We're wrapping up our Graphic Novel Summerfest with one of my favorite new books to come out this year, Odd Duck (First Second, May 2013) by Cecil Castellucci and illustrated by Sara Varon. I've gifted my kids' teachers with this title, enjoyed reading it again and again with my sprogs, and recommended it to anyone whose uniqueness is worth celebrating. In a starred review, Kirkus calls Odd Duck a "clever celebration of individuality," and it is. For anyone searching for a title to give a recent graduate, Odd Duck fits the bill.
This is the story of two ducks, Theodora and Chad. Theodora enjoys swimming in the pond with a teacup balanced on her head, and she has a yen for mango salsa. When the other ducks fly south for winter, she prefers staying north and enjoying the wonders of wintertime. But when Theodora meets newcomer Chad with his funny feathers, she realizes he is one strange bird. Thank goodness Chad has Theodora around to set him straight. But who is the odd duck after all?
Question: You have worn so many hats, from indie rocker to filmmaker to YA novelist. What made you decide to write a book for young readers?
Cecil Castellucci: I’m a big believer that you must follow where a story wants to go and how a story wants to be told. Whatever genre or medium it wants to be. Actually, this isn’t the first time I’ve written a book for younger readers. I had a picture book called Grandma’s Gloves that came out a couple of years ago. But with Odd Duck, it just seemed like ducks were more suited to the younger set, or at least framed in a story like that. I originally thought it would be an early reader, but once Sara came on board I realized it would be more fun to make a hybrid picture book/graphic novel since we both do comics.
Q: Theodora and Chad are wonderfully wacky. Who or what were you channeling when you came up with the idea for them? What was your creative process like?
CC: Thank you! Theodora sort of sprung from my head fully formed, teacup and all. I love a prim and proper duck! Chad I think falls a little bit closer to my true nature. I think I’m much more Chad than Theodora. Except when I’m being more Theodora than Chad! I think that I was channeling from all of the amazingly odd people that I know. And I know quite a lot of weirdos. Thank goodness!
Q: There's a lot to consider when writing for early and emerging readers vs. a YA audience. How did this affect your writing? And do you prefer one genre over the other?
CC: When you are trying to do what is best for a particular story, what’s right and wrong sort of fall into place. So I don’t think that it affected my writing in any way at all. I love all the genres that I write in. I think that’s what makes it “easy” to switch around. If I want to write about something that doesn’t fit or isn’t appropriate style-wise for one kind you get to do it in another. They are all so very different and they all have their pluses and minuses. The fun thing about writing for little kids is how streamlined and simple you’ve got to be. There is an economy to the narrative that is very fun to play with.
CC: Oh yes! I was writing for the Odd Duck in me! I really think that is the magic secret of books for younger readers! They are really for everyone! I give picture books to my adult friends all the time.
Q: What was the collaboration like with illustrator Sara Varon? How did you merge your storyline and writing with Sara's wonderful illustrations? And will there be more Odd Duck books in the future?
CC: Working with Sara was amazing. She’s incredibly talented. Sara broke down what was originally the early reader manuscript and then once it was thumbnailed, she and I had a lot of back and forth until we got the text and images together in a way that we wanted. She added all of her Varon flourishes (like the egg replacer and stuff like that). And I sure do hope that there will be more Odd Duck books. I already know what Book Two and Three would be. Believe me, Chad and Theodora may have worked something out in this book, but there are plenty more things to work on in their friendship.
Q: Will you write more for young readers? What can we expect to see from you next?
CC: I am quite sure that I will write more for young readers when the next right idea comes along. Meanwhile, I’ve got two YA books coming out next year. Tin Star, which is Book One in a two-book sci-fi series, and an as-yet-untitled graphic novel about hobos.