Jennifer Sattler’s background is in fine arts, but (upon realizing that all her heroes were Looney Tunes characters or in Pixar movies, and that her “inner goofball was being suppressed”) she found her true calling as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. Since then she has created the well-received Chick ‘n’ Pug and Sylvie, and now Pig Kahuna, the story of two little pigs who discover a surfboard and (unintentionally) learn to face their fears.
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Where did the idea for Pig Kahuna come from?
It’s funny, actually. That book had been in the mix for a long time, even before Chick ‘n’ Pug and Sylvie – I was sitting in my studio and wanted to paint something, but I didn’t have an idea. So I yelled out, “GIMME AN IDEA!” My daughter Lilia, 4, was in the other room eating, and she yelled back, “SURFING PIG!”
So I made this little painting of a surfing pig and it sat there year after year…I’d think, I’ve got to get a story with this pig, there’s something to this! I went back and forth. I’d send my agent these ridiculous ideas…she loved the character but the ideas were crazy, so she’d say, “You’ve got to simplify it a little bit.” One day my husband said to me, “the first words of the book are going to be, ‘It was Saturday.’ ” And after that I wrote the whole thing in two days. Something in those words simplified it for me.
Which tends to come first, picture or story?
It’s different with each book, but I am a painter first. The pictures form the story for me. The words say what I can’t say with the pictures.
Where do you actually do your writing and illustrating? Is everything happening in your studio?
Actually, when it’s the time to get the idea, I go to the library and sit in the children’s section and read books, and I bring my sketchbook. And when I start to get the idea, I drive home as fast as I can and get in the studio and start drawing. My studio used to be in the laundry room…until last year. After I got my deal for the Chick ‘n’ Pug books, we converted an old porch into my studio…now it’s my favorite place in the world. It’s windows all around, like being outside.
Do you read your works in progress out loud to your daughters and husband?
Oh yes, I have to hear it out loud. I can read it to myself a zillion times and not hear it. As they get older, my daughters are not as much my guinea pigs as they used to be. Paul is my go-to person as far as imagery…not so much for the sense of humor…he’s a serious fine artist! But I do read out loud to them a lot.
Are they ever hard on you?
Paul is. We met in grad school; we’ve been critiquing each other’s work for 19 years. So it’s not hard for me to hear it from him. Mayzie will tell me if something isn’t making sense. Lilia just wants to hear it. She wants to laugh. Once in a while she’ll give me an idea.
What’s your favorite moment or image from Pig Kahuna? Favorite part to read to kids?
Kids love the page when the pigs name the surfboard Dave. They always laugh at that. My favorite page—where Fergus is yelling “DAVE!” as he floats out to sea…the look on the characters’ faces, the actual painting, that’s what I want my pictures to look like. Also, I like the phrase “lurking murky ickiness.” It’s fun to say.
Does this book’s message in any way capture your parenting or life philosophy?
Yes, all my books have that. Pig Kahuna definitely touches on the fear of the unknown and overcoming that when you have to. And it’s always good when you do. You always come out with this feeling of bravery: I did it! What’s the next thing?
What’s next for you?
I am now working on Uh Oh Dodo—I was walking by the preschool that my daughters attended, and this little boy was saying “uh oh” over and over…I wanted a rhyme…so there’s a Dodo bird walking from point A to point B. You’ll remember how hard it is to get a toddler to do that, everything’s so interesting to them! I’m also working on a second Chick ‘n’ Pug book! Chick ‘n’ Pug Meet the Dude.