Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions, with Margriet Ruurs and W. Allan Hancock

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Amazing Animals, by Margriet Ruurs and W. Allan Hancock

Many authors and artists find their inspiration in the natural world. Margriet Ruurs and W. Allan Hancock talk to Open Book about why exploring nature sparks their creativity and how they hope their illustrated book Amazing Animals (Tundra Books) will encourage children to investigate the remarkable world of the great outdoors.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Amazing Animals: The Remarkable Things that Creatures Do.

Margriet Ruurs:

While doing research for my other non-fiction books, I discovered so many wonderful "wow" factors. I wanted to put all of these together. Each time I discovered something that I didn’t know, that made me say "wow," I used it for this collection of amazing animal facts.

OB:

What inspired you to direct Amazing Animals towards children ages 6 to 9, Margriet?

MR:

I wanted to share very cool information with them. I hope to inspire kids to conduct their own research because asking questions and looking for answers is so much fun. I also want them to be in awe, as I am, with nature. And I do hope that 5- and 10 year-olds will like the book as well!

OB:

How did you decide which animals to include in the story, and how is the book organized?

MR:

I wanted to find "wow" factors about mammals, birds and fish, but also about insects and lesser known animals. I looked for a wide variety of animals, both well known and unusual. The editor and I decided on categories, such as "home building" and "diet."

OB:

Allan, how is your creative process different when you are working on illustrations for a book rather than on paintings for an exhibition?

W. Allan Hancock:

The main difference is that I was given a list of subjects to paint as opposed to painting personal choices. I still research the subjects the same way. I am always photographing and sketching subjects for future paintings, so I already had my own references to work from for many of the paintings. I visited zoos and aquariums to photograph and sketch other subjects, and a number of friends offered their photos to supplement my resources.

I wanted to do more than just illustrate each subject in the book. In every painting I do I strive to create interesting compositions and accurately depict the subject. The composition of each painting in the book was influenced by the composition of each spread to ensure that they flow and work well together. While working on one painting I was also thinking of the other paintings it would be placed beside to help determine certain aspects, such as use of colour. I produced the paintings in a variety of sizes, knowing that there would be an exhibition of the 50 finished works at the Peninsula Gallery in Sidney, B.C. in September 2010.

OB:

You are both inspired by nature. Can you describe a childhood memory in which you become aware of the wonder of the natural world?

MR:

I grew up in a city in the Netherlands, one of the most densely populated countries in the world. But I remember vividly playing in our postage-stamp-sized garden and studying spider webs and insects. When I grew up I married a park ranger and I’ve lived in the most amazing natural areas every since, including provincial and state parks.

WAH:

I lived in Ontario until I was 13 years old. My family would visit our relatives in Timmins as much as possible. Many of my favorite childhood memories are of those visits: exploring the bush with my cousins, portaging rapids with my uncles, fishing with my grandfathers, summers at the cottage, and the wildlife we’d see along the way. At home in southern Ontario I would explore fields and ravines nearby.

OB:

What books did you read as children that had a lasting impact on you?

MR:

I loved books about gnomes. I was sure they lived in my garden. I loved Pippi Longstocking and wanted to be as brave as she was. I wanted to travel like Nils Holgerson who flew on the back of a goose. I devoured fiction, lots of novels but also non-fiction. I just never stopped reading children’s books. That’s basically all I read now. They’re the best books.

WAH:

My interest in art and nature began at an early age. I enjoyed books with great visual impact, from comic books to books with depictions of the natural world. Writings of outdoor adventures were of particular interest to me, such as Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat.

OB:

Do you worry that children may not have the same opportunities to explore the outdoors as they might have in generations past? What impact do you think this might have on children's creative minds?

