   


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both simultaneously?


A: Mostly it’s both simultaneously. At the very beginning, this project grew out of some drawings I had been making of otters, but once a story starts to develop – working out the pacing, rhythm, dialogue, characters – I’m very much thinking about the text and image together. That all happens in pencil sketches, and once the text and the layouts are all confirmed the very final stage is making the colour artwork.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: That you don’t have to agree with someone all the time to get along, and it’s always possible to find common ground. And I hope it might get some kids baking too!  


Q: How did you first get interested in creating children's picture books?


A: It’s something I was interested in from very young – I was always drawing and making up stories. I remember having a moment of realizing, aged about 6, that the books that I loved like Where the Wild Things Are were made by actual people, and that that was a job you could do! I knew I wanted to do that too.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a new picture book out, The Selfish Crab, published with Oxford University Press. It’s also about community – and cooperation and sharing, with hermit crabs.


Beyond that, I’m in the fun early stages of developing a few new ideas.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There’s a few fun extras with Otters vs Badgers, including a cookie recipe! It’s in the back of the UK version of the book, or you can find it here. That was exciting to include – it’s very simple and kid-friendly, and it’s been lovely to see people baking from it as a fun activity to do around the book. There are also some downloadable activity sheets available here.


You can also find me on Instagram @anya_glazer where I share sketches, behind-the-scenes stuff and any news, and probably more talk about cookies.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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