Megan Padalecki, an architect, has turned her considerable talent to writing and illustrating children’s books. Her first book, Big Mo, was released last year to positive reviews. In fact, the book is a 2016 National Indie Excellence Award for Best Picture Book winner. Big Mo is the story of a friendly iguana and the adventures he dreams up.
The author heads to the world’s largest ecosystem to tell the tale of Little Moon, who is a Hawaiian Bobtail Squid about as big as a thumb! This tiny, but determined cephalopod searches the world’s oceans until she ultimately finds where she belongs. This takes courage, fortitude and persistence since the oceans are huge and contain a myriad of obstacles that Moon must overcome.
Megan’s characters each have a unique voice and very endearing qualities. Additionally, the stories contain subtext based on conservation and the preservation of our world’s -natural habitats as well as the fantastic species that live among us.
We were fortunate to be able to speak with Megan about her latest book as well as her commitment to our environment and our endangered species.
Megan, when you spoke to Tracy Miller last year, your first book “Big Mo” had either just been released, or was in the process of being released; will you share with us what kind of response the book received? Do you know whether or not copies have been purchased by (or donated to) libraries?
Big Mo’s reception really exceeded my expectations, especially as a first-time author. There were certain thematic elements to the story that I really hoped would come across, and I was so floored when even very young children could read into those deeper messages of preservation and taking only what you need. That felt like a huge success!
I’ve been contacted by dozens of librarians (or friends of libraries) who have donated individual copies to their locals or children’s schools. It’s always so inspiring when someone does that with my book, and I appreciate it especially as a reader who still uses her library card often!
I think it’s wonderful that people have loved Big Mo enough to want to share him with others in their communities!
Do you have any anecdotes from your promotion of Big Mo” that you’d be willing to share?
I walked into a new local bookstore last fall with Big Mo. That has been part of my strategy to go door-to-door with the book, since I am an independent publisher and do not have the benefit of a large distributor to place my work in bookstores.
Charlie’s Corner, the store I happened into, is a complete gem. The owner is a longtime educator, and her dream was to open a children’s bookstore that would become a community meeting place, centered on the joy of story time. When I walked in that afternoon, she dropped her jaw and told me she had been “waiting for this moment – for a local author to just walk in.” From there, we worked together with art school grads to design a Big Mo window display, and she hosted me for a Big Mo “party” that winter. It was so amazing to interact with my city of San Francisco in such a fun and intimate way!
That is fantastic. While Amazon has done a great job of getting independent authors’ work distributed electronically it is a shame that so many independent bookstores have suffered as a result. As a lifelong reader, I like and use both formats and adore browsing bookshelves!
Your new book “Little Moon” explores the largest habitat on earth – quite a feat for a little squid! What was your inspiration in turning to the world’s oceans for the setting of this book? Moon is also as adorable as Big Mo, but I’m wondering, did you make a conscious decision to make Moon female? She definitely looks feminine, although I think all children can identify with both Mo and Moon.
I often find inspiration in nonfiction books, articles or documentaries. In the case of “Little Moon, there were several that I came across almost at once – a book, “Ocean of Life” (by Callum Roberts), an Economist article titled, “The Rise of Slime” (about jellyfish as harbingers) and a film led by Sylvia Earle (a renowned ocean explorer and educator). I find that when I take in a lot of factual information, it steeps in my mind and eventually resurfaces as pen-and-ink sketches. Like some magic machine.
I had also met a woman at a local authors’ Q&A. I showed her Big Mo and then we had some back-and-forth about a potential follow-up story set in the ocean. Before we parted ways, she gave me a blue marble and told me about the Blue Marbles Project. I couldn’t believe the serendipity! I’d had a gut feeling that my next story would take place in the ocean, and then I met this ocean advocate who thanked me for writing about these topics for children! It seemed clear where I’d head.
It’s funny you should ask about Moon’s gender. This is a decision that literally every author must make (even authors who create genderless characters, which is also a decision!). Because Mo was male, I made Moon female. Just my own attempt at balance, I guess? But, although she is female, I was careful not to illustrate her as physically different than her siblings.
As Moon searches for her place in the world she has to work her way through some man-made and hostile environments (I loved the Big Mo Easter egg); I liked how the appendix gives additional information on man’s impact on our oceans. Do you have any suggestions for how an adult reading along with their children could use Moon and her journey to start a dialog?
Thank you for asking! After writing Big Mo, I created a companion to the book that digs into the ecology of the story (http://www.padaleckistudio.com/teach/). I am working on the same for Little Moon.
