Today I’m happy to talk with Cale Atkinson about Where Oliver Fits, a major benefit of being a children’s author and illustrator, and his own early self-awareness.
What inspired you to write Where Oliver Fits?
As I was walking home one afternoon I watched everyone around me busily rushing around. Some were going this way, others that way, some in a group, some alone. It made me think how we are all running around, trying to find our fit in life and our fit in the world, much like a bunch of puzzle pieces.
How did you get involved in illustrating and writing picture books?
Ever since I was young I was eager to tell my own stories, be it in the form of comics, cartoon strips, or picture books. I’ve been writing stories from an early age but only started to seriously attempt writing picture books years later, once I had been working as a professional artist and began to understand how to go about it. I’m still amazed to see a book I’ve written sitting in a bookstore!
You’ve said that you believe in tea more than sleep. As a fellow tea enthusiast, I’d love to know what your favorite tea is.
I’m actually a simple straight up Orange Pekoe guy! Give me a big box of that Tetley, and I’m happy. As my tea drinking friends dubbed it, I like my peasant tea!
In a letter you once wrote as a child, you show such self-confidence and self-awareness as an artist. Can you talk about that a little?
I honestly don’t really know where that came from! I truly wasn’t a confident kid in most aspects, but for some reason I was always 100% confident that I would become an artist/storyteller in some form or another. I’ve always loved creating as well as sharing my latest story, drawing or idea. I was a shy child, but felt with art I could let the drawings do the talking for me.
If you were a puzzle piece would you rather be an edge piece or one in the center? Why?
I think I would be a corner piece, so I could still be near other pieces to hang out with, but also have my own space when I need it. Rather than being all crammed up on all sides somewhere in the middle! I would also be able to glimpse the world beyond the puzzle’s edges, and let everyone know what’s out there!
What’s the best thing about writing and illustrating for kids?
Not having to pretend to be an adult.
Do you have an anecdote from a book signing or school visit you’d like to share?
I always love sharing examples of the various things I’ve worked on in my school visits. When I showed a slide of SpongeBob SquarePants from a game I helped work on, the entire group of kids broke out into singing the SpongeBob theme song!
What’s up next for you?
I’m happy to report I have two written/illustrated books coming in 2018!
The first is titled Off & Away, published through Disney-Hyperion. It’s a story of courage, overcoming fears, and larger than life adventures.
The second is titled Sir Simon – Super Scarer, published through Tundra Books. Simon the ghost introduces us to the world of haunting, what it means to be a ghost, and how much he dreads doing his ghost chores.
What is your favorite holiday?
Halloween, hands down! I love the fun of it! Costumes! Pumpkins! Candy! Old scary movies! What’s not to love?!
Do you have an anecdote from a holiday you’d like to share?
My dad was always into Halloween just as much as my brother and I. Every year we would add more and more decorations out onto the front lawn. One year we added dry ice, making everything all foggy! Another year my dad made a giant, fully functioning Guillotine, which could cut a full pumpkin in half! Not the safest, but we thought it was amazing (and happy to report none of us lost our heads).
Thanks, Cale, for stopping by today! I’ve really enjoyed our fun, funny, and insightful chat. I wish you all the best with Where Oliver Fits and all of your other books!
Self -Awareness Day Book Review
About the Holiday
Self-Awareness Month was established to encourage people to get to know themselves, not as others see them but as they really are. Only when a person really knows who they are, where they’ve come from, and what they want can they achieve happiness. While it can be hard not to compare oneself to others, each person’s value comes from their own spirit, talents, and thoughts. Once people accept themselves, they can find their place in the world and accomplish wonderful things. To celebrate this month’s holiday, take some time to reflect on your life and see if you are being true to yourself.
Where Oliver Fits
By Cale Atkinson
Opening Where Oliver Fits, you might feel as if you’ve upended a jigsaw puzzle box. But as you look at all the pieces spilled across the page, you’ll realize that each one is so different—and they have legs and faces! So you look at the words: “Do you ever wonder where you fit?”, and you think, “yeah, I do.” Well, “Oliver wondered too.” Who’s Oliver? He’s the little roundish piece down in the corner. Yep, that’s him—the cute one (sure, they’re all cute in their own way, but you know what I mean).
