Exclusive Interviews with the Author and Illustrator of Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
by Traci Swain
“Be proud of yourself and who you are, no matter what you look like or anything like that—you should just be proud of who you are.” —Patty Lovell
“I have always believed that we are all artists for the simple fact that we are all visual creatures.” —David Catrow
Sometimes the best stories come from the most unexpected places!
That’s what New York City teacher Patty Lovell discovered when she was rushing from the subway to her Writing for Children’s Literature course and hadn’t done any writing for that week’s assignment yet (see, procrastination happens to teachers too!).
She tucked into a cubicle at the library, got out some paper…and Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon tumbled out of her. Talk about an amazing turn of events!
Watch Patty’s Scholastic Book Clubs–exclusive interview video with your students to hear Patty’s full story and some fun facts, including:
• Why Patty dedicated this book to her brother, John Christopher Lovell (it’s a supercute reason!)
• What it was like to work with illustrator David Catrow (plus a fun coincidence)
• How she would teach Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon in her classroom
After watching Patty’s video interview, read the written interview below to get illustrator David Catrow’s take on his unique iconic style, which one of his books he’d love to see as an animated movie, and why he thinks all people can be artists.
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
I often say that I was born an artist, and it certainly feels true, but I would say that the moment when I actually became an artist was in kindergarten when I was told to put my head down on the table after I refused to draw my bird as the teacher instructed us. I insisted, though, and continued drawing it my way until the teacher took my paper. As a result, I went home that morning with a big huge note to my mom pinned to my favorite plaid shirt.
You have a very specific way of illustrating your characters. How did you develop that style of drawing?
Ask any artist about their style, and they will probably shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s just how I do it.” I don’t know the answer for why I draw the way I do. It’s just how I see things. It’s born probably out of a desire to occupy the same space as the action I’m illustrating—to escape a little bit. I also think it’s the reason for the level of detail I’m told is in my pictures, because when I occupy the picture space, I can have insights into the perspectives of the characters.
How did you choose the color palette, style, and technique for Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon?
The color palette is the result of the same forces that determine my style—the colors look right to me.
Revisiting Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, I now recall using a brand of gouache called “Q White” that I mixed with my colors. Q White has an unusual property in that it creates a pastel effect on the colors when it goes on the paper. It’s the part of creating art that I love…the discovery of the unintended, the beautiful accidents, the spectacular surprises.
One of the most striking pages is the two-page spread of Molly’s grin. Can you share your process of creating that imagery?
On MLM’s big grin…I remember thinking, “I need a big moment that will get a few laughs.” I think it works, don’t you?
You have worked as a visual developer for films. If you could see any of your drawings or books turned into an animated movie, which would it be?
That is an easy one: Molly Lou Melon for sure—she needs a big blockbuster movie starring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Rainn Wilson, and Steve Carell. I’d love to see that on Netflix!
On your website, you’re quoted as saying, “I believe we are all artists.” Can you talk more about that?
I have always believed that we are all artists for the simple fact that we are all visual creatures. Our eyes are at the top of our bodies, so they can look out on the world. Our eyes are hooked into our optic nerves that stimulate our brains, firing off millions of neurons and exciting the other centers of our brains that control memory and physical sensations. When I see something that I’ve never seen before, my hands and feet actually begin to move, as if needing to succumb to the effects and become a part of it, followed quickly by the desire to create something.
Our hands, and especially our opposable thumbs, are hardwired to our brains, and our natural state is adapting our environment to suit our needs. It’s what human beings do—we create—we are all artists. If you don’t believe me, just take a trip 300 miles up to the International Space Station and look down on the planet. We humans have literally transformed this planet with our hands. Some of it isn’t very good, destructive even, but it’s a human thing.
As artists, I think it’s our responsibility to find ways to reenvision our roles as artists, as humans, and as inhabitants of the planet to find ways to fix some of the damage.
Patty Lovell has taught kindergarten and first grade for almost 30 years. She lives in Glen Cove, New York, with her dog, Lucy.
David Catrow is the illustrator of many picture books, including Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and its sequel, Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon, written by Patty Lovell; I Wanna Iguana and its two companion books, I Wanna New Room and I Wanna Go Home, written by Karen Kaufman Orloff; Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel; and We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Deborah.
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