Back in 1983, Angelina Mouseling, a feisty young ballet enthusiast, pirouetted into the children's book world as the heroine of Angelina Ballerina, a picture book by Katharine Holabird, illustrated by Helen Craig. Holabird, an American-born mother and former nursery school teacher living in England, and British artist Craig became a fine-tuned team, creating a series of nine Angelina adventures.
The Angelina books went out of print in the late 1990s and publishing rights to the titles were purchased by HIT Entertainment, the British production and distribution company behind such animated television programming as Bob the Builder and Kipper. In 1999, Pleasant Company acquired publishing and merchandising rights to Angelina Ballerina from HIT and a year later reissued five of the original hardcovers and launched a line of Angelina toys and ancillary items.
In the meantime, HIT developed an animated Angelina television program, which has been popular in Britain and premiered on PBS in the States as a weekly half-hour show. Angelina also debuts on home video.
PW spoke with author Holabird, who is currently making several promotional appearances in the U.S. in conjunction with the new TV series and video launch, about Angelina's new place in the spotlight.
PW: Who or what was the inspiration for Angelina all those years ago?
KH: There's a lot of me in Angelina. I was a very dramatic little child, a bit of a bossy boots. And when my eldest daughter was three or four years old and wanted nothing but a tutu and dreamt of grandeur on the stage, whenever, wherever, I realized she was very much like me. She was a wonderful but very strong-willed child. My second daughter, who is three years younger, went through the same thing. It's an important stage, especially for girls, I think, to identify with something glamorous and graceful when they are just beginning to love music and dance and to find their own sense of rhythm and movement. I believe that some sort of dance training at an early age can give children real poise and confidence.
PW: Are you pleased with Angelina's transformation from the page to animation?
KH: I'm absolutely thrilled with it! It's been so much fun working on it and watching this little world that I created with Helen expand with new stories and new characters. The talent is just wonderful. We watched the actors record some of the shows, and it was great fun. I want the show to be enjoyable for adults as well as children. I think the stories are very witty, but full of pathos and emotion, too. I hope [the series] will appeal to all ages.
PW: How much input did you have during development?
KH: Helen and I have approval on all the scripts. From the beginning, I have met with a writing team at all stages. I read and comment on things. They have come up with some wonderful stories and new characters that have remained true to Angelina and her world. With animation, there's more room to tell a story; the writers can go back to some of the themes that I started and explore them more deeply. For that, we needed good antagonists who could give Angelina a really hard time. We brought in the Pinkpaw twins, Priscilla and Penelope, spoiled rotten kids with a snooty attitude about everything. I also love William [a boy mouse in Angelina's dance class], who is kind of the charming Billy Elliot of Mouseland.
PW: Where does production of the series stand at this point? What can we expect to see next?
KH: We've completed 26 episodes so far and there are going to be 39 altogether. [At present, PBS has committed to airing 13 episodes.] There is also a Christmas special in the works, with Derek Jacobi playing a wonderful character named Mr. Operatski. I don't know exactly when it will air, but probably during the 2003 holiday season.