Born and raised in Quebec, Geneviève Godbout studied traditional animation in Montreal and at the prestigious Gobelins school in Paris. She is the illustrator of a number of books for children, including The Pink Umbrella, When Santa Was a Baby, Kindergarten Luck (Chronicle), and Joseph Fipps (Enchanted Lion). Some of her clients include The Walt Disney Company, Chronicle, HMH, Flammarion, Bayard, Les éditions Milan and La Pastèque. She also works for clothing designers like Nadinoo and Mrs. Pomeranz, creating illustrations and prints for their collections. Connect with Geneviève on her website.
Congratulations on What’s Up, Maloo, your debut picture book as both author and illustrator! Can you talk a little about the journey you’ve taken with this book?
Thank you! I never expected to be an author, but one day I woke up with the feeling I should write my own story about depression. I pictured this little kangaroo that lost his hop and told my French publisher (La Pastèque) about it. The whole creative process was natural, yet I felt incredibly insecure about my own capacities. But once published, we had such a fantastic response that I’m now working on a sequel with the little crocodile!
What was your inspiration for this story and why this subject is important to you? What do you hope children will take away from your story?
I was inspired by my own experience of depression. I wanted to say that it’s ok to go through tough times and emphasize the importance of being surrounded without judgement. We should feel safe to confess our feelings to a friend. We don’t have to go through this alone.
Your illustrations of Maloo feeling sad and losing the spring in his step are touching and instantly recognizable for children. How can adults use the book to talk with their children about the strong feelings of sadness and depression from multiple viewpoints, including the sufferer themselves and their friends?
I chose not to mention why Maloo lost his hop so that kids and adults can fill the gap in the text with their own experience. Maloo’s friends are sweet and full of empathy. I pictured this book as a comforter rather than a sad story.
You’ve brought iconic characters Anne of Green Gables and Mary Poppins to books for the youngest readers. What are the challenges and joys of working with these beloved characters?
It was quite an intimidating challenge. These characters are so loved by readers (and myself!) that everyone has their own expectations of what they should look like. For instance, Mary Poppins is dramatically different in the original books by P.L. Travers from the Disney movie. But when we think about Mary Poppins, most people picture Julie Andrews, not a severe looking lady with very tall feet. With that in mind, I tried to find my own way of drawing both Mary Poppins and Anne Shirley. It was such an exciting opportunity, I reminded myself to have fun during the creative process without anticipating the public response too much.
From characters’ round, expressive eyes, rosy cheeks, and sweet grins to animated action punctuated with humor to your gorgeous colors, your picture book illustrations are truly distinctive. How did you develop your signature style?
A style is the expression of one’s sensitivity and creativity. Mine evolved throughout the years as I gained experience and technique. And for some reason, I chose the most time-consuming medium: color pencils! I have always loved them. They’re delicate and precise. My background in traditional animation also has a huge part in the way I draw today. Everything is about movement and expressive posing.
What do you love best about creating books for children?
I love the idea of touching people and offering them a safe bubble where they can smile and relax. There is nothing better than hearing a child or an adult say they love to curl up in bed with one of my books.
You went to school in Paris, you’ve worked in London, and now you live in Montreal. Could you name one of your favorite places in each city and tell why you love it?
I was lucky to live in such fabulous and inspiring cities. I loved to get lost in Paris and walk by the Thames river near Hammersmith in London. Each time I go back, it feels a bit like home. As for Montreal, I think it’s the best place in terms of quality of life and I love the contrast between the seasons!
What’s up next for you?
I’m working on a couple of exciting projects including a sequel for What’s up, Maloo? and a third book in the Anne series. I’m kind of booked for the next year or so with Harper Collins, Random House, Comme des Géants, and perhaps Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, but I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say at this stage!
Thanks, Geneviève! It was wonderful chatting with you. I’m really looking forward to seeing the sequel to What’s Up, Maloo? and all of your upcoming books!
Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week Review
About the Holiday
This week was established to raise awareness and promote literacy and the joys and benefits of reading. During the week, children’s authors and illustrators attend special events at schools, bookstores, libraries, and other community centers to share their books and get kids excited about reading. To learn more about how you can instill a lifelong love of learning in your children, visit ChildrensAuthorsNetwork!
I received a copy of What’s Up, Maloo? from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to partner with Tundra in a giveaway of the book. See details below.
What’s Up, Maloo?
By Geneviève Godbout
Maloo is a little kangaroo with an especially hoppy spring in his step. But one day he feels grounded. Instead of hop, hop, hopping to see his friend, he takes “One step. Two steps, Three steps.” Wombat immediately notices that something’s amiss and asks, “What’s up, Maloo?” She brings him inside her cozy den and gives him a slice of pie. While she slides another treat into the oven, Maloo sits forlornly at the table, not touching his pie.
They go down to the river—“Four steps. Five steps. Six steps”—where Crocodile sees it too and asks Maloo what’s wrong. Perhaps a swim will cheer Maloo up, but he sits dejectedly atop his ball and floats with the current. The three go to see Koala. They all want to help Maloo feel better. They try giving him a lift with an electric fan, but the wind just knocks Maloo head over heels.
Maloo’s friends stay with him, though––“ten steps…one hundred steps…one thousand steps.” They stretch out a blanket and fling Maloo into the air, giving him encouragement. Can he hop? Maloo falls…but springs up again. “Hop!” He floats down, but this time instead of feeling dejected, he’s looking up. Back into the air he goes. He descends, but something is rising up in him. Maloo jumps with a gigantic “Hop!” He smiles. Koala climbs on Maloo’s back while Wombat and Crocodile balance on pogo sticks, and they all “hop like Maloo!’”
With her powerfully emotional images and spare text, Geneviève Godbout allows readers to identify with Maloo as he experiences a time of sadness and recovers happiness with the help of his friends. In her soft, earth-toned illustrations, Godbout provides many perspectives and good examples for children and adults to discuss. Having lost his hop, Maloo seeks out one friend, who engages another friend and yet another, showing children the reassurance and help available by reaching out and having a supportive network. Maloo’s friends are also sensitive to Maloo’s mood, encouraging readers to pay attention to and acknowledge changes they may see in their friends and family. As readers count Maloo’s steps, they’ll see that sometimes the road back to feeling happy can be long, but that good friends stick with you no matter what or how long it takes. They also learn that asking for help starts with one step.
A moving and accessible resource for parents and caregivers to talk with their children about the ups and downs of life and the emotions of sadness and depression, What’s Up, Maloo? is a valuable addition to home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 3 – 7
Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735266643
To learn more about Geneviève Godbout, her books, and her art, visit her website.
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Picture Book Review