We’re so excited to welcome author and illustrator Nancy Cote to talk about her new book, Leonard’s Beard, and the real-life inspiration for the character of Leonard.
As a creator of children’s books, I find inspiration everywhere, especially through the people and places that I am most familiar with.
My newest book, Leonard’s Beard, is a perfect example of how a writer taps into their familiar surroundings, and with an open mind, lots of imagination and a heightened sense of exaggeration, a story with universal appeal emerges.
The idea for my newest book, Leonard’s Beard, began on a windy day in the fall. Leaves were falling from the trees in my yard, and I jokingly remarked that there was no need to rake them, since they would all end up in my neighbor’s yard at the bottom of the hill. Suddenly, I envisioned my neighbor Leonard, who wore a large unruly beard, standing in his yard with leaves and debris trapped in his beard. My imagination took hold as I visualized not only leaves, but objects of all kinds, landing in that big red beard.
The story written in rhyme, blew into my thoughts as organically as the wind blew into my studio on that fall afternoon, and I was hooked.
My neighbor Leonard was a professional writer. He worked in a little studio behind his house, which was located at the bottom of a steep hill along the Taunton River in Somerset, MA. He was a free thinker and gentle soul who lived by his own standards.
Because he looked a bit eccentric, he was somewhat misunderstood, and other than his family, Leonard never appeared to have many friends. We both enjoyed talking and sharing our appreciation for nature and animals and he was fascinated by my work in children’s books.
I had the opportunity to tell Leonard about the story I had in mind featuring him, and he was humbly honored. He invited me to visit his studio, which overhung the river, and gave me permission to take photos. It was during that visit that the story came together for me, but before I had finished the manuscript, Leonard unfortunately passed away during open heart surgery. From that moment on, I was determined that this story would be the best I could write and be published as a tribute not only to Leonard, but to freelancers and those of us, who sometimes find ourselves isolated due to life’s distractions.
In the story, Leonard is a happy and successful writer who is passionate about everything in life. He begins to isolate himself so that he can write more, but instead, he discovers that he no longer has anything to write about.
As he becomes distressed over his situation, he doesn’t notice a storm that is brewing. When the wind blows down his door, it carries with it an array of outrageous objects from a can of peas to a wonderful cello which all land in Leonard’s beard.
As he untangles the mess, the preposterous objects he removes all serve to help him to rediscover what’s really important.
Although the story was inspired by my neighbor, it is a story about the dangers that accomplishment and complacency can have on the creative process.
Simply put, we all need to find something to be passionate about, and never allow ourselves to lose perspective.
It doesn’t have to take a wind storm to remind you to be yourself, but sometimes it helps!
Leonard’s Beard by Nancy Cote
Leonard is a writer with many stories to tell. In his house on a hill, with his dogs and his frog, he writes stories of adventures and excitement. He is so consumed with his stories, though, that he loses touch with all of his friends and feels very lonely.
Each day Leonard’s beard grows longer and longer, and more wild and untamed, as he fills up pages and pages of stories. His life becomes dull and much less exciting as he focuses too much on his writing. Leonard is so busy that he doesn’t notice a storm is brewing until the wind shakes the windows, the roof, and the floor and a strong gust knocks off his door. Once the storm passes, Leonard discovers just how out of control his beard has gotten. He finds strange things that have gotten stuck in there, including a mouse, a bird, and some apples. As Leonard removes the items from his beard, he comes to realize that being consumed with writing adventures has prevented him from having his own.
Leonard’s Beard is a story about discovering what is important in life. The rhyming text is perfect for reading aloud, and the illustrations of all of the silly things that wind up in Leonard’s beard will have little ones giggling on each reread!
Nancy Cote is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator who finds joy in the smallest things. She is the author and illustrator for numerous picture books, including Watch the Cookie!, Watch the Birdie!, and Puddle Jumpers (all published with Sky Pony Press). Nancy lives along a river in the historic village of Somerset, Massachusetts.