Behind the scenes of Leonard’s Beard with Nancy Cote

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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Writing and illustrating children’s books is a perfect outlet to deliver profound concepts in a simple way through joyful language and pictures.now-he-makes-time

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!


About Nancy Cotenancy-cote-headshot

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.

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Q & A With Author/Illustrator Nancy Cote

 Author/illustrator Nancy Cote answered the Sky Pony Q & A. Check out her interview and see all of Nancy Cote’s books below!

FullSizeRenderNancy Cote is a children’s book author and illustrator whose playful style has garnered her international attention. She is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, the AGA “Pick of the Lists,” the Smithsonian Notable Book for Children, and the Society of School Librarians International Honor Book.

 

 

 


 

Q: Why did you gravitate to the genre that you write in?

It’s the perfect outlet for me to be as creative as I can be through words and images. I absolutely love picture books!

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Q: What are you reading right now?

This morning I re-read Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. I’m truly inspired by Ms. Donaldson’s storytelling ability in rhyme. It’s as flawless as the artwork that my all-time favorite illustrator, Axel Scheffler, creates. Their collaborations are in perfect harmony and I am uplifted every time I read this story about friendship and loyalty. I am also reading a short story by Franz Kafka called The Metamorphosis that I’ve read many times because it encourages me to see the world uniquely and to embrace the unexpected. It’s a story about transformation, a concept regularly used in children’s stories to show how a character can change through unpredictable circumstances.

Q: If you could be a character in any children’s book, who would you be and why?

I would be Joseph from Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Tabak because I love how resourceful he is and how he always makes something out of nothing. It’s perfect advice for an author/illustrator.

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Q: Where’s your favorite place to write?

I write whenever I become inspired by an idea. That could be anywhere. But when I’m working on a poem or manuscript, I like to find a cozy chair, curl my legs up under me and write for hours. I always write with pencil and do lots of erasing throughout the process.

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Q: What’s your favorite classic movie?

The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton is my favorite movie. I adore how the character Jack, who lives in Halloween Town, enters Christmas Town and is amazed to see everything completely brand new and different. His ecstatic refrain, “What’s this?” builds as he sees everything for the very first time and it reminds me that this is the way children view the world.

Q: If you could have any animal as a pet (current or extinct), what would it be?

I love animals of all sorts but I could not get along without a dog.

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Q: Milk, dark, or white chocolate?

Yes, yes, and yes please . . .

Q: What’s your favorite holiday?

Halloween is my favorite holiday because it gives everyone the opportunity to live out a little fantasy. Fall, candy, glowing jack o’ lanterns, laughter, and excitement—a recipe for fun!

Q: What’s your favorite emoji? OR What’s your favorite GIF?

I don’t really like them. They’re generic images that take the place of using words to describe how you feel.

Q: What did you want to grow up to be?

I grew up with a pencil in my hand, always drawing or writing little poems. I had no idea that a career in picture books would be something that I could achieve.

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Nancy Cote’s books for Sky Pony Press:

9781620879917-frontcoverDixie Wants an Allergy by Tori Corn, illustrated by Nancy Cote

It’s Dixie’s first day of school, and some of her classmates are sharing details about their various allergies. Bridget tells of her wheat allergy and how she gets to order a special meal from restaurants. Dixie thinks that must be a really special meal! And Charlie had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance once due to his dairy allergy. Dixie thinks that must have been thrilling! Even Hannah gets to wear a fashionable bracelet due to her peanut allergy. Dixie races home and begins to eagerly search for the slightest sign of an allergy. After many failed attempts, Dixie discovers that she is allergic to something after all. But is getting what you wish for actually as exciting as it once appeared?

Watch the Cookie by Nancy Cote

9781629146300-frontcoverSam and Mousey are best friends, and Mousey is always looking up to Sam and following his lead. They do everything together and share everything, too. So when Sam surprises Mousey with a big chocolate chip cookie, they can’t wait to split it. Unfortunately, Sam really has to go and he has to go NOW! “Watch the cookie. I’ll be right back,” he tells Mousey. Mousey diligently watches the cookie, but it turns out that he isn’t the only one. Pigeons come pecking and ants come marching. Mousey does his best to shoo them away, but it’s only when he yells in his loudest voice that he can scare them off. Just when Mousey thinks he has saved the cookie, a hungry cat appears—and this cat isn’t hungry for a cookie.

Puddle Jumpers by Anne Margaret Lewis, illustrated by Nancy Cote

9781634501859-frontcoverIt’s a rainy day in the month of May and Sam spots a rainbow, and then a puddle. A perfect spring puddle. His mother warns, “No! No jumping in puddles! You must keep clean today!” but Sam can’t stop himself from testing the water with his galoshes. And then the puddle invites him to play. The puddle whispers, “Jump, Puddle Jumper, jump!” and with that very first jump, Sam is off on an adventure of the imagination. He’ll be a frog in a pond, with a hat and some spots and a magic wand. He’ll be a crocodile with pink polka dots and teeth like blades, and a polar bear with purple polar hair. He’s going to jump, leap, dance, plunge, swim, and jump again. Sam is having so much fun in his puddle that even Mom can’t resist. With a leap and a thwump, she’s jumping too, cheering, “Jump, Puddle Jumper, jump!”

9781634502023-frontcoverWatch the Birdie by Nancy Cote

Mousey was watching a baby bird when it fell from its nest. The baby bird is okay, but she can’t fly yet! So how will she get back up the tree to safety? Mousey may be too small to get the baby bird back up by himself, but maybe he can find somebody else who can! Maybe a frog can jump high enough. Or maybe a bunny can hop far enough. Maybe a snail will be able to crawl his way up the tree . . .

Will Mousey be able to save the baby bird? Or will the hungry cat get in the way of Mousey’s valiant attempts? Sometimes it’s just the size of your heart that really counts.

Coming Fall 2016:

Leonard’s Beard by Nancy Cote

9781510707962-frontcoverLeonard 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.

Continue Reading