Oliver was just getting started on this journey called life, and he “couldn’t wait to see where he fit. He wanted to be part of something exciting…Something wild…Something out of this world!.” Maybe he’d sail the seas as part of a pirate kraken, rock out as the central piece of a guitar-shredding monster, or zoom to the moon as the heart of an astronaut unicorn.
Oliver was excited to start looking around for his perfect place. He met a group of blue and red guys who had a roundish space waiting to be filled, but when he asked about joining, it seemed his colors weren’t a good match. On his second attempt at friendship, Oliver was told he wasn’t square enough. (Didn’t that used to be a good thing?) The third group Oliver approached had a bumpy, angled space to fill. They just laughed when they saw him coming.
Oliver was getting frustrated and feeling down. He decided that he had to change. “Maybe I have to be more like them and less like me,” he thought. Remembering the first group—the one that wanted “more red,” Oliver took a red marker and colored himself in. At first, when they saw him, the group accepted him happily. When the marker began to run, though, he was booted out. Maybe changing his color didn’t work, but what if he altered his shape?
He covered himself with connecting blocks and went in search of the square guys, but when he found them, they told him he was now “too square!” Oliver tried disguise after disguise. Some made him “too tall”; some made him “too short,” and others were just wrong, wrong, wrong. Poor Oliver was at his wit’s end. “If someone else is what they want, someone else is what they’ll get!” he determined.
He took some cardboard, glue, tape, and paint and fashioned himself the perfect bumpy, angled suit. Then he went back to the third group he’d met. Ohhh! They greeted him as an old friend. They loved his shape and his color and invited him to join them. At last Oliver had found a place to fit. In fact, “he fit so well that no one had a clue it was really him.” Oliver was happy—or was he? As he watched other pieces come and go, rejected for not being just right, Oliver began to wonder, “am I really still me?”
The fun of fitting in began to wear off, so he removed his disguise and left the group. While it was good to be himself again, he was back to square one with nowhere to go. Oliver felt dejected. All of his plans to be part of something wild and wonderful were falling apart. He was alone. Suddenly, Oliver saw two other pieces who had also changed to fit in. When they came near and took off their disguises, Oliver saw that he could join them in a—truly—perfect fit. Through his experiences, Oliver “discovered that you can’t rush or force your fit. All you can do is be yourself.” Then the exciting, wild, and out-of-this-world part will take care of itself, because the world isn’t complete without you—or Oliver.
Kids will fall in love with little Oliver the moment they see him. Excited, earnest, and sweet, Oliver is navigating his way through the world, looking for the place he fits best—just the same as they are. Cale Atkinson understands the way children—and adults—try out various groups and even personas while forming friendships and even a sense of self. His conversational style will resonate with readers, many of whom have asked or will ask themselves the same questions as Oliver.
Atkinson’s use of a puzzle piece as his main character is smart, sophisticated, and fun too. Young readers will giggle at some of Oliver’s disguises even while they recognize that each costume doesn’t “fit.” The image of Oliver encased in his bumpy, angled costume is particularly moving as he comes to the conclusion that hiding himself is not the answer. The final image of the completed puzzle is a delight that children will want to linger over. They’ll enjoy discovering little Oliver in the midst of the life he had imaginated as well as flipping back and forth through the pages to find how each group of pieces fits into the whole.
Where Oliver Fits is a fantastic book for classrooms and a child’s home library for fun story times and for those days when a little more encouragement is needed.
Ages 3 – 8
Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1101919071
Discover more about Cale Atkinson, his books, and his art as well as some pretty amazing animation on his website!
Self-Awareness Month Activity
I Am… Jigsaw Puzzle
Everyone is made up of various talents, personality traits, and feelings that make them unique. With this I Am… Jigsaw Puzzle, you can celebrate the things that make you…you!
- Wooden jigsaw puzzle, available at craft stores
- Child’s wallet-size photo
- Paint in various colors
- Magnetic squares or strips (optional)
- Paint brush
- Paint the puzzle pieces in any colors or patterns you like, let dry
- Glue the picture of yourself to the center puzzle piece
- On the other pieces write words that describe you
- Attach magnetic squares or strips to the back of the pieces (optional for hanging on a refrigerator)
- Put the puzzle together or use the individual pieces as separate magnets to display all of your wonderful qualities!
You can find Where Oliver Fits at these Booksellers:
You can connect with Cale Atkinson on his:
Picture Book Review