It stands to reason that if someone writes a book for kids, they probably have a kid themselves. Which is the case with writer Remi Nicole, the author of the new children’s’ book Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird Down Under (paperback, digital). Or, as I know her, the publicist for such video games as Batman: Arkham Knight and the upcoming Injustice 2. But in talking to her about this kids’ book, she revealed that she actually starting working on long before she had a kid of her own to read it to.
Let’s start with the basics: What is Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird Down Under about?
The book is about a lovebird who wants to find someone to share his life with, so he musters up the courage to go out and look for a mate. His travels become an adventure and he learns that friends and exploration are really satisfying. Basically, he starts to enjoy the journey his little life is taking him on.
Where did you get the original idea for the book, what inspired it?
When I was in high school, a good friend of mine’s family had a little lovebird. They told me that it was better to have one of them instead of a pair just in case one of them died because the other would be depressed or even die itself. I was really struck by that and remembered that. Later on, when I was writing about something in my journal, I got the idea to create a story about a little lovebird who was seeking his soul mate. I was probably at a point in life when I was trying to do the same.
So has your friend with the lovebird read Peck yet?
I don’t know if she has read it yet, but she’s definitely aware of it. She sent me a sweet note saying she was “overjoyed” and can’t wait to read it. She also mentioned that she has dreams about their little bird all the time. I took that as a good sign.
And just so people know, what age group is this book for?
The book is meant for ages three to seven, depending on if the child is read to or if they are reading it themselves. My son is two-and-a-half and loves it, which is surreal for me.
But do you think older kids would appreciate the book? Or their parents?
My hope is that anyone who reads the book can appreciate it. Parents have already expressed a great fondness for the book because of the high concept delivered in a very kid-friendly package. I think people of all ages understand the universal feeling of seeking something from experiences and relationships: friendship, love, companionship, etc.
Did you slip anything into Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird Down Under that is just for adults? Like does Peck have a best friend who’s a mockingbird named Gregory?
The whole plot is meant to resonate with adults and kids, so there is that. And then some of the lines are Aussie slang, which could be fun for people who are Australian or who have traveled there.
You kind of already answered this, but I’ll ask anyway: Is there a particular reason you wrote Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird Down Under about a lovebird, as opposed to a bluebird or a penguin or a vulture?
As I mentioned, I was really fascinated with the way lovebirds exist, court each other, and are monogamous. The more I researched, the more I really loved the thought of lovebirds in a story about seeking love. Also, I am a sucker for cute. No offense, vultures.
Similarly, why did you decide to set in in Australia? Because lovebirds are not native to Australia, so clearly Peck emigrated there — or migrated, as the case may be — in which case the book could’ve just as easily been Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird In Suburban New Jersey.
Actually, there are now lovebirds wild in some forests of Australia, though the species origin is Africa…you’re getting a tease of upcoming books. Part of the fun was finding out where in the world lovebirds live now.
So did you use this book as an excuse to take a vacation to Australia?
Wishful thinking! I do love it there: the landscapes, animals, and people. Hopefully I will publish the book there and have to do some readings and signings.
As you mentioned, you have a young son of your own. Is that why you made Peck a boy?
I created Peck and wrote about him long before my son was even a possibility. I just always imagined Peck as a boy. It will probably require some psychoanalysis to figure it out.
In regards to the art, you sketched out some basic ideas for the pages, but then got Mabel Chong to do the real illustrations. How did you find Mabel, and what was it about her art that made you think she’d be the right person for this book?
I looked at many portfolios of illustrators online, and was looking for something specific and very cute, so I reached out to some illustrators. I ended up working with a few to try to see who could capture the essence of Peck. Mabel came the closest, so we worked on a few iterations until he was what I had hoped for. Everything else fell in from there.
Did she ever give you any ideas for or feedback on the story itself?
Mabel was all about the art. I would sketch out pages in silly stick drawings, and then she brought them to life with her incredible illustrating ability. The story stayed just as I had envisioned when I was writing it.
You’ve said that Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird Down Under is the first book in a trilogy. When in the writing of this first book did you decide that it was indeed the first book and not a stand-alone book?
I had written one long story about Peck many years ago, and then, the more I learned about children’s books, I made the decision to create three stand-alone books that would work as a series. Each book can stand on its own, but there is a bit of a “to be continued” feeling implied.
It’s funny, in feedback, adults want to know what happens next, while the kids really just want to read it over and over.
How much of the trilogy do you have figured out? I don’t want you to spoil anything, obviously, but do you know what happens in the second and third books, do you know how it ends?
Peck‘s story is complete in my mind, but I try keep a pretty open mind, so if I find that reviews or children’s commentary seem to gravitate to certain aspects, I can alter things.
The thing is, Peck – A Lonely, Little Lovebird Down Under is only thirty pages long. Presumably, the other two books in this series will be about the same. And that’s not unusual, books for kids are always that short. But did you ever consider putting the three parts together as one book, or would that have been a problem either artistically or commercially?
It comes down to kids liking to read books over and over, so I don’t think one really long book for this age group really works. Also, if parents have to read it many times, shorter is sweeter. I think the 26-32-page mark is pretty perfect for children’s books for a reason.
Lastly, while you may have written a book for children, I feel you may not be the best person to recommend other books for kids. Y’know, being an adult and all. So, what books would your kid recommend?
My son loves all kinds of books but at the moment he would recommend The Little Blue Truck books, Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?, Animal Babies, The Giving Tree, and The Berenstain Bears Visit The Firehouse.
But it’s quite surreal to have him now ask for Peck in his nightly round up. It kind of freaks me out… in a good way.