Welcome, parents, librarians, book fanatics, writers, and readers of all sorts - and a super big welcome to all the witches and wombats out there, too! We have the extremely-talented Ashley Belote with us today sharing her charming new book, Witch & Wombat. When Wilma orders a cat from the pet store, she finds out they're out of cats and have another pet for her instead... a wombat! No other witch has a wombat. Will Wilma ever get the cat she's always hoped for, or will she find out a wombat is just what she needs? Want to know more about Ashely and her adorable new book, PLUS want a chance to win a very special treat? Read on...
Q: Hi, Ashley! We’re so excited you could Trick or Treat with us at #SeasonsOfKidLit. We’re thrilled to have you and hear all about your new book Witch & Wombat. Can you share a little bit about yourself and your path to becoming a children’s author and illustrator with our readers?
A: Hello! First, thank you so much for hosting myself, Wilma, and Wombat! We are thrilled to be here. 😊 My journey to becoming a children’s author and illustrator began when I was 2 years old! My mom gave me a crayon, showed me how it “worked,” and I never put it down. I have known my whole life that I’m meant to be an artist. I consider it so much more than a career, being an illustrator is my identity. I love it so much. I majored in art all through school, and have a BA in Fine Art with a minor in creative writing.
During graduate school I made a big move and enrolled in the Simmons College satellite program at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. I walked in, sat down, and read Molly Idle’s Flora & the Flamingo on the first day of class. I knew at that moment; I was meant to be in the picture book biz. In addition, my family owned and operated an independent publishing company while I was growing up. I saw firsthand how much work it took to be in the publishing business from both sides, so I have great respect for every aspect of our industry. My love of art and constant bookish surroundings all came together and here I am today—thankful, grateful, and loving every kidlit minute!
Q: What a cool story! Thanks so much for sharing. Witch & Wombat follows Wilma the witch who cannot wait to get her very first cat. But, when the pet store is fresh out of cats, Wilma comes home with another animal instead…a wombat!
This unlikely pairing sounds hilarious. Can you share more about the story and how you came up with the idea to pair a witch and a wombat together?
A: Soooo this story began back in 2013! I was sitting in my little attic apartment I rented in Amherst while I was taking my class at the Eric Carle Museum, and the phrase Witch & Wombat popped into my head from above. I am certain God put it in my brain! I thought, hmmm…that would be hilarious! I love pairing two unlikely characters, so it was a great nugget of a concept. The actual story itself stems from my own childhood. I spent most of my time drawing cats and asking for a cat, but my mom is allergic…so no kitty for me. Much like Wilma, all she wants is a cat, and ends up with something about as far from a cat as you can get. I grew up surrounded by wildlife in northern West Virginia, so the wild animals became my “pets,” though, they definitely didn’t know that, haha. I learned to deal with and make the best of my cat-less situation, much like Wilma does in the book.
Because this was one of my first ideas for a picture book, the idea has grown alongside me during my publishing journey. The witch began as a disgruntled adult witch, which ultimately changed over the course of time. I wrote 8 years’ worth of drafts and over the course of learning my craft, the story slowly began to appear as I learned how best to bring it to life. It’s a true manifestation of my own development as a picture book maker.
Below are some early sketches of the witch from day 1 of this idea up until now. I’m happy to show this because the more I learned, the better the character became! *Wombat stayed pretty much the same, certain characters just show up and that’s how they are meant to be 😊.
Q: You’ve been an illustrator on books such as Frakenslime and Valenslime and have authored and illustrated many books, too, such as Listen Up Louella and The Me Tree. How does the process of illustrating books vs authoring and illustrating books differ? Does anything about the illustration process change and do you prefer one over the other?
A: This is a great question and one I love answering. The process is pretty different for me between the illustrator vs author/illustrator worlds. I honestly love both because I love every aspect of the creative process. What I love about being an illustrator for someone else’s words is the fact that it’s a true collaboration. I come from a track and cross country background, and I think of illustrating someone’s words like accepting a baton from them. The author has completed their work, now it’s time for me to do mine. Also, no two people are going to write a story in the same way, so I love illustrating books I didn’t write because I would have never written them that way.
