Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Willow Dawson

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Willow Dawson

In Willow Dawson's The Wolf-Birds (Owlkids Books), young readers are given a fascinating look at survival in the wild. Based on scientific data and reports from Indigenous hunters, Willow writes and paints the symbiotic relationship between two ravens and a pack of wolves. Teaming up, the ravens and wolves can help each other hunt and find food during the cold winter months in this lyrical and beautifully illustrated picture book.

Today we speak with Willow as part of our Dirty Dozen series, an unconventional interview that invites writers to share twelve unexpected facts about themselves. She tells us about her favourite animals (in order), the sad demise of a childhood imaginary friend and what a terrible big sister she was.

  1. I was born in August. August is the best month. All the flowers are at their most fragrant and the cicada's have come out of their 13 year sleeps and they sound like electricity.
  2. I have severe asthma which is sometimes under control and sometimes not, but has probably given me the best perspective on life. Which is that life should be lived, even when it's hard to do so because you've skinned your knee and gotten peanut butter in your hair and your baby just barfed on you and you sleep walked outside and now there's gum on your favourite pair of ruby red slippers.
  3. My love of bees is greater than my fear of bees, despite the fact that I'm anaphylactic and could be killed by just one sting. My love of wolves is almost as great as my love of bees. And my love of sharks is almost as great as my love for wolves. I think this is because I've had to be a fighter all my life just to stay alive and so my favourite animals are the ferocious, scary ones everyone else is afraid of.
  4. My son's name is Wolf because his great grandmother's last name was Wolf and because my last name is Dawson, which means son of the blackbird, and wolves and ravens hunt together.
  5. When I was two I had an imaginary friend called The Gargoyle and for months my mother had to do everything exactly the same for him as for me, in the same order. One day when she went to feed him breakfast I got very upset. I cried and cried and finally told her he'd been killed in a car accident outside the house. I am hopeful that my son will also have an imaginary friend one day, but one that won't let him down.
  6. I wrote my first book when I was six. It was called "Cyclops" and it was about a Cyclops. And his one eye. And that was it. I drew many pages of Cyclops' eye. Even at this age I was better at drawing than writing.
  7. When I was about seven or eight I wrote a short story about a toad I found in the well at 100 Mile House where my family had a cabin. It got turned into a play by the Magic Carpet Theatre and I got to see the performance that year at the Vancouver Children's Festival. After the play they presented me with a dictionary, which seemed like a really lame present. That is...until I opened it up and saw all the pretty drawings inside. And I have wanted to illustrate a dictionary ever since...
  8. My Grade two teacher cast me as the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland so I wouldn't have to talk during the play because I was so nervous. But I had the most amazing costume with blue sparkly ribbons for wings and I’m pretty sure everyone was secretly jealous.
  9. I was a figure skater for many years and was one of the first kids in Canada Ice Dance Theatre. In a production of Peter Pan my coach cast me as Captain Hook. When I told him I had been hoping for something a bit more epic, like maybe...Wendy, he said no one was more epic than Captain Hook because CH is a bad guy and bad guys are always at the center of the story. My sister got to be Tinker Bell.
  10. I was a terrible big sister. My jealousy of her big blue eyes and beautiful blonde ringlets filled me with rage and I once secretly fed her a spider sandwich then laughed and laughed until she cried. She was maybe two. It scarred her for life.
  11. The ladies in my family have a history of losing their underwear in public places. My great aunt dropped her briefs outside Eaton’s in Vancouver and ran inside, humiliated. My mother failed to notice a pair of stockings and undies trailing from out of her pant leg until a kind woman tapped her on the shoulder at the coffee shop and pointed it out. And we once found a pair of my sister's alphabet underwear at the campfire at the cottage when she was about six or seven and I can't believe I am still using this story to embarrass her.
  12. A friend of mine took me to the University of Toronto's anatomy lab and once I realized how easy it was to sneak in I'd go weekly and sit and draw the cadavers. We still affectionately call this place "The Dead People's Museum."


Willow Dawson is an illustrator and cartoonist working out of The RAID Studio in downtown Toronto. She illustrated The Big Green Book of the Big Blue Sea, a science book with an environmental message (with Helaine Becker). She is the creator of Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Suffragette Nellie McClung and Lila and Ecco’s Do-It-Yourself Comics Club, and she illustrated the award-winning graphic novel No Girls Allowed (with Susan Hughes). Dawson teaches Creating Comics and Graphic Novels at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. She also teaches sequential art and scriptwriting to youth across the city. In May of 2012, Dawson toured Prince Edward Island for TD Children’s Book Week.

Check out all the Dirty Dozen interviews in our archives.

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