An Interview with Mélanie Watt

Scaredysquirrel Out of over 100 nominated picture book titles, Scaredy Squirrel rose to the top to collect the Cybils Award. The book stars a squirrel who’s afraid of everything and won’t leave his comfort zone, until one day…well, you should really read the book.

What sets this book apart from the pack is its kid appeal. Kids of all ages–including grown-up kids–love the book. Mélanie Watt was kind enough to give an interview to The Cybils with the MotherReader WhenWhereWhoWhyWhatHow interview questions.

MotherReader: When did you start writing?

Mélanie Watt: In 1999, while enrolled in a Graphic Design Program at the University of Quebec in Montreal, I created a book about color for my illustration class. I decided to write and illustrate a kid’s story about a chameleon called Leon. My project was later sent to Kids Can Press and they published it as Leon the Chameleon, 2001.

MotherReader:Where do you do your best thinking? 

Mélanie Watt: Everywhere! Ideas can pop up at any moment. For Scaredy Squirrel, I was especially influenced by media and the warnings that are all around us. I wanted to write about a neurotic character that overanalyzes and focuses on the risks and somehow just forgets to live his life.

MotherReader: Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?

Mélanie Watt: I love to read and collect kids books; I’m inspired by Mo Willems especially,  [Interviewer interjection: Yeah, baby!] I love the Pigeon books because they are SO funny and interactive! Kids also inspire me and I often try to think back to when I was a kid myself and the things that I thought were were fun and interesting.

MotherReader: Why did you need to write this book?

Mélanie Watt: I knew for a long time that I wanted to write a book about fearing the unknown. I grew up in a family that was sometimes a little too overly cautious. I had my mind set on exploring this subject and expressing how fear stops us from discovering our talents and capabilities. So a squirrel seemed to be the perfect vehicle for this and the nut tree was a good metaphor to start with. What really brought the story together were the humoristic approach and the exaggeration. Being a graphic designer allowed me to build the story visually with charts, lists and graphics before writing the actual text.

MotherReader: How does this book reflect your life experiences, personality, or motto?

Mélanie Watt: Well I must admit that when I wrote Scaredy Squirrel, I was living in the country, an hour from the city. I hardly left my home and I was working day after day in my safe and cozy house. I knew there was a world out there but wasn’t in any hurry to discover it just yet.

But, since the Scaredy Squirrel book came out, it has forced me out of my home, got me travelling and doing presentations and school visits all over the place. I’m especially happy to be meeting readers of ALL ages that can relate to Scaredy Squirrel and share personal stories with me. My motto: if things don’t go your way, PLAY DEAD (let it sink in, wait a little, take a deep breath and you’ll see it isn’t so bad after all).

MotherReader: What’s next for you?

Mélanie Watt: More Scaredy Squirrel adventures! Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend will be released this spring. In this rodent’s new nutty adventure, he seeks a non-threatening friend (with no teeth). A squirrel could get bitten…And as usual, things don’t go according to plan…

Also, in the fall a new self-centered cat called Chester will be coming out in stores.

And, I am presently working on the third Scaredy Squirrel story and hope to do many more!