Mixed-Up Files interview with Katherine Battersby: Author of Cranky Chicken!

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

Happy Chanukah and Happy holiday season! Hope you’re enjoying it so far!

Today, we are fortunate to have with us Katherine Battersby, author of the graphic novel, Cranky Chicken, which is out NOW!

Katherine, thanks so much for joining us today!

JR: I was fortunate enough to read an Advanced Copy of Cranky Chicken. So adorable and some really funny moments. For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about the book, and where the idea for this come from?

KB: Thank you! That means a lot. CRANKY CHICKEN is a humorous graphic novel about a very cranky chicken who accidentally saves the life of a super excitable worm. Worm decides they are going to be BFFs – Best Feathered Friends. The book follows their quirky and unlikely friendship across three mini stories.

As for where the idea came from, well … I’m actually scared of chickens. Because I know something others don’t – ALL chickens are cranky chickens (I was chased by a lot of chickens in my youth). Then, during one of my author school visits, I met this tiny girl who just adored chickens. She told me, “They’re not scary – they’re hilarious!” I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I decided to spend some more time drawing chickens. CRANKY CHICKEN is what emerged. It turns out we were both right – chickens are cranky and hilarious.

The story itself is inspired by the ridiculous antics my best friend and I used to get up to as kids. She was an extrovert who was an only child, so she was always turning up on my doorstep just like Worm – full of excitement and ready to play. I, on the other hand, was an introvert who was part of a big blended family. I never had any time to myself, so I could be a bit of a cranky chicken. Even now, we often laugh at how different and yet similar we are. Chicken and Worm are a lot like that, too.

 

JR: As you just mentioned, there’s a lot of humor in the book, but also some touching moments. How difficult is it to find the right balance?

KB: I’m actually writing the third book in the series as we speak and was just talking to my partner about this very thing! For me, as a reader, the most important thing about any genre of story is that it has genuine emotion at its heart. So as a writer, even when I’m writing light and playful stories like Cranky Chicken, I think a lot about what my characters are feeling and what drives them and aim to capture this in all their interactions. Maybe this is partly because I was a children’s counselor before I became an author / illustrator, so emotions are something I already think about a lot. Luckily, mostly this balancing act is pretty instinctive – I just have to focus on staying true to the characters and Chicken and Worm are naturally both quirky and heartfelt.

 

That’s a good line to balance on. You’ve mostly done books for younger readers. What were some of the things that drew you to working on Graphic Novels?

KB: As a reader I’ve always loved graphic novels and comic books. I grew up surrounded by ones my parents collected on their travels – Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin (many in their original French), Footrot Flats (a New Zealand comic) and The Far Side. I never grew out of them and continue to read comic books across genres and age groups. It’s interesting to think about what draws me to the format. I suppose I’ve always particularly loved stories with a focus on visual storytelling and those with richly illustrated worlds. I love the filmic way that these stories can unroll, with the panels leading you through a scene as a camera would. As a storyteller, I also love getting more room (than in picture books) to explore character and to play with the way I humour (such as exploring a joke over several page turns). As a reader, I’ve always had a lot of fun reading comics and I can tell you that now, as the author and illustrator, I am having just as much fun!

 

JR: You’re talking to the right person. I love comic books! Who were some of your influences?

KB: There are so many, I feel like I might always be unravelling the answer to this question. But one clear one is Sandra Boynton. I adored her books as a tiny thing and would draw her characters over and over. She is the queen of cute, chubby little animals and a sparse use of lines, which are both features of my own work. Standing back, I can also see the influence of Asterisk and Obelix on CRANKY CHICKEN – from the mismatched friendship to the humour and tone. The Far Side also clearly influenced my style, as I have a similar droll, understated sense of humour. But now, writing this, I can’t help but wonder if all these things already existed in me and this is why I was drawn to these creators and stories? It’s the classic ‘chicken or the egg?’ conundrum (something Chicken and Worm would happily debate for hours).

 

JR: You grew up in Australia. Has anything about living there influenced your writing?

KB: I think so. Definitely my sense of humour – Aussies can be quite wry and sardonic (it’s sometimes mistaken for sarcasm). Also my sense of place – I grew up by the beach on the tropical east coast of Australia, so you’ll see this influence in the second CRANKY CHICKEN book (which is out June 2022). Funnily enough, one of the biggest influences is that strange sense of cultural cringe that people often get in regards to where they grow up, so you’ll notice I never feature any overtly Australian animals in my stories! I was always much more fascinated by animals that were unfamiliar to me – bunnies and squirrels and foxes and bears. My dad was British so we regularly spent time with his family around the UK – my memories of the those trips and the animals that populated those landscapes had a big influence on my stories. Ironically, CRANKY CHICKEN is my most ‘Australian’ book yet as I did at least grow up around chickens (many of my friends lived on farms!).

 

JR: I need to visit Australia one day! What was your favorite childhood book?

KB: I’ve always been an avid reader, so choosing just one is all but impossible! I could look back on any given day and give a different answer, so today I’ll say … The Bunjee Venture by Stan McMurtry. It’s the first novel I can remember choosing for myself (from the Scholastic catalogue) and I read it so many times it completely fell apart. It’s a quirky little read about a kid who accidentally travels back in time to prehistoric times and discovers this odd mammoth like creature that speaks in a somewhat understandable manner. I loved the creative use of language (and trying to decode the creature’s dialogue) and the strange, often frightening landscape (man-eating flowers! sentient jelly-fish!). It was a lot of fun.

JR: What are you working on next?

KB: I have just finished proofing all the final illustrations for CRANKY CHICKEN book 2 and just this morning handed in the final manuscript for book 3 (phew!). Now I have a little time to work on a couple of picture book manuscripts I have knocking around my mind. One needs to be storyboarded out and the other one I’m still writing. I also have a newer idea for a middle grade graphic novel series which I’m currently collecting ideas for and world building. I always have many stories on the go, all in various stages of development.

 

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

KB: I love chatting to those passionate about children’s literature, so please feel free to find me here:

Twitter: @KathBatt

Instagram: @katherinebattersby

Facebook: Katherine Battersby Author

 

JR: Thank you so much for joining us today!

KB: Thanks for having me! It’s been a delight.

 

JR: Well, that’s it for now, Mixed-Up Filers. Make sure to run out and get a copy of Cranky Chicken, and I truly hope you enjoy the remainder of the holiday season!

Until next time . . . 

Jonathan

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JROSEN
Jonathan Rosen is a transplanted New Yorker, who now lives with his family in sunny, South Florida. He spends his “free” time chauffeuring around his three kids. Some of Jonathan’s fondest childhood memories are of discovering a really good book to dive into, in particular the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Jonathan is proud to be of Mexican-American descent, although neither country has been really willing to accept responsibility. He is the author of Night of the Living Cuddle Bunnies, which is out now, and its sequel, From Sunset Till Sunrise. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, FromtheMixedUpFiles.Com, SpookyMiddleGrade.com, and his own website, WWW.HouseofRosen.com