Day 1: Introducing Kidlit Author & Illustrator Cyndi Marko
There were a lot of different inspirations for this book as it evolved. The idea first sparked when I found the word “hogwash” funny. I was just minding my own business, doodling on the couch when I heard someone on whatever show my family was watching say “hogwash,” and I got images in my head of kids trying to bathe a pig. The first version of my story was pretty much a long-running (and probably annoying) joke of having to bathe and immediately re-bathe, over and over, a pig named Snowflake. I had originally intended to title my project HOGWASH, but I found a couple of other children’s books with that title. Still, I finished creating the story, and my agent and I submitted it as THE ULTIMATE PIG CARE HANDBOOK. Eventually, it became THIS LITTLE PIGGY: AN OWNER’S MANUAL.
In your story, Brother and Sister's mother is quite obsessive about her garden, and is not at all keen on them getting a pet pig. Any similar childhood experiences?
My own mother was equally obsessive and overly-fond of her garden, so much so that I used to tell her I hated her flowers and didn’t want to have to look at them. She (jokingly, I think) threatened to ground me once if I didn’t come look at her garden, so she partly inspired the mom-character in the book. (Incidentally, she still makes me look at her garden when I visit her, but I don’t mind so much anymore.)
I also desperately wanted a pet when I was a kid and embarked on a many-years-long campaign of pestering my dad to let me get a puppy. When I turned 15, I changed tactics and my friend Rozz and I conspired. She got me a kitten for my birthday and I begged and made sad faces until my dad gave in and said I could keep him.
In your illustrations, you chose to depict a blended family. Any particular reason why?
I wanted to depict a blended family where two single adults with children come together. Brother and Sister are step-siblings, with the emphasis on siblings. There is also a dad in This Little Piggy’s family, he just didn’t make it into the final version, as Mom is the one they ultimately have to convince.
Why did you decide to tell the story using a comic-book style for a format, and was this type of book fun to create?
I think stories aimed at kids who are emerging or struggling readers work really well in a hybrid chapter book/graphic novel format. Speech bubbles help to break up the text into smaller blocks so it’s not as daunting to read. The pictures help them to decode the words and also provide a lot of humor and interest to hold their attention. Aladdin Pix books are part chapter book, part graphic novel, and part picture book.
Besides, comic books are just cool and even cooler to create.
As both the writer and the illustrator of this book, please share your process.
For this story, I wrote the words first, then sketched the illustrations, but I made art notes for myself while writing. More recently, on a new project, I’ve simultaneously written the text and drew rough thumbnail sketches, and that’s been a really fun and productive way for me to work.
Did you do a lot of research about pigs for this project?
I researched pigs because I wanted to include a few fun facts in the text, but the drawings of Snowflake came from my head with no visual reference. I meant for him to look like a child’s drawing. I also wanted the original version to appear like it was a how-to manual written by kids for other kids. I had painted lined paper, added the characters with a stick-figure feel to them, and doodled all over the pages. But that ended up being a bit busy.
I still drew the kids and Snowflake to be reminiscent of stick figures. And as the narrator of the book, I talk directly to the kids as if advising them on how to care for their pet pig. (Unfortunately, I don't always give them the best advice.)
Karen and Laura are oodles of fun to work with! We had a few conference calls with all three of us to go over the art and text together as the book was developing, and my cheeks hurt from laughing so much. Plus, they are both brilliantly creative and come up with fantastic ideas. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.
When revising as per the suggestions of your agent, editor, and art director, what were some of the challenges? But why are you glad you made those changes?
Adriann is a gifted editorial agent and is always super insightful and sharp. She suggested I cut short the running gag of the never-ending bath, and impose more of a narrative. So I went back to the drawing board, and included other kinds of pig care into the plot. The story ended with the kids doing a great job caring for him, and then presenting Snowflake to mom. (Only the house, garden, and yard are pretty much destroyed.) So Adriann's suggestions allowed me to further explore the family-pet relationship of the kids and Snowflake.
The biggest change I made came from Karen, my editor's, suggestion. After she acquired the project, she wanted me to turn the original story, a picture book, into a chapter book. So I had to start almost from scratch to expand the story. I really love the new version and I’ve recently discovered that a lot of my unpublished picture books really need to be chapter books, too.
On the design end, Laura, my art director, asked me to redesign sister's look. Originally, Sister was wearing a purple dress with a strawberry on it. Her hair was similar, wavy and flowed horizontally, but it wasn’t pulled back from her face. She also wore big, red-rimmed glasses. Laura thought she looked a bit too granny-ish. She asked me to re-draw Sister wearing shorts like her brother. I mulled over her suggestion, and opted to dress Sister in clam-diggers, as they were one of my favorite things to wear when I was a kid. I removed Sister's glasses and tied up her hair, and I think she’s absolutely adorable now.
When you received your box of author copies, what did you love about the final product?
As of this writing, I haven't received my author copies yet, but my lovely and thoughtful editor, Karen Nagel, surprised me with two advance final copies, tied in a pretty red ribbon. I was thrilled! I think Aladdin makes beautiful books. I was giddy over the finishing details: spot gloss on the front and back paper-over-board cover, beautiful red end pages, and high quality interior pages. It’s a chapter book but it’s picture book quality. It will endure many readings and after-reading hugs. (Or am I the only one who hugs their books?)
What kind of fun activities do you have in store for your book launch and school visits?
I live in a small town in Canada, so I haven’t really planned anything....yet. I did recently visit a school where I gave four presentations. I read from THIS LITTLE PIGGY and we did a few fun activities, including making our own Pet Wish-List, like brother does in the book. I’m pretty shy and get some serious stage fright, so I find in-person and even online visits a bit scary, but I am trying to be more outgoing and social these days. The kids are just too much fun.
What do you hope kids who read this book will carry away with them?
That being yourself is what matters most.
Brother and Sister want to adopt Snowflake as a member of the family. They think Mom will accept Snowflake only if he is well-groomed, eats his veggies, stays out of the compost, and wins a prize at the fair. Snowflake isn’t the perfect pig the kids thought they needed him to be, but they love him anyway, and are determined to keep him. But they have to convince mom. In the end, Snowflake is just being himself (chasing after some pesky crows eating Mom’s garden). He manages to win over Mom. She thinks, like Brother and Sister, that he is SOME pig.
Oh, and I also hope kids will agree with Snowflake that eating jelly doughnuts is awesome (just not stale ones from the compost)!