Monday, May 18, 2015

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Children's Picture Book Author Anne Sawyer-Aitch

Anne Sawyer-Aitch (pronounced like the letter “H”) is a puppeteer and stilt-walker. When she decided to create her first book, Nalah and the Pink Tiger, she began experimenting with different styles of illustration, and finally discovered a technique that uses her skills as a maker of color shadow puppets. She calls it “Illuminated Illustration”, and it involves cut-away designs, layering, and backlighting. In her capacity as a puppeteer, Anne creates puppet pieces of all kinds: parade floats, giant stilt puppets, and intricate color shadow shows. She is a MN State Arts Board Roster Artist, teaching puppetry all over the state, and has been touring around with her first book & her Nalah and the Pink Tiger show for the last two years. Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is her second book. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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About the Book:

The adventures of Nalah continue! One day Nalah finds herself bored and lonesome because all of her imaginary friends have gone away on vacation. But wait – not all. Mad Tooth, the little mouse who lives in her sock drawer, is still busy munching away on her knee-highs. When she finds out why Nalah is sad, she offers to take her down through the sock drawer into a mouse metropolis. The result is a tale of wild dancing, cousins and mice, taffy and a sock monster.

“Gorgeously illustrated with a process I've only seen before in Anne Sawyer-Aitch's 1st book, Nalah and the Pink Tiger. My 4-year-old particularly enjoyed the x-ray view of the stilting guard of Mad Mouse City, and was inspired to make several of her own versions of the illustration. Another fun story with a relatable young girl as protagonist and vivid fantastic characters she encounters.” – E. Bestrom, Good Reads reader

For More Information

  • Nalah Goes to Mad Mouse City is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Thanks for joining us at the book club, Anne!  Love children’s books!  Can you tell me how you got into writing books for children?
Anne: I’ve always wanted to create children’s books. Ever since I was a little kid. We grew up in a house chockfull of books, and got more every weekend at the library. I loved both the words and the pictures. Some of my favorite books include The Wind in the Willows (with illustrations by Arthur Rackham) and Wanda Gag’s The Funny Thing. I fell in love a few years ago with Kate di Camillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  It’s heart-breaking, but it really resonated for me. I think that’s what is wonderful about really good children’s books: they can appeal to all ages.
 You are a puppeteer and stilt-walker, how interesting! Can you tell us about that?
Anne:  Yeah. I got really, really lucky. I have loved theater since I was a kid too. In 1995 I stumbled upon a theater audition and got cast in the title role of Madame Freux-Freux’s Café of Love. It was an interactive dinner theater show featuring Bun Raku puppets. I got hooked. I’ve been learning about and creating with puppets ever since. I love shadow puppetry, big parade puppets  lantern puppets…you name it.
I learned to stilt from a friend who started an all ladies stilting group called Chicks on Sticks. She and another friend noticed that all the stilt walkers in the puppetry community (yes, there is a puppetry community here in Minneapolis, a big one) were guys. So they decided to teach as many gals as they could to stilt. That was back in 1999, and we are still going strong. We get to dress up and perform at festivals and parades. I love the dressing –up part. In lots of ways, my current life-style allows me to believe that I’m still six years old most of the time.
Nalah sounds like such a fun character.  Can you tell us a little about her?
Anne: Nalah the character was inspired by my niece. She is a pistol. Funny, pithy, saucy, imaginative, a rocket. All I can say is, look out world.
This is the second book featuring Nahlah.  Would you like to tell us about the first?
Anne: In the first book, we meet Nalah’s menagerie of imaginary animals. Nobody else can see them, so she’s always getting into trouble when they wax chaotic. At the start of the book, we meet Percival Prong, the Polka Dot Pig, who lives in the bathroom sink; Mad Tooth the Mouse, who likes to eat one of each pair of socks; and Ernestina the Emu, who lives in the dining room chandelier. One day she goes to the zoo and a pink tiger named Tico follows her home. Tico gets into tussles with the other animals. Feathers fly, literally and figuratively.
Can you tell us about Mad Mouse City?  Who lives there?
Anne:  Mad Mouse City is located somewhere in Nalah’s sock drawer. Apparently, you can only find it if you have a mouse guide like Mad Tooth. The city is guarded by a Sock Monster. But once inside the city, you’ll find it a very charming place. In the puppet show version of this book, we sing a song called “Everything’s up to date in Mad Mouse City,” to the tune of a similar song in Oklahoma:
“Everything’s oh-so-fun in mad mouse city/it’s better than a big cat rodeo/you can dress yourself in fancy socks from your head down to your feet/there’s every kind of tasty food that you would want to eat/with every kind of comfort every mouse is all complete/they’ve gone about as fur as they can go/yes sir/they’ve gone about as fur as they can go.”
This book reminds me a little of Alice in Wonderland with traveling down a sock drawer into a mouse metropolis.  How neat!  How did you come up with the idea to write this?
 Anne: I’m not sure where the ideas come from. They sort of pop in there and I just try to pay attention. If it’s a good one, it stays with me and I keep chewing on it. Then one day I sit down and start to write/draw. I’m making it sound easier than it is. I think what I mean is that it requires some patience with yourself and your process. I fill up lots of restaurant napkins and envelopes with doodles and phrases.
What’s next for you, Anne?
Anne: Well, there are a few more Nalah books there for sure! One where Nalah visits Percival in Paris and finds out more about his wig/fashion passion. Another one will probably involve some kind of Australian adventure – Nalah has to go check on Ernestina the Emu, who has taken Tico home to visit her stomping grounds.
I’m also working on a book for toddlers about animals in winter. The style of illustration is very different – acrylic paintings. It’s fun to mix it up.
Thanks for the interview! I welcome any questions. My website for books is If you would like to see more about the puppet stuff I do, you can go to

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