Meet the Author:
Linda Ravin Lodding

Welcome to Elephant Notes . . . our periodic take on some of the ideas, issues, and news impacting parents, children, and reading.

January 2023

Meet Linda Ravin Loggins, our first author of the month of 2023! Linda is an award-winning children’s author and writer of Elephant Books pick, Painting Pepette. We were delighted to hear from her about what influences and inspires her work, the special relationship between children and their pets, and the joys of writing for young readers. 

Painting Pepette is a tale of a girl named Josette, living in 1920s Paris. Convinced that her family portrait wall needs to represent her beloved pet rabbit, Pepette, Josette embarks on a journey to the Parisian artist’s quarter. In Montmarte, Josette and her bunny meet painters with all different portrait styles and she soon learns that the best representation of Josette might come from the least expected artist.

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In addition to your work as an award-winning children’s author, you’re also a lover of photography, all-around creative, and world traveler! How have these experiences influenced your work and writing process?

What a wonderful question! One of the things I enjoy most about traveling (with camera in hand, of course!), is that when you travel, the world opens up before you like an unfurling flower. Around every corner, through every door, down every cobble-stone street, there is a new story to be experienced. When I travel, I try to soak up all of the impressions around me, and this, in turn, ignites a creative spark.

Photography is also storytelling – but without words. It creates a frame in which the story unfolds – -whether it be a child running down the beach with a kite, or the details of an antique oak door behind which a mystery awaits. Looking at a photoe, also leaves room for the viewer to create their own story.

But reading books is also another way of traveling, isn’t it? So, even if I don’t have the resources to travel, I can always leave home by just immersing myself in a book (and it’s a lot cheaper too)!

Painting Pepette tells the sweet story of a little girl named Josette who is devoted to obtaining a portrait which accurately represents her beloved rabbit, Pepette. It invites children to consider ideas of artistic style and embrace using their own imagination. What motivated you to share this message? 

I think that Matisse says it best in the book when he says, “But through art, we see the world any way we want”.  When I grew up, we were taught to color in the lines. We were taught that the sky is blue and the grass is green. But if we look closely – the sky is so many colors! It’s pink, and purple, with touches of orange and red and wisps of white.

In the book, I hope to show that each one of us is an artist because we see the world in our own unique way – just the way Matisse, Dali, Chagall and Picasso did.

One of the most charming aspects of Painting Pepette is Josette’s unwavering dedication to her rabbit and her insistence on commissioning the perfect painting of her best friend for her family’s portrait wall. How did the idea for this heartwarming relationship come about? 

Growing up in Florida, I had a pet bunny, named “Cookie”. In fact, before I could even write, I made up stories about Cookie and told them to anyone who would listen! While I don’t recall ever painting a picture of her, she was a special part of my family. (My sister also had a pet bunny called Thumper, but Cookie was the most adventurous of the two!).

I think there is something special in a child’s relationship with their pet (or toy). It is an unconditional relationship and provides a safe space for being seen. In Painting Pepette, only Josette can paint the best portrait of Pepette because only she knows how special her rabbit is.

Set in 1920s Paris, Painting Pepette is a whimsical tale, featuring depictions of some familiar figures in art history. What inspired you to create a children’s story in this setting?

I knew I wanted to write a book set in Paris in the 1920s (I’m a big fan Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline book series, which follows the adventures of Madeline, a girl attending a boarding school in Paris. In fact, the house where she goes to school looks similar to Josette’s house, I think). So, I had the setting in mind, now I just needed a story. To me, Paris is about art and love; when I realized this, the story fell into place.

I also have a special affinity to Paris. It was my first solo trip across the Atlantic to visit my sister who was studying in Paris. She took me to Montmartre and we had our portraits painted there.

The illustrations in Painting Pepette bring vibrance to your writing and the settings of Josette’s family’s elegant home and the square at Montmartre. What was it like collaborating with Claire Fletcher on this children’s book—especially given its art-centric subject matter?

You know your book has the right illustrator when you can’t imagine the book being illustrated in any other way. And that’s how I felt when I first saw Claire’s illustrations. I adore every page and spread.

One of the lesser-known facts about writing and publishing children’s books is that the writer and illustrator rarely meet, talk, or work together. My publisher asked Claire if she would illustrate the book, and I was thrilled when she agreed but we never spoke to each other about the book! Illustrating this book, I imagine, was not an easy task! Claire had first to create the look and feel of 1920s Paris, which she did brilliantly with her soft pastel and vintage palette – but she ALSO had to emulate the different artistic styles of Chagall, Picasso, Dali and Matisse. It was such a delight for me when I saw the final illustrations. And don’t you love Josette’s big red bow? It almost gives her floppy ears, just like Pepette!

What is the best thing about being a children’s author? Who were your favorite authors as a child?

There’s nothing more fun than pinning down a story on paper. Some of my story ideas are like flies, buzzing around in my head (sometimes for days! sometimes for years!) and then, finally, there is the moment that that idea gets caught on paper. Sometimes my ideas develop into laugh-out-loud funny stories, other times they morph into adventures and sometimes I pen more reflective stories, looking at the world around us. I love following my characters and seeing where they lead me.  But most of all, the best thing about being a children’s book author is knowing that my stories are loved, shared, and read aloud. And, if I am very lucky, then my books will live on a bookshelf and in the hearts and minds of young readers.

When I was young, I loved the whimsy of Dr. Seuss, also the glamour and oh-la-la of the Eloise books by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight Thompson. Of course, j’adore the Madeline series, originally created by Ludwig Bemelmans. I also loved the antics and humor of Curious George. Who could resist his mischievousness?

When you look around at the current state of kids and reading, what are the biggest challenges for parents or opportunities to address?

I think one of the biggest challenges for parents is how to help children safely navigate the role of digital devices in their lives, while also promoting the joys of experiencing an offline world. Of course, digital entertainment is here to stay and, when used safely and thoughtfully, can offer so many opportunities for our young ones. But, the role of books and the joy of reading (and being read to), also need to be kept alive. Nothing takes the place of curling up with a good book and getting lost in the story. Likewise, picture books are so magical because they are meant to be shared and read a loud and this creates such a space of wonderment, tenderness and fun.

Do you have any upcoming books or creative projects we can look forward to reading?

Yes! I have three books coming out soon – Flipflopi: How a Boat Made from Flip-Flops is Helping to Save the Oceans (Beaming Books), which is a book based on the true story of the Kenyan dhow boat Flipflopi, which was made entirely of recycled flipflops. It’s an inspirational story showing how innovation, art, and determination can transform plastic pollution into something useful, and it’s now available for pre-order and will be released in March.

This year I will also release When We Had to Leave Home (Albert Whitman), inspired by the Ukraine war, and Babies Are Not Bears (Reycraft Books), which is a whimsical story about – you guessed it! … how babies are not like bears. Or are they?

Many thanks to Linda for speaking with us about Painting Pepette, seeing the world–like a painting–in our own unique colors, and the importance of reading together. Visit her website to learn more about her upcoming books, and look for Painting Pepette in your Elephant Books subscription! 

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