Guest Blogger, Kim Chatel
In college creative writing class, we did a semester of writing for children. It was the hardest course in my school career. Even poetry class couldn’t compare, and no one has ever accused me of being a poet. In Children’s Lit 101 we wrote Limericks, short stories and a play. I sweated blood for each assignment. I couldn’t think of one story for children. I forced myself to write about Wally Whale who was hearty and hale…Oh yes, it got worse after that. And the four seasons, who—wait for it—argued like siblings. Very orgininal.
Why was writing for children so scary to me? Because I had no experience with kids. I was the youngest in my extended family. I had never babysat or volunteered with kids. They were an alien breed to me.
Then I got married. My husband had two young boys at the time. I learned to settle rowdy children for bed. I found ways to pass long rainy afternoons. I had a baby of my own and sang silly songs to distract her while trying to change messy diapers. I watched the same children’s shows over and over again until they were part of my nightmares. I memorized Dr. Suess’ ABC Book, and read other children’s books by the dozens. In short, I became a mother.
So how does all this translate to fiction? Well, one evening during a storm, my daughter couldn’t sleep. I started a game with her that would last for years. I gave her a dream. This funny story was something she could latch onto while she tried to sleep and I told her to finish it in her dreams.
The first of these story-dreams was an early version of “Rainbow Sheep.” Of course it wasn’t as simple as that. The story went through many revisions before it was ready to submit for publication, but the basic story is the same one I told on that rainy night so many years ago.
About that time, I picked up needle-felting as a hobby. I made all kinds of music boxes and Christmas Tree ornaments. Because needle-felting is a new craft, I was completely self taught, which was great in one respect: no one could tell me I was doing it wrong!
Needle-felting is like sculpting with wool. I had been making three dimensional ornaments, now I decided to try felt-paintings. I was always fascinated by picture books illustrated with alternate forms of art such as Eric Carle’s collages or Barbara Reid’s plasticene-relief illustrations from “The New Baby Calf,” (author Edith Newlin Chase). These books worked on my subconscious, inspiring me to merged my own art with my fiction. I stretched a wool canvas over a wooden frame and felted my illustrations onto this medium. I had no idea if any publisher would be interested in such a thing. And because each frame took about 8 hours to complete, I made only three to begin with. When the publisher at Guardian Angel told me she was interested in not only in the story, but in the art as well, I quickly got busy making another seven frames!
The result is a unique book, very special to my heart from beginning to end. You can see a selection of my fiber art on my site as well as an intro into the art of needle-felting at www.kimchatel.com. There is also a trailer with a short clip of me making a felt Rainbow Sheep.
I hope children will enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed making it!