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Five questions for Lucy Cousins

lucycousinsIf you know any little girls named Maisy (or Tallulah; or, for that matter, any little boys named Cyril), chances are good that it’s because of Lucy Cousins. Her indomitable little-girl-mouse is beloved by toddlers and their grownups the world over, making Cousins one proud mama.

1. Your latest Maisy book — Count with Maisy, Cheep, Cheep, Cheep! (Candlewick, 2–5 years) — is a large-format, lift-the-flap book. You’ve also done Maisy board books, hardcovers, cloth books, Maisy First Science and Arts-and-Crafts books, books with stickers, etc., etc. How do you decide? Does form follow content?

LC: I like to try out any new ideas for Maisy that I can think of. Maybe it’s because she is quite a graphic character, she seems to work well in many different formats. Because the age range for Maisy is so wide, from a young baby who is just grasping things and looking intently to a child who enjoys stories and details, it means there is such a variety of book styles to create. A chunky book is great for a tiny child who might put the book in the mouth and drop it on the floor, whereas an older child will enjoy sitting quietly and studying the pictures and following a story. Whatever the age, I like there to be a choice of Maisy books, some just for fun, some for learning, some for stories. So I aim to create pictures and ideas or stories that are relevant to the format of the book.

2. You’ve introduced American children to some unusual-to-them names (Maisy, for one; also Tallulah, which is very cute to hear toddlers try to say!). How do you name your characters?

LC: I find naming characters a very difficult thing. I have a few dictionaries of names, which are usually for naming babies, and initially go through all the names starting with the same letter as the animal I’m trying to name. Or I think of names that sound nice phonetically. When I named Maisy, the name was familiar, but only really used by people of my grandparents’ generation. I just loved the sound of it, a soft and friendly name. Now it has become quite a popular name, and I sometimes meet children called Maisy and Tallulah when I am signing books. I was quite excited when my son came home after his first term at university and told us that his new girlfriend’s name is… Tallulah!

cousins_count with maisy cheep cheep cheep3. You’re well known for your work in those bright, bold colors. Have you done work in other styles, or using different media?

LC: I developed my style of illustration using bright blocks of color and a bold black outline while I was studying at art college. It feels very comfortable and natural to paint like that, so I enjoy mostly working in that style. Occasionally I have tried a slightly different approach. For example, my book I’m the Best (Candlewick, 2–5 years) was created with colored inks and a chunky graphite pencil. In the early days of Maisy, I had quite a lot of creative input into the developing of the TV series and merchandising, and I enjoyed working in those different mediums. I love doing creative things for fun, almost anything, from pottery to photography to knitting. But life has been so busy bringing up my four children and creating my books, that I haven’t had much time for experimenting.

4. Maisy is a toddler icon. Do you hear much from nostalgic ten-year-olds?

LC: Yes, it’s always lovely to hear memories of people enjoying Maisy. Especially from six-foot-tall teenage friends of my children. Parents sometimes tell me heartwarming stories about how a Maisy book has been very special to their child during a difficult time, like a hospital visit, or starting a new nursery school. I work in a solitary way, for weeks and months on my books, and sometimes it can be quite a struggle, so it means a lot when I hear about a child who loves Maisy.

5. Following Hello Kitty-gate, do you think of your character as a girl-sized mouse? Or a mouse-shaped girl? Or neither?

LC: I have to say that it is not something I think about, or am inclined to try and understand. For me, she is just Maisy, in Maisy’s world, and it’s completely separate from our world. When I did the very first drawing of Maisy about twenty-five years ago, I could picture her character and her world, and it’s always seemed to me that it’s best not to question that vision. If I start to think about why she is a mouse who behaves like a child, has no parents or family, can do things only adults can do, and is completely independent, it all seems rather confusing. Even her sex is rather ambiguous to me. She is officially a female, but that is a very unimportant part of who she is. She likes wearing trousers and mucking out pigs as much as dancing and baking.  So, Maisy is just Maisy. Simple.

From the February 2015 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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