As an Army brat, Pat found the line between fantasy and reality to be seriously fuzzy as she climbed through castles along the Rhine and dodged witches in Okinawan villages. Her more than 35 books include board books, a nonfiction series called Talking with Artists, and even a teen novel. But her taste for picture book fantasies is clear in her newest title, Beauty and the Beast, translated from the original French and retold by her husband, H. Chuku Lee.
For what age audience do you write?
Primarily, I write and illustrate picture books for the 4-8 year old reader. I lean towards fantasy and humor... but I love a good story or topic in any genre.
Henry: Fantasy and humor. I knew I liked you for a reason.
Tell us about your latest book.
Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales. My husband and I were both enchanted by Jean Cocteau's film version. His vision of the beast as elegant, haunted and mysterious made me feel sympathy for what should have been the antagonist. And when Chuku retold the story, he did it from Beauty's point of view which was a fresh take. I found that trying to capture the emotions of these two characters made the story come to life for me. I knew that I wanted my Beauty to be black and the Beast to carry the scarifications that an African prince might. So I let memories from my travels in West Africa mix with images from Cocteau, then tossed in fairy tale elements I've always found appealing...like bestial topiary and hidden faces.
Henry: And really, who doesn’t like scarifications and bestial topiary?
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope they'll escape into a dreamlike world and feel the value in the courage and integrity Beauty exhibits. As Chuku wrote in the intro: it's about the power of a promise. Being true to one's word seems like a timeless theme worth retelling.
Henry: We need to keep retelling until people get it!
What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
Finishing. I have stacks of ideas, pages of sketches and drawings and projects in different stages of development. The challenge is always getting to the finish line with one, and not allowing other projects to tease me away.
Henry: *checks Wikipedia definition of ADD*
What is a powerful lesson you've learned from being a writer/illustrator?
It is SUCH a cliche but that's because it is blindingly true: do what you LOVE. That's the only way to stay excited and engaged with a book, which can take quite a while to complete.