Toby is a heartwarming story about the growing bond between a child and a new pet—inspired by the author’s experience with a rescue dog of the same name.
My first puppy – my first pet that wasn’t wholly imaginary – was named Toby. He was also a miniature poodle! As soon as I heard about Hazel Mitchell’s Toby – both the real-life rescue dog and the book she wrote about him – I knew I had to interview her and introduce her to my blog readers!
A Chat with Author/Illustrator – Toby’s Human – Hazel Mitchell
Hazel Mitchell and I sat down to enjoy a virtual cup of tea. “Hazel,” I said, daintily wiping crumpet crumbs from my lips, “I love your ‘Look Back in Candour‘ – the illustrations remind me just a bit of the ones I loved growing up, from Eloise to Beastly Boys & Ghastly Girls. I laughed out loud when I saw ‘Hockey – Age 13’ – I was not one of the popular girls and spent a great deal of time running away from them and their big wooden sticks on the hockey field! Do you still have any of the drawings you did when you were a child? It would be fun to see how your skill and style have evolved, over the years.”
“Thanks!” said Hazel. “I don’t have any of my childhood drawings. We moved an awful lot and somehow stuff got lost. I really need to do some more of those drawings.”
“You wrote, ‘Just a piece of paper and a pencil and I was happy for hours.’ I think that this is so often true for children. How have you managed to hang onto your imagination in adulthood?” I asked. “Any advice for the adults reading this?”
“I think a lot of adults have it beaten out of them at college and or by their choice of career or job. I think you just have to try to hold on to your dreams. I truly believe reading and creating helps, whatever you do as an adult. My advice is always to look for the wonder in everything … even if you just stop once a day and gaze at the stars, or a caterpillar or your child’s eyes. Look at these things as if it were the first time ever!”
“How did you go from drawing, reading, horses, and art college to running away to sea and joining the Royal Navy? What enticed you to do it, and what was that experience like?”
“So, first I was born by the seaside. Second both my grandfather and brother were in the Navy. Third I had no idea how to make a living from art. I lived in the North of England and there wasn’t much art to be had, let alone made a living from back in the 80’s. I really wanted to work with horses and I tried working with them for a while, but I guess wanderlust took hold of me and I wandered into the recruiting office of the Royal Navy. Luckily the branch I joined involved a lot of graphic design work. I was stationed ashore in Portsmouth, UK and during by 6 years service I worked in a large drawing and design unit with civil service photographers, printers drawing office staff, designers and model makers as well as other service personnel. So I got to do a lot of different things, from technical drawing, to booklets and social stationery to exhibition work. I even got to paint portraits of some of the high serving officers and one of Princess Anne when she visited our base!”
Hazel shared this photo with me –
“I really loved my job and the military life,” added Hazel, “but I didn’t want to serve at sea when women were allowed to – which would have been in a different job – meterology! – so I handed in my notice and started a print and design business locally.”
“You mentioned that you couldn’t have pets, so you advertised to walk other people’s dogs. When did you first get a pet of your very own?”
“I did have a cat at art college, who went to live with my mother when I joined the Navy, she was called Turtle – the cat, not my mother! My first real pet was my border collie, Dexter, who I got when I left the Navy and was working from home as a designer. He made the journey to America with me when I came to live here in 2000, with my ginger tom, George. I’ve had a lot of animals in my life since then!”
“Toby is based on a true story – of you adopting your dog, Toby. What made you choose, as your main characters, a little boy and his father?”
“When I started to write the book about Toby I just didn’t feel like a story that was based on his true life situation with myself and my husband was fun enough. So I gave him a young boy as his adopter. Originally the boy had parents, but in discussion with my editor we decided a single parent might be more interesting, perhaps just a mom. But when I started to develop the draft I could only see a Dad in the picture. So that’s what evolved. It’s a good emotional triangle between the three of them, I think.”
“Toby – the real-life Toby – had some wild adventures! Do you think you’ll write a sequel about the search for Toby and what he might have been up to?”
“Yes he did! I would love to write a sequel about Toby and include the period when he went missing. Again, it would not be a literal retelling and I would love to include Toby’s stepsister, Lucy, who is a standard poodle.”
“I read in your interview with Debbie “InkyGirl” Ohi that you gave Toby a tennis ball, because your agent, Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown Ltd, NYC, loves to play tennis. There are a few playful little hidden references like that in some of the illustrations in my book, A New Leaf for Lyle, too. Are there any others in Toby, or in any of your other work?”
“It’s fun to add in little things, isn’t it? In Toby many of the things that happen are real … his stuffy bunny, the box he came in is still his box (people often ask why he doesn’t have a fancy bed, and he does have big pillows, but that plastic box is still his safe place with the original blankey and that’s also in the book). In the book things the boy does are true to real happenings … my husband slept on the sofa next to him the first few nights when he howled and howled, Toby always stands in the window watching for my husband, like he does when the boy goes to school. And he loves to collect shoes, just as he does with the boy’s shoe at the end of the book. Toby gave me so many ideas.”
“Which did you find more challenging: the writing or the illustrating?”
“It was kind of an organic process that grew out of little scenes I would sketch about Toby. Then I started to think about the book and the boy and started to add him in to the picture. I had a lot of scenes and I linked them together to make the story arc, adding and revising as I went along. Originally I had no words except a little dialogue. I expanded that as I worked on the real dummies and added linking narrative in first person. The hardest part of any book for me is the final art, when I HAVE to get characterization consistent and colours in the same range etc. Then I have to concentrate!”
“How long did it take you, start to finish, to write Toby and to get it published?”
“I started the story in March/April 2014. Publication date was September 13th, 2016. So, two and a half years – there abouts. The art itself was about a year in the making including roughs and finals.”
“What advice would you give to a child who dreams of becoming a writer or an artist?”
“Never stop dreaming. Never stop believing. Keep that nugget of creation and imagination. And above all read, look, learn and practice. And if you are a parent or teacher of a creative child, always nurture that imagination! It is useless in so many things in life as well as writing and art.”
A Little Bit About Toby
A Little Bit About Hazel Mitchell
Hazel Mitchell has always loved drawing and still cannot be reliably left alone with a pencil. She has illustrated several books for children including Imani’s Moon, One Word Pearl, Animally and Where Do Fairies Go When It Snows? ‘Toby’ is her author-illustrator debut from Candlewick Press. Her work has received several awards and been recognized by Bank Street Books, Learning Magazine, Reading is Fundamental, Foreword Reviews, NYCReads365, Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, Charlotte/Mecklenburg , Chicago and Maine State libraries among others. Originally from England, where she attended art-college and served in the Royal Navy, she now lives in Maine with her poodles Toby and Lucy and a cat called Sleep. She still misses British fish and chips, but is learning to love lobster. See more of her work at www.hazelmitchell.com. Repped by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd.
A Little Bit More About Toby and Hazel Mitchell
Can’t get enough Toby? Be sure to visit these sites for more interviews, reviews, and other fun stuff!
Watch – Connect – Read – Trailer Launch
LibLaura5 – Podcast
JD’s Writer’s Blog – Review
For more adorable sketches by Hazel, as well as glimpse into the author/illustrator’s childhood memories, visit:
Where to Buy Toby (the Book)
You can click here: Toby by Hazel Mitchell to be whisked away magically to Amazon.com, where you can buy this delightful book! Or you can buy it here http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780763680930 and here http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/toby-hazel-mitchell/1123282586.
Where Else Can You Find Toby?
Toby’s been known to get lost, but really prefers to be found! Here are a few more places you can spot Toby:
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