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12.10.2015

A Conversation with Barry Dunlap

Barry Dunlap
Barry Dunlap lives near Baton Rouge, Louisiana with his wife and four children. He earned a Master's of Arts in English at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he studied under Tim Gautreaux. Barry's poetry, stories and reviews have been published in a number of literary journals.

Most recently, he has ventured into the world of picture books with Mr. Mosquito, illustrated by Ellen Howell.

Why picture books?

About seven years ago, I participated in a training on The Six Traits of Writing. I’d been working as a consultant with the Louisiana Department of Education. It was a "Train the trainer" model. I was trained in order to provide training for teachers in 15 school districts.

The 6 Traits are for all genres of writing. The trainer - Bev Flaten - used different picture books to illustrate different strengths. She used several Cynthia Rylant books, some Margaret Wise Brown… many more. As a result, I developed an appreciation for the medium.

And so where did this particular picture book come from?

It just came to me one morning as I sat at the computer with a cup of coffee. I'm guessing I had probably swatted at a mosquito during the night. My wife and I had discussed in conversation weeks earlier the tidbit about female mosquitoes being the "biters," so I just thought about the humor of a poor, misunderstood male mosquito.

The beauty of the picture book is that big ideas can be communicated through just a few images. Mr. Mosquito conveys the concept of something being threatened because of ignorance. That idea is present, but really, I intended it to be a short, fun way to communicate a fact that many people don't know... that male mosquitoes do not bite.

Mr. Mosquito

It seemed to me that the illustrator really imbued the character with a lot of personality beyond what your words suggested.

Ellen Howell and I have been friends for over ten years. I knew she did fabulous work and had illustrated at least one other children's picture book, so I contacted her to see if she was interested. She told me to send the draft to her and she would see if it inspired her.  It's obvious that it did.

I shared a few descriptions concerning how I envisioned Mr. Mosquito, and her wonderful illustrations made the character come to life.

Why French?

There's a ton of French influence here in south Louisiana, and I thought it would be appropriate to have the mosquito-- what we jokingly call the state bird-- speak with a French accent. Then, I thought, subtitles would be a great way to introduce young readers to the French language. Finally, in hindsight, I think the Henri Le Chat Noir videos had some subliminal influence on the character's accent.

Mr. Mosquito


What would be your dream come true for Mr. Mosquito?

I would love for the book to be used by educators and parents to introduce the French language to their English-speaking children. A friend who has three young children told me recently that when the kids see a mosquito that doesn't try to bite them, they say, "There goes Mr. Mosquito!" Hearing something like that is a real treat to me!

Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.

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