Today, I’m excited to talk with Jannie Ho about how Bear and Chicken’s story began, her always eye-catching color palette, and her special relationship with her young readers.
What inspired you to venture into writing with Bear and Chicken?
I was inspired to write Bear and Chicken when these two characters showed up in one of my illustrations. I was working on a banner header for my blog and I had drawn a Bear holding a bundled up little chicken.
I received a lot of feedback for it and many people asked me, “What is their story?” I didn’t know yet, but I knew I had something interesting. I filed the idea away and brought it back again when I was invited to participate in a sequential art gallery show. The two pieces for that show became the first spread of Bear and Chicken.
Your illustrations have such an active, happy sense of camaraderie and community. What would you like readers to take away from your books and other work?
Thank you! I would love to transport my readers to a different world that is filled with happiness, innocence, and humor. There are always little “Easter eggs” I like to put in my illustrations; it is like a little secret between the reader and me. A wink, so to speak.
One of the most striking aspects of your work besides its off-the-charts cuteness is your use of color. Can you talk a little about how you approach color in your illustrations?
I love color and I am constantly looking for color palettes that inspire me. I’ve always done work for very young children and so my color palette is always bright. But I’ve learned over the years to mix in some slight neutrals and unexpected colors in my palette with great results. In almost every project, I already have a color palette in mind when I start. I think the secret is not to use every color there is! A limited color palette always looks much more refined and sophisticated.
What was your favorite picture book when you were a child? Who has influenced your artistic vision.
One of my favorite picture books of all time was (and still is) Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town. I fell in love with his anthropomorphic animal world immediately and he is still my biggest influence to this day.
What’s the best part of being a writer and illustrator for children?
Getting kids to laugh! I think I have a kid’s sense of humor.
What’s up next for you?
I’ve been exploring stories that are from my culture and childhood. I feel a great calling to bring these stories to life and onto paper.
What is your favorite holiday and why?
Halloween! I am from Hong Kong and we do not celebrate Halloween there. When I moved to the U.S., I was so surprised at this holiday where you can get free candy from strangers’ houses! Now as a parent, it is fun to see my kid dress up. It is also one of my favorite holidays to illustrate—I have done many Halloween titles (The Haunted Ghoul Bus by Lisa Trumbauer, If You’re Spooky, You Know it by Aly Fronis, Halloween ABC by Jannie Ho).
Do you have any anecdote from a holiday you’d like to share? OR has a holiday ever influenced your work?
Speaking of holidays I was not familiar with as an immigrant, Thanksgiving was a holiday my family had to learn about as we became Americans. I remember going to school having to lie to friends and teachers about eating turkey, cranberry sauce, and gravy. We never had the traditional Thanksgiving meal. One year, I finally asked my mom why we didn’t have turkey for Thanksgiving. She replied, “Chinese people don’t eat turkey.” Which isn’t true, of course! Throughout the years, we’ve learned the traditions and adapted it to make it our own.
Thanks, Jannie! It’s been so fun chatting with you! I wish you all the best with Bear and Chicken and all of your books!
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month Review
About the Holiday
One of the best parts of summer is all the fresh fruit and veggies that are available at farmers markets and grocery stores. Vibrant red strawberries, watermelon, and tomatoes; deep green lettuce; and a rainbow of squash, peppers, and potatoes make cooking and eating a special treat. There’s no better way to celebrate the season than by making favorite recipes—and trying some new ones—with your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Bear and Chicken
By Jannie Ho
On a cold winter day, Bear was coming home from his morning walk when “he saw a chicken, frozen in the snow!” He picked her and her knapsack up and brought them inside, where a warm fire crackled in the fireplace. “How does one defrost a chicken? thought Bear.” Bear took a blanket and wrapped the chicken like a burrito and held her tight until her eyes opened. When that happened, Bear smiled and Chicken found herself staring into two rows of very sharp teeth.
Bear took Chicken into the kitchen, where carrots and onions sat on the counter. Bear picked up his cookbook and began to read. “‘You are just in time,’” he said to Chicken. Chicken looked on worriedly as Bear filled a huge, chicken-sized pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. When Chicken inadvertently knocked over a pot of basil, Bear decided it was a perfect addition to his recipe.
With a newly sharpened knife, Bear chopped up carrots, celery, and onions. “‘Hmmm…what else is missing?’ said Bear,” looking right at Chicken. Bear lifted Chicken up to the pot of hot, bubbling broth. She imagined what would happen next. Chicken wriggled out of Bear’s grasp and ran as fast as she could and out the door.
Bear chased after her, and even though Chicken “zig-zagged through the trees,” Bear caught up with her. She glanced at the big stick Bear had raised over her head, and thought it was the end for her. But Bear, his feelings hurt, was just holding out Chicken’s knapsack. “‘You forgot this,’” he said. Surprised, Chicken blurted out, ‘”You’re not going to eat me?’” Now it was Bear’s turn to be surprised, and he explained that he was making lunch for both of them.
Still wary, Chicken protested that she wasn’t hungry, but her grumbling tummy gave her away. The two laughed, and after Bear promised to help Chicken find her way home, they went inside to enjoy delicious bowls of vegetable soup.
An adorably illustrated recipe for Bear’s Vegetable Soup and a note about the diet of Black Bears follow the text.
Kids will love the suspense and humor of Jannie Ho’s mistaken purposes story. Her laugh-out-loud line about defrosting a chicken sets the action directly in the kitchen and puts young readers in the same mindset as poor Chicken when she wakes up to a very suspicious smile. As Chicken stews about her predicament, little ones will empathize with her while older readers may have fun predicting Bear’s intent. The chase through the woods provides gentle suspense while the sweet reconciliation will have readers giggling along with Chicken and Bear.
Ho brings her distinctively cute artwork to her debut as an author/illustrator with great effect as Bear and Chicken exchange meaningful looks—but is Bear serious about cooking Chicken or just serious about his cooking? Kids will fall in love with little chicken from the moment she’s found in the snow and snugged into a warm blanket. Her worried expression will further endear her to readers, and who can blame them for a bit of worry of their own when Bear’s décor includes such things as a picture of bacon and eggs and the prominently displayed Chicken Cookbook?
A cozy Cozy for the youngest mystery lovers, Bear and Chicken should be invited to stick around on any child’s bookshelf for story time or bedtime.
Ages 3 – 6
Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762462667
Discover more about Jannie Ho, her books, and her artwork on her website.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month Activity
Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game
With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully ripen first!
- Printable Garden Plot Game Board
- Printable Vegetable Playing Cards: Page 1 | Page 2
- Printable Vegetable Playing Die
- Black or brown crayon (optional)
- Card stock or heavy paper for printing (optional)
Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden rows with vegetables. Depending on the ages of the players, the required winning number of rows to fill and the number of vegetables to “plant” in each row can be adjusted.
- Print one Game Board for each player
- Print one set of Playing Cards for each player (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
- Print one Vegetable Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
- Cut the vegetables into their individual playing cards
- Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
- Choose a player to go first
- The player rolls the die and then “plants” the facing vegetable in a row on the game board
- Play moves to the person on the right
- Players continue rolling the die and “planting” vegetables until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with the determined number of vegetables.
- The first person to “grow” all of their veggies wins!