Ten Questions with Nan Forler and François Thisdale

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Ten Questions with Nan Forler and François Thisdale

Bullying and the ability to rise above it are at the heart of this strikingly beautiful picture book. Lyrical and eloquent yet realistic and down to earth, Nan Forler’s text is complemented beautifully with François Thisdale’s haunting images. Open Book talks to the author and illustrator of Bird Child (Tundra Books).

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Bird Child.

Nan Forler:

Bird Child is the story of Eliza, a small, bird-like girl who is empowered by her mother to fly and see beyond. “Look up and see what can be,” her mother often reminds her. When Eliza witnesses a schoolmate being bullied, she feels helpless to do anything. Eliza soon realizes she has the power to use her small voice to stop the bullies. In reaching out to Lainey, she passes on her ability to fly and gives her the gift of friendship. Bird Child demonstrates that each of us, no matter how small, has the power to stand up for injustice.

François Thisdale:

I had a wonderful time doing these illustrations. I spent almost six months on this book. It was marvelous to create this world. The text is a magical one, and the poetry helped me to create my images. I feel a compatibility between my artistic style and the way Nan writes.

OBT:

Nan, did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote Bird Child?

NF:

I don’t really write with a specific readership in mind, but I have always adored picture books. Because I am a primary teacher and a mother of young children, I seem to think in a picture book format. I love how pared-down a picture book text is, cutting away the excess, getting to the essence of the story. Writing a picture book text is very much like writing poetry.

As for the audience, I don’t try to adjust the language for young children. The richness of the text is the strength of picture books and exposes children to new vocabulary and ideas. I like using picture books with all ages. When I taught grade eight, I often pulled out one of my favourites to teach a concept or an idea, and I know many administrators who use them to begin a meeting with colleagues. The pure honesty and truth of picture books works as well with small children as it does with teens and adults.

OBT:

What advice would you have for someone who is the victim of schoolyard bullying?

NF:

Tell an adult you trust. If they do nothing, or brush it aside, tell someone else, until the issue is resolved. So many children hide the fact that they are being bullied, while they go to school each day in fear and endure daily assaults to their confidence. As adults, we need to listen to children and take their worries seriously. We need to continue to build the self-esteem of these children, to help find resolutions, to repair the damage.

FT:

To always get some help from parents, teachers and friends around you. Don’t accept the situation and never be resigned. Believe in you and in your beauties.

OBT:

Describe the collaboration process between author and illustrator.

NF:

I would describe the process between author and illustrator more as trusting than collaborative. With Bird Child, I trusted my editor, Kathryn Cole, who is wise and wonderful. She was extremely generous in asking my opinion and sharing the book’s progress along the way. François and I had no direct communication while he was illustrating the book. I believe most editors prefer the author and illustrator to work independently of one another. In this way, each tells a different aspect of the story; the illustrator may reveal a new interpretation that the author had not imagined before. I am delighted with François’ illustrations. His pictures are absolutely gorgeous. His technique is so original and I feel it suits the text beautifully.

FT:

I have to find my own vision of the emotions and environment of the text and propose it to the author by doing sketches and propose color illustrations after. I think that the strength of an illustrator-author collaboration is to blend our visions and create a living world.

OBT:

What books made a great impression on you when you were a child?

NF:

Absolutely, Anne of Green Gables. Like so many Canadian girls of my generation, I was an Anne fanatic. I read all the books in the series and re-read Anne of Green Gables seven times. If children’s books form who we are and who we will become, Anne of Green Gables truly formed me. I became Anne. Years later, when my husband and I went to see the musical in Charlottetown, he looked at me afterwards and said he had suddenly discovered that I was completely unoriginal. He had married Anne.

FT:

On the top: Tintin, The Blue Lotus. Also, all the collection of Bob Morane and A Christmas Carol by Dickens.

OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

NF:

As a mother/teacher/writer, my life is busy, and sometimes I need to write wherever I can. I wrote the beginnings of Bird Child, crouched by the nightlight in the hall as my family slept. My friend, writer Kathy Stinson, gives great advice to beginning writers: Don’t wait for the perfect situation, or for just the right writing environment; just start writing. As for the “ideal” writing environment, I find that ideas percolate best when I am driving out in the country. I especially like to write in coffee shops, or somewhere that I am not staring, guilty and distracted, at a pile of laundry or a sink full of dishes.

