Thank You, Octopus! | An interview with author & illustrator Darren Farrell

by Rachel on June 8, 2014

Darren Farrell is a children’s book author and illustrator, whose newest book, Thank You, Octopus, is one of Vroman’s new favorites! Darren was nice enough to answer some interview questions and share some special behind the scenes info about Thank You, Octopus with us!

Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell
(pre-k-1st grade, Dial Books, 05/2014)
Ahoy! It’s bedtime, and Octopus is here to help his buddy get ready. First up is a bath (Thank you, Octopus) . . . in egg salad (No, thank you, Octopus)! Then it’s time to brush teeth…with paint brushes!  And don’t worry, Octopus made sure there were no monsters under the bed…because they’re all in the closet! No, thank you, Octopus!  Each page turn brings new wordplay and laughs in this hip, nautical-themed take on bedtime and friendship . . . ending with a great big surprise for Octopus and sweet dreams for two best friends.

“On a tugboat in New York Harbor, a boy lives with Octopus, his eight-tentacled au pair. On Octopus’s watch, bedtime doesn’t go quite as expected. A bath in egg salad? Tooth-brushing with paint? “Yuck! No thank you, Octopus!” says the boy, who is always polite. Farrell has a sophisticated urban style that should appeal to any children who wish they had as silly a sitter. Parents might decide to stay home after all to read aloud.” The New York Times

“This hilarious nautical comedy of errors will lure in unsuspecting listeners—right
up to the boy’s neat turnabout at the end.” Kitty Flynn, The Horn Book

1. What inspired you to create a story that features such a mischievous octopus?

Be warned: ALL octopi are extra mischievous. You may be able to keep an eye on a few of those wiggly arms, but there is NO way you can watch what all eight of them are up to. AND chances are, at least a few of the arms you cannot see are doing something incredibly mischievous at all times.

As an octopus, with this ability to be incessantly mischievous, how could you possibly resist?

The octopus in Thank You, Octopus is inspired by a good friend of mine named Pete Bregman, to whom the book is dedicated. He is constantly tricking people into drinking awful concoctions, swallowing Big Mac’s nearly whole in 7.2 seconds like a python, and popping out of specially glued together stacks of boxes to scare people – just to name a few of his favorite tricks. He is by far the most hilarious and the most mischievous person whom I have ever been friends with. Here’s a YouTube clip of him as his wrestling alter-ego Johnny LeDoux where he can even make drinking water oddly funny.

2.    The illustrations are so clever and it’s fun to find all the hidden details in each page. Could you tell us a little bit about your creative process? Do you work on paper or digitally, or does it tend to be a hybrid of the two techniques?

I work in pencil on paper and scan everything into the computer before my left-handedness has a chance to smudge all the hard work away. Then I color digitally. I enjoy layering in the little details, like each tiny window in the New York skyline and tucking sea creatures into the ocean here and there.

A friend in San Francisco said his daughters love to count each cracker in the tub of egg salad – so it is nice to know the teensy detailing is appreciated and accounted for.

3.    What was your favorite part about writing and illustrating this book?

The backgrounds in Thank You, Octopus are a love letter to New York City. I created this book in Seoul, South Korea where my family had recently moved after living in New York for a long, long time. Sitting in my favorite Korean coffee shop, I could relive my most favorite part of New York – the gorgeous skyline at sunset.
This is the view my son and I enjoyed as often as possible, he from his comfortable seat in the jogging stroller, me from the slightly less comfortable jogging-whilst-pushing-a-human position behind him.

We start on the endpapers, looking out at the Bronx and Yankee Stadium before gradually work our way down Manhattan, past Governor’s Island and on out to sea in the final end papers. There is even a glimpse of Hoboken, New Jersey, a town we lived in and love dearly. It appears in the window on the “robot language” and “rock n roll” spreads – and those Hoboken buildings are precisely what you would see if you looked off the opposite side of the tugboat, which is where the bedroom window is.

4.    At the very beginning of the book, Octopus is helping his buddy get ready for bed, so he runs him a bath… but it’s a tub full of egg salad! How did you decide this would be the appropriate food for Octopus’ bath time shenanigans?

Figuring out which food to fill the tub with was not easy. It had to be gross to the touch but not a meal a child might find appealing in any way. It had to be super yucky for a kid to imagine eating, but something they are also quickly familiar with. Ideally something smelly and ideally warm. And I had to be careful that the color and texture didn’t read as something really gross that occasionally makes an accidental appearance in a child’s bathtub.

My first idea was chocolate pudding. But, in addition to being something most kids might actually WANT to have a bath in, it looked a wee bit too much like a scene from Caddyshack (on steroids). After imagining Jello (cold and grosss), Kool-Aid (sticky), Mac&Cheese (gooey), Manhattan Clam Chowder (fishy) and Split Pea (gross in every way), I almost went with Guacamole. Then egg salad arrived! It is a perfect combination of stinky, gooey, sticky, warm and something nobody would want to have a bath in. Except maybe my Grandfather, he loved egg salad.

5.    I hear that you’re now living in Seoul, South Korea, and much of your new work on your website has to do with your experiences there. Where did you live before, and how has living in a new place informed your work as an author/ illustrator/ artist?
I grew up in North Carolina and lived in New York for twelve years before embarking on a family adventure to Seoul. We are finishing up our second year in Seoul and will be back for a third next year.

A little bit of Korea snuck its way into Thank You, Octopus. There is a pennant for my family’s favorite Korean baseball team on the wall in the bedroom of the “robot language” spread. It reads LOTTE. The Lotte Giants are a team from Busan, which is where my wife’s family is originally from.
We root for Lotte primarily because they have the craziest cheers. At some point in each game, plastic orange shopping bags are passed throughout the crowd. Each person fills their bag with air, ties the handles into a knot and places the blobby bag atop their head with the handles looping over the ears so it stays put. It looks like everyone has orange jellyfish on their heads and I have absolutely no idea what it means – but there is a special cheer that goes along with it. So much fun. How could that not be your favorite Korean team!?

6.    You mentioned on your website that you are hard at work on another story. Can you give us a little teaser about what we can look forward to seeing from you next?

I am hard at work on a new book starring a little bear and a big moon. The new book is set in Yosemite National Park so I have been busy making lots of mountains with loads of tiny trees. Like Thank You, Octopus, the new book will be incredibly fun to read aloud, and it has a very sweet, hug of an ending.

Learn more about Darren Farrell here: