In Moose’s debut outing, Z Is for Moose, written by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, the impatient title character is not pleased when his friend Zebra selects Mouse—rather than the obvious (to him) choice of Moose—to represent the letter “M” in the alphabet. In the collaborators’ companion volume, Circle, Square, Moose (Greenwillow, Sept.), things again go comically awry when Moose infiltrates a book called Circle, Square, Triangle and refuses to obey when the narrator insists he leave.
Zelinsky says that finding the right visual persona for the strong-willed Moose was initially a challenge—but a pleasant one. “Moose has quite a definite personality—that was there in the author’s words,” he says. “But I tried not to look at other cartoon moose—in particular I didn’t want Moose to look like Bullwinkle. Growing up, I loved those cartoons, but I created Moose by mostly avoiding what Bullwinkle—and pictures of actual moose—look like. Though I was inspired by real moose’s massive bodies, funny-looking thin legs, and knobby knees. I really identify with those knobby knees.”
A versatile artist, Zelinsky creates picture book illustration that span the classic, painterly style of his 1998 Caldecott-winning Rapunzel and Caldecott Honor books Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel; the folk art feel of Caldecott Honor–winning Swamp Angel; and the whimsical, playful art of his modern classic, The Wheels on the Bus, and Bingham’s Moose stories.
Which style is Zelinsky most comfortable with? “Actually, I don’t even want to know if I favor one over another,” he muses. “I’m not so much in touch with my feelings as I am in touch with each story, and I love to try my hand at different things—and hope I’m doing the words justice. When I look at Rapunzel now, I think, ‘How did I do that?’ But in the actual doing of illustrations, it feels totally natural.”
Asked if he thinks Moose will make a third picture book appearance, Zelinsky is positive: “I do think Moose will be back, but the question is who will be having a problem with him next time around? First it was Zebra, then it was the book itself—so I’m not sure who will have to cope with him next.”
A longtime Brooklyn resident, Zelinsky is happy to make his way across the East River to be at Javits today. “Every time I’ve gone to BEA, I’ve loved it, and every time I haven’t, I’ve wished I had,” he says, adding, “meeting booksellers is really the biggest thing about BEA for me.” Moose fans can find Zelinsky signing Circle, Square, Moose today, 10:30–11 a.m., at Table 6 in the Autographing Area.