FT:

Where I’ve been working for 20 years. I live in countryside in an ancient farm house, 20 minutes from Montreal. The environment is lovely and peaceful. I also need to be close from the city to stimulate my imagination and I need to feel the nature far from the rumors of the city.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

NF:

This is a tough question. Canadian writing, like the country itself, is so diverse and varied. I’d have to start with something that reflects the fact that Canada is such a multicultural nation, such as A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I’d like something reflecting small-town Canada included, maybe some Alice Munro short stories, or perhaps Carol Shields. And I’d also need to slip in a book by Malcolm Gladwell. Not only is he a brilliant writer, but he is from my hometown of Elmira, Ontario and we are extremely proud of him. (My claim to fame is that I was a waitress at The Stone Crock Restaurant where Malcolm Gladwell was a dishwasher.)

FT:

Mmmmm. A book by Felix Leclerc would add poetry and a nice way to travel in your mind. A book with photos of the great differences of this country from The Rockies to Newfoundland and a book by Margaret Atwood?

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

NF:

I always like to have a couple of books on the go to suit my reading mood. I have just started reading The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews because I loved A Complicated Kindness. I grew up going to youth groups and camps with my Mennonite friends in Elmira, and her descriptions of teen angst in small-town Mennonite country are spot-on. I am also reading The Outlander by Gil Adamson, hoping that her lyrical, poetic descriptions will rub off on my writing.

Currently, my favourite children’s book is Pink by Nan Gregory. I teach at a school where few children can afford to be one of “The Pinks,” and the message of family love over materialism is very moving. My daughter and I read it often. I also love The Black Book of Colours by Menena Cottin. This gorgeous, completely original book, works beautifully for art and poetry lessons with all ages.

FT:

Les Villes Invisibles by Italo Calvino

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers and illustrators who are trying to get published?

NF:

Stick with it. Don’t give up. One of the differences between a writer who is published, and one who is not published is persistence. Keep writing. Keep sending your work out. When you get a rejection, use it as fuel to work harder. Write some more.

FT:

A book will last for a while. Do the best you can, go deeply in your creativity to realize something you are really satisfied with.

OBT:

What is your next project?

NF:

The road to publication for Bird Child was a long and winding one and during that time I continued working on new projects. I have a number of completed pieces “in the vault.” It’s difficult to say which one may snag the interest of a publisher. In the meantime, I follow my own advice, and I keep writing.

FT:

I’m finishing a book I’ve written and illustrated that talks about the life of an adopted Chinese girl, my daughter, from the belly of her Chinese mother to the orphan days and her life now as an adopted child. Also, I’ll soon begin collaborating with Christiane Duchesne on a marvelous book about monsters.

Born in Elmira, Ontario, Nan Forler has degrees in both music and education, and she has taught junior kindergarten through to grade eight for over twenty years. She has studied music in Vienna and Italy, traveled through England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and driven coast-to-coast through North America. As a mother and teacher, she encourages her students and her own children to speak out against injustice, both in the schoolyard and in the global community and this is reflected in her first book, Bird Child. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario. For more information about Nan Forler, visit www.nanforler.com.

Photo of Nan Forler by Lifetouch Photography.

For nearly twenty years, François Thisdale has worked as an award-winning freelance illustrator, creating images for children’s books, news magazines, corporate reports and book covers for North American and European clients. His multi-textured images are the product of a unique blend of traditional drawing and painting techniques with digital imagery. He is also a musician who has composed soundtracks for short films and art exhibits. François Thisdale lives in Quebec. For more information about François Thisdale, visit www.thisdale.com.

Photo of François Thisdale by François Thisdale.

For more information about Bird Child, please visit the Tundra Books website at www.tundrabooks.com.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

1 comment

To me the key here is what her mother told her. Rise above this and do not get bogged down. I think all of our children can overcome when mom and dad look at life in a positive way and pass on this attitude to the sons and daughters. When children know they can talk to their loving parents without fear of reprisals they are confident in life. They have that family cocoon wrapped around them and life is good. casino

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