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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Gela Kalaitzidis, OZZIE & PRINCE ZEBEDEE

Ozzie and Prince Zebedee are the best of friends. They do everything together, but things change when Prince Zebedee accuses Ozzie of cheating and Ozzie swallows up Prince Zebedee in one big GULP!

Pick by Mags DeRoma, To Make:


By Gela Kalaitzidis

Publisher: Flamingo Books (October 11, 2022)

Thanks for coming onboard, Gela! Let's start off the way these interviews always start: Can you tell me the origin story behind Ozzie & Prince Zebedee? GK: "First, thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to talking picture books with you. The origin story behind Ozzie & Prince Zebedee probably comes from my fascination with studying my three kids’ mysterious sibling behavior. I’m an only child, so to see them bickering and fighting and then so easily switch to joy and love is a completely foreign behavior to me. It's a lot of them in the book. This story is also a result of a script I wrote many years ago. In that version, Ozzie and Prince Zebedee were just side characters. When I rewrote the script my critique group helped me see that the heart of the story was in the arguing prince and dragon. From there the script grew to what it is today."

A great critique group is pure gold! It looks like you've found yourself a phenomenal one. What I've been struck by ever since I heard your book's title is the name Zebedee, which is a name in the Bible. I'm curious whether you meant to give a religious connotation to the book. Or is there another story behind the name? "I never intended for the book to have a religious connotation but in hindsight, I think the message of repentance and forgiveness might come from my Catholic upbringing. In the early version of the script, Zebedee was only referred to as 'the prince' but when he became one of the main characters, I needed to find a name. At that time my daughter had a friend in kindergarten whose brother was named Zebedee. I'd never heard the name before but it had a beautiful exotic sound to it. (Maybe, I should also mention that Ozzie's original name was Ozymandias after Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem.)"

Images from Ozzie & Prince Zebedee (above and below):

"And when dragons are mad, sometimes they make bad choices." What a phenomenal line! Are there any other memorable lines that have popped out at you? "Thank you! I have to give credit to my agent Deborah Warren who helped me develop that line. It originally had a different setup. This was a hard question. First I could only think of beautiful quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh but then I thought of this line from The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren that is so familiar to most Swedes: '…Sometimes you have to do things that are dangerous, because otherwise you're not a man, just a piece of dirt.' Unfortunately, it’s poorly translated from its original. The line is not exclusively referring to doing dangerous things, but rather things you might not dare to do (which is a big difference in my opinion!) and if you don’t do them, you’re not 'dirt.' You’re more like a messy little 'muck.' The original line has both a grandness to it and is very child relatable."

For those who love Ozzie & Prince Zebedee, can you recommend one or two other titles that you think they might also enjoy? "For fans of dragon books, I would recommend East Dragon, West Dragon by Robyn Eversole and Scott Campbell, or if it’s anger and emotions with a funny twist that appeals to you, I would recommend Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol."

Gobble-up stories are certainly a (fun) genre in and of itself. Are there other titles where characters get eaten that you love? "I love the idea of gobble-up stories as a genre in itself. What a fun question. The most peculiar gobble-up book must be The Wuggly Ump by Edward Gorey which I read over and over as a child. I’m a big Edward Gorey fan.

I also like Hungry Jim by Laurel Snyder Illustrated by Chuck Groenink.

One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom and Brendan Wenzel was my inspiration for an inside-the-belly P.O.V."

What forthcoming books are you most looking to get your hands on?

"I can’t wait to read Ode to a Bad Day by my friend Chelsea Lin Wallace and illustrated by Hyewon Yum. I’ve seen this script in an early stage and know it’ll be a hilarious read.

As an artist, I’m looking forward to Shaun Tan’s Creature book. Since I’m blown away by Beatrice Alemagna’s beautiful art, I’m curious about You Can't Kill Snow White, especially since it’s released as a picture book for adults. That’s an interesting genre."

What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "Many of my favorites have already been mentioned on your blog. Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen is brilliant. Same with Klassen’s This is Not My Hat. I love Beekle by Dan Santat and you’ve even hosted Sergio Ruzzier himself. All his books would be on my list.

Here are some others that come to mind:

Who's Got the Apple? by Jan Lööf – One of the most iconic children’s books in Sweden.

The Three Robbers, Crictor, and almost every book by Tomi Ungerer – I grew up with his stories.

There's a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer – Read this over and over with my kids.

Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke – Because I love creatures.

Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Oboli and Mariachiara di Giorgio – Beautiful Art

When Owen's Mom Breathed Fire by Pija Lindenbaum – Because I love mama dragons with ponytails.

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon – So relatable for any storyteller.


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