In terms of illustrating my own stories, that process brings a whole new set of creative challenges, and I love a good creative challenge. illustrations often cause me to alter text, and since I’m doing both, I have to do both jobs simultaneously. Otherwise, my drafts are typically about 500 words too long! If I sketch while writing, I can let the art guide the words and I can keep things more under control. It’s also kind of a miracle that something I come up with in my mind eventually turns into a book I can hold!
The illustration process itself is similar for both situations. I always start with quick thumbnails, then move to messy, rough sketches, then revise, then revise….then revise some more! It’s all about trial and error and narrowing down what works from what doesn’t. It’s like a wonderful puzzle. I’m honestly sad whenever I finish a project because I get so attached to the characters! They essentially become my friends, so I’m bummed when we don’t get to hang out anymore, haha.
Below is a progression of one of my favorite spreads from Witch & Wombat from thumbnail to finish. It’s such a FUN process!!
Q: Do you and Wilma have any similarities?
A: Let’s talk about mine and Wilma’s similarities, haha! First up, her outfit! I based her jumpsuit on a kitty print jumper my mom made for me in Kindergarten. I would have worn it every day if it was up to me. Here is a side-by-side comparison!
Next, Wilma’s artistic tendencies. The endpapers show Wilma painting tons of cats. I mentioned how much I loved (and still love) to draw cats. This obsession was always encouraged by my grandmother figure, Aunt Al, who the book is dedicated to 😊. She was a very special person in my life, and she loved cats. More importantly, she kept every drawing I ever made for her. She passed away two years ago and left a box of my artwork for me to have. I scanned some of the cat drawings she kept and used them in the book. My favorite one is on the sign Wilma is drawing on the back cover. She was such a special and supportive person and I love that I get to talk about her here and share a bit of her legacy with the world.
Here is a 6 year old Ashley original (I drew this for Aunt Al’s cat named Precious)!
Q: Ha, we LOVE how similar you and Wilma are. Thanks for sharing that with us!
What is your favorite spooky or Halloween-themed thing to illustrate?
A: CATS! Even though the main characters in this book are a witch and a wombat, I LOVED drawing all the tiny kitties hidden throughout the book. There are actually 53 cats drawn throughout, I just counted! Some are pretty hidden :D One of my favorite things about illustrating books is hiding details that readers might miss the first time around. It’s so fun to notice new things about illustrations upon a second or third read. Those are the types of illustrations I was drawn to (pun intended 😊), so those are the types of drawings I like to make now!
Q: BONUS QUESTION: What Halloween candy pairs the best with your book?
A KitKat of course! The word “Kat” makes it a purr-fect fit :D
Thanks again for joining us, Ashely! It was so fun having you, Wilma, Wombat, and all your cats here to celebrate Halloween with us!
Q: Would you like to leave a Trick or a Treat for the readers?
A: A treat! I’ll give away a copy of Witch & Wombat so someone can celebrate Halloween with Wilma, Wombat, and all 53 cats!
Thanks for such a purr-iffic treat!
Contest Details: To enter to win this exciting giveaway 1) share this post on social media and 2) leave a Halloween or cat-themed GIF below to thank Ashley for stopping by.
#SeasonsOfKidLit's Trick-or-Treat Winners will be chosen on or about November 5th.
*Books will be shipped in the US only*
Note: Those who leave a comment on all posts will be eligible to win one (1) of ten (10) Rate Your Story Speed Passes, perfect for quick MS feedback, provided by Agent Mentee Lynne Marie & Author Heather Macht.
About Ashley Belote:
Ashley Belote spent most of her childhood asking for a cat. While she never ended up with a feline familiar (or a wombat), she did learn to love a few unexpected companions including a beaver, a catfish, and a snapping turtle. Yikes! Now she channels her love for kitties and unique experiences into picture books that she hopes brings lots of laughs to readers. Ashley is represented by Moe Ferrara of BookEnds Literary Agency. To learn more, please visit AshleyBelote.com.
For more about Ashely, check out the below links:
To purchase Ashley's books on Amazon or to leave a review for them, click here.
A special thanks to David Rodriguez Lorenzo for the amazing custom-signatures!