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  • Ratha Tep


When Wally, the world's greatest piano-playing wombat, hears Wylie play, he becomes envious. Wally tries toe-tapping and ball-twirling as he plays piano, but every time Wally thinks he's one-upping the competition, he discovers Wylie can do all the same tricks. Wally has had ENOUGH!

Max's Boat Pick:


Written by Ratha Tep and illustrated by Camilla Pintonato

Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (April 13, 2023)

Hi Camilla! Thanks for joining today! Can you tell me how you got started in picture books?

CP: "I fell in love with picture books exactly thirteen years ago, when I came back almost by accident to visit an exhibition I remembered I saw once in my childhood and which took place every year in a small town called Sarmede, near the home of my maternal grandparents. The exhibition consisted of a few rooms on the first floor of the town hall and that year the guest of honor was Beatrice Alemagna. I think I stayed there for two and a half hours. When I went out it was dark and I was very clear what I wanted to do in life. I haven’t looked back since."

An interior spread from Wally the World's Greatest Piano-Playing Wombat:

I'm so grateful that you loved the manuscript and took on Wally! You really brought him to life. What was your initial reaction upon reading the text? What most drew you in? "When our agent, Debbie Bibo, showed me the manuscript, it was love at first sight! I love ironic stories that touch upon the problems that both adult and children might have. I also loved the ‘timing’ of the early scenes. Wally plays the piano only to realize there’s another wombat who plays better, so he adds to his routine—and is outdone each and every time! It is all very comic but also sweet. I mean, I really feel for Wally.”

An interior spread from Wally the World's Greatest Piano-Playing Wombat:

Your feelings for Wally really show, because your take on him is just SO perfect, from his vivid expressions to his tux. How did you approach the initial character development? What did you most want to convey? “I wanted a sweet wombat, an animal that immediately inspired empathy. I wanted him to be a bit clumsy but combative, tenacious, and convinced of his greatness (hence the outfit of a serious pianist). He was more adult-like in my early sketches, but I gradually realized that I had to make him smaller and ‘defenseless,’ because in my opinion the fact that he ‘fights but doesn’t win’ is also very sweet.”

He definitely is all of those things—clumsy, combative, and convinced of his greatness! I know you work digitally. What do you use? “I use a graphic tablet and many Photoshop brushes. Although I work digitally, my approach is very analog. If I have to erase something, I don’t press cmd-z, but I use the eraser every time. I take this manual approach with all my other techniques. This makes the illustration less perfect and more alive.”

What are your favorite illustrations from the book? “My favorite sequence, as you probably know, is definitely the opening one in which the two wombats compare themselves with one another. I specifically repeated the scenes to make it quicker to read and to emphasize the text’s pressing rhythm. Another very nice scene is the one where they enjoy cookies, and then practice together in a more calm manner. This not only reminds us that they are just two little animals, but also conveys the importance of balancing hard work with fun. As an Italian, this makes me think of my coffee breaks with others, and I believe this is a great lesson, too.”

An interior spread from Wally the World's Greatest Piano-Playing Wombat:

Who are some other illustrators you admire and what do you think they do especially well? "There are so many. I'll mention just a few that I really love: Oliver Jeffers for his absurd irony, Jon Klassen for his iconic designs, Beatrice Alemagna for her magical atmospheres and Marc Boutavant because nobody makes animals as beautiful as he does!"

What are the contemporary picture books that you hope will become the classics

of the future?

"On my dream list:

Little Bird by Germano Zullo and Albertine

What is a Child? by Beatrice Alemagna

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, Valerio Vidali and Violeta Lopiz"

What do you think the best picture books do? "For me, the best children’s books teach without doing so explicitly, using irony and simplicity.

Chris Haughton is a master of this, and he achieves it in all of his books. But if I have to pick a favorite, it would have to be Little Owl Lost."


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