Pride Puppy! Celebrating Every Family
Robin Stevenson & Julie McLaughlin
Robin: At what moment when you were reading the manuscript did you know you wanted the job?
Julie: Immediately! I think I said yes before I even read the manuscript, hah. I’ve worked with a wonderful designer at Orca, Rachel Page, on a few books including this one, and she always pitches really fun projects that are suited to my skills/interests. The book sounded like an amazing opportunity to explore and illustrate this beautiful and colourful and diverse world, I also hadn’t done a fictional kids picture book yet either, so that was an exciting challenge.
Robin: Do you like or not like hearing an author’s opinion of what might be in the pictures?
Julie: Absolutely, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable ever doing a book without hearing the author’s feedback or ideas, at least at some point in the process! I had full freedom in deciding who/what to sketch and how to tackle the scenes, and then it went back to you and the publisher for feedback. Being that it was the most involved and complex project I’ve ever done, I was pretty overwhelmed and scattered at the beginning, your feedback helped me refocus the direction of the book. I’ve read some reviews that appreciated seeing so many tattoos in a kids book, that was your suggestion as well!
Robin: Have you ever wanted to write your own text?
Julie: Not even a little bit! At this point in my life I’m much more interested in and compelled by other people’s stories and points of view. How was the main character in your imagination different from the one I created?
Robin: I find it hard to picture faces in my mind, so I didn’t have a very clear sense of how the main character looked. Despite that, when I saw the illustrations for the first time, I thought the characters looked exactly how I imagined them! All the people in this book look like real people—they look like people I know—and that makes me very happy.
Julie: Can you name a nice surprise or two in what I added to the story?
Robin: Because it is an alphabet book, with a word search element, there are lots of things hidden on each page -- and so many of them were nice surprises. One of my favorites is the sloth on the school bus, but I also love the button with they/them pronouns, the granola bar poking out of Grandma’s purse, the Marsha P. Johnson sign, the nail polish in the colors of the non-binary flag, the Pomeranian and the poodle on the pride parade float, and so many more.
Julie: Are you tempted to pick up a pencil and start drawing?
Robin: Haha, no. I wish I had that kind of talent! I am very much tempted to pick up a pencil and write the words for another picture book though…
Julie: What is your favourite spread in the final book?
Robin: I can’t choose between the P spread and the S and T spread! They’re both my favorite.
Julie: Same! Because S & T are such common letters there was a ton of visual material to work with, I had so much fun filling it up and even had to cut back a bunch of the imagery. And of course, P, for being celebratory and colourful!
Julie: What was the hardest part for you in making this book?
Robin: I knew I wanted to do an alphabet book connected to Pride in some way, but I didn’t want it to be just an LGBTQ+ themed alphabet book—I wanted it to tell a story as well. It took a long time to come up with an idea I liked. Once I thought of the mischievous puppy, the words followed quite quickly. It was a lot of fun to write. What was hardest for you?
Julie: Tackling the first blank page to any book is always pretty daunting, and especially as I’d never done a picture book like this, I was intimidated! Crowd scenes can be tough too; it’s a balance of building up an interesting and dimensional scene while not losing the focus of the story. It was a lot easier once I got the first rough draft out! I also wanted to be as diverse and inclusive as possible, but there are only so many people you can squeeze on a page. I could probably do a whole other book full of characters that didn’t fit in this one!
Julie: Where and when do you do your best work?
Robin: Before the pandemic, I wrote in coffee shops quite a lot, often with a friend. These days of course I’m working at home- usually in the living room with my dog lying on my feet. I also like to think about writing while I’m walking my dog around the neighbourhood. If I get stuck, going for a walk usually helps.
Julie: The pandemic didn’t change much for my work set up, I work in a studio office in my home. I’d love to be someone who could work in other settings, like a coffee shop or park, but I’m far too easily distracted, hah. I hit my best work hours midday, and also go for walks if I’m stuck. Robin and I actually live in the same neighbourhood! It has a lot of character, there’s always something interesting/cool/weird to see when you’re out for a stroll.
Robin: If you could live in ANY house in ANY children’s book, which would you choose?
Julie: I was obsessed with Villa Villekulla when I was a kid, I’d draw the same house over and over and over. What were some of your favourite books from childhood? Who wrote and illustrated them?
Robin: I loved Judith Kerr’s books, especially Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea. There’s an illustration at the end of the Tiger Who Came to Tea that shows the family walking down the street at night, going out for dinner, with the main character in her nightdress and boots— I loved that picture as a kid, and I still do. I also loved the book Cynthia and the Unicorn, by Jean Todd Freeman and illustrated by Leonard Weisgard…I spent hours reading that
book and studying those drawings when I was a child.
What about you?
Julie: Oh gosh, so many. I liked Bill Peet, Beatrix Potter, Richard Scarry, and Little Golden Books. I’ve also always loved search & find/puzzle books, like Where’s Waldo (of course), and a really beautiful one in particular called Puzzle Island by Paul Adshead. Which is why Pride Puppy! was an especially fun and exciting project for me, I love hiding little funny or interesting details in my work.