The author of series starring Scaredy Squirrel and Chester the cat, Mélanie Watt showcases a considerably smaller creature in Bug in a Vacuum (Tundra Books, Aug.). The premise is not exactly standard picture book fare: a bug's life changes with the click of a switch when he flies through an open door and is sucked into a vacuum cleaner bag. Trapped in the darkness, he moves through denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and acceptance as he comes to terms with his uncertain fate.
"This is definitely a departure for me," says Watt of her latest work. "It took me in a totally different direction." The author hatched the story idea while spring-cleaning her Montreal home. "I realized I had vacuumed a few bugs, and began trying to put myself in their place," she recalls. "I figured they must still be alive in the bag and began wondering what was happening to them—and if they were upset in there. I ended up emptying that bag right away for sure."
As authors are wont to do, Watt decided to turn that quotidian incident into a story—and was inspired to use Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief as a model. "I wanted to introduce those different emotions without being too dark, which was a real challenge for me," she notes. "I didn't want to focus necessarily on grief or death, but to use the concept to make it relatable to kids, and show them how to deal with life's challenges or surprises—like the bug who finds himself in a vacuum."
Watt also took her art in a new direction in Bug in a Vacuum, which she created with various media and assembled in Photoshop. "I like to challenge myself and do something visually different with each book or series," she says. "My new book has a different look than the others, and is loaded with layers of different textures. My files were so big that the project really strained my computer."
The author signs ARCs of Bug in a Vacuum today, 2–2:30 p.m., at Table 3, and later will visit the Penguin Random House Canada booth (3151) to greet fans. She's looking forward to introducing booksellers to her new book, which has been long in the coming. "The actual making of the book took more than a year, but my initial idea for it dates back quite a long time," she remarks. "When you have characters like Scaredy Squirrel and Chester that people want you to continue with, you tend to hold off on new kinds of books. But I'm very happy that this was the right time for me to do my bug book."
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.