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Interview with Coralie Saudo & Kris Di Giacomo, Winners of the 2020 Albertine Jeunesse Prize

TILT Kids Weekend, FIAF

Throughout March 2021, during the Mois de la Francophonie, students from French-speaking schools in the US, and children participating in the Albertine and TILT Kids Weekend (organized by the French Institute Alliance Française, with the support of Kids Trail) workshops had the chance to meet Coralie Saudo and Kris Di Giacomo, the two winners of the 2020 Albertine Jeunesse Prize for the 6-8 years old selection for their book My Dad at the Zoo (Editions Frimousse, 2015 / Enchanted Lion Books, 2017). Coralie and Kris took the time to share their impressions of this experience, and to answer a few questions about their work.

© Photo supplied by Coralie Saudo

Coralie Saudo is a children's book illustrator and occasional author. She has written and illustrated over 20 books, all connected by her sense of humor and playful style.

How did you get the idea for your book My Dad at the Zoo? Why did you decide to write a sequel to My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT…?

My Dad at the Zoo was written as a follow-up to My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT… In the first book, the roles were reversed. Dad did not want to go to bed, and his son had a hard time convincing him. I really wanted to write a sequel. I had several ideas: a mom who didn’t want to eat her vegetables, dad refusing to take a bath…but none of these really convinced the editor AND the illustrator. Then, I thought about animals, and my brother who loves them, and the story came to me: dad would drive his son crazy at the zoo!

How did your collaboration start with Kris Di Giacomo, the illustrator of My Dad at the Zoo? How did you work together on this book?

The editor at Editions Frimousse suggested I have My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT… translated by Kris Di Giacomo. Kris’s style is so full of humor, I was delighted! For the second book, it was obvious that we would need the same illustrator. For both books, I was really a spectator of her work. When asked for my opinion I would say that I thought the illustrations were perfect! The characters are so expressive and the images are so hilarious; Kris is really terrific!

Your book was published in the U.S. in 2017: how do you feel knowing the story of My Dad at the Zoo crosses borders?

My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT… was a real success internationally; it was translated into a dozen languages. Enchanted Lion Books published it in the United States, so naturally they published My Dad at the Zoo as well. Seeing my books read aloud on YouTube in other languages is a little magical—and getting copies in those languages, too. Every year around Father’s Day, my books resurface on social media, at bookstores, from parents or book critics, in Spanish, Italian, Brazilian…it’s always a nice surprise!

This month you met with French-speaking students in the U.S. How important is it for you to meet your young readers? What are your favorite moments interacting with them?

Due to the coronavirus, all book fairs have been canceled for a year. We as authors and illustrators no longer have the chance to meet our readers, to see their smiles when they discover our books...My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT… had a lot of success at these fairs. Dads in particular couldn’t help but grab it to see what it was ... And that really amused me! Seeing children’s laughter when reading my stories is also a real pleasure, and hearing and answering their questions, even more so! They are so curious and direct; the exchanges often lead to new ideas!

If you were able to make anyone read your book, who would it be?

If there is one person I’d like to meet and talk with, it would be Linda Lemay! She is a singer-songwriter who touches me a lot with her lyrics, who makes me laugh, who makes me cry…I would be curious to know if My Dad at the Zoo would make her smile ;)

What book can you not stop rereading?

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading and rereading Harry Potter! I am not at all into fantasy, but when I discovered this book series late in life, I said to myself, “No matter! With my job, I have to know what this is all about!” 

© Photo supplied by Kris Di Giacomo

Born in Brazil, Kris Di Giacomo is a popular children's book illustrator who has lived in France for many years. After a brief stint in the United States, she moved to France, where teaching English to young children and discovering French picture books led her into illustration. She has illustrated 20 picture books, of which she is the author of several.

What were your main sources of inspiration for My Dad at the Zoo?

Coralie Saudo and I did a first Dad book together called My Dad is Big and Strong, BUT… I liked the role-reversal between the child and the Dad. I did a sort of casting-call in sketches to decide what the two characters would look like. I tried out a bunch of looks and ended up going for the contrast of a big bulky Dad and a tiny, almost animal-like kid for comedic effect. With My Dad at the Zoo I continued the mixed-up world and made the animals zoo-keepers rather than captives. I sort of extended the role reversal to the humans (as ill-mannered visitors) and the animals (as their welcoming hosts). I have a lot of fun playing with anthropomorphism and drawing animals with human characteristics and I love the absurd.

How did you work with Coralie Saudo, the writer of My Dad at the Zoo?

Sometimes I have more exchange with the publisher than with the author while working on a book. I don’t remember talking much with Coralie while working on this second book, but after it came out the Institut Français invited us both to India for its publication there in English which was a great experience to share. It’s such a treat to have a moment of co-parenting and meeting our readers. Coralie and I went on to do another book together called Bonne nuit? It was our publisher at Frimousse who brought us together and has kept the collaboration going.

My Dad at the Zoo has been translated in the US and other countries - how do you feel to be read around the world?

While I’m home working on books I’m engrossed in my own little world and I don’t think about their future that much. But then the books go off to live their lives. Social media allows me to check-up on them and get a glimpse of their adventures out in the world. I’ve also had the immense privilege to be invited to some of the countries where the books have been translated and to meet their readers and see the books in action. It’s so gratifying to reach people in different countries through pictures. I love that I can transcend language and cultural gaps with illustration.

How important is it for you to meet your young readers? What are your favorite moments interacting with them?

It is a big part of the whole and a very different experience from my regular workday. I try to keep a balance between the quiet, lonely work time at my home studio and the intensity of going out to share the books with kids in classrooms or libraries or at book fairs. I think it’s crucial at some point to have an audience reflect your work back to you. I cherish the opportunities to exchange with readers and with fellow book-makers to get feedback and to renew myself. You realize you are part of a much bigger chain of events, it connects you to others and gives purpose to what you do when you’re working alone.

At what time of day do you choose to write, and why?

I am definitely not a morning person but my drawing at the beginning of the day does have an edgier feeling that I lose by the end of the day when the line gets more broken-in. Sometimes the clumsiness of first lines works best while other times a drawing calls for a steadier touch. I don’t have fixed routines. I try to keep my schedule flexible so I can work when it feels right.

Is there any story you dream of illustrating?

Someday I would like to illustrate a wordless story which is a lot harder than one would think. Words play a big part in conjuring up images for me and I always compose the layout of text and image together from the start. A picture book without words would be a real challenge and a shift in approach for me.

My Dad at The Zoo by Coralie Saudo & Kris Di Giacomo (Editions Frimousse, 2015 / Enchanted Lion Books, 2017)

My Dad at the Zoo is a tale of role reversal in which Dad reverts to the unsocialized, wild ways of childhood. Tired from all of his wearying antics around bedtime, Dad heads off to the zoo with his son and goes completely zany.

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