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#WOTSTalks: Interview with Ruth Ohi

August 16, 2018

As always, The Word On The Street is coming up this September. But the fall can’t get here soon enough! So we sat down with Ruth Ohi, author and illustrator of Fox and Squirrel Help Out, who will be joining us at the festival this year!


WOTS: Fox and Squirrel Help Out is your fourth book about Fox and Squirrel. What inspired the original? What draws you to these adorable characters?

Ruth Ohi: I’m so happy you like them—thank you!

The idea for the first book, “Fox and Squirrel” (Scholastic Canada) came from the idea that though people can look and do things quite differently from one another, there are always similarities and common ground to be found.

Foxes are a longtime favourite animal of mine. Growing up camping & hiking, I’ve always enjoyed watching the antics of squirrels. Both are in my current neighborhood and sketching them made me think they would be good characters for the idea behind this story.


WOTS: You both wrote and illustrated Fox and Squirrel Help Out, among many other children’s books. But you’ve also collaborated with authors on some books. What is the difference between illustrating your own words and working with someone else’s story?

RO: Illustrating your own manuscript allows the images and words to develop together from the beginning. The play between the two is easily done. With your own story you’ve been with the characters from the start —you know them. Someone else’s manuscript is satisfying and exciting as purely the illustrator, but in a different way. Reading someone else’s manuscript is meeting characters for the first time knowing there’s potential for building a meaningful relationship.


WOTS: What comes first for you: writing or illustrating? How do you think your career as a writer-illustrator was different from someone who just does one?

RO: Once there’s an idea, I focus on creating a strong manuscript with quickly rendered stick figures and scribbles in the margins. These loose images are place holders for what the illustration will need to carry story-wise. From there I work up images and words together in the form of a demo-book, known as a ‘book dummy’, for submitting to a publisher.

Being responsible for the manuscript & pictures takes more time than when illustrating for someone else’s words. I take on fewer projects working as an author/illustrator.


WOTS: What are your favourite places to write and to illustrate? Any quirky must-haves when it comes to sitting down and starting a story?

RO: Fresh air and some exercise before settling in works well for me.

My home office with its collection of art materials is ideal for final work and experimenting.

Libraries make the best workspaces away from home. Perfect for editing & story development, the need to commute has the added bonus of the aforementioned fresh air and exercise.

Coffeeshops are an occasional treat and great for sketching and brainstorming.


WOTS: What would you say to a children’s writer who’s just starting out? What one thing do you think is crucial to know?

RO: ( Hope it’s okay I have two!)
1. Enjoy your local library and bookstore to see what’s out there.

2. Join groups such as The Canadian Children’s Book Centre, CANSCAIP and The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) to familiarize yourself with the business. These organizations offer opportunities to further your craft and meet people in the industry. All three group’s websites can be found on my website’s FAQ.


WOTS: You explore different lessons in friendship in your story. What are you hoping children, and their families, will take away when they read your stories?

RO: I would love for my picture books to:

  • Give enjoyment through experiencing a deeply satisfying story
  • Give children a feeling of being understood and respected
  • Encourage empathy for others
  • Encourage conversations
  • Encourage the reading of more books


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