We’re thrilled to have Whitney Stewart with us today talking about her new picture book, A Catfish Tale, which Kirkus calls a saucy, fresh Cajun twist on the traditional tale of the fisherman and his wife, set in the Louisiana bayou.
KTE: Welcome Whitney!
WS: Hi all. Thanks for having me on your blog.
KTE: The rich and vivid landscape of the Louisiana bayou is such a fun and evocative setting for your imaginative retelling of this folk tale. And you seem to know it very well. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to tell your story here?
WS: I’ve lived in New Orleans for twenty-four years. Only in this spunky city do you see street musicians wrangling with horse-drawn carriages, Mardi Gras queens tossing out doubloons, and giant catfish swishing dangerously close to the riverbank. I walk along the Mississippi River almost every day, and it sings to me through its morning gray light. I've set three books here, and my newest picture book, A Catfish Tale, truly captures the color and melody of New Orleans.
KTE: Lucky you! A daily walk along the Mississippi sounds wonderful! Could you describe some of the sights and sounds you encounter on your walk for us?
WS: Picture this: pale light falling across a rose-colored stucco façade; intricate iron railings hiding Creole ghosts; riverboats sounding their off-pitch calliope against the tapping of thumbtack shoes. And don't forget Mr. Okra's raspy tenor tempting you with fresh watermelon before the cicadas drown out his call.
KTE: Wow. You really bring the scene to life—I can see and hear it almost as if I were there myself. With such a rich landscape to draw from, can you tell us how you wove some of the details into your story?
WS: Alligators, catfish, crawfish, and cicadas come alive as characters in A Catfish Tale and befriend our protagonist Jacques. But Jacques' wife wants more than gumbo and cypress knees, so she ventures out of the swamp and into the glam and bang of Mardi Gras. Readers see it all—from alligator snout to raining Mardi Gras beads.
KTE: I love your writing and how you bring the story vividly to life with rich, sensual details, your light touch with dialect and the sprinkling of Cajun French. I also love the beautifully colorful illustrations; they add so much to the magical feeling your story invokes.
WS: Kind of you to say! I owe a big thanks to my French illustrator Gerald Guerlais. He paid attention to the details of our landscape.
KTE: It seems that the culture and landscape of Louisiana is particularly and personally important to you?
WS: Yes, it is. I'm from Boston—I grew up swimming in Walden Pond and hiking in Vermont and New Hampshire. I love my childhood landscape, but it isn't peppered with Tabasco or draped with Spanish moss. There's something about New Orleans that sinks into the heart of a writer and sweats out through the skin onto the page.
You know what I mean?
KTE: Yes, after talking to you, I think I do. Thank you so much Whitney for being with us today and for sharing insights into some of the inspiration and setting of A Catfish Tale!
WS: Oh, and one more thing—try out my husband’s gumbo recipe in the back of the book. I’m vegetarian, so I can’t eat it. But all our friends love it. And you might too.
Whitney Stewart once caught a magic catfish and threw it back. He granted her so many wishes that she traveled around the world more than once. Now she lives in New Orleans, home of catfish, crawdads, and crabs. And don't forget Mardi Gras. She's wanted to tell the Brothers Grimm story of “The Fisherman and His Wife” ever since, at age twelve, she played the wife is a staged musical version. Find out more about Whitney on her website: http://www.whitneystewart.com/ or follow her on Twitter @whitneystewart2
Gerald Guerlais was born in France and grew up in many different cities throughout the land of cheese. He adapted to the new schools in each place by developing drawing skills to make new friends. In addition to illustration, he has worked in video games and animation. He lives in Paris. You can see more of his art on his website: http://www.geraldguerlais.com/
Children's Book Author
A Catfish Tale (Albert Whitman, Spring 2014)
Big Sky Mind: Mindfulness for Kids (Windy Hollow Books, Spring 2014)
Marshall, The Sea Dog (Soundprints)
Who Was Walt Disney? (Penguin)