MR:

All parents should read Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books). They should turn off the TV, sell all of their video games, and get outside with their children. My own children now live on the same acreage where I live and I am blessed to see my one-year-old grandson every day. We take him for walks every day, regardless of the weather. He will grow up building tree forts and roaming outside. All children should be so lucky. I firmly believe that spending time out of doors, in nature — even if it is in a city park — is essential to a child’s development and well-being. It will help them to be creative, to use their imagination and to see the world from a different perspective.

WAH:

I think the opportunity to explore nature is still there, it’s just a path far less travelled. Sadly, the technology of today seems to be a bigger draw. As parents we need to ensure that our children maintain a well-balanced lifestyle, and this includes time spent outdoors. It is not healthy to sit in a room looking at a screen every spare minute of the day. Instead of being led through levels of a video game, children can use their imaginations as they explore and discover living treasures, right in their own backyards. I love to see the excitement on the faces of our own children as they interact with nature in our family outings. We need to encourage children to explore the outdoors and to discover the wonders of nature. Hopefully Amazing Animals will be such an encouragement to young readers.

OB:

Describe the environment or location where you feel most at peace, most inspired, or most at home.

MR:

Right now, for me, that is on Salt Spring Island. On my acreage I can walk to an arm of the ocean and smell the fresh air. I can see bald eagles in a tree and an osprey soaring overhead. I see green grass and endless forest from my home. It makes me feel hopeful for the future, and it inspires me to write more.

WAH:

I love living on Vancouver Island. Here, the ocean, the mountains, the rainforest trails, the alpine hikes, the abundance of wildlife and the stunning natural beauty leaves me overflowing with inspiration.

OB:

Who are your favourite authors or visual artists?

MR:

I have so many favourite authors and illustrators…. Any book that draws me right in, that makes me want to keep reading, is wonderful. I just finished reading Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom (Tundra Books) by Susin Nielsen and loved it. Star Girl. Alexandria of Africa. No Fixed Address. Cages. Touching Spirit Bear. I read it all. I buy any book by Lynne Cherry and Jeannie Baker because of their amazing art work.

WAH:

During my university studies I realized I greatly enjoy reading works with layers of symbolism and meaning. I like my visual art this way as well. I prefer paintings that are more than just pretty pictures - paintings with ideas. While I enjoy a wide variety of artistic styles, I am most taken with works of realism depicting nature. Subject matter aside, I admire paintings that are masterful, appearing effortless, where every brushstroke is applied in confidence, knowing where to add detail and perhaps more importantly, when to leave it out. Robert Bateman, Ray Harris-Ching, and George McLean are among my many favourites. Also are sculptors Tim Cherry, Douglas Fisher and my good friends Greg Pedersen and Lindsay Branson.

OB:

What are you both working on now?

MR:

I’m working on a non-fiction picture book to show kids where the food they eat comes from, because some kids don’t know that potatoes do not come from the supermarket. I’m also writing a rhyming picture book about the importance, and the joy, of reading.

WAH:

I am continually working on new paintings for the galleries that carry my work and preparing for upcoming shows. I am currently signing booklets of the Canadian Wildlife Habitat 2011 Conservation Stamp which features one of my paintings.



Margriet Ruurs is the author of numerous books for children, including In My Backyard, Wild Babies, When We Go Camping, and A Mountain Alphabet. She has a master’s degree in education and has spent many years both writing books for children and teaching children about books. She has also spent a great deal of time hiking and camping in the mountains and travelling. Margriet Ruurs has lived across North America and now makes her home on Salt Spring Island, in British Columbia. Visit her website at www.margrietruurs.com.

Born in Timmins, Ontario, celebrated Canadian artist W. Allan Hancock has had a fascination with the natural world from his childhood days. Hancock’s artwork has been selected for numerous fundraising projects for conservation purposes. His artwork has been featured twice on the Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp. Hancock is the youngest artist ever selected as Artist of the Year by Ducks Unlimited Canada. His work can be found in collections throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. For more information on W. Allan Hancock please visit www.wallanhancock.com.

For more information about Amazing Animals please visit the Tundra Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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