Sara Varon never really aspired to having a children's book published. So she's doubly surprised these days that her picture book, Chicken and Cat (Scholastic Press) has attracted a number of admirers in the children's book world.
The nearly wordless Chicken and Cat started out as a thesis project, when Varon was attending the School of Visual Arts. And since the finished project resulted in a bound, 32-page children's book, she decided to shop the dummy around to some publishers. It finally landed on the desk of Scholastic editor Jen Rees, who says, "I knew right away that it was something for me."
Although Rees saw something in Chicken and Cat that she liked, the road to being a published book was a long one. The dummy of the book came in with text and Varon and Rees struggled for some time with the story. Rees says it wasn't until they took the text out of the book completely that "it was like magic. It worked!" Varon says the process took so long that Rees even went away on maternity leave, came back, and they were still working on the book.
All of that time and effort seems to have paid off: the book has been very well received, and another picture book starring the fowl and the feline is planned for 2008. Varon says that she has been getting letters from fans through her Web site, www.chickenopolis.com, and she especially loves to hear the different interpretations people give for the book and what questions they have. "One person wrote in and just wanted to know how Chicken and Cat knew each other," says Varon. "I thought, 'I don't know. They're just friends from Chicago.' "
When asked why she chose a chicken and a cat as the main characters, Varon admits that she has a thing for chickens. "When I moved to my neighborhood in Brooklyn from Chicago, there was a drawing of a chicken on a nearby building. I thought that was a good omen." As for the cat, "They're just easy to draw," she says. "I'm really a dog person though."
Varon is currently working on a wordless graphic novel for Roaring Brook's First Second imprint, called Robot Dreams, due in stores next spring. "It's about a dog and a robot and it's 200 pages," the artist says. "It's also wordless and I wonder if readers will find it tough-going to get through 200 pages without text. It will be interesting to see if they do."
And as for her sequel, Varon says, working on a second picture book after the long graphic novel, she says, "I think the second Chicken and Cat book will be a snap. I hope I'm right about that."