Thursday, August 10, 2023

Q&A with Mirka Hokkanen



Mirka Hokkanen is the author and illustrator of the new children's early reader graphic novel Mossy and Tweed: Crazy for Coconuts. Her other books include Four Otters Toboggan.


Q: What inspired you to write Crazy for Coconuts, and how did you create your characters Mossy and Tweed? 


A: The idea for Mossy and Tweed grew from life circumstances. I grew up in Finland, and forest gnomes are part of our culture. Coconuts were pretty exotic in the north, and there was a kids song, based on the American song “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” where the characters are trying to break a coconut and wreck the house instead.


In 2019, our family was living in Hawaii, with coconuts everywhere. I would hum the song all the time in my head when I saw coconut trees, and thought the unbreakable coconut would be a fun idea for a kids book. 


After the initial idea for the book, I settled on two gnome characters. I thought it would offer more opportunities for funny stunts, with their size being same as the coconut, and give the book that bit of whimsy that it needed, in contrast to if it was people. I thought of the pair having a sort of Laurel-and-Hardy dynamic, where a lot of the story and jokes were told visually.  


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


A: I definitely thought of scenes and an illustration style for the book before I thought of the text. And even though I wrote the full script for the graphic novel before I made full illustrations, I had visuals in my mind for every page as I wrote it. So you could say they happened simultaneously, even though I didn’t technically finish them at the same time.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Colorful and detailed cartoon illustrations capture the comedy well and will keep beginning readers turning the pages.” What do you think of that description? 


A: I really love that description! I felt strongly about making the book accessible to kids who are just starting to learn how to read. Beginning readers don’t have the advanced skills of deciphering visual information, so I worked really hard to keep the illustrations simple enough so that even the youngest readers can understand how the story moves from the illustrations.


The story is funny and action packed, to keep readers engaged and turning the pages to find out what happens at the end. Learning to read on the side is the icing on the cake.   

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


A: My son learned to read through graphic novels, and my hope is for Mossy and Tweed to be that stepping stone for someone else’s reluctant reader, sparking a lifelong fire for books.  

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on three books in different phases, with another three finished books open for preorders. The projects that I’m working on are a nonfiction book about leaves, and a funny barnyard fiction book based on a song, both projects that I’m both writing and illustrating, and then a third book about nature that I am only illustrating. 


The books that I have coming out are already available for preorders via online sources. Each one funny in their own way, and filled with cute characters:


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Mossy and Tweed: Crazy for Coconuts has free activity- and coloring pages ready to download, and the series sequel Mossy and Tweed: Double Trouble launches on Nov. 7th, 2023! Leading up to November; you can follow me on social media for launch giveaways, new free activity pages, drawing tutorials, and other fun events.


I also have a newsletter, where subscribers get extra giveaway goodies, a peek into my studio and life and a heads up on upcoming work. Last, I’m also available to visit schools, libraries and bookstores. You can contact me via my website with proposals.


Activity pages:


Social media:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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