Author/Illustrator Interview: Keith Patterson

I want to go to Homer, Alaska. Why? Because of Maybelle, Bunny of the North (Bees Knees Books, 2009). It's a very cute and engaging children's picture book that celebrates nature and play. I don't think I will ever get tired of it. From Maybelle I have learned that in Homer, I can play in the snow in the winter, go to Beluga Lake and watch the float planes take off in the spring, go to Bishops Beach and pick up rocks and sea stars in the summer, and watch the geese fly south in the fall.

Keith Patterson, the author and illustrator of Maybelle, Bunny of the North, is visiting today to answer some of my questions. (Below are also images from the book.) Welcome, Keith!

What were you like as a young reader and writer?

I grew up in a house full of books, so there was always something to read.

What were you like as a young artist?

Art was always my favorite subject in school. I drew cartoons in all my notebooks.

What motivated you to create Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

Everyone who has been to Homer, Alaska has a similar story about their first view of the mountains. You drive down the Sterling Highway, and you come around a bend in the road, and you are at the top of a cliff overlooking Kachemak Bay, with the mountains in the background. It is very inspiring. I started doing some watercolors of scenes around Homer, and the children’s book was a natural progression.

What was your chosen medium? What was your creative process?

My chosen medium was pen & ink and watercolor. My daughter was about eight months old at the time, and we often went for walks around town. I started drawing the things we saw on our walks, and that evolved into the book.

What influences (literary and artistic) did you draw from while working on Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

I wasn’t consciously thinking about anyone else’s work, but Maurice Sendak and Richard Scarry have always been favorites.

What were the challenges and rewards from working on the book?

I rearranged the book several times over a period of about four years, so the biggest challenge was keeping the bunny the same age in all the pictures. The reward was finally seeing it as a finished book.

What was the path to publication for Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

First, I made one or two copies at Kinko’s. The thought of sending it out to publishers was daunting, so I thought I would do another book in all woodcuts, and print it myself on hand cranked letterpresses. I created all the woodcuts, and took a class on letterpress printing, and finally created two finished copies of Maybelle Counts to Ten. Letterpress is another world. There are all kinds of possibilities there, but it takes so much time, that I decided to self publish online at At that point, Nancy Arruda, of Bees Knees Books, saw the book on Lulu and emailed me to say that she wanted to publish it.

What is it like working with Bees Knees Books?

It has been really great. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to have a real book published and in book stores.

{"Soon it will be winter again. It will be cold outside..."}

What do you want young readers to take away from Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

I guess the basic message is that it’s fun to get out and explore your environment.

Who are your favorite children’s book authors? Why are they your favorites?

Maurice Sendak is the children’s book author/illustrator that really made an impression on me when I was growing up. Richard Scarry is another one that I could sit and look at for hours. Virginia Lee Burton is an author/illustrator that I have recently rediscovered. Her graphic design is original and playful and inspiring. I like William Steig because his drawings are simple, but he captures expressions perfectly, and he paints beautiful landscapes, and his stories are suspenseful.

{image from Maybelle's Dress-up Party}

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

Most of my favorites are author/illustrators. Barbara Cooney is another great pen & ink artist. Beatrix Potter did the most realistic animals I can think of.

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Maybelle, Bunny of the North to be award-winning, or for it to be bestselling? Why?

I think it’s counterproductive to worry about how your work will be received.

{image from Maybelle's Dress-up Party}

What are you working on now?

I’m working on several things right now. The main one is Maybelle’s Dress-up Party, a book about playing dress-up, sharing, and what to do if a bear tries on your play dress and rips it. I’m also working on some different ideas for new books, and making mock ups.

If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why?

I’d like to learn about rice farming, so I’d say the rice terraces.

Thank you so much, Keith! I can't wait to read Maybelle's Dress-up Party!



Kim Baise said…
Hi Keith! I just visited the Pretlow Library in Virginia and your book was checked out. It has been been checked out consistently for weeks now..... A good sign :) It's much loved!