Getting your first children’s book published is a herculean task. Not only has author and illustrator Camille Whitcher just released her debut, but she did it by winning the inaugural Stratford-Salariya Picture Book Prize.
This competition is held by the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival and Salariya Book Company to find a picture book by an unpublished author deserving of publication. The judges really know their stuff, with the directors of the festival and book company, plus award-winning illustrator Nick Butterworth, on the panel.
Camille’s Luna and the Moon Rabbit is a dreamy tale about a young girl who befriends the giant rabbit who lives in the Moon and they go on a magical adventure through enchanted forests and fields together. The story is inspired by Asian folklore and the artwork simply glows on the page.
To celebrate its publication, we caught up with Camille to find out about how the book came about – and what she has planned next…
Tell us about the inspiration for the book.
The book started out as a project during my MA in Children’s Book Illustration course at Cambridge School of Art. I’d known about the rabbit in the moon from Japanese folklore a while back and thought it would be a good starting point to create the story. I spoke to my mum about old tales she may have known about from her childhood and it’s from there that the story took shape.
When did you first know you wanted to make picture books – and what was the appeal?
It’s actually a bit difficult to pinpoint the exact moment. There have been a few times in my life where I’d thought about making picture books – in childhood and later. I became seriously interested in picture books and illustration after I moved to Japan to teach English. There was a children’s book fair in a department store. I saw so many amazing picture books and so much variety! I spent the next few years still dithering about what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’ but then I always seemed to gravitate towards the picture books. I then decided to go for it and signed up to the master’s degree.
How long did it take you to create the book?
In total, from conception to final artwork being handed to the publisher, I guess about two years. There are many gaps in there though!
You’ve won the inaugural Stratford-Salariya prize, which has a very prestigious judging panel. How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel as if I’m having an out of body experience! For a long time I kept thinking to myself that they must’ve made a mistake and at any moment they’d realise and award the real winner. I’m still quite overwhelmed by it all.
Luna is a very dreamy story, perfect for bedtime. What were your favourite bedtime stories growing up?
Well, I never had bedtime stories. I didn’t have so many books either. One book I did have and loved was Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Justin Todd. I asked for it for my seventh birthday. I don’t remember reading it so much as poring over the gorgeous illustrations. I know most people associate Alice with Tenniel’s and Rackham’s illustrations, which are beautiful, but it’s Todd’s images I love most.
What children’s writers and illustrators inspire you? And is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with?
I’ve always loved Roald Dahl’s books, both for children and adults. I also love fairy tales, folks tales and Aesop’s fables. As for illustrators, there are so many who inspire me! The first three I think of are Shaun Tan, Isabelle Arsenault and Chihiro Iwasaki.
Why do you love featuring rabbits in your work so much?
Rabbits are beautiful creatures and complex in character. Although they’re often preyed upon in reality, in stories they can be arrogant (the Hare and the Tortoise), mischievous (Peter Rabbit), and vengeful (Kachi-Kachi Mountain). Perfect for mirroring human behaviour. They’re also just so cute!
What have you got planned next?
I have a couple of ideas I’ve started to put down in pencil and paint. They’re quite different from Luna and the Moon Rabbit and quite different from each other. One being rather comical and the other being rather sombre. I just need to get them a little more coherent and start waving them at publishers!