Friday, April 29, 2016

Build, Beaver, Build ~ interview with illustrator

Build, Beaver, Build! Life at the Longest Beaver Dam
by Sandra Markle; illus by Deborah Hocking
Millbrook Press, 2016

themes: nature, growing up, animals

The moon is so bright on this June night that the pond water gleams. A beaver kit floats near his family's lodge.

This is the story of a beaver kit's first year of life, and there are lots of lessons to learn. Watch out for owls at night! Cattails are yummy. Play with your sisters. And help build the dam.

What I like about this book:  I like the way Sandra Markle tells a story of a young beaver's life - all the things a kit has to learn before setting off into the world on his own. And I like that the story is structured around a dam - not just any dam, but the longest dam in the world. It's so BIG you can see it from space.

I love the artwork. Deborah Hocking captures the essence of beaver family life as well as the details of the Canadian forest in which this beaver family lives. The combination of detail (tree bark, leaves) and color (so many watery blues and greens) keep me coming back to this book again and again.

I also love that there is back matter about the dam and beaver home life - and lots of resources for finding out more.

Beyond the book: Beavers are engineers; they change the landscape just like humans do. But they don't have chainsaws to cut trees and trucks to move logs. How do they do it? Watch this video from PBS.

Make a beaver puppet - all you need is a paper lunch bag, some buttons, paper, glue - and paw templates from here.

Build an edible beaver dam - or a lodge - using pretzels, peanut butter or sunflower butter, chocolate chips, and other things that look like sticks and mud. Then eat it!

Go exploring along a stream or wet area where beavers have been sighted. Look for tracks in the mud. Draw tracks you see - and jot down how they compare in size to your hand. How many toes are there? Are they webbed? Here's a helpful guide.

Listen to beaver kits mewing from inside a den - here

Illustrator Debora Hocking was kind enough to answer Three Questions:

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do for illustrating Build, Beaver, Build?

Deborah: I used a lot of information found online and in books. I did observe beavers at the zoo, but they were sleeping in their lodge... there was a little window into their sleeping area, so I got to see them all snuggled up together looking super cozy! I love to go hiking and it's always fun to find sign of beaver while I'm out and about. Once you start looking, you realize they're all around (though I do live in the Beaver State, so one would expect to find plenty of them around here!). Beavers tend to sleep during the day, and are more active at dawn and dusk - which is why it's not very common to see them in the wild.

Archimedes: Talk about the media you use in your artwork...

Deborah: I use a combination of watercolors, pencil, and colored pencil - generally working on watercolor paper. For Build, Beaver, Build, I used liquid watercolors, which I find give a bit more vibrant color than tube colors. After finishing a painting, I scan it into my computer and use Photoshop to make adjustments. Another way I use Photoshop is to add color to pencil drawings, because using paint would either cover up the drawing or cause the pencil to smear. I used that technique on a couple illustrations in my online portfolio: the illustration of two mice decorating their mushroom house, and the illustration of the hedgehog reading inside his hollow log.

Archimedes: What words of encouragement would you give young artists?

Deborah: Just keep on creating. It's easy to get discouraged when your work doesn't turn out how you hoped... easy to give up because you don't think you're talented enough. But drawing or painting is a skil that you can learn and develop - with hard work, of course!

Deborah is currently working on illustrations for a book written by Justin Roberts titled Henry Hopendower and Other Truly Impossible Things (GP Putnam's Sons/Penguin, due out 2017). You can find Deborah's website here.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture BooksReview copy from publisher.


  1. Sandra Markle's words are so carefully chosen. I love the opening of this book and want to keep reading. And how wonderful that you included an interview with the talented, Deborah Hocking! It's always a gift to read the story behind the story or gleam some insight into the illustrator's world. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  2. I've found many traces of their work but I still hope to spot one in the wild!

  3. I have read several of Sandra Markle's books. They have all been amazing! I am going to check this one. Thanks.