Interview: Josée Bisaillon


front-backJosée Bisaillon, illustrator of A Fish Named Glub, talks to me about her work.

You work in a lot of different mediums, but what is it you like in particular about illustrating picture books?

It’s really difficult to work on a picture book, to capture the right mood, to make the perfect characters, and to be consistent throughout the entire book. But even though it’s so much work, it’s a lot of fun.

I guess what I like most is to enter a different world each time. When I start illustrating a picture book, I feel like I’m building a house. I have to ‘build’ something that children and their parents will feel comfortable in. process2Using different mediums allows me to use different materials to build my houses. That’s why sometimes my work is different from one book to another. Sometimes I feel like the story would need more collages to be bolder, sometimes more ink and watercolor to make it softer, for example.

I love to think that there are actually real children around the world that are going to enjoy my work. It’s so gratifying, and it still feels like a dream come true.

You’ve recently worked on the Hansel and Gretel story for a Korean picture book (images below). What do you think the continuing appeal of fairy tales is? Is your approach to illustrating a well known tale different to working with original material?

I don’t know what we like so much about the old fairy tales. They are always a bit scarier and my kids love them. Maybe we like them because it brings back good memories, or because they are just really well written.


When I began working on Hansel and Gretel, I was very honoured, but I was petrified. It was like touching a sacred story. It has been illustrated so many times that I was afraid of adding nothing new to the story. I looked at a lot (and I mean a lot) of illustrations from previous versions of Hansel and Gretel and I felt overwhelmed by them, so I decided not to look at them anymore and I began sketching and trying to illustrating this as if it was a brand new story. I made it with my style and my vision, and I think it worked in the end.

How important was reading to you when you were growing up?

I remember going to the library and coming back home with a ton of books, but apart from that I don’t recall my parents reading to me, even though I’m sure they did. There were always books in my house. When I was a teenager my favourites were The Babysitters Club books and gamebooks (choose your own adventure books). I still read every day before going to bed.

How important is reading to your own children?

It’s really, really important. My husband and I began reading to them when they were very young, around 2 or 3 months. I don’t know if it’s because of that, but the three of them really enjoy picture books. They help to develop their creativity, their vocabulary and their patience. They always ask for a story, we have to read to them before bed, and I love it.



This Is Not My Hat


With the recent announcement of the 2014 Caldecott honours, I got to thinking about last year’s Caldecott medal winner – and one of my all-time favourite books – This Is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen.

It’s kind of an underwater picture book version of No Country for Old Men. A small fish steals something that doesn’t belong to him and – without any fanfare – is on the run from the big fish. There are no overt messages, no judgements of any kind. Just the inevitability of actions having consequences.

imageSpare and suspenseful, this is a picture book par excellence and an amazing work of art. The underwater tableaux are reminiscent of the way painter Paul Klee creates surreal scenes from simple blocks of colour. And then there is Klassen’s sly humour, found in the counter play between words and images (we hear the little fish say he’s sure the sleeping big fish won’t wake up just as we see a large eye opening).

No matter how you imagine the story plays out in the dense foliage of the final spreads, I think we can all agree the fish looked pretty darn sharp in that hat.


This is Not my Hat, by Jon Klassen, published by Walker books, is available now.