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  • Ratha Tep

Interview with Zoey Abbott, CLEMENTINE AND THE LION

Since her parents are ogres of the worst kind, Clementine is relieved when her mother is snatched by dragons and her father lost at sea in a bottle. Now she eats when she pleases, does her hair as she likes, or not. She’s happy. But when a lion appears, uninvited, in her living room, Clementine’s pleasant world is suddenly upended. After he eats all the food and wrecks the house, Clementine realizes there’s nothing she can do but leave. Or is there?

Max's Boat Pick:


By Zoe Abbott

Publisher: Kids Can Press (May 3, 2022)

Can you tell me the origin story behind Clementine and the Lion?

"Five years ago I drew a red-headed girl in my notebook defending her teddy bear against a lion. An editor friend encouraged me to build a story around that moment, which ended up becoming the climax scene of this book. I think in my heart this first drawing (and the subsequent book) was a wish for this little girl (and all kids) to be able to survive and thrive no matter what the world throws at them."

I'm curious: What really happened to Clementine's parents? And does the ship in a bottle have anything to do with her missing dad?

"Good question! I am not exactly sure what happened to them but I hope the reader projects what they need to on these characters. I do think they each had some demons to attend to before they could be fully present as parents.

The ship in a bottle was my editor, Yasemin’s idea. She felt that a literal bottle in Clementine’s 'real world' might help the reader feel connected to the more metaphorical bottle her dad gets lost at sea in later. So, it makes sense you connected them in your brain, Ratha!

Speaking of the generosity of others, while only one or two people’s names end up on the spine of a book, there’s a lot more to it than that. For example, the lemon juice was my illustrator friend Deborah Hocking’s idea (even though she doesn’t remember giving it to me). There are many places where my critique group pals and my agent also left their marks."

For those who love Clementine and the Lion, can you recommend a few other titles that you think they might also enjoy? "I think people can have a hard time with 'less than perfect' parents/adults in picture books. It can be deeply triggering. But I think these kinds of books are interesting and important. Here are some that I have really loved:

Jerome by Heart by Thomas Scotto and Olivier Tallec

Mère Méduse by Kitty Crowther (in French)

Dillweed’s Revenge by Florence Parry Heide and Carson Ellis

Mina by Matthew Forsythe

And of course, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Who are some other other plucky, courageous heroines (in picture books) you love? Here are a few that I love:

Shahrzad in Shahrzad & the Angry King by Nahid Kazemi

Edie in The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

Aria in Don’t Touch my Hair! by Sharee Miller

Olivia in Olivia by Ian Falconer

Do you have a favorite bookstore, and why do you love it? "There are many reasons to love a bookstore: the space, the curation, the amazing booksellers who somehow read your mind to help you find your next read. Oh, and the events! I love all my local Portland bookstores for all these reasons (Green Bean Books, A Children’s Place, Annie Bloom's, Maggie Mae’s & Powells!). I once had the great pleasure of visiting Todo Modo in Florence which is gorgeously peppered with plants and objects with an espresso bar at its center. And have you ever been to Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi?! Wow. More recently I visited Cloud & Leaf Bookstore on the Oregon Coast and I felt like the owner had chosen all the books on the shelves in this tiny bookstore just for me. It was weird and amazing."


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