Image of the cover of When Rabbit Was a Lion and headshot of the author and illustrator, Eugenie Fernandes.

Creator Corner: Author and Illustrator Eugenie Fernandes

Welcome to Creator Corner! Each month we interview the creators of one of our recent books. This month, we interviewed When Rabbit Was a Lion creator Eugenie Fernandes.

Owlkids Books: How and why did you begin writing and illustrating children’s books?

Eugenie Fernandes: One day when I was a child, sitting on the porch with my father, a bird flew down from the sky and sat on my father’s knee. Quietly my father said, “Where have you come from, little bird?”

The little bird ruffled her weary wings. “I’ve come from the far-away-side-of-here,” she said. “It’s a very-very long way to fly for someone as small as me.”

My father marveled. “How brave you are!”

“Well done little bird,” I said. “Would you like a piece of blueberry pie?”

“I would,” the little bird to me.

And that is how it began…telling stories and painting pictures with my cartoonist father, Creig Flessel.

At the School of Visual Arts in New York City , my favorite class was Illustrating Children’s Books. Maurice Sendak came to our class with his new book, Where the Wild Things Are. That’s when the notion of writing and illustrating children’s books became a reality for me. In fact, my very first published picture book was something that I had created in that class.

OKB: What themes or topics do you enjoy exploring in your work?

EF: The themes that I most enjoy painting and writing about involve courage and kindness. Kids. Gumption. Pizzazz. Animals. Nature. Beaches and the sea.

But I also like exploring other topics. When I’m illustrating something written by someone else, I learn a lot because I have to research the environment and the people who live in that place. From Africa to the Arctic and the Caribbean. From polar bears to kangaroos.

OKB: What was the inspiration for this book?

EF: When I write, I am quiet…except when I read my stories out loud to myself so I can hear the rhythm of the words. When I paint, I am quiet. No music. Just the singing of birds outside in the yard. But sometimes I’m noisy. Sometimes I like to talk with kids about books and how to make animals out of bakers clay. I think I’m an ambivert: sometimes quiet, sometimes lively, depending on the situation.

My husband is a bona fide, content-as-he-is introvert. He was the inspiration for When Rabbit Was a Lion. He is quiet, creative and thoughtful…and, like Rabbit, he does not like to show me his paintings until he is finished!

OKB: What was the most enjoyable part of bringing this story to life? What was the most challenging part of the process?

EF: I (almost) enjoy all the parts of creating a children’s book. Some stories write themselves quickly. Others, like When Rabbit Was a Lion, simmer and change for years. Imagine how delighted I was when Owlkids Books said they wanted to publish that story! There was more editing with real editors this time. I like working with good editors. Then, on to the illustrations!

The most challenging part for me is making changes to the pictures, but the editor and the art director usually know what they’re talking about, so…most of the time I make the changes. I like to be busy. I like writing stories. I like painting pictures. I’m happy in my studio. I’m happy when I finish the paintings on time. I feel lucky to be working with creative people. I’m excited when the printed book finally arrives. I hold my breath. Slowly…I open the box…

OKB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

EF: Some of us are introverts. Some of us are extroverts. Some of us are a bit of both. I don’t think it matters which way we are. What matters is that we are kind, we listen, and we accept ourselves and each other as we are.

OKB: What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?

EF: Here are two fun facts:

You may notice that I often have a second visual story going on in the background of my illustrations. There may not be a cat in the text, but there is a cat in the pictures. What is she doing? How is she reacting to the story? Is she making mischief? In When Rabbit Was a Lion there’s a snail in every picture. Is it a very fast snail, keeping up with the rabbit? Or is it a different snail each time?

When I was a child, sitting on the porch with my father, a little bird really did fly down from the sky, and she really did sit on my father’s knee. She stayed with us for quite a while. Full of wonder. It was a bit of happy magic.

When Rabbit Was a Lion is out now! Purchase your copy wherever you buy your books.


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