In 2015, San Antonio native Megan Padalecki took the literary world by storm with her debut children’s book, Big Mo. Since that time, it has been a thrilling ride for the former architect now author. The charismatic Padalecki has brought Big Mo’s story to bookstores, conventions and classrooms amassing a substantial and appreciative audience seduced by the incredible tale, exquisite illustrations and positive message of preserving the beauty of Earth’s natural resources. Big Mo received well-deserved accolades by readers and in the press. In addition, the book received industry acclaim when it was recognized with a prestigious National Indie Excellence Award for Best Picture Book.
Padalecki is poised to follow up on the success of Big Mo with her second book. This new book will introduce a brand new character. The second book is titled Little Moon.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Megan Padalecki for The Nerdy Girl Express. Read what she had to say below.
How did you conceive of the concept for Little Moon?
First, thank you for having me! It is always such a treat to reflect on the ‘big picture’ of creating a book, and it strengthens my bond not only with the audience, but also with the book itself.
The concept for Little Moon was inspired by the readers I’ve met through Big Mo, and by my time spent in elementary schools presenting to kids. I often tell students, “if you learn to draw, you can never be bored”. I guess you can expand that to, “if you learn to read, you can never be sad”, or “if you learn to write stories, you can never be silenced”. There’s so much we can do to inspire our own contentment.
The goal of the story is to encourage readers to find something to love about themselves – something that provides release or joy. In the story of Little Moon, the main character is completely unsure of herself and her place in the world, but she discovers all these fascinating abilities and ultimately one that empowers her and erases her fears. It ended up feeling very personal, like the lesson was to stop looking for outside approval.
Describe for us your creative process from the initial concept stages for Little Moon to the final publication.
I read a lot of nonfiction books, usually on the topics of nature, science or environmentalism. I happened across a book about the ocean (Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts). From there, I knew I wanted to place my next story in the sea.
I’m a member at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. When I am in early concept for a story, I like to joke that the Academy becomes “my office”, because I will often post up in front of butterflies, stingrays, penguins, you-name-it, and sketch out storyboards in my sketchbook. I end up with dozens of these storyboards.
In the case of Little Moon, I came across a strange creature at the Academy, which was a type of cuttlefish. They are fascinating creatures, but as a children’s book character, they’re kind of terrifying. I researched to find a very similar animal – the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid – that has the same abilities but is also adorable.
I then spent roughly five months experimenting with medium and creating my first draft. Because the story is set underwater, I used watercolor paint to create the illustrations. As with Big Mo, I adjusted color and added tone digitally.
The story went through review and revision for another five months before I sent it off to my Chicago-based printer. While they work their magic, I am arranging events and promotion through the end of the year.
What challenges did you face in writing Little Moon that you didn’t experience with your debut book, Big Mo?
Every book is unique, so the process really does change so much for a new story. What really grew was my own understanding of the genre. After promoting and sharing Big Mo, I learned a ton about reader expectations, comprehension level and popular “appeal”. All of those lessons live somewhere in the back of my head now, so I constantly ran decisions for Little Moon through a sort of mental checklist: Is the character friendly enough? Can a teacher form lesson plans from the story? Does the story speak to girls and boys? Do the words sound okay when read aloud? And the list goes on!
The greatest challenge turned out to be an unexpected one – the leap from rhyming verse to straight prose. The format of Big Mo lent itself naturally to verse, because the action of the story was repetitive and the rhyme scheme created a consistent rhythm that complemented that. With Little Moon, the format of the story is completely different and rather than describing the action, I use the text to describe the character’s inner thoughts and perceptions. Prose made more sense.
There’s a claim in the children’s book industry that it’s very easy to write bad verse, but I found that it is actually very easy to write bad prose! Prose is tricky; while the brief sentences seem easy to construct, the reality is that it takes a lot of revision and editing. The recommended sentence length for 5 to 8 year olds is 8 words, and it is a HUGE challenge to make your point so concisely.
What made you decide to tackle a new character for your second book rather than continue with Big Mo’s journey?
I think of it this way: Dr. Seuss wrote Horton Hatches the Egg in 1940. He didn’t write Horton Hears a Who! until 1954. In those 14 years, he was able to grow as a children’s writer so much so, that Horton Hears a Who! remains one of his greatest successes.
I think Big Mo will always be there to come back! I did actually spend a solid couple months drafting concept boards for a second Mo book set in the ocean, but it got a little tricky trying to place an air-breathing lizard in the bottom of the sea. It felt forced; like this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell for Mo.
With this new character, there was a great freedom to try something totally new and stretch my creativity. My printer perhaps said it best: the two books are very different at first glance, but there is a visual similarity to the style that is clearly “a Padalecki book”. The added bonus is that there is a new character to (hopefully) love!
Now that you have penned two books, are you considering writing subsequent books?
Of course, I’m in it for the long haul! Each book is a learning experience and I only hope to improve, but I also have so much reward in sharing these very personal projects with kids who get inspired to do the same.
Would you consider a crossover book uniting your characters in Big Mo and Little Moon, perhaps have them undertake a new adventure?
Funny you should ask; I’ve also got a couple pages of storyboard for that concept! The only trick there is that I’d have to choose either of the two illustration media.
Besides writing and illustrating, what other activities do you enjoy?
Maybe it’s my sign or something (hah!), but I really am in my element in nature. I could literally sit on a log and stare at some trees for several hours and I’d be happy. I am lucky to live in the Bay Area where there is so much at my fingertips in that realm. A favorite pastime is simply going on walks through the city. They become great workouts with all the hills.
It’s no surprise then that I also love to travel. This year has been a rough one with the needs of Little Moon, but I tend to travel internationally at least once a year. Last year, I visited Poland, the Czech Republic and Croatia. I would love to see Mongolia or the Amazon next.
Are you working on any other projects that you are able to share with us?
My next project will be to create an environmental companion to Little Moon, much like I made for Big Mo http://goo.gl/UIZNE3. This is not a hardcover book, but rather a PDF download that ties the story to some of the environmental concerns that I hope to raise awareness of. My motto is that it’s never too early (or late) to start caring about the earth; or at least becoming emotionally connected to, or fascinated by, its creatures.
I am running out of the first edition printing of Big Mo, so I intend to release an ebook version soon. I recently got the urge to create a Big Mo coloring book, but that is still just a twinkle in my eye! And speaking of twinkling eyes, I am counting down the months to my wedding, which I am planning without assistance (yikes!). These are busy times for sure, but I still can’t help being floored by doing what I love.