Book Chat: Priscilla Pack Rat

Claudine Crangle has first-hand experience as a pack rat. She searched for months filling her pockets with all of the things you find in this book. Now that she has shared them here, she is excited about giving them all away to make room for new adventures.

We asked Claudine a few questions about her creative process for her newest book with Magination, Priscilla Pack Rat: Making Room for Friendship.

What made you want to publish with Magination?

I found Magination when working at our local children’s hospital. I was searching for publishers for my first book that would be interested in helping kids that had concerns often overlooked by mainstream publishers, or seen as too “niche” a market. While my second book has a more universal message, I was delighted when Magination saw a fit and gave me a second opportunity to put my work out into the world!

What book(s) have you written?

Woolfred Cannot Eat Dandelions & Priscilla Pack Rat

What is your newest book about?

The title gives a lot away – Priscilla is a pack rat and she LOVES to find and collect stuff. She’s good at it too! This becomes a problem when she can no longer part with any of her finds to give as birthday presents. In the end, the only way to avoid parting with a treasure is to avoid the party. Luckily, Priscilla runs with a rat pack that comes running to rescue her when the wall she’s built comes crumbling down. Priscilla sees that friends are in fact the most valuable treasure.

What is your newest book really about?

Today minimalism and mindfulness are getting a lot of attention. While we are realizing that the chase for more is not resulting in happiness, this is a hard concept to grasp as a kid. When told to share your toys, the first thing you typically hand over is the toy you are least attached to. We fear that losing the “thing” will mean losing the feeling we have attached to the thing. I wanted to show “things” as more of an opportunity to connect with each other, instead of isolating us through the concept of yours and mine.

What inspired you to write this book?

I love the quote “All that is not given is lost”. In times when I struggle to part with something, myself – this quote comes to mind.

I have meditated daily for a number of years now. One thing that frustrates me about the recent mindfulness “movement” is the rush to monetize it – to sell accessories – and “apps” for mindfulness. This says a lot to me about our need to attach to things – even over ourselves.

How did you get your ideas for the characters? Why did you choose to have rats as main characters?

In a funny way, Priscilla was born of my first book character, Woolfred. The year he came out, I made a little felted, woolly Woolfred sheep for a dear friend as a gift. In making him I really got into felting and character making. I made a rabbit, a turtle, a bird – and then a rat. When I added wire, I could see the potential for creating lively characters. As mentioned above, the rat came first – it just all fit together with what’s been on my mind.

What’s your normal writing process? Did you do anything different for Priscilla?

With my first children’s book, I spent years working on a message and story that I thought would help children with food intolerance. Once Woolfred was accepted as a manuscript I got to work on creating the characters.

Priscilla was quite a different story. I wanted to create a physical character first. Once Priscilla was brought to life I really hung out with her for a bit. I had a lot of silly private conversations in my studio as I got to know my new wooly rat friend and her story emerged from there.

I think a lot about consumerism, and our search for happiness through the seeking and accumulation of stuff. Pack rats felt like the perfect characters to tell a story about the dangers of “things” getting in the way of meaningful relationships.

 

Do you have any fun facts to share that readers might not know?

A pack rat is an actual type of rat, and is, without a doubt, the cutest of the rat species (I’m entitled to my opinion, right?). Their name comes from their habit of collecting things to build their nests. These nests are made of carefully selected found items from their environment (natural or otherwise) and they are particularly fond of shiny items like coins, keys and spoons!

How were the illustrations for Priscilla Pack Rat created? What materials did you use?

Priscilla and her rat friends were made of natural wool roving, which I felted onto wire armatures. The wires inside of their soft little bodies allowed me pose them and have them “act” like puppets.

The sets were designed to reference a human/rat world – something between an alley with garbage bins, and a space behind a fruit market. I used an old galvanized, rusty metal garbage bin for scale and real world reference. The rest is “built” using paper, cardboard and found ephemera. The real trick was balancing clutter and rats – keeping sets simple enough that the little brown rats didn’t get lost in the chaos!

Tell us about the process for creating these illustrations.

First I sketched out the scenes and then I used the drawings as a reference for “set design”. This lead to searching for backdrop materials – and of course, the stuff!

Some parts of the sets hung by fishing line tied to supports overhead. Sometimes the rats were pinned in place to keep them from falling over as I shuffled around the scenes to get the right shot. Once the scene was set, I began to take a LOT of photos. For every photo that appears in the book there were at least 25 shots taken (often 100’s). The payoff was very little touch up or digital manipulation. What you see in the book was built just like that – like little theatre sets.

What was fun or surprising about the illustration process?

Finding the “things” was certainly fun! I tried to incorporate a little something related to people in my life – my husband’s baby shoe, the dog tags from my childhood pets, tiny trinkets given to me over the years. It was also fun to look for “things” that were shapes, colors etc. – that might be unrecognizable, like a little broken piece of colored plastic found on the road. My husband got in on the game too. Nothing more romantic than your fella emptying his pockets of bread tags and a roadside find at the end of the day!

What’s your favorite story from making this book?

Creating the characters was quite a thrill. There are 5 rats in the final story, and they went through considerable makeovers throughout my process. Some days they would get new ears or eyes, or a nose job! Thirteen rats were created in all, and to determine who made the cut I had a bit of a “casting call” photo shoot to see who really worked well together while considering a diverse and balanced cast.

 

Thanks Claudine! -MP

Learn more at her website.

Note: The quote “All that is not given is lost.” is from Rabindranath Tagore – Indian poet, playwright & essayist.

 

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