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Beth Ferry Q&A on Fox & Rabbit

I don’t know about you guys but during this pandemic I’ve been doing very poorly at reading through my piles and piles of books. The price of parenthood, eh?

Actually, that’s not strictly true. One kind of book I’ve been doing VERY well with are comics and graphic novels. Because my kids adore them, we’ve just been ripping through scads of 2020 titles. They could be in danger of all running together, but today’s book was so memorable that I still can’t quite get it out of my mind. Fox & Rabbit by Beth Ferry, with art by Gergely Dudás, is sort of the comic book equivalent of an early chapter book. With the patience of a Frog & Toad and the tone of a gentle French import, this homegrown collection of small stories was just begging for a reread. So I did it one better. I interviewed the author.

Today, Beth Ferry stops on by to talk foxes, rabbits, and why you don’t need a mouth to show someone how you feel.

Betsy Bird: Thanks so much for talking with me Beth. I’m so pleased you’ve made a foray into the world of graphic literature. Fox & Rabbit is, quite frankly, a hoot. I took the liberty of reading it, in its entirety, to my 5-year-old and he was just so charmed by it. PARTICULARLY the call-backs, of which this book has a ton. It’s your first comic, though, so what gave you the impetus to take the plunge into sequential art?

Beth Ferry: Hi, Betsy!

Glad to hear Fox & Rabbit was a hoot!

And I love sharing the origin story of Fox & Rabbit because it came from this piece of art, which, as you can see, was originally a bear and a rabbit.

The illustrator, Gergely Dudás, had done a number of Seek-and-Find books with his quirky, mouthless characters, but was interested in expanding into young comic/paneled storytelling. Our agents talked and asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at writing something in this style, inspired by his art. It was a big change from picture books, but I liked the longer format and the chance to try out some silly humor. And I really liked the challenge of writing in dialogue only.  

BB: The mouthless art of Mr. Dudás, made for a fascinating choice. He brings this almost European feel to the storylines and seems to be invoking the best of Sylvia Van Ommen. No author really knows what to expect when they have a book coming out, but was this at all what you envisioned when you were writing it?

BF: Since Gergely’s art inspired the story, I knew exactly what the characters would look like. What I didn’t realize was how much expression and information Gergely could impart to the reader using only eyes and hands. I began to forget that the characters didn’t have mouths.

And I looked up Sylvia Van Ommen and totally see the resemblance. The simplicity of the characters is so charming and Gergely’s colors add a joy and vibrancy to the book that I hope readers will enjoy.

BB: The book is essentially a friendship story in the vein of George and Martha, Frog & Toad, Snail and Worm, etc. And the key to all great friendship stories is when that friendship hits bumps and snags. This one did on occasion but it’s never too dire. What age demographic were you thinking of as you wrote this? Were there things you took out that just didn’t seem to fit by the story’s end?

BF: The target for the book was the youngest independent readers. All of Fox and Rabbit’s adventures are simple and, I hope, familiar to many readers – a trip to the county fair, a visit to the beach, planting a garden, opening a lemonade stand. The challenges experienced by the characters should be familiar as well – fear, excitement, frustration, disappointment. And you’re right – nothing too dire – just the common ups and downs and ins and outs of friendship.

And we didn’t have to take much out to keep with the simple theme of friendship. It just came naturally to the characters. We spent some time on the garden scene to ensure we were hitting the right notes of apology/forgiveness/acceptance and I hope that comes through.

BB: Which character do you associate with more closely? Fox? Or Rabbit?

BF: Dare I say Sparrow? I love Sparrow’s single-minded focus on food!

BB: So lemme see if I have this straight. In 2020 alone you have the following coming out:

– In February: The Bold Brave Bunny, illustrated by Chow Hon Lam and published by Harper Collins

– In April: Fox & Rabbit, illustrated by Gergely Dudás and published by Abrams

– In May: Swashby and the Sea (which is utterly and completely charming) illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

– In October: We Believe in You, illustrated by Molly Idle and published by Roaring Brook

(And I’m not even including the media adaptation of Disney’s The One and Only Ivan).

So. Simple question to start us off: How and when do you sleep? Follow up question: Is there a secret to staying quite so busy?

BF: Ha! I sleep more than enough, especially now that my kids have grown up.

But, to be honest, this concentration of books in 2020 has a lot to do with illustrator timelines and how fast (and slow) the publishing process works.

And like most, I read for inspiration and there’s lots of good stuff to read, thus lots of inspiration. I usually am working on 5-6 projects at a time which definitely keeps me busy.

BB: And finally, will we be seeing more of Fox and Rabbit in the future?

BF: Yes, indeed. I’m happy to say that Fox and Rabbit 2 will be published in September 2020 and the third book will follow in Spring 2021.

Thanks so much, Betsy, for having me and for all these great questions!

BB: Well, thank YOU Beth for answering them.

Fox and Rabbit will be on bookshelves everywhere April 21st. And big thanks to Mary Marolla and the folks at Abrams for setting this all up.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.