Jim Harris Talks About Illustrating...
Do you know what Petite Rouge means?
It’s French for “Little Red,” as in “Little Red … Riding Hood.”
In the book Petite Rouge, Little Red Riding Hood is a Cajun girl from Louisiana, where lots of people speak French… at least part of the time.
Excuse me, did I say Cajun girl? I meant… Cajun duck!
Here she is, Petite Rouge herself:
For a while I thought she might look good as a beaver… but that didn’t quite work.
Then I tried a mouse -- which was awfully cute, but didn’t win first prize.
Next I tried a raccoon. That seemed like a good idea… but I changed my mind later.
I thought of using a bear… that REALLY didn’t work.
Of course, somewhere in there I took a look at a human version of Petite Rouge. And I actually liked her…
But in the end Petite Rouge turned out to be a duck.
Maybe it’s because ducks have a kind of innocent audacity that fits with Mike Artell’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. I mean… what kind of little girl threatens an alligator with a whack on the noggin and still looks as elegant as a princess? Well, Petite Rouge can do it.
Old Claude the gator knows she means it, too…
Now I must admit I wasn’t real familiar with Louisiana gators when I first got the manuscript for Petite Rouge. I grew up in a different part of the South... where the swamps were full of snakes, not gators.
But that little problem was easily fixed… with a trip to the bayous of Louisiana. It was a very interesting trip… I got lost in a swamp, lost in New Orleans, lost in the airport. Fortunately, the folks in Louisiana are kind to bungling strangers and pointed me in the right direction almost every time…
The best part of the trip was learning all about the history of the Cajun people, and looking at old Cajun houses…
...which turned into a perfect mansion in the final art (as you can see below).
I also got to see some neat tools like this old sewing machine.
and of course, the Cajun version of a canoe… a pirogue.
And even a barrel of hot sauce!!!
I also got to check out just exactly what an alligator looks like at feeding time. My tour guide for this little part of the excursion brought along a pan of fresh chicken scraps to toss in the bayou at just the right moment to bring out his trusty alligator friend. And that seemed to work pretty well, because just at the right moment, THERE HE WAS. YIKES! My main impression of the entire event was TEETH, which is why Claude looks like he does in the book:
So there you have it. The story behind Petite Rouge. Check it out at your library!
Images and Text © 2009 Jim Harris. All Rights Reserved