Jun 9, 2017

Miranda Paul's BLOBFISH Throws a Party: Plus Interview!

Who's up for a party?
Who doesn't like delicious candy treats?
Who doesn't like full-blown, giggle-inducing silliness?
And who doesn't LOVE a blobfish story?



What's a blobfish, you ask? It's a recently discovered, gelatinous inhabitant of the deepest waters off Australia, and it was voted (in an online poll) the world's ugliest animal! Check out the video on Miranda Paul's website to learn more about it, scientifically, here.

Despite that pathetically sad face, the central character in BLOBFISH THROWS A PARTY is one clever fellow. He's not happy with his circumstances:

Opening end papers- pretty lonely place, right?

"Blobfish lived at the bottom of the ocean.
The dark, lonely bottom of the ocean.
With no lights.
No friends.

And no delicious treats."

Rather than mope around, Blobfish makes a plan. 
Two plans, in fact. 
1) He can throw a party.
If that fails...
2) He can save the world, because heroes always get  what they want.





little bee books, 2016
 But when a fish shouts its invitation from the depths of the ocean, a wildly wacky version of the "telephone game" ensues. His message reaches mermaids, who distort it before their version is heard by  shorebirds, whose twisted take is heard by monkeys. The various comical  chants wind their way to sheep and farmers, on to dancers, and then to kids playing soccer. In each case, though, the word "PARTY" remains intact. Because, of course, who doesn't love a party? 
The resulting planet-wide party has everyone smiling, except BLOBFISH, who is still all alone in that dark depths of the ocean. 
Final spread- don't you love it when a plan comes together?






But when alien invaders on a mission to steal delicious Earth treats encounter the convoluted consequences of those shouted invitations, Blobfish's "Plan B" is surprisingly successful.
Illustrator Maggie Caton's vibrant colors and energized figures combine with Miranda Paul's cleverly wacky word play, laughably layering and entertaining as the story unfolds. 


I'm a fan of all of Miranda's books, and I'm proud to be able to call her a personal friend. Miranda has major talent, boundless energy, and is overflowing with generosity. So, I'll say right away that this review is an objective response based on a library copy, not a favor to a friend. 
But our friendship made me feel perfectly free to ask a favor with no promises about the nature of my review. And, no surprise to me, Miranda responded to my interview questions so that I could share them with you here:

SB: First, Miranda, I had loads of fun reading (and rereading) your latest book. Thank you for taking time out of your very busy and productive life to answer a few questions.

 The back cover of your book says you’ve been a marine-life fan since childhood. I didn't know that about you! I wonder if any BLOBFISH were among your posters, figures, or fantasies? Do you remember how you first learned about these quirky pink deep sea creatures?

MP: Little to nothing was publicly known about the Blobfish during my childhood. Scientific research and public awareness about the blobfish have been more robust in the past two decades. If I’d known about them earlier, they would have been next to my posters of moray eels, Tursiops Truncatus and other cetaceans.

SB: How did you decide to feature blobfish in a book, and how did you imagine the kind of story he had to tell?

MP: I set out to write a book which involved the telephone game—a game I loved to play as a child and still play with my children. The game is all about laughing at your mistakes and miscommunication. What animal is more misunderstood than one that got voted the World’s Ugliest Animal in 2013? The story needed a creature who would have to rely on calling out an invitation rather than passing out invites because they didn’t have friends nearby. Blobfish was the animal who fit the bill: misunderstood, alone, and perhaps a bit naive.

SB: Your published work includes biographical/informational text (One Plastic Bag, Whose Hands Are These?), science (Water Is Water), and humor (Trainbots, 10 Little Ninjas and now, the charmingly funny BLOBFISH THROWS A PARTY). They are illustrated in very different styles, as you would expect. What do you hope for from an illustrator when a book moves out of your hands and into theirs?

MP: My hope is that readers enjoy reading, and that requires me to let go of my adult sensibilities sometimes. That means I leave room so that an illustrator can insert their vision and style, too—making a book that kids will want to read again and again. I also always let my agent and editor know that I’m available if they or the illustrator have questions - especially if it’s a spare text or a nonfiction book and I have research material for reference.

SB: What was your reaction when you first saw the illustrations for BLOBFISH?

MP: It’s hard to describe my first reaction, but a reviewer later went on to compare Maggie Caton’s bright and busy artwork with the stylings of Lisa Frank. I think that sums up a little of what I felt. (Not a bad comparison for a debut, either!) Her art is much brighter than I originally imagined a book set partially at the bottom of the sea, but since it’s a fictional account with a lot of chaos going on, I think that the final look of the book is more than fitting. That’s the beauty of collaboration—a good illustrator adds life to your book beyond your vision. Based on questions I get from aspiring writers, I think that the letting go must be hard for some writers. But picture books, to me, really are a collaboration and I embrace the letting go parts. Besides, the editor and your agent always loop you in and ask for your advice—and you get to have a say! I mentioned that I wanted the delicious treats to all be the kind not wrapped in plastic packaging, and that was one change that got made. I try not to be controlling, but I also speak up if there’s something important that I think must be changed. It’s a partnership.

SB: BLOBFISH Throws a Party uses a combination of narrative and rhyming text. The text of all of your picture books is lyrical, but not always in rhyme.  How do you decide which approach works best for the intended subject?

MP: One of my high school English teachers drilled into us the need for form/format to match the function of the work. It’s clear to me now. The way I write a particular story must be aligned with the content or the audience. If it’s meant to be a lullaby, a clever play on words, or a poetic celebration, I’ll often use rhyme. In Blobfish Throws a Party, which is written in prose, the rhyming words are functional. The similar-sounding words are due to the fact that each time Blobfish’s message gets passed on, a character mishears the invitation. Instead of “share,” the mermaids hear “wear,” and the shorebirds hear “tweet” instead of “treat.” In the context of the new message the characters’ resulting actions are funny, silly, gross, or even chaotic. Readers can follow exactly how the message gets mixed-up and regard all the bad that happens as an accident—no one is intentionally trying to mess with Blobfish or avoid him (or solicit evil aliens to come steal Earth’s candy). So the ending is a bit more satisfying that we’ve had well-meaning characters who deserve a bit of happiness. (And delicious treats.)


Join me in thanking Miranda for taking time away from her writing, her family, and her travels to share some insights about this latest picture book. And stay tuned for her fall releases: 




THE GREAT PASTA ESCAPE (little bee books, August, 2017) 

Join a ragtag group of pasta as they learn to work together and complete the greatest escape of their lives!

and 


ARE WE PEARS YET?  (Neal Porter Books/Roaring Book Press, September, 2017 


The stage is set! Watch two pear seeds endure the long journey of growing up to bear fruit in this hilarious and informational picture book.


















5 comments:

  1. What a lovely interview! Miranda is always so generous with her time and talent. BLOBFISH is on the top of my 2017 Summer TBR pile!

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  2. Great post! Love your books, Miranda!

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    1. Thanks, Cathy, and thanks, Miranda, for joining me here!

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  3. This is a terrific book. I love how all the pieces were put together for a satisfying surprise ending.

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    1. David, I agree completely. That's part of what makes it a "read it again" winner!

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