It was in a design class taught by Michèle Lemieux at the University of Quebec in Montreal that author and illustrator Mélanie Watt created her first picture book, Leon the Chameleon, which was later published by Kids Can Press. Watt went on to create several more books, including the Learning with Animals collection and Augustine, which was named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Watt has also illustrated Where Does a Tiger-Heron Spend the Night? and Bearcub and Mama, which won the 2006 IRA Teachers’ Choices Project.
Mélanie’s best known book Scaredy Squirrel, has won many awards including the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award for Children’s Picture Book and the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator’s Award. The release of Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, was met with enthusiastic reviews and incredible sales, confirming the arrival of kid lit’s newest superstar.
Chester, Chester’s Back! and Chester’s Masterpiece are about a megalomaniac cat who is every bit the antithesis to Scaredy. Chester has already become a bestseller and shows the breadth and creativity of Mélanie Watt.
Scaredy returns to take a few more tentative steps out of his comfort zone in Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach and Scaredy Squirrel at Night. Mélanie has often noted how the Scaredy Squirrel books helped her work out her own insecurities and fears, as the success of these titles has required her to venture out into the unknown, and like Scaredy she has found the experience truly uplifting.
Mélanie currently resides near Montreal, Quebec.
Q & A
Where were you born?
What’s your birthday?
Where do you live now?
In a little town, one hour away from Montreal in St. Stanislas de Kostka.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, I have a green parrot named Kiwi.
What are your hobbies?
Piano, guitar and decorating.
How did you get involved with children’s books?
Through Michèle Lemieux, my illustration teacher in university. One of our assignments was to create a book about color. I decided to write a story about a chameleon to help explain complementary colors to children. I later sent my book project, Leon the Chameleon, to Kids Can Press.
What was your training or schooling?
I have a college degree in graphic design and a Bachelors of Arts in Graphic Design from the the University of Quebec in Montreal.
Do you have any tips for young creators?
If you find something that you enjoy and are passionate about, don’t hesitate to follow that path. It’s amazing what you can accomplish by focusing on things you love doing! I was in administration for two years before I realized that it wasn’t for me and that I wasn’t motivated. When you’re in an environment where you don’t fit in, you start to think that you are the one with the problem. It can be very discouraging! When you’re in an environment where you feel comfortable and where you can contribute something, that’s when you feel good about yourself!
What is your favorite book?
At the moment, Mo Willems’ books.
What is your favorite movie?
I love 3D animated movies.
What is the thing you like the most about creating children’s books?
The opportunity to both write and illustrate my ideas. It allows me to create stories and settings precisely as I see them in my mind.
Where do you work?
I work at home, in my studio.
How do you research or create your stories?
I get inspired by things around me and experiences I’ve had as a child. Sometimes it starts with an idea and sometimes it starts with an image or character.
Where do you get your ideas?
As I said, everywhere! Sometimes I have a basic idea and I find more ideas much later. People, animals and places trigger story ideas!
You both write and illustrate your books. How does that differ from being just an author, or just an illustrator?
The opportunity to create with words and images is wonderful. It allows me to communicate my ideas in a very precise way.
What’s your favorite childhood memory?
Singing with my parents around the campfire. My father would play the guitar and my sister and I would sing along. I also remember playing with my sister and dressing up, making up stories and setting up puppet shows.
When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember wanting to become a veterinarian. I had a wonderful cat named Duchesse. She was there for the first 17 years of my life. I guess she’s the reason I wanted to help animals. The only problem was that I couldn’t stand the sight of blood!
Do you have any special secrets or insights about one of your books or characters?
I must admit that there’s a little bit of my personality in each of my characters: The timid side of Leon the Chameleon, the insecurities of Scaredy Squirrel for example. But the character that resembles me the most is probably Augustine. Augustine is based on my moving experiences as a child.
Mélanie Watt gives us a tour of her studio