On Saturday, July 10th, author Wendy Orr, from Australia, and illustrator Lauren Stringer, from the United States, celebrated the release of their new book, The Princess and Her Panther, together. Not only does this not often happen, but it happens even less across continents. Wendy joined Lauren at the Red Balloon Bookshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on Saturday morning and then the two of them gave a presentation to the Kerlan Friends and the public at the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collection.
Those who were in attendance were lucky enough to hear how The Princess and Her Panther came to be … and there were several surprises. Wendy became an author after her first career as an occupational therapist, but she believes her career as an author began because “my mother read us bedtime stories and my father told us crazy stories.” When she held the galley of her first picture book, Amanda’s Dinosaur, in her hands, she recognized “the power of my own language.” To Wendy, she felt exceptionally lucky to fall in love with the illustrations for her first book. It was a bit like “seeing family photos I had never seen before.”
You may know Wendy as the author of Nim’s Island, the movie from Walden Media starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin. It was Wendy’s book first, of course. Or perhaps you know her from Mokie & Bik, a lyrical book about twins on adventure.
Along the way, Wendy has accepted that an illustrated book belongs just as much to the illustrator as it does to her. She began working on The Princess and Her Panther twenty years ago. Her children were young, setting out on a backyard camping trip, and Wendy worried that her daughter would be frightened, that she wouldn’t last outside the entire night. Her daughter took her cat Sally along for company. This was enough to inspire a story about bravery. Over the years, several publishers held the book. One even hired an illustrator. It’s evident that the book hadn’t found its real home.
Then editor Allyn Johnston, now at Beach Lane Books, chose Lauren Stringer as the book’s illustrator because “she’s really good with cats.” A story about a little girl and her cat being brave in the night needed an illustrator who was good with cats.
Lauren shared her many drafts through an onscreen presentation. She and Wendy both started out by chronicling the story of the girl and her cat running parallel with the story of the princess and her panther. Allyn advised each of them to choose one story or the other. Along the way, as Lauren worked through her drafts, the cat turned into a little sister. The Princess and the Panther became a story of two sisters, one brave and one hoping to be more brave.
Painted in sumptuous acrylic by Lauren Stringer, attendees were treated to a video read by Wendy Orr, designed by Lauren Stringer, with a musical score composed by Lauren’s husband, Matthew Smith. It was a delightful experience.
Lauren is the illustrator of many favorite books including Scarecrow; Mud; Castles, Caves, and Honeycombs (written by Linda Ashman); Our Family Tree (written by Lisa Westberg Peters); and her own Winter is the Warmest Season.
Acceptance of the final form of a picture book. Surprises along the way. Listening to the story. Making sense of the story. It was a treat to hear from the creative team behind this book. The Princess and Her Panther is sure to be a favorite read-aloud, whether to a child snuggled close or a roomful of children waiting breathlessly to see … what will happen next?