Interview with Elisha Cooper

What sparked the idea for the book? Do you have cats?
About five years ago we got our daughters two kittens. A year later, one of the cats died. My daughters were devastated. I was too, of course, but having grown up on a farm with lots of animals, I think I was more familiar with life and death. That it was okay to be sad, that things would turn for the better. So we got our daughters a new kitten, and I guess the idea for Big Cat, Little Cat came about then. We have two cats now. Two large and lazy boys named Bear and Mouse.

The illustrations are wonderful. Why did you decide to do them in black and white?
Thank you! Yes, my other books are done with watercolors, and pretty colorful. But with this book, since the story was so simple, with simple emotions, I wanted the spareness of a black ink line. I’ve always loved the black-and-white perfection of Keven Henkes’s Kitten’s First Full Moon. I did add a few watercolor washes, blues and creams to give warmth to particular spreads (like the one where the cats are wrapped up with each 

Was it challenging to tackle big emotions like love and loss in such a simple format? 
I’m not sure. Maybe, in the face of big emotions like love and loss —which are nuanced and complex — my instinct is to pare things down. Place order on disorder. I guess I’m saying that when faced with big confusing emotions I like to go small. But, it’s a good question. I’m having trouble answering it.

When writing a book, do you tackle the text first or the illustrations? Or is it more of a simultaneous process?
I think of them at the same time. I love how words and images play off each other. Like good teammates, who make each other better. I’ve always appreciated that interplay, from Guttenberg to The New Yorker to children’s books. It’s probably why I enjoy what I do.

If you don’t mind telling us, what’s next for you? 
Well, first thing I have to do is feed the cats. They’re staring at me. Then I’m going for a run along the Hudson River. When I come home I’m going to paint. I’m working on some watercolor paintings of rivers.

Thank you, Elisha, for your time!

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