Big Mo

by Megan Padalecki

Buy the book on Amazon

Every holiday season I always showcase great books from picture book to chapter books for all ages. I think at least 1 gift during the holidays should be a book. So today kicks of the Give the Gift of a book season. I found this quote and think it is very fitting: “A book is a gift you can open again and again” – Garrison Keillor

Now on to the first book I’m featuring:

Big Mo by Megan Padalecki

Big Mo is a wonderful little tale that teaches a valuable lesson without being preachy or over the reader and listener’s head. Mo is a bit greedy and suffer’s from the “Me” complex. He wants it and he wants it now, I kinda envisioned him to be a Veruca Salt of the creature world. Megan Padalecki  hit it out of the ballpark with her first picture book. The story flows well and has a great message. The illustrations are bold, bright and inviting that make the story that much more special. When you are reading a picture book the illustrations are just as important as the written word. I always say if a picture book’s illustrations can tell the story as if it were a wordless picture book than it is a winning book. Big Mo is a winning picture book combination and one that you should add to your home or classroom library.

I was so honored when Megan Padalecki agreed to an interview and My girls and I  had a lot of fun coming up with the questions. She was great and answered all of them! Thank you so much Megan for not only sending us a copy of Big Mo for review but for the interview as well.

In a children’s lit class I took in college, we had to write and illustrate a children’s picture book.  I found that it is a lot harder than it sounds, so I have much  respect for those who can do it.  Did you find it difficult to come up with Big  Mo’s story?

As with any creative process, there was plenty of internal strife!  However, that didn’t  distract too much from my goal of exploring the themes of responsible consumption  and being content with what we have. 

I was initially inspired by a Native American proverb that warns that in picking away at our natural world, we rob ourselves of a viable future.  It’s a heavy concept for sure, but I’ve tried my best to temper it for a young audience.  The medium of picture books is perfect for hinting at deeper meaning, which is why I love and value them!

How long did the process take to write and illustrate your book?

There was quite a bit more to becoming my own publisher, but the actual writing and illustration of Big Mo lasted from June to Thanksgiving of the same year.  A critical aspect of my writing process was to review the story and images at various stages with others, including friends, family, parents of young kids, and even educators of creative writing.  Outside feedback and critique are so important to refining a story!

We have seen all your sketches on your website and you’re an amazing artist!  Did you come up with the sketch of Big Mo first and build the story around it, or did you first conceive of the idea for the story?

Thank you, how kind!  I have been drawing and painting my whole life, and spent countless hours as a child simply reproducing drawings and illustrations from books, catalogs, posters – you name it.  It wasn’t until high school that I began to “draw from life” and sketch the things around me.  There is great freedom in that, because it is something anyone can do, anywhere, and it sharpens your understanding of proportion and composition.

Although the idea for an insatiable iguana came first, the drawings for Big Mo came before the written text.  I laid the story out in a sequential storyboard, using quick thumbnail sketches to organize the story arc and scale Mo’s growing size relative to his environment.  This also helped me to fall within the industry standards for proper layout and page count, which I knew would be important at press time!

My girls love all kinds of artists’ media; right now they are into creating and looking at colored pencil sketches.  What was the media you used in illustrating Big Mo?

That is great, and so important if they would like to have a career in the visual arts some day.  Of course, it is equally great if they just want to practice art and expression as a hobby!  For Big Mo, I toyed with many graphic styles, from watercolor to pencil.  I ultimately relied on digital composition to add color to my hand-drawn pencil and ink drawings.  I chose this method because you can see the artistic hand at work, while the digital coloring adds a certain crisp quality to each illustration.

Little side note: we bought our girls woodless colored pencils that they are really loving, along with some fun watercolor pencils.  Do you have suggestions for other artists’ media for two girls, ages 9 and 15?  I’m always looking for new art media ideas!

When I was their age, I did a lot of collage of magazine cutouts, and also used colored pencils extensively.  My 6th grade art teacher ran contests which were awarded with STABILO Tones, a sort of universal pencil/pastel/watercolor that was great on black paper, as I recall.  I also think it’s never too early to experiment with acrylic paint, which is an excellent medium for learning how to mix colors.  You can also get a great effect by adding water to acrylic on canvas.  Warning: it is permanent!

Picture books are so much fun, and as my girls have always said, they are magical!  What did you find the most enjoyable about creating a children’s picture book?

There can be stress and exhaustion in creating a children’s picture book; there is so much pressure to create something of quality and do right by the young reader.  But your question is a great one, because I truly do find the process to be so worthwhile, fitting of my personality, and fun! 

I get a huge thrill from taking a loose thumbnail sketch through an additive process that results in a polished and composed illustration.  I remember holding my breath as I opened the completed book for the first time, because my body literally ached for it to look and feel as I imagined.  That sort of anticipation is so exciting and rewarding, and thankfully, I was very pleased with the final result!

Now that you have published one picture book, do you plan to create more?

Yes, certainly!  Writing is a slow and delicate process for me, though I can complete an illustration in a few days.  Timing aside, I have so many ideas scrawled in my sketchbook that I would need several lifetimes to take them all to completion!  I have a feeling that the next story may bring another adventure for Mo…

Getting your foot in the door can be difficult; do you have any advice for someone who would like to write and/or illustrate picture books?

Before I left architecture to pursue children’s books, I assumed there was a natural order to becoming a writer.  I considered MFA programs in creative writing or children’s lit, fairly certain that graduate school would be an excellent “in” to the industry.  

I am sure there is some truth in that, yet when I considered the larger picture of my own experience in writing and art, I really felt that there would be no harm in just trying.  It was a tempting challenge for me to create a book worthy of shelf space at any bookstore, and I felt that it was now or never to follow my dream.

It takes tenacity to not only write a story, but also to get people to read the story!  My best advice would be to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, however small or random it may seem.  Always, always revise and get feedback before you submit your work to anyone “official” (like an agent, awards committee or publisher).  Most importantly, let your passion guide and reassure you along the journey.

So many teachers use picture books in the classroom to extend not only the story, but also to make learning fun.  I love that you have a Big Mo teaching companion about ecosystems.  How was it to create a teaching companion for older kids?

I am so glad you’ve happened upon the Eco Teaching Companion (found on the TEACH tab on Padaleckistudio.com! )  When I wrote Big Mo, I kept the environmental themes open to interpretation, by focusing instead on the broad concepts of responsibility and contentedness.  However, at the heart of my concept, this little iguana represents the impact of humankind on our natural world.

I had always intended to supplement the picture book with a more reality-based guide.  Big Mo the book therefore serves as a roadmap to highlight a variety of distinct ecosystems described in the companion.  Like the Lorax before him, I would love to see Mo become an advocate for our planet!

Head on over to Padalecki Studios to check out more of Megan’s amazing artwork. If you’re a teacher she has a environmental curriculum unit based on Big Mo that you might be interested in buying.

Thank you Megan Padalecki for sending us a review copy of Big Mo and for participating in the interview . All thoughts and opinions are my own and  were not influenced by the free book.

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