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Molly Ruttan’s gorgeously illustrated, award-winning picture books often feature gently humorous, fantastical happenings cast within real-life settings. This unique perspective is at the forefront in the forthcoming Something Wild, which publishes next week (2023, Nancy Paulsen Books / Penguin Random House). Something Wild is the recipient of a Kirkus starred review.

Judy Faulkner: Welcome back to Kite Tales, Molly! You’ve been super busy since your appearance in 2019, when your illustrator debut, I Am a Thief!, came out. Now your fourth book is about to launch—your second as author-illustrator. Tell us about it!

Molly Ruttan: Thank you so much for having me back! It’s always such a pleasure to connect with my SCBWI family.

Something Wild tells the story of a young violinist named Hannah, who loves to play her violin, but has terrible stage fright! On the day of the recital, Hannah is extremely nervous and secretly wishes something wild would happen to prevent her from performing. As the recital approaches, Hannah’s big imagination runs wild with scenarios that could change the course of her day. Nothing happens though, and at last Hannah takes the stage and faces the big audience. As her mind goes blank, her hands remember what to do—and something wild wondrously happens!

JF: This story sounds wonderfully playful, yet Hannah’s dilemma also feels relatable and real. Did Something Wild have its roots in your own life experience?

MR: Yes, the story sprang from my own personal experience. I am a musician, and my anxiety about performing started when I was a child. It continues to this day! But over time, I have started to experience something on stage that felt crazy and unexpected at first—as I trusted my muscle memory and let my love for the music take over, the fear melted away. This experience has helped soothe my stage fright, and I wanted to portray it in a book. Something Wild was born!

JF: In addition to being entertained, what do you hope your readers—musician and non-musician alike—will take away from Hannah’s story?

MR: I created this book to show how love, dedication and passion for what we do can help us overcome the fear of being in the spotlight. I also wanted to emphasize how supporting and being supported by other people can really make a difference. In Hannah’s case, I wanted her family (who represent any kind of support system a child may have in any given situation) to be a constant presence throughout the book. I also intentionally made the people in the audience friendly looking, with many of them smiling. My biggest hope is that kids feel inspired and self-assured after experiencing Hannah’s journey.

JF: In this, and many of your stories, you blend (ahem) wild whimsy with settings and emotions that are firmly in contact with daily life. In what ways do you feel this combination connects with children?

MR: When we were little, my twin sister and I fueled each other’s very active imaginations. Experiencing something wildly whimsical during the course of our day was normal! I think many kids spend their time this way; the lines between what is real and what is imaginary blur as they play and make sense of their world. I like to tap into this when I create books, and I believe most children innately understand it.

JF: Your work contains so much visual humorsometimes even when laughs wouldn’t be a first thought when the text is read alone. How do you find or decide what tone to use for each project?

MR: When I author my own books, I’m not as aware of creating the tone as I am when working with someone else’s manuscript. With someone else’s words, I pay close attention to the voice. I identify the qualities of the voice, (the point of view, the style, etc.) and then I experiment with different “harmonies” using sketches. I like to keep the pictures as engaging as I can. Characters play a big part in figuring out the tone as well. I love being playful and making myself laugh when I develop characters, and this often spills over into the final sketches.

JF: Most Western stories have internal and external obstacles. What are your internal and external superpowers that help you get through the inevitable tough moments that arise when creating a story?

MR: My internal superpower is the solid belief that solutions for tough moments will come to me. In a way, this is partly what Something Wild is about—trusting one’s ability and staying open to possibility during times of stress.

My external superpowers are people—my sister, my husband, my family, my friends, and my children’s book community. My artists’ collective, The Mulberries (www.hellomulberries.com), meets every week to exchange ideas and thoughts. It has been incredibly meaningful and helpful to belong to such a creative and supportive group.

JF: You’ve been a member of SCBWI for some years now. How has your involvement changed or influenced you?

MR: I consider myself an SCBWI success story. My portfolio won an illustration mentorship at an Annual SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, and I met my agent at a regional conference. I wouldn’t be where I am now without SCBWI, and I am eternally grateful.

JF: Thank you, Molly, for sharing your picture book perspective with Kite Tales and our readers. We wish you and Something Wild wild success!

Molly’s books include I Am A Thief! by Abigail Rayner (2019 NorthSouth Books), which earned a starred Kirkus review and won a 2021 Northern Lights Book Award for humor; The Stray (2020 Nancy Paulsen Books), listed as a 2021 ALA CORE Golden Duck Notable Picture Book; Violet and the Crumbs: A Gluten-Free Adventure by Abigail Rayner (2022 NorthSouth Books), endorsed by the Celiac Disease Foundation; and Something Wild (2023 Nancy Paulsen Books), which has earned a starred Kirkus review. Molly currently has two additional books forthcoming. She is represented by Rachel Orr at Prospect Agency. To learn more about Molly and her award-winning work, check out her website at http://www.mollyruttan.com/. Or visit her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or at https://linktr.ee/mollyruttan.

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Molly Ruttan grew up in beautiful Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and holds a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art. She presently lives, works, and creates art in the diverse and historic neighborhood of Echo Park in Los Angeles, where she and her husband raised three talented (and now grown-up) children. She has an identical twin sister (who is also an artist), plays drums, is learning the viola, sings in a community choir and loves exploring all different kinds of fine art, illustration, and digital mediums, including making her own animated book trailers. Her life is full of music, family, friends, and all kinds of pets and urban animals, even wild parrots!

Images provided by Molly Ruttan.