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28 January 2016

Cockatoo, Too - Guest post


COCKATOO, TOO
by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

      The idea for Cockatoo, Too arrived late one night as I was working on another book that also features a cockatoo. (That book, Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale, is also due on shelves this January.) I was scanning sketches to my computer. I named the first file “cockatoo”, but what to name the second? Cockatoo2? CockatooToo? 2cockatoo? You see my dilemma. And, like all good procrastinators, I turned my attention to playing with those sounds instead of the task at hand.
      Before long, I had the beginnings of a story, and it made me laugh. When I woke up in the morning, it still made me laugh. I shared it, and it made some other people laugh. 24 short months and numerous revisions later, it’s out in the world.
      The book is filled with tongue twisters and fun wordplay–it uses the sounds in “toucan” and “cockatoo” to tell a simple story of dancing cockatoos, toucans, and tutus (all things that make me happy). The words alone are almost non-sensical, but when combined with the images, the narrative unfolds. I appreciate picture books in which the words and pictures are both integral to the storytelling. Readers have to work a bit, but I think it’s more rewarding that way. And, there are surprises and details built into the images that will reward close inspection.
      People often ask if the words or pictures come first for me. Because I worked as a designer and art director for many years, my ideas are usually a bit of both—I tend to think of a book’s action in thumbnails. This is the first book I’ve written and illustrated where the words came first. The entire idea was driven by the wordplay. So, after I wrote the text, I had to get to know the cockatoos and toucans I’d been writing about. I did pages and pages of sketches before settling on the design for the birds. The final art contains watercolor, gouache, ink, and crayon, all composed in Photoshop. And, the text is hand-lettered with a calligraphy nib.
      I work in a studio in my home in the Bay Area. My three favorite things about my studio are: the giant corkboard my husband and I installed, the view overlooking the bay, and the door (because it has a lock!). I do all of my painting there, but my writing, sketching, and thinking happen all over town—I’m a frequent visitor to cafes and I can often be found hiking or on my bicycle in the headlands overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Click the image to see it larger in a new window.
      I’ve devoted much of the past six years to writing and illustrating picture books. They have many superpowers, and one of my favorites is that they can make adults silly. As a child, I often visited my grandparents’ house. Whenever I became bored with all of the serious adult talk, I would hop up next to my grandfather and hand him a Dr. Seuss book. I loved watching him become a different person as he delighted in the Seussian rhythms, sounds, and absurdities of language. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.
      And indeed, language can be absurd. Sometimes we forget that language is just sounds—sounds that have meanings, sounds that sometimes sound silly, sounds that sound the same but have different meanings! If we learn to play with words and all of those absurdities—in the same way we learn to play with soccer balls or puzzles—I think it paves the way for reading and writing to become lifelong pleasures. So, if this book feels like silly, playful fun with words, then it has achieved its mission.
      Cockatoo, Too was released into the world on National Bird Day, as fitting a publication day as I could imagine. Thanks so much for having me, Elizabeth!

      About Bethanie:
      Bethanie Deeney Murguia graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City with an MFA in Illustration and has created numerous picture books. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay area. Some of her favorite things about her town are: the smell of eucalyptus, the fog when it creeps over the hill, and her studio, like a little birdhouse overlooking it all. To learn more about Bethanie, please visit her website: aquapup.com.

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