Interview with Tom Gauld, THE LITTLE WOODEN ROBOT AND THE LOG PRINCESS
An enchanted log princess and her wooden robot brother are inseparable, until the sleeping princess, mistaken for lumber, is accidentally carted off to parts unknown. Now it's up to her devoted brother to find her, and get them safely back home.
Pick by Corey R. Tabor, Mel Fell:
THE LITTLE WOODEN ROBOT AND THE LOG PRINCESS
By Tom Gauld
Publisher: Templar Publishing (September 2, 2021)
Can you tell me the origin story behind The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess? TG: "It started as a bedtime story that I made up for my two daughters when they were small. The idea of a princess who turns into a log when she falls asleep was based on the fact that we call my younger daughter ‘The Log’ because she sleeps happily and heavily right through the night despite any kind of noise or disturbance. The girls liked the first version so I told it a couple more times, improving it and adding details and I began to realise that this might make a good picture book. I wrote many more drafts which I shared and read aloud to my wife and daughters until it became the version I brought to the publisher. In the first draft there were two sister-princesses, but I thought it was more fun to have a wooden robot brother."
The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess certainly feels like a classic fairy tale, but one infused with humor, charm, and a decidedly modern sensibility. As Carson Ellis wrote, "I didn't know the world needed another fairy tale until I read this funny, beautiful, perfect book." Do you think the world needs more fairy tales? Are there other modern fairy tales you love? "I love old fairy tales, particularly those collected by the Brothers Grimm and I did think about adapting one of their stories for my book, but I couldn’t find one that felt right when it was separated from the others in the collection. I like the idea of lots of magical tales happening in the same world, which is why my book contains some imaginary mini-tales nested in the main story.
I think fairy tales can be powerful because their themes and archetypes are so clear and strong and have been in our culture for so long that they can affect us on a deep level.
Tomi Ungerer’s book The Three Robbers is a favourite of mine. The family of robbers who appear in my book are a homage to his story. It’s quite dark for a picture book, but my kids loved it. Not a picture book, or for children (at all!), but I loved the language and reinvention in Angela Carter’s collection of retold fairy tales The Bloody Chamber."
You've certainly built a successful career illustrating for the likes of the New Yorker and the Guardian. What made you want to publish your first picture book? "The most important thing for me was having children and reading stories to them almost every night for more than five years.
I learned a lot about writing picture books by reading them aloud and realising there were books that were written so well that they made me a good reader and performer, and there were others that were a real struggle.
I think that the British writer Allan Ahlberg is brilliant at writing stories to be read aloud, and really inspired me to work hard on my script. I love the intelligent playfulness of the books he made with illustrator Janet Ahlberg, particularly Peepo, Each Peach Pear Plum and The Baby’s Catalogue. Peepo, for example, is a board book with a hole in the pages and a poem about a baby looking around him. It functions beautifully as a simple story to read to a small child, but if you look closely at the illustrations there’s a whole other story about Britain in the second world war
and the baby’s father going off to war.
I was also inspired by all Tove Jansson’s work, which seems always to conjure a wonderfully believable but strange new world. Apart from anything else, Who will Comfort Toffle? is just a brilliant title."
Do you remember what you loved reading to your girls? "I clearly remember reading all the books mentioned above but what comes to mind now particularly is Tomie dePaola’s book Strega Nona (which is really a retelling of the Grimm’s folktale The Magic Porridge Pot but with pasta instead of porridge). In our family we still talk about the character ‘Big Anthony who didn’t pay attention’ and quote the line “Big Anthony. Such a lie!” whenever one of us exaggerates."
What would be on your list of 100 best picture books of all time? "I’d put books by all the authors mentioned above but also Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno which is a beautiful, silent book in which a small figure wanders through a gently fantastic version of Europe. The drawings are incredible and it has a calm, poetic feel."
What picture books coming out in 2022 are you most looking forward to reading? "I’m really looking forward to Mina by Matthew Forsythe. Matt is a good friend who gave me advice while I was making The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess. I saw an early, rough version of Mina and loved it, so I can’t wait to see the finished book. His paintings are always charming and atmospheric."