Children’s author Pam Halter and illustrator Kim Sponaugle are the creative team behind the Willoughby and Friends series, starring a young, somewhat clumsy, gentle dragon named Willoughby. The first book, Willoughby and the Terribly Itchy Itch (Fruitbearer Kids), won a Realm Award. The second book in that series is Willoughby and the Lumpy Bumpy Cake: Tomorrow is Rosewings’ birthday, and every cake Willoughby tries to bake ends up lumpy, bumpy, black and burned. How will he ever surprise his friend? In this interview, Pam explains what inspired the series, the real friendship behind the books, and the importance of helping children enjoy stories…
Pam, what inspired a Christian children’s book series starring a dragon?
Well, Kim and I have been working together since 1995. We published two Sunday School-type picture books together through Concordia in 2001, and we have lots of other things in our files we’ve worked on together, just waiting for a publishing home. We often brainstorm book ideas together.
One day she said, “We need a story about unlikely friends. Like a dragon and fairies.” So, I thought about it.
I remembered the story about the Lion and the Mouse and I wondered what problem a dragon could have that fairies could help him with. Dragons have small front arms, kinda like a T-Rex, so the itch was born. And really, can’t we all identify with not being able to reach the itch on our backs?
Kim and I wanted stories from our Christian worldview, but ones we could maybe get into public schools with. Stories that would teach children about friendship and kindness without saying, “Here’s how you can be kind and make friends.”
So, we have a Scripture verse for each story in the dedication (which will always be For Friends Everywhere) and it’s not mentioned anymore in the story. The characters simply live it out, just like we live out the gospel in our lives. St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” That’s what we want in Willoughby.
Are these books designed for little readers, or to encourage parents or caregivers to read along with them?
We want to encourage parents or caregivers to read along. I don’t know a child who doesn’t love to be read to. Not only is it fun, it creates a loving bond, and also helps instill a love for reading and good stories.
What themes or ideas come across through the series?
Willoughby is all about friendship. We haven’t put it in any of the stories yet, but Willoughby loves to say, “A good friend is a great gift!”
We also want kids to see the characters in the stories showing kindness. Being helpful. Working to get past the sometimes hard outside of a person and get to their heart. And don’t we need more of that in the world today?
What’s the best thing about working with illustrator Kim Sponaugle? What’s the collaborative process creating these illustrated books?
The best thing about working with Kim are all the hours of eating brownies and drinking coffee. Haha! Just kidding. Although we do that A LOT.
The best thing about working with Kim and brainstorming stories is that she helps me see stories from an artist’s point of view. I look at the words. Kim looks at the potential those words give for creating illustrations. It’s improved my writing more than anything I’ve ever done.
I write and we both edit the story. She draws and we both talk about tweaks for the art. We have a really good balance.
The best thing to come out of this is our friendship! We didn’t know each other until 1995, when a mutual friend introduced us.
What do you hope children and/or adult readers get out of this series?
We want children to have fun. To enjoy the stories. To learn naturally to be kind and offer friendship to other kids who may appear different in their actions and looks. To get to the heart of a person instead of judging the outside.
Kids like to imitate their favorite characters, right? Here’s a way I can help them learn to be a better friend. Through Willoughby. It’s a great lesson for all of us, no matter our age.
Visit Pam Halter’s author page:
Willoughby and the Lumpy Bumpy Cake
Willoughby and Friends #2