We are sharing a lovely Q&A today with both the author and illustrator of Butterfly Wings. You can get a great sense of the time and energy that both author and illustrator have into the process of creating a book, one that deals with climate anxiety.
Butterfly Wings – a guest blog from author Samuel Larochelle and illustrator Eve Patenaude
Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Butterfly Wings: A Hopeful Story About Climate Anxiety?
SAMUEL: The readers will meet Florent, a 10 year old boy full of energy and sensibility. One night, he overhears a conversation between his mums: they are talking about having a second child, but the climate situation makes them hesitate. As a result, Florent begins to feel guilty for being part of the planet’s problems. His fears about climate change quickly become suffocating. The readers will experience how deep his anxiety goes before his mothers understand what he’s going through. They will make a lot of effort to help him recover and come back to reality, to give him a sense of agency, to make him see the solutions available and to feel hopeful for the future.
Where did you get the inspiration for this story?
SAMUEL: In 2016, in Montreal, I went to see the Quebecer version of the British play Lungs, written by Duncan MacMillan. The play tells the story of a couple in their thirties debating about having a child by asking themselves if bringing another human being in this world, with all the climate, social and political crisis, is reasonable. Not only did it resonate deeply with me and what some of my friends were going through at that time, it also brought on a ton of questions: “What if a child were to hear those kinds of words? How would they react? Would they feel like a part of the problem? Would it make them feel unwanted?” I let this idea grow in my head for years before writing it.
Did you find it easy to imagine being a child and seeing the effects of climate change from a child’s perspective?
SAMUEL: I have the ability to become my characters, whatever their age, and to feel what they feel. I don’t ask myself how I would react in a certain situation and give the answers to the character. I become each of them. I feel like them. I think like them. I fear like them. Just like an actor would. With that said, having fears myself about the climate and the future, it was easier to imagine how a young soul could react.
With the illustrations, Eve, did you find it easy to start imagining what the story would look like once you had read Samuel’s text?
EVE: Yes, I did! Samuel’s writing is so poetic, the images popped into my head instantly. The vibe of the story immediately inspired me to lean towards softness and pastel colours. For me, all these elements were already interwoven throughout Samuel’s words, and I just had to materialise them. I knew from the beginning that I needed to take the metaphorical route for these illustrations, to accompany the poetry within the text. And I had so much fun adding my own layer of meaning through the drawings!
Can you relate to the story from your perspective as a mother? Did that influence your approach to the artwork and how you would portray Florent?
EVE: While working on the illustrations for Butterfly Wings, I felt the need to wrap Florent in soft and delicate colours. His distress really moved me, and it was a way for me to comfort him, the same way I would have done with my own children. I hope young readers who share the same anxiety as Florent will find comfort and hope in our book.
From the very beginning of the project, probably because the environmental issues resonated so much with my own concerns regarding our planet and the future generations, I thought about my children. Actually, when I first imagined Florent, he was a sort of mix between my two kids. I even used pictures of them for reference, so Florent shares some traits with them! I felt a very motherly connection with this character, and he will always be special to me.
Climate anxiety is a big topic – did you find it difficult to balance being honest and straight-talking about the issues but also not to frighten children; to give them hope for the future?
SAMUEL: It is a tricky balance: finding the right words and deciding what to put emphasis on. I am extremely careful when I write… but always honest. I don’t believe in hiding stuff from children. I believe in finding the correct information to share with them at the right time in their lives. With this book I wanted to validate their emotions, including their fears, and to give them a strong sense of hopefulness. That’s why some young readers should read the story with their parents/teachers and have a discussion about it, while others will be able to process it all on their own.
And for you, Eve, the illustrations are bold, striking, sometimes uncomfortable to contemplate, but also have a softness and gentleness to them – how did you balance this?
EVE: I have to admit that I sometimes went in a dark direction, but the text was calling for it and I didn’t want to sugarcoat the story. For me, it wouldn’t have been fair to Florent’s distress. Thus, there are flames and darkness and disasters. After all, those events are happening right now, in the real world. But it’s still a children’s story, so other parts of the book needed to be really luminous and hopeful. The delicate line art and pastel colour palette helped to soften the sadder illustrations.
Samuel, what did you think when you first saw the illustrations for the book?
SAMUEL: I was impressed and very moved. I felt a big sense of pride in thinking that an artist such as Eve Patenaude decided to work with me and believed in my story. Without meeting each other or consulting each other, we’ve both created our own part of the book, and something magical happened: her illustrations and my words each tell a story of its own, but together, they create something even more powerful.
What do you hope readers will take from the book?
SAMUEL: That their emotions and fears are valid. That there is hope. That we should still bring children – and new ways to see life – into the world. That they have more power over their life than they may believe.
How do you hope schools might use the book?
SAMUEL: I hope teachers will read the book to their students and discuss the feelings some words and illustrations may awaken in them. I hope all will feel comfortable in sharing and discussing their general perception of the topic, with open minds and without judgment.
Butterfly Wings by Samuel Larochelle, illustrated by Eve Patenaude, is published by Greystone Kids on 28th September 2023 in hardback. www.greystonebooks.com