Michelle Knudsen, author of THE LIBRARY LION and the mid-grade novel THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN has a new picture book out, so you'd better be prepared to fall in love with ARGUS! When Sally's class is given chicken eggs to hatch and raise, Sally's chicken comes out a little... different. Kids are going to love pointing out how the teacher keeps missing the obvious. "Now don't be difficult," she says. The illustrations are by Andréa Wesson and the book was just released by Candlewick Press. I asked Michelle a few questions about ARGUS...
Q. Michelle, I know you have a thing for dragons (check: THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN which is now available in paperback!), but how were you able to make a dragon work for ARGUS?
A. I do indeed have a thing for dragons! :) But I'm not sure I was thinking dragons when I first started writing Argus. I knew *something* was going to hatch out of Sally's egg, something very much not-a-chicken, but I don't think I had an actual dragon plan from the beginning. Really my memory is of writing along to see what would happen. Which is often how my first drafts of picture books go. Argus, of course, is a very different kind of dragon than Jakl in The Dragon of Trelian. Much warmer and fuzzier, despite the occasional lapses in proper classroom behavior. (Although to be fair, Jakl has his warm and fuzzy moments, too.) I'm sure Argus won't be my last dragon, either. One of the things that I love about dragons is how varied they can be – I'm looking forward to getting to know the dragons who might pop up in future books.
Q. This is such a different story from your award-winning LIBRARY LION - and yet similar (another beastie where he doesn't belong). I love the oblivious humor. (Nobody seems to notice there's something odd about Sally's chicken!) How was this one different to create?
A. For one thing, this one took a really, really long time! The first draft of Library Lion sort of came in a rush – there were certainly changes and additions in subsequent drafts, but the basic core of the story was there from the beginning. With Argus, I had the beginning of the story, but I kept rewriting completely different middles and endings, trying to figure out what the story wanted to be. Looking back, I think I was trying to determine what the center of the story was... at first it was more about Argus having to prove himself to be accepted, which wasn't really where I wanted to go. Over time, I started to realize that it was more about Sally and her feelings about Argus, not so much about what the rest of the class (or the rest of the world) might think. I seem to keep returning to themes of acceptance and belonging in my books. Library Lion certainly touches on that, as does Argus, and my next picture book (BIG MEAN MIKE, illus. by Scott Magoon) also involves unexpected creatures and issues of acceptance.
Q. You seem to switch back and forth between genres so easily - can you describe what that's like for you?
A. I don't know if I would say "easily," exactly, but I do feel comfortable writing in different genres. I think some of it goes back to my initial introduction to children's publishing – I worked in the mass market children's division of Random House, and we published a lot of format books: board books, beginning readers, early chapter books, etc. I got used to the idea early on of different kinds of stories working in different kinds of books, and I began writing in various formats from the beginning. So I never felt limited to thinking of story ideas in terms of only middle-grade novels or only picture books or what-have-you. Writing my first novel was probably the most difficult genre jump for me, since I hadn't ever written anything that long or complex before. Writing picture books and writing novels are such different experiences, and I definitely enjoy the contrast and being able to switch back and forth. When I start to feel a little overwhelmed by the scope and complexity of a novel, it's nice to be able to turn to a picture book manuscript with a story that I can hold in my head all at once instead of having to think about it thread by thread or chapter by chapter. And I can spend a lot more time thinking about specific words and the sounds of sentences in a picture book. I try to think carefully about my words and sentences in novels, too, of course, but obviously it's a little different working with 1000 words compared to 90,000.
Q. I predict Argus will be very popular. How are you celebrating its release?
A. I had a book release party on the day it came out (February 22), which also happened to be my birthday. We celebrated the launch at the fabulous WORD bookstore in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and then afterward I went out with friends for a lovely dinner and further celebration. I've got several more book signings lined up (check out the "where I'll be" list in the sidebar of my blog), and will be bringing Argus with me to book festivals in Hudson, Warwick, and Rochester, NY over the next few months. I'll also be going to ALA in New Orleans with Candlewick Press, which I'm really excited about!
Thank you Michelle!