This Is Going To Be Great by Jennifer Sattler
When I was little we didn’t really have a collection of children’s books. We had some Dr. Seuss (or as I called him, “Der Seuss”) a few Golden Books that we got at the ACME if we behaved well, and some very strange and mesmerizing 3D books with hologram covers. Very sophisticated for the early 70s!
I didn’t always “know” I wanted to be a children’s book author and illustrator. I wanted to be a dentist. My second grade teacher, Teacher Marty, was 40-years-old and had never had a cavity. She was my hero and I was determined to match her magnificence. I’m 47 now and…no cavities. But I didn’t choose dentistry.
I got my master’s in painting and drawing and immediately started teaching at a university. It felt like trying to play soccer in high heels. As “wrong” as it felt, I continued to convince people that I was a serious grown up for six years. Finally, I had a family and my inner goofball was set free! I started drawing elephants because they were my daughter’s favorite animal. I was hooked. I did two local children’s books and knew I’d never stop. A few years later, after I had a couple of books published nationally, I was asked to speak for a class of art education students. That same week I was doing a school visit to an elementary school. The college students looked at me from the audience with bemused expressions. Their half-closed eyes moaned, “Well, this’ll probably be stupid.” I was like a court jester up there. “C’mon! This is fascinating stuff! Who cares if it doesn’t make you rich!” Two days later I went to visit kindergarteners and first graders. I was greeted with hugs. They squirmed around on the floor. They were so excited they couldn’t sit still. We were all smiling, “THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT!!! I CAN’T WAIT FOR THIS TO BEGIN!” These were my people.
Of course seeing the kids is only one of the reasons that I have the best job in the world. The other is that I get to spend all day in my studio making pictures. Because I do both the writing and illustrating for my books, I’m able to see very clearly which part of the story needs words and which part is better described with images. It’s like a movie playing in my head. My ideas come from very different places. Sometimes it’s a question, like the one my daughter Lili asked one day, “Mama, why are flamingos pink?” After a little research, we found the answer and Sylvie was born. Sometimes it’s a picture. I was in my studio one day and needed an idea for something to draw. My daughter shouted from the other room, “surfing pig!” It was another two years before the story Pig Kahuna came from that one picture. Other times it’s a character. Chick ‘n’ Pug came from a single sketch I did one day of a spazzy little bird. And of course he needed someone to balance that out…like a fat, lazy pug.
Right now I’m working on a book called Doris and Frankie. I was thinking about how much comfort my now teenaged daughter Mayzie got from her blankie when she was little. She loved that thing to shreds. A lot of energy is spent trying to wean kids from those comforts, and I just don’t get it. There are few things in life that are so simple and yet provide that much peace.
I’ve been asked why I only use animals as my characters in my books. It’s simple, really. I want children to identify with the personalities of my characters, their situations, worries and joys. I don’t want that identification to come from the way the person looks in an illustration. “I have brown hair too! I have a skirt like that!” When the characters are animals, it’s much more universally relatable.
So, I sit here in my studio and spend the day with my little buddies: Chick, Pug, Mr. Snuggles, Fergus, Dink, Dodo, Sylvie, and Doris. My teenaged daughters come in to grace me with their presence once in a while and I make them hug me. I squint my eyes and make a wish: “May they greet people with curiosity even when they’re in college and may they always be the squirmy kids on the rug, just knowing that “this is going to be great.”
Jennifer Sattler is the creator of the picture books Chick ‘n’ Pug, Chick ‘n’ Pug Meet the Dude, A Chick ‘n’ Pug Christmas, Pig Kahuna, Pig Kahuna Pirates!, and Sylvie. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York, with her husband, two children and two dogs, both of which are part basset hound and thus aspire to be much bigger dogs than they really are. Visit her online at www.jennifersattler.com.