Creator Corner: Meet author Etta Kaner and illustrator Brittany Lane


Welcome to Creator Corner! Every month, we’ll be interviewing the creators of our recent books. This month, we interviewed Rock? Plant? Animal? author Etta Kaner and illustrator Brittany Lane. Their new picture book reads like an interactive guessing game, in which kids have to decide if the puzzling image on each page is a rock, a plant, or an animal. It may seem simple, but the answers will surprise you! This book publishes October 4, 2022.

Owlkids Books: When did you know that you wanted to be an author or illustrator?

Etta Kaner: In elementary school I put a lot of effort into writing stories and descriptive pieces when they were assigned. I remember that my grade 8 teacher told my mom during a parent-teacher interview to buy a thesaurus for me because I was going to be a writer someday. However, I really didn’t think about writing a book for the purpose of publishing until I was around 40.

Brittany Lane: I have always loved art and creating, but it took me some time to decide to make it my full-time career! I recall writing and illustrating my own stories and looking forward to art class as my favorite time of the week at school. After high school, I went to university to study biology and I worked as a biologist for a decade before I began to acknowledge that something felt amiss—I missed making art! So I took a leap of faith and began pursuing art and illustration full-time. It was a long-term goal of mine to illustrate books, and that dream came true faster then I imagined it could! A few years after beginning my career in art I was hired to illustrate Rock? Plant? Animal?, my debut in picture book illustration!

OKB: Etta, what inspired you to write this book?

EK: As much as possible, there are two elements I try to incorporate into my books. First, perspective or point of view, and second, making the book interactive. Rock? Plant? Animal? allowed me to truly fulfill both of these objectives and have a lot of fun making new discoveries in nature at the same time.

OKB: Brittany, which spread did you most enjoy illustrating, and which spread was the most challenging to illustrate?

BL: The book is formatted like a guessing game with the Rock, Plant, or Animal to be identified on one page and a page turn revealing the answer. My favorite images to illustrate were the images of the Reef Stonefish! The Reef Stonefish has incredibly textured skin with beautifully mottled coloring that act as part of its camouflage. This texture was quite an interesting challenge to replicate! I also really enjoyed drawing the ant plant and creating the detailed ‘window’ which allows you to have a look at the maze of chambers and passageways ants use inside the plant!

Many of the question pages that feature a single image were difficult to illustrate as all had to be created in ways that would make them extra tricky and fun for readers to identify! That being said, the most challenging piece to illustrate was the Cobra Lily (seen above). We wanted the plant to look lifelike (as per it’s namesake!) and it took a few tries to make the Cobra Lily come to life as a ferocious cobra poised and ready to strike!

OKB: What do you both hope readers take away from the book?

EK: I hope readers will look at nature more closely, with greater curiosity. Many people tend to sweep over nature with their eyes and not look at the details of shape, patterns, color and texture. They tend to miss so much.

BL: I hope readers leave the book feeling surprised and delighted by the diverse range of creatures, plants and rocks they’ve been introduced to, and that it inspires them to find and identify what may be hiding in their own backyards!

OKB: Can you both tell me an interesting fact that people may not know about you?

EK: After reading my responses, it won’t come as a surprise that I love my garden. It’s very large with a great variety of plants with unusual names like lungwort (it’s much prettier than it sounds), pinky winky, purple kiss phlox, and anemone. Naturally, I love the bright colors of flowers (my favourite colors are purple and orange) but I also marvel at the variety of greens – blue green, yellow green, mint green, and so on.

BL: There are a few fun facts to know about me! I’ll try to share a few here:

  • I love sea turtles and spent 3 months in Sarasota, Florida rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing sea turtles back into the wild. I even helped to rescue a whale!
  • I climbed to the top of the yellow pages building in Toronto to band peregrine falcon chicks so we could track their movements over time. One of our birds survived a harrowing flight through a storm over the Gulf of Mexico during its migration to South America.
  • I studied caribou in the Hudson’s Bay lowlands and tracked herds via a plane called a ‘Turbo Beaver’ out of which we saw hundreds of caribou, moose, wolves, and even a feisty wolverine.
  • I have a dog named Luna who’s as smart as a whip and knows how to give high fives.

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