Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Wolves, and Cats, and Elephants--Oh My! An Interview with Sarah Kurpiel--Giveaway

by Janie Reinart

Welcome the creative and charming author/illustrator, Sarah Kurpiel to the GROG.  

Hello, Sarah. 

Congratulations on your new book baby! Our readers will love finding out how Elephant over comes stage fright and gains confidence. Sarah is generously raffling a copy of her new book, ELEPHANT’S BIG SOLO to one lucky reader! (U.S. only)

1. Who is your agent? 

My co-agents are Allie Levick and Rebecca Sherman at Writers House. They’re both so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I feel lucky to have two such amazing people in my corner.


2. How did you get the idea for your story?

It all started with a single line: “Elephant had a way of standing out, even when she’d rather not.” I can’t explain why, but I got really emotional about that line. I read it aloud to myself over and over. Then, the story poured out of me–a very rough draft, at least! ELEPHANT’S BIG SOLO is about an anxious, music-loving elephant pressured to perform a solo on stage. Over time, with editorial guidance from my agents and the book’s editor, the story changed quite a bit. But that first line has always remained the same. What I hope kids take from the story is that there’s more than one way to shine.

3. What is your favorite part of the story?

My favorite page of ELEPHANT’S BIG SOLO is a close-up of Elephant playing her French horn with her eyes closed. It’s just her and her music, alone. It’s a little bit sad but really peaceful too. That’s the thing about some forms of anxiety: it can feel so peaceful to not be seen, but it also means you’re alone. It’s a curious mix of feelings. It can be tough to be nervous, especially when you’re a kid trying lots of things for the first time. I think that’s why that page has always resonated with me. I hope it will resonate with kids too.


4. How long did it take to write? Get to a publisher?

I wrote a very rough first draft of ELEPHANT’S BIG SOLO one evening in July 2020 and thumbnailed the story shortly after. I revised for about a month with the help of my agents, who then sent the manuscript and thumbnails over to Martha Mihalick, the wonderful editor of my first two books (LONE WOLF and ORIGINAL CAT, COPY CAT). Fortunately, Martha accepted the story, so I got straight to work sketching out the full dummy. Although the story came together quickly, the ideas and main character had been fermenting in the back of my mind for more than a year. I knew for a long time, for example, that I wanted to make a story about an elephant one day. I love drawing elephants. They’re my favorite animal and always have been. I once drew a picture of an elephant playing a French horn (I liked the way the French horn curled like an elephant’s trunk) and wrote an unfinished story about an indecisive elephant trying to pick one instrument to learn. Those later served as inspiration for ELEPHANT’S BIG SOLO. Looking back, the story had been dancing around in my mind long before I wrote the first draft.


5. What is your writing routine?

I don’t write regularly, but I do draw regularly, which I consider an important part of my routine. When I’m itching to start a new story, I usually begin by mining my past doodles for ideas. I love to draw without a plan and without any expectations. It feels like meditation to me. Then, especially in January during Tara Lazar’s awesome Storystorm, I’ll look back at my doodles and ask myself questions like, What do I naturally draw again and again? Could I draw this character a hundred times and never get tired of it? Does this picture have a story? Once I have a loose concept or a very rough draft, I jump straight into thumbnailing because I don’t like to get bogged down by exact words at this stage. Other than designing characters, thumbnailing is my favorite part of the process. It’s so fun to explore layouts and page turns. It also helps me decide if I’m really ready to commit to a story or not. Without fail, new ideas emerge while thumbnailing, which is another reason why I usually leave the exact words until later. Then, I write the manuscript, which is a slow process for me. If I can write outside on a warm summer day, that’s my ideal writing environment. But we can’t control the weather (unfortunately).

6. What is your favorite writing craft book?

That’s a great question! It’s not exactly a “writing craft” book per se, but I recently read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. I’m a big fan of graphic narratives, and this book helps me think deeper about how words and pictures can work together to make a story sing.


7. What inspires you to write?

Doodling, nature, animals, my funny pets, outer space, the ocean, kids being regular kids, summer, the arctic, StoryStorm, big wide-open spaces, creative books by talented authors and illustrators, webinars (12x12 webinars always put me in a creative mood), and so much more.

8. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a lyrical picture book that’s different from anything I’ve made before. It’s based around a special event that took place in my hometown when I was growing up. I’m excited to share this story with kids one day. I’m also playing around with a funny picture book about a grumpy bird. I’m not yet sure if this story will pan out in the end; not every story does. But it sure is fun exploring this silly character’s antics!

9. Words of advice for writers. 

Read lots of picture books. Read your favorites again and again. Then, write the story only you can write. (I keep that quote on my desk.) And join a critique group if you can. Sharing my WIPs with a small group of trusted authors/illustrators each month has given me the extra push I need to keep drafting and revising.


Sarah, thank you for the delightful interview and sharing your thoughts and creative process with us. Readers don't forget to sign up for the chance to win a copy of ELEPHANT'S BIG SOLO.

Sarah Kurpiel is a librarian by day and self-taught picture book author/illustrator by night and weekend. Her stories are inspired by animals, nature, and everyday life. Sarah hopes her work brings a bit of happiness into the worldand a bit of disability representation too. She uses a power wheelchair and considers her disability an important part of her identity.




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  1. Thanks, Janie! It's so wonderful to meet you, Sarah. I love the story of your inspiration for Elephant's Big Solo -- these are such great themes for kids, and the illustrations are just charming. Can't wait to read this book!

  2. Awww, I want to meet Elephant. I love the story of how your book came to you - can't wait to read it!