Aside from that forthcoming project, I think a great way to tie in the book to a broader discussion is simply to ask a child what their idea of a safe and clean ocean is. Maybe ask them to draw it out. Kids often see things with an intuitive harmony. Then compare Moon’s ocean with the child’s concept, and explain that the ocean is actually home for millions of creatures, and that even we humans depend on a balanced ocean. This could lead to a discussion about the web of life.
I found that in writing the story, many of the larger systemic issues affecting our oceans seemed overwhelming (for adults, much less for children). But to challenge a child to define what feels right, or how things could be, can encourage a lifelong curiosity and desire to make change.
That is a great activity and younger children, in particular, are so much more expressive with pictures and art than they are with words. I’d love to see a display of children’s renderings of the ocean, and I’m going to work with my local library and see what we can arrange. Reading “Little Moon,” I picked up a secondary theme in the illustrations and text. How did you make the decision also to have “Little Moon” illustrate the benefits of perseverance? It certainly seemed as though Moon can also be used as an example of how it is not always easy to find your place in the world and that no one should be discouraged by setbacks or wrong turns.
Full disclosure here, but my first story concepts included Big Mo’s return and a more obvious environmental narrative. At some point, that story had not resolved itself and I shifted the action to a new character and storyline. I see Little Moon primarily as a story of self-discovery, and the ocean becomes the perfect symbolic backdrop. Just as a tiny squid must face fear and uncertainty in new environments, so must a child as they experience childhood. I also couldn’t help but indulge my fascination with the moon, and it acts as another metaphor for guidance and illumination along that very personal journey. Things got pretty complex, I guess!
Aside from children’s books, you are also actively involved in educating people about endangered wildlife through the sales of prints featuring Big Mo with representatives of various endangered species. What prompted you to use your character Big Mo in support of these other animals? Is the plight/support of endangered species something that you’ve were actively involved in prior to launching your book or did “Big Mo” inspire your interest?
An interest in wildlife was pretty formative in my case – I’ve always had a fascination, especially as an artist. I taught myself how to watercolor using photos of animals, and I even saw myself as a future wildlife photographer or similar (how exotic!). I guess that didn’t exactly pan out, but the appreciation remains. These days, I often create my illustrations with an Attenborough special playing in the background. There’s something peaceful about imagining myself in those natural environments.
I have a “long game” in mind where I slowly work my way toward a picture book about species loss. It really is mind-blowing and heartbreaking to imagine these remarkable species – the result of millions of years of design perfection – simply vanishing. It’s something that I personally hope to come to terms with by writing about it in a way that can temper the sadness for a young reader.
You have the right idea though. I think that when children are raised with an appreciation of – well anything, but in this case the plight of wild animals and their disappearing habitats it becomes a foundation they can grow from rather than a completely new concept to absorb in the midst of setting out on their independent journeys. Have the prints stimulated conversations about the various animals and their situations? In what other ways do you recommend starting this kind of conversation with children and/or young adults? How important do you feel it is to educate people about our responsibility to these species and to our planet earlier rather than later in life?
Yes, they have! A particularly cool example was meeting a woman in the UK via my website, who wanted to chat about the plight of pangolins. These animals are used erroneously in eastern medicine and they are highly trafficked for that. Much of the time, it is a matter of simple awareness that these species exist, and if I can introduce these animals through writing or illustration, it is a no-brainer to do so!
Some people insist that there are bigger global issues to tackle than saving some obscure animal in remote China, and that is certainly true. But we all have a responsibility to act on whichever causes are close to our hearts – there’s a reason we have those interests and it’s a waste to not even try. It’s very easy to encourage someone to care about a voiceless creature, and that caring can lead to a greater global empathy.
You now have two books and three lines of character prints available. The Endangered Species series which I think supports conservation efforts, The Mimic Series starring Moon and The Big Series with Big Mo; along with the other beautiful art showcased at your Padalecki Studio website. What’s up next for you and your characters?
Now that I have two distinctly different stories and characters, I feel like a third is in order! It may be too soon to tell who that next character will be, but as you noticed in Little Moon, I love literary Easter eggs and a sense of building upon a larger environmental theme. A loose concept for this “un-trilogy” is Land, Sea and Sky. Land, for Big Mo (an iguana), sea, for Little Moon (a squid), and sky, for…we’ll see!
You can follow Megan, Big Mo and Little Moon on social media at: