Vancouver twins turn literary classics into charming 12-word children's books
Their books have made many of us smile with their adorable needle-felt characters, but we also admire the talent it takes to summarize literary classics in just 12 kid-friendly words!
On the eve of our next Twitter Challenge, Canada Writes caught up with Jack and Holman Wang, creators of the children's book series "Cozy Classics", to ask them a few questions on how this lovely project came about and where it might take them in the future.
Can you describe the process for making the needle-felted characters?
Needle felting is the painstaking process of repeatedly stabbing loose wool with specialized barbed needles to entangle the fibres. The more entangled the fibres are, the firmer the wool gets. This allows us to shape and sculpt the wool. Once the body of one of our characters is formed, it’s costumed with felt that has already been pressed into sheets. The process of making a figure is a time-consuming labour of love, to say the least!
Where did the idea come from?
Jack came up with the idea for Cozy Classics after his first child was born. He was reading a lot of traditional word primers and started thinking about how board books could be wittier and more genre-bending if they presented something originally meant for adults. Since Jack has a Ph.D. in English, he soon had his eureka moment: adapting literary classics for babies!
Holman came up with the artistic direction for the series. We wanted to find an innovative way of illustrating our books, a signature style that would resonate with the classics. One day, Holman struck upon the idea of creating cinematic tableaus using needle-felted characters.
How did you choose which ones to do?
We started with Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick because they’re everyone’s idea of a “classic.” Then we took on Les Misérables and War and Peace because we wanted to take our concept to the extreme—there probably aren’t many novels fatter than those two!
How do you decide which 12 words to use to sum up a classic? What is the process for getting down to those 12 essential words?
As the writing professor, Jack usually takes the first crack at the 12 words. Then we discuss the words and consider whether they can be clearly illustrated, whether they convey the story, and whether they’re child-friendly enough. It’s an organic process, and sometimes words change late in the game, even after an illustration is done.
Where do the characters live AFTER the photo shoot? Has Jane Eyre spent any time with Oliver Twist for example?
Right now, Jane Eyre is actually hanging out with Moby Dick and Jean Valjean! Since we don’t re-use figures (i.e. change them into other characters) the characters need a place to retire once a book is done. That happens to be a crowded bookcase in Holman’s office.
Do you see this project expanding, for example: mini-movies?
Just like your favourite wool sweater, our wool figures tend to pill and fray with overhandling, so it might be tough for them to survive days and weeks of stop-motion photography. With all the posing and re-posing and changes in facial expression, some of our figures barely survive the making of our books! But we would love to see our characters in motion, so we’ll never say never!
“Cozy Classics” are very active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy, etc.). Does it broaden your business?
We have no tangible evidence that our activity on social media actually increases book sales. However, we enjoy the wonderful sense of community that social media generates, particularly on our Facebook page. It’s a chance for us to receive feedback on our books, and a chance for us to offer a more “behind-the-scenes” look at our book-making process for those who have taken a keen interest in our craft.
If you had to do a CANADIAN Cozy Classic, which Canadian classic would you pick and how would you summarize the story in 12 words?
When it comes to Canadian classics, the title that always tops the list for us is Anne of Green Gables. Anne is surely the most recognizable Canadian character ever created. Our Cozy Classics version of Anne would be this: girl, talk, stay, pray, tease, smash, friend, drink, roof, fall, school, home.
One day, we’d love to do a novel or two by one of Canada’s contemporary luminaries like Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje. Only time will tell
Jack and Holman Wang are twin brothers who grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. They first began writing and illustrating books together in the third grade.
They'll be helping us out with our Twitter Challenge on October 10!
Photo credit: Jason Wang, "Cozy Classics" photos courtesy of: mycozyclassics.com